#16 in my book blogs from “Don’t Try This at Home,” Chapter 3
Last time, I wrote that just when I thought 2008 couldn’t get any worse, October-November 2008 with Mom in the hospice in Florida turned out to be my psychological Cambodia. It was going to get a whole lot worse.
I also noted that Adam and Eve had a Perfect Parent, but a 50% failure rate producing their kids, meaning babies damage real easily. What if my Mom in reality was a fine (if not Perfect) parent, but I (like Eve) somehow got damaged, and had a mess in my head which made me project my own neurosis onto Mom? Everybody loves their mom; I do, too. I sure didn’t want to demonize my own mother. Ouch!
Linda, my beloved little sister, I know you love Mom so and I know you won’t like this chapter. I’m looking at your photo now and I weep. Yes the one I took in your junior high acrobat leotard; even then you were hot, babe. I love you like Life itself and I’d do anything not to hurt you – except to live another decade with these horror stories eating at me.
So the truth must come out, and I am so sorry that I could not talk it all through with you at the time, but there was just too much pain. Today’s 2013 brain science says that the emotional pain was so intense in 2008, that my brain stem literally knocked me out like a mouse when a cat picks it up. Forgive me, darling, that this comes so late. I love you so.
Gulp. Well folks, that one surprised me, too. Gosh, being a writer certainly has its ups and downs. Those soggy tissues on the floor all around my desk, where did they come from? Er, back to our story…
Scholars note that Buddha, Moses and Jesus all had trouble with their family when they went home. That’s simply because the ones to whom we are the closest, are the ones to whom we are the most vulnerable. We all need closeness and vulnerability, but that’s also where we can all get hurt most. Since nobody’s perfect, that’s where we do get hurt. They call it the “need-fear dilemma;” we need closeness, but we fear it. [FN1]
Thinking back on what happened next in 2008, I had plenty of need and fear inside my own head. But maybe Mom did, too; she had it none too easy as a kid, as detailed in “Butt End of Evolution.” See what you think.
It’s always hard to watch a mother die, and my Mom was very hard to watch, as I wrote last time. But then, I was not just an observer. I was the designated pin cushion. Mom had made no bones for decades that she pretty much didn’t want me anywhere, least of all in that hospice at the end. And I did promise you the back story.
Hero or Villain?
Decades before, I’d started medical school in the Philippines and came home to New York at age 25 for a visit, where Mom feted me like a returning astronaut at family parties to honor my acceptance into that professional track.
I never had a performance problem; I graduated high school a year early with a full college scholarship and finished college six months early. It seemed natural enough to me that I was alone on the other side of the world among strangers, killing myself pulling all-nighters as med students must for years on end. But one day after my return from Manila, talking with my former college sweetheart (now my ex), it hit me that I was trying to do something I didn’t want to do.
And I can’t find a more diplomatic or more truthful way to say this: Mom always wanted me to be a doctor, and I saw that’s why I was doing it.
I saw that I couldn’t go back to Manila, and decided to return to my boyfriend in New York. “I’ve realized that I’m not doing med school for myself,” I told my parents, “but I can’t do something this serious my entire life, for someone else.”
My mother despised my ex for his political involvements; that became grounds for a sudden explosion. “You’re throwing your life away,” she said in great anger. Before I knew it, she had accused my ex of “killing my daughter” by talking me out of medical school. And yes, my 20-20 hindsight freely admits my ex had lousy politics, in as deep with one of the many whacky groups which lined the streets of New York after the Vietnam War. No mom would want to see a daughter with such potential get mixed up in that.
But that could have been discussed in the bosom of the family. I could have left U Manila and gone to work in New York while I figured out what I wanted to do or where to go to grad school.
Instead, I was booted out of the house so fast it made my guts spin. This was not simply, “you’re a quitter, no more parties.” It felt like one minute I was John Glenn the hero riding in a parade with confetti, then awoke to find myself metamorphosed into Lee Harvey Oswald. The message was: “Go, and Never Darken My Doorway Again.”
I couldn’t think; I just wanted to die. Where was Jack Ruby when I needed him?
I had been excommunicated. There’s that odd feeling again; why does something always remind me of the Inquisition? It just keeps popping up. Perhaps I should create a new perfume line, “Eau d’Auto-da-fé ” or simply “Eau da Fe” for short (maybe have it marketed by Daffy Duck).
He’s a Bad Man
It took me another 25 years to notice the real shocker: all concerned were distressed, yet everyone accepted Mom’s response as a fait accompli. Scratching my head in 2013, I can’t recall a debate from anyone, not from my father or any other member of my family. Now that I think of it, it never entered even my head to debate it, either.
Everyone, including me, seemed to be in silent agreement that I was in the wrong and bad, while Mom was in the right, and good. That required all to nod in endorsement, as if to the law. It was like I’d been caught in a mortal offense to the Ten Commandments.
I simply condemned myself “guilty as charged” and slunk off as if to some den of inequity. “You’re supposed to feel bad when you’re treated bad!” one therapy expert later quipped on hearing the tale, in an effort to shake me awake. “You were in a sick system so long you became numb to it,” he said, it’s technically termed “dissociation.”
Were my ex or his politics a Nuremberg crime heinous enough to merit this? No one ever distinguished my being a med school quitter from his hated politics — not even me. It was all one huge ball of wormy guilt.
I didn’t steal from my dad or sleep with my sister’s boyfriend. I just said, “I can’t go to medical school, I’m going to hang out with a guy you don’t like, and I may have some politics you don’t like.” Yet suddenly it was “Off with her head!” Not until decades later did I realize it was all nuts.
No one ever said simply: “He’s a bad man, he’ll be bad for you — we love you, stay with us!” I would have stayed with my family in a New York minute. I was just trying to come home from the other side of the planet to find a little love for my wildly mixed-up head in a very cold world. But then I jumped out of a certain controlled script.
Now, here I was in 2008 in Mom’s Miami hospice, where as I wrote last blog, I’d come to her room each morning and Mom would roll over and turn her face away. She’d ask the nurses “Where’s my daughter?” with me standing there. When I’d say, “I’m right here, Mom,” she’d say, “Not you. Where’s Linda?”
How could Mom and I have run so far off the rails? I had plenty of time sitting in that hospice to agonize over that. It hurt a lot. One thing I knew: it didn’t start when I returned from Manila at 25.
Mom had been hostile ever since I could remember, since age 4 at least, which I knew from memories predating my sister’s birth. A few early incidents popped up out of nowhere in my first group therapy session as mentioned earlier. But as a kid I could never fathom it or discuss it with anyone. We just didn’t discuss such things at our house; there was too much to get done at home, work and school. I sure wasn’t going to mortify myself by telling anyone at school. It was a serious Ugly Duckling routine which never got to the swan part.
Another puzzle piece arrived in January 2006 when I flew in alone from Washington DC for a cameo appearance at my parents’ 50th anniversary dinner in a swank Miami bistro. With my sister and her family in their finest, amid the champagne toasts, Mom suddenly announced that she had always resented my existence.
Fixing an eye on me across the table decked with flowers and candles, she said out of the blue and loudly, without a trace of a smile: “I nearly died having you; you almost killed me. You gave me an infection that put me flat on my back for weeks. I was so sick that Grandma begged Dad not to have any more children.”
There was stunned silence at the table. I looked into Mom’s eyes an instant in panic, but there was no way to make a connection with what I saw looking back. To be blunt, it looked like either a very cold fish or something more dangerous.
I went blank, and made a beeline for the ladies room so no one could see me break down, collapsed in a stall in a blur of chiffon, stilettos, and tears. My sister eventually pulled me out. Everyone acted as if nothing had happened. Again. Even my poor sister blanked out the entire incident, and denies to this day that anything occurred.
This is from Kathy’s forthcoming book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How 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.
FN1 “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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