One of the broader topics on this blog is mental health and how mental health is defined and experienced in different contexts. The DSM-V has divided and sub-divided the human experience into so many diagnoses that I imagine that every human could find an aspect of themselves somewhere within it. Some of that feels legitimate. Some of it feels less so.
Within one area of that broader diagnostic context you will find the personality disorder and its many “flavors”. What is a personality disorder (PD)? What is its origin? Is it genetic? Is it chemical? Can it be treated? Can it be effectively “cured”? Is it a spectrum “disorder”? When is it safe to diagnose a person with a PD? At what point in human development does one’s personality become disordered? Why does one person become narcissistic and another express as borderline? What about the antisocial personality or the schizoid? These are important questions that I won’t attempt to answer here.
I have written extensively about Borderline Personality Disorder on this blog as my mother’s personality expresses as borderline and growing up with a borderline mother affected my development in profound ways. I do not directly blame my mother for my abduction twenty years ago, but, at the same time, I doubt I would have been taken had I been raised by a different parent. I don’t say that with self-pity. It feels factual at this point. As they say today, it is what it is.
Why bring this up? My mother wrote me a letter. Again. It arrived a few weeks ago. I haven’t seen my mother in almost ten years. I think. That is my best estimate. She has sent me very weird letters over the years. Some of them have been vitriolic. Some of them have been strange and full of darkness. Some of them have been full of blame and desperation. My response has remained steadfast. “Tell me how you are safe. Tell me how you have changed. Tell me how you have learned to control yourself. Tell me how you have learned to respect boundaries. Tell me how you have learned to self-soothe and self-regulate. Tell me how you have learned to be accountable for your actions. Then, we’ll talk.”
Never has she addressed these requests.
Until her most recent letter.
This letter was different. For the first time, she tried. She talked of realizing that she had been self-centered. She had never known that about herself, but she had come to see that she had been. For her whole life. She talked of her recklessness. She admitted that I would have to live with the consequences of her actions for the rest of my life. She knew that now. She recognized that her behaviors were abnormal.
I think she must have finally gone to therapy which is what I have been recommending rather strongly. We none of us can make it without help.
She asked if we could meet for coffee or lunch. I am considering it. Not from a place of smoldering hope. I suspect I am considering it because she finally tried. She did what i asked. It took her ten years to do it, and it cost her a great deal. It may cost me something to see her. I remember what she was like. She may reduce me to a bloody mess, but, then again, she may no longer have the power to do that. I’m not the same person anymore, and I’ll tell you why.
At some point during my marriage, my mother saw how my my ex-husband was treating me. He was very neglectful and self-centered. Sixteen years ago, we moved into a new house. I was six months pregnant. I had packed up the entirety of our old house singlehandedly. My mother and her husband drove in from out-of-state to help us. On the day of the move, my ex-husband received an invitation from a friend to attend an outdoor concert. One of his favorite bands was playing, and he was stoked about it. As we were moving boxes into the house he left. There was a concert to see! “Sorry babe, but Frank Black! I gotta go!”
And that was it. I was pregnant. My mother and her husband were helping. And, there I was. Alone. My mother was shocked and hurt on my behalf. Reasonably so. She told me, “Leave him. Just bring the girls and live with us. I’ve been divorced twice. There is nothing wrong with being like me.”
“There is nothing wrong with being like me.”
Her words reverberated through my mind, Nothing wrong with being like her? She was the last person I wanted to be like. There was everything wrong with being like her. So, I internally vowed in that moment never to be like my mother, and I stayed in a very bad marriage so much longer than I should have, in part, to prove a point. I could not be like my mother. I could not have failed like her. I imagined her rubbing my face in it should I ever see her again. I imagined myself feeling defeated, humiliated, and small. Judged. My mother standing over me smugly saying, “See? You and me? We are the same.” The thought of it cut into my viscera.
There came a moment towards the end of my marriage when I realized that I didn’t care anymore about what my mother might say to me or even think about me. I wasn’t my mother, and my mother wasn’t me. I wanted a second shot at life, and I didn’t care one iota about what anyone thought of me least of all my mother.
I think that this realization and moment of actualization are the insights that allow me to venture forth into even imagining sitting in front of my mother after a decade of virtually no contact.
Why speak of this? Well, I see in retrospect that I made certain choices from a deficient identity. I was trying so hard not to be someone (my mother) rather than building out who I really wanted to be. I would not have tolerated quite a bit had I seen that sooner. Thankfully, I did.
In honor of gratitude and changing our lives, I want to introduce you to 10Q. The Jewish New Year is upon us, and it is a time of reflection, return, and making changes. There is a very cool app of sorts that helps you do that called 10Q:
Every year between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there is a 10-day period of reflection – an opportunity to look at your past, present and future. 10Q makes this digital and social.
- For ten days 10Q sends you a question a day to answer.
- Answers are entered in your own secret online 10Q space and then saved to the secure online 10Q vault for safekeeping.
- After the ten day period the vault is locked.
- One year later, the vault opens and your answers land back in your email inbox.
- You can also choose to share your answers anonymously with other 10Q users, and can also scroll through other people’s answers. (Becoming The B Boss)
You do not have to be Jewish to do this. Just willing. Here is the first question:
Q01: DESCRIBE A SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCE THAT HAS HAPPENED IN THE PAST YEAR. HOW DID IT AFFECT YOU? ARE YOU GRATEFUL? RELIEVED? RESENTFUL? INSPIRED?
I love this! It is a wonderful reminder that the best time to change your mind, your circumstances, or yourself is always now.
Happy New Year!