Friday, 18 January 2013

Guest Post: Christine's Introduction

by Christine

My online name is Christine and I have struggled with my story a bit. Think of movies like “Memento” and “The English Patient” where issues and plot-lines get scrambled and only as the movie progresses does the true story come to light.

Where do I start? Firstly my mother’s death and what occurred as a result. I have changed names and left out identifying personal details.

"I was only 6. I remember my mother in bed and nurses coming to see her then the very next morning she was dead. My older brother, my little sister and I were in shock. My Dad was inconsolable. Years later when I got all my family tree records I learned that she had died of appendicitis; if only she had been treated earlier she may have lived.

Afterwards my father and my grandmother (mother’s side) had a massive fight and I never saw my mother’s side of the family again. We moved from my country town to Sydney where my father took on a housekeeper.

Irene was from England, was also a widow and had her own little boy. My father and Irene got married only several months after she moved in. My father and her destroyed all my mother’s photos, made me call Irene “Mum”, refused to talk about my mother – they made me pretend that she never existed. My new family grew further; in addition to Irene’s boy two step-sisters were born which made our household grow even poorer. I was so ashamed of how I looked compared to everyone else. I only ever got homemade haircuts, old second-hand clothes and I only ever had school shoes.

We were poor because my mother had come from a wealthy family, the third of four girls. She had fallen for a very handsome, dashing farmer’s son. Her line was from 19th century free settlers, his was convicts and bushrangers. She was well-educated, musical and intelligent, he only had a sixth grade education and when I was a teenager he was a real embarrassment to me.

She had not adapted well to living on a budget and I think some of their fights I remember were over finances. I remember sometimes her packing suitcases and me crying because I was so scared. After her death it took years for my father to pay off all her debts.

I was the oldest girl in the house, I was made to do all the housework and help Irene out all the time. I never got any encouragement; she expected so much of me. Irene always gave Todd special treatment over us and even my step-sisters. Nothing I did was ever good enough for her. Even when I got a scholarship to a private school secondary school all she could say is “that’s nice” and that’s all. You’ve had it so easy compared to me…."

I am coming clean now. That is my own mother’s story. The snobby fixation on outward appearances and envious nature that comes out clearly through those several short paragraphs do not belong to me. The somewhat childish language I used is the wording I remember from me hearing that story many times very early on, probably starting about when I was about 6 when she lost her own mother.

I am the oldest of four children, two sisters and a very little brother (born when I was 14).
As I got older the details of what she experienced and later on all her marital problems got more intimate and distasteful.  Incredibly my father didn’t fall for all her mind games and sob stories so I - and later on my sisters - got to hear it all instead. (My siblings and I have concluded he kept us literally sane – he was NOT an enabling father at all. A lot of strife, sometimes a single slap to shut her up when she started screaming but we never had to deny reality to keep us functioning.)

At first I felt honoured with all these secrets, perhaps in my mind I was being treated like a big girl. The anniversaries of her mother’s death were very difficult and draining. The atmosphere was very morbid. She who was not allowed to mourn in a way forced her children to mourn with her for the grandmother they had never known.  I think the psychological term is “dysfunctional grieving”. It has completely overtaken her life. I have no idea why she has not sought real long-term counselling to overcome her grief. My sister said my mother went to some counselling until she felt better. Not was better objectively, felt better.

That sister told me that my mother still visits mediums to contact her mother.  My brother recently told me that she still visits graveyards to read complete strangers’ tombstones. My teenage son listening to this conversation piped up “that’s sick, is she an Emo?”  Yes I suppose he’s right – fixated on death, writing death poetry while a teenager, kissing her second husband for the first time in a graveyard… as I said to my sister she loves death.

She always cared more about her dead mother than us. E.g. years ago when I told her I was having major potentially life-threatening surgery on March 12th she said ”my mother died on the 13th…” and pulled the sad face she does when she wants to be comforted .

I have looked for other survivor stories about growing up with parents who used personal struggles about death of loved ones to manipulate their children and meet their own emotional needs or else. She truly is an emotional vampire.


P.S. for your interests’ sake this is why it sounds like I now have nothing to do with my mother.  (read following entries too). 

And no she has not called me since and I have not called her. Whether or not this is permanent only time will tell.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Journey’s End? Or is this just the Intermission?

by Quercus

A while back I pondered on the possibility of a generalized ACoN ‘road map’, created in a collaborative effort by many ACoNs (new and old alike).  I always picture the map of Middle Earth that Tolkien drew for The Lord of the Rings. There are so many fantastic parallels in that wonderful epic to the life and journey of an ACoN – the unblinking, unceasing evil eye of the dark lord Sauron searching for his quarry; the many enemies; the corrupting power of the ring; the seemingly impossible task; the power imbalances; the unlikely collaborations and how people from all walks of life (in the case of the story, of all species – dwarves, elves, men, hobbits, ents, etc.) band together and succeed in the destruction of the ring (and the return of Sauron) or die fighting for the greater good. (Sometimes I see our online ‘community’ as the Concil of Elrond, particularly when we debate contentious issues!).


But like The Lord of the Rings, the ACoN journey is full of surprises, twists, turns, tight-squeezes and minor disasters. It’s too long and complicated a story to tell, and the details would vary so widely from one ACoN to the next that it’s impractical to try.

Oh there's no place like 'home' for the holidays....

I went ‘home’ for Christmas (‘home’ being where the NParents are) for a short visit. I knew it would be terrible. I knew that there were very good reasons for me not to go, but there were just as many good reasons to go. I decided to face my fears and see what would happen. It would be a good test to see if I’ve made any progress at all in my interaction with my NFOO’s pathological triangles and NM’s evil web of lies and deceit. Either things would be a little different, or it’d be business as usual. I had my safety in the form of my psychologist’s appointment pre-scheduled for the following week, and I decided I’d throw myself in the deep end to see how I’d fare.

And this is why I’m starting to wonder if I haven’t reached the end of my ACoN journey, or an intermission near the end.  Things were completely different, for me. And things were utterly, utterly the same old when it came to THEM. With one notable, extremely interesting difference – “them” changed. Former NGC has seemingly lost his ‘N’. He was a completely different person! He was nice! Legitimately compassionate, considerate and dare I say even humble! His self-effacing jokes seemed wholly alien to me – I had never, ever seen a tolerable, decent even attractive side to my NGC’s personality. And here he was being mature, friendly, even kind!

No, don’t worry – my Narc radar is still keenly tuned and honed in on him, waiting for the first tell-tale slip-up to indicate that the dangerous narcissism was merely laying low for its own purposes! I can’t trust him, and thanks to my training with my fantastic psychologist, I won’t find myself in a situation in which I’m forced to trust him, either. My mantra: Separation, not enmeshment. Space between, zealously defended! A friend of mine says – “A poisonous snake who has just shed his skin is beautiful. Beautiful and extra deadly!”. 

However, I really think a huge change has come over NGC. We don't know why or how or what happened (I would speculate that there was a falling-out between NM and NGC - she's a control freak after all, and maybe she went too far...). After discussing it with my DH, my psychologist and a friend, we feel that it is indicative of NM ‘losing her grip’ on the FOO. No longer does she sit in the middle of her web, controlling communication. She’s made a miscalculation somewhere; her children have stopped relying upon her. She didn’t enmesh them enough, or infantilize sufficiently. Or perhaps she did – those of us that appear to be ‘free’ (sadly not all, yet) are those who have stable partners or spouses. It’s those of us that have lives that rarely include NM that have made ‘progress’. The logical conclusion is that the proximity and involvement of my NM in my life retarded personal growth. Get away from her influence, and 'nature' takes its course again. NGC had moved away and began a life elsewhere....

Have I got The Sixth Sense?

In the ironically-named living room, I saw dead people all around me. Zombies, maybe robots, acting out their lines by rote, never deviating from the script. I could have anticipated just about every statement, sentence, smile, frown, grunt that day. It was rehearsed. It was the same play every year at this time. I can’t express to you how dead it all seemed. Empty. Small-talk. Niceties. The same niceties over and over again (this year with the help of extra repetition, courtesy an elder relative with Alzheimer’s disease!). Just me, DH and NGC and his partner seemed to be ‘alive’ or animated. Apart. Separate. As if we were the only ones who didn’t have strings attached like marionettes. I felt for my siblings that were still entangled, playing the part, lifelessly. 

But most of all, I pitied my EF. He was awful to me and DH. He was pathetic in every sense of the word. He was her henchman, going to battle to win her heart by slaying the hated Daughter-Beast with ‘love’ (read ‘guilt trips’!). He tried to humiliate us, loudly, repeatedly, in front of everyone else. (You can imagine how uncomfortable it would be to be a guest there, eh?!). We didn’t even get our coats and shoes off before he berated us, chided us, then accused us of hiding ourselves away. Three times before I even stepped foot on the carpet did he smother us with hugs and loudly proclaim the intolerable amount of time that we’ve been away. He also seemed to be insisting that we shout out a light-hearted apology and explanation as to our absence, so that we could move on and forget that I ever dared to stand up to them at all, ever. I didn't cower. And so the cycle repeated until someone else intervened and the conversation deviated.

It was a bizarre experience, like walking into a literal mad-house. The moment me and DH crossed the threshold, the NParents declared everything “as it was”, and returned to their comfortable status quo of me as the black-sheep scapegoat rescuer/persecutor. Only this time, I had cut my strings...

Some small vestiges of pre-programming still exist in me...

The beauty of it all was that only once did I react in a way that was pre-programmed by NM. She had made a horrible ‘joke’ that made her look like the most petty, insecure, jealous cow of a woman, and rather than let her flounder in her immense social faux-pas, I rescued her. Automatically. It took me a week to realise what I had done – I jumped in with a joke of my own and deflected all the attention back to me, changing the topic. I played the jester, intervening and rescuing with humour. And it was entirely automatic. I wish I could have prevented myself from rescuing – how fascinating it would have been to see who said what in response to her spiteful comment! I didn’t just rescue her, either; I rescued the sibling who had ‘mistakenly’ honoured my grandmother when they clearly were supposed to have publicly exulted NM. This was what NM was bitterly attempting to 'correct'. It was not a conscious decision for me to play the joker, it was a learned childhood response. Oh well. Of all the reactions I could have unwittingly had, I think this one is the most harmless.

Curiouser and curiouser... bizarre behaviour is the norm

What else happened? Oh yes. NM wouldn’t hug me (which was great – I hugged her and actually wanted to, thinking that for once she had deferred to me! Probably not, but I was happy with the change!), and EF smothered us. But in a short moment of privacy, I hugged EF. I wanted to see what he’d say or do while he was ‘off-stage’. I was not hugged back, and he quickly retreated to the proceedings. It was later pointed out to me by a friend that perhaps he was punishing me, and that I was to have felt slighted. I didn’t at the time – to me it was conclusive proof that he couldn’t miss me half as much as he shouted when we arrived, and that he cares still only for himself, which means keeping loyal to NM. I was not disappointed; I was validated in my suspicions! What may have been meant to hurt me actually made me feel better.

NM beamed once when I said that her dessert was superior to that of my own and of DH’s mother’s, and glowered at me venomously when I suggested an alternative spice in a dish during dinner (who am I to question the Queen’s cuisine?!). It was hilarious. I was cracking up on the inside! How dreadful that baking and vegetable culinary feats and the compliments or lack thereof were what would pull my NM’s chains so violently! How ridiculous it is! The mundane is what cranks her motor, and important, vital concerns, such as the happiness and health of her children fails to register at all!

A Royal Decree on High Treason, in time for next Christmas

Not once did they ask me how I was. They asked how my career was going, and I think more so to keep tabs on what I had that they wanted, but they never asked me or DH how we were feeling after all the tumult and angry emails that were exchanged (or more correctly received in our case!). Our complaints, our objections to their atrocious behaviour during the course of the last year were obviously dismissed. Were we thanked for being so gracious as to attend their wretched gathering? Well of course not, but the total lack of gratitude was jaw-dropping. Even just a quick and courteous, “I’m glad you made it!” would have been so appropriate given the circumstances.

Instead, we got a loud tirade from EF, for all to hear (shouted so that I would hear from the other room), that it was morally reprehensible to not see your mother at Christmas. This sentiment was rephrased and repeated two or three times, without context or even the pretext of conversation, and declared as if he was reading a decree from Her Highness the Queen of Narcissism herself. It was an awkward subject to carry on with as polite small talk. I felt sorry for the in-laws at the table. 

Here my NParents were, basically brow-beating me for even thinking of not showing up at Christmastime! It’s hysterical – strategically, it’s retarded! Am I going to want to show up next year? No! Will I? Of course not! Though to be honest, that was predetermined before this proclamation that, “All children MUST spent Christmas with their mothers! It is completely selfish and terrible not to! It’s totally wrong to not see your mother at Christmas!” Guess what? Black sheep Quercus is going to be very much ‘in the wrong’ next year. She’ll be happily sipping a Mai Tai on the beach at the time, while she’s committing the most heinous of all treasonous acts.....! Good grief, it really is like living in the Feudal days! “Give Tribute to Her Majesty, or DIE!” Bring it, say I. I will fight to the death, which I now doubt will be necessary, for my freedom!

Course change! We can't go there now!

There was something else that happened which was so ridiculous as to be amusing, something which only a few short months ago might have sent me running in a claustrophobic panic towards suicide (funny how differently I see the world now!). My NParents got it into their heads that me and DH would be moving to a country that is of obvious value and worth to them (a trendy, fashionable location). NM was out of her skull with jealousy, as usual. Though we had only mentioned the possibility of a prospective job in said country, they had been obsessively planning their move (permanent or otherwise) to the same place all this time! And when I failed to notice the deliberately set ‘props’, EF picked up the language program boxes and loudly proclaimed that they were both learning the language and would be fluent in a short time. (DH said in retrospect that EF and NM were trying to prove that they had a legitimate reason to move where we move, and that we couldn’t deny them the opportunity to use their newly-learned language, and so they’d have no barriers to invading our new home. I think he’s right. I also think they were trying to goad us into saying, “Oh! You’re learning to speak _____! So are we! We’ll be living at (full address) in (specific number of days and hours)!”, with which information they could then call the travel agent and immediately book their tickets....).

Then another relative asked us point-blank if we were still planning to move to this country. “Planning? Good Heavens, no! We haven’t got any concrete plans at all yet! In fact, we’ve received job offers (elsewhere), and so that seems like the best option so far. No plans at all either way, though!” I said.

NM, from out of nowhere, started into a impassioned barrage of questioning: “Where exactly? What coast is that? And that’s closest to which city?! When are you leaving?!” This is the most she said to me all day, and I felt like I was being interrogated with these rapid-fire questions and her reptilian glare. DH and I spat the answers out as fast as they came. (Thank you, God, for providing us with the words on the spot like that!). We foiled them, brilliantly. So much for their $300 x 2 language learning packs. They can visit whichever country they wish, of course, including that one. But it no longer looks like we’ll be there when they do...! I’m quite curious to see what will happen now! Before I would have been up all night, scared out of my mind that there was no where we could go that they won’t follow. 

NM has been hinting consistently for more information on where exactly we went while on honeymoon, and I know it’s so she can go to the same places but stay in the penthouse suite, or the five star-plus luxury resort next door, and make sure I hear all about how she has what I have, but better. It’s always, ALWAYS the way! She can’t just do something nice for herself that she likes – she has to do what I’ve done, only bigger and better, and I must be made aware of it! (I don’t know how anyone could possibly enjoy their life, living the way she does. It’s stupid! Do what you want to do, don’t copy and compete with someone else!). When I fail to boil over in the jealousy she needs me to feel, she'll say, "Look how jealous you are! You're doing a good job of hiding it, but I'm your mother - I can see it! You're so jealous!" My NM is not happy unless I'm jealous of her, and it's because she's chronically jealous of me. Jealous of things not worth being jealous of, too! She doesn't question what she covets - she repeats the same, "It's not fair!" cutesy whine, and then goes and gets whatever it is for herself, only bigger and better. And then she finds a way to notify me of her acquisition.... This cycle will continue until the day one of us dies, unless I step out of the web and leave. Which I have. I have no intention to return. I can't, not now. I've seen too much.

It's still all about me having her grandkids....

There were a few other invasive inquisitions on time-frames, our plans, our home (presumably to see if it’s For Sale yet or not), and that sort of thing. Daughter-in-law said something about her providing them grandchildren, and NM failed to react. I said something about getting dogs and never having kids, and NM looked as if she was going to lunge at me with a knife. It’s beyond pathetic and strange now. NM has every opportunity to live a good life, full of healthy, loving relationships and normal, fulfilling circumstances. But all she wants is what I have or could have. All of it, any of it, NOW NOW NOW!

DH reminded me later of her last threatening email, a few months ago now. I had read it as a present-tense guilt-trip for ‘cutting her out of my life’, but DH pointed out what I missed – the future-tense threat of me having her grandchildren without her in the picture. NM’s been plotting and planning to get at my kids for years. And my ‘kids’ don’t exist! Short of buying a plane ticket, my sick and twisted NParents have been learning a language and preparing to relocate where they thought we’d relocate. And they spent Christmas surreptitiously pumping us for information, with a special emphasis on ‘when’, followed by ‘where’. And we had the best alibi ever. It’ll be hard for them to believe that we’re not headed to where we mentioned. Between you and me, I’m playing Carmen Sandiego with them, sending them on a wild goose chase around the world while I sneak off elsewhere.

So that was it. We turned up for Christmas despite many good reasons not to, and rather than being thanked or even just treated somewhat respectfully, my NParents pushed the ‘reset’ button on the whole of last year and all my hard earned progress in therapy would have been wiped out instantly and forgotten, if they truly had the power to ‘reset’ it all. The rotten, verging-on-the-criminal transgressions of my NM throughout my life and even in the preceding months would be instantly forgotten. I would crawl back under their thumb, apologizing all the way, and be subjected again to their cruel machinations. Just like that, it was all over. My rebellion was blotted out, paved over and erased from history!

But unfortunately, as my friend cheekily says, I’ve eaten from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There’s no going back. My whole world has changed, thanks to therapy and Divine Intervention. I see things I never saw before. It’s like in a video game, where you’ve found some tool that allows you to jump across places you couldn’t previously – I’ll never play the same ‘level’ the same way ever again! The level doesn’t change, but I did. And now I can bypass every pit, every trap quite easily. It’s time to move on to the next level, to a new challenge.

And now for my shrink's opinion...

When I got back to my psychologist’s office, I told them about my trip ‘home’. I didn’t cry once, I didn’t shake, and I found myself laughing and joking as I related the pathetic and very nearly humorous stunts my NParents pulled! He interrupted – 

“It appears as if you went, and rather than engaging in the pathology, you were simply an observer.”

And it felt good. So good. But also a little sad. I kept telling my shrink about my EF, about how ‘dead’ he must be! And even the other relatives – the play they were acting in. It was so two-dimensional, so flat, so empty! It was like having a party in a tomb! Or maybe just hanging out with the animatronic kids from the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride in Disneyland – it gets really boring, really lonely real quick when they start repeating the same set of movements for the umpteenth time. It was like that with my family. There’s no real limit to which their pathology won’t stretch (and that still concerns me – I think moving elsewhere will really have to be like entering into the Witness Protection Programme), but they have a very predictable nature and only so many set-moves. That being said, I’m not sticking around to see what else they can conjure up!

I’m not angry anymore, and this is why I’m starting to wonder if I’m not on the way ‘out’ of this ACoN journey. All of our circumstances vary greatly, but I think I’ve pretty well dealt with all the crap my NFOO produced now (perhaps it wasn’t as comparatively extreme as what you faced. But I’ll warn anyone against comparing your life to the life of anyone else’s! Never compare! There’s no good basis for comparison anyway – our lives and circumstances and personalities are so vastly different that we are just apples to oranges at best).

I told my psychologist that I was worried that I wasn’t more angry at my EF. I said that it seemed to me that he and my DH and my friend all want me to see that EF’s a real jerk, and keep the blame where it should be, for my own safety’s sake.

“Maybe you no longer need to assign blame,” said the shrink. “Maybe you’ve gone past that, and now you see the tragedy of the lives of your parents.”

I do. I also see very clearly that walking away, maintaining an enormous distance between us, is the only option for me. I’m not going to miss them. I’m not even going to feel badly, or guilty, for ‘cutting them out of my life’. What’s there to feel guilty for? They keep playing the same sick scene over-and-over again, and it’s ‘killing me’! No, it’s not me ‘killing my mother’ or ‘breaking my mother’s heart’! The scene, the play – that was killing me! 'Cause I was the character getting killed off in each scene, over and over and over again! 

And so I leave, happily, and find my fortune elsewhere. It doesn’t suit them well if I leave, but that’s not my problem. Nor is it my responsibility. Nor will it kill my mother, break her heart, nor any of that awful stuff. She is the master of her own destiny. She will decide if she lives or dies, thrives or cries, and all of that, all of her life, is independent of me and my life.
Going back to my beloved Venn diagrams, I now see it this way:

In the set of “The Universe”, there is a subset of “Me and my Mom”. At first, I was wholly enmeshed:

In time, I became a little less enmeshed. And I met and married a wonderful man, developed a personal relationship with God, and began therapy with a competent, caring psychologist:

And this is where I am now. There is something I want to point out – I didn’t take anything away from my NM when I became separate. Her surface area, pi x radius(squared), is the same as it ever was. She occupies the same amount of space as she ever did:

On the other hand, I gained surface area as the overlap faded and my surface became uncovered. So now, instead of NM and a tiny sliver of ‘me’, the enmeshed daughter, there is the complete set of NM, and the complete set of me, and as separate individuals, we account for more area. We grew, so to speak. Well, I did, anyway. But overall there was a net gain. I also like that "me" rhymes with "free"....!

Stepping Down to Part-Time Blogging

I’m thinking about taking a bit of a step back from blogging. I think I might have reached burn-out, which is sooner than I anticipated. I really do want to continue to help facilitate ACoNs to find ACoNs, so I won’t disappear totally. But I wanted to state that I feel that I reached a natural rest-stop on my journey, and I fully intend to take it! 

I haven't forgotten the Survey results! I'll take a look at them and I'll publish the raw results as well as all the correlations I can calculate very soon!

I hope everyone survived the holidays well. I know it can be a terrible time of year, and I fully expected my holidays to be awful. But they weren't. It turns out that I hadn't actually deliberately spent time with my NFOO in a year. I thought everyone was exaggerating, but DH and I did the arithmetic - it was Christmas last year when I voluntarily spent time with them (the other times were them showing up unannounced and being turned away, and I think the constant onslaught of guilt-tripping emails and text messages and Facebook posts just made it feel like they were physically here all the time!). A whole year it took, and it didn't even feel like a year, for me to be able to come in on different footing.

A year well spent. 

I don't have any resolutions for 2013. I'm just looking forward to the year. I bought flowers that represented (in the Victorian Language of Flowers) "truth" and "confidence" for New Year's Day, and so I think I'll run with that accidental theme (gorgeous green and white chrysanthemums, and white polyanthus!).

My wish for all other ACoNs out there is the following:

  • That you develop a deep and personal relationship with the Divine, and know how completely precious and valuable you are,
  • That you find a way to invest in your own mental health - I highly recommend perusing the webpages of nearby psychologists and registered therapists, interviewing your top choices (money may be a consideration - sliding scale? Covered by your health plan?), and choosing a psychologist that you feel confident is competent and capable. I thank God for the one I see. He's very nondescript, sits quietly and listens. He stood out as a no-nonsense, serious but kindly therapist. I needed someone who knew what the heck they were doing. I had a TERRIBLE therapist for a short time, once, that did almost more damage than good! So I recommend shopping around, and seriously investing in yourself! Never mind the gym and weight loss - do something that's going to change your life for real!
  • That in the next abhorrent interaction with the NFOO, assuming it's unavoidable, you get to objectively 'see' what they're up to, what they're doing. It's an amazing experience to be outside of the pathology, able to just observe and not get dragged into it. It's incredible how routine it is, how predictable! And at one time, it was so powerful over you! Such a bizarre experience - I hope you have a similar one. It feels good to 'get' what's going on, and to be able to effortlessly side-step their many, many snares.
Thanks to everyone for all the support and encouragement they've given me! You have all helped so much! Probably more than I'll ever know! Knowing I wasn't crazy, that I wasn't alone in having AWFUL parents with horrible personalities, really did 'save my life'. I can only imagine the consequences of another few years of believing that there was something inherently wrong with me, and not my diseased parents! Thanks for being here for me and for each other. The ACoN community, for all its ups and downs, really does more good than not.

Next up - the ACoN Society Survey results!