I am committed to transparency, whole heartedness, vulnerability. All of those things I have not practiced for most of my life! Gee thanks, Brene!
I know and understand that my own struggles and journey and how willing I am to be real is what will not only help you, it will also help me, as it is just another cornerstone on my own journey.
But it is hard!
When your entire life has been about looking OK and in control and not needing anything or anyone, this is as much an about turn as you get! Looking like you don’t know – you must be joking! Asking for help – are you kidding me??? Expecting help!!!! Seriously????
Yes, that was me. I loved my walls.
So I thought that I will do it in little bits. Yeah, caught out, stalling…
Oops, once you are out you cannot get back in!
Ok, first installment, and I will just start at the beginning:
The pretty, clever bookkeeper from a family struggling to recover from the Depression and the Big Drought caught the eye of the boss’s son…
Two years into the marriage she already knew it was a mistake. Well, truthfully, she mostly married him because the patriarch made it clear that she was not good enough for their son. Her new husband, this handsome, brilliant man, was painfully shy, and spent more and more time in the pub, as alcohol made him everyone’s friend.
I do not remember ever being cuddled by my mother. I do not remember much – except that if I kept myself busy somewhere on the farm, all was well. Invisible was what pleased my mother.
I do remember though, my maternal grandmother as a caring, nurturing presence in my life – a saving influence in my life; accepting, non-judgmental, loving, available. I still miss her.
My brother arrived two years after me. The crown prince – my mother decided that he looked like my maternal grandfather, and therefore must take after her side of the family.
My early years are mostly memories of my father coming home drunk late at night, fights and everyone tippy toeing around him. My father was an angry man, an autocratic ruler and my mother was controlling in the nicest way possible. When I was 6 years old we moved to the nearby town.
Although I felt huge relief, as the fights and drinking were getting worse, the shame was immense. Everyone else had two married parents. My dad was an alcoholic, living 12 miles from town. Surely everyone had to know?
My mother left with nothing: 3 beds, 3 plates, 6 knives and forks and a rabbit named Karel.
My father did not pay maintenance gladly, and we struggled. He had 3 farms. Visiting him on weekends was a stark contrast.
My mother was a true lady, liked by everyone, a good friend to many – just not a good fit for me. I was the difficult child, “just like my father, a child of the devil”.
I never wanted children, something my mother said to me about how I will get the same hell I put her through. My father – I have no idea who he was inside, except being a hard worker, an inventor, a visionary. And an alcoholic… Alcohol was more important than me! My biggest loss was not having someone – a dad – on my side.
My brother quickly learned how to get attention: by tormenting me until I snapped! By the age of twelve I was sent from home, to boarding school. During holidays I was farmed out to my grandmother and other family – just so I would not kill my brother.
I gave up on my family, determined that I was not going to care about them, as they obviously did not care about me…What I learned from my upbringing:
Withdrawal is a very effective way for a child to protect oneself. It is a really toxic way to live your life, but for a powerless child, sometimes the only way. Looking okay becomes a way of life when being okay is not an option.
I received counselling at the age of 26, and I thought my lack of self esteem had to do with my shame connected to my father. Not so, being abandoned by my mother was the determining issue. How do you hide these things from your aware knowledge? Because somewhere buried deep inside you actually know! You just do not have the language to explain the pain, the loss and the rejection.
And so we make life choices from our unaware state. And so you get stuck in your unconscious way of living your life… What we do in life, how to interact with people, who we latch onto as a life partner.
And it may work for a while.
As co-dependence feels GOOD when you first find it! It provides all those things that you wished you had but never got as a child – acceptance, connection, belonging. But co-dependence will only work as long as two people are willing to remain in the original contract of propping each other up, and only as long as both partners keep getting the much wanted approval and acceptance.
Through many years of struggling through a co-dependent marriage to an alcoholic I have found the saving grace in my life; the Adult Children Anonymous (ACA) 12 step program.
Yes, the co-dependent marriage stopped working.
We become unwilling to prop each other up.
We become resentful because we do not receive that unconditional nurturing anymore.
We lash out and become hurtful when we feel abandoned or disapproved of.
We mess it up.
Thank God. As that falling apart, loss and shock at last made me willing. It is quite ironic that one of my most favourite books is The Road Less Traveled (M.Scott Peck), but the first time I read it many years ago, I just skimmed over the chapter about co-dependence.
“This is not me!”
Ha, the joke is on me. But I was not ready, and I only got ready through pain and hurt. And being willing made me ready to release the reigns of life which I believed I had to hold on to all by myself. It made me able to try other ways, take advice, trust others, let others in.
In Carl Jung’s words, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
The ACA program has enabled me to eradicate my childhood rules of “Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel”. My limiting beliefs have been opened up, and being my own best parent has enabled me to look at myself with love, compassion and self care. None of us are only good or only bad, but most of us are out of balance. ACA helped me get into balnce
There are great gifts in adversity. My upbringing have taught me resilience, great work ethics, how to be a good observer. I am caring, sensitive, and emphatic and have great intuition. I have learned to overcome my crippling lack of self esteem. I have a compassionate understanding of the pathological need to control. I know what a fear of setting boundaries feels like. I know how it feels to be controlled by anger and guilt. I have a “No”. I have wants and needs and I am the one responsible for them. Neither my husband nor any other person is supposed to fill the hole left in me by a lack of nurturing; loving myself is how that hole gets filled. I am happy – every day – have lots of friends and support in my life, a caring husband and true serenity every day. Being organised, analytical, well prepared and attentive are my best characteristics, which my upbringing has gifted me with. My story and the challenges of life have blessed me with what I needed, to be who I am today.
“Barn’s burnt down, now I can see the moon.” – Masahide
All of our life experiences, the good and the bad, combine to make us the person we are today. When we can learn not to live life as a victim, but being truly thankful for the lessons, we can progress into being an adult.
From Jung another gem: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
My biggest lesson has been that when we become aware of our hidden scripts, we can change our lives. Because I have been able to do that, I can do it without judgement, with compassion and insight.
“Letting go of the chains of the past and finding forgiveness for both themselves and their families is an integral part of the recovery process for ACAs.” (ACA Big Book p 89)
My upbringing has truly blessed me.
Ok so I admit, I did skim over a few traumatic bits, more next time…