I need some help putting myself back together again.
Basically, my partner and I moved into his parents’ house for about a year and a half after the birth of our second child owing to some financial complications we hadn’t anticipated. This was very kind and generous of them, and I want to acknowledge that. However, living with them was painful and destructive in ways I had thought I could handle, and it turns out I was wrong. They’re pretty right-wing, Fox News-watching types, and are unconsciously racist and homophobic to boot. That year and a half of living with them was filled with micro- and macro-aggressions enough to have thoroughly sunk my spirit – I spent so much time holding my tongue and gnashing my teeth around them that I’m finding it really, really difficult to recover the me that I was before I lived with them. It’s like I sat so hard on all the parts of myself around which I was the most vulnerable that I may have actually permanently squished them, and now I’m a person that I don’t really recognize.
Before we lived with them, I was a person who Used My Words; now I struggle to actually have feelings without second-guessing them and talking myself out of talking about them with the relevant parties because really, those feelings aren’t very rational and anyway talking about them will just make things worse. Before we lived with them, I was a person who could hear something like “If one of my children told me they were gay it would be like finding out they were a rapist or a murderer” and be instantly filled with righteous fury; now my reaction is a kind of subdued, repressed anger and thoughts along the lines of “well I guess they’re entitled to their feelings.” And along with those changes have come changes to my relationship with my partner, and I don’t like them apples neither – I don’t want us to turn into them, or for our relationship to in any way, shape, or form resemble theirs!
I can’t do therapy right now because it’s not financially feasible (our health insurance won’t cover it because they consider it “therapy for self-improvement,” as opposed to therapy for “legitimate” reasons like having a medical condition manageable by medication), so I’m really looking for concrete steps I can take to get myself out of being this sorry sop of a doormat. I know I can’t go back to the person I was, completely, because that’s not the way time works, but it would be nice to be able to move forward into being someone who knows hirself and is comfortable in hir own skin and good about having hir own feelings and opinions.
Things I am currently doing, in case it helps:
- Making friends again, and putting people on Team Me.
- Actively seeking a spiritual practice that will help me deal with my feelings.
- Practicing actually talking to my partner again about things that matter to us.
Anyway, I’d really appreciate your perspective and advice.
Toasted and Kinda Crispy
Hi there, Crispy.
First, all the past tense stuff tells me that you have already moved out of that toxic hellhole, so CONGRATULATIONS. You didn’t die AND you didn’t kill anyone in a fit of repressed indignant rage. Gold stars all around!
More gold stars:
- You’ve identified the problems.
- You’re already doing the things you need to do to get unsquashed.
- You’re already looking into therapy (just a sec!).
All of those are hallmarks of someone who doesn’t really need any help from we uncredentialled internet advice spinners. What you need are atagirls (Hey Awkward Army! Got words of encouragement?) and advanced strategies, since you’re already mastering the basic strategies (another gold star! quit it or I’ll run out. (that’s a lie. I have, like, a quajillion gold stars here.)).
All I’m going to do here is take the stuff you’re already working on or planning on and kick it up a notch.
1 – Making Friends Again
SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP did you not have any friends to help you through this time? I cannot even tell you how much my heart hurts for hearing that. Yes, go on friend-dates and get yourself a confidante, or rekindle an old relationship gone radio-silent, even if that person is far away now. The internet is a glorious thing. If you need tips (it does not sound as if you need tips, but for reference (also, GOLD STAR!)) check out these primers on new-friend-making.
2 – Spiritual Practice
This might actually help with the friends thing, if you decide to find a congregation. Go on Spirit-Dates (er, sit in on a service or two) with different religious communities and see if any of them speak to you. If none of them do, that is OK, and if the first one does, that is OK, and if a different congregation of the same denomination as your in-laws does, that is OK. You don’t even have to believe 100% in everything to find a community that feels right to you. You may decide that in the end, you’re a committed Brunchian and that, too, will be OK.
3 – Reconnecting with Your Husband
You, of course, know your husband way better than I do; I don’t even know his name! So you’re going to be the best judge of what will work here. But I’m going to recommend a wee bit of couples therapy. You guys sound super good in general, so you could frame it as a marriage physical exam, or a check engine light. “We’re great, but the transition away from your parents’s house has made me feel off-kilter. Are you feeling that way? Can we go talk about it with [therapist] for two sessions max?” You don’t want there to be a heart attack or your engine falling out on the highway before you seek help, right? Right. “It’s just four hours total, and it would make me feel better.” If dude can’t get on board with four hours to make you happier, there are deeper issues afoot than a couple sessions of therapy can deal with.
Bonus 4 – Therapy
You need to talk to somebody, and your insurance says it won’t cover it. Fine.
- Will they accept that you’re afraid you’re showing symptoms of depression and maybe they can pay for some diagnostic therapy? Be frank with your prospective therapist about your insurance issues, and they may be able to work something out.
- Are you working for a large company? If so you may have access to a mental health hotline.
- Back up to #2 – if you find a religion/congregation that you like, the pastor/rabbi/priest/imam/whoever probably does pre-marriage counseling all the time, which translates pretty well to post-marriage counseling. Not to mention helping congregants one-on-one.
- Call a crisis hotline and see if they have a non-emergency line.
Bonus 5 – Self-Therapy
If you’re making friends and doing things that you want to and not having to be around your in-laws all the time, you’re going to be fine in time. I swear. You won’t be the same person you were before, that’s true. But you’re not a worse, horrible, squashed person now, and you will not be a horrible muted version of yourself in the future.
It sounds kind of hokey? But do some mindful appreciation of awesome things in your life. My hand to God(ess(es)) I do this all the time when things get to be too much or too stressful. I look for something to appreciate.
“Today is 100% perfect weather. Wow.”
“Husband looks super sexxay today! I will tell him so!”
“It’s almond croissant day at favorite bakery. I am so happy some goddamn genius invented almond croissants.”
“I made two entire human beings. That is WACKY COOL.” (I mean, I didn’t, but you did, and seriously that is some amazingness, right? YOU MADE HUMANS.)
“Mmmm hot shower. Dude, less than 100 years ago, this was unspeakable luxury.”
“I can talk to people thousands of miles away and never meet them, but still be supported by them. What a fascinating modern age we live in.”
And perhaps most importantly: “I am self-aware enough to make the choices that will prevent me from turning into my in-laws. When they choose hate and fear, I will choose love and curiosity.”
And then act in such a way that you are choosing the loving and curious path. I’m sure you are already (gold star!), and I give you all the Jedi Hugs.