Reminder, monthly London meetup is tomorrow. Sorry for not posting this sooner, guys! It’s been the week of 1000 meetings.
Dear Awkward Army,
London meetup this weekend, 23rd March! All welcome.
11:00 am onwards, Leon restaurant, 36/38 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TT.
The venue so far has worked out well, so I’m sticking with that. They’ve also offered us 25% off all our food and drink.
Leon have a variety of good food at very reasonable prices – for central London, anyway! Menu here:http://www.leonrestaurants.co.uk/menu/
This branch has an accessible toilet, and we’ll be on the ground floor in the back (around behind the food service counter).
I have long brown hair and glasses. I will bring my plush Cthulhu to use as a table marker. It looks like this: http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/7cb0/
My email address is kate DOT towner AT gmail DOT com
As discussed at previous meetups, I am happy to teach people to knit, so if you want to start or want help, bring something along!
By the way, I think it’s likely the April one will be on the 20th rather than the 27th, sorry about any confusion.
And now, a letter.
Hey Cap (and friends!),
There’s a little bit of background to this, but I’ll try to keep it short.
I have issues with my family. I guess you could say I’m the “black sheep” in a way. I’m the middle child, the only creative person, the only one who could be described as liberal, and (perhaps most importantly) the only one to inherit my mother’s bad depression, with a side of social anxiety. Add to this a big old heap of emotional abuse from my father and, later, my stepmother (who is thankfully gone now).
When I was in high school, I went through a lot of trouble, including self-harm, that was more or less ignored, and I didn’t do very well in school despite having clear potential. It was only later when I asked my parents about it that they said yeah, they always sort of knew that I had depression, and knew that it was holding me back, but they didn’t want to bring it up with me at the time because…they haven’t given a solid answer. As far as I can tell, they kind of sacrificed my academic future on the altar of not having an awkward conversation with me.
A few months ago, I moved out of state to live with my boyfriend and see about continuing into college now that I have things more under control. But every time I talk to my parents or my brother and sister, it seems like they have nothing nice to say at all.
I love my brother and sister, but every time I chat with them, they seem to be always upset with me. “Why haven’t you called us? Why haven’t you called Dad? You need to call us more and not be so ungrateful. You don’t even want to be part of the family.” Even putting aside the fact that they know I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to talking on the phone, I don’t understand how being busy up here and not able to contact home every day counts as ungrateful.
Then, the other night, a minor disagreement on Facebook randomly spiraled into them accusing me of hating our father, of not wanting to be a part of the family, and of being selfish in even moving away. These overtures were common before I’d moved, but now it’s been magnified so that they’ve become outright vicious about it.
I’m out of a toxic environment, but now the environment is starting to follow me. How do I tell my brother and sister that I still love my family (I really do!), but they need respect my decisions and treat me like a person?
Oh goody, when your abuser recruits others to do their abusing for them.
I want to review a few things about abuse (which includes neglect and/or emotional abuse). Well, I don’t want to. But I will. People can grow up in the same household and have two totally different experiences of what happened. Your brother and sister are probably being wound up by your dad, and investing in this story about how they are the Good Ones and you are the one who causes problems. And your leaving affects the stories they want to tell themselves about how they grew up. If they grew up in an awesome place, then why are you leaving it? And if they didn’t grow up in such an awesome situation, and you can just walk away from it, then they could theoretically walk away from it, too. But they aren’t, so are you like, judging them by making a different choice? Or leaving them alone to deal with JerkDad on their own, which is somehow “unfair”?
None of this surprises me, is what I’m saying. Abusers need to control the story about what happened, and will go to great lengths (including deputizing others and making them miserable by proxy) to keep that control, because it’s a way of controlling you. If your parents had gotten you help when they noticed you harming yourself, they risked that you would tell other people what it was really like in your house, which may have had real consequences for them or the imagined consequence of “someone somewhere thinks they are not very good parents.” Maybe you would have moved out, and been outside of their control. Maybe you would have gone off to school, and learned things, and been outside of their control. Maybe people in your town would have given them the side-eye at church. Or, maybe they saw you hurting yourself and they just didn’t give a shit, and now that you’re old enough to tell the story I and everyone reading this thinks maybe they weren’t very good parents. That cat is out of the bag, Letter Writer, so take care of yourself now that you are out of the house and have that agency for yourself.
Honestly, who knows or cares what their logic is. You don’t actually have to know in order to make good decisions for yourself.
Here’s what we do know:
1. Many people don’t get the whole “making a different choice than you is not an attack on you” thing. You left. They could leave too, if they wanted to. If they choose to stay? Great, enjoy that, then! Not actually a referendum on love or a reason for yelling.
2. Starting a conversation with someone who calls you with WHY DON’T YOU CALL MORE, JERK? is a good way to get people to call you even less, because why put up with the hassle? Telephones, roads, emails work both ways.
3. Living where you are living and putting some distance between you and your family is a good decision for you right now.
Your family doesn’t have to be horrible for that to be true, by the way. Some people grow really well while staying very close to and entwined with their families, but some people need to go off on their own and really break away for a while before they can come back and figure out an adult relationship with their folks. The stayers aren’t better people than the leavers, and the leavers don’t necessarily grow up better than the stayers – it’s just, whatever your situation is, you need to do what is right for you.
It sounds like your family sees you as a perpetual fuck-up. Guess what? For much of my adult life, mine did, too. They wouldn’t use “fuck-up”, they would use “We’re very worried about you,” or “We don’t understand your choices (to seem to fail at everything).” For a lot of my 20s, when I was really struggling with depression and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, being around them for long periods of time would make me start to feel like a fuck-up. And then it would be self-fulfilling – I’d be so miserable and wound up that I would be in a reactive mode because I was so ashamed and on-edge all the time. If you’re constantly criticized, you start to react to people as if they mean to criticize you even before the words come out of their mouths, so it’s easy to launch the “Why are you being so dramatic/exaggerating/blowing things out of proportion/I was just asking/jeez, overreact much?” brigade and the you feel more like a fuck-up because you’re being gaslighted into believing that having normal reactions – stress, aversion, shoulders-up-around-ears, being on guard are somehow your own fantasies and not reactions to the constant criticism that’s being leveled at you.
You know what was a great decision for me? Moving really, really far away and staying there, and seeing them in smaller doses.
I just spent a few days with my folks last month, and we’re on much better terms now and it was mostly a great visit. But by the end of it, my dad’s constant mansplaining had escalated to the point that he took my toast out of the toaster, put it back in “correctly,” called me “stupid” for not being able to find the correct drawer where knives were kept on the first try in a kitchen where I don’t live, and actually SCREAMED at me for microwaving food for what he deemed to be an incorrect amount of time. Screamed. Spit flying and hitting my face. Screamed.
And that was a “great” visit. And if he read this (I don’t think they read the blog, they’ve never mentioned it, and I’ve never mentioned it to them though I don’t hide my actual identity), he’d tell me I was overreacting and blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Because screaming about things like “where we keep the knives in a rental kitchen” is normal in his world, so normal that there is a 75% chance he does not remember it at all, and I was raised to think that was normal. I would be the “emotional” one for being mad that someone screamed in my face (and having to walk out of the room and go cry privately and text my boyfriend because I honestly felt like I was going crazy), and he would be the rational one, because…he is a dude. A dude who gets so upset about microwave times that he screams. Rational!
And then I left, and I went to the small quiet room, where no one screams at me, ever. And if someone in my life now screamed at me, they would not do it twice, because they would not be in my life anymore, because screaming at people over trivial shit is not okay. I learned that by leaving home, pretty much forever, which was not without costs and anxiety and working hard to schedule visits so that I can get in and out with a minimum of screaming. Going home & maintaining that relationship means trying to always make sure I have a rental car, or schedule time with friends who live nearby so I have a break, and ALWAYS having my phone with me so I feel connected to people who don’t yell at me, and sometimes, honestly, Xanax. It means when they are nice and pleasant it makes me doubt my own reality, like, do I really need to keep my shields up? Am I being unfair? Ohhhhh wait, there is screaming about trivial stuff again, nope, it’s okay to keep my guard up. It also cost years of therapy to learn how to interact in a healthy way, keep my temper (or lose it more selectively), and be able to disassociate from what was happening and remind myself that their vision of me is not me. It also cost long periods of not interacting with them, with the explicit message “If you are not nice to me, I will not be around.” Eventually it worked and made everyone try very hard to be nicer. But I won’t ever lie and say it was easy.
Alphakitty said something really great in a comment yesterday:
I think part of a mother/father’s power to hurt comes from the Pedestals of Infallibility young children are encouraged to put their parents on. Even once we grow up and learn that our parents are just people, with biases and baggage and all that, we still invest their opinions of us with greater Truth and weight than we would give anyone else’s opinion. It’s all swirled together with the “Mother/Father knows best,” and “we only want what’s best for you” (even though their values probably aren’t quite the same as yours, so their definition of “best” is not going to match yours), and an implication that “we know you better than anyone else, even you” (though parents’ opinions of their offspring are often a) outdated, based on behavior/characteristics the “child” has outgrown, and b) distorted by their own values and their need to believe certain things about their kids).
Your parents, and your brother and sister, DON’T KNOW YOU BEST. And they don’t know what is best for you – they proved that when you needed help and mental health services and they just kind of forgot to hook you up with them. And this story that they have about how you are a fuck-up is not the only story, and not a story that everyone will have about you. And I think you were smart to get far, far away from them.
I think that now that you are away, you should do a couple of things:
1) Find (or continue) treatment for your depression.
2) Put your brother, sister, dad, and anyone else who makes you uncomfortable in social media jail. There are ways you can stay “friends” with someone on Facebook but make it so they can’t really see anything you post or do on Facebook. Or, consider unfriending them, or making a second profile where you connect with people you really want to. “I love you, but I refuse to get in Facebook fights. From now on email me at _____.“
3) Filter their emails and phone calls so that you choose to interact with them at specific, regular times. And possibly cut off all contact for a while, if it helps you gain some distance and perspective. For a long time, this is what I did: I would call or hang out periodically, and be pleasant as long as they were pleasant. When the first mean thing was said, I would leave the conversation and not interact again for a period of (generally) 1 month. 2 mean things? 2 months. 3 mean things? 3 months. It was not perfect, and it was very hard and painful and took a lot of psyching myself up and second-guessing on my part. But it was pretty essential in reminding myself: “Whatever happened in the past, I do not have to stay in conversations with people who are rude to me.” Sometimes I would just excuse myself, “Sorry, out of time to talk, catch you soon!” and sometimes I’d say “This conversation is really starting to stress me out, so I’m going to end it now” – it depended on how mean it was and my overall stress level.
4) Repeat “I am not responsible for everything they feel” until it sounds believable.
5) If you want to, say something like “I am really happy and excited to start school. I am taking a break from communication for a while while I get settled, and I’ll be in touch when I’m ready.” And then let them feel about it and react however they want. They will not like it, they will not understand, they will be mad, but it might still be what you need in order to feel okay.
6) It may never be okay. It will always hurt a bit and feel weird. That’s because abuse is destructive and it ruins everything, not because you are a bad mean ungrateful daughter. Your family is blaming you for things they did to you. Not okay.
7) The rest of your family might not believe you or see it your way. “But that’s just how he is…” “But I deal with it, why can’t you?” “You’re exaggerating.” “It’s not that bad.” Well, maybe it is that bad, for you, and they don’t have to agree for you to do what is right for you. It would be awesome if your sibs could be your allies, but if they aren’t, admit it and disengage. “We think you’re the worst, so move back here and prove you love us, or we’ll think you’re the worst” isn’t really a compelling proposition.
8) Kick ass at your studies and enjoy your new life.