Maybe it seems strange to you that during such a hectic time of year for most families, that I would take the time for myself, and have a therapy session – particularly since a portion of my therapy is about my family, and my interactions and choices related to them.
Let me iterate again: This is not about the people in my life, but about my thoughts and feelings, and perceptions and/or misperceptions of them.
I went into therapy thinking that the primary subject for my therapy would be discussing the shambles of my marriage. Please note, I’m not blaming it 100% on my ex-husband, as much as there are many people who think that he should shoulder 100% of the blame. I made bad choices as well. It took both of us to make the kind of mess we ended up with.
But, the reality is, I have spent more time with this therapist discussing my family than we have spent discussing my ex-husband. And, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.
When I think back to the woman I was at 25 (my age when I married him), and my relationship to my parents at the time (and my understanding of them at the time), there are many stories I told myself about my parents, their opinion of me (or at least what I thought that opinion was), and our relationship in general.
The reality is, while I’ve had trouble trusting them since age 13, I still viewed them – at that time – as being somehow incapable of ever being wrong. That I should believe every word from their mouths, simply because they had the best intentions.
The person I am now laughs at that. No parent is perfect – whether perfectly good or perfectly evil. They fuck up, they make mistakes (sometimes ones that leave you with scars), they’re human.
But because of my naïveté at the time, I had assimilated into myself those negative opinions that they had of me. That I was unreliable, irresponsible, a liar, and so many other things. So really, I was looking for someone to whom **I** could be the hero. Someone who needed me to save them. Enter my ex, stage right.
Oh, yes, he needed me. He needed to be loved, even though his own self-worth painted him as utterly evil and unlovable. He needed to be understood, because “no one ever understood him.” He needed someone who could stand unblinking when he showed his rage, neither running in fear nor being bigger and meaner than he, beating him down “like everyone else in his life had done.”
He was perfect. He fit all of my own illusions about who I am, and who I can be to someone else. I never really had “passion” for him, but I convinced myself he was “the one” for me, because he needed me – and I needed to be needed. The relationship was mediocre at best (including the sex), but with my own freezing out of my chaotic emotions (you know, all of those crazy-making, confusing emotions), the quiet and safe passionless love was exactly what I thought was supposed to be what relationships were really about. The thoughts in my head were that the passion, the desire never stays in a relationship – that it is only the passionless love that keeps two people together.
And it fit so well into my illusions of what I felt I needed to prove to my parents.
You see where the problem lies, I hope.
Today’s therapy pretty much talked about my relationship with my parents and my grandmother. And the more I talked, the more my therapist expressed confusion about the worldview of my family.
Now, this isn’t really new to me. My ex-husband was convinced that I, and by extension, my entire family, were mutants. That family doesn’t work the way we think it does, or at least no one else in the world has a family like mine.
I mean, think about it. The church I grew up in was a major part of our lives, and continues to be pretty much the most conservative flavor of Lutheranism that is out there. Christianity was the cornerstone of our lives. Yet, so was history and the understanding of other cultures – including their religions, AND their myths and legends. Yet, my parents taught me that a body is just a body – clothed or not – which is how I have so little body modesty, and although I have some body shame, it’s not for the WHOLE body, but only small parts thereof. I can still stand and accept myself as I am. Yet, there was also the same mixture of shaming and emotional abuse about my body as any other fat child (i.e. “No one will ever love you.” “You’d be so pretty, if only…..” Being blamed for any disappearance of food – even when there were other children in the house [and ALL kids steal food at times]; the list goes on and on). I didn’t have “Barbies” so much as I had multi-cultural dolls (the one I remember the most is the Scottish one, but I know I had at least one African-American, and a few of other cultures). I was taught to be respectful to others, and to assume the best of them (another based directly in Lutheranism – shows up in the Book of Conord, as part of the Lutheran Confessions. Specifically, the Lutheran explanation of the 8th commandment.) regardless of their age, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or any other difference from myself. I was taught to judge someone by their current actions, not poor choices they made in their past. And I was taught that my behaviors are not “me” – not the true core of me – and that behaviors can change, but the “core me” that makes me “me” would never change – and that the “core me” was ALWAYS loved unconditionally, even if a certain behavior was punished.
These aren’t normal in this world. Hell, these aren’t even necessarily normal in people similar to my family.
My therapist extrapolated some “rules” of our lives as a family that don’t really quite fit. But what she IS helping me to do is readjust my remaining illusions about my family. She’s helping me dig down to their roots, and figure out if they are rooted in healthy soil or in garbage.
And, the more I do that, the more I root out the garbage, the more it affects my thoughts on romantic relationships. Oh, a huge portion of the healing of those relationships came from actually having relationships with healthy (or at least significantly more healthy than my ex) men. Realizing that there are better men out there, and that I deserve to find the right kind of love that I truly need.
I’m not going to play the “what if” game – what if I had learned these lessons at 25? Would I have still been with him? Would I have even lasted a year in a marriage to him? Those questions aren’t valid. The past can’t change. And I know I need to keep doing this work, because it brings me that much closer to a better life.