It has been revelatory, finally finding the right therapist. That she is also an adult adoptee and has spent the majority of her career working with those of us who also are, provides a kind of illumination that I simply don’t think another therapist could. I liken it to infertility; many in our lives can be supportive, but only other infertiles get it.
One thing I want to be clear about is the idea of owning myself and my life. While I believe strongly that what happens to us during our formative childhood years shapes in large part who we become, I also believe that we can’t blame our parents for what happens to us as adults. So, while I am impassioned in writing about the kind of crazy I am still living through with my mother, I somehow managed to turn out OK. I love who I am and I am who I am because of and in spite of how I was parented.
My uncle is going through the anger stage with her now, something that I went through during adolescence. He often mistakes our heated exchanges about her for me being angry but that is just not the case. I don’t care enough to be angry. Sure, I don’t like being manipulated and the inequities of how she has treated me and my family vs. my sister and hers get to me, but I am over the anger. People who do not have a mentally ill mother just do not understand how this can be. In fact, a friend with a purportedly good relationship with her mother (and, if you can’t be honest and direct with a person you say you have a good relationship with, I question the closeness, but, I digress) worries that if I don’t find a way to make things right with my mom I will regret it, in the form of guilt, when she dies. I assured her that that is not the case. While I imagine there will be a grief cycle, the freedom from tyranny will weigh out. And, fundamentally and categorically, it cannot be set right and, even if it could, it is not solely my responsibility to do so.
Back to my therapy session. A recurring theme is that what drives my angst during and after these exchanges with her (or when I find out about her conversations with others) is my programmed feeling that I need to do something. And, part of that is my mind going into overdrive about all the permutations that doing X, Y, or Z may be. I still, to a much lesser degree now, am the proverbial hamster on the wheel. Only now, I’m not trying to fix things, as I was once called to do (as in, maybe if I do or say this, it will be alright, or if I don’t do or say that, it will be OK), but I’m trying figure out the best response so as not to have things escalate.
Only, here’s the thing, that’s a fantasy, too. Whether or how I do or don’t respond has NO bearing on what her (or in the case of my father, their) next move/reaction will be. So, what continues to come up in therapy is two things: that I am already equipped to handle whatever they throw at me (I’ve been doing the work my entire life) and, I do not owe them a response. These two things, taken in concert, are the keys to my emotional health when I’m in the fray.
While I know they may want or expect a response and while their programming of me would appear to necessitate one (let’s face it, we are taught to respect our parents and one way we show this is by responding to them), I am not required nor do I owe them a response. Sure, it would be different if it was possible that responding might bring about change, or insight, or attunement, but I am absolutely clear that it will not. And, what I don’t and have never wanted is another big explosive exchange with them. I don’t want a tete-a-tete, a ‘sit down’, or any other confrontation of the sort. It would be destructive, counterproductive, and unhealthy for me.
And, while avoidance goes against my grain, this isn’t quite that. This is making the decision not to take the bait. My mom’s email to me was bait. She was trying to hook and reel me back in.
Where I remain at odds with myself is in knowing with certitude that I will never be validated, that there will never be a meeting of minds, that my parents will never get me, cut me slack, or love and support me in ways that are beneficial to me (because, remember, in their minds, they’ve done nothing but love and support me all my life) and not having anywhere but this blog, or with a select few in real life friends, or with my therapist to vent and be acknowledged. It is very hard quelling the desire to want to sock it to them, tell them off, give them a piece of my mind. And that is what I am working on.
Letting go of their expectations of me and simply acknowledging their bad behavior and moving on is my focus. Harder to do than to do, but working hard at it for my sake and the sake of my children.