compassion · disappointment · family · self-care · self-preservation

Stay in Touch.

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I received a birthday card in the mail from my father the
other day.
On the front are printed all these large, cartoony instructions saying, “Daughter, Whatever you do, don’t open this card!”
On opening it, the message inside reads, “You still don’t do
as you’re told.”
And there’s a handwritten note, wishing me a happy birthday
and telling me to stay in touch.
It’s both funny and tragic. It’s funny, not for it’s printed
content, but for the fact that it continues my father’s understanding of me and
our relationship: He’s the good one, I’m the fuck-up. He makes the rules, and I don’t follow them. What a set-up. 
This is “funny,” because it’s sad. Because it’s continued
confirmation of how unrealistic our relationship is, and because it confirms
that this is not a person I want to be in communication with.
Lest you think me harsh to judge or condemn a relationship
based on one tin-eared card, believe me, this is the softest of these messages
I’ve received. And continue to receive from him.
On Saturday, I got the chance to talk to my mentor. We were
talking about amending relationships where there is discord, or where I simply
don’t feel at peace.
This, of course, is one of them.
But, my father was listed in a category of others, too:
People I’ve fallen out of touch with out of self-preservation.
I wanted to talk to my mentor about whether I’m in the
wrong… that still-lingering “good daughter” or “good friend” guilt. Shouldn’t
you show up no matter what? Isn’t that love? Or is that obligation? And does it
matter?
Isn’t it my job to adjust myself and meet these people where
they’re at, regardless of how they’re harming me?
Because as painful as it is to know how intractable the
situation with my dad is, I still lash myself with reproval.
I should be able to withstand my crazy aunt’s needling about
my family’s ills. I should be able to listen to her constant health complaints
and victim-laden phone calls. I should be able to because she’s family and because she’s alienated nearly everyone else
she’s related to.
I should be able to sit in a car with my manic friend, even
though I get quiet and withdrawn around that kind of unpredictable behavior. I
should be able to meet her level of enthusiasm and kookiness because that’s
cool, right? Why can’t I just be cool, like her?
I should be able to be in relationships with people I don’t
want to be in relationships with, because that’s what “good” people do, right? Because
that’s what we’re told good people do.
But, to quote that myopic card, I rarely do what I’m told. …
What my mentor offered me was there are some relationships that
are once or twice a year out-reaches. And that’s okay.
Send your aunt a birthday and holiday card, and call it a
day.
Allow your friend who makes you uncomfortable to have her
own experience, and you don’t have to be a part of it if you don’t like how you
feel around her.
Reply to your dad’s occasional emails, thank him for the
card. And leave it at that.
There are relationships that we invest more in and there are
those we invest less. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care for the person. It
doesn’t mean that they are bad, or that I am.
It just means that my self-exacting standard of
communication needs relaxing.
You don’t have to invest in relationships that cause you
pain.
Believe me, I’ve done enough work in trying to make these
particular ones work. To find common ground and compromise and a way of
communicating that is healthy, or at least not harmful. And unfortunately,
there isn’t one.
I wish and try and hope and beg Universes that they were,
particularly with my dad, because who wouldn’t? But, this is an intractable
situation. And I have bloodied my fists knocking on a closed door, trying to
break in through a side window, and torn fingernails trying to dig underneath
all the battle defenses that each of us have drawn to come to a relationship with him that I can be in.
But, when you come to the end of the line, it’s time to get off
the train. This one doesn’t go any farther, no matter how much I wish it did.
And I do. And I probably always will.
But in the reality of today, these relationships are not serving
either of us. I can’t demand someone to show up or behave how I want. I can
only adjust myself to what is. And allow myself the compassion to stop
haranguing myself for not being able to adjust them.
And I can do that by staying in touch. Just barely. 

acceptance · boundaries · disappointment · family · father · recovery · sadness · self-love · truth · vulnerability

My Own Private Fan Club.

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“I’m a fan of you, Molly Daniels, in your entirety,” he
wrote.
Granted we later slept together. But I digress.
I had the good fortune to spend time last night with several
women I admire. I shared with them what’s going on with my father and my
having to make the decision to attend his wedding in lieu of performing in the
play in which I’m cast.
One of them reflected: “I’m sorry your dad is not able to
see you.”
And when I listen to this more deeply and clearly, it is a
bell of truth.
The fantasy and illusion I’ve abided by for years has been
that if I am a good daughter, a good girl, a devoted and doting woman, then I
will be seen. The delusion is that my people-pleasing will make him see me. But. This is false.
I have tried many times, this path of behaving. And I’ve
tried its opposite, being a wanton, crazed, rebellious teen and young adult, in
order to be seen.
But what struck me this morning was this image: You know
when someone has a lazy eye, and you’re not really sure where to look, so
sometimes you just look at their forehead? Or if you’re trying to avoid
someone’s eye for another reason, you focus somewhere else that sort of looks like you’re looking at them, but you’re not?
That’s how I feel with my dad. That he never actually looks
directly at me, which is why I’ve tried to make the trappings around me so much
larger or different or “approvable” or “disapprovable.” If you can’t see me,
maybe you’ll see the life I’ve built that meets with your military/engineer’s strict
sense of correct.
If I have the job you can brag about, … but that’s not me. I
am not my job.
If I have the relationship with you you can brag about, …
but that’s not me. We don’t know each other.
If I have the life you can brag about, … but I’ve tried
that. You threw my own failings in my face.
I have tried to make the external parts of me approvable
enough for you. But even those periphery trappings (and they are “trappings”)
have not been enough to hone your focus onto the all of me. Me in my entirety.
I didn’t know that was what I’ve been seeking until my
friend told me he saw me. I didn’t know that was what I’ve been missing,
and making a pretzel out of my life and myself in order to make happen.
If I want to please my father so he sees me, what do I think
will happen if he sees me, “in my entirety?” … I don’t think I can answer that.
Except to say he’d love me, in a way that I could feel.
Because here’s the thing: If he’s looking around me, and not at me, he’ll never love me in a way that
I feel. He may “love” or approve
of the things around me, the life I meticulously and back-bendingly try to
arrange around myself. But that’s still not me.
This is a system, a relationship in which I am not seen. The
one thing I want to glean from it is the one thing I cannot have.
In reading Brene Brown so voraciously right now, I can know
this: He’s not able to be vulnerable enough to do that.
To see me, is to expose himself, is to open himself to being
vulnerable, and for him, that is not an
option. His whole life has been built on a foundation, a faulty one (well, in
my own estimation), that precludes true connection, because he is unable to
look at and love himself. I know how this formed, and I can only presume the
pain that’s caused, because he’s never shown it. (Except in these indirect ways.)
Brene writes that men deal with vulnerability in one of two
ways: Rage or shut-down. (She also writes about those who find ways
out of that dichotomy, but those are the go-to’s without the tools to do
anything differently. And surely, those aren’t the only means to deal, but it’s her
research, not mine!)
I know that when I told my dad that I might not be able to
come to his wedding because I’ll be in a play that weekend, when he put on his “I insist” voice, that was his way of hiding his vulnerability, his
disappointment and hurt. I know that this was rage to mask actual feelings. I
know that this rage was to protect and prevent of moment of true connection, in
which something different might have been said like, “I’d really love for you
to be here. It would mean a lot to me.”
That directness is too vulnerable.
To look me in the eye and say that is too vulnerable.
To see us both as humans doing a dance of having a
relationship, instead of as a master and a servant, a “father” and a “daughter,”
is too vulnerable.
If I can’t squash it or approve of it, I can’t deal with it.
I “get” this. I get and have compassion for and understand
this dilemma for him. Also, this is a dilemma that I’ve prescribed for him; true or
not, it’s only my interpretation.
But, like I said before, it’s my choice how I want to engage
in this “relationship.” Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve been waving
my arms in an effort to start one. An effort in vain. And my arms are tired.
Brene writes that shame is countered by self-love, and that
shame resilience is a practice, not a diploma.
“I’m a fan of you, Molly Daniels, in your entirety.”
I’m going to have to say this phrase to myself, repeatedly.
To truth-test the thoughts of “not good enough” – especially “not good enough daughter” – as this future unfolds.
I’m going to have to truth-test my fantasies around this
relationship versus the reality, and I’m going to have to accept, even for a
minute at a time, that this relationship is the way it is, and that my father
is the way he is.
I’ve heard many times that “acceptance is not the same as
approval.” No, this isn’t ideal. But turning my life into a pretzel to garner a
connection I will never (or not today) have, is the worse fate.

anxiety · courage · disappointment · equanimity · family · love · relationships · resentment · trying

Not the Buddha.

Yesterday was Father’s Day. As evidenced by the insane photobombing bonanza that was Facebook yesterday. (Yes, I’m modifying the meaning of photo-bomb in this context.)

I was unsurprised to notice an amalgam of feelings arise as I scrolled down, and down… and down, through the newsfeed. Yes. Everyone has a dad. Yes. I get it. Yes. I even have my own. Do I have to see yours, too?

In the end. I posted my own photo of myself with my dad. I must be about 5 years old, climbing over the guard rail into the brush. We’re probably on vacation in Cape Cod, the ocean visible in the background. He’s looking out through binoculars, the front fender of his red 1970 Cutlass in the corner of the image. The majority of the photos I have of us together when I’m little are from the Brownies/Girl Scouts Father/Daughter dances — staged photos on cubes of packed hay. I’m sitting on my dad’s lap, looking highly uncomfortable.

This annual awkwardness was the closest my dad and I ever got, and the call to look normal at it was a difficult one to answer.

But, still. Yesterday, I too wanted to feel a shred of familial nostalgia, true or un. I wanted to add to our communal photobook my own pixelated, sugar-coated memory.

In the afternoon, I attended a seminar being hosted at my work. I was on hand as a staff member but got to participate too. The subject under discussion was “Having Difficult Conversations.” … It was the most requested topic, and the least attended. We all want to know how to do this, but we’re also hesitant to do so.

With about a dozen other folks, I was asked to turn to my neighbor and share “the story” of a conversation I’d been avoiding having. It was about 3pm on Father’s Day, and I’d already mailed my dad a generic, but nice enough card. I’d emailed him yesterday with that photo attached. And the conversation I was anxious to have or not have was whether or not to also call him.

Had I done my due diligence as a daughter? Was a card and an email enough?

One of the questions asked of us was: What is their side of the story?

I thought about this, wrote about it. Thought about my dad wondering what he’d done to be punished with silence. Thought about him getting angry with me for disappointing him again. Thought about him contemplating his martrydom, that all he’d done was love me, and I can’t show up for him.

But. True or not, these are only what I think he’s thinking.

In reality, what he’s probably thinking is that he loves me and misses me and would like to hear from me.

Period.

Because as time and experience have proved, he has little ability to contemplate much below the surface.

Once the workshop was over, I’d concluded that I’d probably done enough. That I didn’t need to call him, to subject myself to being open to attack or discomfort, as previous conversations have only proved to be. That’s what the story is, too: If I call, I open myself up to disappointment. Again.

But, once I arrived to my friend’s house for dinner, I’d had a few more minutes to think, and as I parked, what occurred to me was a phrase a friend told me long ago: “The Buddha says hello first.”

I thought as I put it into reverse, What kind of person do I want to be in this world?

Surely, I don’t want to be someone who allows themselves to be whipped over and over, but I forget that I’m also someone these days who when I see that coming or happening, I have the esteem and wherewithall to stop them or to end the conversation.

I want to be the kind of person who sends love, even to those who are unable to receive it. Not as “The Giving Tree” would do, but with conscious decision. I know I’m taking a risk reaching out to you, but I care … not really about you, sorry, but about how I feel — and how I feel is that I want to send you a … not an olive branch, but perhaps just a message of peace, not truce.

In the end, I just wanted to act toward my father how I would want him to behave toward me, with awareness, with boundaries, and with empathy toward us both.

So, I called. And mercifully, I got his voicemail. I left one, short and sweet. Which he reciprocated while I was out to dinner and left me one.

He just wants to know what’s going on in my life. He has lost this right. He has proved himself untrustworthy to know more than the most sweeping generalizations about my life. And I will have to decide once again if this is a conversation I want to have.

The Buddha may say hello first, but how many times do you say hello to someone you don’t trust?

anger · body · disappointment · family · grief · healing · therapy

Rage against the dying of your light.

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So, I’ve seen this somatic therapist (Rosen Method) now about 4 times, and
each time I plan to go, I wonder if we’re “doing” anything, if anything is
“happening,” especially if anything is “changing.” I want results to
long-harbored ills, and I want them now. Or at least evidence that we’re
heading in that direction.
Damn this woo-woo laying on of hands, heal thyself bullshit
– gimme the Rx, gimme the fix, and let’s get on with this “life” business. Or
more accurately, let’s get on with the happy life business. Enough processing. More doing, more getting, more
fulfillment, more joy, more security, more ….
She told me that if I keep on trying to skip over my
emotions, they’ll still just be there. Waiting, licking at the back of my
throat, causing the tension in my shoulders I’ve carried for decades. If I put a
lid on them, feel them well up, and force them back down, … well, I could
finish that sentence with, “Then you might get cancer.”
But I’m so good at
emoting. I’m an emotional wreck! No, I kid, but I
am an emotional person, I feel
things, deeply, often, sometimes. So, where am I not feeling what needs to come
up and out?
“Anger wasn’t an allowable emotion,” I told her. I know I’m
not unique in that. But anger was modeled as a way to impose, control,
terrorize. Anger, I interpreted, is bad. It causes people to behave badly,
meanly, poisoned.
Anger, I also surmised, is consuming. When you are angry,
you are nothing else but a hot, raging ball of ferocity. No humanity, no
compassion, no faults.
I’ve worked on anger before; I’ve read Julia Cameron saying,
Anger is a call to action. It shows us where our boundaries are being crossed,
and calls us to take action in their assertion. (to paraphrase.)
Anger is healthy. Anger is right.
Anger is totally not allowed.
This isn’t to say I don’t get angry, anyway. Ask my
coworkers! But I feel it as a place where my veil of self-control has slipped,
instead of as an integrated part of my expression. I feel my anger as a
failure. Something to be overcome, overruled, rooted out.
But, that’s simply not the case, and the more I keep it separate
from myself and an integrated whole, the more compartmentalized and dissociated
I will be.
It’s not like I want to be the Hulk, or a crank, or someone
who’s angry all the time. I just want to allow it to be a part of my emotional
range, just like compassion or amusement, and like boredom or fear or apathy. I
don’t quash with visceral force even these less “comfortable” emotions; I don’t
feel shame over feeling them. Positive or negative ones.
But Anger. And grief. Get the cold shoulder. The taut
one. The tense, clamped down, forcible shoulder.
Being a somatic therapist in this way of working, it’s sort
of like reiki, only she’s not “sending me good vibes;” she’s observing how my body tenses or releases,
acknowledges “true” things, or asks me to rephrase, since that didn’t “feel
true.” I don’t know precisely what polygraph she’s plugged into in my body, but
when I do rephrase to something less “proper,” I do feel the difference.
She can feel very acutely when, this week, I began to
talk about my disappointment around work. And I began to say that it feels like
I’m just giving my dad more evidence that I’m the fuck-up daughter. He’s the
Dudley Do-Right (his words), beyond reproach and reproaching everyone else – can
you feel my anger, too? – and that I don’t have a firm career track, a
“successful” life, feels like more evidence for him that I’m the fuck-up. She
asked if I felt that way about the career stuff. And I said, no, I simply feel
like a failure. Which I interpret through all the lovely filters of his I’ve
internalized as a fuck-up. Which I suppose is the same thing, come to think of it.
You’ve heard this before from me. The antipathy toward getting
better, or simply seeing myself as
better because it would change the entire nature of my relationship with him.
There wouldn’t
be a relationship
– certainly not the one we’ve had, at least. And so for now, in fact since
cancer, there
is no relationship.
Yell at your sick daughter while she’s getting chemo, and you stop getting the
right to shame me. Sorry, Pops. I’m sitting on the bench right now.
But I haven’t walked out of the park, have I? I still want
revenge. I still want to pain him. I still want him to see the error of his
ways then and now, and be the father I
want that I’ve never had. I still have that hope. And so my anger kicks in when
I recall him to others. My frustration. My deep deep disappointment.
But only for a flash. As soon as I let myself have a moment
of anger, even now, I have this impulse to say, Well, focus on yourself, Molly, and
what you can change, and your expectations; you’re living your life
away from him, and yadda yadda bullshit.
I need to feel angry!
I need to feel betrayed. I need to rail against the fate and circumstance of
it, and I need to let it pass.
I never let it pass. Pass through me. Through my red, pumping
oxygenated blood.
She asked me as I lay (clothed!) on the massage table, Can
you feel that? Can you feel when you got angry how much energy there was? Your
voice got loud, your body got hot.
And then it was gone. And then my shoulders tense, my gut
constricts. I’m not allowed to be angry. I’m not supposed to be.
I don’t want to let it flow through me. I’m terrified of
being consumed by it like they were.
But, I have had the experience a few years ago around grief.
I was terrified that if I began to let it out, it would drown me. If I started
to cry, to feel it, it would overwhelm me, and I would be lost in it. In the
psych ward in it. So, I held it back. (I do still.) But during that time, maybe
5 or so years ago, in the presence and care of another therapist, I let myself
feel some of what I needed to. I let it pass through me, out of me, I let it
disorient me.
But it didn’t dismantle me. I wasn’t wrecked by it. I felt it. It
was hard and sad and wracking, but it wasn’t annihilating.
I will try to remember that as I go forward here, because it
feels really old and really sad to hold my body in fight/flight/freeze all the
time, and to interpret my life and myself as anything other than brilliant.