Saturday, June 4, 2011

One year on, six months on

One year ago I had just begun a new job, working outside of the home for the first time in 11 years.  My first day was May 26, so this time last year I was still aquiver with the abrupt shift in lives.  I got the job so six months ago I could get the apartment where I sit right now.

Six months ago I began the culmination, the logical consequence as it were, to years of exhaustive examination of my marriage, my self.  I was sifting through every single detail to find a way to stay in that life, and not be here in this.  I suppose all of that searching distilled to a single question:  "Is it my fault it's not working, and if it is, can I change myself so it will?"

I didn't have very stable ground from which to be objective because I've always felt confused about whether or not something is my fault.  I've certainly been afraid that "things" are my fault, in the deer-in-headlights sense.

So, were things not working because I was too selfish?  If I became angry because Gary was unreasonable, was I too sensitive?  Too quick-on-the-trigger to react?  An angry, mean person at core?  Someone who felt inherently inferior and so when Gary was scornful when I didn't read his mind accurately it confirmed my own sense of worthlessness and that's why I'd get angry?  Did I just not have a sense of humor?  Was I 'just' a chronically unhappy person who brought everyone around her down too?  Someone no one could make happy?

I certainly was afraid I was those things. In trying to confront those accusations I was sort of cut off at the knees by my awareness that people often rationalize their bad behavior, and why should I be so special that I wasn't?  How would I know if I wasn't 'just' rationalizing?

So it took years to work my way through what a different kind of person may have cleared up in a few minutes.  Self-doubt had been a strategy a long time ago that I developed to help me tolerate situations I was powerless to change.  Then my own strategy hamstrung me so that I was powerless to change.

Years ago I saw "A Clockwork Orange".  A brilliantly horrifying movie, but what reached into my psyche and totally disturbed me was the aversion "therapy" our psychopathic subject  underwent once he was caught and brought to justice.  Any of you who know the story know that he was a totally repugnant and violent hooligan;  that he was 'cured' by being forced to watch images of violence and sex while being fed a drug that would make him violently ill.  Eventually nausea was so tightly associated with aggression that the slightest hint of aggression rendered him helpless.  The scene at the end where he himself is jumped and is unable to defend himself--in fact, his own natural defenses now wrapped him up and delivered him like a package to his attackers--haunted me for days.  I'd seen violent images in movies before but this one really got to me, at my core.  I see why now.  It was an extreme representation of my own dilemma, which was my own strategy for being with people whose behavior I couldn't understand, which often seemed capricious, arbitrary, and unfair.  (Yeah, I guess I'm talking about my parents, but not in the "blame" sense.  They were products of their own culture, time, and upbringing.  I can say that there were things I needed to do to adapt to the implicit demands of my culture, as expressed through the people who raised and love me that have not served me well.  I can say this while knowing deeply that I love my parents.)

I got pretty good at it, and so was well-groomed for the marriage I chose.  Once I was able to clear up the baggage about whether or not I was a flawed individual and that's why I was seeing things the way I saw them, it really became very simple.  What does the marriage need to succeed? Are we willing to do what it takes?

To feel satisfied in a marriage, I need to be with a partner who is willing to negotiate disagreement and build bridges after rifts.  This means being with someone who is timely in airing grievances (rather than storing them up and then leaking resentful feelings like a cracked gas tank).  In short, I need someone who has the tools to partner with me to bring a marriage back into emotional equilibrium when something has disrupted it.  I believe I have the tools in my own personal skillset, but I see that I can no more do it for both of us then I could fly if I was a bird with one wing.  And he needs a partner who is either thick-skinned, impervious to passive aggression, totally devoted, or willing to absorb and hold whatever he dishes out without a need to hold him accountable or otherwise bother him with it.  He is unwilling or unable to be the partner I need, and after 5 years of examining this marriage from every angle to see if I could be the partner he needs I see that I cannot.  Or, I could, but I'd have to undercut myself with self-doubt in order to tolerate it.

I don't do that any more.

5 comments:

Quiet Dreams said...

I relate to so much about this post, especially this: "Self-doubt had been a strategy a long time ago that I developed to help me tolerate situations I was powerless to change."

bloodsigns said...

As a long time reader I have to comment on how strong you sound -- how clear -- the clarity is striking.

You sound as if you can see your own power clearly -- and are embracing yourself -- if that makes any sense at all -- it's just such a pleasure to read as someone who has been allowed to follow your personal journey.

XO

P

PaleMother said...

I second Pam's comment about it being a pleasure to read and I appreciate being able to follow your journey very much. I am glad you are making your way to clarity and I admire your persistence in uncovering it for yourself. Go, E!

"Someone who felt inherently inferior and so when Gary was scornful when I didn't read his mind accurately it confirmed my own sense of worthlessness and that's why I'd get angry?"

That sounds familiar to me as the wiring under some of my own personal buttons. It's maddening, though, because so many times it's really very hard to tell where other people's garbage leaves off and where your own begins. Just because you have buttons, doesn't make it okay for others to intentionally push them. ??

"Did I just not have a sense of humor?"

Speaking of buttons, that's a hot one for me. I recently read about about aggression in girls (fifth grade girls behaving badly at my daughter's school this year and I've been doing a bit of reseach to try and find some clarity about how to help her)and one of the big points that comes home is that it's not culturally acceptable for females to be aggressive and we internalize that message in so many ways that even well-educated, thoughtful women and men don't recognize the problem ... it's like the air we breathe. The book makes the point that calling it a joke and accusing the victim of not having a sense of humor (an appearance, a label that most people will turn themselves inside out to avoid) is a great way to be aggressive without taking the rap for it. That trick hasn't worked on me for a long time now, but it hasn't stopped the next generation from giving it a go.

"In trying to confront those accusations I was sort of cut off at the knees by my awareness that people often rationalize their bad behavior"

Ug. That's a big one for me. I drive myself nuts with that one. I'm currently going around and around with a crazy-making family member, and trying to figure out if it really is ~her~ ... am I standing up for my POV and not letting her walk all over me? ... Or am I just being stubborn and egotisitical? The whole thing is further confused by the face that kids are involved and they are the ones who lose if the relative and I can't figure out how not to make eachother insane.

"Self-doubt had been a strategy a long time ago that I developed to help me tolerate situations I was powerless to change."

For me, I think the culture and the "authority" figures in my life tried to hard wire the self-doubt into me to a certain extent. It's not that I used it to survive -- I used anger for that, unfortunately and that still dogs me today -- but I think the self-doubt factor definitely confuses you and makes it harder to trust your own (life-preserving) instincts.

"The scene at the end where he himself is jumped and is unable to defend himself--in fact, his own natural defenses now wrapped him up and delivered him like a package to his attackers--haunted me for days."

Very interesting. I've never seen that movie, but I can see why it haunted you. Wow. What a metaphor.

Take care, Ex. SO good to read you!!

PS. the word verification for this comment is "ousee" ... how funny. ;)

XXOO

excavator said...

Palemother, bloodsigns, Quiet Dreams--I'll respond to you privately. You have no idea how your comments have warmed my heart this day...eXeXeXeX

Denise said...

I love your introspection.. I have also gone through a similar process in my life. The quality of my life since then... well there is no comparison. I am now married to a man for 30 years that does all the things that you need. (and what I also felt I deserved) I could have never been with him if I hadn't of made the changes in myself. I know you don't me but I love reading your blog.