I woke up this morning feeling quite content. I had a fun day yesterday: I spent the afternoon in an Improv games workshop, playing improvised theatre games with a bunch of my old Improv friends. When I first got into Improv a few years ago, I was still quite ill. I was experiencing a great deal of anxiety, and I found the two hour classes each week a welcome relief because the games we played was so hilarious.
I was hoping that the fun would just naturally translate on to stage when I was performing Improv in front of other people; but in hindsight this was the best thing for me at the time. Although it was often hilarious for the audience, it was just far too far outside of my comfort zone. After doing Improv, I would often feel like I’d been smashed over the head with a frying pan. One of the golden rules of Improv is that “you can’t get it wrong”; but just try telling that to my limbic system with my deeply ingrained fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, and fear of what other people think of me. Lurking there in my subconscious, like little landmines ready to go off at any moment.
After a while, I began to resent Improv and the nervous breakdown that it gave me. My inner child had it the whole freak-out thing. I had to really push myself just to step into a scene, and it simply wasn’t fun any more. I was tired of pushing myself.
Now, a couple of years down the track now, I heard about yesterday’s drop-in improv games workshop and decided to give it a go. I was happy to find some of my old friends there, and it was great getting up and doing it just for fun. In some of the games there were opportunities to get angry; I found that it comes really naturally to me now.
I came home having had a fun afternoon, and caught a ride with one of the girls from the workshop; we had a great conversation on the way home about the teachings of Eckardt Tolle, consciousness, presence and all the cool things that I’m into nowadays. It was a Saturday night, but I still came home early; I’m kind of used to that now.
So back to this morning: I woke up feeling content, and had a bit of a lie in. I’ve been practising sending loving thoughts and breathing into emotions and physical sensations that I have, whether pleasant or unpleasant. I was really struck by one of the remarks in the TMS Recovery Program which said that the basis of self-love was loving and accepting your emotions. ALL of your emotions; even the ones that don’t feel so good.
That was going fine, until thoughts of my mother entered my mind. In case you haven’t been paying attention, I’ve had very little contact with my mother since a big argument we had 12 months ago, after which I realised that I just don’t feel emotionally safe around her (duh!). Feeling safe is really important to me, so I attempted to negotiate some new boundaries in our relationship that would leave me feeling safe. Since this process has stalled, we have more or less cut contact.
Cutting contact with my mother is painful, but I noticed my body reacting with migraines whenever I spent time with her. I’m still really triggered by the way that she treats my father, and I just don’t like being around it. I’m also treated by the way she responds when ever I feel upset, especially about something that she’s said or done. This makes family get-togethers difficult if I attend, or painful if I don’t; my old abandonment stuff just gets triggered again.
So during last week I rang the minister of the church where I grew up, which my parents still attend, in the hope that I could get some advice from him. Maybe he might even be able to broker some kind of peace deal between us, which could lead to us both sitting down and talking about the kind of relationship we would like to have. I want a relationship that meets both our needs, where we both get to feel safe.
And maybe pigs might fly backwards in space one day.
The minister was very understanding about where I was coming from, and I really felt heard. He was completely accepting of the idea that my migraines are linked to my feelings about my parents, and that I need to listen to what my body is telling me. He also had a perspective that I didn’t think my parents would ever really take seriously: that support from their adult children becomes more and more important as they age. Unless my mother is willing to do something about our broken relationship, it’s unlikely that I will want to do anything to support her during her twilight years.
I don’t think she can even see, or just plain isn’t willing to acknowledge, that the relationship is even broken. I can barely stand being around her when I know that she reserves the right to say things that trigger me so easily, and is unwilling to even talk about how we could make a relationship work for me.
So the minister could clearly see that it’s really in both my parents’ best interests for my mother to do something constructive about the situation between us. And for my father to step up and encourage her, rather just don’t just sit back and act passive like he has in the past.
Every now and then, I feel the urge to do something constructive myself to create a relationship that feels healthy my mother and I. The truth is I still feel really angry with her, and part of me probably doesn’t want it resolved. Why should she get the benefit of me looking after her physically in her twilight years, when she’s never looked after me emotionally during my entire life?
At the same time, I feel guilty about the resentment that I feel towards her; after all, she was there physically for me when I was growing up and she did cook, clean, clothe and send me off to school for years. But I never really felt safe around her emotionally, and feel tremendously resentful for the way she reacts to me when I’m upset. This has caused me a tremendous amount of anxiety, and had a devastating effect on my sense of self and my self-confidence. It’s the textbook childhood recipe for an adult attachment disorder.
So really, deep down I’m still just really fucking angry with her, and my father. These people whose apparent indifference to my emotions has caused me so much pain and trauma over so many years. No wonder I’m not interested in looking after them.
As the thoughts about my mother and father flowed through my mind in bed this morning, I felt this heavy sense of exhaustion sweep over me. It’s not just a psychological thing, it’s a physical thing. This rage that is buried deep inside me.
At the same time, I’m fucking sick of the whole deal, and just want to get on with my life.
During my phone conversation with the minister, he made a passing remark: “You know, you could just walk away”. I’m pretty sure that his point was that my parents should be grateful that I’m still making an effort to connect with them. But this morning, it sounds like really good advice: just walk away.
I guess a part of me is still hooked on wanting my parents emotional support. Or even just a connection with them that doesn’t cause me further pain, or simply drive me crazy with frustration.
Even though it’s never like me to come.
My experiences with people generally have taught me that the more needily invested I am in getting something from somebody else, the less likely they are to want to give it. If I really was to just walk away, not only might I save myself a whole heap of ongoing pain: It also opens up the possibility that down the track my parents might work out that not having me in their life is actually more painful than sorting out what causes me to stay away.
After visiting my mother in hospital last week, where we pretty much pretended that there was no problem between us, I’m afraid of just reverting back to our old adult/child relationship; which simply doesn’t work for me. So it’s either create a new adult/adult relationship, or walk away.
I took some solace this morning from Craig David’s song Walking Away: