Archive for October, 2009

I meant to go shopping.

But I wanted to catch up on a few blogs, one of which had a link to a presentation on how what’s often labelled as codependence in partners of addicts can be better understood as PTSD.

You know … hyper-vigilance, heightened emotions, inability to let go of memories, etc.

And I thought, well, of course.

And then that first awful night when I found out the Ex had been cheating on me and with all those girls hit me again and instead of shopping, I spent the hour crying.

It’s just one of those things that takes a long time to really end. It stops, but it doesn’t end. The Ex and I are over but the effects of that night are not; I doubt myself and my judgment constantly. I’m terrified to let myself be hurt that way again. And the recovery movement, well-intentioned though it may be, just makes it all worse, because with codependence is is about you, what you did, how you responded. Even though in the years I’d been with the Ex and married to him before that night I’d never once touched any of his computer files and had never doubted him, had let him go shopping or out to dinner with female friends without hesitation, because when that night happened I did look through his files and since that night did so again and again–that made me a codependent, and part of the problem. What I did before was denial. Then I snooped and controlled and tried to blame. And because of me he acted out again and again–that’s what Patrick Carnes et. al would have you believe.

I call bullshit. I did what any sane person would have done in an insane situation. I did whatever I could to regain control, yes, when the world was cut out from under my feet and I didn’t know where to stand or who to trust. I kept secrets and felt shame, yes; I lost trust and happiness “because of him,” yes; and anyone in that situation would do the same. Anyone.

That the standard of a healthy response (according to the recovery movement) is something that no normal person would ever naturally experience in that situation says everything.

Yet that thinking has gone pretty deep: if I caused it, if my unhealthy response perpetuated it, then somehow I have to become the kind of person who would never feel that way in that situation before I can be assured of having a healthy relationship. You can see where that might leave a girl stuck.

Whereas PTSD…

…means it would be like telling a war vet that their panic and flashbacks and paralysis are what made the bombs fall in the first place, and are what would make them fall again…

…means that I can just feel how I feel without worrying so much about whether or not I am healthy enough (not that panic or fear or mistrust are good things, but just knowing that they won’t by themselves make the bombs fall)…

…brings me right back to that first night and that first response: how could you do this to me?

Instead of, what if I do this to myself again?


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flaky stuff

Last night I had a dream about my parents.

No one likes to hear or read about other people’s dreams, of course, but this is my blog and I’ll subject you to my subconscious’s ramblings if I feel like it. So: Last night I had a dream about my parents.

We were in their kitchen, their beautiful hardwood, granite, limestone, stainless steel kitchen, and there was snow and ice everywhere. Heaped on the counters, covering the stove range, piled on the floor. We couldn’t make dinner, so we carried the snow and the ice by the armfuls to the sink and ran the hot water to melt it all, wiped down the hardwood and granite and limestone and steel, and looked around, amazed and pleased with ourselves. “Look,” I said. “There’s a kitchen and a sink under all this!”

Then we tried to decide what to make for dinner.

My subconscious is again as subtle as a sledgehammer to the kneecap.

Too bad it’s a fantasy with as much hope of coming true as Santa delivering that remote-controlled pegasus that really flies to PP for Christmas this year.


Remember this?

Dreams and tarot cards, I swear. How is anyone supposed to believe this is the blog of an ex-wiccan? Nevertheless, dreams and tarot cards. I never said I wasn’t a flake.

So: that tarot reading, from July 29, when I asked if I would fall in love this year: yes, it said. In a big way, soon, not with ED. A good one that’s going to let you break the patterns from your past.

How did it know?

Or am I seeing what I want to see?

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choices and consequences

I think I got feminism mixed up with dysfunction.

Not that I’m not a feminist or that feminism is dysfunctional, but that family-of-origin issues got mixed up in ideology, and I assumed the choices I made were due to the latter when they were more due to the former.

I have always taken care of myself. I rarely ask for help with anything, from the mundane to the nearly-impossible (Dear Readers, you should see the furniture I’ve assembled on my own and the tricks required to make it a one-person job). I did this because I could not count on my parents for practical assistance of any kind, so I developed a pathological level of independence. Then I called that feminism.

I got a practical degree that led to a practical job and a practical career that I practically hate because I need to know that my needs (and now PP’s needs as well) are covered by my own salary. I wouldn’t be the first feminist to suggest that equality in marriage and relationships equals the ability to walk away without plummeting into poverty, and there’s something to that, I think. But I don’t think, for me, that I made those choices as a rational response to the world, but because I could not stand to be in a position of any dependence whatsoever. I could not trust people (as it turns out, I could not trust the Ex with good reason, but that’s not the point: I know on some level I chose the Ex precisely because he would roll me out like a doormat and walk all over me).

A partnership or a marriage to me for a long time looked like a 50/50 split of everything from dishes to diapers to tax returns, in part because I wasn’t going to be turned into the Angel in the House, but also because I was going to know how to do everything by myself, thankyouverymuch. There were some imbalances–he did the laundry; I did the cooking–but in almost everything else I aimed for, if rarely achieved, a mathematical equivalency with almost scalpel-like precision. This could be a good decision if it comes from a good place. But for me it came from fear: I needed to know that I didn’t need anyone. I needed to know that I didn’t need him.

And the cost was high. No room for writing, for sewing, for making things; little room for cooking and baking. And I love those things. They make me happy. But having a life that made space for them would have required me to bend, to be less then 100% self-sufficient in every way, and I couldn’t do that.

That’s not feminism. That’s training.

I know the party line is that women get more radical after they have kids, but for me having PP was a wake-up call of a different sort. I mean, yes, inequality is certainly a more present reality for mothers than for women without children, and I experience that as much as anyone. But it wasn’t until I started working full-time as a mother that I realized how wrong for me some of those choices had been. And they haven’t become less wrong or easier to take over time. I still hate seeing PP as little as I do. I would love to have more time to fuss and putter around homemade things. I hate telling PP to hurry hurry hurry all the time; I would love to be able to drop her off at school and pick her up directly more often; I’d like to be able to cook supper from scratch more than twice a week; and maybe this longing for more domesticity is an artifact of single motherhood, but I don’t think so. I’ve liked doing these things all the way back to childhood. I still remember the thumb-sized teddybears I made everyone for christmas one year when I was a little kid, or the endless knitted rugs I made for the dollhouse. That’s not all of me. I mean I’m not allergic to my cordless drill and I can handle the blue-jobs too, and I like many of them for many of the same reasons.

But success, climbing the corporate ladder, fancy business cards, status, paycheques, promotions, all that–not me. I thought it was.

As it turned out I needed those things, but I can’t help but wonder if I ended up in the kind of relationship where I would need them in part because I needed to be that kind of person: complete and self-sufficient to a fault because no one else was to be trusted with anything essential ever.

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I found this article  about what to tell children about parents’ infidelities in Brain, Child and, of course, it’s got me thinking. It’s a pertinent question for the ex-wife of a sex addict.

How much should I tell PP and when? I’ve had some experts tell me that telling her anything ever–even when she’s 35 and married and has kids of her own–could be “very damaging” and I should just keep up with the polite sugar-coated lies forever. On the other hand, this is not as simple to talk about as one single affair (or even a few) with one single person that existed and then ended either with or without the marriage ending. How would I explain daily lies for almost the entire course of the marriage without seeming to want to poison her against her father?

But how do I not? Otherwise, isn’t she almost certain to repeat my patterns?

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This weekend was the first time I’ve had lobster. It was the first time I’d had teppanyaki. It was the first time I’d stayed in a fancy-pants hotel. It was the first time I’d stayed in any hotel for no reason in particular. It was the first time I’d ever let someone pay (what is to me) a substantial bill on my behalf. Even with the  Ex, when I was a student and he was in his thirties with a solid, well-paying government job, we split all the bills 50/50. I insisted on it (not that he complained too vociferously).

The Trader and I had a great time this weekend, doing not much of anything except enjoying each other’s company; he is very nice to me. And it’s a little unnerving.

I mean, the SA tried. But he wasn’t in a position to be able to “take care of me” like he said he wanted to. Instead I ended up taking care of him. And it was frustrating but familiar and comforting.

This is fun. But weird, and a bit scary. I feel a need to reciprocate but I know I can’t, not really, and I think it would hurt his feelings if I insisted on it too (ahem) stridently (an inside joke that Niamh at least ought to appreciate). Moreso, I don’t want to get used to this. For so long I’ve wanted some help, some way to put down some of what I’m responsible for and know that it won’t get lost, and now it’s here and I’m terrified because what if I put it down and he picks it up but just for a little while and then I have to carry it all myself again? What if I forget how? What if I actually need someone?

Pathological independence isn’t healthy but it’s reassuring. I don’t need anyone; therefore if I lose someone it will hurt but I will be ok. That will get me nowhere here, and I know it. I need to be able to bend a little. I need to be able to let myself need someone, and it’s terrifying.

(He can also read me like a book, and that’s scary too, but a different post for a different day.)

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I am giving up on the trauma project. I am in much too much of a good mood lately to be able to sustain it. Oddly, this is so even with the parents being as insane as they’ve always been (I took PP to their house on Sunday to visit because she wanted to and she met their new dog, who is a rescue, and my Mom spent the visit telling PP all about the horrible things the previous owners had done to it. This still boggles my mind, even though I happen to have footage captured on the iPhone. It’s not just me, is it? It struck me as very much “I am a GOOD PERSON because I SAVED this poor little dog from its awful traumatic past and if you really love me you will tell me so,” which as inappropriate as that is with an adult is just way crazy with a little kid).

Anyway. We saw my parents, I still felt like I’m not a part of that family at all, but it was reasonably comfortable staying detached although there are things I wish I’d done differently (like telling my mom to knock it off when she went into the abuse stories over and over). My mother is clearly in a better mood and is not planning on cancelling Christmas this year, or playing chicken with PP’s birthday celebrations. I hope.

Sadly, the older I get, the more I see that my parents are not the great grandparents I thought they were–that they hurt PP too, although in less obvious ways. This helps mitigate the guilt of minimizing their contact tremendously.

Instead I’m going to think about goals and values and priorities and all of those other, good and happy future-focused type things. I’ve had one post drafted since August and then all that crap happened with the Ex and potentially going to court (looks like we avoided it: waiting for the lawyer to call to tell me we have a new draft amendment) and wham, there went the summer.

But looking onwards: I think it’s time to start thinking about what I want again, not least because the Trader keeps asking me and I don’t have a real answer for him. (Still going very, very well, Dear Readers. It’s so weird because politically we have almost nothing in common but somehow in terms of values and other big questions we do; it’s like we started from the same premises but managed to end up with different conclusions. And I still have not much I want to say about it here except that tarot reading is proving to be eerily correct.)

I left the Ex and let go of The Plan and couldn’t imagine replacing it with anything. All I’ve done for the past couple of years is think about the stuff that’s under my control and try to just deal with what happens without expectations. And I still think that’s good, that I don’t want to let myself be made miserable by things beyond my control; but it is definitely a defence, and beyond a certain point it’s going to keep me from going after what I want or even recognizing it when I see it.

What do I want?

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off-topic artistic musings

Why do we need to believe that our great artists are great people? Why is it that we need to believe that great art comes from a place of ethics or values or compassion or anything but some weird neurological trick that allows some people to tap into the art-place when others can’t?

What is the deal with this Polanski thing? He made a number of apparently fabulous movies and he also raped a thirteen-year-old girl and his ability to display the human condition on the screen did not make it possible for him to comprehend the human condition of a vulnerable little girl who was actually physically present. He is not unique. For all we know, Shakespeare skinned cats for fun.

All of my favourite artists are also human beings with weaknesses and blind spots. Of course they are. Margaret Atwood is such an amazing writer and I so admire her, but her grasp of environmental issues is tenuous and I can’t read her dystopias. So she’s not perfect. Ender’s Game remains one of the best sci-fi novels I’ve ever read even if Orson Scott Card is a homophobe and a bigot (his Mormon fiction is unreadable). Sarah Slean is an anti-feminist. I try very hard, these days, not to know too much about the artists I love because I am sure to be disappointed and I want to be able to appreciate their works separate from the personalities that produced them.

Polanski is a misogynist asshole who should go to jail and he also made a bunch of good films; the films don’t become less good because he made them, nor does his crime become excusable because of his films. I’ll admit I have no intention of watching his movies, in much the same way as I have no intention of reading Dorris Lessing after learning that she abandoned her kids.

Then there are the people who think that being an artist is free license to be an asshole, as per the gentleman who wrote recently for the New York Times that memoirists are excused from the common human injunction not to exploit one’s children or other vulnerable people because the value of their art outweighs the harm they do. Bullshit. Or as per Hemingway, who once famously claimed that the Ode on a Grecian Urn is “worth any number of old ladies.” Well, no. It’s not. The responsibility to be a good person trumps anything. If I had to choose, I’d be a good person and a good mother rather than a good writer. Fortunately I don’t think the choice is necessary; I believe it’s possible to be both.

Artistic ability, I think, is a mutant tick. It’s some weird connection in the brain that lets some people see things and make things in ways that make other people feel like their heads are expanding; and that tick can be cultivated and polished by a lot of obsessive, conscious, sustained practice (which is possibly why so many artists are such loners and weirdos: you don’t get all that obsessive, conscious, sustained practice in while also captaining the football team and learning how to make a really great quiche). But that tick? Totally unrelated to the overall quality of the person’s ethics or relationships.

Artists are our modern shamans, and we want them to be more connected to a world beyond this than we are: we want them to be touched by gods. We want them to be holy. And when they are not, we do not only turn on them, but on their art.

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