I am still in therapy. It’s no longer something I remotely enjoy not that I ever enjoyed sitting in the Hot Seat before. Now, however, it’s work, and I can feel it. I can feel myself becoming defensive when my therapist asks a question that I don’t want to answer.
This week, I decided to discuss my mother’s letter with him, and I knew that this would be difficult because my therapist knows little to nothing about my mother. Trying to catch him up felt too daunting a task which is why I’ve not mentioned her. So, I took five minutes to try and describe a lifetime of pain and abuse, and I think I came off as a cynical smart ass. I fully admit to being a smart ass, but I’m not cynical. I’ve given up on trying to look cognitively sound. He’s going to think what he’s going to think.
He doesn’t deal in pathologies, thus, he never says, “Your mother’s personality disorder caused…” You will never hear him mention a DSM diagnosis unless it’s very necessary. He just lets me talk. I am not fond of the client-centered approach–talk therapy–because I have an irrational fear of revealing too much. I don’t know what “too much” might be, but it’s unnerving to sit in a chair and talk while someone stares at you. Please, ask me a question. Direct the session. What’s our goal? I don’t like feeling adrift as if there are no boundaries.
There is, however, a method to his approach, I have learned. He’s looking for something, and he found it. “I hear one common theme. You have said about your mother’s letter and your ex-husband that you are not crazy. Is that something meaningful to you? Feeling like you’re crazy? Is that what her letter caused you to feel over and above every other emotion? Is that how interacting with your ex makes you feel? Like you’re crazy?”
I just sat there and tried so hard not to feel the emotion rise up. I wanted to bury my face in a pillow and cry. I felt ashamed, and I don’t know why.
“Yes, that is exactly how I feel.”
He nodded. “Can you tell me about that?”
How could I even begin to explain a lifetime of being made to feel this way? So, I chose specific events in an attempt to paint a picture.
“After my mother would try to commit suicide and call on me to talk her off the proverbial ledge, no one would talk about it. She would come out of her bedroom, and I would usually say something like, ‘So, are we all gonna talk about what just happened?’ I was 13. Everyone would look at me like I was the one with the problem. I wanted to tell the truth. I mean, I wasn’t the one overdosing on narcotics and taking a revolver into a closet and screaming. I thought that it was crazy to pretend like nothing ever happened, but that became the rule. Never talk about it. That is so contrary to my nature. That same rule became the norm in my marriage, too. Never discuss anything. I would try, and he would deny and shut everything down. It then became a false reality. I would try to challenge that reality, but, as with my mother, the line, ‘It’s your word against mine’ was used; and, suddenly, every abnormal behavior became normalized, and I felt somewhat insane all the time.”
The truth is that I have spent most of my life trying to prove that I am completely sane, and most of my family members seem to believe that I am the black sheep among them. I won’t argue with that. I might be the black sheep, but they’re more like ducks pretending to be sheep. Nothing is remotely normal about anything that they say or do. So, I come along and point out a problem (which I’ve stopped doing), and they all quack, “There wasn’t a problem until you pointed it out! You must be the problem! Get her!” And, the cycle of crazymaking continues.
My mother insisting in her letter that it was her word against mine was the trigger for me. Her word against mine? There are facts. She could certainly say that her perspective on said facts might be different than mine, but she can’t point at a fact and say, “No, Mr. Fact, it’s your word against mine.” That’s like pointing at the sun and saying, “No, Sun, you do not set in the west. It’s your word against mine. No, Water Molecule, you are not made up of oxygen and hydrogen. It’s your word against mine.”
It’s the damndest thing to be on the receiving end of this kind of behavior. “No, I did not do that. It’s your word against mine. You just do not remember it properly.” Or, worse, “I did that, but I had my reasons, and you have no right to be mad at me for it. Get over it.”
In the end, you feel erased. Like you don’t matter. Only I know that I do matter, and I know what happened. I have an excellent memory. I used to have a nearly perfect memory.
So, what do you do? What do you do when you know that you are not crazy but you feel like you are? This is serious stuff.
I told my therapist some of the things that my mother had done. Some of her worst offenses. The things that she had been claiming never happened. Frankly, if I had done those things to another person, then I might deny I had ever committed those actions as well. I told the truth. We must tell our truth to someone who will listen to us. We need a witness. I found myself asking him, “This is a bad thing, right? What she did here was bad, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, this is bad.”
After you’ve told your truth, you need to hear the words: “You are not crazy.” That is what my therapist did for me. I know that I’m not crazy. I know that what I witnessed and endured in my family of origin was painful and abusive. I don’t need my mother’s validation in order to heal or move on. I’ve never had her validation. We do, however, need to receive validation from someone. We don’t live in a vacuum. We are social creatures. A lone primate is a dead primate. So, find a safe person whom you trust, and tell your truth as hard as that might be. Fear of judgment can be a strong motivation to keep everything to yourself. I am immensely private, and it’s almost painful for me at times to open my inner vaults. It is essential to our healing, however, that we engage in this process.
Let that be the gift you give yourself as 2015 draws to a close.