A Dream: “The Event”

November 7, 2008


I had a dream earlier this week.  I had been invited to an event of some sort.  It sounded like fun.  I knew where it was being held.  I’d been there before.  I went in the back door.  I was the only person at the event to come in that way.  I was familiar with the venue, but not the group.  The group was familiar with each other, but not that particular venue.

As the event progressed, I realized something wasn’t right about it.  There wasn’t enough food…or there was the possibility that there wasn’t enough food to go around.  Part of the “agenda” for the event was the rush for food.  I was thinking to myself, there is no way I am partaking in this, especially since it’s orchestrated.  It’s bleeped up.

That’s when I decided to leave the day-long event.  It was mid-morning, but I didn’t feel badly about leaving, although it was a little awkward since I was the only one leaving.  As I tried to slip out, one of the organizers made a reference to “when” I come back.  I thought to myself, I am definitely not coming back, but I just smiled and left.

I happily went on my way with a feeling of relief.  I still had most of the day ahead of me to do something that I enjoyed.  I felt really good.  The day was full of promise.


I had this dream the night after I found out about some drama with Harley’s family.  My feelings were hurt because I was felt I was being pulled into their family drama…and I cannot stand drama.

What it all boils down to is this.  I’ve been there before.  I’ve dealt with all of the drama.  I am not going back.  The drama is unnecessary.  The perceived competition for a lack of resources (parental attention?) is a family construction.  The kids are anxious.  They want attention.  They want reassurance.  And they have no idea how to get it.  It’s like throwing a piece of meat to a pack of hungry dogs…they are willing to fight for it.  This seems to be what is going on unconsciously in the family.  This is a pattern years in the making.

I choose not to partake in the dysfunction.  Every time this kind of thing happens, I will step back.  I will somehow remove myself from the situation.  Over time, they will learn that when they are calm and relaxed and pleasant to each other, I will be there for them.  This is a process and it will take time.


The Price of Guilt

November 3, 2008

I had a good conversation with my mom when she was in town recently.  I knew she would be visiting and I was hoping to have the opportunity to ask her about my sister, but I wasn’t sure if she was going to be receptive to talking about it.  Not that she has ever refused to talk about things, but I just didn’t want to upset her.  I also wasn’t sure how she was feeling about things as a retired person with more time to reflect and think about things.

Thankfully, she brought up the subject – not specifically of my sister, but of our family while I was growing up.  I shared with her my recent speculation about my sister being a sociopath.  I don’t think I used the word, but I talked about how I have become convinced she has no real remorse for how she treated me when I was a child.  My mom assured me that she does feel badly…and that she is still struggling to come to terms with her own childhood.  My sister is in her early 40’s, has four children, and is still struggling with her issues.

I think part of that is the fact that she got married when she was young (somewhere around 20).  Even though they waited a few years to have their first child, she went from her parents’ house to living with her husband.  Except for a drunken semester at college, she never lived on her own.  My mom did the same thing…and Harley’s wife did the same thing…the whole pregnant and married at 18 thing.  The problem with that is that it’s almost a 100% guarantee that you will pass on your dysfunction to the next generation.

My mom confirmed that she and my dad were, in fact, terrible parents to her.  Neither one was ready to be a parent.  Neither one had the skills it took to be effective parents.  And, as fate would have it, their first child, my sister, was a handful.  My mom told me she was a difficult and demanding child.  My mom said they hated her and she knew it.

From my perspective, the interesting takeaway from that conversation was that sometimes it’s better to be at the bottom of the hill when the shit is rolling down it.  That’s where I stood in my family.  All of the shit got passed down to me.  I was finally able to explain to my mom that that was the reason I flipped out when I was 19.  She never understood where that came from.  I told her it was a lifetime of frustration, hurt, and anger that built up and exploded within me.

My mom still struggles with the guilt of her parenting mistakes.  My sister is still struggling with the effects of her childhood.  Maybe my mom is right and she is not a sociopath.  Maybe, somewhere in her heart, she cares.  I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live with the knowledge that you abused another person.  My mom has apologized and expressed her regret many times over the years.  My sister is still too entrenched in her own pain to be able to fully take responsibility for how she treated me.

At times, I have suspected my sister is an alcoholic.  I suspect she uses alcohol to drown out her pain.  I think one of the main reasons alcoholics have a hard time recovering is because every time they sober up, they are confronted with their own pain as well as another, twisted kind of pain.  This must a shameful pain, the pain of recognizing how badly you have treated the people closest to you. 

As I told my mom how strange it is that in the end, I am the one who is free.  It took me a long time to get where I am, but I am just now realizing how incredibly lucky I am to only have to deal with the pain of being hurt.  I cannot imagine what its like to live with the knowledge that you have abused another person.

(My) Social Class in the US

October 17, 2008

My family origins are rooted pretty firmly in the (North) American working class.  My paternal grandfather (in his lifetime) and my parents (in their lifetimes) managed to slowly work their way into the middle class.  When I was growing up, we could not afford to eat at restaurants.  Going to a fast food restaurant was a rare treat…and when we went, we ordered minimal food.

I went to the same restaurant with a childhood friend and her father.  She asked what I wanted.  I said a cheeseburger.  She asked if that was all…didn’t I want a shake, too?  I was like, wow, ordering a shake is an option?!!

We couldn’t afford many clothes or many haircuts.  Seeing as how I have a “white person afro,” this was traumatic for me growing up.  My hair is incredibly thick and literally, grows up and out.  But I digress. I am just trying to convey the conditions in which I grew up…and how they evolved over time.  Fast forward to a decade later and my parents, who by then both worked full-time, managed to increase their earnings to the point where we weren’t struggling anymore.   By the time I finished high school, their “extra” income was enough to send me to college.  My parents, literally, had never saved a penny for my college education, but they were able to pay for it out of each paycheck for the 5 years (oops!) it took me to finish my undergraduate degree.

Let’s see, so I grew up at the higher end of the working class, eventually made it to the middle class…achieved a level of education to firm up that identity…then took out loans to go to graduate school at one of the best universities in the country.  I was on my way to becoming an intellectual, a member of the academic elite.  But did I mention I had a baby and subsisted on post welfare-reform “welfare” to get by?  My son and I were on Medicaid, WIC, and food stamps?

When it comes to social class, I have no idea “what” I am.  I am a product of the USA, a country that is unique in the flexibility of its educational system.  We do not have to come from wealthy or well-connected families…or be brilliant test-takers to get a good education (although that helps).  I went to University with some of the wealthiest people in the country.  Thanks to the generosity of my friends and their families, I took frequent trips to “the city” (New York City).  We came “home” one night to find Steel Pulsesitting in the living room.  Oh, ok.  I took a trip to a small resort island in the Caribbean.  Those are the only stamps in my now expired US passport.

Through my work, I have travelled around the US, worked for well-known people, worked with the smart people behind the “smoke and mirrors.”  That’s where I am now.  I am one of the smart people in the basement (not literally, I am referring to someone in particular).  We are the “national researchers” who pore through inordinate amounts of data and “information,” integrate all of the information into our heads (especially the stuff related to what we get paid to do…we forget this sometimes), organize the information, perform numeric calculations, and present intellectual knowledge in a concise way to whoever needs it.  Our organizations stamp their names on our work and it becomes “public knowledge.”   We happily go back to the basement and typically don’t care if our name appears on the document(s).  We’re not in it for our egos. 

We are the minds behind the smoke and mirrors that make up well-known national organizations.  Our work helps define the parameters and content of national policy debates.  This all sounds so conceited to me that I can’t even write about it in the first person.  I am so NOT into my ego.  I don’t ever say these things out loud.  I have NO interest in distancing myself from regular people who do regular things for a living.  I contribute my skills and intellect to improve social policy in the US.

But, whatever status I have achieved via my education and whatever prestige I have earned by where I have gone to school and worked, I am just me.  I don’t have a problem blending in with everyone else.

Another Fence Down

October 14, 2008

I have been having some interesting conversations with AttainingMe and Cremello across our blogs.  The conversations have begun to transcend any given post…that’s why I describe the conversations as taking place across blogs.  An example of this is a dialog that took place in the comments of AttainingMe’s post, What I want in a man.  As we have gotten to know each other better, we refer to things we have learned about in each others blogs.

Somehow, I ended up writing about why I tend to discount my own experiences.  AttainingMe reminded me that I need to hold my experiences, dreams, and values in higher regard.  I thought about what she said and made a connection.  My mother and my sister often played the “I had a worse childhood than you did” card.  Apparently, my sister learned this “trick” from my mother, who genuinely had a terrible childhood. 

I have only recently realized how sick my sister was (and presumably still is).  Here I am, 36 years old, finally beginning to realize the extent of her lies growing up.  What I have literally realized as I am writing this post is that my sister probably made up (or greatly exaggerated) how bad her childhood was.  It never even occurred to me until a few minutes ago to question the legitimacy of her statement…the statement that excused her behavior and minimized my experiences while I was growing up, all in one fell swoop. 

“I had it worse than you.”

I’ll go into more detail another time.  Suffice it to say that I have always been reluctant to “claim” I had a “worse” experience than anyone else.  I never wanted to play into that dynamic because it robbed me of any validation of my own experience.  I would NEVER want to invalidate someone else’s experience.  Unfortunately, I’ve gone too far in the other direction.  Now I am realizing the extent to which I have become “programmed” to invalidate my own experiences.

Another fence down. 

(The fence explanation is in my response to Cremello’s comment in the My First Breakdown post).

How Did I Get By Before the Internet?

October 11, 2008

I’ve never thought to tell anyone this because it’s really odd and only happens to me when I’m alone.  My attention span is REALLY short, so by the time I get where I’m going, I’ve already forgotten about it.

For as many years as I can remember, street lights turn off just before I approach or pass them.  Not every single street light, but one here and there.  I could chalk it up to an odd coincidence, but it happens pretty regularly.  Being a mathematically-minded person, I’ve thought about it and it seems unlikely that light bulbs would randomly go off in my presence as often as they do.  Weirder yet, it has been happening even more frequently over the last few months. 

A few days ago, I was riding my bike along my street and “poof,” out goes another street light.  I just rolled my eyes.  It happens often enough where it seems ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Cremello commented a few posts ago about how another strange “coincidence” may be a sign that I should be paying attention to…something.  So, since then, I’ve been paying more attention to things.  I speculated about what might need my attention and so far, it seems like I’m paying attention to the right things…at just the right time.

As I rode my bike home last night, a street light turned ON just before I approached it.  I said out loud (there was no one around, don’t worry), “You think that’s funny?!!”  A few streetlights up, the light flickered off…and then ON just before I approached it.  I suspiciously passed it, keeping a good eye on it.  I passed it and kept looking back, but it stayed on.

Just before I wrote this post, I typed “is it normal to see street lights burn out all the time” into Google not expecting to find ANY hits.  Instead I clicked on a number of links to find that this is a common occurrence among a subgroup of people.  Apparently, it’s normal for street lights to flicker off until the bulb cools down, then come back on.  That explains why it’s not uncommon to see lights burn out.  But, I do think it’s strange that there are so many people who have noticed the same thing.

Regardless, I’m taking that as a sign (especially since they turned ON) that I’m heading in the right direction.

My First Breakdown

October 10, 2008

My first “mental breakdown” was a good 7 years in the making (since age 12 for sure), but really longer.  Everything in my life had piled up to the point where it was suffocating me.  I couldn’t make sense of it.  I couldn’t stay on top of it.  I literally could not imagine the future.  When I imagined it, I only saw blackness.  I literally had no idea what my future held for me.  I couldn’t imagine anything at all.  Everything I had experienced had basically been endured (family, school) and I simply could not comprehend the idea of having a life over which I had control.  I couldn’t imagine a life worth living.

At the age of 19, I had my first boyfriend, Owen.  It was an intense and volatile relationship.  We both came from dysfunctional families and had no idea what a normal relationship looked like.  That relationship, like any romantic relationship, activated my core emotions and all of the baggage that comes along with that.  I couldn’t handle it. 

I had been having violent outbursts.  I had a terrible therapist and an even worse psychiatrist.  They gave me an anti-seizure medication to control my increasing anger.  My anger towards my parent had reached disturbing levels for no apparent reason.  I hated them and had thoughts of killing them.  I never would have done that, not even in my darkest moment, but that’s how much I hated them at that time.  I felt like I was crazy.  I didn’t understand (like I do now) that the floodgates had opened and that 19 years worth of hurt, frustration, and anger had boiled to the surface.

I hated myself and didn’t understand what was going on.  I started to “self injure,” although I was reluctant to admit it.  Whatever thoughts of hurting other people I had, I turned against myself and took out on myself.

One night, Owen and I had been drinking and got in a verbal fight in the car on the way home.  He was driving my car.  I was so out of control, I started banging my head against the passenger window of the car while Owen drove.  When we were almost home, he punched the rearview mirror of my car, knocking it off.  For some reason, that act totally sent me over the edge.  By the time we got to his apartment building, I was completely out of control.  When he got out of the car, I also got out and started punching him.  I had enough self-control not to go for his face, so I punched him in the chest instead.  At the exact moment he used a karate move on me (he was a black belt), a neighbor looked out the window to see what was going on.  The only thing he saw was Owen “throwing” me to the ground.

The neighbor happened to be an off-duty police officer.  He called the cops and immediately came outside with his girlfriend.  They thought Owen had been attacking me.  Owen realized how bad the situation looked for him and immediately took off to get my parents, who lived a half-mile away.  When my parents showed up a few minutes later, my dad said something I guess (??!!) in an attempt to calm me down.  He said something like we all have a hard time sometimes.  I told him to f^ck off.  Maybe he was trying to be supportive, but I felt like he was minimizing my experience, implying I was overreacting.  Granted, I was overreacting to the situation at hand, but that’s because I had under-reacted to countless years of other people’s bullshit and my top had completely blown off, so to speak.

My First Everything

October 9, 2008

Although he was not always the best influence on me, Owen meant well.  He actually did the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.  He encouraged me to apply to the main campus of the University I was attending.  It was a school that is very difficult to get into.  Even though I was already attending a commuter campus, I had to apply as a new student in order to “transfer” to the main campus.  I was totally intimidated because only the smartest people in the state and country went there and I didn’t think I was one of “them.”  But, Owen always told me I was smart and insisted I apply to attend the following year.

So, with his urging and support, I started filling out the application.  I got stuck on my personal statement, but he stayed on my case until I finished it and submitted the application packet. 


A few months later, to my shock and amazement, I was accepted!  I could not believe it was real.  I was just accepted to one of the best schools in the country.  I was finally going to be able to get out of this horrible town I grew up in.  I was finally going to be able to get away from my family.  I was jubilant.  My hope that things might get better was renewed.

It was still a rough ride from there.  It took me many years to work through all of my issues, including the abuse and neglect I experienced during the first two decades of my life.  I had three “mental breakdowns” to get through over the following 14 years.

I don’t know what would have happened to me if Owen had not insisted I take that risk. 

I don’t know if I would be alive today.  I don’t think I would have made it.  I certainly wouldn’t be in one piece.  Based on my two short-lived stays in my hometown since originally departing, I know my addiction issues would have been much worse.  And the available mental health care was terrible.  The therapist I saw before I finally “escaped” my family and hometown insisted I had been sexually abused as a child (which I had not been).  And the psychiatrist I saw gave me anti-seizure medications instead of the anti-depressants I desparately needed.  He also shared inappropriate sex-related information with me and prescribed a medication that decreased the efficacy of the birth control pills I was taking without telling me that this was the case.  If I hadn’t escaped that “madhouse,” I would have ended up like my grandmother Bernadine.