I wake early, around 4:00am, when Kat climbs into our bed because of a nightmare. I snuggle her back to sleep, and then I get up. I’m angry with my mom toddy. As Kat climbed into bed with Hubby and I, and we both murmured soothing words, snuggled her, I realized something; I never would have even thought to climb into my parents’ bed because of a nightmare. Something that Hubby and I do with our daughter, almost instinctively, is something that never would have happened when I was growing up. And that makes me angry.
As I comb the curls out of my hair, and watch them spring back up anyways, and brush my teeth and put my moisturizer and magic under eye concealer on, I think about this anger. It’s not a screaming, stomping feet anger. It’s just mad. This is a strange kind of mad, almost a calm mad, and yet it’s not really calm, but it’s not how I typically think of anger. I feel strong, like I could call my mom up right now and tell her I’m not going to the party and I would be okay.
Driving to Bea’s, I still am thinking about this anger. I think this is what she means by “mad is energizing, it changes things, allows you to move forward.” I think this is that kind of angry. Halfway there, I give up thinking and sing my heart out to “Born this Way”– the song I have adopted as Kat and my theme song.
When I walk into Bea’s office, and sit down, I curl up, but it’s relaxed, not hiding. “You look good today, positive, like you are feeling okay,” she says. She seems surprised.
I shrug. I’m not sure how to explain this. I don’t want to admit that I’m mad. Mad still feels bad to me, like it’s something not allowed.
Bea looks at me, and sets her tea in her lap. “Maybe this is that mindfulness stuff. You are focused on the present, on fixing the car, dealing with the party and not going, so you are able to remember that you are Alice now, not Alice in the past. You’re able to remember all the resources and tools you have, and use them because you are more focused on the present right now.”
“Maybe.” I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about that. I don’t purposefully live in the past, but maybe the last day or so I have been more in the present. I’m not sure. I take a deep breath, “I’m mad. So I’m not so worried about telling my mom anything.”
“Well, yes. That makes sense. Anger helps you separate her feelings and her experience from your own.” I’m shaking my head, upset with myself, Bea talks. “Well, from where I sit, that’s a good thing, a very healthy thing. Anger lets you focus on you and your feelings, and not on your role in this unhealthy enmeshment with your mom,” she tells me, knowing that my head shake is because I do not like being mad.
We talk about needing to separate from our parents, how it’s normal and healthy to have our own lives, dreams, desires, goals, opinions. We talk about how it’s natural to withdraw and separate as we get older.
“She really is the one that started to withdraw first, in a way,” I tell Bea.
Bea waits for me to continue. She drinks her tea, and sits quietly. If I were her, I would be pushing for answers, but she just waits patiently.
“Well, it was when she got the dog. The puppy.” And I explain how my mother has turned her dog into this neurotic, needy thing and how she was too busy to even talk on the phone at times when she first got the dog. So, really, she’s the one who began withdrawing.
“Hmmmmm.” Bea is thinking. “So she walks the dog that much?”
I nod. “She says she has to, the dog has to be ran 3 times a day, plus walks. I don’t know.”
“How does she survive, let alone have the energy to run like that, without eating?” Bea asks me. I think she is either curios, or trying to show me that my mom does eat, even she is not a “perfect anorexic.”
“Well, she does eat. Lettuce salad….veggies, cucumbers…bananas, she eats half a banana everyday. Chicken for dinner, with lettuce salad. I don’t know. That’s really it.” I shift in my seat, to look down. I hate talking about food, even if we aren’t talking about my eating habits.
“Chicken, yeah, she would need some protein to maintain that running schedule.” Bea looks at me, and seems to be thinking out loud. “It’s almost like she has started using the dog as an excuse for her illness.”
“Yes! That’s it, exactly. The dog has only become something else for her to obsess about and to feed her craziness, her exercising and her sickness. I don’t know. It’s not been a good thing.” I sigh.
“It’s almost like she had the dog to take your place for her to focus on, in some ways. I definitely hear the resentment in your voice when you speak about her not having time to talk because of her dog, when you’ve taken the time to make sure Kat is occupied so you can talk to your mom. And with good reason!”
I think about it. I’m afraid Bea thinks it’s almost jealously, sibling rivalry in a way, but it’s not really like that. It’s more. “It’s like…she never has to think twice about what she is doing, but we all have to be so careful not to hurt her feelings. Like I could never use Kat as an excuse to not talk, her feelings would be hurt, but she can use the dog and that’s okay.”
Bea smiles at me, she looks like she wants to jump out of her seat. “Wait a minute! Back up. You just said ‘we all.’ Who is we?”
“I…I…um, me, my Dad, my brother, I guess. I don’t know. I never thought about it, it just seems that everyone is very careful with my mom.” I’m caught off guard, I really never have thought about it.
“I’m happy that you aren’t taking everything on yourself. You are seeing this as a family problem, as a whole system.” Bea still has a small smile on her face, one that reaches all the way to her eyes. She’s truly happy that I’m not putting everything on myself today.
“I’m mad right now…I don’t know. Maybe that’s why.” The truth is, if I start thinking too much, about my childish beliefs and mom getting sick, I will start to feel the blame and take it back on me. I need to stay mad, and then it’s easier.
“What about your Dad and your brother? Where do they fit in this? I feel like we have this complete picture of your mom, but they aren’t real. Do you think this was hard on your dad; being so careful around his wife so as not to send her back to the hospital?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. He wouldn’t say anything if it was. I’m not sure if he even would really think about it. He doesn’t do feelings.” I shrug. My Dad doesn’t think about things that are emotional, or if he does, he certainly never speaks about them.
“Maybe not even consciously, but even unconsciously, he had to be feeling that stress.” Bea says. She has been bringing up my Dad, more often, since I talked about the sleeping beauty story I played out as a child.
“It has to be hard, I’m sure.” I feel like I have to say something,
“Where did your brother fit? I don’t get the feeling you really care if you see him or not.” Bea says. I feel bad when she says that, it’s true in a way. We aren’t close, but we do love each other.
“I care. We just aren’t close.”
“What does he do?” I think this must be like pulling teeth, trying to get me to explain the family, and I feel bad for Bea.. The truth is, I don’t know my Dad and brother as well as my mom, so I can’t make them as known as I could her.
“He’s a chef. He’s going to back to school for video game design.”
“He’s artistic, then. Kind of the outsider of the family?” Bea suggests.
I shake my head. I won’t go near this, but there is anger at my brother, over what he was allowed and I was not. “I was artistic, too. I wasn’t allowed to go to art school. I don’t know. He just did what he liked. He never really conformed, followed the rules. He just did what he wanted, he stayed in his room a lot, stayed out a lot when he got older. I don’t know.”
“Was he closer to your Dad?”
“No, not really. They didn’t like the same things. He just avoided most everyone and everything that had to do with the family.” I shake my head, I can’t explain it. I don’t know if he withdrew himself, or if we pushed him out.
“A lot of times, it is the oldest child who bears the weight of a parent’s needs, especially if the child is the same sex as the parent. In a way, it’s like your brother escaped.” Bea says this quiet, as if she is contemplating the idea that I even have a brother. Most times, it’s as if he is in the background of my story. He held himself there, in the background of the family.
“Yeah….he did escape…I guess…I don’t know,” I agree with her, because she is right. There is so much more I would like to say about it, but I don’t know where to go with it, or how to even begin to explore it. It’s too complex right now.
Bea seems to know when I just done with a subject, sometimes, and she waits for me to speak.
“I’m just–” I stop myself from speaking, try again. “I don’t want to–” I cut myself off again.
“It sounded like you were going to say you were just mad, and that you don’t want to be mad,” Bea guesses, when it becomes apparent that I’m not going to answer.
I sigh. I feel like I’m being silly, but I force the words out, anyways. “I’m mad at my mom for not making it safe, for never making it safe, not even safe enough to tell her.”
“Of course. Of course you are.” When Bea says that, I feel lighter, less stupid, like I have a right to be so mad about this.
I tell her how Kat has been in our bed, and how that is not something that ever would have happened when I was a child.
“Your sense of safety….” Bea shakes her head, and starts over. I think I’ve thrown her for a loop. “The sense of not being protected was really pervasive, then. It wasn’t just pertaining to Kenny, at all. No wonder you didn’t feel safe telling.”
I sigh, again. “I don’t want to be mad. I don’t want to be sad, either. I’m tired of this back and forth with my feelings about my mom. And I’m tired of feeling bad about myself because of her.”
“This anger, this is the anger that is change producing, positive, motivating. We need anger to move us into the present, to move us forward to help separate you…it’s energizing, propelling you forward. Sadness, that allows us to grieve the past and let go. We need both. This isn’t a one time thing. It’s a process, a spiral. It will come up again. Likely this weekend when you cancel and your mom is sad, you will feel guilty and be back in her experience again. It’s hard to separate from her, she’s your mom, and being in that role of taking care of her, that enmeshment, that is hard to change. It will be layers of grief and anger and acceptance. This is good, though, this is positive.” Bea sounds positive, and sure and wise. Like she knows what she is talking about. I’m going to trust that she does. Even though it’s scary.