Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Love addiction - the healing process

Denial has a life all of its own, so when the psychologist asked me a few years ago about my birth family and my relationships with my parents and sibling, I waved all that off. Everything there was fine, I assured her. Yes, my mother could be judgmental and disapproving, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. 'We don't need to go there,' I assured her. Oddly, she totally bought it, and so did I. Although I have had little niggles of thoughts over the years about my childhood, I assured everyone around me, and most importantly myself, that although it wasn't great, it was fine. I wasn't a victim. I hadn't 'suffered'.

It was my only sibling, my brother, who began to raise our childhood with me a couple of years ago. The psychologist he had taken himself off to see put the onus for his anxiety and upset emotions squarely onto our mother and her behaviours.

I didn't understand these comments really. Her generosity is measured but nevertheless she is generous. She worries about us and the grandchildren. She wants us to be happy. I felt sure she loved us. My brother tried to be a bit more specific. He has an incredible memory, remembering many details of our childhood that I don't remember even though I am older than him, but as God was his witness, he said to me, he couldn't remember ever having been hugged by her.

A little alarm bell sounded, because I had already scanned by memory banks for such an event, and I couldn't remember being hugged by her either. I had put this down to a poor long term memory. There is so very little I remember of the early part of my life. In recent days I have wondered if this relates to some sort of shutting off of my memories.

I began to notice my mother's comments about babies and child rearing. She has made these comments dozens of times before, but for the first time I started to analyze them for some data as to how I had been raised. Babies, she is fond of saying, should not be picked up unless they need to be fed, bathed or changed. Other than that, adults shouldn't fuss with them.

When my children were young my  mother was often quite put out by the number of times my husband cuddled them and held them, I began to remember. She was recently incensed when walking behind a grandmother who was carrying a baby whilst the parents of the child wheeled the empty pram. She was quite good with the efficiency of raising (grand)children, I mean of having them about her, though she abhored the mess, but I felt it was clear that she didn't ever want to have full responsibility of them. Rather, she was happy to help out so long as I was there. What I mean to say is that we didn't rely on her at all as a babysitter. It's interesting that I didn't put a judgement on that at the time. I just figured she was who she was and could only do what she could do.

It's not the post to go into my parents' dynamic but it illuminates those years to simply say that my parents were in something of a co-dependent/narcissistic dance. Both lovely people, my Dad wanted what he wanted and my Mum made sure that he got it. This kept her very busy and meant that neither parent was focused too often on their children's emotional needs.

When I was very pregnant with my fourth child both my mother and my aunt (her sister) made it crystal clear not to expect them to be there at the time of the birth. That is, I needed to find someone to be with the other children. I remember being very hurt. If you can't rely on your mother at such a time, then who can you rely on? But, one of my husband's brothers raced over to the house late one evening, as it turns out was the time I went into labor, and I have always felt most kindly towards hin for that act of generosity.

It wasn't until she told me, using her sister's presence to prop up her argument, that she couldn't attend my youngest son's Grandparent day because she was in a final for the Bowls team that I found myself unable to speak. Maybe this news tapped into some sort of wounding but I  sort of went into shock.

At my sons' school grandparents are welcomed two times in a boy's life (K-12) and here she was telling me that she was putting a game of Bowls ahead of her loyalty to her grandson.  I've asked nothing  of my husband's father and his wife but I got on the phone after that and explained that it was incumbent on him to attend the day no matter how he bloody felt about the school. I'd already had to ask a friend to fill in on the grandparents day at Nursery School and I wasn't putting my gorgeous, sensitive guy through that again!

In fact, my mother has never seen her grandson, Captain of Soccer for two years in a row,  play. She has not seen her grand daughter play in the Orchestra or sing in the choir. Thankfully, she did see her Final in the Rowing Championship that being close to her home, but she wasn't there to see her win the Photography Prize in Year 12, and she wasn't there to see my son open a dancing competition u holding his body sideways with one hand. She didn't get to hear a whole huge Assemby Hall gasp in awe. Or, their Cadet Tattoos. Or, to see my son's movie in the Art Festival. Or, to watch him in his plays. Or, to hear my son sing his solo in the annual music evening in the city. None of that was convenient. She loves to hear about their successes but she doesn't put herself out to attend.

However, how my mother responded to the grandchildren in later years doesn't tell me much, I don't think, about my own childhood, one way or the other. My brother and I didn't grow up in a house but rather on the top of the building that housed their commercial business. My mother adored running the business and this is what makes that time different and unique. We could not compete with the allure (and some might argue the necessity) of spending long hours with people other than her young children. I simply have no idea what my life was like in the early years, who looked after me or what stimulus I received.

I'm told that I was a very good baby. I fear that the reason for this goodness was that I had been trained to be quiet, recognizing that my tears would not bring my caregiver running. I don't know. I only know for sure that I caused next to no fuss whilst my brother exhibited much more neediness. I was aware of trying to mother him, of doing what I could for him, but he was anxious, no question.

It seems to be the case that I was absolutely no trouble to anyone at the same time that I was really quite quite lonely and anxious most of the time. I put my energies into my school work (I became obsessed with marks when my mother told me that the fourth grade teacher told her that I had got the academic prizes so far but wouldn't be able to keep this up), tonnes of ballet and piano. My mother did a good job of finding activities to enrich my life in this way. I started ballet at age 4, probably a wee too young but I grew to love it.

We didn't eat dinner with our parents but both my brother and I became attached to the Italian women whose job it was to feed us. I distinctly remember her coming up to clean shoes at night after she cleaned the kitchen and I loved that time of the day, when I'd go out onto the verandah and chat with her. My brother still visits with her periodically because there is a deep connection there whereas he tends to stay away from our mother, maintaining a superficial relationship with her. He knows that I look out for her and visit with her and he phones her every few weeks on average out of duty.

I regretfully must finally accept that a healthy attachment to my mother did not occur in infancy and that this has led to wounds and to a faulty attachment style in adult relationships. I have been vulnerable to forming attachments that leave me wanting to please, and willing to put my own needs as secondary. I've papered over the loneliness and emptiness that I have often felt, most importantly the sensitivity to a fear of abandonment. I've remained silent about my internal strife in an effort to tolerate feelings of shame and a lack of respect for myself in putting myself in these positions.

This realization of what has happened in my life has taken place over a number of years. I've read a great deal on the subject but it is only recently that I have come to understand that my situation at birth set me up for a love addiction. I suspect we can have an idea about this sort of situation but it's not until the discomfort reaches a certain level that the cloud of denial starts to break open a little and reality starts to surface; the illusion one has created starts to be seen for what it is.

I have no interest in discussing my situation with my mother or in blaming her for what happened. I am certain she did the best she could. I just want to free myself from the addiction. I simply want to heal. I'm in the early stages of accepting what has happened and recognizing that I have a long way to go. I don't know exactly where I an going but I am on my way. I don't doubt that there are many difficult days ahead but I am completely committed to healing. This is the first day of the rest of my life.

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