Tag Archives: Incubation

Stardust

Tara Brach 1I’m going to tell you the cure for Attachment Disorder and its many related ills  in this simple two-part blog.  But as the good witch Glenda told Dorothy,  you won’t believe me until you experience it for yourself.

I recently spent several weeks absorbing an astonishing talk by therapist Dr. Tara Brach (above), “Releasing Barriers to Unconditional Loving.”  A good way to start experiencing cure would be to watch  this.   [Click here for video]

“Enlightenment,” she begins, quoting Zen master Dōgen, “is just Intimacy With All Things.” [FN1, FN2]

“Just,”  Tara laughs.  This shrink’s crazy, I say to myself.  Yikes, I’m supposed to let All That inside me and be intimate?  “Intimacy!” she dances on, “Intimacy with the Life inside you.  Intimacy with someone at work… Intimacy with a cousin or a sister… with the person sitting next to you even if you don’t know them.  What does it mean?  What’s the quality of heart?

“Intimacy with the squirrels that eat the bird seed at the feeder… intimacy with the weeds…intimacy with the wind. Can you begin to sense the quality of openness, of awake-ness, of tenderness, that unconditionally makes room?  The “heart space” where Everything That Is, is welcome?  Intimacy is our potential to realize, and trust, and live from, Loving Presence.

“It’s also a need.  We need Love, to develop in a healthy way.  We need a certain amount of loving attention, intimacy, loving presence from others, for our neurons to grow.  Research shows that even rat pups who don’t get enough attention, don’t grow as many neuron synapses.

“So we have a longing for love and we flourish when love is there, when there’s a sense of belonging.  The poet Hafez says:  ‘The subject tonight is love, and tomorrow night as well. As a matter of fact there’ no better topic to discuss, until we all die ‘.”   “When you figure out love is all that matters after all,” says Carrie Underwood, “it makes everything else seem so small.”

Tara Smile smaller fr Reacting Wiesely 8-10-11Yikes again, did she just put meditation together with attachment love from a good mom, as if it were the same thing?  This shrink’s crazy.  She doesn’t bother to say we need someone else to do it, or specifically with us. She just says we need loving intimacy and she’s calling that Attachment. To her it’s the most natural transition in the world – but to me it’s like jumping over the Grand Canyon.

OK,  I have a regular meditation practice, I’m used to the meditation concept “be present with my breath, the sounds, the flowers, with my friends at the restaurant and the calamari.”  But it never occurred to me to draw a comparison between Present on the one hand — and loving another human being on the other, let alone to say it’s identical.  Astonishing.  Simply being present with another person constitutes loving them?  Whu Nhu?  I guess the words “loving” and “intimate” get sexualized too much?

The real reason I’m so shocked is: I can’t even begin to imagine my mother being Present like that.  Tara says: “And that’s all we need from Mom, to simply feel she is Present.”  But what a leap from Presence with my breath, to intimacy from my mother!  She was so compelled to performance, doing something, getting somewhere.  I can’t imagine my mother just sitting and being gently Present with me. Just saying it sounds like a stark staring mad idea.

Then I notice what’s going on in my gut.

“Ahhh, Yes!” every jangling, anxiety-ridden cell in my body cries out, “this is the source of our attachment disorder, all us cells down here need Love! We don’t feel loved or wanted, we’re terrified of being alone. Skip the new age Intimacy blather, we need love and we need it now!  Hey, what’s playing on Match.com?  Let’s get this Search for Love on the road!

“Us anxious cells were programmed from birth to be practical and to get things done, Skeeter.  Yeah, we read that “General Theory of Love” book by the three shrinks who say “Too many Americans are spurred to achieve, rather than attach.” [FN3]  You said it brother – we cells were programmed to achieve. We’ve got to get to work and get things done! If we don’t perform, nobody will ever love us.”

The Separate Self and Fear

Hold on, I tell my cells, Tara’s only at minute 4:25 of an hour talk. OK she’s a little nutty but let’s see where she goes next.

It’s another whopper. “Then,” says Tara, “We have Rilke, who says: ‘For one human being to love another, this is the most difficult of all our tasks.’  The human realm is filled with misunderstanding, conflict, hurt, anger and insecurity — because we have a basic perception of separation.

“The primal mood of the Separate Self is fear.  It’s core in our conditioning to feel separate, to have all the fight/flight activity from separation.  We start with fear, and due to that, we don’t trust belonging easily.  To the degree we don’t feel a sense of belonging, we don’t trust anyone really loves us… It brings a real deep mistrust… A core wounding that appears… is a basic sense that “I’m not loveable for who I am.  I don’t belong, I can’t trust belonging, I’m not loveable in a real way.”

I Need Love-he's-just-doing-that-to-get-attention-Harry Bliss New-yorker-cartoon“The primal mood of the Separate Self is fear,” I walk around muttering for a few days.  OK, this one’s definitely is not crazy.  Everyone in brain science says that being born is absolutely terrifying; it was warm, now it’s cold; it was dark, now it’s blinding; it was hushed, now it’s scary loud;  “and what’s this stuff in my lungs?” says Bruce Perry.

I know that fear, I’ve felt it all my life, because Dr. Perry also says the baby is designed to feel stress chemicals when this shock hits, so that it cries until the mother holds it, because if it didn’t and she didn’t, the baby would die.  And when she does, the stress chemicals stop and they both get a flood of reward (feel-good) chemicals like oxytocin. [FN4]

Or not.  If mom doesn’t respond, or the baby’s locked up in a glass box in incubation for a few weeks and then after that mom doesn’t respond, the stress chemicals never stop, and the fear continues unabated until it’s overwhelming.  Which is how I lived my entire life until I found that Peter Levine book.  [FN5]

“Conditioning” in Buddhism refers to the false beliefs imprinted on each living thing from birth by external culture and family, the habit patterns of the unconscious.

“The biggest way conditioning gets solidified is the imprint of parenting,” Tara continues. “I’ve kept a long time this cartoon, a little boy with goggles on a ladder spraying paint onto the wall. It says ‘I need love!!’ But his mother and her friend are talking and she says ‘He’s just doing that to get attention.’ [audience laughs] ‘I need love!!’

“But when the love doesn’t come, when there’s neglect, major criticism, abusive behavior, even just a lack of attunement, then the child has to protect from the pain of that. A lot of our personality becomes how we protect ourselves from that raw pain of ‘I’m not loveable as I am.’

“So the fear of love, the fear of intimacy, is also a universal conditioning. We have this perception of separateness, and our nervous system is wired for it, we’re kind of stuck with it.”

“Omigod” say my wounded cells, “we need love, we can’t live without love – but the basis of our entire central nervous system is to FEAR love. You thought we were freaked out before, now we’re really screwed!”  “Wait a minute,” I say, “Didn’t Henry Cloud identify that as the ‘Need-Fear Dilemma’ and explain in depth how to get out of it?   [FN6]

Intrinsic Love

Zen Master DogenBut Tara’s just getting started, and she sees a way out.  If we study this need-fear mess we make of love and see how we’re creating the mess, she says, we can use Dōgen’s “intimacy with all things” to stop messing, heal our bad conditioning, and find the love we need. Let’s explore, says Tara, “what makes Love so difficult… and how to bring our practices of awareness and heart so we can wake up from our conditioning.”

Huh?  I say.  This shrink’s crazy.  So why do I trust her so much?

Then she makes another gigantic leap and says:  “I’ll name the basic principles at the root of any inquiry into waking up in relationships, and one of them is that love is intrinsic to what we are.

“In the most real way possible, we belong to this living world.  We’re made of stardust, we all are composed of the same stuff. We’re breathing in this world, we’re breathing out into it; everything effects everything else. We belong, that’s the basics.

“And when the heart experiences that truth -– in a visceral, vivid way — the experience is love.  Awareness, when it’s awake, when our awareness is aware of our own Presence: we belong to the world, and the world is part of our heart.  It’s intrinsic.

“The yearning to realize love is universal.  Just like a flower wants to bloom, each of us wants to unfold into our wholeness, realize who we really are, and live in that, that’s universal.”

Love is intrinsic, it’s already inside me?  This shrink’s crazy!!  Now even my cells are blowing a raspberry, all in unison.

“Oh phooey! We don’t believe we’re made of stardust for a New York minute,” my cells yell — at me, Tara and the general public. “Everyone knows we’re made of 98 cents worth of chemicals, meat and bones.  Plus we’re all drenched in anxiety and stress from all that fear that we ain’t getting no love, which floods us with cortisol poison at the drop of a hat.”

Hmmm… Wait a minute, dear cells, I say, now perhaps that’s circular reasoning?  Why all the cortisol?  Maybe it’s our bad conditioning?

Maybe our brain stem received bum programming from conception to 36 months, when nobody remembers anything? Forty-five months is a long time to be in adversity for helpless cells. Plus Bruce Perry says that the brain stem gives rise to the rest of the brain and nervous system, which drives the development of our viscera – so if our brain stem got fried, significant parts of our insides got fried in development.

Tara’s got a plan for us to Feel Loved 24×7:  we start to really get it that we are stardust.  Hey, now I think of it, it’s physics and biochemistry that we’re made of stardust.  So obviously we are loved 24 x7, by the Creator of the stars, no less.  No small deal.

Except we don’t feel that way; we often feel like cr–p, ‘cos of our bum programming.  So much happens every day to cause my cortisol to rise.  Bad news from the doctor or the bond market, no time for a good breakfast, traffic, freeways, meetings, hordes of emails in my in-box.

So here’s the plan: let’s take Master Dōgen at his word and try this Intimacy with All Things bit.  Let’s try to be intimate – be Present – with everything and every one we encounter, and do that more and more moments of the day.  Tara says the more we do that, the more loved we’re gonna feel.  Ultimately if we want to feel Loved 24 x 7, we need to be Present with everything and everyone we encounter 24 x7 – they’re all stardust, too.  Sound’s crazy but what have we got to lose?

Tomorrow for just one day, let’s try to implement the Dōgen Plan. For one day, or as big a part of a day as we can hack, we will put 100% of our effort into being Present with What Is.  Come what may.

————————-

Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:  The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.”  Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Footnotes

FN1  Brach, Tara, PhD, “Releasing  Barriers to Uncondtional  Loving” Pt 1A  (5-15-13) www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHiEAykuvvY&feature=player_embedded
Books:  Brach, Tara, PhD: “True Refuge,”  Bantam Books, 2013 and “Radical Acceptance,” Bantam Books, 2003
Biography:  www.tarabrach.com/about.html
Audios & Videos:  www.tarabrach.com/audiodharma.html
Some of my favorite videos:
1.  Learning to Respond, Not React  8/3/2011 (46 min)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar-L41QMYCM#at=1908
2.  Reacting Wisely to Desire  8-10-11 (50 min)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=hka8c4OteYA&feature=player_embedded
3.  Releasing  Barriers to Uncondtional  Loving – Pt 1A  (5-15-13)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHiEAykuvvY&feature=player_embedded
4.  Releasing Barriers to Unconditional  Loving – Pt 1B  (05/15/13)   www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5-AC3re9Ak
5.  Being to Being: Loving Beyond the Trance – Part IA (5-22-13)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha30OPZ_-OI
6.  Being to Being: Loving Beyond the Trance – Part IB  (5-22-13)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqiUMCohJXQ&feature=player_embedded

FN2  Dōgen Zenji: “Do not be concerned with the faults of other persons. Do not see others’ faults with a hateful mind. There is an old saying that if you stop seeing others’ faults, then naturally seniors are venerated and juniors are revered. Do not imitate others’ faults; just cultivate virtue. Buddha prohibited unwholesome actions, but did not tell us to hate those who practice unwholesome actions.”   Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyōto (1200 – 1253).

FN3  Lewis, Thomas, MD; Amini, Fari, MD; Lannon, Richard, MD; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, 2000. Great link (check it out): www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

FN4  Perry, Bruce, MD,  “Born for Love: The Effects of Empathy on the Developing Brain,” speech to Annual Interpersonal Neurobiology  Conference “How People Change: Relationship & Neuroplasticity in Psychotherapy,”  UCLA Extension, Los Angeles,  March 8, 2013
  Perry, Bruce, MD, “Overview of Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT),” www.childtrauma.org, 2010

FN5  Levine, Peter A., PhD, “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body,” ‘Sounds True, Inc.,’ Boulder CO, 2005; ISBN 1-159179-247-9

FN6  Need-Fear Dilemma in my blog Excommunication Blues
“We have a need in our heart for love, but when it’s wounded or hurt or unavailable, something very bad happens.  We don’t just sustain need.   If my Mom dies when I’m age 7, I can’t just wait 20 years and say  ‘OK now I’ll find someone nice to love me.’  Instead, when we have unmet need or injured need, something bad develops called the need-fear dilemma.  What we need the most, we begin to fear.  If it’s needing love, then we’re uneasy around love.  If we need understanding of our weaknesses, we get very uneasy about being weak.”
–  Cloud, Henry, PhD, “Getting Love on the Inside,” Lecture, April 2002 (CD),  www.Cloud-Townsend Resources.com
“The insecure resistant ambivalent child shown in the video is experiencing what has been referred to as the need-fear dilemma; he both needs the mother for comfort, but something in his history with this mother has instilled fear, and distrust whether he will find what he needs.  The video is of the Strange Situation, developed by  psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s to describe secure and insecure attachment. These two attachment patterns are vividly seen in the interaction of two mother-child pairs: http://youtu.be/DH1m_ZMO7GU  ”
Gerson, John, Phd, “Understanding Secure and Insecure Attachment,”  www.theravive.com/research/understanding-secure-and-insecure-attachment

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Survival Instinct

#18: Last book blog from “Don’t Try This at Home,” Chapter 3

Goya Capricho 75 ¿No_hay_quién_nos_desateLast time, I was in the hospice with Mom in 2008 and Dr. Rita told me to “just disengage.”  “I can’t disengage, she’s my Mom and she may be dying,” I said. “Besides, I couldn’t do that to my sister.”

But the real story was, self-protection literally never entered my mind.  Since infancy, self-protection wasn’t in my biochemistry; my entire organism was all about trying to oblige Mom.  I took Mom’s excommunication verdict when I was 25 the same way – the idea of protest or self-defense never remotely occurred to me.  I didn’t even know I had self-preservation instincts.  Whu Nhu?

Yet we all have survival instincts – strong ones.  Trouble was, my instincts for self-preservation had been constantly being overwhelmed by events which seemed beyond my control.

I was beyond clueless in 2008, but here’s a fact I’ve learned since: “the overwhelm of our instincts for survival by events completely beyond our control” is the technical definition of trauma.  And when our survival instincts are forced into trauma mode, “double-plus un-good things happen,” to quote George Orwell.

As I went into overwhelm in that 2008 hospice, it was like living in a nightmare during the day, all day, every day.  I began to experience days when it felt as though Mom’s critical voice was screaming so loud in my head that her voice had become the inside of my head.  I began to have waking and sleeping nightmares about Goya’s Los Caprichos, a series of 80 etchings heavily populated by just such images.  All I wanted was for Mom to let go her claws from my brain. [FN1, Goya, above: “Can’t anyone unleash us?”]

One day watching Mom nap, I was dimly conscious of a horrifying gut reaction from deep in some prehistoric part of my mental sub-basement, a place out of Dante’s “Inferno.”  Up came a horrible idea: something which is inflicting so much pain upon my sister and me requires the raw animal response of fight, flight, or who-knows-what.

I looked at Mom and thought “This is a creature in total misery because it knows no God and no perspective.  It can’t find enough meaning in life about which to feel peace, so it’s going out inflicting as much hurt as it can on the universe, because watching people like me suffer is the only way it can know that it exists.  This is a bad golem, a hurtful thing, and not only is it hurting me, it’s about to be flown to New York to make life miserable for my beloved sister.  I must defend my little sister!  Why do we prolong this golem’s ability to torture itself, my sister and me?”

Horrified at my own hideous emotional upsurge, I flat-out ran from the room and the hospice.  Many palm trees narrowly escaped the fury of my assault upon the grounds around Mom’s condo that night as I jogged off this unwelcome animal fury, until I limped inside and fell asleep senseless in my work-out togs.

In short, parts of me were literally going mad.  There were deep places lurking in me with a gut instinct that emotional pain this intense must mean that I was about to be killed – and we all have a survival instinct to fight back.  Luckily the higher parts of me prevailed.

Caution: in trauma, adverse experiences can feel either much worse or much better than they actually were.  Perhaps Mom was no such person.  Perhaps I was traumatized during my incubation, then I projected my anxieties on her.  We have no laboratory proof either way.  But my job is my own healing and transformation.  For that we must go beyond denial, to feel into our feelings without acting out.

I’m Sorry

Goya Capricho 72 No_te_escaparásDuring the last three days in the hospice, I decided I had to bring some calm to Mom’s soul, or all this would kill me along with her.  I went in one morning and basically insisted on loving her.  I sang to her.  I held her hand.  I rubbed her back.  I used the fact that we thought she was about to be kicked out of the hospice for failure to die according to the Medicare schedule, as a selling point.

“Things are looking up,” I said, “Linda’s finding you a nice place in New York.” My sister was in court running legal cases all day, while trying to find a nursing home nearby. “How am I going to get to New York?” Mom demanded.  I talked her step by step through how we would first get her up into a wheel chair, then onto a plane with oxygen, and I’d sit with her on the plane, and Linda and her family would meet us at the other end.  In great detail.  That seemed to calm Mom down.

“I’m sorry I separated you from the family,” she finally said, 100% out of the blue, regarding me with a baleful look before falling asleep.

I felt moved and teary, but somehow it wasn’t enough to make me feel much better.  I was way too far gone into the emotional pain pit.  [FN2, Goya, above: “You will not escape”]

During these last weeks, I was staying alone nights in Mom’s upscale retirement pad on the beach, out of my mind with isolation and grief.  To keep my immune system from collapsing, I’d jog around the gated community late until midnight after 12 hours in the hospice, so disoriented that I had trouble not running into a palm tree or two and bashing my own head in.

I had to use the computer for business, and I couldn’t go through this alone; one night I “just found myself” on Match.com.  What, you ask, after all those weeks of diving deep into the pain of the Inner Child, then being told “Go Way Kid” by my mentors, and then more weeks of ultra pain delivered in person by Mom?  “That stretch in the Florida hospice with Mom was the worst weeks of my entire life,” I wrote at the time.

Wasn’t I more ready to enter a mental hospital than a dating website?  In retrospect, that’s a big “Yes.”  Years later I heard that the standard joke at Alcoholics Anonymous is about a guy who’s been sober for months, then suddenly “just finds himself” with a drink in his hand. That’s exactly how I “just found myself” on dating websites.

But nobody warned me at the time.  In fact, my second therapist Dr. Rita told me that I was doing very well on her program.  She said that I was well enough to go back to work, and that I was well enough to drop my own therapy and fly around the country to physically nurse someone else for weeks.  She also said I was well enough to date.

In my mind, it was simple: I had a huge deficit of romantic love.  I’d gotten no deep emotional connection in my 27-year marriage, then I got a taste of it from Dan back East, a taste which blew me away.  I had accepted starving to death as a 27-year norm, then discovered there’s food out there.  Really tasty food, in fact it was addictive, if you recall.

Hitting the Bottle

Goya Capricho 43 El_sueño_de_la_razón_produce_monstruosNow it’s simple, I thought: “I married a bad man.  He was mean to me.  So I’ll just find a good man to love me.”  If Dan wouldn’t, I’d find a “West Coast Dan” who would.

What I didn’t know was that I was in so much pain from not merely 27 years but a lifetime without attachment, that I was hitting the bottle.  I was trying to anesthetize an entire life of emotional pain, with the “feel good” of romance.  [FN3, Goya, above: “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”]

I couldn’t stand the thought of returning from Florida to California after week upon week of this living Hell, with nothing and no one to whom to look forward.  After my evening jog, I’d take advantage of the three hour time delay to take calls from California into the wee hours.

“I hope to meet a productive man who has worked in transportation, construction, engineering, the military, science, or any field which gives him the satisfaction that, at the end of the day, he can look at his work and say:  ‘Today I created something to make the world better’,” my Match.com profile said.  “Such men seem to have the self-confidence necessary to love a real woman.” It also mentioned my singing.

“Hi, I’m a productive guy, and turn in a day’s effort for a day’s wage,” one aerospace engineer wrote back.  “I like to be active, love to play in the ocean during the summer, play racquet ball outdoors, and bicycle the Back Bay.  But I also have this music connection, and found it fascinating that you perform music.

“I have too have lived abroad, and I have a universal outlook on business models in today’s world.  It would be interesting to talk to you about the American and world economies.  Got to go practice the piano!  With a song in my heart…” he signed off.  A prospective accompanist, no less.  We spoke several times about everything from Schubert to Schopenhauer.

Another night there was Bob the Air Force man.  We both had the same science degree and an interest in international affairs; we hit it off by email and then by phone.  “I just read your profile and was impressed,” he wrote me.  “We seem to have a lot in common, including a connection to the military.  Appreciated what you wrote in your profile, and have never seen it put quite that way before (about productive men).

“The experiences I had during my many years of military service (world-wide travel + two wars) were exciting, inspiring, and humbling.  The average American has no idea how lucky he is to have had the good fortune of being born here, rather than one of the thousand other places I have visited around the globe.”

Mom passed away overnight in Florida the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  We had been scheduled to fly her to New York two days later, that Tuesday.  My brother-in-law booked me to New York for Wednesday Thanksgiving eve, to give me two days to pack up whatever I could carry of Mom’s belongings in our parents’ suitcases.  I gave away most of the wall paintings to Mom’s friends and relatives, made arrangements for the furniture, brought whatever bulky items might sell to an e-Bay trader, and took calls from Match.com while packing.

We held a funeral for Mom in New York on Thanksgiving eve in my sister’s upscale church.  Again Linda and her family said all the words.  When they were done, I just got up and sang again, this time Mom’s favorite song, “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  Again everyone cried and almost applauded my singing.

Again I was without tears.  At least this time I knew why.  I had always lived in fear of Mom, and now she had spent her last six weeks doing what felt like trying to obliterated me.  I felt really awful.

I’d been scheduled for many months to sing in the Handel’s “Messiah” given annually at the prestigious Nixon Library in California on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  I decided that I’d had my life on hold while sitting in Florida long enough, and told Bob I’d be back for the performance.

“You can’t be alone in California the first night right after your Mom died,” he said. “I’d like to take you to dinner after the concert.”  We arranged it.

And you, dear reader, already know what happens next.

Footnotes

FN1   Goya, Francisco de, “Los Caprichos,” set of 80 aquatint prints, Madrid, 1799 :  Capricho № 75: ¿No hay quién nos desate? (Can’t anyone unleash us?)
FN2   Goya, Capricho № 72:  No te escaparás (You will not escape)
FN 3  Goya, Capricho № 43:  El sueño de la razón produce monstruos  (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters)

———————

This is from Kathy’s forthcoming book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in Adults, Adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

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Mommy Doesn’t Like Me

#17 in my book blogs from “Don’t Try This at Home,” Chapter 3

Scan3-1 Kathy at porch crop 1I bet that title got your attention. Hey, most of my life I thought it was no big deal. I just always took it for granted that Mom didn’t like me much, and so what? Lots of people simply don’t get along. Mom was kinda like the weather: a fact of life about which one couldn’t do a thing, so why fret?  You don’t like the weather, you move.  So I graduated high school a year early and got moving.  Problem solved.

Or so I thought. But in 2008 in the hospice with Mom, the problem was back in my face.  And didn’t start when I quit med school at 25.  That’s me at 8 in the photo.  What kind of face is that on a kid?

I reported last time that in 2006 at her 50th anniversary dinner, Mom looked at me out of the blue and said, “I nearly died having you; you almost killed me. You gave me an infection that put me flat on my back for weeks…”  Huh? This was the first time in my life that I’d ever heard of that.  It seemed so unimportant, no one ever said boo.

When I was a kid, Mom did sometimes show me her scar, say I was an emergency Caesarian, and hint I was an unplanned pregnancy. When I hit puberty she’d warn me hard against boys. “It’s the woman who pays,” she used to repeat, “You don’t want to end up pushing a baby carriage.”  It wasn’t banter; it felt anxious and scary.

Later in 2009 I learned that at birth I was instantly put into incubation for many weeks since I too had that infection, one so bad it nearly killed me as well, not only Mom. She never mentioned that.

At about 4, I swallowed a penny and was rushed to X-ray. I was terrified by the huge cold black machine, by being held down, and by Mom’s anger; I thought she’d kill me for causing all the commotion. Another time before I was 5, Mom took me aside and said of one of my playmates, “I don’t love Michelle; she’s not my daughter.  But I like Michelle.  I love you – but I don’t like you.”  I tried to ignore this stuff, like the weather, but that one stung.  I realized just last week that I can still see the family dining table where it happened.

I recalled cowering in the kindergarten bathroom at 6, trying to erase a B grade and pencil in an A, afraid to come home with less than perfect – and then Mom’s fury at the lie. Washing my hands in school at 12, a tiny ring Mom gave me slid down the drain and she didn’t speak to me for weeks.  I felt complete panic.

Suddenly in that 2008 hospice it hit me: I’d always had some underlying feeling of fear, because I knew: Mommy doesn’t like me.

What child, you ask in disbelief, grows up thinking “Mommy doesn’t like me?”  Don’t all children think Mommy likes and loves them?  Hey, when I was a kid, I’d never been through childhood before, so I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to feel that! And didn’t dare discuss it.

All I knew was: Mommy doesn’t like me, she told me so in person, and I believed her. And in early 2008 when I interviewed five older relatives as instructed by the Inner Child Workbook, they confirmed it in spades: “Your mother never seemed to like you much.”

I was in this hospice because Mom was my Mom, and my beloved sister had commuted from New York to Florida for months to help first Dad, then Mom.  Now, Linda had to stay in her law offices on Wall Street; she had a husband, two sons, a large dog and a sailboat to support.  But Mom didn’t care. She just didn’t want me around.

My Wasted Life

homeless woman color1 cropI reasoned that Mom must be terrified of being ill and facing death.  No matter what she said, I decided, what Mom needed now was a huge amount of compassion and love; then surely she’d calm down.

I tried the compassion route to the best of my ability, which was probably pretty meager, but I tried. I sat with Mom for hours.  I said, “Mom, it must be scary to have a heart attack and be in here; why don’t you let me just hold you and support you emotionally?”

“I don’t want you to hold me,” Mom finally said. “I don’t want you anywhere near me. I sat on the living room couch and cried after I got off the phone with you, every Sunday for 25 years.”  (About seven minutes into my weekly Sunday phone calls to her, as noted last week, Mom did have a habit of hanging up on me… for 25 years.)

“Is this a good time to focus on bygones?” I persisted. “I’ve had a rough time with my divorce, the loss of my home and the collapse of the job market, and I could use emotional support, too. Can’t we do that for each other and just be mother and daughter?” I asked.  But no.  Now, the years of hang-ups were about to be explained.

“I’m not interested in emotional support.  Your sister helps people every day. What have you done with your life?” Mom said. “You have a brilliant mind and we gave you everything. It’s your own fault you married Larry.

homeless woman color2 crop“It was a wasted life, a wasted life!  You deserve what you got.  Emotional support doesn’t mean a thing.  The only thing which means anything is money.  If you care about someone that’s what you give them.”

Again we ask: am I imagining this, projecting my own neurosis onto Mom?  I wish.  And who brings a voice recorder into the hospice with their Mom?  Yet not only did she say it – I believed she was right.

I even called my sister to ask desperately:  “Is it true, is it true, did I really waste my entire life?” Sis was kind and said, “Of course not,” but she was so preoccupied with Mom’s illness that that was it.  My situation simply was not that important.

In fact it was the logic of history. It’s not as if I disagreed with Mom.  I’d long heard her say “I don’t like you,” and to a kid, Mom is Authority.  The Authority must be right, so I must be Bad.  I’d felt that forever, long before my first therapist Dr. Matt spelled out the science that “rejection creates a false belief structure deep in a child’s subconscious that ‘I am bad.’ ”

I must have led a wasted life.  In fact, I had fully internalized that – taken it into my heart – ever since I could remember:  Mommy doesn’t like me, so I must be worthless.

It’s Not My Coat

Ugly Coat 1 Poster 59129_641416799242577_626162796_nOn days like that (most days) my cell phone kept me alive. I placed a lot of calls from that hospice to friends in California and Virginia. When my sister couldn’t help me, I was reduced to calling my ice-queen second therapist Dr. Rita. “Is it true, did I have a worthless life?” I asked her in panic.

Dr. Rita had always refused to talk by phone, but under these circumstances she agreed.  I figgered my shrink must be the sane one since by now I sure did feel as if I were going stark staring mad. And God is merciful.  Dr. Rita actually did help some; she gave me one of her textbook examples that’s had lasting catch-phrase value.

“No one cries for 25 years for someone else; it’s all nonsense,” Dr. Rita said. “Your Mom projects her psychological problems onto you, and you take it on yourself.

“If she’s so miserable, then she’s the one with the failed life and she’s crying for herself, not you. If she wanted to go to medical school, she should have gone herself, not tried to break you over over it, to force you to do something she wanted to do herself. Why should she make you a pariah for marrying anyone? This is her psychic garbage, and you’ve been assuming it for years.

Ugly Coat Yellow _570xN.383387044_cpv2“It’s like a big ugly hairy coat that comes in the mail that you didn’t order. You open the box and find a coat in some horrid shade of orange or vomit yellow-green, with things sticking out of it. Your mother says, “I ordered it for you, it fits you perfectly, this coat is You!  You must try it on.”  So you try it, you walk around for her, you hate it.  You hate the style, the color, it does not fit you at all – but she makes you wear it.

“It’s time for you to take off the coat and say:  ‘Mom, this coat does not belong to me.  This is not my coat.  I did not order it – you did.  I think it will fit you better; please wear it yourself.’  Tell her to wear it.  Let her be responsible for her own resentments and complaints.  Or send it back, because the point is:  This is not your coat.

“This trip to Miami is an opportunity for you, if properly taken. You have a better chance of pulling yourself together now, to separate yourself from Mom now, while she’s still alive. This is not your coat. You’ve got to take it off and emotionally separate from her.  Do not tear yourself to pieces.  Use humor. Step back.  Go out and take a walk.  Take deep breaths, don’t let it all choke you.”

Fabulous insights, I now see, typing up my 2008 hand notes; if only I had been able to “get it.”  Back then I did see the logic; it did help logically.  It’s a great story.  But it didn’t calm my heart for beans.

Because this was the same Dr. Rita who also told me to lock myself up alone and relate to myself by myself. That had shut my emotions down with a bang. Without any bonding with Dr. Rita or anyone else, I still was so alone, terrified, and in a state of clinical shock that I couldn’t “get” much of anything – except that I hurt like hell.

And Rita still wasn’t doing emotional support.  Instead she concluded the call with her same old “go support yourself” Inner Child mantra. “When you have these panic attacks, you must talk to the Inner Child inside you and tell her ‘That authority figure was ridiculous.  Mom was ridiculous, you don’t treat a daughter like that.’

“Just disengage,” Rita concluded.  Terrific.  I was alone in Miami, 1,200 miles from my sister in New York, 3,000 miles from Rita and any new friends in California, sleeping in Mom’s retirement complex surrounded by people on walkers, completely isolated from the rest of Planet Earth.  Go tell Daniel to “just disengage” from the lions.

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This is from Kathy’s forthcoming book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

Tags: Adult Attachment Disorder, Adult Attachment Theory, Adult Attachment Interview, Emotional Support, Grief, Incubation, Inner Child, Therapy, Unplanned Pregnancy

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