this too
Friday, October 28, 2005
  The unspoken

I’ve had nothing to say, as shown by the random proliferation of photos. It seems I’ve lost the will to speak and can only regain it by speaking the unspeakable.

Tamar yesterday evoked the wise therapist she used to see. He sounds like a good ‘un and made me think of the wise, gentle counsellor in my own life. I hadn’t seen her for a long time, but I went to see her this week because I’ve been feeling so depressed.

I looked into her kind face, explained that I’m very depressed because I’m not managing to move forward as I would wish with changing my life situation, and suddenly found myself blurting: “I suppose I believe that I can’t ever have a better life because my mother has put a curse on me!” (she didn’t blink).

Oh lord. Is that really what I believe? How appalling. But I feel better for having voiced it. Nothing is so bad it can’t be faced. But the unspoken, and therefore unfaced, has limitless power.

I am estranged from my mother, who is now 82, and have been for more than 20 years. It was I who initiated this state of affairs, in that I was the one who decided: no, I can’t do this any more, I can’t survive this relationship any longer, and I would really, really like to survive. I suppose I might equally say, though, that she initiated it, by being so extremely nasty that each time we met I lost the will to live.

It is dreadful. It is worse than divorce, since our culture does not accept (I don’t know of any culture that does) that we can 'divorce' our parents. It is inexcusable, unspeakable and ever-present, like phantom pain from a missing limb. If I have no compassion for my own mother (well, I do have some compassion for her, but apparently not enough to make me end what she once termed the ‘life sentence’ I had imposed on her), this makes a mockery of everything I cleave to, everything I have learned from Buddhists about the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion. It goes beyond guilt. It goes, apparently, as far as feeling that I’ve brought a curse upon myself.

A curse that has turned me to stone. I’d like to leave London, stop working full-time in a city office, and I have strong and feasible ideas about alternatives. I’ve known this for several years. And I do nothing about it, just carry on and on with a lifestyle in which I now find neither joy nor reason. A massive wall of apathy and resistance lies between me and the actions necessary to change things. It’s absurd. It’s beyond understanding or endurance that I’ve let it go on for so long. I can’t explain it. Except perhaps by reference to something psychic, irrational, malevolent.

There. How awful.
[[Jean]]. Am about to be busy most of the afternoon, but wanted to thank you so much for posting this. And I think it is huge step forward that you have. So much courage, and bringing these things up into the light of day is the only way to process them.

I want to think about what you have written now, and maybe comment more later.
No words of wisdom, just a nod of non-judgment. Sometimes things are like that, and all you can do is let them be that way.
the unspoken, and therefore unfaced, has limitless power

In several times and places in my life, I have run and run and never turned to face what I was running from or what was holding me back. It was paralyzing, and depressing. It sounds like you are beginning to think it through, which seems courageous to me because it can be so difficult to even think about. Brava!

I am honored and grateful that you posted this, and allow us to be what support for you we can. We come into this life alone, but we don't have to be alone all the time or in every way. I'll be ready to listen again.

I have faith you will find your way. {{{Jean}}}
Naming...speaking the unspoken... has power, but it takes courage to do it. I'm glad you found that courage. May it shed light on the darkness.
Dear Jean,
What a courageous post this is. Sharing your deepest feelings, fears, expectations, hopes. I identify with so much that you say here. Sometimes a relationship is just too toxic and a person must distance themself from it in order to survive. I once had a crisis counselor who said about my choosing not to live near my mother, "You wouldn't choose to live near a toxic dump, would you?"

I was taught that I have a "dark star" over my head - was told it repeatedly until I came to believe it. Your and my challenge is to unlearn that and no longer believe that we are cursed. Really hard.

I extend my hand to you as my friend and sister. Let's support one another as we learn not to believe in our curses any longer!
Jean, I concur that shining a light on the thing that seems shameful is so important, especially when you find that others understand (whether a therapist or those of us here who know the vise of being caught between a parent's toxicity and the mandate that we must honor said parent). You'll have to find your own answer, but bringing the ugly crawlies out from under the rock and seeing them for what they are usually seems the way to finally put them to rest and move on.

I was lucky that my mom's Alzheimer's had this weird effect of stopping her nastiness to me and replacing it with sweetness. Astonishing! Of course neither the nastiness nor sweetness had/have so much to do with me as with her own mental state. But it graced me with a few short years of good times with her that I consider a miracle. It doesn't take away what her behavior did to me, but I think when she's gone there will be some sense of having made peace with her.

Anyway, it may not be possible to make peace with your mother. As I said, you'll come to your own answer. I just thought I'd share my own experience for what it's worth.
Surely there is nothing shameful about not letting yourself remain in a place where you are being hurt, emotionally or otherwise. First we must be compassionate towards ourselves. Take care of ourselves. Protect ourselves. Love ourselves. This is where everything arises from. For how are we to unfold our highest potential when we are sheltering ourselves from violences and threats of violences. We can't heal anyone but ourselves. If someone doesn't want to heal, or heal a relationship, there's not much we can do. We can still have compassion for that person; we don't have to accept their barrage though. I have no doubt that your reasons for the standoff with your mother are deep and dark and difficult and that you needed to survive psychically and to follow the path of the heart in safety.

I haven't had to completely cut ties with my mother, though close to it many times; instead, I have 6 months to a year off inbetween months of contact because I can't take it anymore and need to re-ground myself and to believe in myself outside of the negative views she imposes.

It's not great either.

Tons of support to you as you work through this issue, once again (aren't we always on some level?) and with moving out of the place you're in in ways that are significant to you and that bring you the fulfillment you so richly deserve.

*hugs xo
Jean, you are very brave to voice this - and now that you have - it will not have as much power over you as in the past. Good luck in getting past it and moving on.
Those of us estranged from our parents are legion. Let the dead bury the dead.

Take one small thing in your life, and change it in one small way. Make the bed every morning (if you don't) for instance. Then, do one more small thing, like taking the stairs rather than the elevator. The momentum will build, will make a difference, will move you to turn your life around, one small success at a time.
Guess how I know.
{{Jean}}. Sometimes it is impossible for others to do what we wish they would. But we always have the choice to change ourselves. It sounds like what you need to do is to find a way to forgive yourSELF and to move from this frozen place into the open, warm, flowing one. You've just taken such a courageous step, maybe the biggest one. I promise to support you however I can in whatever evolves from here; right now please let me say that I admire you not only for naming the issue, but for knowing yourself well enough to state the disconnect between what you believe and where you find yourself.
Dear Jean, this is the first time in a while that my cursor (!!) has allowed me to click on Comment without dragging me away. So I just want to say that I'm here, and anytime you feel like talking, or not talking, over a cup of tea/glass of wine/etc just give me a call. OK?
How kind to your mother and to yourself to write.
How awful, for you, yes. And how bravely you're facing that. I second Zhoenw's advice, it works for me too. I do so admire your unswerving determination to find a way through the difficulties you're facing. I'm sure you'll reach the non-London part-time working life you want and need.
Jean, you've had so many wise commenters here that there's little I can say except to second what most of them say and to add a voice of support. Just one thing, maybe: without doubting at all that your mother had a toxic effect, it seems to me that the one who's put a curse on you is not she but you. Anyone would feel guilty after cutting off relations with their mother, and for this guilt you have imposed a penance on yourself. But if you were the one who put it on, you are the one who can take it off.

And to quote zhoenw, "Guess how I know."
I have been studying the virtue of courage, which I think has led me to your blog and this post. That's all I have to say, except that you seem to have attracted the wisest, and most compassionate readers and commenters in the blogosphere.

Every comment was a blessing.
.... this makes a mockery of everything I cleave to, everything I have learned from Buddhists about the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion.

No. It doesn't.

True, Buddhism requires that you aspire to be able to open yourself to your mother. But it doesn't require that you be able to. And above all, above all, it doesn't require that you pretend to be able to and plunge yourself into horrors that you can't handle.

You do hold the aspiration, obviously. I know people so wounded they can't even hold the aspiration: with extreme difficulty they can aspire to someday be able aspire to that level of compassion.

The Buddhist path is not about being a buddha. If it was, then all the buddhas could hop on (though I don't see why they would bother), and all the rest of us could hop off, right now. It's about turning in the direction of sanity.

Making yourself vulnerable to your mother wouldn't be -- right now -- an act of egoless compassion. If it were such an act, it would not even be stressful; it would be easy. And obviously it wouldn't be easy. It would be simply more ego-driven self-immolation, if you were to try it right now.

Your job as a Buddhist is to work with what you've got, as intelligently and diligently as you can. It's not just permissible to avoid stresses that are too violent for our fragile practice. It's obligatory.

You have the aspiration. Cherish it; it's a wonderful thing. It probably won't blossom -- perceptibly -- in this life. That's okay. It will blossom someday.


PS I'm far enough behind you, that I can't even write about my mother, yet.
(Oops. I didn't mean to assume that you identify as Buddhist -- I don't know if you do.)
Jean. I've sent you an email. x
Jean, my email has been bounced back twice from your email address. Maybe a problem?
Oh dear, Mary, I think my email box was full!! It isn't now.

What kind and lovely people you all are.

I'm a bit late to this post, but I just wanted to comment on that frustration you express at your apparent inability to change your life, even though you know what is required to do so.

It's such a common feeling. I think most of us experience it at some time or other. We know what to do to make things better, but for some reason we don't do it. And seem, beyond all reason, utterly incapable of doing so. And we conclude that we must be lacking in some way, or maybe that there is some external force preventing us.

So why is it that we do this? I think there are two main reasons: (1) Fear. Fear of change. Fear of failure. Fear of success. But we often know our fears are irrational, so we don't even acknowledge that they exist.
(2) Self-hate. We don't deserve better things. We should stay in our current situation, continue to suffer, because that is all we are worth.

Neither of these issues are easily resolved, but it does at least help to name them. At least then you can dispel the mystery, and remind yourself that there is no curse stopping you from moving forward.

It also helps to stop berating yourself. Think of it this way: if you have a child who is not avhieving, do you castigate them for being worthless and incompetent?

Give yourself permission to feel fear and self-hate. Acknowledge that they are preventing you from moving forwards. Admit also that they were probably bred into you by your mother, and it is not your fault.

Small steps. Be nice to yourself. Forgive yourself. And remember that your mother is not physically present, so there is no need to cast yourself in her role and continue to abuse yourself where she has left off.
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