I have kept an online journal or blog about being estranged here on Estrangements.com from 2001 to 2005.
In late 2005 I created the Estrangements blog on Typepad where I continue to write about estrangement.
To go directly to the first post on Typepad, click here.
- Jan.-April 2004
- May-Dec. 2004
- Jan.-June 2005
- June to July. 2005
April 3, 2001
An Introduction to the Estrangements Blog/Journal
One of the most insidious things about being estranged is the inclination to define ourselves in terms of being estranged: "I am an estranged mom or an estranged daughter or an estranged father or ..." As though we have failed at something. But there is so much more to life than whether we are estranged from someone. Often there is nothing that we can do to end the estrangement if we weren't the one who made the decision.
What we can do is live a life that contributes something positive to the world. I chose a picture of myself in which I am smiling. I am not smiling about being estranged but being estranged hasn't taken away my ability to smile.
April 6, 2001 Friday
The Advantages of Parrots (over children)
Estrangement, the website, has been up for 3 days. I spent most of today enlarging the links pages, finding the movies that I could remember, adding bookmarks to the Yahoo! Estrangement Group site (Note added by author in 2010: That group does not exist currently.) I have wondered if it would be possible to have an Estrangement humor page or if that would be too bizarre. Something along the lines of Hilary Clinton wishing she were estranged from Bill maybe!
I don't know if I'll include a humor page. But I did recall something that I wrote a few years ago. It isn't specifically about estrangement but it was inspired by the estrangement from my daughter. I'll include it here for now. Here it is:
The Advantages of Having Parrots Instead of Children.
- Parrots hatch. This is a big plus!
- As long as your parrot is alive, you will always have a child in the house. (For some this may be seen as a disadvantage!)
- A parrot plays like a child, talks like you, has temper tantrums like a child, gets over them unlike some children.
- A parrot will eat her veggies.
- Parrots grow their own clothes which are usually attractive, colorful & enhance their looks. A parrot will never wear a lycra see-through blouse or their jeans below their underwear. If their underwear isn't clean, it means that they are sick. They are good about their grooming.
- Parrots are cheaper to educate & appreciate your efforts to educate them. After classes are done, they do not move to the other side of the country & stop calling you.
- Your parrot talks to you. If she doesn't talk to you, she will sing or whistle to you.
- Parrots are good listeners. They love to hear you talk about anything as long as they are not tired. If you wonder if they are listening, they will repeat back to you what you said.
- A parrot is always happy to have dinner with you. Or lunch or breakfast. If they would let parrots in the stores, your parrot would go shopping with you &/or to the movies. When she is tired, she will yawn & go to sleep if you let her.
- When a parrot is angry with you, she is direct about it. You will know. There is no reading between the lines.
- If you do not abuse your parrot, she will not stop talking to you for years. Parrots make sense. They are logical creatures. They know who feeds them & who is kind to them. They reward love with love.
- A parrot appreciates attempts to make her happy.
- A parrot knows who is kind & who isn't. She does not reward those who are not kind. Those who love her & show her they love her are the ones she trusts. She will not run off with the ex-con drug addict who she met in a bar. She might bite him!
- Parrots do not go out & buy drugs or indulge in liquor.
- Parrots are naturally smart!
- At night parrots sleep quietly. They do not play drums or watch MTV at full volume till 3 A.M. or hang out in bars or on street corners carrying boom boxes & a bottle in a brown paper bag & funny handrolled cigarettes in their pockets. Parrots do not smoke.
- Parrots have a sense of boundaries. If you let them know, they will sometimes respect yours but they won't hold a grudge over boundaries. They will let you know where their boundaries are. There is no guessing with a parrot.
- Parrots are cheerful, affectionate & funloving.
- A parrot will never ask you for advice & then get mad at you for giving it.
- A parrot is a very forgiving creature.
- Parrots do not fart!
- If a parrot throws up in front of you, it probably means she loves you!
- Parrots never ask for money unless you teach them to ask for money.
Ginny © 2001 All Rights Reserved, May not be reprinted without written permission.
June 4, 2002
Redoing website. Discovered a couple of months ago that Yahoo! had stopped allowing FTP file transfer on their Geocities pages where this site used to be. I discovered that shortly after taking the site down or would have left it there. So I'm making a few changes and then will upload it to a mac.com site.
In my personal life, nothing has changed as far as the estrangement goes. The estrangement with my daughter is going to be 7 years old shortly. I have gone on with my life. I'm pursuing some creative personal projects. I no longer think about her every day. I hope she's well and enjoying her life. It's very strange to be so distant from someone to whom I once felt so very close. Life is going on.
June 15, 2002
Powerlessness over how things turn out.
Once again working on website. Creative projects like this are kind of like having children. It is something that we bring to fruition and then let out into the world and let if fly. Whether anyone else gets anything out of it or not is not up to us. We just put it out there. Whether it's a sculpture or a painting or whatever. Of course, creating an object is very different from bearing a child.
We have no control, or very little control, over how a person turns out other than doing our best as a parent. Genetics and luck and each person's own will, talents, and personality are beyond our control. As parents we don't get either all of the credit or all of the blame. Unless we have been very very bad parents indeed. But most of us do our best.
My daughter's birthday is in August. This time of year leading up to August has been a tough time of year since the estrangement began. I tend to feel very out of sorts and I fight off depression.
June 16, 2002 Sunday
That's my father in the middle. Third from the left. That was in about 1940. Six years before I was born.
I am aware of strangers reading my words here and finding fault with me. That makes me feel defensive and at the same time self critical. I know I can be irritating. But then most of us can be irritating. Each of us find things irritating about some people that don't bother others at all.
About 6 years ago a stranger jumped all over me on an AOL discussion board. She had no reason to do this except that she was estranged from her mother and despised her mother. She decided she would take it all out on me since I was a mother estranged from my daughter. Apparently she concluded that all the issues that she had with her mother applied to me. In her mind I was the wicked witch of the west, east, north, and south. It was startling. It made me aware of how we can bring our preconceptions and baggage to other situations where they might not apply.
This morning I found a link to add to the links page. It is an online article about mother/daughter relationships that went bad, largely due to the mother's inappropriate behavior. The article is very tough on the mothers and probably deservedly so. It is disconcerting now though to be on the side of the estrangement equation where I am the mom and an estranged mom. This is an equation where I've experienced both sides, having been on bad terms with my mother on many occasions over the years and even now not able to find a way to have a relationship with her in which I can trust her.
It's Father's Day. My father died 14 years ago and I don't miss him. We didn't have a good relationship. He suffered from lifelong alcoholism and a gambling addiction. It's fair to say that I never really knew him. I don't know that he ever got to know himself. He buried himself in addictions. It was tragic all around. He wasted so much of his life and those who would have loved him never were able to know him. That's just the way things are sometimes. When I was a kid, I tried so hard to make him happy on Father's Day. Now I can't remember the details of holidays of years ago other than that my father always got drunk and made a scene. Now Father's Day is just another day for me.
My father was good at gardening. I plant flowers in his honor. That was one of his good hobbies. Every spring when those flowers bloom, I think of his gardening and how much I enjoyed that.
My ex-husband is my daughter's father. I briefly thought this morning of calling him and wishing him Happy Father's Day. He would not like that. He hasn't spoken to me since 1985. As far as I know, my daughter still has a relationship with him. She lives in the same area that he does. I don't think she'll ever live anywhere else. Her husband is unlikely to move away from his family too.
It's ironic to me that my ex-husband has ended up being the parent who has a lasting relationship with my daughter. I know that he let her down in years past and that she used to dislike him. I have suspected that a process like Parental Alienation Syndrome has occurred and that she has a feeling that she can't have a peaceful good relationship with both of us at the same time. But that is speculation and may be just psychobabble. I don't know. When I first learned about PAS and read a book about it, I sent both my ex and my daughter the book. In retrospect all I probably succeeded in doing was irritating them. They might not even have opened the package. Who knows?
I don't like my ex-husband but the dislike is mainly due to his behavior after our divorce. By refusing to speak to me and by hanging on to bitterness, he made it particularly difficult for my daughter to have a relationship with us both. I believe that if we had been able to have a more amicable parting my daughter would not have felt torn between us. But in an atmosphere of bitterness, fingerpointing, anger, and angry silence, I think that she eventually chose a side. I don't think she would see it that way and would deny that the divorce had anything to do with the estrangement but in my heart I think it paved the way for her to see only the things about me that irritated her and blinded her to anything good about me. It's impossible for me to know for sure.
June 22, 2002 Saturday
Someone else's estrangement
Yesterday I was talking to a man in his seventies who I've only met a few times. He is someone that my husband and I met in the course of doing business. He has a wonderful reputation in our business as an ethical person and as a very nice human being. During my conversation with him yesterday, I learned that he is estranged from his 45 year old son who won't have anything to do with him. The son has also estranged himself from his sister. The father sounded as though he missed his son and was at a loss to understand why his son felt the way that he did.
This reminds me of how prevalent this condition of being estranged is. It affects all sorts of people from the nicest to the worst. I'm not saying that the son doesn't have good reasons for his estranging himself. I really don't know. But I know from personal experience that doing your best and being just an average decent nice person doesn't protect you from becoming estranged from people who you never wanted to lose.
July 14, 2002 Sunday
The impact of estrangement on daily life.
Today I am thinking of how being estranged from family members has affected me in my daily life. One way that I know it affects me is that I am less afraid to voice how I really feel and think to others. Once I experienced losing someone even though I had censored my real thoughts and feelings, I decided it made less sense to censor myself. That I might as well be honest about how I feel because being anything else didn't prevent the worst from happening. It only made me regret not being honest sooner. Maybe regret is not the right word. I would have known more if I had been honest sooner.
It might have been better to have known more, even if the pain would have been quicker in coming. I am less fearful of some losses. But it also makes me choose my battles. Some battles are unimportant and not worth risking a relationship over. I let those go on the days when I am being wise. I wish I were wise all the time. Being human, I haven't figured out how to do that. Chances are that I never will.
I censor myself less and also more. If that makes sense?
January 26, 2003
Another estrangement begins.
It's a new year and this is the first I've written on estrangement in months. If this is your first visit, I recommend that you read the blog from 2001-2002 first rather than draw immediate conclusions from whatever I write here in 2003. As I've stated previously, we bring so much baggage from our own histories that it is hard to be objective about why someone else says this or that about mothers, fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters. It helps to know as much as possible about each other so that we might be able to know what it feels like to walk in someone else's shoes. If we can be more objective about each other, we're more likely to hear each other, less likely to be judgmental, more likely to communicate. (Note added in December 2005: That is me on the left at six years old. My daughter at four or five years old is below on the right.)
So it is a new year. My enfant terrible, the Estrangement, is still alive and well and has a sibling. We are still estranged, me and my daughter. She is 36 now. I am 56. I hear she is unemployed at the moment and looking for a job. I spy on her website. Or lurk. Or stalk. Silently. I think of writing her but I am convinced I will only piss her off. So I wait, believing in my heart that there will come a day when she's ready to resume a relationship with me. When she is ready to cope with whatever it was that caused her to decide not to talk to me. I have to change that – what I said about believing in my heart. No, I don't believe in my heart that she will talk to me again. I do believe in my heart that I can't push the matter and that if I did, she surely wouldn't talk to me again. I am willing to wait it out, to see what happens.
I am not speaking to my mother now. Again. This was due to receiving a very insulting letter from her. Out of the blue! It would have been easier to take if there had been a good reason to insult me but there wasn't. I have mixed feelings about estranging myself once again from my soon-to-be eighty year old mother. I feel guilty at the thought of her pain over my not speaking to her. Yet I wouldn't let anyone else talk to me that way and I won't let her, even if she is my mother. If I thought a sincere apology was possible from her, I'd ask for one and be done with it and go on. But my mother treats apologies like flimsy bandaids that excuse anything that she does. If she gives one, it is just to mitigate the anger of someone she's stomped on and then she goes on and does the same thing again. That is what she did last year. Acted horribly and then made an insincere apology. I hadn't recovered from last year when she insulted me this year. She had been restraining herself for months but I had felt some rumblings in comments that she made during the year but which she managed to retract before I had a chance to respond to them. It was as though she was stifling herself until September and then she couldn't restrain herself any longer.
As much as I feel guilty, I also notice how good I feel. I have been able to get so many things done and enjoy them so much more than usual. I believe there is a connection here! Yet I know the irony of this. That I am estranging myself from my mother while at the same time wishing that my daughter was not estranging herself from me. Some might accuse me of having no empathy for my mother. Yet I do! I do have empathy for her but I am not willing to let her insult me just because I want my daughter to talk to me. (Note added in 2010: I did feel empathy for her but I wasn't willing to have a relationship with her at any cost. Even if this caused her pain and even though I felt empathy.) Letting her insult me won't bring my daughter back into my life. It WILL cause me pain and stress. The price of having a relationship can be too high.
My mother and I have been estranged before. The difference this time is that I made an active decision, not a passive one, to stop talking to my mother. In 1978 when we were estranged, it was because my mother said she didn't want to hear from me anymore. I let it happen and let it go on for 3 years. I was happy that she instigated it. I didn't have to take action on my own.
This time I am the one making an active decision not to talk to her. I take responsibility for it. I am comfortable with my decision even though I am not thrilled with the thought of her feeling pain. I know there is no way around that. I have to get used to the idea that sometimes I have to do things for my own best interests that make someone else unhappy. I was raised to be SUCH a people pleaser!
I've had a lot of other thoughts about estrangement lately that I thought I'd be writing about today but none of them are occurring to me. I needed to get this decision about my mother out there on the table where it can glare at us all in its simple unattractiveness! I guess its attractiveness or lack of it depends on your point of view. Some days it seems damned ugly. Most days it just feels so good to be able to do things without having my mother tell me how lucky she is to have the most stupid daughter in the world. Maybe if I had more of a sense of humor about that it would be easier. I mean REALLY! The most stupid daughter in THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD? What is the likelihood of THAT? No other daughter in the ENTIRE WORLD is more stupid than ME? THAT is QUITE an interesting achievement on my part. Something that might make me ........ almost proud!
In case you haven't figured out who the pictures are, I'll list them here from top to bottom: Me at about age 6, my daughter at 4, my mother in 1999, my mother in 1940 (reflected in a mirror as she is learning to use a new camera.)
January 27, 2003 Monday:
My family, a history.
Just wanted to add a couple of photos to my Estranged Family Album. The first is of my mother's mother circa 1941. My grandmother Sofia who came to America from Finland in her twenties. She had twelve brothers and sisters. Five died young. She was the only one of the surviving eight to come here. The story goes that her passage on the ship was paid for by the eggman (as he was known in the city in New England where he lived). The eggman delivered eggs and she was going to come to the U.S. and marry the eggman who she had never met but had corresponded with. She arrived in this country, met the eggman, and didn't marry him. She married another immigrant from Finland. Her first child was my mother who disappointed her by being a girl. The story was pretty neat up till that point.
My grandmother has been described as cold by her children. She was physically abusive to two of them and the third can't remember anything before the age of nine when he was hit by a car. My mother describes her as a bitch. I never liked Sofia. She was cold, stern, unfriendly, stringent, and withdrawn. Mrs. Personality she was not. She was fond of drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. I never had a conversation with her. She didn't talk. She sat, drank, smoked, existed. My mother's childhood was not a nice one and she escaped it at age 17 by eloping with my father who was 10 years older.
Grandma Sofia was in a psychiatric ward for a while after her husband died. While they fought frequently when he was alive, she had a breakdown when he died. Family legend has it that prior to going into the hospital she was reporting visits from the King of England and Frank Sinatra. No one in my family ever learned what her official psychiatric diagnosis was.
Years later my mother had her own stint for two and a half years in a psychiatric hospital. Followed by occasional revisits to psychiatric wards. My mother has had over 50 years of psychiatric treatment which continues to this day. The treatment that helped the most was not a treatment but a program. When she began to go to twelve step groups, she showed a significant improvement in her attitude towards life and other people. As her ability to get out and go to meetings has decreased due to health and lack of transportation, her attitude has regressed to what it was prior to the twelve step groups. Since I'm 350 miles away, I can't help get her to the meetings.
One way to describe my mother's attitude towards life is what she said on the day JFK was assassinated. After I walked around our city seeing the shock on people's faces and hearing the announcement over the loudspeaker in the bank, I came home and my mother said, in reference to the news, "But what a day I've had!" She was not referring to JFK's death. I can't recall what it was that she was referring to but it was not momentous by most people's standards. Chances are it was something akin to her being upset that her tenant looked at her the wrong way while hanging laundry outside on the shared clothesline.
It's hard to know whether my mom has regressed due to the lack of the 12 step program or whether she's suffering from dementia (a possibility) or whether she's just lost her memory so much that she's forgotten that we had a pretty good relationship for a few years and she's acting as though we didn't. She does have 2 brothers who live within driving distance. Two of my cousins have tried to help her on occasion. Unfortunately, she has a bad habit of attacking people who help her whenever they aren't available to help, no matter how much they have helped her previously and no matter how unreasonable her request. I've noticed that she gets fewer invitations to go to relatives' on holidays than she did years ago. She can be hard to take. When she visited me here a few years ago, I got the only migraine I've had in a very long time. A reminder of what it was like to live near her. Did I tell you how much I love answering machines? They are great buffers!
Later in the day on January 27:
Well, as long as I'm telling you about some of my family I might as well tell you about more of them. Just to be fair. The other grandmother anyway. I am putting her picture in here somewhere in this paragraph. My father's mother. I liked her. Her name was Christine. She was Swedish. I stayed with her a few times when I was very young. That was several years after this photograph was taken. I wasn't born till 1946.
Christine made me toast on a flip sided toaster. The toast was put in on a metal side that flipped down and then flipped up to bring the toast closer to the heating elements. When it was toasted dark enough for you, you manually flipped the side back down and took the toast out. She had a clock that ticked loudly during the night. Tick tock tick tock. You don't get that these days with electric digital clocks. Tick tock tick tock. A warm sound. I associate her with the warm smell of toasted bread and the sound of a ticking clock at night.
My mother didn't like my father's mother. They didn't get along. There was no love lost between them. I understated it. My mother hated her. I think that my father loved his mother. He was upset when she died. But he professed to me that he didn't like his parents. However, he would tell me that when I hadn't talked to him in a while. He would say that he didn't like his parents but he would talk to them anyway. Apparently, he thought I didn't like him and he wanted to point out to me that one should call one's parents even if they didn't like them. As far as him calling his father, that was a moot point since his father had died when my father was fifteen years old, resulting in my father having to leave school so he could help make money so his mother would survive financially. I do think my father liked his mother. Although my mother indicated that Christine could be a major pain. It's hard to say how much of a pain my grandmother was. My mother didn't get along with a lot of people.
Writing about my family makes me realize how many of my relatives dislike each other. My mother disliked her mother and sometimes her father (she liked her father a lot more than her mother or disliked him less) and my father's mother and sometimes me and sometimes my daughter and sometimes my cousins who helped her and often her brothers even though they have helped her too. My mother dislikes everyone at one time or another. She hated her husband of 28 years. They fought throughout their marriage and then for another 20 years after they divorced. Probably not too differently from how her mother fought with her father. Lately I've wondered if my mother has stuck me into my father's role as the one to blame for all things.
My father's mother disliked my mother. My daughter dislikes me and then decided that she disliked my mother too after my mother tried to get her to call me. My daughter has said she dislikes her father although she may have changed her mind since she said that. My mother's brothers disliked their mother. I don't know if my mother's mother liked anyone. I couldn't tell. I think that one of my mother's sisters-in-law dislikes my mother.
My cousins may dislike me when they are on good terms with my mother although I don't know that for sure. Since guilt and paranoia comes so naturally to me, I just assume that people don't like me for all sorts of illogical reasons. Maybe this is genetic! :-) I don't like my mother much although I won't say I don't love her. My mother has been more like a daughter, a very difficult badly behaved daughter, than a mother for most of my life. I wish she were happier. I love my real daughter but not as much as I used to love her. Her father, my ex-husband, had "issues" (my word, not his) with his parents. Like me with my parents, I think he had a love/hate relationship with them. In his case it came out as anger towards his mother when he hit his mid-thirties. I left him at that time so don't know if he ever got over it.
I loved his parents. Even though they were a bit "stagatz" or however you spell the word that means crazy in Italian. They weren't crazy the way my family was crazy. They were a different kind of crazy. The kind that you see in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding or in the Godfather. The kind where they wave pot lids at flies in the kitchen that are dive bombing the "gravy" (tomato sauce) on the stove. The kind where the uncle had to dress up in a monk's tunic for a year when he was a child because God answered his mother's prayers and he was spared from catching tuberculosis. The kind where my mother-in-law wanted to slap the people coming out of a New York theatre because they were "piggies" because they had liked the risqué play. A different kind of crazy from my blood relatives.
I saw this tin on my counter and it seemed appropriate to include it here as representative of my family.
I wonder if it is possible for parental dislike to be a genetic trait? It seems to run in my family. However, my cousins do seem to have loved their parents. I have a love/hate feeling for mine. I love them and hate some of the things that they did. I started out loving them. I hate that they weren't happier, that they didn't make more of their lives. I hate that we couldn't be closer, more honest, that we didn't have fun together. But them's the cards we were dealt. It could have been worse. It always could be worse. I was lucky in lots of ways. I've met any number of people who I would have truly hated to have had as parents.
I think that my daughter dislikes me because she would prefer someone quite different to be her mother. Someone less analytical. More fun. More playful on her terms. Someone who was more conservative politically and personally. Someone who would bake more. My daughter could make good chocolate chip cookies by the way. I just remembered that! While cooking challenged, she could bake cookies! I think she wanted a different kind of mother. I guess a lot of us have that wish. Maybe she wanted a mother who got along with her father? I don't know. My daughter is full of contradictions. She disliked her father and apparently liked me and now she apparently likes her father and doesn't like me. It is almost as though she can't love both of us at the same time. It's not permissible! I don't know. I speculate endlessly.
Here's another speculation. While my mother is very mixed up and has a personality disorder that will never be cured and that is the basic problem in how she thinks and behaves, I think she considers me to be her mother and is mad that I won't take care of her the way she wants someone to take care of her. Which is strange considering she would never do what anyone wanted her to do. I expect that if she ever went into a nursing home that they would throw her out promptly.
One more story about my mother and then I am quitting writing for the day. This is my mother's idea of funny. She lived in housing for the elderly and the maintenance people there often spoke Spanish. That irritated her. She feared that they may be talking about her. So one day she saw two of them in the hall. They were walking down the hall and talking in Spanish. She yelled after them, speaking in Finnish, "Go to hell!" In Finnish. They turned to look at her. She smiled and waved her hand in the air. She repeated it, smiled, and waved her hand again. She thought this was hysterical!
Maybe Bill Maher would get it?
Bye till later. I may have written as much already in 2003 as I did in ALL of 2002. (And I do come back and edit it some so you aren't crazy if you think you read some different things here before. You probably did.)
January 28, 2003 Tuesday:
Humor and Estrangement
I found this quote by Mark Twain:
"Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven."
I don't know about heaven, never having been there, but I can agree with the rest of it.
BTW, this is Wingnut. Sometimes he doesn't much like me either!
January 31, 2003 Friday
One thing this site doesn't have (yet!) is a mug or a t-shirt! I don't expect this will change anytime soon!
Estrangement is such an unpleasant topic. I set up a site on Yahoo two years ago so that people could discuss it but there was never any substantial interest. A few people joined it but no one ever went beyond describing the estrangement in their life. No one stuck around to talk about estrangement. I had belonged to another group online for a year or more that had been set up by someone else to discuss estrangements from children, specifically estrangements due to Parental Alienation Syndrome between mothers and children. That group had sporadic bursts of discussion followed by months of silence.
Groups set up elsewhere for discussion of loss of family members through death or divorce appear to be relatively active but estrangement seems to be a kind of loss that doesn't attract discussion. Maybe it's the stigma. The sense of guilt and shame by either side that someone has estranged us or that we have decided to become estranged from someone else? The sense of sides? The feeling that someone must be right and someone wrong? That we have failed? That we have lost another through failure? That it is either our fault or that we weren't strong enough to deal with our formerly loved person?
People don't talk about their estrangements much, even though loss through estrangement is still loss and still excruciatingly painful. I know people who don't tell anyone about the loss of their relatives through estrangement. They say that the person has died. They just don't mention the person. They grieve and express their hurt and fury privately, if at all. I know people who lie about what caused the estrangement, making up falsehoods rather than give explanations that might be hard for others to understand.
People don't like to talk about estrangement. Generally. I know when I first experienced estrangement I didn't talk about it to hardly anyone. When I experienced it again, more painfully, I couldn't bring myself to talk about it much to anyone other than my husband. Years later I put up this website and try to talk about it to complete strangers! Less painful estrangements, from former friends, were easier to talk about but still unpleasant. Estrangement has a stigma of failure to some of us. Others may take it as no big deal. Sometimes I wish I was one of those others.
I have gotten to the point where I can joke about some aspects of it. I hope you, dear Reader, don't misinterpret my attempts at humor and think that I am being callous. My ability to make light of anything to do with estrangements comes after years of grief, tears, anguish, depression, angst, guilt, self criticism, more grief.
If you haven't gotten through the worst of it yet, you might not be able to feel humorous about anything to do with estrangement. A few years ago I wasn't feeling anything remotely humorous about it. Not that I have gotten to the point where I think it is funny. I'll never get to that point. It's just a point where after doing all the crying and the handringing and the fury, all there is left to do sometimes is to find something to laugh about. Anything. Like people who have cancer who go to support groups of fellow cancer patients and make jokes about having cancer. I am at that point where I would like to make jokes about being estranged, not because I think it's funny. But just to lighten the load.
February 18,2003 Tuesday
For the last two weekends I have received threatening and insulting messages on my answering machine from my mother. When I listen to the messages, I feel very angry. Later I feel sad. I'm disappointed that my mother's attitude towards me has returned to what it was for most of my adult life. There was a ten year hiatus after I confronted my uncle and aunt about abuse I received while living in their house. My mother, for the first time, decided to back me up and come over to my "side". That was followed by ten years of being nice to me. Now she has regressed back to her previous attitude towards me – hostility, denigration, criticism, rage.
Mental illness is such a confusing illness. Where does the personality stop and the illness begin? When someone acts mean to others, how much is illness and how much is them?
I've met others besides my mother who struggle with mental illness. I know a man who has some serious problems with his mental functioning to the point that he needs to be hospitalized for months at a time. He has an entertaining side and socially he is capable of being fun. He has functioned well in his profession in years past and has been highly regarded for his knowledge in his field. He is intelligent. But he has a vicious critical side to him that comes out in racial epithets and merciless judgments of others. How much is his illness and how much is just who he is? I've never known him to be entirely free of that negative side.
Over the years I complained about my mother's behavior to relatives and therapists and anyone who would listen. I was looking for someone to tell me that I was right. She was crazy. I was the wronged one. She was wrong and I was right. As though it matters who is wrong and who is right. Who is crazy and who is sane. As though I needed verification from someone else that it wasn't me. I kept thinking that this was up for debate. Of course it wasn't. Being right or wrong wasn't the issue. I was trying to understand why what was so clear to me wasn't clear to my mother. I was trying to understand why logic didn't work for her. It scared me.
I wanted someone to say, "Well, of course she says that and does those things because she has a disorder, a mental illness." She was going for treatment to professionals so this wasn't a secret to the rest of the family. But still no one admitted that sometimes she didn't make sense and that she wasn't behaving normally or wisely or kindly. I don't know if they thought admitting it would be rude or unseemly. I know for me it would have been such a relief if someone just said it! Finally a therapist did say that to me, that she suffered from a disorder and he put a name to it.
To this day my mother seems to have no awareness that she is mentally ill. This is one of the things about mental illness that can be so different from physical illnesses. If you have a cold, you know you have a cold. You admit that you are suffering from a cold. But with some mental illnesses, the sufferer is the last one to acknowledge the truth. And maybe that is what keeps some people from getting better?
Mental illness frightens me. What kind of world is it when the people who are mothers and fathers and leaders of countries suffer from mental illness? This was something that no one talked to me about when I was growing up. While I lived under the care of a mentally ill person and have had a lifelong relationship with her, I swear I probably understand mental illness much less than a psychiatric nurse does. I keep expecting that only sane people are the ones who get to be in charge. I keep expecting the world to be a sane place where those with mental illnesses never get the combination to the vault, the code for the red button, the wherewithall to fire nuclear weapons.
There is a certain naivity or idealism on my part to wish that the world were different and that the insane never got the keys to the asylum. Intellectually I know that the world doesn't operate as sanely as I would like but I have a hard time accepting that. It looks to me as though evil exists. What is the difference between evil and certain mental illnesses? I think that there is no difference, that some mental illnesses equate to evil. Illnesses where the person has lost the ability to empathize with others and consequently does whatever they want without regard for how others feel.
No matter how much progress that civilization has made evil still exists. I have a theory that mental illness (and evil) is one of the inevitable go-withs of being human. Along with our amazing brains we have an amazing capacity for things to go wrong with it. We have evolved to be creatures who are capable of changing with the conditions of our habitat. The ability to change is one of our remarkable characteristics. A tremendous survival tool. So we have such a range of possible behaviors, feelings, learning abilities, reactions.
Worldwide we have such varied customs. From creatures who put carved bones through our noses to creatures who design skyscrapers. Our range is enormous. So must be our range of possible malfunctions. It goes with the territory of being human. In some cases a malfunction is an attribute. It can be good to be obsessive when you are designing a safe spacecraft but it can be annoying if you are so obsessive that you can't get out of your driveway without going back to recheck your door lock twenty times.
So we have psychopaths and schizophrenics and catatonics and paranoid depressives and psychotics as well as geniuses in music, art, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, and engineering. We have warriors and we have practitioners of meditation. Sometimes they are the same person. We have those who are quiet and withdrawn and those who are out there in everyone's faces. We have people who fit well into their culture and people who will never be at peace anywhere.
There is no one way of being human. Looked at this way, insanity is a normal consequence of being human. It is the curse of being the recipient of such a large complicated arrangement of neurons that run our personal shows. Insanity is one end of the range of human possibility.
It is a miracle if we manage to go through life without something never going wrong in the brain department. Some fling with depression, some struggle with bipolar illness, some temporary or longer lasting abuse of alcohol or other substance, possibly an eating disorder or a brief violent rage that seems out of proportion to whatever triggered it. Some impulse to destroy ourselves or someone else. Some personal angst that we go to therapists to try to resolve. Most, if not all, of us suffer some bout, major or minor, with a mental malfunction in the course of our lifetime.
However, no matter how normal insanity may be for the human condition and how much I rationalize that mental illness may be part of the human condition, I still don't cope well with abusive behaviors perpetrated by people with significant mental illness. I wish I knew what to do and say and how to be a better person when confronted with the actions of someone who is suffering from a disordered mind. I wish I knew how to have a harmonious relationship with my mother while she rages at me and tells me how terrible I am.
I wish things were different and that we could have a peaceful kind relationship in her final years. I wish she didn't have to leave me this way once again and that I didn't feel it necessary to leave her. I wish I had the mother I had for ten years. I wish there was no such thing as mental illness. I wish I knew the answers and knew what to do to make it all better. I wish someone did.
March 9, 2003 Sunday
The behaviors that cause estrangement.
I hesitated to upload that last entry into my online musings. Sometimes I fear being too frank and of hurting other's feelings or being misunderstood. I've reread that entry and I think it's worth uploading so I'm uploading it today. Since writing it I have received more answering machine messages and a letter from my mother. Some messages were hostile. Some were as sweet as sweet could be, the opposite of the hostile messages. This is pretty typical of what occurs. I rarely pick up the phone when it rings.
One day I am treated as though I am a demon. The next as though I am her favorite person in the whole wide world. I have stopped listening to some of the answering machine messages but I did listen to the last one because I caught the words, "I don't understand ...." So I listened to the rest. Apparently my mother has no memory of writing to me and telling me that I am dumb and stupid. She says in the message that she would NEVER tell me that I am dumb and stupid, that I am her only daughter and she loves me. Yeah, right! She loves me on that day. It's hard to say how she feels about me on another day.
Anyway, I made a copy of her written assertion that I am dumb and stupid and sent it to her and suggested that she talk it over with her psychiatrist if she doesn't remember writing this. I don't know if she blocks out unpleasant memories or if she is suffering from a condition that is affecting her memory. Dementia? But if so, she managed to get through a mental functioning test with flying colors given to her by someone last fall. Maybe there are different types of dementia and it isn't that easy to diagnose? Or maybe she has the same kind of convenient memory she has always had and forgets the things she does that aren't so nice?
I did ask her to stop calling me. If she would apologize and mean it, that would affect how I feel about communicating with her considerably.
April 27, 2003 Sunday
Specifics and Generalities
Being estranged from my mother and my daughter has been on my mind a lot lately. Being estranged is a condition that, for me at least, is a situation where it feels as though something is forever unresolved. Not that the feeling makes me feel compelled to resolve these estrangements. Some things can't be changed. People can't be changed. My mother's mind is one of those things that is beyond my power to change. My daughter is someone who I don't know as well as I once thought I did. Whatever the problem is with her, she is the one who has the power to change it. I've already gone more than my half of the distance. I have decided to live with that feeling of things being unresolved. I go on with my own life.
My mother's response to my sending her a copy of her letter in which she called me dumb and stupid was to write me a letter in which she said she was still my mother. Whatever that means. I can read so many things into that. Then she sent me another letter in which she said that I should be careful what I do. That she had canceled her life insurance policy due to my past actions. And that now she was looking to buy another life insurance policy and was planning to live to be 125. So why does she need another policy? She's not going to be around to collect on it. Does she need one so she can threaten to cancel it again if I am not a good girl?
Then I received another letter in which she said she had been joking when she called me dumb and stupid. She asked if I had lost my sense of humor. She said I was rude to hang up on her. I hadn't hung up on her. My husband had hung up on her. She heard his voice when he answered the phone. But she says I hung up on her. Twice. No. I haven't hung up on her lately. But I intend to if I get the chance. I think it will be good for me. I've been far too polite in my life. I need to be rude for a change. I wonder what calling me dumb and stupid is if it is not rude?
I hadn't intended to get so specific about the details of the conflicts in my life. I've meant for the Estrangement site to be a general one rather than one on the specifics of my own estrangements. I don't know if this is good or bad or whether anyone even reads this other than an occasional online friend who I tell about the site. I've decided to include some of the specific details of this recent estrangement from my mother because maybe from these real world specific details some generalities can be drawn.
It is impossible for someone to take back words uttered in anger ........ like calling someone names or threatening someone with anything or harrassing someone with multiple telephone calls. In my mother's case, if anyone had advised her not to do those things it would not matter. She'd do them anyway. But generally those kinds of actions won't resolve an estrangement. They make things worse.
Thoughts of doing these things could occur to the most normal of people when they are angry but there is a world of difference between thinking the thoughts and doing the deeds. It also makes a difference if someone tries to make things right by apologizing rather than escalating the conflict with threats, insults, and harrassment. My mother provides an excellent example of all the things not to do if you want an estrangement to end.
I haven't described in detail what occurred between my mother and my daughter after the first year of my estrangement from my daughter. I had become depressed, clinically depressed, and was put on an antidepressant medication by the psychiatrist who diagnosed my condition. It was hard for me to make myself go to a psychiatrist because I hated the thought that I was at all like my mother. Needing to see a psychiatrist was way too much like my mother. But I was depressed enough that I needed treatment. All the joy had gone out of life.
Unfortunately, I told my mother that I was taking an antidepressant. Usually I did not share personal problems with my mother because of the kinds of things that she would do on learning of any personal details of my life. She would obsess about whatever "problem" or issue that I had and then begin to push her ideas or solutions on me to the point where I would get very annoyed. Or she would interfere more directly with actions.
I violated my own rules in this case by telling her about my depression. Not in detail. Just that I was depressed and taking medication. I'm not sure why. Maybe I wanted sympathy? Comforting? It was tiring pretending to be the one who never had anything wrong with them. I wanted to show I had my share of vulnerability. That I wasn't some Superwoman who never hurt. My telling her was a mistake.
On learning of my depression, my mother began to obsess about it. She blamed my daughter's estranging herself from me for it. She wanted to write my daughter and get her to talk to me. She asked me if she should do that. I told her that my daughter would get angry at her if she did but I didn't tell her not to do it. Not that my telling her what to do ever makes a difference in what she does. But I didn't order her not to do it. I told her that it wouldn't make my daughter talk to me.
My mother wrote my daughter a letter in which she said that I was depressed and that if anything happened to me it would be my daughter's fault! Implying that if I killed myself, my daughter would be to blame! (I had never mentioned anything about suicidal thoughts to my mother or anything beyond the fact that I was depressed and was taking medication. My mother has threatened and attempted suicide so many times that I can't recall how many.) Then they spoke on the phone and my daughter screamed at her, called her sick, and hung up on her.
Until my mother wrote that letter they had been on good terms. My daughter stopped speaking to her. My mother said she didn't care if she never heard from my daughter again. My daughter wrote me a letter saying that she had been considering ending our estrangement prior to hearing from my mother but that she had changed her mind due to my mother's statements. She blamed me for my mother's actions.
At the time I wasn't able to summon up any anger at my mother for her actions as it was one of the very few times in my life that my mother had taken my side in anything. She was acting like a concerned mother at least, even if she didn't do it in a good way. Since then I have wondered many times if my daughter would have ended her estrangement from me if my mother hadn't done that or if my daughter was using my mother's behavior as a convenient excuse for not ending the estrangement. Since I had never been able to control what my mother did, there is no way that I could resolve the situation. I don't know what I could have done to make my daughter happy. I suspect that there was nothing that would have made my daughter happy.
As a reason for my daughter to continue the estrangement it works well for her as there is nothing I can do to change my mother. The odd thing is that my daughter knew what my mother was like and yet chose to spend more time with her after estranging herself from me. It was only when my mother, for the first time, took my side, even if it was in a damaging way, that my daughter rejected her. I can understand my daughter's anger at my mother and had expected it. It's harder to understand why my daughter is blaming my mother's actions on me.
As long as my mother was critical of me, my daughter spent more time with her than she had before. But as soon as my mother said something that was supportive of me, my daughter not only rejected her, she blamed me for my mother's behavior and used it as a reason for continuing the estrangement. This makes a weird kind of sense to me although I don't like the conclusions that I draw from it because those conclusions are that my daughter really wouldn't have ended our estrangement back then, even if my mother hadn't behaved like that.
My conclusion is that my daughter would use any excuse not to end our estrangement. My conclusion is that my daughter dislikes me a lot and prefers not to have a relationship with me. Any excuse will do. Even the actions of someone she knew had a history of crazy behavior and whose behavior had nothing to do with what I wanted or needed.
I'll never know for sure if the estrangement would have ended back then or not. I'll never know if my mother deserved anger for writing such a letter to my daughter or appreciation for an action that was misguided but was motivated by good intentions. I've always felt very sad about that whole thing that occurred between my mother and my daughter and wished I had never told my mother anything about my being on medication. My mother did write my daughter a letter of apology many months later when she saw how much pain I was in over the continuing estrangement from my daughter but her apology was never acknowledged or accepted.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the situation with my mother and daughter it is to be cautious of others getting involved in resolving an estrangement. It can make things worse if the intermediary is not a wise, sensible, sane, and caring person. And even if they are, they still might make things worse.
BTW I began to read another book on estrangements and reconciliation. I began with one of the later chapters which was on estrangements that can't be resolved. I found a lot to empathize with there since I am doubtful that my estrangements will be resolved.
The author is Laura Davis who was the coauthor of The Courage To Heal, a book about recovery from sexual abuse. The title of her book on reconciliation is: I Thought We'd Never Speak Again. She is an excellent writer. I haven't read a lot of her book yet but what I've read is very comforting and sounds very wise. As an author on the subject I find her to be one of the easiest to read. It is the kind of writing that leaves me feeling better for having read the words rather than worse.
The way I feel now about these 2 estrangements with people who were so important in my life is accepting. I am bothered sometimes by missing them. I miss having a mother who is easy to talk with but I never had that. I once did have a relationship with my daughter where we seemed to be able to talk but I think that the relationship had undercurrents that I was oblivious to at the time. I may have been in denial. Kind of like being in a marriage that's not working. For a time you tell yourself that everything is wonderful and you ignore the little clues, the hints, that all is not well.
Being estranged from my daughter is like that. I feel as though I fell out of love with her. All that romance that begins at the birth of a child ended with our estrangement. I love her but the being-in-love-with -my-daughter stuff, the passionate feeling of doing anything for her, is gone. I am happy to have been a mother, to have been witness to her growing up, to have had a daughter, to have been a part of her life, to have loved as a mother can love. I wouldn't change having experienced that joy. I was in love with her that way. I adored her.
In a book by Bette Davis, Bette talks about how she adored her daughter from whom she was later estranged. I have a clue how she felt. We who fall out of adoration never wanted to fall out of adoration. I thought I would love her that way forever. That she never could or would do anything that would cause me not to be madly in love with her. Then I learned that when anyone, even a daughter, does something that hurts enough, adoration ends.
It takes a while. I didn't even believe it for some time. Then eventually it sinks in. This person does not love me. I don't know why. I can continue to love her but not in the same way. Now I would love with caution and would protect myself from more hurt. I would accept that our relationship can never be what I had hoped. I would accept the discrepancies more and expect less.
The why doesn't matter any more. The hurt spots have developed callouses. I rarely cry about it now after having had years where I could cry about it daily. I am almost impatient with myself for having had those years, for having been that fragile and vulnerable, for letting myself be that hurt, for not being more realistic about what had occurred, for not recognizing that I am not 100% responsible for all that goes on in my relationships, that others have a responsibility too.
I know that if the estrangements in my life end, that I will feel a sense of peace that I don't have now. I have acceptance but not peace. There are holes there where there had been people. I know that I can love my daughter still but not as I did years ago. Maybe that is better. Maybe I loved too much?
I know that it's possible to feel affection for my mother although not trust. I am more optimistic about the estrangement with my daughter being resolved, even though it's a long shot, than I am about the one with my mother because I can never trust my mother at all and my mother seems to have gotten worse with age. It's possible that there are factors in why my daughter has estranged herself from me that I know nothing of and that may change in time. There is less to be sure of in that estrangement than in the one with my mother.
Thursday, May 1, 2003
The Sopranos, Mother's Day, and LeBey Suggestions
- Did you know that Tony Soprano's mother, Livia, on the HBO series was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by Tony's therapist? I saw that segment this week. Livia had put out a contract on Tony. Because he had put her in a nursing home and because he was seeing a therapist. Interesting! BPD is the disorder that my nonfictional mother has. Fortunately, my mother is not Italian and not connected to any hit men! I say this in jest. Or partly in jest!
- Mother's Day is approaching. I don't like this day. I wish I could but I don't. I just want to get through it and onwards to the following Monday.
- In the current issue of AARP's magazine, there is an article by Barbara LeBey on how to resolve a family feud. She is the author of Family Estrangements, one of the books I have listed on the reference page. In her article she makes the observation that often one or both of the relatives who are estranged don't know the reason why they are estranged. I didn't realize that the cause is often unknown or forgotten.
In the case of my daughter and I, I think that my daughter took offense at things I wrote in letters and interpreted them in ways other than how I had intended. Then refused to discuss anything with me. Leaving me in the dark and making it impossible to resolve anything. If I had known or had any clue of the result, I would have said less and said things differently but then who has a crystal ball? I had no idea that my daughter's feelings towards me were so negative.
In LeBey's article she suggests having someone try to mediate. From my own experience I would add a warning to that suggestion – that the choice of mediator is important. Some intermediaries can make the estrangement worse.
Another suggestion that LeBey makes is to send cards and to continue to try to make contact to let the other person know that the door to reconciliation is open. In theory I agree with this but in practice it made me sick at heart and depressed when there was no response. After sending cards and notes for a few years, I stopped. I felt like a lovesick suitor begging for some response. I felt like a fool. I recognize that not everyone would feel this way. For me it didn't feel like a good thing.
I hope that my daughter is happy in her life and that this estrangement is doing something good for her that maybe can't be done any other way but I don't feel good about sending cards and letters. Maybe I will sometime but not regularly. It is difficult to get through those days, her birthday, Mother's Day, Christmas, with no contact from her. To send a card, a present, a letter, and then wait and wait, hoping for a response that never comes, is like poking myself in a wound with a sharp stick. It adds to and perpetuates the pain. Maybe it is a way of bringing about reconciliation as LeBey suggests but it is also a way of never letting go. I think that sometimes reconciliation can't occur until you let someone go. That they have to come back because they want to come back and that they won't do it until they're ready, regardless of how many cards, phone calls, and letters that they get. But maybe I'm wrong. Or maybe it depends on the individuals involved as to what the right approach is.
Receiving letters, phone calls, and cards from my mother doesn't bring about any resolution because she never says what I want to hear. What I want to hear is that she is sorry for her actions and that she won't do them again. Especially the "won't do them again" part. None of her greeting cards or compliments or jokes will resolve the situation. It wasn't just that one letter with the insult that is the reason. It is the final straw of many insults and threats and rude behavior that I just won't accept any more. But would Livia really apologize to Tony for putting out a hit on her son? Not likely! Why? Because Livia thinks she is justified. (But she might mouth the words.) Would my mother make a sincere apology? No. Because my mother thinks that her actions were justified. But she might mouth the words.
LeBey's suggestions might help in some cases but in others – maybe it's for the best for the estrangement to continue with fewer efforts to change its course with the hope that life and maturity will bring resolution. Sometimes less is more.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Another Birthday Gone By.
Coping with lack of response.
Thinking of coping with my mother.
I sent flowers and a card to my daughter for her birthday a little over a week ago. After not sending anything last year and for some time before that, I decided to try it again. The lack of response in the past had been so painful that I had stopped sending things. This year I decided that I was strong enough to cope with not hearing anything.
As usual in the weeks leading up to her birthday I found myself getting more and more depressed, even before I realized what time of year it was. Last year was easier than this year for some reason. Eight years! It's been eight years since we were on "good" terms. I use quotation marks because we must not have been on as good terms as I had thought at the time.
Anyway, I did send flowers and a card and checked later with the florist to make sure that the flowers arrived. Our phone rang several times that afternoon and the caller left no message. We don't answer the phone all the time and neither of us did that afternoon as my husband was anticipating a call from a business acquaintance/friend on a business deal that he wasn't ready to respond to yet. So we let the phone ring. I've wondered since if there was any possibility that ... But the possibility is so remote. If it was from her phone, it would more likely be her husband letting me know that my flowers wouldn't be welcomed. If it had been my daughter, she would have continued to call later or could have left a message. But her husband would have only tried to call if my daughter wasn't home and he wouldn't have wanted me to call back. But it probably wasn't either of them.
I've been getting letters from my mother. They are alternately hostile and sweet. I swear she has different personalities living in her head. She has tried to convince me that calling me dumb and stupid was a joke. I don't buy that. But I would like to be able to talk to her. If I do, I have to prepare myself and accept that our relationship is just not the kind and will never be the kind of relationship that I would like to have. She just can't be that way: consistent, reasonable, sane.
In one of my mother's letters she informed me that her family (nieces, brother, sister-in-law) had a "meeting" about her. She had been so difficult that they had a meeting to discuss her. My mother told me that one of my cousins, a woman in her forties who has been very kind to her, told her that she was mean. My mother didn't say what she had done that brought that on. That cousin had lost her first husband to suicide, an event that was horrendously difficult on my cousin, her children, and her husband's family. My mother's reaction to my cousin's statement about her "meanness" was the following. My mother said: "Was that what you said to your husband before he killed himself?" My mother wrote this to me in a letter as though this was a reasonable thing to have said to my cousin.
I had been expecting something like this to happen for a long time. Two of my cousins had been so nice to her for so long. It was almost overdue for this to happen. My mother acts like this to people who have been nice to her. She's consistent in that regard.
My mother has an odd attitude about her meanness. She seems to think it is funny. If you have watched the Sopranos and seen Livia in action, you would have some idea of how my mother is.
Yet Tony Soprano was talking to Livia at the time she died. In the TV program friends and family gathered at the house and then they all said something about how they remembered Livia. I like the statement the best that said, "She had no interlocuter between her brain and her tongue." Describes my mother too. In fact in one of my mother's recent letters to me in which she is trying to make me feel better, she says that she took a class in a college years ago and the teacher called her Mrs. Malaprop!
She does have a weird sense of humor. However, she doesn't seem to know the difference between what is really funny and what is cruel and abusive. But she can't take a joke herself. She easily gets angry and impatient if someone is joking with her.
I may try to be on speaking terms with her again soon. I'm not sure. I am working on talking myself into it. If I do, I need to prepare myself. Not so much for the initial communications but for the disappointments later.
Years ago I had a therapist advise me to ignore whatever she did that I didn't like and to praise whatever I liked. That worked for years ...... worked in the sense that it kept stress levels down and kept my sanity and kept us communicating in a limited sense. Then in the last 3 years she's gotten worse and I lost my ability to ignore so much and I allowed myself to react. If I want to be in a relationship with her, I have to make myself ignore things again. Maybe I can.
By the way, several months ago I met an artist at an exhibit of her work. Her images were shown in conjunction with her poetry. I read one of her poems and recognized immediately that it was a poem about estrangement. A very strong poem that evoked the pain, the longing, the feelings of love and sadness and grief, the desire for reconciliation. I asked permission to include it here on the Estrangement site as I am sure it will touch many hearts as it touched mine. I offer my appreciation and thanks to Paula for writing her poem and giving me permission to include it on the page of poetry.
October 25, 2003 Saturday
Pat Conroy Interview -
Thoughts on associations between feelings and words like "father" and "mother".
I haven't resolved the estrangement with my mother. The letters that I've received from her have alternated between being insultng and sweet. On that she's dependable - the switching back and forth. I get a nasty letter, then a sweet one, then another nasty one. On and on it goes.
I've seriously considered attempting to have a relationship with her but I am convinced that if I did, I would have to be prepared to accept her as she is because she is not going to change. If I could laugh about it, I'm sure it would be possible. Unfortunately, I still can't laugh about it. I can see how some people would find some of it funny in a black humor sort of way. It might be easier to laugh if she wasn't my mother. Like laughing at Archie Bunker. I can laugh at racism and offensive remarks if it's Archie Bunker and it's not my father or mother.
I received a note from her recently. It had no salutation and it was unsigned. Enclosed with it was a newspaper clipping about how a study showed that jaundice in newborn babies is associated with brain damage. My mother's note read as follows, "You had jaundice as a baby!" That's all she wrote. That could be taken any number of ways. I can't think of any that are positive. However, if I am suffering from brain damage, apparently it is not the kind that prevents me from creating websites!
Recently I was listening to an interview on the radio with Pat Conroy. I haven't read any of his books although I'd like to someday. I always enjoy listening to interviews with him. While his family was VERY different from mine, I still relate to what he says. While my family was dysfunctional, they were dysfunctional in a different way.
Conroy was talking about his father .... as he always does. He mentioned something that rang a bell with me. He mentioned how his father had told him that he, Pat, would always think of him whenever he heard the word "father". It would bring his father's face to his mind and color his feelings and thoughts about the word "father" forever. Pat Conroy agrees that this is true.
I empathize with that experience. I am aware of very negative associations in my mind with that word "mother". These feelings come up at inappropriate times such as when I am looking at a painting of a mother holding a child. I don't find images of mothers holding children comforting and serene. I find them a bit scary and threatening. Intellectually, I know that they are lovely pictures but emotionally it is a different story.
For me the concept of "mother" is tied forever to the woman who is my mother and colors my feelings about the word "mother" in ways that have only to do with my experience of having had a mother with a mental illness. I have wondered about why I react the way that I do to some scenes of mothering. I was struck by Don Conroy's statement to his son and how Don Conroy understood the impact he had had on his son. I don't think my mother is capable of understanding that she had that kind of impact on me.
Did you know that there is a word for web journals? I recently learned that there is an internet word for web journals. They are called "blogs". I'm not sure if there are other requirements for a journal to be called a blog but I think this may be a blog.
Friday, December 26, 2003
Not much to add at the almost end of the year.
2003 is drawing to a close. I haven't been in the mood to add anything to my blog for a couple of months. I haven't felt as though I had anything wise or wonderful to say. I have no answers. I repeat the Serenity Prayer when I remember how wise it is. I have had other issues in my life to take care of, issues far removed from the estrangements in my life. My life takes up enough of my time that I haven't had the luxury of mulling over the whys and wherefores of being estranged.
I've had a hard holiday season this year. I've been very depressed. I've thought about taking medication again but I'm resisting it. Why? Because I am sure that the depression will pass on its own and I don't like the side effects of the medications.
I feel a little better just with the passing of Christmas. Last year it was easier. This year not so good.
Sunday, January 24, 2004
Reasons for Estrangements
The Likelihood of an Estrangement Ending.
Something I've never addressed on Estrangements previously (except in brief passing references) is that there are different reasons for estrangements and that some kinds of estrangements are more likely to be resolved than others. This may seem obvious to you, Gentle Visitor, but I have talked about my personal estrangements here without referring constantly to the reasons for them, as though they are all alike. Not all estrangements are alike. Not even the estrangements that I've experienced.
Reasons for Estrangements:
- Sexual abuse. (e.g. Parent towards child, Sibling to sibling, Unrelated but trusted adult to child, Spouse to Spouse, Trusted older person to younger person, trusted Priest to child.)
- Physical abuse. (Same examples as in Sexual abuse.)
- Emotional abuse. (Same examples as in Sexual & Physical abuse.)
- A conflict over religious, political or other beliefs. (e.g. Conservative vs. Liberal, Religious vs. Non-religious, Catholic vs. Jewish, accepting a relative's gay sexual orientation, etc.)
- An argument that couldn't be resolved. (e.g. An argument over a will, a difference of opinion, an inability to apologize for words uttered in anger.)
- The influence of an outside person or group who convinces someone, rightly or wrongly, that they need to cut off a relationship with someone who they once cared about. (e.g. Therapists, cults, in-laws, other religious groups, con artists, ex-spouses. Note: The influence could be one that is either right or wrong. I am not differentiatiing. I am just describing the cause of the estrangement.)
- A psychological condition (or physical problem that affects the mind) that makes someone unable to continue relationships with people that they once cared about. (e.g. Clinical depression, bipolar disorder, Paranoid Delusional Disorder, Schizophrenia, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, brain damage, alcoholism, drug addiction. In these cases, the person with the condition cuts off the relationship.)
- Like the previous problem, a physical or psychological condition that makes someone difficult and/or impossible to have a relationship with. (e.g. Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Paranoid Delusional Disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction. In these cases someone other than the person with the condition cuts off the relationship.)
- The betrayal of trust. (e.g. One formerly trusted friend/parent/partner betraying the trust of another by behaving in unexpected hurtful ways or revealing another's private thoughts and feelings to others.)
- Perceived abandonment, whether or not actual abandonment occurred. (e.g. Parental Alienation Syndrome may be an example of abandonment that is perceived rather than actual.)
- Dislike. Sometimes a person takes a dislike to someone that they used to love. A dislike that is so intense that they cut them off. It might not be due to any other reason than that the people involved no longer like each other.
- Unknown reasons for an estrangement. Frequently people are in the dark about why someone whom they loved has estranged themselves. These estrangements are open to endless speculation, involving all of the above reasons and others. Maybe in some cases the reason is a misunderstanding which can never be straightened out due to the inability to talk about it. Maybe it is due to one person just not wanting to go through the awkwardness and imagined pain of talking things out. Maybe it is due to one person needing to see themselves as right and that priority prevents them from ever talking with someone who might disagree with them, even if it was someone who they once loved and with whom they could still have a good relationship if they would only talk to them.
Some of these reasons can overlap with each other. Mental illnesses and personality disorders can be involved in all of them. If you can think of types of estrangements that I've missed, please let me know.
I've never seen anything written on the likelihood of an estrangement ending. Logically, estrangements begun due to severe abuse would be the least likely to be forgiven. Estrangement can be entirely understandable and positive for the person who makes the decision. However, paradoxically, sometimes people gravitate to those who abused them and reject those whom you would expect to be more trustworthy and safe. Logic doesn't always work in predicting what people will do.
Estrangements which are due to conditions that can't be changed are unlikely to be ended unless someone has decided that they are willing to accept things as they are. That can occur over time. Someone may decide that their son's gay orientation isn't a good reason not to talk to them again. Someone may conclude that the argument over who inherited the diamond ring from their mother's estate is not worth never speaking to their brother again. Or not.
In cases where one person feels unsafe with another, I think that having a strong support system can make a world of difference if they want to forgive them for past offences and work at having a relationship.
In cases where someone has been rejected unfairly due to a third person's influence on their loved one, there is the hope that the third person's influence may end some day. Or that the unfair assessment may change over time as their loved one grows in strength and maturity.
Some psychological conditions that result in people estranging themselves unfairly from others can be treated. Conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and clinical depression are treatable, if the person with the condition will go for treatment.
It's impossible for me to predict whether an estrangement will end or not. Why some end and others don't ....... I don't know. Demi Moore was estranged from her alcoholic mother. When her mother was terminally ill, Demi ended the estrangement. There is something about that kind of "resolution" that doesn't appeal to me personally. But it's probably one of the more common reasons why an estrangement ends.
Some just seem to end ..... almost by chance. A woman estranged from her mother for 10 years finds her mother's website and decides to write to her and they reforge their relationship. Subsequently, the reunited mother and daughter also ended an estrangement with the mother's mother. The reasons for the original estrangements weren't stated. Drew Barrymore and her mom, Jaid, made up.
In general it is probably true that estrangements due to severe abuse and/or betrayal are less likely to end and that is probably best for those who were abused. Even if the victims can forgive the abusers, it might be best if they remain distant. Although some forgive and then write novels ..... like author Pat Conroy. (Or maybe he wrote the novels and THEN forgave?)
Friday, March 19-21, 2004
A Lifetime Estrangement Chronology
I've been thinking about the estrangements in my life. I haven't seen myself as an unfriendly person. Not the sort of person who goes from relationship to relationship with each ending in a fireworks display of conflict. I have been a reserved person. I am shy. It is hard for me to trust other people. I have chosen friends at times because I thought I could be helpful to them or because we had common interests. I no longer choose people based on ability to be helpful to them because that path to friendship is paved with inevitable disappointment. Good friendships go two ways, not just one. But that path of choosing needy people as friends was one that I took repeatedly until recently.
I have been the type who tolerated things I didn't like about friends and relatives without saying anything out of fear of hurting others' feelings or rocking the boat. I never did like conflict. I went to a therapist back in 1981. He asked me what my goal was in therapy. My goal was to be able to ask for what I wanted. What I wanted at that time was a divorce. In retrospect, what I wanted was a divorce without hurting or disappointing anyone. I wanted an impossibility. I did manage to ask for and get a divorce although I wasn't able to do that without others being hurt and disappointed.
My Chronology of Estrangement:
I was 35 years old in 1981. I had experienced one serious estrangement prior to 1981. It was a 3 year estrangement from my mother at her instigation. That is the first estrangement in my chronology. I'll list them and the dates of the estrangements and then talk about what I learned from each estrangement.
I have been estranged from:
- My mother: estranged from 1978-1981 and 2002-present
- Ex-husband: estranged from 1985-present
- Friend (Brandy) from college (going back to 1966): estranged since 1987
- Friend (Linda): estranged from 1995-present
- Business acquaintance/friend (Julia): estranged from 1991-1995 and 2000- present.
- Daughter: estranged since 1995
- Friend (Bob) from high school, Class of 1964: estranged since 2000
Estrangements from my mother
The 3 year estrangement from my mother back in 1978 started during a phone conversation that turned into an argument. Much later she claimed that she had been drinking. During the phone call I had told her that she couldn't hang out in my store all day as she had been doing. She erupted in anger and told me that she never wanted to speak to me again. I said, "Fine." We didn't speak or see each other for 3 years.
Up till then I had been convinced that my mother literally could not remain alive without being in touch with me. I considered myself responsible for her life. Why? My mother had threatened and attempted suicide many times. So many that I don't know the number. She had been doing this since I was 12 years old. As a child I tried very hard never to upset her.
Other relatives also went out of their way to put up with whatever she did without voicing their feelings rather than risk causing her to make another suicide attempt. I grew up feeling as though I could kill my mother by upsetting her. The estrangement, initiated by her, was a relief to me. At her behest, I didn't have to talk to her. Putting up with her chaotic behavior, listening to one crisis after another, getting multiple phone calls day and night and long messages left on my answering machine had been torture.
The estrangement felt like a gift from heaven and she had given it to me! I learned that my mother truly could survive without me!Since 1981 when our first estrangement ended, the relationship with my mother continued to be difficult but manageable for me for 10 years by following the advice of a therapist. He had suggested that I ignore what I didn't like and praise what I liked. This worked well to my amazement. It didn't make my mother happy or stop her from doing many foolish things but it did help me to detach from the crisis that was her life.
I was able to remain in communication with her and not take it all so personally. In 1991 my mother apologized to me for things that had occurred in my childhood that resulted in my witnessing abuse and being treated abusively by her and others in the family. After that apology her behavior towards me changed for the better.
For the first time in my life, and I was 45 years old then, my mother acted towards me as you might expect a mother to act: lovingly. While she continued to act towards others in the family in the same weird critical, judgemental, unreasonable and ungrateful, even nasty, way, she let up on me. This improvement continued for 10 years until 2000. Then, in 2000, she hung up the phone on my husband for no reason. She apologized a week later. Months went by.
I felt as though I had been put on alert. Eventually, after a series of events where she became angry at other relatives without apparent justification, she began subtly to direct her criticism at me again. This reached a head in 2001 when she called me on the phone, sobbing because her brother refused to buy her a car. Christmas was approaching, I was missing my daughter, and I failed to be sympathetic. In fact I was short and angry with her and reacted by pointing out in no uncertain terms that she was choosing to be miserable. She considered my statement to be as bad as if I'd sworn at her and she proceeded, in the next few days, to leave 13 furious infuriating demanding and insulting messages on my answering machine, 5 of them on Christmas day. This almost ended the relationship for me then.
After Christmas I wrote her a letter and told her that she could not do that any more or I would not be having much of anything to do with her. She made a brief apology that had no sincerity to it. I only communicated with her through written letters for most of 2002 as I didn't want to hear her voice. I was that angry. Nine months after the Christmas fiasco, just 2 weeks after I did speak with her on the phone when we had a reserved but civil conversation (and I was thinking that maybe I could manage more communication with her), she wrote to me in response to a letter from me asking her about a choice of a birthday gift to her.
As an addendum to her letter she wrote, "Not everyone has such a dumb daughter as I have. You must get your stupidity from your father's side of the family as you certainly didn't get it from mine." That statement was the final straw. It wasn't just the insult. It is all that went before and also all that I could see in the future. I didn't deserve that. I could see nothing better ever occurring. I wrote to her and told her that she couldn't do that and that I was not going to talk to her any more.
It took probably 6 months for that to sink in and for her to realize that I really was that offended and that I meant it. She still hasn't acknowledged that she said anything inappropriate. What have I learned from this second estrangement from my mother? I'm still learning but one thing is that, as much as there is pain and discomfort from being estranged from even an abusive relative, there can be more pain and discomfort in being in an ongoing relationship with someone who just can't control themselves.
We each deserve to be able to live our lives with an expectation of some enjoyment and pleasure. To have a relationship with someone who regards others living a pleasurable life as though it takes something away from them and who acts as though they have the right to behave without regard for the feelings of others, as though the only one with feelings is themselves, is an exercise in masochism.
I can't change my mother. My mother doesn't want to change. She thinks she's fine. I don't think she's fine. She's had most of my life to drive me nuts. I've had some peace for the last two years. I don't think this is a bad thing for me, this peace. I sometimes wish I hadn't reacted to the phone call about my uncle and the car but then I accept that I'm not a saint and don't wish to be a martyr. Martyrdom is not on my wish list today!
The estrangement from my ex-husband began before our divorce was final. Initially he had said that he wanted to remain friends. I was in agreement with that. We spoke on the phone occasionally after I moved to another state. However, we weren't really close. He had done some things in the splitting up of our possessions and in his failure to keep to our agreements that made me angry. Then he wouldn't locate and return some books that I had owned from childhood. The books represented something more than paper, cardboard, and ink to me.
I loved books from when I was very young. One of the books was my favorite book of classic fables and stories when I had been a child. The other was an old book of traditional Swedish recipes that had belonged to my mother and that she'd given me. They were of no value to anyone but me. I flew into a rage and wrote him a very angry letter in which I insulted him, swore, and told him how low I thought he was. Since I sent that letter in 1985, he has refused to speak to me.
What have I learned from that? First of all ..... don't send a letter that you've written while in a rage unless you are prepared to accept the consequences. While I don't miss the relationship with my ex, I do regret that we ended up estranged because I believe that the estrangement contributed to my daughter's estranging herself from me. It would have been so much easier on her if we had been able to be on civil terms. Bitter divorces ending up in estrangements are more likely to result in children, even adult children, feeling as though there are two sides and that they need to align themselves with one side more than the other.
From going through a divorce and the estrangement with my ex, I learned how little I knew him and how little I knew myself. Initially I was confused about why the marriage wasn't working and why I was unhappy in it. I was convinced in a shortsighted way that if I just went through the right motions, whatever the right motions were, and if I wasn't being abused in an obvious way that I should be happy and that the marriage should work even if we had nothing in common and had different personality styles.
My ex's behavior during the separation and divorce and our subsequent estrangement shocked me into realizing how different my ex was from whom I had thought he was. I ended up realizing that I wasn't the only one responsible for why the marriage wasn't working, that I could know someone for 17 years and not really know him, and that I could have gone to a zillion years of therapy and not been able to make the marriage any better.
In 1987 I wrote to an old college friend, Brandy, who was in the profession of examining eyes and writing prescriptions for contact lenses and glasses. Previously she had given me a prescription for contact lenses when I lived closer and had visited her. I wrote to her to get a new pair of lenses. In retrospect I realize that long distance contact lens dispensing is not a good idea but at the time it didn't occur to me. She didn't respond to my letter. I called and couldn't get in touch with her. I wrote again. No response. I sent the letter by registered mail. No response.
I had no idea why she wouldn't respond. I was hurt and angry. I considered writing her an angry letter saying, "Fuck you!" but restrained myself. I suspected that she was uncomfortable with sending me a new pair of contacts without seeing me in person for an appointment but I didn't understand why she wouldn't tell me that. As far as I had known, we had been on good terms but we didn't have the kind of friendship where we talked often or saw each other frequently.
The time when we had been the closest was when we were in college and we had hit it off instantly. What I had valued and remembered from college days was that we had always seemed to be able to pick up where we left off. I think that two things ended our friendship: One was that she wasn't comfortable telling me something that she thought I wouldn't like so preferred to opt out of communicating at all. The second was that what I had called a friendship wasn't really a friendship. We hadn't spent much time together. We didn't write or communicate much. We had been on different wavelengths for years. She had a very different value system from mine.
I had liked Brandy's seemingly extroverted style compared to my reserved nature but I wasn't into her lifestyle. It was a relationship that wasn't really a friendship any more. I think she recognized it before I did. Maybe she thought I was using her to get contact lenses? Maybe I was. But I wish she had called me on it.
What did I learn? To focus more on the quality of relationships. I had failed to notice the small important details of how we were as friends. This may be similar to what I missed in my first marriage.
I had a shortsighted way of thinking that if we paid lip service to being friends or being married and nothing overt happened to say otherwise, then we MUST be okay to remain married or remain friends ..... right up until one person is thinking or yelling, "Fuck you!" at the other one. In other words I am sometimes oblivious. Clueless. Dense. But not hopelessly so!
Another estrangement I had from a friend occurred in 1991. Julia stopped having anything to do with me after she heard that I was seen speaking to a man she disliked and distrusted. She never discussed this with me. She just stopped having much of anything to do with me. In this case you're probably wondering about my choice of friends. I wonder about that too! In 1995 she apologized to me. She blamed her behavior on a boyfriend who had hated the man I had been seen speaking to and I forgave her.
We were friends again for a couple of years. Then she slipped on a wet floor in a store and fell down. Shortly after the fall she began to have problems with her neck. She sued the store. She refused to do work that she had previously done or to be seen working. She didn't want to jeopardize her chances of winning the suit. This smacked of dishonesty to me. I lost respect for her and stopped having anything to do with her.
Eventually she won a small amount of money but not the large amount that she had envisioned. This was after years of staying home, accumulating debt, and not working as much as she might have. Now she is out in view working again. I am not interested in being friends with her. What did I learn? Character is important to me. I don't want to be friends with people who don't have it. I am comfortable with that decision.
The fourth estrangement I had with a friend was from a high school friend. Bob is a musician. I found his email address on the internet and I sent him an email. I hadn't seen or talked with him since 1983 (when we met in New York and then had a raging 4 hour fight about whether he was sexist or not.) I was happy to have found him again, despite our previous fight, and, after he responded with an email where he sounded happy to hear from me, I wrote with details of my life, including my marriage and the estrangements from my ex, my daughter, and Brandy whom he had met and had liked. He didn't respond. Does this sound familiar? I emailed again asking for an explanation. He said he didn't want to talk to me. I got angry and asked why. He swore at me. I swore back. End of relationship.
In that case, like with Brandy, I had to take a look at the quality of the relationship. Quality of the relationship? I was deluding myself. We hardly had had any relationship since high school. We had had very different lifestyles and viewpoints of life. He didn't like my current husband who hadn't liked him at all. I had to ask myself why I even cared. I think I was fortunate that I never was involved with him as more than a platonic friend. I later learned that he had physically abused one of the women who had lived with him.
Friendships that we make when we're young don't always last a lifetime and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Why had I contacted Bob? I had a remnant of that fantasy that he had lived a life that was so much more fun and rewarding than mine. That he had taken so many more chances than I had. That I could vicariously experience all that adventure through him.
To his credit Bob had talent and ambition to do his own thing that I will always admire. But his life has had its downsides and for me to compare my life and my choices so negatively is not realistic or even fair ... to me. If I take anything away from knowing Bob and accepting that our friendship was long over, long before our short email communication, it is that my life is worth something too and that I can make my own adventure in my own way without having to live vicariously through the adventures of others. Bob did me a favor.
My friendship with Linda had begun after we met at a 12 step meeting for Adult Children of Alcoholics. We both had an interest in photography and art. Our relationship ended after she left an angry message on my answering machine. I ended the relationship.
During the time that I knew Linda, she was in a series of relationships with emotionally abusive and manipulative men. I had been listening to her complaints about the men and about her family. She didn't take responsibility for her own choices in the relationships. She saw the things that occurred as misfortunes being perpetrated on her and that she had no role in what was happening. That it was always someone else's fault. It got to the point where I could be having a wonderful day and then she would call and I would feel obligated to listen to one more sobbing story of how someone had pissed her off and had let her down. In an email I pointed out that she had a choice in the matter. This made her angry and she left a very angry message on my answering machine. The message and Linda's behavior reminded me much too much of my mother. I wanted to get away from her. I told her I didn't want to be friends any more. There was no more pleasure in the relationship. I liked her. I loved her. But I didn't want to be around her.
Of the relationships that ended with friends, this one caused me the most sadness. Linda was a nice person in many ways. But she was so full of anger so much of the time and the anger seemed misdirected. She never saw that she had choices. I didn't see any possibility of change. I decided that I had to choose friends who were less angry and more aware of their ability to choose different paths. That I wasn't and couldn't be anyone's therapist. That I needed to choose people to be friends who were able to stand on their own two feet and not look to me for therapy. I could provide a certain amount of emotional support but not to the extent of being anyone's therapist. Therapists get paid for their time. They have no obligation to listen to others day and night. They get to choose the time that they will listen. Friends who try to use friends as therapists are not very good friends. I felt used in that way. I had felt used in that way by Julia too. I didn't want to have to be anyone's therapist.
Since ending the relationships with Julia and Linda, I have become more aware of other people's style of relating to others when I meet them and think about whether I want to be friends or not. I've decided that time is valuable and that I want to spend it with people who I like a lot and who are capable of reciprocal relationships.
I don't regret deciding to end any relationships that I decided to end. With the exception of the relationship with my daughter, I don't miss any of the relationships where others have ended relationships with me.
My reaction to having been rejected by others was anger and hurt at the time of being rejected but I got over it. In thinking about each relationship that ended, again with the exception of the one with my daughter, I came to the realization that the relationships no longer deserved to be called friendships. That it made sense for us to go our separate ways. That Brandy and Bob and my ex-husband may have been more in touch with reality at those points than I was. They were no longer willing to act like we had a friendship. If we had continued to be on speaking terms, chances are that we wouldn't have had a whole lot to talk about. I was kidding myself that we even had friendships any more. My pride was hurt. My illusions were devastated. I had to concede the reality and that can hurt.
What did I learn from estrangements from friends? That my life is okay too and that it is maybe more than okay. That I chose friendships in the past for reasons that don't work for longlasting relationships. That I chose people as friends with whom I had little in common and that we've all grown away from each other. I learned that some things end and that ending is a natural part of life, that not all endings are bad.
In 1995 I began to be aware that my daughter wasn't in touch with me as much as she had been. In the years before 1995 we had spent many hours on the phone, just talking. She was 29 years old in 1995. We lived too far apart to visit often although I did resent the fact that she chose to be with her father and his relatives on holidays rather than choose to travel to be with me. However, I had had a part to play in those circumstances since I had not insisted that she move with me to another state years earlier.
It may seem odd to you and others but I had had the idea that her father's Italian family and their sense of family and tradition was an important thing for her and that it would be better for her to be near them and that sense of family than it would be to be closer to me. I put little importance on myself in her life. I was a goony bird!
I had a horror of being like my mother but I found myself feeling resentful that I wasn't hearing from my daughter very often. I felt unloved. I felt unappreciated. I felt mystified as to what to do. I felt confused. I felt afraid of antagonizing her and making her angry but I also felt hurt and wanted things to be better between us. I wanted to spend more time together. I wanted her to call me more often and to be more thoughtful but I didn't want to act like my mother. I didn't want to sound like a nag, like a critic. I didn't want to be annoying ... like my mother and like the jokes about mothers. I didn't want to drive her away. I knew my own reaction to being criticized by my mother for not calling her and I didn't want my daughter to feel or act as I had felt or acted.
Her 29th birthday came. I sent a bunch of presents. She thanked me in an email. I said I was glad that she liked them and asked her to remember my birthday. I am ashamed of having asked that. I wish I hadn't. I hadn't thought of anything more creative or honest to do. But that began a downward spiral that ended with our estrangement. She reacted to my request with irritation.
Everything transpired through email. She told me how she didn't like that I had sent her AOL disks for free AOL time. She didn't like my having sent her clothes that I wasn't wearing any more. She didn't like the brand of jeans I bought her as a teenager. She didn't like that I would ask, "What's new?" in every phone call. She accused me of thinking that the things that she did were stupid and then, when I denied that accusation and reminded her of how supportive I had been of her, she claimed that I always said that. I'd never said that before nor did I see anything wrong in having been supportive of her. Being supportive is not something that is usually cause for criticism. She told me to go to hell.
I was at a loss as to why she was so angry at me. I then committed my next serious mistake. I suggested that we take a 6 month vacation from each other and start afresh the following May. I just was at such a loss. I thought that maybe a break would help. I was wrong. However, she agreed at the time that a "vacation" might be a good idea.
Then I made my third mistake. I wrote her a letter. Therapist-style I tried to list the things that she had said to me back to her so that she might see them in a new light. Big mistake! I later found out, from her, that the letter infuriated her.
During our "vacation" from each other, Christmas came and went. I received a Christmas present from her which I interpreted as an angry gesture. The items in the package didn't appear to have been chosen or packaged with any thoughtfulness. Some were broken. I later learned that my son-in-law had packaged them.
I saw the package as indicating more anger. I wrote a letter to her in which I expressed my concern that she was angry and I suggested that we go to a therapist together to resolve things. She wrote to me in response that I wasn't worth the ink it took to write and that there was nothing wrong with her and that I could go to a therapist if I wanted but that she wanted nothing more to do with me. That was in the winter of 1996.
I have tried repeatedly to contact her since then but she won't respond to me with the exception of two letters. In one letter she let me know how angry my letter (where I listed what she had said to me) had made her. In another letter (in 1997) she let me know how angry she was that my mother had tried to get her to reconcile with me and that if my mother hadn't contacted her, she might have ended the estrangement.
The estrangement with my daughter was the motivation for my establishing estrangements.com. After 4 years of grief and pain over the loss of the relationship with my daughter I began to feel better. I obsessed about her less. I was able to wake up in the mornings without thinking of the estrangement first. I cried less. I began to accept the situation as being something that I could not control. I accepted the fact that I was powerless. That reconciliation, if it ever occurred, was not something that I could make happen. That understanding of its underpinnings of the estrangement might never come as I might never have enough information to help me understand. That all I could do was possibly help others understand and cope with their own estrangements by providing information about estrangements. I've learned to pay attention to what my heart is telling me more and to be more honest myself in my closest relationships.
I've learned to be less critical of others and less judgemental. Before 1995 I tended to think that parents who were estranged from their children had done something to deserve being estranged. I thought that where there was smoke, there was always a fire. I used to think that being a good enough parent resulted inevitably in good relationships between parents and adult children. I thought that charges of abuse by parents were 99.9% true. I thought that my daughter would NEVER do anything like that to me, never tell a lie about me. After all, I had thought, I had always been on her side, her biggest fan, and that we were friends as well as being a loveable mother and a loveable daughter. I thought that she would never say anything about me that was untrue or reject me .... because there was no reason for her to do that. I had felt fortunate to have a daughter and to be on such good terms with her. I've learned how unaware and oblivious to some truths I can be. I've learned that my daughter has lied about me and to me.
I still feel fortunate to have had a daughter. I now also feel so very sorry and sad that we don't have a relationship. If there was something I wish I had been better at, it would be that I had known earlier that there was something wrong between us and that I would have known what to do to save our relationship. Some things just seem to come up and hit you in the face and then it is already to late to stop what is already in motion.
I have learned how wrong I am in so many things in life and how powerless I am. I have learned that it is possible to experience great pain and go on with living a rewarding life. I have learned that there is hope through it all and I do hope that maybe there is some miracle reconciliation some day and that I will understand everything and that it will all make sense.
Tuesday, April 6, 2004
Of Keywords & Forgiveness
I look up the statistics sometimes for how often Estrangements.com is visited and what keywords are used in searches to find the site. The most frequently used keyword is estrangement. The second most frequently used keyword is aniston. The most frequently used query is "nancy aniston estrange". I don't know how they differentiate keywords from queries. The fifth most frequently used query is "nancy aniston book". And the twelfth most frequently used query is "jennifer aniston relationship with mother". Interesting! It appears that the site is accessed more often in searches on Jennifer Aniston's relationship with her mother than it is in searches on the more general issue of estrangement.
I took Nancy Aniston's book off the shelf after discovering the above information. I wanted to refresh my memory about the relationship and estrangement of Jennifer and Nancy Aniston. Skimming the last few pages of the book, I wondered what Jennifer's side of the story would be if she told it. I suspect from reading Nancy's account that Jennifer would tell a story of feeling that her mother was too caught up in Jennifer's life. That Jennifer was uncomfortable with how much her mother wanted to be part of that life. That Jennifer resented her mother's opinions of her friends and advisors in her professional life. I am reading between the lines. It is interesting to me that there apparently is a lot of interest in their estrangement. I am wondering what it would take for Jennifer to forgive her mother.
So far, to my knowledge, Jennifer Aniston has not forgiven her mother and they remain estranged.
This week on the Anderson Cooper show on TV is a series on Forgiveness. I missed tonight's segment. The first segment on Monday featured people who had forgiven the unforgiveable. People who had forgiven those who had murdered their children. My husband and I discussed what forgiveness is and which of us is more likely to forgive others. My husband says that it would make him sick to forgive a murderer. In general I agree but I think that there might be circumstances where someone could forgive another for a heinous crime.
Also we discussed whether forgiveness is defined by actions or by the feeling we have inside. Can a person behave as though they have forgiven someone by having a relationship with them but not ever really forgiving them in their heart? Conversely, can a person refuse to have a relationship with someone even though they have forgiven them? Have they truly forgiven them?
My interest in the topic of forgiveness is not about crimes and forgiveness of crimes. My interest is in forgiveness of the less heinous transgressions in life that people make towards each other: the betrayals, the disappointments, the lies, the human errors. Some people are saints and will forgive almost anything. Others look less kindly on transgressions. Some people forgive nothing.
I haven't made up my mind on how I stand on forgiveness other than deciding that there are transgressions too minor to be rigid about. What makes some transgressions minor and others unforgiveable is an individual decision. Some of us may want to be "Christlike" about the sins of others and believe that forgiveness is the only way.
I would like to be forgiven for whatever it is that my daughter thinks is so terrible that she won't talk to me. I would like that. I don't know why she won't forgive me. I am unclear on what my transgression is and what it is that I would need to do to have her forgive me. Maybe there is nothing that I can do. I suspect that is the truth. I suspect that it is me that she doesn't like ... possibly with the able assistance of her father ... who doesn't like me for having left him ... so there is no winning forgiveness from him ... and maybe from her too. I would like to be forgiven but not at all cost.
As for my mother, I can forgive her for being the way that she is. Forgiveness of my mother doesn't mean that I want to try working on a relationship with her again. I can forgive her, feel compassion for her, but feel unwilling to subject myself to any more anger and insults from her. I don't know if others believe that forgiveness necessitates having a relationship with the person? I know that I can stop feeling angry and can feel sadness and compassion for another yet still not want to be in their presence. I can feel PARTICULARLY sad for someone else exactly for that reason. I have felt that way about other people I once knew ... that I didn't want to have a relationship with them and felt sad about it and felt sad to think of their sadness too ... but still didn't want to have a relationship with them. Even while forgiving them for having let me down.
Does true forgiveness require having a relationship with the person forgiven? I don't know. But then I think of a poem that I first encountered when I took a therapeutic workshop. The poem is by Portia Nelson:
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson
I walk, down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in
I am lost .... I am helpless
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole i the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
but it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
For information on Portia Nelson, click here: CABARET HOTLINE BREAKING NEWS: Portia Nelson Passes at Age 80
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Last week a tragedy happened to the family of a man I know. His daughter killed her two children and tried to kill herself. I met her years ago. A beautiful young woman. Her father has spoken of her many times with pride. I didn't know about the second grandchild until I saw the story in the newspaper but I had heard him speak of the first grandson with such love in his voice. The older boy was 2 1/2 years old. The younger one was only 4 months. Apparently, their mother was suffering from postpartum depression. She had left her husband and was living with her parents.
She is in jail now, charged with murder. I can't imagine killing a child. I've experienced depression but never so severe that I could think of killing a child. I looked up postpartum depression online. Bipolar disorder is the kind of illness in which the risk of killing a child is higher. I feel so sad for the whole family.
Meghan is the second mother I've met who killed her children. In 2001 a woman killed her 13 year old son and then herself. I didn't know her well. I'd only met her a couple of times. Rosemary was the sweetest person. She taught in a Catholic school. Earlier in the day that the murder and suicide occurred, she had expressed concern for someone's personal problems in a phone call. No one who knew her would have expected her to be able to kill her son or even to think of killing her son. I can only ask, "How could she do it?" The problem in her life at that time was that her husband had left her.
No one who knew either of these women would have predicted these events. They were the sort of women I would have thought would be the LAST women who could have ever killed their children.
This has nothing to do with estrangement other than that I felt fortunate not to have had this happen to anyone in my family. My estrangements seem like minor losses in comparison to the nightmares of suicide and murder of children. I am so struck by the terrible tragedies that happen to people. The stories that I've been told are the stuff of Shakespearian tragedy. People walk around with such broken hearts. I am amazed that humans have so much resiliency that they can get up in the morning and get on with their lives after experiencing some of the most gut wrenching losses and events. Somehow we manage to get to the point where we can tell a joke again and can laugh and enjoy another sunrise.
I did an online search using Meghan's full name to see what came up. I found one entry on a site where she was credited with doing a book review on a book about herbal nutrition. She was described as being a "brand spanking new mom". That would have been right after her first son was born. How she went from being a "brand spanking new mom" to murdering her sons is a mystery and a tragedy that is beyond my comprehension. How does anyone who survives manage to live with the memory of what they've done? Even if it was due to illness? Or does Nature have mercy and erase the memory?
April 27: Update on my mother
My mother is in a nursing home. She finally signed herself into a home after her psychiatrist had her taken forcibly to the psychiatric ward of a hospital. The previous week she had decided to stop taking all of her medications. That decision is what made her psychiatrist send two men to her apartment to take her to the hospital.
I know about these events because my mother's brother called me. The hospital had wanted him to sign her into a nursing home but he didn't want to do it. He had always felt badly about his mother going into a psychiatric facility long long ago and didn't want to be responsible for signing his sister into anything. He seemed to think her problems were caused by her living alone. He said, "She talks to walls because she is living alone." I told him that he was in denial and that she was crazy. He went to see her in the hospital and she screamed at him so much that he said that it sounded like he was beating on her. He said that she sounded as though she hated him. Later she signed herself into a healthcare facility. I am guessing that she is hoping that it is temporary because her apartment is still full of her things and she didn't give it up. She wrote a letter of apology to her brother.
Last week I got a call from an emergency room doctor asking for permission to treat her for internal bleeding. She had been taken there from the home. When they asked her why she was there in the emergency room, she said, "Because the electricity went off."
I gave the doctor the permission he needed.
My uncle told me an odd story that he remembered from when he was 11 years old. My mother, who is 6 years older, would take him to the grounds of the state psychiatric hospital to watch the patients. He remembers a patient who had clocks all over him. So many clocks that they would fall off. My mother thought this was funny ... the antics of the psychiatric patients. Watching them was a recreational activity for her. She brought her younger brother to watch too. He thought this was strange.
This was the same hospital where many years later my mother was institutionalized for 3 years straight and for many other shorter visits as a patient herself. My uncle thought she liked it there. It's possible.
This was the first conversation that I'd had with my uncle in many years. I'm glad to have spoken with him. I haven't been in close contact with most of my relatives for a long time. My uncle has always been a practical joker who enjoyed teasing people, especially women. He has a bit of a crude sense of humor. When I was a young woman, he would say and do things that were not appropriate for an uncle to say and do. I eventually kept my distance. However, this conversation that I had with him two weeks ago was good.
I've always imagined that my relatives must think that I am a terrible person because I keep such a distance from my mother but it doesn't sound as though that is true. I think they've all suffered the slings and arrows of my mother's tongue. I don't know what they think of me but it's probably not as bad as I had thought. My uncle wanted me to go out and drink beer with him! I don't even drink! And apparently he has stopped drinking in recent years and his invite was just in jest.
May 10, 2004, Sunday
Today I would like to avoid thinking too much about the day. However, the anticipation of this day is worse than the actual day. It is really just another day. I haven't decided what to do with the rest of it yet. I decided to come here and write a little update on thoughts on estrangement.
I found a weird and fascinating book recently. I've included it on the Books and Movies page. Bertha Alyce: Mother exPosed by Gay Block. I've written a review of it there that you might like to read. It would be redundant to include the review here in the blog again. It's a book of photographs and text about a difficult mother/daughter relationship. After reading it, I wondered if maybe estrangement by refusing contact with a relative might be a kinder gentler form of estrangement compared to some other avenues ... like photographing your mother nude and publishing a book after she died? But maybe that's just me?
You may have noticed that now there are links on this site so that books listed on estrangements.com can be purchased directly from Amazon. I hope that this doesn't turn anyone off from visiting estrangements.com due to some cynical thought that I might be making money from these links. It is true that as an Amazon Associate I may (sometimes but not always) make a small commission if you purchase a book directly from these links. So far my income as an Associate has been 6¢.
I decided to try being an Amazon Associate out of curiosity, to see if it were possible to defray any of the expenses of the site through the links since I have books listed here. It just seems so convenient and easy to provide the links. I am the one who pays for the site. If you read my reviews, you can get a clue that I am not being influenced by potential profit when I write reviews of the books that I've read and included on the references page. I write what I really think. I would prefer that if you order a book that it meets your needs. I don't need 6¢ so badly that I would give a positive review to a book that I didn't really feel positive about. I just wanted to mention that in case it occurred to you and you were concerned about any possible motive on my part to be less than truthful about my opinions.
About today, Mother's Day, I pondered whether to send my mother flowers. You might have a hard time understanding why this is hard for me. Why not just send flowers? Well, if I send flowers, I am sending a message that the door may be open and the door is not open. I don't think that it's kind to send flowers with a card enclosed that says, "By the way, I am STILL not talking to you. Don't call or write. Please." I would like to send flowers at the same time that I fear sending flowers. I feel badly for my mother yet I know that there is no way to ease her pain. "Why?" you ask.
If you are a mom who hasn't heard from your daughter, you know that hearing from her would ease your pain. Hearing from my daughter would ease my pain. But there is no way to ease my mother's pain because she is unhappy no matter what the nature of our relationship. She is unhappy if we are talking. She is unhappy if we aren't talking. I am unhappy that she is always unhappy ... particularly because if we are talking, she tends to take out her unhappiness on whoever is in a speaking relationship with her.
I heard of a book on something called Emotional Claustrophobia. Something about those words ring a bell with me. I don't know if I really need to read another book. I'm not too tempted to read another self help book right now. I've read quite a few. But those words, emotional claustrophobia, describe how I feel about certain relationships, particularly the one with my mother. I fear being overwhelmed. Overtaken. I've had dreams where I am in a physical struggle with my mother and she is trying to subdue me. I wrote a poem years ago about the octopus mother .... she of many arms flailing to encase me, to get a bite of me, to get a piece of me. I fear allowing my mother into my life. I don't trust her and don't want her back in. Yet I feel sorry for her and hate feeling as though I contribute to her pain. It makes me feel as though I am not such a nice person. My husband assures me that this is not true.
What is much nicer to think about are all those mothers and daughters who do have friendly warm loving relationships and who can celebrate today without all this angst, pain, analysis, baggage, guilt, grief, sadness. How fortunate they are! I wish them all a very Happy Mother's Day!
September 19, 2004 Sunday
The Nurture Assumption,
& 40 Year High School Reunions
Yesterday I bought a second copy of a book that I own. The book is The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way That They Do by Judith Rich Harris. Buying another copy was easier than finding the one that is here somewhere. I am not a very organized person. This doesn't matter so much when memory works well but my memory doesn't work as well as it once did.
I bought the second copy because when I opened it to reread some of it, I read a quote from Kahlil Gibran inside and wanted to include the quote here ... without having to go on a hunt for my hardcover copy. Fortunately, this duplicate only cost me 50¢ at the local library book sale.
Here is the Gibran quote:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls.
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
A great statement on being a parent. We have a responsibility but that responsibility is limited. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that since I am the sort that blames everything on myself.
That book, The Nurture Assumption, is a good one to read if you are interested in theories on how people turn out the way that they do. I used to be the kind of person who thought that most serious emotional problems were caused by children's having suffered emotional and/or physical abuse by their parents. If an adult accused a parent of having contributed to their psychological problems, I was the sort who believed them and agreed with them 99.9% of the time. In cases where the person had an incontestably excellent childhood, I would have attributed any dysfunction in adulthood to some physical cause such as an injury to their brain or a genetic vulnerability to a personality disorder.
Judy Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption, proposes that there is another powerful influence on the development of our personalities that has been given too little credit. That influence is the power of the group on the individual. I read this book a few years ago. Harris makes good points. She changed my point of view on how much responsibility that parents bear for the way that their kids turn out in the long run.
My high school reunion is coming up in October. This would be a 40th reunion held for the class. I went to one reunion back in 1974 ...or was it 79? It might have been either. Already classmates had changed so much by that reunion that I recognized very few of them. This time I am wondering if it will be like being in a room full of strangers? The reunion itself is short, only four hours long. What a brief time to catch up on 40 years?
These are some of the very people, according to The Nurture Assumption, who may have helped me be who I am! The people I can blame outside of my parents, my genetics, and the rest of society? Only four hours? So much work, so little time! Interestingly since I was notified about the reunion (through the internet where I was tracked down ... appropriately enough) I have had some feelings of being that shy reserved quirky nerdy skinny (I wish!) high school kid I once was. By the time that I get to that reunion, I may have regressed all the way back to being a fearful 18 year old instead of an angst ridden age-ist aging baby boomer!
Maybe it's their fault that I am estranged today from my mother and my daughter? The fault is all theirs? In that case maybe they'll know how to end the estrangements and make us all happy and psychologically healthy and we'll all ride off into the American sunset eating apple pie with Lassie barking by our sides? I hope you recognize that I am saying this all with tongue parked firmly in my cheek. This is the most amusing thought that I have had today ... that my high school classmates are responsible for the development of my personality and possibly the misfortunes in my life. How very amusing!
In turn I guess since I was also part of someone else's group, I must be responsible too for how others turned out! I wonder who would have considered my presence in their life to be such a powerful influence? I wonder if anyone ... besides my ex-husband who was also a member of that class ... went to a therapist because of me? I wonder if one of our class's beautiful cheerleaders who were the epitome of popularity considered my serious approach to studies and my reserved manner an inspiration in their life? Somehow ... I doubt it. But then .... as has been said elsewhere ... stranger things have happened!
Along with thinking about going to this reunion, I also gave some thought to contacting my daughter to get together for lunch. The reunion is in the city where she lives. I don't have even 1% hope that this will happen because she has not responded to anything that I've sent her in 9 years. Hoping opens up my heart to hurting. I fear hope. However, I decided to send her an email anyway to ask her if she'd like to meet me for lunch. I sent the email. Several days ago. No response yet. Not surprised. I would be surprised to get a response. I did keep the invitation very simple. I was not wordy like I can be. I just told her that I would be there and I invited her for lunch and asked her to let me know one way or the other.
I know from past experience how much pain I feel when I get no response. Years ago I stopped sending letters. Occasionally I've sent a card. Last year I sent flowers on her birthday. I try a little but not too much so that I protect myself from the pain. I remember when we were first estranged I thought of sending her a postcard every single day of the year so that I would never be out of her mind and she would eventually respond. I talked myself out of that. I thought it would be considered harrassment rather than a loving gesture. Also I expected that a strategy like that would make me ill. Maybe even considering it was a symptom of illness? If someone doesn't want to talk to me, then they're entitled to that decision. I decided to respect her decision and I still do respect it. I don't know what she thinks of my lack of pursuit of her ... whether she thinks it's a good or bad thing. From my experience of her prior to her decision, I doubt that it matters what I do .... from her perspective whatever I do is the wrong thing to do. So I let her go ... until she decides on her own that she wants to talk to me.
Saturday, September 25, 2005
The Mistakes of '95 and
Offering an Apology Again.
I've sent a second email to my daughter titled "Apology sincerely offered". I hoped that titling it that way might enhance the chances of her reading the email and not deleting it instantly on seeing my email address in the "From" box. While I've apologized in years past in other emails & in paper letters, I'm not convinced that my apologies registered with her. Possibly I didn't word the apologies in a way in which there could be no misinterpretation. Maybe I said something that made her angrier even though I had no intention of doing that. If I were to give someone advice about writing to anyone who is not talking to them, I would tell them to keep it short and simple. Don't provide opportunities for more misinterpretation and misunderstandings. When someone is angry, they are at their best as far as finding fault. Say as little as possible, even if you feel in your heart that you are right, that they are wrong, and that they are possibly nuts. Unless you really don't want them to talk to you again. Then go on and on and on and on. I've been there and done that.
Yesterday I reread the email correspondence that went on between me and my daughter back in 1995. From this perspective of 9 years later, I can see that there was a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding in those emails on both sides. I can see that she was not willing to give me the benefit of the doubt on anything and I was easily insulted. Reading her emails even made me feel angry all over again. I wondered why I even miss her! But I do miss her, even if we are not on the same wavelength, have little in common, and no longer have much that we are willing to talk about. As a parent I was guilty of thinking that I knew her well when I didn't. She is a very different person than the daughter I thought I knew. She is admirable and smart in many ways but she is very different than who I thought she was.
I'll provide just one example. This is nothing that is very important but it illustrates how I didn't know her well. When she first went to college she played a musical instrument and majored in music. She never completed her studies in that subject but I had assumed that she still loved to play and that she liked classical music as I'd never heard her play any other kind of music. I assumed that she would like serious sorts of movies and performances of dance. I like those kinds of things. Well, it turns out that she likes entertaining movies that aren't particularly thought provoking, sports and alternative rock. I had no idea! And the list goes on ...
However, rereading the old emails that lead us to this estrangement, I recognized that I'd have done better to say so much less than I did. Every word that I typed was one more nail in our Relationship's Coffin. It doesn't matter if I made sense or not. She wasn't able to read any sense in it. She read between every line, between every word, between every letter. Whatever it was that I wanted to say was not what she was able to hear. I said way more than was necessary.
At the time I took that correspondence as an "opportunity" for us both to air our feelings and thoughts with each other. We'd never done that before. We had had communications previously where nothing important was every talked about. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I responded to each point that she made ... at length. I misunderstood some things and overreacted myself. She did the same thing. She refused to believe that she misinterpreted anything that I had done or said.
For an example of that, she was convinced that on a visit to me two years earlier with her husband, I had not wanted her here. This was a 100% misinterpretation. I was so excited to have her visiting me for the first time in years. But she believed that they were not welcome and her husband reinforced this belief. He told her that he felt and thought the same thing. Consequently, she believed that it was true! They left two days earlier than they had said they would. I was so upset when they left that I was ill for three days. At the time they never told me of this view that they had. I learned of it 2 years after the visit for the first time in 1995. Nothing that I could say would convince her that they were welcome and that I had wanted them to stay for the full time. Anything that I said regarding her husband, no matter that I didn't mean it in a negative manner, she took as meaning that I thought he was a bad person. I said that he had had a cold during the visit and that I wished he would take care of the cold instead of insisting on going out and then feeling miserable. My statement was taken as being a terrible criticism of him.
The correspondence went downhill as I tried to defend myself and as I got angry in return at being misunderstood. I was the one who made the first suggestion of our taking time off from each other. I suggested that she think of me as an aunt for a time instead of a mother. I was at a loss at how to communicate with my daughter. I thought maybe some time off from each other would give us each a different perspective. I had in mind about 6 months. Later she wrote to me to tell me that I wasn't worth time, effort or even the ink it took to write to me and that she wanted nothing further to do with me. The final straw for her was when I suggested that we go for joint therapy together. She took it as meaning that I thought there was something wrong with her. Her father and stepmother had gone to joint therapy with her and it has not been a success apparently. So my suggestion reminded her of their attempt to go to therapy together. My suggestion was taken as an insult. She cut me off at that point 9 years ago and has refused to talk with me since then. Ironically she is in closer contact with her father and stepmother now even though she had such negative feelings about what she thought they had put her through.
Yesterday, regardless of my own feelings on rereading the correspondence of 9 years ago, I sent the email with an apology, a simple apology, and another request to meet for lunch with no need to discuss anything. I said that I wanted to reconnect. I said that I would respect her decision if she wouldn't meet and end the estrangement. I think that there is about a 1% chance of her responding at all. Maybe less than that.
Mistakes are never recognized as mistakes until they've already been done. If I were to offer advice to anyone in an argument where they don't want it to end in an estrangement, I'd offer the following:
- Keep written communications simple. Don't expound.
- Don't respond instantly. Give yourself time to cool off (and also the other person) and think about your response.
- Don't make being right the only or the highest priority if the highest priority is that you want to keep being in a relationship.
- Give the other person the freedom to be irrational sometimes. Just figure out what you can ignore and then ignore it.
- Don't swear ... even if the other person does. Be polite and civil ... no matter what!
- Use humor appropriately ... but carefully. It can be misinterpreted as sarcasm or as being dismissive of something that the other person thinks is important.
- Repeating #1, keep it simple ... very short and simple.
- Talk about important things in person if at all possible. Written communications allow imaginations to go wild in reading between lines. Phones are too easily hung up.
Chances are that if you are reading this blog it is already too late and the damage was done. There is also a chance that even if you or I had done everything just right that the estrangement may have occurred anyway. So don't be too hard on yourself and I'll try not to be too hard on myself (a tough job as I'm my own toughest critic ... if I don't count my daughter!)
September 29, 2004 Wednesday
Depression, Humor, Garrison Keillor, Writing Books
Clinical depression is a something that dogs me. I took medication for it for over 4 years beginning shortly before the estrangement with my daughter began. I haven't taken it for a few years because of the side effect of somnolence that made being productive very difficult. However, without medication I go in and out of depression every few weeks .... or sometimes every few hours or days. It hasn't been as bad as it was when I first was prescribed medication but sometimes my mood is almost as bad as then.
I was watching fireworks last Sunday night and was aware that I was having a hard time enjoying them. That's what depression is. The inability to appreciate a good time, the inability to appreciate that the sun is shining and that things overall are good. I can be aware of the good things in life but not able to enjoy them. Some days are good; some days terrible. When I think about estrangement a lot, as I have been since deciding to go to my home town and my high school reunion and when I try to contact my daughter with little expectation of response, I have more bad days.
If I were to give advice to someone else in my shoes, I'd be telling them to go for medication. It can make such a world of difference. I remember how being on medication silences all that extra thinking and obsessing that goes on in my head. I enjoyed that internal peace. Living without depression was wonderful! If I could take the medication and not have the side effects, I would do it. Being productive is important to me. More important than being at peace. So I choose to forge on and get things done while fighting depression.
They say that loss is often a trigger for depression. How true that is!
I find it odd that in the midst of feeling depressed, my sense of humor survives. Sometimes I can be very funny while in the midst of the blackest despair. I don't know why this is. Maybe a survival trait? I can cheer myself up sometimes if something particulary funny occurs to me and I say it and make myself and/or someone else laugh.
Speaking of laughter, Garrison Keillor is someone whose radio performances I've enjoyed so much. I consider him to be a genius of wit and humor and writing. A very entertaining guy!
Keillor wrote ... or maybe still writes? .... an advice column for Salon.com under the name of Mr. Blue. A few years ago ... around 2000 .... I was a regular reader of Salon.com and saw his column which was mostly advice to the lovelorn. I'd never written to an advice columnist in my life, having taken the more expensive route of therapists or the cheap but effective route of 12 step groups. But the curious scientific part of me was intrigued by Keillor/Blue as the advice giver. And I had a serious problem ... the estrangement with my daughter ... that I could present to him. What would the genius/writer/columnist/radio personality advise? So I wrote to Mr. Blue, outlining the estrangement, telling him that I was thinking of writing a book on estrangements, asking him his advice.
Mr. Blue responded. I wish I could quote you from the column. I know I printed out his response but I can't find it anywhere. I looked and looked and looked for it to quote it but I can't find it. If I ever do find it, I will put it here. For now I will make do with my imperfect memory of the response.
Mr. Blue/Keillor told me that I wasn't really estranged, that my style was combative, and that I shouldn't write a book. It sounded to me like, "Silly woman! Get your head on straight! Your daughter isn't really not talking to you but you have a combative style and that is the problem and, for heaven's sake, don't write a book .... that would be just .... silly!"
My response to this in email was ... combative! I informed Mr. Keillor/Blue that he must have issues with his mother and/or his ex-wife and that I had sent in my question to him as an experiment in asking a columnist anything and he had failed the test! Thereby confirming for him his point about my combativeness! Remembering that makes me smile a bit.
However, I think he was right about not writing a book. A book is so permanent. You can't add anything to it once it's written. All mistakes and personal foibles are there for as long as the book survives with no ability to edit the permanently printed result. (Not that I think that an online writer should try to change their personal foibles by deletion but it's nice to be able speak of them at a later time from a different perspective which is something that can't be done in a published book. Note that I added in this additional thought on Sept. 30.) No opportunity in a published book to add further thoughts. No opportunity to meditate on what you've written and change your mind and let anyone know. No opportunity to add what you learn in the future without putting out another edition. So much hassle with the whole publishing industry just to get a book published. Some day it ends up as a remainder and sinks into that vast sea of books that were published years ago and are now on a shelf in a dusty used book store.
Writing online is different from a book because it is a process rather than finished product. It's an ongoing creation. It grows. The reader may communicate with the writer along the way and the writer can respond. The writer doesn't have to write, "The End" until the day or year comes when he or she runs out of things to say. It isn't a money making enterprise but then neither are books for the most part with the exception of best selling novels. I know many people who have written books on topics on which they have expertise but none of them have ever said that they made money from them. In my case making money hasn't been my goal. My goal is to share my experience and my research so that I might help someone else. Writing a book would have limited me to what I knew at a point in time instead of being able to share what I learn and feel over a long time. Mr. Blue was right about not writing a book.
About my being combative .... well, Mr. Blue .... I apologize for suggesting that you have issues with your mother and ex-wife. I had no right to suggest that. I don't know you. You may be best friends with all the women in your life, past and present. You may be the most emotionally healthy person in the world! I know that I enjoy listening to your radio programs, despite my irritation at your dismissive response and at being called combative. I still consider you to be a creative genius although I confess that I considered not listening to your programs any more. But you are too funny, too creative, and too good at telling a story. But I don't agree that my having or not having a combative style was the problem with my daughter. I would have done better to say less. I'm sure of that. At the time my daughter would have preferred that I say nothing ... which is what I wasn't willing to do any more. At the time I wrote to you as Mr. Blue I wondered if you would have called Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn combative? I've always admired both of those women. If they are combative, maybe being called combative is a compliment?
Writing to Mr. Blue was my foray into writing an advice columnist. I did it because it was Garrison Keillor and I wanted to see what he would say. The man is much smarter than I am. I know that. But he is an entertainer and a good one. He approaches being an advice columnist in the same way that he does his radio shows ... he entertains. He uses common sense but he doesn't have the inside track on solving people's personal problems any more than Dear Abby did. That was the first and only time I've ever written an advice columnist. I'll never do that again. Sometimes we really do get what we pay for!
September 30, 2004 Thursday
Mr. Blue's Original Response Located!
I found my question to Mr. Blue and his response on the Salon.com site in the archives for Mr. Blue. Garrison Keillor no longer writes the Mr. Blue column since his heart surgery in 2001.
Here is my original question and Mr. Blue's reply on August 17, 1999 on Salon.com:
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am divorced from my husband, who has not spoken to me for 15 years, and now I am losing my daughter, our only child. It breaks my heart. Four years ago, I got upset about her taking me for granted, and she went on the offensive, accusing me of not wanting to see her (untrue), and made a number of other accusations and criticisms, most of which were incredibly petty. When I suggested that we go for joint counseling (I was at a loss to know where her anger was coming from) she told me that writing to me was a "waste of ink" and that she never wanted to have anything more to do with me. She took the suggestion of therapy as being an insulting suggestion that there was something wrong with her. I have been writing down my thoughts and feelings about this, thinking I might publish it some day. I never thought this would happen to us; but I believe that she enjoyed rejecting me. I have not tried to communicate with her for some time. My previous efforts made me sick at heart and body.
Do you recommend learning acceptance and waiting for her to figure out her own stuff, or would you have another suggestion? I still love her but can't say that I like her a whole lot anymore. I didn't deserve this.
This is a grievous story and I am sorry for your loss of the adult friendship of a child. But your combative tone makes me think that you have blundered into this situation and antagonized your daughter on your own steam. You say this started back when you got upset about her taking you for granted? Good Lord, madame, that is a poor pretext for a fight with your only child, I must say. God knows, it's human enough to get upset, but there comes a point when you simply must accept your children as they are, stop prodding and pushing and punishing them, and learn to enjoy their company. You weren't rejected: You simply got into a fight you had no business fighting, and you wound up the loser. It's a sad fact that our power to anger and alienate others is so immense and our power to reconcile is so pitifully small. The lesson is: Be slow to anger. Don't be right every time you have a chance to. And don't go off writing a book about this as a further exercise in self-justification. If you need to write something, try writing an apology.
Well, Mr. Blue, it's been a total of 9 years now and if I haven't been rejected, I don't know what I've been. Rereading my original question, I don't see my combativeness but maybe I have a blind spot. Sure I can be combative. I just don't see it in my question. I do see defensiveness. I felt defensive. I was afraid of being judged. I've always felt guilty about expecting more from my daughter in a relationship than she gave and for bringing it up to her in 1995 in the context of asking her to remember my birthday. Rereading Mr. Blue's smug response, I see that he was happy to judge me.
His point that we must accept our children as they are is a valid one. I thought I had. I had thought my daughter was quite different from who she turned out to be. Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa! I had been in denial up to then. If I had known her better, I would have proceeded differently. If our estrangement ever ends, I intend to expect a lot less and not to try as hard as I once did. I wouldn't expect to be able to talk about anything. I wasn't known for prodding, pushing or punishing my daughter. I had prided myself on encouraging her to do and be whomever she wanted to be. I had absolutely enjoyed her company.
The book that I had thought of writing would not have been about self justification. It would have been a memoir about the experience of estrangement. I don't have anything to feel self justification about. I had been saving Mr. Blue's response to include in that never to be published book. Since I won't be publishing that book, it's time to include it in here. It's an example of the kind of response that people get sometimes when they talk with others about being estranged. The kind of response that people would never give if you told them that your child had died. The kind of response that an otherwise intelligent person can give. The kind of response that reinforces all the self recriminations that a person might feel when their children won't talk to them no matter what they do. Self justification? Try self recrimination, Mr. Blue!
I really hate being called, "Madame". "Good Lord, madame." I am not the madame sort. I don't feel madame-like. I hate his response. It presumes so much when he knows so little. I find his response to me to be ... combative and smug as well as presumptuous. I think he should stick to his Prairie Home Companion job and leave the advice giving column to the Dear Abby's and the professional therapists of the world. Has Garrison Keillor experienced the pain of losing a relationship with a child or even worse lost a child? I hope not. I don't know much about his life. I have a hard time imagining that someone could respond that way who had lost their relationship with a child.
I had hoped that with all his intelligence Mr. Blue had that godlike wisdom that I wished someone had ... the wisdom of how to get someone to talk to you who won't talk to you. The wisdom of how to repair a broken bond. I wasn't looking for someone to tell me that either of us were right or wrong. Good lord, sir, how presumptuous can you get?
However, horrific as it is to imagine, maybe I could have responded in that same presumptuous smug way to someone else who was estranged from their child prior to having experienced estrangement myself! Because I once thought of my relationship with my daughter in a very different way and never expected it to end. I once was confident of her love and felt badly for the people who had the misfortune to have conflicts with their children. I felt a little smug about my conflictfree relationship with my daughter. I once was not all that different in my viewpoints from Mr. Blue. Although I never would have addressed anyone by saying, "Good Lord, madame..."
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
FOUR DAYS AND COUNTING!
No response yet to my email invitation and apology to my daughter. Maybe she considers it to be too little too late. Maybe she hasn't read them. Maybe she deleted them on sight. Maybe she's determined never to speak to me again and nothing makes any difference.
My high school reunion is in four days. I've gotten over the depression that struck right after sending the emails and expecting to get no reply. I've been busy with art. Busy with volunteer activities. Busy with life. I've been having a good time. I feel productive. For me being productive is important. I've been productive ... if not always for myself personally, then for others. I've been productive on both counts.
In my previous 2 entries I talked about Garrison Keillor/Mr. Blue's advice to me in 1999. Since I wrote those, I looked to see what I could find on Garrison Keillor. While I've listened to his radio shows for years and I do own one of his books, I haven't read anything about him. I never took the time to read a book of his that I own. I tried a couple of times but couldn't get into it. I fell asleep trying to read it. Of course, I've felt guilty about not reading it.
Online .... amazing what you can learn online these days!... I learned that Garrison Keillor's daughter was born in 1998. She is his first daughter. He is now 62. He has a son who was born in 1969. His son is 3 years younger than my daughter. His son works for him. Garrison Keillor has been married 3 times and was estranged for a time from the city of St. Paul, Minnesota but they have since made up.
I learned that Garrison Keillor was raised in a conservative religious family that belonged to the Plymouth Brethren. I know more about Brethren in general than I know about Garrison Keillor. I know that they are truly very conservative. That their beliefs about how to live a life would have been very different from that of a popular writer/entertainer who makes his living creating radio shows and books. I read that he suffered from shyness although that is hard for me to believe as I have struggled mightily with shyness and fears throughout my life and I can't imagine how a truly shy person could have lived a Garrison Keillor sort of life! But this may be due to a shortage of imagination on my part. If he is a Shy Person, then he deserves credit for overcoming his Shy Side and forging on with life.
Why am I so interested in Garrison Keillor? After all this is a site about estrangement, not the personalities of those who offend me! (I type these sentences with a smile by the way, not a frown.) I am giving my temporary obsession with Keillor some thought. The answer is, of course, that I want to understand why Mr. Blue responded to me as he had. This is a writer and entertainer who I respect and admire. His opinion mattered to me. I had written back to him saying that he must have issues with his mother and ex-wife. I may have been more accurate than I knew.
Garrison Keillor came from a conservative religious family. In 1998 he had a daughter whom he adores. His articles about his daughter make his adoration clear. As a parent and as a person he is an advocate of people pursuing their dreams, not allowing anyone to hold them back, of overcoming fear. In his personal life he mentions that his childhood was a happy one. However, his parents' conservative values must have prevented them from embracing wholeheartedly Keillor's profession as a writer and entertainer, a fact that must have caused him some personal heartache even as he continued to cherish and love his family. Who doesn't want wholehearted approval of their decisions by their parents?
Mr. Blue wrote to me:
"there comes a point when you simply must accept your children as they are, stop prodding and pushing and punishing them, and learn to enjoy their company."
Garrison Keillor has experienced estrangement in his life but it was from a city and possibly from an ex-wife and other significant others. He left St. Paul in 1987 due to his anger at his privacy having been invaded by the local media. He returned to the city a few years later.
In 1999 when I wrote to Mr. Blue as an experiment in writing to an advice columnist Garrison Keillor was the enamored father of a one year old daughter and had lived a life that had substantial differences from that of his parents. Here he was as the respected writer, Salon advice columnist, and passionately adoring father. As Mr. Blue he receives a letter from a woman who he imagines has been unappreciative of her only daughter and who he believes has angered her daughter for no good reason. While Keillor has a wonderfully creative imagination, being estranged from a daughter and being anything but adoring of a daughter would be so far out of his realm of experience in 1999 that he reacted with what he could understand (and what he may have experienced): that parents are sometimes overly critical, judgemental, and angry at their children, that I might be that kind of parent, that my daughter's behavior wasn't that hard to understand, and that it was probably my fault.
Given what I learned in my online research on Garrison Keillor, I can speculate on why he reacted to me as he did as Mr. Blue. Being estranged from his beautiful young daughter would be unfathomable to him. There would be no reason for estrangement. He is an adoring encouraging emotionally supportive loving parent. How could estrangement be possible? It simply wouldn't be possible. That is the viewpoint of any parent who is adoring encouraging emotionally supportive and loving. That is the viewpoint that I once had too.
BTW in my online research I found Keillor's writing on Prairie Home Companion's site. He is such a funny writer! One of his columns could make me smile on my bluest day. While I never will like Mr. Blue's response to me as "Rejected Mom", I continue to love his writing which are treasures of American humor.
Here are some Garrison Keillor links:
- Holiday Greetings from Garrison Keillor, December 23, 2003
- Crankiness in Decline, Says the Old Guy, From Time Magazine, August 19, 2002
- (The last sentences of this exquisitely funny column are: "Give the bastards a hard time: that's how you get to be old. But why am I telling you, bubby? Grow up and come back when you know something."
- Which wasn't directed at me but reminds me of Keillor's very different perspective on combativeness in Mr. Blue's 1999 response to me.
- The New York Times, A Prodigal Son Makes His Way Home By Neal Karlen, March 27, 1994 (Link no longer good so removed.)
- Profile: Minnesota Zen Master by Nicholas Wroe, Saturday March 6, 2004
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
40th Year Reunion & Reactions to No Response
My high school class 40th year reunion in my hometown was Sunday, October 10. I had a wonderful time! I was able to hug friends I hadn't seen in 30 years. Four hours is too short to catch up on so much time gone by. I was surprised that some people left before the 4 hours was up. But we'd had a large class that had had split sessions so that not everyone had known each other. Maybe some had come to the reunion and the friends that they had hoped to see weren't there?
I had been to my 10th reunion and had been surprised then not to know many people there but this one was much better. More of the people that I had known were there. We all had changed so much! What made recognizing each other possible were the little paper labels we all wore stuck to our clothing. The labels had our names and pictures from the yearbook. The pictures jogged the memory cells! But I wished I could remember more. I knew the young faces and then learned the old faces but couldn't remember what it was that I knew about them even though I was overjoyed to see them!
For a while I wondered if I would stick my nose into someone's lapel to peer at their paper label and discover that the person was my ex-husband, divorced 20 years ago. I know he has changed, put on weight, and looks different. I didn't think I'd recognize him even though I have seen a picture of him on the internet. Finally someone assured that he wasn't there. I was delighted!
I took pictures of my classmates. We shared stories of old times and new times. I learned that some old friends had died. Some friends had sad stories as well as happy ones. We sang our high school song which I could not have remembered to save my life prior to going to this reunion! I noticed that some people hadn't changed in some ways ... like Pete who was into physical fitness in high school was still proud of his physique and worked to maintain it. Some people were very funny and entertaining at the reunion but I didn't remember them as being the class clown back in high school. The one I remember as being the class clown wasn't there. The girl who had the most beautiful red hair and was a cheerleader wasn't there. They said she was recently divorced and that the reunion fell on the first anniversary of her new marriage.
I never did hear from my daughter in response to my invitation to lunch. I respected her decision not to be in touch with me. I didn't go to her house and try to convince her to end the estrangement. Her refusal to respond doesn't endear her to me. Much the opposite!
My feelings towards her are growing colder. I am detaching more. Author Barbara LeBey (author of Family Estrangements: How They Begin, How to Mend Them, How to Cope With Them) emailed me recently about occasionally sending something to an estranged relative to let them know that you still care. Her estrangement with her son ended after she contacted him to ask if he wanted some things that were still in her house. I was so happy for her when I had read that their estrangement was resolved.
For me the lack of response from my daughter causes me to feel less and less warmth for her. I don't know if there will come a day when I don't care. I suspect as the estrangement continues thatmy daughter does not care and that I am foolish to continue caring.
LeBey was concerned that when someone stops trying that the other person would think that they had stopped caring. In my case the result of my continuing to try is making me care less. If I stop trying, it might keep me from getting to that point of being so hurt by the continued lack of response that I truly will no longer care.
I know others who believe in attempting to reconnect regardless of getting no response. A woman on the Family Rifts discussion board chooses not allow estranged relatives to control how she behaves in a relationship. While they no longer would act as though they were a brother or a son, she refused to behave as though she no longer had a brother or a son. She continued to act as she always had and sent cards and presents no matter that they did not respond. She continued to care. Her son recently contacted her and they have resolved their estrangement to her great joy. The instigation for his ending the estrangement was his girlfriend's influence. She had talked him into contacting his mother.
I don't know what the best thing to do is. Other than to take things one step at a time and to follow my heart and my gut. I don't know what to do about the ice crystals in my heart. I used to think that it was the worst thing in the world to be cold but now I begin to appreciate the detachment of that feeling. It protects from more pain.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Tongue in Cheek Option: Sending Curses
The website www.pinstruck.com is back up after a 10 month hiatus (and then later disappeared again). Pinstruck.com is a site where you can send a voodoo curse. I don't believe in voodoo. I hope you don't believe in voodoo. I hope you believe in humor!
Pinstruck.com is about humor ... and revenge! But a humorous kind of revenge. This option might not be appropriate for you. But, if you have achieved some detachment and need a break from the serious baggage of the year or the day, it might help to get a smile on your face. Indeed, you don't have to curse someone who you're mad at. You might just want to curse someone who you think would enjoy the opportunity to be cursed this way. Or you might not want to send a curse but just visit the website and read it to get some chuckles. I cannot guarantee that you won't see some profanity there in the on-site reviews! So keep that in mind.
When I first was told about this site over a year ago, I did send a couple of curses to friends and to someone who had a weird sense of humor and deserved receiving a good curse of this sort. I might have even sent a pinstruck.com curse to my daughter but I'm not sure. I think I did. I don't know if she has a sense of humor. The perpetrators of pinstruck.com surely do!
Sunday, October 24, 2004
The Brothers Dell'Orto & the Restaurants Manganaro
Just within the last two weeks in an online discussion on Mark Sichel's Family Rifts board the story of two brothers who hadn't spoken to each other in over 25 years was mentioned. These brothers own restaurants which are located next to each other on 9th Avenue in New York City. Funny how things go but when you hear about something it so often happens that next thing you know, there it is! Whatever it was that was mentioned just miraculously turns up! And so it did with the Manganaro restaurants.
I was in New York to see a big show at the Jacob Javits Center and went to look for a good place for lunch with a friend. What to my wondering eyes did appear but the two restaurants that I had heard about online. I have included the two restaurants and links to online articles that mention them and the court case on my links page.
I had lunch at the plainer more homespun of the two. The one called Manganaro's Foods. I had the smoked chicken sandwich with brie cheese and arugula and their special dressing on crusty Italian bread that was so crusty that my jaw popped while I was eating it! I had a coffee which seemed not to be the correct thing to order as the server person seemed a little put out to have to go and get something other than an espresso or a cappucino. But lunch was great and I'd go again and wish it wasn't such a long drive to get there.
Manganaro's Hero Boy was the name of the other restaurant. Renovations were being done to one side. The overall impression of Hero Boy was of an elegant upscale establishment of fine woods and refinement. The chairs were Shaker ladderbacks which struck me funny as I've never seen Shaker furniture used in an Italian restaurant before. Italians being known more for considerably flashier decor than the Shakers who were the epitome of unflash. Or simplicity.
Manganaro's Foods was more down home Italian. Bakery cases in the front with cookies. Meats hanging from the ceiling. Plain chairs and tables. An old tin ceiling. Great food!
I expect that the plusher looking restaurant has equally great food. In my mind the impression that the two restaurants left me with was that of a great pair of old blue jeans and a fine suit. Both kinds of clothing being desirable to wear at different times and for different purposes. Just depending on the mood.
I've known Italians who were so touchy and obstinate that they wouldn't speak to each other, despite the closeness of their blood ties, for many years. Indeed, my Italian ex-husband's mother and one of her sisters refused to speak for many years. I recall that it had something to do with who would get a candy dish from the estate of their mother. Although I might have the candy dish dispute mixed up with some other equally relevant family argument. Yes, I've known Italians like this and even been estranged by some of them myself. Maybe it is something in the jeans (sic)? Sorry. I couldn't resist!
Wednesday, December 8, 2004
The Busyness Cure
Christmas approaches. The end of the year is near. The beginning of the year that will be the tenth year of the estrangement from my daughter is also near. I am resigned to never seeing my daughter again and never understanding why.
I've been very busy with volunteering for a nonprofit organization and with creating artworks. I've thrown myself into doing things for the nonprofit. Coming up with ideas to improve it. Watching for things that are going wrong and working to put them right. Putting in lots of time. I feel productive although sometimes overwhelmed with the number of things that need to be done. There aren't a lot of people willing to contribute time, energy, and money. When you step in to help, you find more and more and more things to do. That's my experience. It's rewarding to see progress and feel as though I've made a difference. It's scary too when I think of how much there is to do and how few people there are to do it. And what if I want to stop? How hard will that be?
A woman in her seventies or eighties who is a volunteer has tried to resign her position as a chairperson but no one has stepped forward to take her place. So she keeps doing the work. I like her very much. I hope that I am mentally and physically as agile as she is when I am her age. She is admirable!
As for my daughter, I continue to visit her websites. I learned that she has begun a new business. She is now a dog trainer, giving obedience lessons to dogs. I filled in a feedback form on her new website giving her a compliment on the site and wishing her luck. I did this knowing that there will be no response from her. I'm happy for her that she is trying this new business. I think it might be more suited to her personality than the profession that she has been working at for the last 12 years.
While I've struggled with depression in this holiday season, I've made myself be so busy that I don't have time to think about it much. I have been very depressed. I recognize the symptoms. The negativity. The grim outlook. The judgementalism. The self loathing. The self loathing .... which is the worst. But being busy helps. I have good hours and days too. It's not constant depression.
I'm curious if my daughter has found this site. I've often wondered about that. I didn't think she had the curiosity or interest in me to look to see what I'm doing on the internet. I don't think she cares enough to look me up. But I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life and maybe this is one of them. Not that she cares about me but she might be curious about what I'm doing. I doubt it but it's possible. And then I wonder what her reaction would be to the blog. I think she'd be angry. There's a lot here that would anger her. I'd expect that she'd be angry enough that if she had decided to talk to me that she'd change her mind!
I don't think I'll ever know if she has found the site. There would be ways to find it easily enough. I have links to this site in other places connected to my email address and she would know my email address. It's possible that she's seen it and reads it.
Once upon a time I cared enough that I hesitated before doing this site because I was concerned about my daughter's reaction to it. Then I did it anyway. My daughter lost the right to influence me in anything that I do when she decided to cut me out of her life. In essence we are divorced from each other. She does whatever she wants and I do whatever I want. It is no longer the business of either of us what the other does. If she has found this site and doesn't like it, I no longer care. I do care about her and wish her well but I do not care about her reaction to whatever I say or do. We're both adults. She's almost 40 years old. She's old enough to face the consequences of her decisions. I've already lost her. I might as well do whatever I feel like doing since the worst already happened. Once someone has estranged themselves from you, they can't threaten you any longer with refusing to talk to you. They are already estranged!
Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2004
Odd way to spend the day, updating Estrangements.com. But that's what I'm doing this afternoon. Friends who we sometimes spend Christmas with are away. They are visiting relatives from whom they've been estranged in the past. Their relationships with their families on both sides have been in disarray at times. But they keep hoping for the best.
Being busy throughout this holiday season ... with the exception of today where I am having a quiet day ... has worked well for me. While I was depressed some of the time, I also was fine for much of it. I survived it pretty well this year. I recommend the busyness cure. Especially being the kind of busy where you're doing something to help someone else. It takes you out of yourself and your cares and gets your focus on others. While, yes, it's important to feel feelings including the grief and anger and sorrow and frustration of being estranged, dwelling all the time on the painful stuff is overwhelming and can make depression worse. If you can't get your mind off it in your quiet moments, you may be able to get your mind off it by submerging yourself in projects for others. Or even projects for yourself if they keep you busy enough. Projects that require the involvement of your mind.
I added a new link to the linkspage today. A friend told me about Tom DeLay's estrangement from his family. There is an interesting article written by Peter Perl: "Absolute Truth", May 13, 2001, Washington Post. (Unfortunately the link is no longer good so I removed the link.) Even among the most conservative of us who espouse "family values" estrangement is alive and well.
I have stopped posting on an online discussion group on estrangements. I've decided that after 9 years of talking about the estrangement from my daughter, it is time to move away from a regular dialogue about it. Talking about my own estrangement so much and trying to help others who are in the depths of pain was not helping me. It was hurting me. I can talk here in my blog about estrangement in a general sense, about the estrangements of others, about the possibilities of resolution, about "estrangement sightings", about Estrangement as an issue in life. But continuing to dwell on my pain and loss in a forum where everyone else is a recent victim of an estrangement is hurting me, preventing me from moving on with my life. I'm not a therapist. My support for others who are estranged is though Estrangements.com. Not through my ongoing participation in a discussion group.
Life is too short to spend it in pain. Online discussion groups can be a great online place for anyone who needs to talk about their estrangement and discuss it. (Note: This paragraph has been edited in 2006. Online discussion groups are also an opportunity waiting to happen for others to stalk you and harrass you. If posting on an online group, it makes sense to take precautions to protect yourself.) In the first years after any loss, people do benefit from talking about their grief, pain and loss to get through it. Talking with others can be healing. It's important. Without that release, we can go deep into grief and depression, so deep that some of us never come out. It does help to talk with someone, a therapist, a minister, a supportive friend, an offline group, an online group. Eventually though, we can heal. We may never entirely get over being estranged from someone we loved but we can get better. We can experience joy. We can get to the point where we don't need to think and talk about the loss all the time. We can get on with our lives. Unless we refuse to move on and we talk about our loss forever and ever and ever. Like friends who talk about their divorce of 15 years ago as though it happened yesterday. Eventually talking about the pain becomes a way of never letting it go. We hurt ourselves if we never let it go. Even though it seems in our heart that it would be wrong to let it go. After all, we're talking about family! But if we value ourselves and our lives, there comes a time when we need to get on with our life and live. I am speaking from the standpoint of 9 going on 10 years of estrangement.
We can respect the importance that our relative or friend had to us even as we go forward without them. Years ago my mother repeated something to me that her sister-in-law had said. My mother was upset about something and had been going on about it for some time. Her sister-in-law said, "Are you going to make a career of this?" That statement stayed with me ... making a career of an issue. People do that. Sometimes it makes sense. Sometimes it doesn't. That statement is almost dismissive ... possibly not affording sufficient respect for someone's feelings but then it does make a point that is valid too ... how much of our lives can we afford to spend on situations that we can't change? Life is short.
A man I knew died a week ago at the age of 50. Suddenly and unexpectedly. I read his obituary. He had a son who lives in Florida. I never knew he had a son. Now I wonder if they were estranged and that is why he never mentioned him. But that isn't the point. The point is that he was only 50 years old when he died and he had no idea when he went to sleep that night that he wouldn't be waking up. It makes sense for each of us to do the best we can, to live honorably, to find joy. I think that most of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001 would agree with that. Every time someone dies, I am reminded of that ... that I have the opportunity to live and make the most of my life. If the dead could talk, I think they would tell us that. I think they would disapprove of spending the rest of our lives dwelling in pain about situations that can't be changed. We do our best, we grieve, we heal, we live.
About Christmas .... it seems almost inappropriate to wish those who come here looking for answers a Merry Christmas. If you have come here to find a way to resolve an estrangement and you're miserable over being estranged, then the last thing I'd think you'd want to hear is a greeting of Merry Christmas when you are feeling the least merry that you've ever felt. Christmas may have been torture. The entire season may have been just one hell of a day after another. Been there, done that too. A good grim "bah humbug" might be something you'd rather hear.
So ... rather than wish you a Merry Christmas ... I will offer you a Get Well card. I hope that you do Get Well and someday find yourself able to enjoy the greeting of Merry Christmas again. I wish you the ability to smile. to get up in the morning with no tears, the freedom to spend most of a day thinking of whatever you'd like to think about rather than this misery of being estranged, the joy of being able to appreciate the sun, good friends, the fact that you're alive. I wish you the miracle of waking some day and later thinking with surprise about how you didn't wake up thinking about your estrangement and you can't remember how long it has been since you thought about being estranged. I wish you relief from your pain, healing from your loss, and the ability to feel joy once again.
No, I don't have the answer that you may have come here to find but I promise you that there is healing whether you find the answer or not. Eventually. It takes time. Have faith and hang in there!
December 27, 2004 Monday
New Links & Thoughts on Productivity & Dysfunction
Sunday I spent the whole afternoon researching the internet for new links to include here. I did my search differently than I had in the past and found a wealth of information that I hadn't seen before. A huge number of pages came up, much more than had come up in the past. I went through 11 of the pages and picked out enough relevant material to include here to keep me busy for all of this evening. I even found a reference to an estrangement between Cornell and the Paleontological Research Institution that was resolved after 80 years!
I now have links to information about the relationships of the famous advice giving sisters, Eppie Lederer (Ann Landers) and Pauline Phillips (Dear Abby) and their also not-so-friendly advice giving daughters, Margo Howard and Jeanne Phillips. I think that, like having the right color shoes to go with a dress, having links on an Estrangement site about the famous advice giving sisters is an Absolute Must! It just wouldn't be a Genuine Estrangement Site without them!
Can you imagine? Giving advice for a living and you are estranged from your sister? Who also gives advice for a living? How odd is that?
Can you tell my depression has lifted? I think that's Marvelous! Funny but once the depression lifts, it is like it was never there. And when it is there, it is as though I am never without depression. I told a friend today that I suffer from depression. She didn't have a clue!
Last night Gordon B. Hinckley, the 95 year old President of the Church of the Latter Day Saints was being interviewed on Larry King Live. King asked him how he felt after losing his wife of over 60 years. Hinckley answered that he missed her terribly but that, "Work is the best antidote for sorrow." I think he is right.
Two years ago after the death of a woman I knew, I bought five books on suicide. Too many people that I'd known had died that way and I had suspected that she committed suicide. I needed to know more. One book discussed the statistics of suicide. When times are bad, in times of economic depression and war, the rates of suicide go down. When times are relatively good, the rates tend to go up. Why is this? Is it because we have too much time to think and feel and get morose? Is it that we aren't distracted by the need to solve problems? We have nothing absolutely imperative to grab our attention? We don't feel needed when times are good? So we get morose and we do away with ourselves, feeling unloved, unwanted, unneeded, as though we might as well do away with ourselves because we feel miserable and we have nothing to distract us from our inwardly directed attention?
Not that this makes complete sense in every case where someone does away with themselves. Just in the last couple of days a famous heart surgeon who has saved the lives of hundreds and hundreds of children killed himself. One of the children in whom he placed a heart pump was on television just a few days ago. That boy talked to the doctor on the phone the day before he killed himself and the doctor seemed fine. Apparently no one saw it coming. The man was needed. Why would he have done this? He was a treasure. A man with skilled hands who cared. I can't imagine why he did this.
For myself I know that being productive, feeling productive does help me. So I work on research on estrangement to put here on this site. This kind of research doesn't affect me the same way as talking about the estrangement with my daughter does. It doesn't depress me. I can stand back and look at the information analytically. It interests me. It doesn't feel as personal. Seeing all these different stories about estrangement makes me feel so much less unique. It is such a human condition. We can call it dysfunctional but maybe it is not so dysfunctional after all.
I think that we use the word dysfunctional too loosely. We might as well all just call ourselves normally dysfunctional! Like normal neurotics. I think there was a book by that title, Normal Neurotics, years ago. If there wasn't, there should have been!
I remember when I first heard the word dysfunctional in relation to families and relationships. It was back in 1991 when I was in a treatment program for Adult Children of Alcoholics. When I heard that word, I knew that it was a word that would become the "in" word to use to describe families with problems and that I would hear it a thousand times. Before the word dysfunctional came into use, I can't recall any equivalent word that was used to describe families where there were problems.
What I don't like about the word is that it puts families and/or relationships on a par with appliances and cars. The car isn't working. It isn't functional. It is dysfunctional. We take it in for repairs or we junk it. The family is dysfunctional. Everyone is to blame. We point fingers at the poor sad dysfunctional family. There is no Family Repair Shop. We can't junk it. We can't sell it. We can't repair it. We are ashamed of it. It is our fault, somehow. After all, we are part of the Dysfunctional Family. So we must be Dysfunctional too. A Family isn't a Family without all of its parts and if the Family is Sick then aren't the parts sick too? And how do the parts fix the Family? We must be hopeless!
We get to make jokes about the Dysfunctional Family. We feel embarrassed to be part of the Dysfunctional Family. We sneer at the Dysfunctional Family. Even though when we look closely enough at most families we discover that there are really very very few if any families that rate being called Functional. There seems as though there is some dysfunction in all families. Yet we persist in calling our families Dysfunctional. While the real problem is that Uncle Milty is alcoholic. And Cousin Diana could use some medication for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But Aunt Emily is a highly successful business owner who once was anorexic but has conquered that problem and is much better now, thank you very much. There are some individual human problems that affect other people in the family so we call the whole family dysfunctional. The term is well embedded now in our vocabulary. I don't see it going out of fashion any time soon. But I don't think it really means all that much. We might as well just call ourselves Human!
On a different topic: I feel so sad for all the people caught in the tsunamis in Southeast Asia. What an overwhelming job that is! I've been thinking of those people on the other side of the world and how different life is right now for them. What a contrast! I open up the AOL home page and see at the top a headline on Retailers & something about the Christmas Blues and another headline on the adjoining inches of the page that over 23,000 are dead in Southeast Asia. We have so little to feel blue about compared to the families on those flooded coastlines on the other side of the world.
Those are my thoughts for this Monday. New Years' Eve and 2005 are heading our way in just a few days. I have a lot of things to do. I am so happy ... although a bit overwhelmed ... to have these things to do. I'm a bit behind on a few important tasks too. But I'll get it all done one of these days. I am so lucky to be alive and to be able to live my life with choices and in relative safety and with so few terrible natural disasters. I am counting my blessings.
Oh yes. One more thing. I did send an animated email Christmas greeting to my daughter. One from the great greeting card site, www.jacquielawson.com. I did not get the confirmation that she even accessed her card. It was a very cute card too! She loves dogs. The card was very dog friendly. But anyway ... I gave it a shot ... sending a card. I didn't think she'd open it. I don't get it. But I'm not letting it bother me this time.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
What we can do ...
Do you know the Serenity Prayer? I'm sure you do. It makes such a good point ... that we can only change our own behavior, not the personalities and behavior of others. There is something I can do, that we can all do, when disaster strikes. We can donate. That's what I did. Also, I found two links to put here for your convenience. Please donate to help the victims of the tsunamis.
Networkforgood. org offers a smorgasbord of choices for donating. They also provide the financial numbers for each organization when you click on the Donate button so you can make a fairly informed choice. http://www.networkforgood.org
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
The Inexplicable Kind of Estrangement
I have been thinking about my daughter a lot lately. But as I said at the end of 2004 I don't want to make the estrangement with my daughter the focus of my blog. Dwelling on what I can't change depresses me. Almost ten years is a long time to dwell on something, even something as painful as the loss of my relationship with my daughter. I want the focus of this blog to be on what I can talk about that might help YOU who come to visit estrangements.com looking for assistance, insight, answers.
One thing I can say is that I do not have answers. I don't think anyone, no matter what they say, really has answers. But there are different ways to get through pain. I offer as many options as I can find to help visitors here find their way through the pain without crashing and burning.
Lately one issue has been mentioned several times in emails and on discussion groups. That issue is when an estrangement occurs and the one who has been cut off has no idea why the other person has cut them off because they have never been given a reason and nothing occurred that they're aware of that would explain the decision. It is a crazymaking situation because for one person or part of a family there is no explanation.
It is like being in a passive aggressive relationship where one person is indirect and avoids telling the other person what they are really thinking or feeling. So the person who is cut off tries to read the other person's mind. They speculate. They obsess. They try to imagine what occurred. They wonder if someone else's influence is involved. They wonder if the other person has a mental health issue. They wonder if someone lied about them. They wonder if there is a misunderstanding. They wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder. They lie awake at night and think. They cry. There is no one who will answer their question. They may even resort to stalking to try to find out the answer. They don't know whether to be sad, angry, guilty or what. They may feel all of those things and more.
I know that sometimes people come here who have done that ... have cut off family members and never given them a reason why. I know it has happened to me. While my daughter & I had a disagreement, nothing had occurred that would explain her not ever talking to me again. I had been a good friend as well as being a good mother prior to (and during) that disagreement. Nothing about me that I am aware of .... or that others who are close to me are aware of ..... explains this estrangement. I know how crazymaking this is.
I made sure to tell my mother what had occurred to cause me to stop talking to her. She had the option of promising not to do that again and of taking responsibility for her behavior. That didn't happen. I don't trust her to stop harrassing & denigrating me. So in that estrangement, there is a clear reason which I expressed to her for not talking to her plus a history of very bad behavior on her part for decades. But in the relationship with my daughter, there was no history of that, no explanation to me, no logical reason to cut me off for the rest of her life.
So now we get to my question. I know that people come here who have decided to estrange themselves and have never told the person and family WHY they have done that. (Note added in 2010: I asked these questions in 2005. These aren't questions that I am asking today. Just so you know that these are not current questions.) I am asking those of you who have done that to write to me and tell me why. I will keep your information private as to who sent it to me but I WILL write up something on here in the future on the reasons why. Assuming anyone sends me any. If I quote from emails, I'll quote in such a way that no identities are revealed. I just would like to know why some of you who have never given an explanation to the other person why you have chosen to estrange them and why you haven't told them. Two questions actually:
Why have you estranged yourself? Why haven't you told them why?
I do realize that asking this question and expecting an answer may be futile. Those who would estrange their families without giving a reason may never come here to read this blog. They may be less inclined to understand estrangement and less likely to read about it. If someone is so comfortable with estrangement that they just go ahead and estrange themselves for reasons that might not even be clear to them, why should they come here to read anything? They may have no need to understand. In fact they may be beyond that need entirely ... they may wish specifically to put the whole issue out of their minds and hearts and never think of it again.
One person did write to me last fall who stated that there was no abuse or unhappy childhood to cause the estrangement. That person has not written again. There may be no other visitors here who have done that.
But if you are one of those who have estranged your family and have never given a reason, I would appreciate it so much if you would help to provide some insight into your decision and why you have never told them.
Note added on June 12, 2005: In May a reader of estrangements.com who is estranged from her family did respond to my question. I appreciate her taking the time to do that. Her reason for not telling her relatives why she wasn't talking to them was that she didn't want to hurt their feelings. However, her family had treated her badly. She had reason not to speak to them. They weren't trying to talk with her to try to resolve anything.
I can understand why she was reluctant to open up a can of worms and tell her family why she was staying away from them. It's not a way to make things better in the long run although it is a good way to avoid discomfort. Been there and done that too. The thing is that people's feelings get hurt anyway, whether or not someone opens up a dialogue or shuts down communication. Opening up a dialogue has its risks. One risk being that there will be a blowout argument. However, if a dialogue is opened up, there is also the chance that things may improve. The other person, once aware of another's feelings, has the opportunity to change or to explain why change can't occur.
It's scary to talk about things that are touchy subjects with people who don't seem to be understanding but talking is more likely to bring healing than estrangement will. I've found that a pretty good test of a person's character is how they respond when you tell them that something that they do bothers you. If they react as though you have just cut off their legs and tell you how terrible you are for saying something, then that is an indication that they aren't open to working on a good relationship. If they remain calm and open to a discussion on what can and can't be done to change things, then maybe things will work out and you may have begun a good new phase of a relationship.
The situation of the young woman who wrote to me to answer my questions is different from the kind of estrangement that mystifies me and causes me to ask the question. Why does someone who has not been abused by a loving family would stop speaking to them and give them no reason? One woman in that kind of estrangement wrote to me last year to tell me not to let the estrangement from my daughter bother me. This woman was distancing herself from her family. She did not want to be found. She said no one had abused her. But she never wrote to me again or gave me any explanation. I can imagine how her family might feel if they are normal people.
I have corresponded with others who have been cut off from people they love and have been given no reason. They did not abuse their relatives. They had been a family and had loved the people who refuse to speak with them. There was no act that explains the estrangement.
I have heard from adult children who have a parent who has done this and I've heard from parents who have had adult children do this. There must be many reasons, some easier to understand than others. I would like to know what some of them are.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Emily Dickinson on Hope
Hope is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops-at all.
Thank you to my online friend who sent me that poem.
Monday, January 24, 2005
Estrangement: An essay in others' words...
I've had this idea of making an "essay" by arranging a selection of quotes. Some are quotes found on estrangement. Others are quotes found through searches on keywords such as family, parenthood, hurt, regret, etc. Here is my "essay":
No themes are so human as those that reflect for us, out of the confusion of life, the close connection of bliss and bale, of the things that help with the things that hurt, so dangling before us forever that bright hard medal, of so strange an alloy, one face of which is somebody's right and ease and the other somebody's pain and wrong. ––Henry James, 1843-1916. from What Maisie Knew.
The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple. ––Oscar Wilde
Those whom we can love, we can hate; to others we are indifferent. ––Thoreau, Journal, Feb. 24, 1857.
To really know someone is to have loved and hated him in turn. ––Marcel Jouhandeau, from "Erotologie," Défense de l'enfer, 1935
The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay, or dislike hourly increased by causes too slender for complaint, and too numerous for removal. -- Those who are angry may be reconciled; those who have been injured may receive a recompense; but when the desire of pleasing and willingness to be pleased is silently diminished, the renovation of friendship is hopeless; as, when the vital powers sink into languor, there is no longer any use of the physician. ––Samuel Johnson, from The Idler essays, 1758.
The opinions which we hold of one another, our relations with friends and kinsfolk are in no sense permanent, save in appearance, but are as eternally fluid as the sea itself. ––Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past: The Guermantes Way, 1913-27.
A little sincerity is a dangerous thing and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. ––Oscar Wilde
O! many a shaft at random sent
Finds mark the archer little meant!
And many a word, at random spoken,
May soothe or wound a heart that's broken!
––Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) from the Lord of the Isles (1815).
The surest sign of the estrangement of the opinions of two persons is when they both say something ironical to each other and neither of them feels the irony. ––Nietzsche, 1878, from Human, All Too Human.
I am not a pessimist; to perceive evil where it exists is, in my opinion, a form of optimism. ––Roberto Rossellini, from Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma. 1954.
No doubt Jack the Ripper excused himself on the grounds that it was human nature. ––A.A. Milne
I have loved badly, loved the great
Too soon, withdrawn my words too late;
And eaten in an echoing hall
Alone and from a chipped plate
The words that I withdrew too late.
––Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Theme and Variations," Huntsman, What Quarry? 1939
According as the man is, so must you humour him. ––Terence, The Brothers, 160 B.C.
Govern a family as you would cook a small fish – very gently. ––Chinese Proverb
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ––from Anna Karenina 1875-1877. Leo Nikolaevich Tolsoi, 1828-1910.
Families break up when people take hints you didn't intend and miss hints you do intend. ––Robert Frost, interview, Writers at Work: Second Series, 1963.
The first half of life is ruined by our parents and the second half by our children. ––Clarence Darrow
I like children. If they're properly cooked. ––W. C. Fields
The secret of dealing with a child is not to be its parent. ––Mell Lazarus
Go back to reform school, you little nose-picker! ––W.C. Fields
Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children. ––Sam Levenson
We are given children to test us and make us more spiritual. ––George F. Will
There are times when parenthood seems nothing but feeding the mouth that bites you. ––Peter De Vries
Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
More hideous, when thou show'st thee in a child,
Than the sea monster. ––William Shakespeare 1564-1616 (King Lear)
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. ––Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) 1835-1910: from Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, 1894.
Psychiatry enables us to correct our faults by confessing our parents' shortcomings. ––Laurence J. Peter
We all are born mad. Some remain so. ––Samuel Beckett: from Waiting for Godot. 1952.
When one is a stranger to oneself, then one is estranged from others too. ––Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Gift from the Sea. 1955
Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody. ––Mark Twain, from Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, 1894.
The young need old men. They need men who are not ashamed of age, not pathetic imitations of themselves ... Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. ––Peter Ustinov. from Dear Me. 1977.
The first thing to learn in intercourse with others is non-interference with their own peculiar ways of being happy, provided those ways do not assume to interfere by violence with ours. ––William James, "What Makes a Life Significant?" Talks to Teachers and to Students (1899)
When our relatives are at home, we have to think of all their good points or it would be impossible to endure them. ––George Bernard Shaw, Heartbreak House, 1929.
A grouch escapes so many annoyances that it almost pays to be one. ––Kin Hubbard
A family is but too often a commonwealth of malignants. ––Alexander Pope, Thoughts on Various Subjects, 1717.
I believe that more unhappiness comes from this source [the family] than from any other – I mean from the attempt to prolong family connections unduly and to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so. ––Samuel Butler, (d. 1902), "Elementary Morality," Notebooks, 1912.
One would be in less danger
From the wiles of the stranger
If one's own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.
––Ogden Nash, "Family Court," Verses From 1929 On, 1959.
Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn. ––George Bernard Shaw
The cruelest lies are often told in silence. ––Robert Louis Stevenson. 1850-1894. from Truth of Intercourse.
I have often regretted my speech, never my silence. ––Publilius Syrus. First Century B.C. Maxim 1070
Silence is the sovereign contempt. ––Charles Augistin Sainte-Beuve, 1804-1869. from Mes Poisons.
To be adult is to be alone. ––Jean Rostand
Of all man's inborn dispositions there is none more heroic than the love in him. Everything else accepts defeat and dies, but love will fight no-love every inch of the way. ––Laurens Van der Post: from Flamingo Feather, 1955.
A broken hand works but not a broken heart. ––Persian proverb
What I'd like is a lobotomy, a clean job, the top of my head neatly sawn off and designated contents removed. ––Carol Shields, from Unless, 2002.
Ah, nothing is too late,
Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.
––Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882. from Morituri Salutamus, 1875.
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
––John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892. from Maud Muller, 1856.
- 15th Annual and 25th Anniversary Edition Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. 1980. Published by Little Brown and Company.
- The International Thesaurus of Quotations, 1970, Harper & Row Publishers.
- The Portable Curmudgeon. compiled & edited by Jon Winokur. Published in 1987 by The New American Library
- Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page: Quotes on Estrangement at http://www.samueljohnson.com/estrange.html
- Unless by Carol Shields, 2002, Fourth Estate and HarperCollins Publishers.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Abuse through estrangement
Is it any wonder that the Amish use the practice of shunning to keep members in line? The threat of losing family and friends is a powerful influence on anyone. Losing those we love as a consequence of actions is a good reason for many of us not to rock the boat, assert ourselves or misbehave in any culture. But then what if we haven't "misbehaved"?
Some behaviors are clear examples of actions that most would agree are reprehensible and deserving of whatever punishment a culture agrees is suitable to the crime. However humans aren't sheep and don't tend to agree on so many things in life: religion and politics to name two hot topics. Then there are all of the other things we can agree to disagree on: choice of companions, opinion on the best football team, business ethics, how to raise a child, housekeeping standards. If you've watched any episodes of the reality TV program, Wife Swapping, you have probably seen more than a few people you couldn't stand to live with in the same house. Even if you agreed with their politics or religion.
What merits estranging ourselves from others? Some people put up with levels of abuse that others would consider criminal. Others can't stand the smallest "infraction" of the rules that they've set up for who they choose to be in their circle of family and friends.
When someone estranges another, if the person estranged loved the other person very much and is a reasonably sensitive person, they feel pain at the loss of that relationship. They miss the person. They can be griefstricken. Often it doesn't matter if the estranger was abusive or not. They may still be mourned. Few people are so bad on all counts that they don't have some qualities that would be missed.
While many estrangements would make sense to most reasonable people, some estrangements are examples of abusive behavior. Becoming estranged can be very painful. Becoming estranged when a person has done nothing that is abusive to the estranger or to anyone else that would explain the estrangement can be the result of someone deciding that estrangement is an option in an argument.
There are as many reasons why someone would choose that option as there are personality styles. They may be unwilling to deal with their own feelings when faced with an uncomfortable situation. They may be afraid of the other person despite evidence that there is no need to feel fear. They may be afraid of angering a third party who isn't even part of the disagreement. They may be afraid that they will be proved wrong in an argument and unwilling to lose face. They may be unwilling to accept that there are other lifestyles and beliefs than their own.
These kinds of estrangements, begun due to one person's inability to accept that another person has a right to a different opinion, a different lifestyle, a different feeling, a different belief, a different life are the kind of estrangements that rise to the level of being called abuse. While an estranger might try to justify their decision based on moral arguments or judgements of the other person, when one person estranges another who loved them and had never abused them or anyone else, then the estrangement may be as abusive as if the estranger had beaten their former loved ones up physically. Estrangement can be emotionally abusive.
Estranging someone is a legal culturally acceptable (although morally questionable) form of abuse in the Amish culture and in our own culture. No one is going to arrest the estranger. The estranger has every right to have or not have a relationship with whomever they please. But estranging themselves from those they love without any good reason is abusive. They have the comfort of never looking the other person in the eyes and seeing their pain but the pain is there nevertheless and they have been the perpetrator. I suspect that this knowledge is what keeps many estrangements from ever being reconciled. The estranger never wants to face the fact of how much they have unfairly hurt another so they never call, never write, never take the step to end the estrangement. In their hearts they know what they've done and they feel shame.
If you are reading this and you've cut off someone else who was abusive to you and you are feeling anxious and guilty, please realize that I DO NOT MEAN YOU! This is NOT the kind of estrangement I am talking about. I am referring to estrangements where a person or a family is cut off when they've done nothing wrong by most reasonable standards. Or they've only taken action to protect themself and others from being abused so the estranger punishes them by cutting them off. Unfortunately. people who have been abused and have decided to stand up for themselves and set a boundary with their abusers are usually those who do feel guilty about taking a stand. I've been there and I do that too! I DO NOT MEAN YOU! I congratulate you on your decision and urge you to continue to take good care of yourself by not putting up with abuse.
Deciding to estrange yourself because you've been abused is a GOOD reason for cutting others off. Deciding to estrange yourself because someone told you that you can't call them any more when you are drunk is NOT a good reason to estrange yourself. An estranger cutting others off because they wouldn't lend them money is acting in a way that is manipulative and abusive. An estranger cutting others off because they've expressed concern for the estranger's health, physical or mental, is NOT making a decision that makes a lot of sense but will only hurt those who love him or her. That is the kind of estrangement that is abusive.
Unfortunately, I don't think that those who estrange others for reasons that make little sense come here looking for how to cope with their estrangement. I think that they've already settled the matter in their minds and are out there living their lives while thinking as little as possible about those who loved them. On the off chance that someone does come here who knows on what flimsy grounds they've begun an estrangement, please contact your family and begin the process of reconciling.
Years ago I bought a t-shirt that said, "Do whatever terrifies you! Everything else is boring!" I bought it because I was afraid of doing so many things and wanted to encourage myself to take risks. If the only thing that is stopping you from reconciling with the people who love you is fear and shame about your own responsibility for having caused them pain, please put aside your fear and shame and contact them. If you aren't at the level of being able to feel fear and shame, but they've never hurt you and they love you, contact them anyway. If there is no good reason to cause pain, why contribute to it? There's enough pain in the world without adding to it by hurting people who love you.
Saturday, January 29
Estrangement & Divorce:
More ways for people to abuse each other.
Since I decided to write less about the specifics of my own estrangements, I have noticed that I am drawn to writing in a way that is more judgemental and opinionated than I had previously. In past writings I hadn't wanted to turn anyone off to visiting Estrangements.com. I didn't want to anger anyone.
I've wanted this site to be a source of information, not a source of opinions and advice. Unsolicited advice has ticked me off so many times in my life that I haven't wanted to offer any. Yet in my January 25 entry on estrangement as a way of abusing people I offer an opinion and advice. This is a change for me. I will add to my previous statements on estrangement as abuse that whatever advice or opinions I offer, take what you like and leave the rest. That is what is said at the end of 12 step meetings. I don't know what is right for you. Everyone does have to make their own decisions. However, that being said, I have decided that I need to say some things that I believe in my heart.
Another belief I hold is that parents who separate and divorce and involve their children, underage or adult, in the hostilities between them are doing a disservice to their children and an evil to their former partner. Some parents do deserve the consequence of never seeing their children again. Some parents do deserve estrangement from their children. Parents who molest their children, who hurt their children physically, who are cruel to their children deserve being estranged. Most parents in a divorce, while imperfect, don't deserve that fate. Yet one spouse is often so angry at the other spouse that they go out of their way to vent their bitterness and hostility towards the other parent in front of their kids. Sometimes both parents do this.
The anger and hurt felt by parents who are divorcing each other is often intense. Too often parents use their children as weapons of revenge. They feel a sense of smug satisfaction if their children take sides and stop speaking to the other spouse. The fact of a side being taken might not even be admitted by the children. They distance themselves and detach from a formerly loved parent, never even acknowledging to themselves that they have been pressured by one parent at the expense of the other. The parent who has been estranged is left out in the cold. The children may blame the estranged parent for not trying harder while at the same time rebuffing all attempts at staying in touch by that same parent.
Some people have given a label to this kind of estrangement. They call it Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). PAS has been used in the courts to change custody arrangements. People have wondered whether PAS exists and suspected that men invented PAS to avoid alimony or to get custody of children who they have abused and will continue to abuse. For these reasons I would prefer not to call estrangement-by-parent PAS. I will just call it the successful result of one parent's desire to revenge themself on their ex-spouse. It can work on both very young children and on adult children. Children are human and are subject to the influence of their parents, even if the influence is unfair and colored with the strong bias of anger caused by a bitter parting. Children, young or adult, are NOT objective about their parents. They can't be. They're human.
The weight of responsibility for maintaining relationships between parents and children after a divorce falls mainly on the parents. Not that it's easy to shut up and keep all that rage contained, especially around family members. Yet part of the responsibility of being a parent is to enhance the mental health of our children, to encourage them to have relationships with both of their parents unless there is some danger to our children's physical and mental selves. If a divorcing parent believes that a danger exists to their children, they need to be aware of their own biases in assessing that risk and not jump to conclusions that their spouse's failures as a marital partner equate to being a bad and dangerous parent.
Revenge is so tempting when partners break up. The higher ground to take is the one that puts children first, not the parent. We're ALL imperfect. Few of us can say that we are really clearly better than our ex-spouse. We did marry the person for some reason years ago and had found some good qualities in them. Our children can benefit from a relationship with even imperfect parents. They can benefit from acknowledging that a parent is imperfect and still loveable. They can benefit from the good points of both parents. They can benefit from the greater harmony that can exist by not having longstanding divisions. If relationships are continued with both parents, they can live with the sense of a more complete family, even if not in the same form that it once was.
The desire to break the bonds of our children's relationships with their other parent is a temptation that needs to be resisted. If we had never thought of ourselves as having abused our spouse while we were married to them, we turn ourselves into abusers if we work to break the bonds between our children and our ex's. If we do this, then we might as well be truthful and acknowledge that we have been abusive and have done something wrong. We are ignoring the longterm consequences for our children. We are forgetting that we are going to heal from our divorce and go on with our lives and find happiness, possibly remarriage, while our children don't have the option of replacing that other parent with someone new.
Most of us only have one person who acted as a father, one who acted as a mother. Even those of us who were adopted would generally consider that there was one person who took responsibility for acting as their mother and one person who took responsibility for acting as their father. When children grow to be adults, they may form new relationships with people who can act in the place of family but most of us would prefer to have longterm relationships with both of our parents, even our imperfect parents, if given the chance.
When we allow ourselves to celebrate breaking our children's bonds with their other parent, we have taken the low road. We have been small minded, ungenerous, unloving, a bad parent, and a small human being. Only serious forms of child abuse by the other parent can warrant influencing our children to cut off their relationship with their other parent.
As for children, whether young or adult, who have fallen under the influence of a bitter parent, I would ask that you take another look at the parent who you've left behind. Consider how you would judge them if they were a friend rather than your parent. Think about the circumstances of their life. Think what you might have done if you had been in their shoes. Think about what it would be like to walk in their shoes. Think about your own imperfections and how you would rank as a parent.
If you don't have children, think about how a child might rate you as a parent. Think about your choices in life and compare them to the parent that you estranged. Think about what was available to that parent at times in their life. If you knew your grandparents or knew of them, think about what it might have been like for your parent to grow up with those grandparents as parents. Think about it! What would you have done? Would you have survived? What kind of mistakes might you have made? What choices would you have made? What was it like when you came along as a son or daughter? What was your parent's life like then? Think about what it feels like when you lose something that you feel passionately about. Think about what it feels like when you lose someone you dearly love.
How old was your parent when they married? What is it like to be that age? How old were they when you were born? What is it like to be the age that they were then? What tribulations did they experience? What did they overcome? What were their strengths? If you feel hurt by them, what were the hurts and were they forgiveable? Would you forgive a friend if they had done the same thing? Have others forgiven you for hurts that you have done?
How much weight do you expect others to put on your imperfections? How hard are you on your parent? Have you been cruel? How do you feel about the possibility of being cruel? How comfortable are you with that? Is it necessary? Could your life possibly be fuller? Richer? Warmer? If you allowed that even your parent can be imperfect too, as imperfect as your friends, as imperfect as you, as imperfect as your children are or will be? Are you kinder to your pets than you've been to your parent? Why is that? How much of your estrangement with a parent exists because your parents became estranged from each other? Are you annoyed with just the thought of it? Can you say that you would have rejected your parent even if there had never been a divorce? Are you clear on WHY you have rejected your parent? If not, give it some thought.
Abuse comes in all forms. Even under the guise of some kind of self justification when there isn't any. Abuse is sometimes what ordinary people do when they just think that they're being ordinary.
If someone does try to reestablish a relationship that was ended unfairly, the relationship will be different than how it might have been. Yet maybe something can be salvaged that is worthwhile if a reconciliation occurs. I don't know the answer to that myself. Accepting the fact that the relationship will be different is one step. Then taking the step of reconnecting is another.
Million Dollar Baby: The Movie
Today I saw the movie Million Dollar Baby. I am adding it to the list of movies on estrangement on the site's reference page.
I won't talk much about it because the movie just came out. I don't want to tell you all about it before you've seen it. I might write about it at length at some future date.
I left the movie thinking about how much agony people put themselves through trying to get the love of people who don't love them. My daughter's name is not Katie but it might as well be Katie. My mother isn't as bad as Maggie's mother although I have had the experience of giving her presents and then hearing complaints. I have had the feeling of never being good enough no matter how hard I tried. I don't know what I'd do if asked to do what Frankie is asked to do. I brought tissues as I had a clue how sad I would feel. Bring tissues!
When I came home I baked a pan of brownies for my husband. Just because .... Just because it makes sense to be nice to the people who love you rather than spend a lot of time crying over the people who don't.
Tuesday, February 1, 2005
The Metaphorical Fish Tank
I've been thinking on various topics to write about. I made some false starts and quit. I haven't settled on a topic that feels right. Some topics that occurred to me are: Self Esteem & Estrangement, The Effects of Estrangement. I can't get going on anything right now. My last paragraph of my January entry means more to me than its simple surface meaning. It DOES make sense to spend time doing things for those who appreciate you and love you. It DOESN'T make sense to spend time and energy and feeling on those who don't appreciate and love you .... or me. Why do we beat ourselves up, analyze, grieve, and mourn? Or who do we CONTINUE to do so? There is a time for grief and eventually there comes a time to move on ... to do things that we enjoy, spend time with people who love us and who we love.
What can I tell you today? The things that I do that do not involve my estrangement? They are silly little things that may make you smile and they might not make much sense. Sunday I spent several hours cleaning my fish tank. I have a 45 gallon fish tank with two fish in it. One is a big striped catfish and I've had him for many years. He's grown a lot in that time. He is a big fat fish! The other fish is a small Harlequin Tetra (if I remember right?) All the other Harlequin Tetras died. Even the ones that I bought to replace them. This one tetra just keeps on going, like an Energizer bunny! So I have a fat fish and a little fish.
Sometimes I don't get around to cleaning the tank for a very long time. Algae grows on the glass. The fragments of the Java fern clog up the strainer parts of the filters. The water flow slows down. I feel guilty. Every day I feel like a fish abuser! I tell myself I don't have the time although I do have time to sit down here at the computer and type about the dead relationship with my daughter. Or read a discussion board about estrangement. While the fish sit in their neglected fish tank and make me feel guilty. I begin to wonder if the fish tank is a metaphor for my daughter. I will have my revenge through neglecting the fish tank? I will fail to take care of things and people that I care about because someone that I cared about has failed me so miserably?
On Sunday, I thought, "Enough! Enough of delaying the cleaning of the tank! The fish don't deserve this abuse! You can't take revenge on your absent daughter by abusing your fish! Nothing is accomplished by neglecting the fish! Clean the tank! Don't write about estrangement! Clean the blasted tank!" So I cleaned the tank! Which has the side of effect of helping me feel better about myself. I am no longer an abuser of fish! My fish look much happier. Not that anyone else could really see that! They don't smile or wag their tails. The little one is swimming about with more enthusiasm.
Estrangement can have odd side effects that cause us to do things or not do things that we might have done if we hadn't been so absorbed in this mystery of estrangement. We need to look around and see what we're neglecting and make sure that we are not letting estrangement negatively affect our other relationships. How sad that would be if we allowed estrangement to damage relationships that are good because we have allowed estrangement to take over all our thoughts and feelings! Sometimes we need to wrench our minds and hearts back and go ahead and live life as we really want to live life, regardless of losses.
Life is too short and there are too few people who are close to us to let estrangement take everything over. That would be a tragic result, to let the grief of being estranged cause more losses. Be aware of how you are living life and what you are NOT doing that you normally would do. Don't let estrangement destroy what you do have. Take time out to do kind things for yourself and for those who are close to you. Even small things can make a difference. Your self esteem will improve as will the quality of your life and relationships. Go clean that metaphorical fish tank! You must have something that compares to that! I know that I have a TON of metaphorical fish tanks which all await my time and attention!
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
My Father-in-Law and Lewy Body Dementia
Almost two months since I last wrote here! Time flies! Not long after I last wrote, my husband and I learned that his father was experiencing symptoms of dementia. This came as a big shock. His father is a very intelligent man, highly skilled in math, who worked with computers back in the early days of computers in the fifties. He worked with companies that bought computers that were the size of buildings. He was one of the people who showed them what they could do with their computers. Dementia would be the last thing we'd have expected to afflict him. When he retired, he retired from a job at the Pentagon.
My mother-in-law didn't realize what was happening at first. She was frightened and in some denial about the implications of the symptoms. She called 911 twice when she thought he was dying. He wasn't dying but he was having symptoms of a very serious condition which is called Lewy Body Dementia. This is a strange condition which has some of the characteristics of Alzheimer's but also some of those of Parkinson's. One of its characteristics is its fluctuating nature. One day the person may seem normal or almost normal. The next they are like another person entirely if they are even responsive. They may be entirely nonresponsive or they may be hallucinating and paranoid. They must not be given drugs like Haldol and Ativan and other standard antipsychotics as these drugs affect them adversely. Which is what happened after he went to the hospital due to the second 911 call. He got up in the night in the hospital, walked around, and refused to take medication. So they gave him Haldol and Ativan to try to control him. The result was two days of almost total nonresponsiveness. We traveled to see him and found him in the hospital like this. To keep the nurses from giving him more medication and worsening his condition, we stayed all night in the hospital to keep him from being agitated.
Since then I have been reading about Lewy Body Dementia and talking with my mother-in-law by phone to give her emotional support. She is 78 years old. Life is so rough on people. Our system is not set up for helping people when dementia strikes in a family. There is no 911 call that will give you help in curing your dementia afflicted relative. You get to be 78 and then find out that you suddenly must be a nurse to your loved one who is acting like a stranger! Like being 78 isn't hard enough? With its own set of aches and pains and osteoporosis and fatigue. It seems a time when you might expect to retire and sit back and watch the clouds drift by. But instead you might have a significant other who is now peering at you around corners, turning on your lights at night while you try to sleep, waving bed sheets in the hallway in some strange ritual caused by acting out a dream or telling you to get out of the house and leave. You try to give him the medication but he spits it out. One day he seems normal, the next he's not. You're hopeful on the good days that it is all a bad dream and tomorrow will be good too but then tomorrow comes and it is not good.
This is worse than estrangement. The person is present but it is as though you are estranged from the person with whom you live every day but neither of you would ever move out. No one comes to your rescue. Long term care is outrageously expensive and painful to contemplate if it is possible to afford. Our system is not set up to assist us much when a relative suffers from a dementia or other illness that ends up requiring long term care. All this is happening to my mother-in-law. She feels trapped after having had a lifetme of freedom. They have been married for 59 years. It will be 60 years in August. I am surprised by her honesty when she tells me how she feels. She loves her husband. She cares about him very much. But she feels trapped. She feels as though she is living with a stranger when he has a bad day. The bad days are every other day or more. She feels overwhelmed and wonders if she can cope. She thinks of leaving. As though leaving your home and husband is any kind of option when you are 78 years old.
My in-laws have had some experience with estrangement. My father-in-law was estranged from his family from many years ago. His parents have since died. He has 7 brothers and sisters. Undoubtedly he has nieces and nephews. He has had no contact with his family in over 45 years. This was an estrangement on which both of my in-laws agreed. They both felt as though his family was just trouble and only wanted money from him. Not that he was wealthy. He wasn't. He worked hard for what he earned. I think he thought that his family didn't want to work for money. They just wanted someone to give it to them. They were gamblers.
I think maybe 10 years ago or so my father-in-law thought about looking for some of them but then decided against it. When we see the last name in the news .... it is a common name .... we often wonder if the person might be a relative.
My father-in-law's dementia has been so sudden, so shocking, so sad. Worrying about my in-laws has taken up all of my spare mental energy, first with worrying about the doctors coming up with an accurate diagnosis and medicating him properly and now with how my mother-in-law is going to cope with this change in her life and the stress. I feel towards them as though they are the parents I never had. They've always been kind to me. Like everyone, they are not perfect but they are kind people. My mother-in-law is an artist and very creative. She's been an inspiration to me ever since I first knew her. I think I might never have tried some things as an artist myself if I had not known my mother-in-law. I am very sad that this is happening to her and to my father-in-law.
Lately I've given little thought to the estrangements from my daughter or my mother. My in-laws' problems have taken a top priority as have other issues like earning a living and helping a nonprofit organization where I am a board member and vice president. Worrying about people who are difficult to get along with has become less of a concern. There is only so much time in life. Only so much energy. Only 24 hours in a day. We can spend our time and energy on trying to get along with people who are difficult or impossible to get along with or we can spend it on relationships with others who want our help, need our help, maybe appreciate our help, and who actually CAN be helped. Some problems are irresolvable while others have solutions.
When we can assist in resolving problems, with reducing pain, with achieving progress, our time is well spent. Then we're not banging our heads on a door that is nailed shut. If we choose our priorities well, we may find the satisfaction of having accomplished something. If we choose other priorities like continuing to work at making people happy who are never happy, we may end up perpetuating our own suffering. Eventually in any effort to change something, we need to decide which way it's going and how we want to live our life. Do we want our life to mean something? Or do we want to be a martyr to some futile effort that will accomplish little even if the person deigns to speak to us again?
I care about my daughter and my mother. I wish them both well. I hope that my daughter's new work is rewarding to her. I hope her life is good, that she is happy. I was delighted to be a mother and to be a part of her growing up. That delight in having had her in my life will never change. As for my mother, I hope that my mother has some peace in her turbulent emotional life and that her health is good ... although I expect that she's having problems since she ALWAYS has problems, no matter what her age is. I'm not spending a lot of time worrying about the estrangement from each of them. Maybe it's because I'm taking an antidepressant now that my attitude is changing.
When I learned of my father-in-law's condition, I felt overwhelmed. So much bad news nationally, globally and personally. I let it all get to me too much. When I began to feel hostile towards others and obsess about petty rudenesses, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to function to help anyone if I didn't accept some medical help. I am on an antidepressant. It's working. I feel better. I can enjoy my days. I'm not sure if it's the perfect medication for me as I tend to get a side effect of sleepiness but the side effect isn 't too bad. I can always try something else if the sleepiness gets in the way of things I need to do. I do feel better and that's a relief!
In my improved state I think more clearly and obsess less. Right now I am more aware of the priorities of life and which ones we choose and why and what makes sense in the long run and what's really important and what is petty and what isn't and how we can waste our lives and make ourselves miserable and how it's not really necessary. And how good I am at run-on sentences!
My priority is to help my mother-in-law cope with this mental tsunami that has overwhelmed her husband. Another priority is to help my husband make a living. We've always been a team in our work. Lately making a living has become a challenge. It takes two of us and even the two of us seem not to be enough in this last year. I need to do more to help. A third priority is giving back to the community through my work for a nonprofit organization. This nonprofit needs a lot of help. There are too few people who are willing to work or contribute money. Yet it is an important nonprofit that contributes to the community. It is the oldest nonprofit in this county that does the kind of work it does. It is struggling to maintain itself and to prosper.
I have been a significant part of this organization for the last year and a half. I feel very good about the work that I do there. I know I make a difference. This has become more important to me than figuring out how to end the estrangements that I've experienced. If someone doesn't want to talk to me, then so be it! It's their choice. It's their life. I have better things to do than mourn their bad opinion and refusal to talk to me for year after year after year after year. I will always miss my daughter and I miss having had a mother who was "normal" but there are other things in life besides relationships with relatives. I am going forward with what I do have in my life rather than thinking so much about what I don't have.
For more information on Lewy Body Dementia on the internet, click on Lewy Body Dementia Organization
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
In the news today, among the too-many murders, mayhem, suicide bombings, terrorist alerts, burglaries, and other crimes, is the story of an apparent murder-suicide in California. The 44 year old husband, father, investigator for a district attorney's office has been found shot to death inside his home, a gun lying near his body, and his 3 children, wife, and mother shot to death in their beds. No sign of a break-in. No robbery. Every indication that he killed his family and then himself. This is some sort of ultimate interior estrangement where a man who had a life, a family, some sort of success by many people's standards perpetrated a crime that is the opposite of all that he stood for. He kills those who thought that he loved and cared for them. This has to be an intense personal estrangement where a person disconnects himself from his feelings of love enough to point a gun at his child and fire it. I say this without knowing the man. He was an investigator for a district attorney. He had been charged with investigating crimes and assisting with bringing criminals to justice. He was someone who had worked on the side of "good". What happened? Could anyone have stopped him? Could it have been predicted and prevented?
This kind of disconnect between who people appear to be and what they do is something that intrigues me and scares me. I am sure it affects many people the same way. It turns life upsidedown. How do any of us know for sure that our loved ones are who they seem to be? How safe is anyone? What are the warnings signs? What must be taken seriously and what can be ignored? How can anyone believe, even if there is a warning sign, that someone whom we love can do something like this? We would rather believe that it can happen to anyone but us.
I think about what this man did. How he must have drugged his family so that the gun shots wouldn't wake them up. How he had to have planned this ahead. How he went from room to room, killing his children, his wife, his mother in their sleep. How no one had a chance to escape the fate he created for them. I think about how an investigator who worked to solve crimes would plan a crime. How an investigator would reconcile killing his family with his past professional goals in life. How an intelligent person who found themselves thinking of doing such a thing would not make an appointment with a psychiatrist? Especially that. How can an intelligent person not get help? But that is the nature of being mentally ill. It takes over the mechanism by which we make decisions. I have to believe that this man was mentally ill and no one realized it. Or if they did, they didn't realize how serious it was.
In the past I've tried to imagine how someone is thinking and feeling when they've done something horrific. I've failed to understand what they're thinking. I can't find empathy. I know of two instances where women killed their children. I had met both women but didn't know them well. I knew others in their families. I know that they were loved. I know that no one had a clue that this could happen. I know that they killed those whom they loved and who loved them. One of the women is in prison, awaiting trial for the murder of her boys. She suffered from postpartum depression. The other woman killed herself after killing her son. Like the man who was an investigator for the district attorney's office, she shot her son as he slept at night. She had been a teacher in a Catholic school. At the time of the murder she was separated from her husband who had left her. In the afternoon prior to the night when she killed her son, she had inquired with concern in a telephone conversation as to how someone was doing. She was known to be a sweet caring loving woman and mother. Yet she shot her 13 year old son to death as he slept and then she shot herself. Both of these women when I had met them years ago had impressed me with their sweetness. Yet how does sweetness kill? How does a district attorney investigator kill? What went on in their minds?
Maybe to know the answer to that question is to know things I'd rather not know. Maybe the only way to know is to be that ill?
What does this have to do with estrangement? Maybe nothing but maybe it has something to do with the fact that people do all kinds of things that we'd never expect from having known them. Maybe it just has to do with the difficulty of knowing another's heart and that few of us have the power to heal what is wrong with another. Maybe it is a wake up call to be alert to the tiny clues of what is going on in the lives of our friends and loved ones and to do our best to help when we can?
Friday, May 13-15, 2005
David McGowan: A Family Annihilation
I've kept thinking about David McGowan, the man who killed his family. Reports in the news are that he had no financial, marital, job or other apparent problems. He was said to love his wife, his children, and his mother. He has a surviving adult son who was stationed in Iraq. It is as though real life for one night turned into a science fiction movie where an alien comes to earth and inhabits the body of a normal human being and makes him do horrific things. There is a name for this kind of murder that I found in news reports and then on the internet: Family Annihilation. Usually the perpetrator is a man and often he adores his family. Often he has been a good provider. Often he suffers from depression and from a misfortune that makes it difficult for him to continue to provide for his family in the same way that he had. So far, there have been no reports of any such circumstances in the case of David McGowan.
McGowan's life seemed perfect to everyone who spoke about him and his family this past week. That makes some sense to me although not because it should make sense. Years ago I had thought that perfection was a worthy goal in life. I thought that it was achievable. I've known people I thought were perfect and who had perfect families. I envied them and wanted to be like them. I thought there were people who had everything all together and that I was somehow the flawed one who never figured out how to do things just right. I had the messed up nutty out of control family and never could figure out how to get to that point where things just worked out all the time. Then, years ago, the people I had thought were so perfect started falling apart.
The perfect marriages fell apart in messy ways. Perfect people lost large amounts of money due to bad decisions. Perfect kids had problems. Perfect people were on medication and going to therapists. None of my models for how to live a perfect life were living perfect lives. Those who seemed the most perfect were the ones most likely to go through breakups. When I realized eventually (I can be quite slow) that no one is perfect and that being imperfect is part of being normal I began to grow up. That was in my early thirties. Eventually I made it a goal to stop trying to do everything right. (I was still a little slow.) After being in a therapy group, I even gave myself an "error quota" which was the number of errors that I was supposed to make in a day!
Perfection is dangerous. The pursuit of perfection is dangerous. Perfection may be good in the hands of a brain surgeon or the maker of a computer chip but in human relationships the expectation of perfection is dangerous and hurtful. In reading about Family Annihilation on the internet I read about a family in England where the father methodically killed the family that he loved. He had no gun so he bludgeoned them all to death and then hung himself. He was in financial trouble and would not have been able to continue to support his family in the manner in which he had previously. The relationship with his wife was not as good as it seemed. He had been seeing a prostitute. His wife had had an affair but it isn't clear that he knew about it. A movie, Cutting Edge: Behind Closed Doors was made about Robert Mochrie's family annihilation. (Note: if you visit the link, scroll down to read about Mochrie and then about a story on a single mother with 4 autistic children.)
Did Mochrie think that the disappointment of a reduced standard of living would be the worst thing that could happen to them? What goes through people's minds? Does it occur to them to ask, "Hey there, darling? Would you prefer to live in a small apartment and buy your clothes at Target or die?" They give their families no choice in the matter. They are going to make the decision. They must think they are doing their family a favor. Afterward their surviving relatives and friends say, "He was the most wonderful considerate man. He adored his wife and family." The most wonderful man becomes a murderer and people are left wondering whether to mourn him with compassion for his inability to endure the pain of disappointing someone or to vilify him for his final acts. I read that in England a Family Annihilation occurs every 6 to 8 weeks.
Next to a computer in his house David McGowan left the lyrics to a song titled "Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys to which he added the note: "Woe is me. I look forward to meeting you in the next life." (Robert Mochrie left a post-it note.) Unlike the Mochrie family in England, the McGowan family seemed to have no impending financial disaster or pattern of marital infidelity nor an unbearable burden. If someone does know of a motive, they're not yet talking.
If there is a God, I don't think he would send the murderers of families to heaven, no matter how much they loved their families. If there is a Heaven, I don't think David McGowan is there.
This may leave the rest of us who have been feeling angst over our imperfect lives, our dust bunnies, our extra weight, our aches and pains, the alcoholics in our closets, our estranged children and parents, our social inadequacies, our unrealized dreams feeling grateful that we don't have the bogeyman of "Perfection" hiding in the bowels of our untidy basements waiting to jump out some day and attack us while wearing the face of someone we love. We may wish we had more illusion in our lives and less painful honesty but it is those who are afraid of admitting their imperfections and who wear the mask of illusion who are more likely to feel the pain of the Perfection Bogeyman.
Do you remember the children's story of The Velveteen Rabbit who wanted to be loved? That fear of being unloved may be what drives a Perfect Person to do the most perfect wrong. Maybe they fear estrangement? From all whom they loved? Maybe they feared seeing a sad face, an angry face, tears if they let people down by not being able to be all that they think that they are expected to be? The possibilities are endless for what the truth might be in each case. A secret love affair? Financial ruin? A bribe taken? Sexual identity issues? Private dissatisfaction with a career? Witnessing crimes that make someone question the worth of humanity? The pain and stress of taking care of an elderly parent with dementia? (David McGowan's 75 year old mother had moved in with his family within the last year. I don't know if she had dementia. But if she did, is that a reason to kill a family? My mind boggles at the thought.) Being threatened with blackmail and having a secret exposed? Severe depression? A brain tumor? The affair of a spouse? The constant struggle to maintain a certain lifestyle?
McGowan has left the world with questions unanswered that he might never have thought would be asked. Am I being unfair to David McGowan? Is it possible to be unfair to David McGowan? How can I sympathize with a "nice guy" who killed his family? What would have happened if one of his children had been woken by the gunshots and had tried to hide? Would he have hunted him or her down? What a thought! But would he? It is unlikely that after going that far that he would have let anyone go. Like Andrea Yates who chased after her son and took him to the waiting bathtub? Is Family Annihilation the male equivalent of Psychotic Postpartum Depression? He shot his wife twice, the others once. Did that second shot have a significance beyond wanting to be sure that she was dead?
I don't want to sympathize with a man who wipes out his family but I would like to know why. I would like to know that some day someone might be able to stop someone from doing this to their trusting family.
From an article in The Desert Sun: "Tony Velasquez, a longtime friend, said that in his mind, the McGowans lived in harmony without the dysfunction of the typical family. He posted, 'The love that they all shared was a vision of beauty and contentment.'"
In the same article Velasquez was quoted as saying, "We were going to go up there Sunday and spend the night just to see their kitchen remodel they'd been bragging about for the past three months," and "When I had talked to him that Friday, it didn't sound like the same David who jokes around and pulls your chain. He told me it wasn't a good time. He had things going on with his mom. There was something going on, but I couldn't put a finger on it."
When I hear of such tragic events, I am tempted to apply logic. I think, "but if only he or she had thought this or that, then he or she would have realized that killing themselves or their family wouldn't solve their problem." When they do these things, obviously they are not thinking logically or they chose to ignore logic. Logic has left the scene.
David McGowan's crime is shocking and tragic. I feel sorrow for his remaining family and for his wife's family. What I find shocking also is how ... so far .... everyone had thought they were perfect. I read that he was upbeat and seemed happy. No problems, no problems, no problems. Other than his intriguing reference to a "bad time" in the phone conversation with his friend Tony Velasquez. Yet obvously there was a problem. A serious problem! No one who has no problems gets up in the night and shoots their family to death and then commits suicide (although after killing your family I think that killing yourself is about the only thing left to do because how would anyone live with themself after that?) Could it be that a problem arising in a family with no problems is too much to bear? That he had never been tested before and something occurred that was beyond his ability to bear? That with all that he had seen in police work that he had never had serious problems of his own and thus had no mental calluses equipped to deal with the stress? That he had dealt with observing the pain of people every day in his work but he was not prepared to deal with family pain at home? This occurs to me but I have a hard time believing that even in a family that seemed perfect that there weren't the usual kinds of problems that there are in most normal families.
Could McGowan have gone through his life away from work troublefree until one day a certain problem or set of problems came up and he could not cope? Did his mother have dementia? Did his wife find her mother-in-law living there too difficult? Could it be that he couldn't deal with the stress of resolving the problem? So he killed them both and then the children too? Having a father-in-law with dementia, I know that this illness can result in some tremendous stress and hard decisions. Could that be it? Not that it makes sense to kill your family for that reason but if you are the one who feels the most responsible for everybody and you can't resolve the problem, then maybe that would be enough stress to put someone over the edge?
I don't know if this has anything to do with estrangement although I think that killing those you love is an ultimate form of estrangement. I won't tell you to be happy to be estranged from someone you loved. I'm not happy to be estranged. I won't tell you to compare yourself to others and to be grateful that things aren't worse. I'm not grateful for estrangements. I'm suggesting that we all learn to accept what we can't change and to go forward with our lives, finding ways to achieve our goals and leave the world some day better than we found it. Even if we don't succeed at that, the journey of working at leaving the world a better place is more important than whether you manage to do it.
Accept your imperfections and limitations. They make you who you are. Stop criticizing yourself and everyone else for being less than perfect. Embrace your imperfections. Embrace those who are willing to be honest with you. Be honest in return. Count your blessings and especially the blessings of imperfections! Your imperfections make you human. Your acceptance of your humanity makes you a more loving person to yourself and to others.
Being more loving is one way of making this a better world. You don't have to hug everyone. Just learn about acceptance. Accepting people, yourself and others, for who they are is one way of expressing love. The person who failed to accept something, some unknown unacceptable to him fact of life, the most was David McGowan. By failing that he failed himself and everyone who loved him. He may have achieved release from pain but he did not achieve Heaven nor even peace. Nothingness is not the same as peace.
Wednesday, June 8
Lightning Strikes Again!
I've not been in the mood to write for weeks. I'm not in the mood to write today but I have some time today to write and I need to get over my writer's block.
Since the McGowan murders and suicide that I wrote about in May, there has been another family annihilation in the news. Eighteen year old Scott Moody lived in Ohio with his mother and sister. His grandparents lived close by in another house on the same property. The family was running a farm and had been having financial problems. Scott was due to graduate on a Sunday. His mother had had party for him on Saturday evening, a party that he didn't want to attend. He was described later as being cleancut and intending to run the farm after his graduation.
On the Sunday morning of the day he was to graduate he went down the street to his grandparents' home and shot them to death with a .22. Then he went to his home and shot his mother, sister, girlfriend, friend, and himself. His sister survived. The name of the school that he went to was Riverside like the name of the county in California where David McGowan killed his family. The boy shares with McGowan the facts of a cleancut reputation, the familicide, the unexpectedness of the crime, happy family events (Mother's Day, McGowan's birthday, and Scott Moody's high school graduation) near the time of the murders, some personality changes prior to the murders, the killing of people as they slept in their beds, the mystery of their motives, the horror of their acts.
The only thing that has come up that was negative in Moody's family (family name of Schafer) was dissension over the division of the farmland left by a great-grandmother who had written a will that was not a good will. This led to a dispute in the family that had gone on for some time. The farm had been going downhill. The family had money problems.
I have to wonder if this young man, possibly suffering from the depression that afflicts so many teens and leads to their high suicide rate, felt a depression-driven anger at his family's conflict and decided to end the conflict in the most unacceptable way. As though he decided that death was preferable to arguing and legal action in the courts. But I didn't know them or him. The only thing I know is something about depression and I've never experienced a depression so bad that I would want to hurt or kill someone other than myself.
I also wondered if there was something of a copycat crime in this boy's familicide? Did something about the Riverside County McGowan familicide influence him to do the same thing to his family?
What drives people who were otherwise good people to do such horrible things and how do we as a people in a free society find a way to stop them from creating horror, pain, and evil?
I know we all have a dark side but some of us let the dark side take over. I've always thought it was a good idea to become aware of the dark sides of ourselves and admit that we have a dark side rather than deny it. Denial is a dangerous thing because when we deny what exists, it can have more power than when we expose it to the light of day. Thus we end up having people turning in to monsters seemingly overnight when there must have been something wrong long before the final shocking act.
What does this have to do with estrangement? Maybe nothing. Or maybe it has something to do with people sometimes killing something for no good reason that is apparent to anyone else. That something may be a relationship or a person. Maybe there are similarities behind why people do unexpected things. Maybe the things that people do are on a range of a continuum with familicide being at the far right end, the worst of the worst. Estrangement of a family being somewhere to the right of the middle. Someone having a screaming fit being on the left side of center. Someone telling a loved one to go to hell being at the far left. Or am I being simplistic? But sometimes it helps to break things down and look at them from a simpler vantage point that makes life easier to understand. Otherwise how do we ever find a way to understand what happens that makes a loving responsible family oriented father like David McGowan get up one night and shoot his beloved family? Otherwise how do we ever find a way to stop this from happening?
Was McGowan unreachable when he did that or could someone have detected the danger and stopped him? Is it like lightning striking? We'll never know where or when? Is there nothing we can do? Or can we find a way to predict the lightning and prevent the tragedy?
Saturday, June 11, 2005
One Week to Father's Day
Father's Day is June 19. My father has been dead 17 years now. Seventeen years? Doesn't seem as though it was as long ago as that. The 1941 photo is of my parents, Elsie and Paul. I was born in 1946. I have no siblings.
When my father died at 75 years old, I hadn't seen him for more than a year. We weren't estranged. He suffered from long term alcoholism. I had tried to get him to go to AA but when I did he would ask, "What do you think I am? A bum?" I never knew how to answer that. He was committed to drinking, smoking, and gambling as though they were a part of him that he could never let go no matter how much pain they caused him and others. Considering how much he drank and the effects it had on his body, it was amazing that he lived to 75.
He died after having respiratory problems that landed him in the hospital. The staff at the hospital kept telling me that his condition was stable when I spoke with them. They didn't say that he was on the verge of dying. I wasn't able to speak with him on the phone as he had had trouble hearing. Phone conversations with him were impossible. I believe he thought he was dying as he tried to get in touch with me through his brother but it was unclear what the situation was. He had had health problems previously, mainly due to his drinking and smoking, and had told me numerous times over 20 years that he was going to die soon. According to him he should have been dead many times over in the previous 20 years and maybe he should have been due to his bad habits. I had stopped feeling as though I should drop everything to see him whenever he said he was going to die. In 1988 I lived 350 miles away. He had never stopped drinking and was drunk more than he was sober.
That time in 1988 was the time he was right about his impending death. I wasn't there. When I had a memorial service for him, I had a Unitarian Universalist minister there who had had experience with 12 step groups. I said the Serenity Prayer at the beginning of the service and at the end. The service was more like a 12 step meeting than a memorial service. My father's addictions and choices had prevented him from being close to me and others who did care about him. The addictions contributed to his loneliness and unhappiness in his old age. His walls were stained brown with nicotine from the cigarettes and cigars he smoked. His drawers were full of brochures with gambling tips. His mattress was an embarrassment. The mystery of the gambler's mind! A gambler will spend money to gamble on a horse race but not buy a new mattress despite the fact that most reasonable people would have refused to sleep on that mattress.
My father did have a good hobby when he was younger. He was a good gardener and had a vegetable garden. He took care of the yard when I was a child and we lived in a small house with a yard with room enough for his garden. I remember a forsythia on the side of the yard that he cut every year and how it came back with a vengeance every spring with new branches of yellow flowers. I loved that forsythia. I am not such a good gardener but I did plant a forsythia hedge of 28 plants which blooms every spring. I consider it as a memorial to the good parts of my father that were not allowed to bloom as well as they might have if he hadn't had such harmful addictions. He had had good grades in school, especially in English, when he was a boy.
After he died, I found a report card of his that he had kept for sixty years. He must have been proud of it to have kept it for the rest of his life. But he had had to leave school when he was 15 years old to help his mother make ends meet when his father died. He never finished school. He tried a number of jobs before he worked in a wire mill but also found the thrills of gambling when he was young. I have a letter that a friend of his wrote to him that mentions him losing $1,000 when he was 18 years old at the race track and his feisty mother going to the track to get the money back because he was too young to have been gambling! Imagine that! $1,000 in 1933 in the depression? How much money that was then! Where did he get so much money and how did his mother get it back from the track? My mind boggles at the thought!
I have an amusing picture of my father from the 1940's before I was born. I don't know the story behind the picture. He and my mother must have been goofing around with a camera. He is wearing a fedora hat and a woman's bathrobe. Considering that he was a guy's sort of guy, only interested in things like sports, labor unions, horse races, and working in a wire mill, this is a very different kind of picture of him. The picture on the right would be more characteristic of him.
When my father was alive, he went to the horse track on most holidays if he could rather than go to family events. Way back in my twenties, I asked him to Sunday dinner four Sundays in a row. He never showed up. So I finally stopped asking. If he had shown up, he would not have been sober. He wasn't a good drunk. His personality would change from being sweet to being mean and angry. He would want to pick a fight.
Choosing a Father's Day card that said something sincere was always a challenge. I don't tell you these things in order to complain. I'm not complaining. Really I'm not! Many people have had it worse and it couldn't have been fun for my father to have been the way he was. I'm just telling it the way it was. No sense in pretending my family was something that they weren't. They were all imperfect people and they did the best that they could. My father had a serious illness of the spirit. I don't know what to call it. I did love him but I don't miss him. I wish he could have been the sort of father that I would miss.
For a long time I didn't feel as angry at my father as I did at my mother. Eventually I did realize how unfair he had been as a father and realized that my mother married a man who didn't want to play the role of husband and father. He mainly wanted someone to cook for him and do his laundry and keep him company occasionally when he wasn't at the track. He was self centered. It's just the way he was. His idea of generosity was to give me $10 when he won money at the track. Usually when he was sober he was kind. As he got older, he got less kind, even when sober. I don't know why he feared dying as his life had become something that was hardly worth living. The way he lived was self imposed. It wasn't as though he was going to wake up one day and start doing things differently like take care of himself, care about others, improve others' lives. He was a hard person to love. At the end I had given up.
In some ways my parents were similar to each other. They were both their own worst enemies. They both might have made more of life than they had. They both had terrible habits. They both failed to love themselves well even though they desperately wanted to be loved. They both pushed people away while not wanting to be alone. People are such contradictions! Their lives were so sad. But enough about sadness! Life is to be celebrated, not mourned! I will remember the good things about my father on Father's Day. The forsythia have already bloomed this spring and a great blooming it was!
I wish you all a very happy Father's Day. May you spend it with those you love. Never mind those who aren't there and can't enjoy it with you. Enjoy the day for yourself and those who love you. Life is too short to waste it on worrying, agonizing, guilt, beating yourself up, analyzing, and grieving over what can't be changed. Not that you can't grieve the lost relationships on your life. Of course you can and need to grieve. But assign a time for grieving. Give grief its due and then go onward and find ways to celebrate your life and the lives of those who are spending their time with you.
Later on Saturday, June 11, 2005
The Wedding Picture Blues
After writing about my father, I went to visit my daughter's personal website. She doesn't update it often. Sometimes it's gone as much as a year before it gets updated. She keeps albums of photos on there with her pictures of her dogs, cats, vacation photos, house, photos of herself at different weights, wedding photos from 1991, and a few of family. There are memorial pages dedicated to a dog and a cat that died.
Today I looked at her wedding photo page. She had wanted as large a wedding as possible but couldn't afford to pay for a large wedding. I am not the type to believe in large weddings and couldn't afford a large wedding for her myself. My current husband and I paid $10 for a license for our own civil ceremony in 1986 in Wilmington, Delaware.
She ended up having a modestly sized wedding. She asked me to pay for half which I did. She asked her father to pay for half which he did after delaying his decision until almost the date of the wedding. She asked me to be the photographer which I agreed to do.
The wedding was held in the main hall at the apartment complex where she lived. It is a hall that is large enough for small gatherings. They had a Jewish wedding followed by a catered reception in the same hall and then a pool party. Her father was at the wedding but he continued not talking to me. We avoided each other. I did not try to take photos of him. I don't think he would have allowed me to photograph him. Later we spent some time in the pool. Her father had left by then.
On my daughter's website, she has some wedding photos and a complaint that there are not more photos of the table of food or of the pool party. This is what she says on her website,
"Sadly, I have no pictures of the pool party that happened later on that evening after the reception and wedding. Also no real pictures of me and my dad, different social photos, or the incredible spread that the caterers put on under my husband's careful guidance."
Nowhere does she even mention me or thank anyone other than her husband for contributing to the wedding or doing the photography. How many mothers of the bride would be willing to spend the day of their daughter's wedding being the one to have the responsibility of doing the photographs? Especially under circumstances of bitterness from an ex-husband? "Sadly" she has no pictures of her father. No one else was prevented from taking pictures of him or anyone or anything else. I was a nervous mother of the bride, happy for my daughter's happiness but not happy to have to be in the same room with my bitter ex-husband. I took pictures of the bride and groom, her grandparents, his parents, and their friends. But I didn't take pictures of everything and I didn't take a camera into the pool. Actually, I think I did take pictures of the food and did send them to her.
In her mind I let her down. So no thanks for me. Only complaints on her website about my inadequate job as a photographer in 1991. The good thing about this is it makes me miss her less.
The day of the wedding there was one more person that was not photographed well. Me! Since I was doing the photography I didn't think to take a picture of myself or to ask anyone to take a picture of me till the day was almost done. I did think of it before it was too late but didn't give good instructions to the person who I asked to take the picture. So there is one blurry picture of me from that day.
After finding her whining on her website about the 1991 wedding pictures I feel more than a little angry. There probably is little real mystery about the reasons behind our estrangement. I once was a doormat and then I decided to stop being a doormat but she was used to having a doormat mom and no other kind of mom will do except a doormat kind of mom. I can't be a doormat kind of mom or a doormat kind of person any more. So she is through with me. No mystery to that. I never intend to be a doormat again. I'm not going to change back and after reading my daughter's website, I doubt she is capable of appreciating me for who I am. Which is sad for both of us but acknowledging it makes me more realistic about the chances of this estrangement ever ending. She's really got an attitude of "Well, when are you going to do enough of what I want for me? You fail me no matter what."
I used to be so naive and almost blissfully .... in retrospect ... unaware of this.
On January 29 I wrote, "it makes sense to be nice to the people who love you rather than spend a lot of time crying over the people who don't." Remember this.
Saturday, June 11, 2005 8 PM.
Did you ever have one of those days ....?
when this is what you'd like to do to a photo of your kid?
I'm having one of those days. God bless the wonders of Photoshop!
(Note added on Sept. 3, 2006: When I wrote this post and the previous one in 2005, I also posted one of the wedding photos that I took in each post. In the June 11 post I warped the image of my daughter's face using Photoshop. I never expected her to see the image. The reaction to my having done that was amusement by others who weren't acquainted with any of the people whom I know and anger by my daughter. And also probably confusion by others who knew me who were told of my shenanigans by her.
Since the altered photo would continue to be a source of irritation to my daughter and my son-in-law that I hadn't meant to create back when I posted it, I have removed both photos from the site.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Feelings and what to do with them
After reading the horrendous things that people do to each other that make the news and after experiencing all the feelings that are brought up by losing relationships with people I loved, I am thinking about the whole issue of feelings and what people do about their feelings. Years ago when I was in a therapy group for adult children of alcoholics I remember the therapists telling us that feelings won't kill you. They're right. Feelings won't kill us. Actions will kill but not feelings by themselves. For the moment we'll not think about the studies that show that those with depression have higher rates of death from various health problems. I'll just talk about feelings and what we do with them.
Three options are:
to let our feelings control us.
to ignore our feelings.
to listen to our feelings and use that information when we make a decision without letting our feelings control us. In other words, we can use our mind and our heart in making a decision.
When we experience loss through estrangement, many of us feel a lot of different painful feelings. You have probably heard of the stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, etcetera. I don't know that we all go through a neat and orderly progression of these stages of grief when we are estranged. I didn't. In my own experience I have felt anger, denial, grief, sadness, guilt, confusion, bitterness, nostalgia, loss, affection, self pity, rage, fear, self doubt, anxiety, obsession, pain, judgementalism, self loathing, and more than I can remember right now. I don't mention love because it is the loss of love that I am experiencing, not love. Love has run away. I love my daughter but my love is rejected. So I can't list love because I don't love estrangement. I do love my daughter but not the estrangement.
The feelings arising from being estranged that caused me the most difficulty in my ability to live my life were anger, grief, and guilt. I'll talk about those three.
The blazing red emotion. Anger rises and falls. It keeps us up at night. It is energy. Generally it keeps us alive. When we might sink into the morass of depression, acknowledging and feeling our anger can get us up and moving. This is the positive aspect of anger. If we use its energy to move us forward, we can use it to be productive, creative, to move mountains, to help others, to get stuff done.
Along with anger is depression. A downside of anger is when we push it under so much that we turn it against ourselves and others. Depression can be anger turned inward.
The negative side of anger is when we are self destructive and destructive of others. We act out. We say mean things about others. We act abusively. When people allow anger to control them, they may stalk, they may hurt people, they may act on thoughts of killing others, they may destroy property, they may use up their time fantasizing about what they'd like to do to those who have hurt them. They may take out their anger on people in their lives who have nothing to do with what has hurt them. They may be unavailable for healthy relationships because they are so immersed in their anger. They are letting anger control their actions and their lives.
Additionally anger can make it hard to sleep at night, resulting in insomnia which can cause problems in functioning in day to day living. Sleeping disturbances are associatied with clinical depression.
What to do about the negative aspects of anger if you can't get a handle on it?
- Some ways to deal with anger are to talk about what you're angry about with people who you trust and who are supportive and willing to listen. This may be a friend but also could be a therapist, a minister, a real life support group, an online discussion group. It might not be a spouse. Some spouses (especially husbands from what I've heard) deal with estrangement differently and don't want to talk or hear about the estrangement much. You could start a support group in your area for people dealing with estrangement or with all kinds of loss.
Note added on November 4, 2005: Use caution when using an email address or user name that can identify you. Others who you never intended to see your posts may find them one day, even years from now. It isn't hard to create other names and emails to keep your identity private.
Do something ceremonial to release the anger. Be creative about this. Choose something that will not hurt anyone. For example, some people write a letter to the person at whom they feel agnry. The letter is not meant to be sent. They read the letter out loud to themselves or to a trusted friend. Then they destroy the letter in some way that feels right. Often the letter is burnt. Other ways to release anger are to beat up a pillow, scream in a private place where you wan't scare anyone, set up a ceremonial place in your yard as a memorial to your loss, create an internet site which is the equivalent of a place in your yard, throw darts at a picture, alter a photo by drawing on it or using a software image editing program. Whatever you do, don't expect that you will only need to release your anger creatively once or twice. This may be something you will do whenever you need to again and again.
If you are diagnosed with clinical depression and are prescribed medication, take your medication responsibly. Monitor your thoughts and feelings. If something is affecting you strangely and you are having violent or suicidal thoughts while on medication, do the responsible intelligent thing and tell your doctor. If your doctor doesn't pay attention, find a doctor who does pay attention. Medication can help but not all medications work the same on everyone. Be aware of this and do the right thing. Use both your mind and your heart. Our feelings are the result of things that happen to us both externally and internally. If you take medication, be aware of your internal world and don't let anything negative happen because your mind wasn't paying attention. Pay attention to what goes on inside and make good decisions that improve your life, not bad decisions based on a temporary chemical imbalance. Be responsible!
Read. There are a zillion books on so many topics on the mind. Self help books, books on personality disorders, books on how to deal with anger, books on feelings. Information is not a cure but it can help. Years ago I read The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner which was helpful for me.
Exercise. Even walking may help. This is good for you both physically and mentally.
When thoughts take over your mind and you can't quit thinking about the same thing over and over again, write them down in a journal. This is one of the most successful ways for me to get my mind to stop obsessing about something. Write it down!
What NOT to do with your anger:
Do NOT do anything to hurt yourself or anyone else. Do not destroy anyone's property. Do not stalk anyone. Do not take illegal drugs, do not overdose on medications, do not overeat, do not cut yourself, do not abuse or neglect yourself. If you believe that you have to do things like this and it feels irresistable, get help. Call a professional, make an appointment, tell them what you are feeling and thinking. Do NOT make something permanently bad happen in a situation that is a temporary obstacle in your ability to enjoy life.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Grief: The Weight of the World ...
Yesterday at this time I still had a beautiful little living pet parrot by the name of Kiwi. He was an African Lesser Jardine's parrot with exquisite deep green, black and orange feathers and a chunky beak that gave him the comical and charming appearance that all Lesser Jardine's parrots have. Last night he died. He hadn't been ill. The weather has been hot. He was stressed by having flown unexpectedly. He had full wings but wasn't used to flying and hated to step up to a perch. I don't want to go through the whole story. Suffice it to say he died unexpectedly. I'm not sure why. I think it was heatstroke and/or shock or a stroke. I wasn't able to contact the veterinarian in time as it all happened in the evening. The vet was unavailable. He went downhill quickly. He was suddenly gone.
Death happens so quickly. When life is gone, you can't even glue it back together as you can a plate or a glass. Life leaves the premises and doesn't come back. Other kinds of losses can be like that too. You're going along living your life and thinking everything is the usual, the expected, the ordinary and then something happens. Someone says something. Someone makes a mistake. A wrong turn is made. The wrong words are used. You don't pay close enough attention to a situation and then suddenly everything is turned upsidedowninsideout and nothing is the same again. Someone dies. Someone becomes ill. Someone says that they are through with you. You say you are through with someone. The glass breaks and then nothing is the same again. Yet those few minutes ago when everything was okay seem close enough to touch.
I feel so sad. Kiwi loved to swing and was the only one of my 3 Lesser Jardine's who was skilled at making his swing go back and forth. He could talk and would say, "Kitty kitty. Meow. Peekyboo. Kiwi." He had several kinds of whistles and sounds. Even in death he was still beautiful but not as beautiful as his living self with his charming happy personality.
I'll be grieving Kiwi for some time and will remember him as long as I have memory. Today I am carrying the weight of grief over the loss of my Kiwi as I write about the longterm issues of grief over estrangement.
Grief over the estrangement from my daughter began as soon as I realized that I might never see her again but it hit hardest in the third to fourth year of the estrangement. For me it is the heaviest emotion, like an invisible huge grey leaden mass on my back and shoulders. While my posture was upright, in my mind I felt bowed down with the weight of grief. I felt as though I were sick to my stomach but couldn't vomit.
Grief makes me want to hurt myself as though if I punished myself enough for whatever responsibility I feel for the loss, then I might feel somewhat better. I fantasize hurting myself. I don't take as good care of myself as usual. It's a lot like depression. But grief seems weightier than depression alone. When in the midst of grief, the rest of the world disappears. It seems as though there is only me and the loss. When I'm only depressed, I am still aware of the world. In fact when I am depressed, I tend to feel angry at the world. When I am griefstricken, I feel almost empty of emotion. I have a sense of being too empty to feel angry or hurt or critical of anyone. I would like to lie down somewhere and disappear and feel nothing because the enormous weight of grief is so hard to carry around.
How to get through Grief?
One step at a time? I just kept moving forward and doing the best I could when I was in the worst of the grief. I gave my grief respect. Didn't push myself too hard. Took care of myself as best I could. Kept moving forward even if slowly. Like swimming in thick water. It was a long swim in that thick water when the grief was at its worst.
I did write down some of my feelings. I was part of an online support group of women who were all trying to cope with varying levels of estrangement from adult children. I read several books on grief. One or more of the books had homework types of assignments to work through grief. I did a number of the assignments. I considered going to a Grief Workshop but never did that. I think that could be helpful.
I said the Serenity Prayer a lot.
Grief over the loss of my relationship with my daughter still hits me on occasion. Something will remind me of her. Someone will ask me a question. I'm not aware of the underlying feelings most of the time but something will trigger them and the pain and the hurt, the anger and the grief are right there under the surface. All it takes are the right words or memory or time of year.
Time is a great healer although I am not sure that I want to be so healed that this loss doesn't affect me. I can't picture myself being unbothered by this loss. I know I can live life with relative serenity despite the loss but I don't want to have complete equanimity about it. That's my thought on it at this point. It's possible I could change my mind some day. I know there are people who take their estrangements for granted. If asked about their estrangement, they talk about it in a matter of fact manner as though you have inquired about the weather. They might show more emotion about a plumber who didn't show up when he said he would. I don't know whether to envy them or not.
My suggestions for coping with grief:
Accept how you feel and what it is. Accept that you aren't going to be capable of the greatest happiness for a time. Accept the grief and feel it. Acknowledge your grief. Give it respect. Consider your grief to be deserving of extra time for yourself, quiet time, rest, care, self nurturing. Think of it as though you had lost a limb and had had surgery and were recuperating. Give yourself serious kind and gentle attention. This is an emotional loss that can be equivalent in some ways to the seriousness of the loss of a limb.
Reading may or may not help you with grief depending on your personal style and approach to things. If reading works for you, there are excellent books on the specific topic of coping with grief. They may be helpful.
Write a letter of goodbye to the person who you lost. You won't send this letter. You write the letter, read it aloud to yourself or to a good friend if that feels right for you. Then do something symbolic with the letter. Be creative on this part. For some people, ripping the letter up and burning it in a ceremony might be an option. Others might want to keep the letter in a special place for a time. They might want to create a special place for it. Some day they might choose to do something else with it when they're ready. But the letter is about you and for you, not for the person who you lost. You don't send it to them. Remember that whatever you say in the letter is not necessarily going to come true. You are only writing a letter, not making something happen. Saying goodbye in this unsent letter does not mean that you will never see your loved one again or that the estrangement will never be resolved. But you write the letter as though you are saying goodbye and as though the estrangement won't be resolved.
Learn meditation techniques for resting your mind from the weight of grief and all of the feelings of pain that come from loss. Meditation isn't hard to do and it's very relaxing. Carrying all that weight of grief around is far from relaxing!
I'm not a religious person but saying the Serenity Prayer helps me a lot.
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen
Wednesday, June 16, 2005
I found an interesting online article on ABC News online about a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (JECH), published by the British Medical Association.
Wednesday, June 16, 2005
Guilt: Beating up on Ourselves.
Necessary or Unnecessary?
I have a lot to say about guilt.
I've been told that guilt is a useless emotion. This may be true. I haven't yet been able to shake my ability to feel guilt about things that go wrong. Occasionally subsequent events have convinced me that what went wrong was not due to me or my stupidity or my worthlessness. From reading that sentence you can tell that I have problems with self esteem and depression and that this is a continuing problem for me. I know not everyone struggles with guilt as I do. For those of you who do, I can empathize. These are shoes that I walk in way too often.
Many of us who are estranged from those we love experience the self questioning and pain and shame that comes from feeling guilty, whether or not we are guilty. We fear being guilty. Especially those of us who want to do things right and never make a mistake. I spend a lot of emotional energy on trying not to make mistakes. I can recall the instant agony of guilt just over dropping a glass on the floor and its having broken.
Guilt is not useless in our society as a whole. The desire not to feel guilty keeps a lot of people from doing things that are evil, illegal, immoral, and downright wrong. Guilt does have a purpose as an emotion. Some of us don't need guilt to make us do the right thing. I think lots of people do the right thing just because they are good people and want to do the right thing. Some people get tempted to do the wrong thing, either because they are desperate due to unfortunate circumstances or because they are tempted by the imagined fun of breaking the rules or they are so overwhelmed with strong feelings that they behave impulsively without taking the time to think about consequences. Maybe most of us are this way. Even if we almost always choose to do the right thing, if we are tempted to do the wrong thing, guilt is an emotion that can stop us from doing the wrong thing. It is a human emotion to help us control ourselves.
Guilt over having done something wrong is normal. However, we aren't perfect or all knowing or able to predict the outcome of every action. We can only do our best. Our best can change at any point in time. We all have bad days and good days. We all need to be cut some slack sometimes.
Then there are the opinions of others as to whether we have done right or wrong by them. Have you ever confronted someone with the facts of a case when you know that they have lied to you, stolen from you, abused you, done something that was unacceptable by most standards? Have you noticed that most times that people who victimize others react to being confronted as though it was the victim's fault? They get angry, try to turn the story around, and berate the accuser. I've seen this so many times that I think it's a common trait of being human. I've gotten so that I expect it now. It's the rare person who takes responsibility for their actions and reacts with an apology and tries to make things right. When the perpetrator uses a counterattack on someone who easily feels guilty and overresponsible and succeeds in getting their victim to assume undeserved responsibility, the perpetrator must feel mighty fortunate! How infuriating and disappointing for them when their tactic doesn't work!
(Note: I found a book titled Emotional Blackmail that looks as though it addresses this kind of manipulative behavior but I haven't read it.)
For those whose ability to feel guilty is on "automatic pilot" like me, the difficulty in sorting out what is ours to feel guilty about and what is not can be difficult. When you feel guilty about everything and blame yourself for all the things you did or didn't do to make a perfect outcome, then guilt is a useless emotion. Beating yourself up forever accomplishes nothing. Being perfect is not an option. Making mistakes is inevitable. Perceiving mistakes where there aren't any is self abuse. Analyzing how you could have done something differently and losing sleep over it doesn't accomplish anything. There is a chance that no matter what you did that the outcome would have been the same or would have occurred at a different time. There is a chance that the outcome had nothing to do with you at all.
If you didn't go out of your way to hurt someone and you aren't guilty of abuse and you did the best that you could at that point in time, then guilt is useless. If someone else is accusing you of things that aren't true, their accusations do not make those things true. What you know in your heart is what is true. It doesn't matter what they think or what anyone else thinks. What matters is that you know in your own heart what is true. You don't have to debate that with anyone. You don't have to lose sleep over it.
One test of what is really true if you are a person who feels guilty as a kneejerk reaction to everything is how you would perceive the same situation if it happened to someone else. If a good friend described the same set of circumstances to you that you are berating yourself for, would you agree with your friend that they were to blame and deserved to feel terrible? Or would you be telling them that they were overreacting and being too self critical? Would you be trying to reassure them of their goodness or would you be condemning them for their stupidity and cruelty? If your reaction to a your friend's story would be much kinder than your reaction to your own circumstances, then you might see how you are being too hard on yourself and how your sense of guilt might be exaggerated and even undeserved.
Unfortunately, some conditions such as clinical depression increase the ability of some of us to feel self critical to the point of absurdity. The good news is that there are medications now that can help alleviate that. Some work better than others and it can take trial and error to find the right one. Not all cases of feeling guilty need to be medicated but if you are unrelenting on yourself and your own critical voices are causing you misery despite your being an intrinsically good person, then it might be time to see a professional and get evaluated. I've been there and done that. In fact I do it now. My medication helps most of the time but not all the time.
If you did go out of your way to do a wrong and you did hurt someone with deliberate intent, then feeling guilty would be a normal emotion. If that is the case, then it is time to make amends as much as you can. If the person who you abused won't accept your apology or other actions to make amends, you will have to accept that and go on and live your life with the goal of never repeating that behavior. You might contribute to or participate in some group that has the goal of preventing abuse if it was serious abuse. Taking action to improve the world is a way of making your own amends.
Sometimes we have relationships with people whose expectations of us are just so much more than what we can ever achieve and they might be unforgiving of even a slight wrong or a perceived wrong. This is their problem, not ours. Making it our problem doesn't solve anything. If we've done our best, made a human error, made our best effort at amends, and it wasn't enough, then we might need to accept that the other person has a problem that has little to do with us. And that resolution might not occur until things change with them. Beating ourself up over it accomplishes nothing and takes away from our ability to accomplish other things in life that might be far more important than the opinion of that one person. Sometimes we need to accept that we can't please everyone, not even everyone with whom we want to have a loving relationship.
Feeling guilty over doing something wrong can be taken to extremes but the ability to feel guilt is much much better than its absence. Those without that ability to feel are called psychopaths and sociopaths and they contribute too much to the worst abuses in our world.
I am thinking again about David McGowan and how he shot his relatives one by one. I don't think he was a psychopath. His actions are something I still can't fathom. The only thing I can understand about it is why he killed himself. I don't see how anyone who was at all normal could have done that and not killed themselves. Anyone who was at all normal wouldn't have been able to live with themselves afterward. The worst punishment for that kind of crime for anyone halfway normal would be to have to live with that knowledge and live out their life in prison for decades. Just looking anyone else in the eyes after doing that must be torture. He had lived an apparently impeccable life till that night. He must have had some fragment of normalcy left.
There must be "healthy guilt" and "unhealthy guilt". I don't speak as a mental health professional. I'm not a mental health professional. I am speaking as a layperson from my own observations of the world.
Healthy guilt is the guilt we feel over having done something we know is wrong. It takes up enough of our mental energy to get us to make amends if we can and to keep ourselves in line so we don't repeat our wrongs. Healthy guilt stops us from doing things we know are wrong. We can imagine how we'd feel ahead of time. We can weigh our options and decide to make other choices.
We feel healthy guilt in proportion to the weight of our "crime". Healthy guilt does not make us lie awake night after night over forgetting an appointment or a birthday. If we steal money, we feel healthy guilt. Hopefully stealing money would make us feel very guilty and would keep us awake at night. If we don't feel some healthy guilt over doing something very bad, we might wonder what is wrong with us!
Unhealthy guilt is guilt that is out of proportion to our actions or is unrelated to our actions. We do the emotional equivalent of wearing a hair shirt over our smallest transgressions. It is guilt over things we can't control, have little to do with, and for which we aren't responsible.
If you take your father to a baseball game and he is hit by a baseball and ends up in the hospital and you feel so guilty that you are ready to throw yourself out a window, that is unhealthy guilt. If you believed that a person was trustworthy and they let you down and did something terrible and you feel guilty about what they did, that is unhealthy guilt. Unless you always knew in your heart that they weren't trustworthy, then you'd have to learn to listen to what your heart is telling you about people. But feeling guilty about what they did would accomplish nothing and would take away their responsibility for their own actions.
Unhealthy guilt is guilt that doesn't belong to you but you feel and behave as though it did. Unhealthy guilt keeps you from moving forward with your life. It gets in the way of living fully. It causes you pain beyond what you deserve to feel. It causes you to take responsibility for things that are not your responsibility. It may help those who do deserve the responsibility to get away with things and repeat their bad actions because they can count on someone else to take the blame. In some cases this is called codependence and many books have been written on it. Countless people have gone to support groups to deal with their codependence. (One being Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.)
So what do you do with unhealthy guilt? The first thing is to become aware of it. Admit how guilty you feel and then access whether your feelings of guilt and the amount of guilt make sense given the circumstances. Talk about your feelings with others and see if they have the same perception of the situation that you do. Talk about your feelings with people who are (hopefully) neutral, who don't have an agenda of taking one side or the other, who are kind, honest, thoughtful people who like you and care about you. Avoid sharing your story with people who you know to be very critical, judgemental, and opinionated. They don't tend to make good listeners and they don't tend to give objective opinions. On the other hand don't choose people to tell who would humor you and not be truthful. If someone is afraid of your reaction to their opinions, then they might be less than truthful.
While one opinion can be valuable, more opinions are more valuable. Everyone is different and has a different take on a situation. The more opinions you get, the more likely you are to get an accurate picture of the situation as seen by others. Not one other but many. If you don't have several people in your life who you think can be honest and objective, you might make an appointment with a therapist, a spiritual advisor, a minister. In all cases remember that people, even therapists, are human, imperfect, and are doing their best but are not all knowing. So take everything with a grain of salt and use your heart and your mind to draw conclusions. Twelve step groups are also good places for sharing a story and hearing how others respond.
With guilt, we have to own what we deserve and resist owning what is not ours. A neat trick to accomplish! I'm still working on this. This week I am consumed with guilt over the death of my pet parrot, even though he may have died due to something that was wrong with him of which I had no awareness. But yet I feel guilty, lose sleep over his death.
I still feel guilt over having said the wrong things back in 1995 that led to the estrangement with my daughter. I feel guilty over not being able to stop my mother from writing my daughter a letter two years later that infuriated my daughter further. I feel guilty over being a mother estranged, over being a daughter estranged. Guilt has shame as its neighbor and both visit me all the time. A lot of my feelings of guilt are the unhealthy kind.
I know intellectually that I am not responsible for everything that occurred with my mother and my daughter. It is easy for me to try to assume responsibility. Maybe it's a control thing? If I think in my mind that I am in control, then I have the illusion that I can fix it all. How scary that in life we cannot fix everything! Giving over to others their own share of responsibility for outcomes means that I am not so powerful. That is one of the first steps in a 12 step program: Admitting our powerlessness and giving others over into God's hands (whatever our personal interpretation of God or a Higher Power is). This is something I need to do over and over again. Admit my own powerlessness and admit that there are powers much higher than mine. You don't have to belong to a church or to believe in God to do this. I don't go to church and I don't believe in God. But I recognize that I am not all powerful and that there are higher powers in the world. I just forget this frequently!
Feeling guilt that is not our own guilt is one way of believing that we are more powerful than we are. Letting go of those feelings of guilt can be darned almost impossible for some of us even when the evidence of our guilt doesn't exist. It just seems as though it is the thing to do .... to assume the guilt. As though I am doing someone a favor. As though being a Martyr willing to take the Guilt arrows to my heart is just the right and noble thing to do. As though I will be seen as better because I admit to guilt that isn't even fully mine. This is sick! Sometimes I am quite sick!
I hope that my account of how I am on automatic pilot when it comes to guilt resonates with those of you who do that too and that it helps you to do it less. I know that I am emotionally healthier than I was 20 years ago. I've grown a lot. Been in group therapy, individual therapy, gone to 12 step groups, read my share of self help books. I know how far I've come. But I still feel pain that has more to do with other stuff than anything I deserve to feel. Maybe still feeling it and sharing it will help you and me too. I can hope!
Sunday, July 3, 2005
Ramblings on The Bad News in the News
Wishing you a good Fourth of July weekend. Hoping that you have plans to spend time with people who like you and whom you like and love. Liking as well as loving is a good quality in a relationship. Sometimes we love people who we don't like much. I always think back to John Denver's statement when he and his wife were divorcing. "We still love each other. We just don't like each other very much."
I'm fortunate that I have people in my life that I both like and love. There were years of my life when that wasn't as true as it is now. Like when I was married the first time, the marriage that ended in 1984. Tony was a good person in a lot of ways but we weren't a good couple. I did love him but no, I didn't like him.
I'll always love my daughter but right now I don't like her because of the way that she's treated me.
My antidepressant isn't working well. It is sort of working in a half-assed sort of way. (Note added in 2010: It turned out that I had Grave's Disease, not clinical depression. That was why the medication wasn't working.) I'm not feeling hostile and irritable and critical of others but I'm not feeling particulary good moodwise. I'm putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, getting things done, but not with much enjoyment. I should call my doctor and share this with her. I know I can try Wellbutrin instead of Lexapro. I'm also experiencing nights of not being able to sleep and then other nights of sleeping too much and days of feeling too sleepy. I'm not getting as much done as I would like and that desire to be more productive was one of the strongest motivators for my going back onto an antidepressant.
I haven't felt like talking much. Not on here and not in my life. I've been disinclined to speak. Either my medication isn't working or there is something else wrong with me. The simple explanation is probably that the medication isn't working.
Do you follow the news of crimes? I follow them perhaps too closely. I think this kind of monitoring of the tragic stories in our world is one of the hallmarks of some people who suffer from depression. I have this attraction for sad stories and tragedies and crimes although what I like best are the stories of the perpetrators being brought to justice. I like to see justice gets its day. I hate that there is such an imbalance in the world in that so many seem to get away with perpetrating evil leaving too many victims in their wake. I use the word "seem" because I don't know if my perception of evil having the upper hand is accurate. Maybe justice wins out more than I know.
The mother of Natalie Holloway waits in Aruba for her daughter to be found, one way or another. She has stated that she will stay there until her daughter is found. Will she eventually have to come home to the United States without her daughter? Without ever knowing what happened to her? Imagining all the fates that might have befallen her? What kind of hell is that?
Natalie's mother's perseverance is amazing yet understandable to most mothers. When I was a child, a tornado swept through the city of Worcester, Mass. where my family lived. Ninety people were killed. A refrigerator landed on top of a little girl. Her mother managed to lift it off. The adrenalin of a mother's love, fear, and desire to protect is powerful.
I used to have a recurring dream/nightmare that something terrible was going to happen to my daughter and that I was powerless to save her. I started having these dreams when my daughter was in her twenties and continued to have them for years after our estrangement began. I haven't had the dream for a while now. I can't recall when the last one occurred. My daughter has grown away from me and I no longer feel powerful enough to protect her from anything. But I still relate to the fear and pain of other mothers whose names are in the news as they search for their daughters and want to protect them from the terrible things of the world that are worse even than the things that happen in dreams because they are real and not just the visions of nightmares.
Saturday morning the little girl missing since May, Shasta Groene, was found in a Denny's restaurant in Idaho in the company of a sex offender. Her mother had been bludgeoned to death in May along with her older brother and her mother's boyfriend. Shasta's other brother is still missing and feared dead.
The BTK murderer gave an account of how he murdered people in court last week when he pleaded guilty to ten counts of murder. He told the story with no inflection of feeling in his voice as though he was giving instructions on how to paint a garage. His victims were "projects" to him. He described some as being "a little bit upset". What was it like for his own family to have lived with this man? What is it like for them now? I've read that he has a wife and two grown children. Did they ever have a clue that he was capable of such great evil? Are they estranged from him now? How did they feel about him as a father and as a husband before they learned what he had done?
Understanding the human heart when it goes so very wrong is almost impossible for me. But not entirely impossible. The closest I came to feeling as though I could do something harmful without feeling normal feelings was when I took the antidepressant Zoloft for one month several years ago. There is a rare side effect that can occur or has been alleged to occur to some people when they take Zoloft. They can have bizarre thoughts and do things that are out of character. During that month on Zoloft I had what I would call bizarre thoughts. I thought of doing violent things and didn't have my normal range of emotions. I felt angry and irritable and abrupt, as though I was perpetually on too much caffeine. I had severe insomnia. This was around the time that Phil Hartman's wife killed him and then herself. Her family later sued the pharmaceutical company for damages. She had been taking Zoloft but she also was taking cocaine.
Lately Tom Cruise's opinions on the non-existence of chemical imbalances in the brain and his negative opinions on antidepressants have made the news. His interesting behavior on TV shows has been remarkably consistent with that of someone who suffers from bipolar disorder. He might take a closer look around at himself and the world before proclaiming that getting your mind straight is just a matter of right living, good food, right thinking, and exercise. Not that those things won't help you but they are not the easy solution to eliminating bad feelings, bad behavior, and evil. I don't know what will eliminate evil. Some people think that religion does it but it is evident that evil continues to exist both in spite of and even often because of a too fervent passion for religion.
We are not all created equally able to live a peaceful problem free life with no risk of hurting ourselves and others. Some of us are lucky enough to have inherited a good enough set of genes and perhaps experiences that enable us to get through life doing only good things for the world and leaving it a better place than we found it. Others struggle just to get through a day without hurting themselves and others. The Tom Cruise picture of the world is that of "if only you would pull yourself together and drive right you'd be fine, fine, fine". As though people's brains are manufactured to be as alike as the inside of the engine of a Ford pickup truck. All we need in order to have hunky dory brains according to Cruise's world view are regular maintenance and tune ups. He says this while recently acting in ways that many of us agree are a bit strange. He must have missed his tune up this month!
Anyway, I don't understand evil, much as I DO understand or believe I understand something about chemical imbalances and their effect on the brain. I suppose evil may be a product of something even more wrong with the brain than a chemical imbalance. A structural problem perhaps. Something wrong with the parts responsible for feeling, compassion, caring, ethics, morality, love. Something that attracts a person to doing harm to others and gives them pleasure in the act of doing harm. There has to be something very different about these people, the people we label psychopaths and sociopaths and sadists. Maybe some day society will discover a cause and a cure. A magic pill or a surgery. A prenatal test? And what would we do if we could determine during a pregnancy that a child had the trait of being a sadistic murderer and there was no cure for it? What would someone do who was a Pro-Life believer if they were told that they were going to give birth to a murderer?
Some of us do have problematic relatives who are not psychopaths. We may love them but not like them much. Love can be so difficult. Natalie Holloway's mother persists in her fight to find her daughter while the mother of Joran Van Der Sloot, the Dutch boy who is suspected of having done something to Natalie, must struggle too with her love for her son and possibly her empathy for Natalie's mother. We know where his mother's loyalty will lead even if her son has committed a crime.
If the handsome young college bound Joran is one of the bad guys, the guys who lie, who disclaim responsibillty, who hide bodies, who kill or create a situation where someone dies due to his actions, what caused him to be like this? Was Natalie's disappearance due to Joran being who he is or was it due to an unfortunate chain of circumstances that has caught both families in a web of tragedy? The fact that he has lied so much without regard to his friends, his family or Natalie's family troubles me and makes me wonder about who he is inside. His lies make me doubt that whatever occurred was only an accident. His only regard seems to be for himself. He may be just another bad guy, no different than the BTK killer or the killer of Shasta Groene's family except in the body count.
I saw an interesting movie last night: Crash. In Crash no one of the main characters is entirely good or entirely bad. No one is pure victim. No one pure criminal. An interesting movie. In the movie the fickle finger of fate has a hand too in what makes someone do something evil. The movie is about love too. How much we love each other even as we despair for each other. Even as we run away from each other. We run towards each other as much as we run away.
If I were a mathematician, I would come up with an equation for evil that went something like: Fate multiplied by ten plus childhood experience plus instinct to survive plus testosterone squared multiplied by certain inherited genes plus lack of ability to feel squared plus unfortunate brain structure cubed equals the statistical probability for great evil.
On a more positive note, I did get to see fireworks Friday night and they were great! I love fireworks held in the middle of a city. The noise, the echoes off the buildings, the perception of risk, the silhouettes of the urban landscape against the backdrop of the brilliant fiery spreading explosions in the sky, the variety of people with faces upturned. Big cool drops of rain began as the fireworks started, surprising us all in the streets and making me run for shelter under an awning where I stood shoulder to shoulder with wet strangers trying to see the show in the sky without getting wetter. People walked by holding their canvas folding chairs upsidedown over their heads as umbrellas. Then the rain stopped and we all went back out into the street to watch the show. The final barrage of sound and fury in the sky was so loud I had to flatten my hands against my ears to protect them. It was a beautiful show!
Wishing you a Happy Fourth!
I've been sitting here typing for several hours now although I've been invited to go see a friend I haven't seen for a long time. I must go. Life is going on regardless of what I am doing or not doing and I am missing it. See you later! At another time I may add in some links to the above referenced stories but not right now. I do not want to be one of those people whose life is led in front of their computers. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I just don't want to do it.
Thursday, July 7, 2005
On mood and blogs: How to indulge your inner narcissist!
Second day on Wellbutrin! The doc switched me right onto it. No waiting. It's already cheered me up in that the generic of Bupropion (Wellbutrin's generic name) is cheaper than Lexapro. (This Salon.com article about Wellbutrin is also cheering.)
I did tell her (my doctor) that I hadn't lost my sense of humor but I do feel depressed. The SSRI's have a tendency to make me sleep too much which is annoying. I didn't want to take more of the Lexapro because if the standard dose made me sleep too much, then twice the standard dose was likely to make me sleep more.
Last night I didn't have the greatest nights sleep I've ever had but it wasn't as bad as when I took Zoloft. On that I felt as though I'd never sleep again! I'm hopeful that theWellbutrin will work. I have a lot of things I want to work on and need the energy and the good mood to get to work! I have places to go and things to do and life to live! I don't want to be stopped by depression.
The last few days I've done a lot of reading on the internet which is an infinite source of reading material, constantly being enlarged and updated by existing users and new users. The phenomenom of blogging is mighty amazing! Thousands of people of all ages, interests, and writing abilities are using the internet as their personal journal and means of communication with the world.. Blogging has become a means for the individual to establish a foothold, even if a small one, in the fight to grab the attention of the rest of the world. A blogger can compete with media for the world's attention. The media no longer has a monopoly on access to the rest of the world. It may be easier still for media to find you to get your attention than it is for the individual blogger but the blogger now has somewhat of a chance which is more than we as individuals used to have before there was an interent and before there was blogging.
I see in my research that my own blog here that you are reading is not quite up to snuff in its structure. I have no calendar on my pages with days linked to posts. My posts are not in reverse order with the most recent at the top. I have no lists of links to favorite blogs. I use links sparingly compared to some. I write long posts with few links rather than short ones with many links to online articles. My site's Linkspage is more like a "traditional" blog than this page is in that the entries are short and linked. I have no options for comments other than email. But it is a blog in that it is an online journal that undoubtedly does give you some inkling of my personality.
After reading about the history of blogs and their usual structure I considered setting up a more traditional blog. I'm still in the thinking stage on that. I would like to have a structure where readers could comment more easily.
One aspect of blogging is the narcissism that must be a motivator for so much of it. I'm not using the term in a critical sense here. Not narcissism as in NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Just the average kind of narcissism that people have to some degree. Some more than others. There are blogs set up just so that a person can tell the world about themselves and their opinions on what goes on in the world. My blog here that you are reading is about specifically estrangement and about my history, experience, reactions, and opinions on estrangement and related issues. I didn't set it up to tell you all about me and what I do every day and what my opinion is on the things that happen in the news or down the street or how the cable guy was late to show up to fix the cable. Yet now it is commonplace for people to do that. So many of us are sure that somewhere someone besides our mothers will be fascinated by the routines of our daily lives. I am amused! In a good way!
I guess lately I've been tempted to do that myself, to expound on things that happen in the world that disturb me and since I don't have any other blog than this blog, I've done it here. If I've failed you by getting off topic, I apologize. There are days when I don't have something new to say about estrangement and the other things that I am thinking about end up here. It is either say nothing or let you know what's going on in my mind today. I do think of things besides being estranged.
I don't know that I have so much to say on a regular basis that it deserves another blog of its own. But I can see that it might be fun to have a blog where I didn't feel constrained to talk only about a matter as weighty and serious as estrangement. Stay tuned. Maybe I'll create one. If I do, I'll let you know.
I also did research on the internet on estrangement and have found new links for the site. New additions are marked with asterisks on the References and the Links Pages. Tonight I added in reference links in the last two posts on this page. So if you read them before I added the links, then check out the links too. You might find something interesting.
The journal continues on Typepad.
To go directly to the first post on Typepad, click here.