Friday, March 5, 2010

The part where I put it all together...

So here we are FINALLY to the last part of this. The part where I put it all together, built a bridge and got over it! But there are few more wrap up pieces to the story to show where my head really was.

After Brent and I got married we moved in with his parents. They had the back section of the house that we could have that basically gave us our own bedroom and living room. I say we, but Brent left for basic training a few weeks after we were married so it was mostly just me. This was a good move for a few reasons. One it helped me establish a better relationship with my in-laws, especially with Jack (here) and it gave me space to get away from my family which I desperately needed by that point. I really do feel that if I had stayed in that over crowded house for much longer I would have burnt every bridge on my way out. But as it was I got some much needed space to breath. I was working 6 days a week, going to the gym to work out probably 4 nights a week, writing a long letter to Brent every day and then spending Sundays relaxing with Jack and Black Jack. The routine was a good one for me.

There was one incident that started me down the path of figuring things out that happened right before I left New Mexico. I was at my parent's house with my sister and my mother. We were discussing something that was in the news, I don't remember what anymore, but it led my mother to say, "I raised you kids better than that" I didn't even think before responding, "You didn't raise me, she did" pointing at my sister. My sister nodded and said, "Yeah, you kind of dumped her on me." Now this wasn't fair to my mother. She had raised me, for the most part. I was 7 before she turned over the main care-taking to my sister and I am sure she never viewed it that way at all. But later (almost a year later that's coming up) when I examined that conversation it illuminated two things for me, one I viewed the years with my sister as a form of abandonment by my parents and two, my sister viewed them as a punishment. I was dumped on her.

I understand this feeling. Remember how I had to take care of my grandmother? I was a kid and taking care of another person like that was too much responsibility. No matter how mature I seemed. I had one hour every week to myself. On Friday afternoon Jim would call and ask if I was ready, I would say yes of course and then about an hour later Ron's El Camino would pull up and Brent(years before we started dating), Jim, Ron and I would go up the road to McDonald's for a coke. That hour every week kept me sane. It was nothing big. Just time to goof off and not think about the things that 80 year old women with Alzheimer need. For instance, I had a lipstick that came out of the tube like a missile from a silo...for some reason this fascinated the guys and they had no end of fun playing with it. Sound effects and everything. And it was just so nice to sit and laugh with people my age. I have no idea if Jim knew how much that time meant to me, but I think it's what kept me tied to that group of people as tightly as I was, and through that of course I ended up married to Brent so you never know how big a small act of kindness will get.

Anyway...I understood a little more about what my sister must have felt about being stuck with me. I only had my grandmother for a few weeks every summer, she had me constantly. It doesn't excuse anything she did, but it helped me understand the level of frustration she must have been feeling. And because I felt like I could understand her a little more I felt a little more sympathy towards her. Or at least toward the 14 year old kid she was.

I would like to say that from that point on I was a better person and it was the dawn of sunshine and roses but I had one more big financial event to cover with my parents and nothing can tear you apart more than money right? All through high school I drove my first car, a Vega Station Wagon. Yep, I know, you are all so very jealous. Well, for a combination graduation/wedding gift my parents said they would give me their old car when they bought a new one. So instead of my 15 year old POS I would get a 6 year old car that wouldn't die at random times or get me pulled over for excessive smoke. So they followed through. Sort of. They got their new car and handed over the keys to the old car. As I was getting ready to leave for Florida I asked for the title so I could get all of the base registration taken care of. They said they would send it later. And I kept asking for it every few weeks while we were in Florida. Oh they had forgotten where it was, they would give it to us later. Then we were in an accident. Then another one. This was a bright yellow car mind you, but for some reason people couldn't see it and would run right into it! So we decided that we would trade it in for another car. I called my parents and told them we were going to sell it and needed the title. Well, that wasn't going to happen. They had used it as collateral on a loan, so we couldn't sell it. We didn't own it. I was livid.

Technically the car shouldn't have been out of state at all. If the loan company had found out we had taken it to Florida my parents would have been in default of the loan. We had (inadvertently) lied on our registration paperwork with the base by stating that we owned the car. This was a huge deal to me. You don't lie to the Military when you are in the service. And then to add insult to injury the insurance company made the check out to my parents since they were the registered owners of the car. We drove the car back to New Mexico, held together with duct tape and coat hangers, gave it back to my parents went to the bank so they could cash the check and give us the money and bought Jim's car and drove that back to Florida. And they gave the car to my sister.

So that May standing in front of a rack of Mother's Day cards and getting angrier and angrier as I read the cards trying to pick one out I came to a realization. It's not often you reach an epiphany in a Hallmark Store but I did. I realized at that point in time I didn't want to buy my mother a card. I was furious with her. My anger wasn't just toward my sister it was toward my parents as well. And I thought, "I am done." I walked out of the store thinking that I was finished. That I would not be going back to New Mexico. That I would not be a part of my family back there any more. I was done.

Then I went back to our apartment and read a book. Brent had watch that night so he would be staying on base all night. I was on my own. I read in our quiet apartment and I felt really peaceful for the first time in a long time. Not angry any more. Just quiet and still. And in that stillness I was able to think. Why was I so angry? What exactly was fueling it? And that's when I started putting all of the pieces together.

Now all of you reading this can see the reasons clearly. But I was living them over a lot of years with a lot of other things mixed in so it was harder at the time to distill it down to myself and then figure out how to work past it. But that's what I spent the next few years doing. Yes, years. The first was probably the hardest, I know it must have been a little slice of hell for Brent, but it was a slow process to work through it all. But that night the first thing I did was decide to take a step back from the abyss and not cut off all contact with everyone back home.

And then I started looking at my life. Looking at decisions I had made and why. I realized that the lying was just a defense mechanism to keep people away from me. I didn't trust anyone. Not fully. So I had figured out ways to keep them away from the real me, even if I wasn't completely aware of what I was doing. I always maintained a distance between myself and everyone else. Didn't let people get too close. If they started to I walked away. I knew that if someone was going to get in my life then I would have to tell them the truth. Thank goodness the first person I told the truth to was Brent and that he took it the way he did. I cannot even imagine what I would have done if the first person I shared the truth with had rejected me.

The next trip home I talked to my sister about what had happened. Now this is the actually the second time we had broached the subject. Remember when she and I were close before her first marriage? Well we had a talk one night about the things that had happened when she was watching me while high. She didn't remember any of them. Not really. But I really wanted to figure out my life at this point and I knew that those few years were crucial in my understanding, so I asked her again. And she told me that since she didn't remember them happening that she really felt that they never happened. I showed her the scar which was still visible at that point and told her I could show her that one, the others she couldn't see but they were still there. She told me again that she didn't remember it so what's to say they happened the way I remembered them?

I was right back to angry. Brent and I went back home with me so mad I could hardly see straight. What it felt like to me was that I mattered so little, what happened to me was so insignificant to her that she was able to dismiss me and to deny me my most traumatic and shaping memories. And I stayed there for a little while longer. And I realized that part of why I was angry about it was that was what I felt my parents had done as well. As soon as my sister got clean they didn't want to hear about it anymore. They moved past and shut it down and so had she. So I was the only one left holding the bag and I had to decide what to do with it.

So I had a choice to make. Did I want to spend the rest of my life being angry? Blaming every bad thing in my life on my family back in New Mexico or did I want to move on? Remember at this point in time I was reading a ton of books on Psychology. I had a lot of big AHA! moments through those books. I was figuring out who I was and what was "wrong" with me. But I was also figuring out what was right with me. What happened to me could have flattened me out. Could have turned me into a horrible person. But it didn't. Yes, I was very self-protective. Yes I had done a lot of things wrong. But I also had learned some really valuable lessons.

And I chose to be happy. That was really the bottom line. I looked at everything that had happened to me and I realized that the important part was that they had happened. Past tense. Over with. Done. And by continuing to be angry, by continuing to push people away instead of letting them in, continuing to not share who I was with people I was letting those things control me. And one of the good things I learned through all of those years is that you should always be in control. So I chose to be happy.

And then I worked on forgiving myself and forgiving my family. My parents are really good people. Salt of the Earth. They love all of us very much and would do anything for their kids. They did the best they could with what they had. I really believe that. I also believe if I had ever actually told them what was going on they would have stopped it. But I didn't. That was part of what I needed to forgive myself for. And I have. I was a kid who didn't know any better. And those first 7 years with my parents gave me the strength of character to survive the time with my sister and come out the other end okay. I am a hard worker because of their example. My smile is directly from my mother. I appreciate the things I have and know I don't have to have a lot because we were raised without a lot of money. These are good things.

My sister was just a kid with a drug problem who was forced into a tough situation. She was dealing with her own demons while being expected to take care of a kid when she was just a kid herself. The abuse she suffered later in her life was so much beyond anything that I faced that I can't help but feel sympathy for her. And then pride that she made it through as well. She left him (the most dangerous time for an abused woman, abusers don't like to let go) she suffered another bad marriage and then got herself an education and a good job. She made it through the other side as well.

Now I still tend to get quiet and self defensive if I am in New Mexico for too long. Even after all of these years there is a part of my subconscious that goes on high alert back there. I am still working on that part. And I have little to no patience for people who play the victim card. Adults who continue to blame their parents for their failures get on my last nerve. People who pull out the oh woe is me theme when life doesn't go the way they want to get no sympathy from me. And yes, I have bad days and can be a bitch when pushed. But for the most part, I choose to be happy each and every day. And I am. And I hope you are as well.

It's the best gift you can give yourself. Trust me on that one.

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