This is part of my work in the Julia Cameron Artist’s Way series. The work this time is from the book the Artist’s Way at Work: Riding the Dragon. The responses are self-examinations and assessments based on work through a daily series of exercises. While I do keep some material offline as it can be very personal and jarring, I often opt to be fairly open about my experiences, both positive and negative.
In this exercise, I’m to describe an occasion where my Inner Wall was breached – i.e., I found myself emotionally violated. This will, of course, be a story about my family, because that’s where it happened the most in my life.
My sister continued to live with her family well after most young adults move out. Her excuse was always that she was saving for an apartment, saving to move out, saving for “some fallback.” Given her lax financial skills, I suspected that she was merely avoiding self-responsibility for as long as possible. At the time, our mother had some outdated house rules concerning boys in the house and the assumption that not only did boys only want one thing, but that both her girls were sluts that were just asking for it at the first opportunity. She actually took a certain delight in “monitoring” us, especially me; I still can’t tell if this is because she was mentally disturbed enough to be obsessed with my sex life, or if there was a cash prize for my virginity somewhere. So “as long as we lived in her house,” we were told no boys in the house when they were not home, and no boys in our bedrooms, EVER.
My sister routinely violated this, sometimes with everyone home. No one said a word. The one time I did this to have a private conversation with a boyfriend that insulted my niece (who had yet to do anything offensive at that age) it resulted in my sister gleefully screaming up the stairwell “Use a condom!” So convinced were my mother and sister that any time alone with a man would lead to sex that a visibly obvious need for a private conversation was ignored. So concerned that my mother have her authorit-ah respected that she put her authority over clear and reasonable need for privacy, while frequently congratulating herself for not busting in the bathroom to check our bowel movements. (NOT exaggerating.)
That was not the wall breach.
Now, my sister was promiscuous. I knew this, my mother knew this (though she would deny it if asked) and even my father knew this. I don’t judge the promiscuity – I judge the lying and hypocrisy that went with it, and I really judge my sister’s open expectation that I would follow her down her ambition-free void. My mother must have told her I looked up to her or some crap. I never did, and I sure as hell never said so. Every path Kris took led to disaster, and then it led to her whining about how she didn’t deserve it when her own choices consistently blew up in her face. All she ever seemed to want, as far as I could tell, was to be some rock star’s groupie. She would talk about wanting to write, but a)she romanticized writing as only those who are avoiding writing can do and b)she never seemed to get off the floor from fan fiction. As you all know, I love fan fiction and I believe it saved me as a writer long-term. But sooner or later, you have to step out of it. To my knowledge, the closest she’s come is that national poetry scam.
So one day, upon returning from church, my sister and her latest boyfriend/fuck buddy/whatever burst out of the house upon my family’s return. I don’t know if our mother was distracted, and my father never said what the hell he saw or didn’t. His muteness during this is one of many times he sidestepped culpability, and also sidestepped being a decent father. (My father and I were friends, but as a parent, he did not do right by me until after I moved out, and then, only when his hand was forced.) Given that this guy was tucking his shirt back in, and that my sister was obviously going into one of her “we weren’t doing anything!” acts, I could pretty much tell they’d been having sex or, at least, something the French would classify as sex. After all, my sister was the charmer who decided to plant herself in the kitchen and describe what blow jobs taste like to myself and to a visiting friend – when we hadn’t asked, and had not even been talking about sex.
I saw the fuck buddy, and said simply “You’re not supposed to be here.” I wasn’t going to pursue it further – I was already sexually active myself, and finding private space was a bitch on the best of days. I really just wanted to give him a heads up that our mother was much more fond of how her morals looked and her outward appearances than she was of actually behaving like a good person, especially right after church. If it was anything other than a reaction, it was a “duck and cover, that bitch be crazy,” warning.
My sister jumped on this as a way to gain my mother’s sympathies and likely distract her from the violation of her house rules. Suddenly she was shrieking how I INSULTED her fuck buddy (a fuck buddy that had once made crass sexual comments about me that she gleefully reported – and was less than understanding when I did NOT take someone she slept with objectifying me as a compliment.) How I was so rude. How I hurt his feelings.
Now, there is no reason on earth this man had to give a damn what I said, and if he was concerned, he would have asked WHY I said it. I’m still not sure I believe he was the least bit upset. If he was, it was likely because he felt emasculated that I wasn’t impressed by his presence, and unless there’s a knife involved, men pretty much emasculate themselves by demanding women uphold privileges they don’t deserve. Men deserve human rights, not special rights.
Our mother saw this as some sort of “opportunity” and DEMANDED that I write the fuck buddy a letter of apology, and went on about how I was “mean” to my sister’s boyfriends. She did not ask for my side of it. She did not even try to hear my side of it. It was just decided that I was the one in the wrong, and it was easier than looking at more of my sister’s freeloading sexcapade behavior.
Even as a teenager, I could see the fucked up in my mother’s thinking. But I was a teenager, and without mass transit, I had no way of escaping, especially since my mother insisted on keeping her name on all my bank accounts. I wanted to run away most of the time as a teenager, because not a day went by in that house where I was not living out some sort of Kafkaesque nightmare thanks to my mother and my sister.
I wrote the letter, which was “approved,” and my sister claims she gave it to the boyfriend. (I don’t believe the boyfriend gave a damn, and I don’t believe she gave it to him. By pathological liar, I do mean pathological.) She said he referred to me as a “hosebeast,” thus reinforcing the insult/”my place” within the family, and our mother was quite smug that I had “learned my lesson.”
I learned that my family was quite willing to sacrifice me for the sake of their own appearances.
Was I able to mend the breach?
No. First, I didn’t do anything wrong. I was essentially punished for showing signs of independent thought and actually saying OUT LOUD that something was out of order. I was punished for doing something that a)did not harm and b)did not even really hurt anyone. I was being punished for USING MY VOICE – which is typical in female suppression, and it’s also wrong. Both sister and mother went out of their way to make sure I went unheard. (Psychologists, I would love to know what they were trying to accomplish here. Just submission? Because it just made me realize that they were out to get me.)
What specific actions could I have taken to mend the breach?
At the time, nothing. This was also not a singular incident – there were so many occasions where my sister would manipulate my mother into punishing me for some perceived offense, and my mother allowed the manipulation because she wanted excuses to punish me and break me down. I think the theory was that if I was constantly chasing their approval, I would stay in that desert of a town and be their slave labor.
I did the only thing I could do – I left as soon as I was old enough. I explicitly did not want to go to college with anyone I went to high school with because my classmates were mostly assholes. I did not want to go to school in-state for fear I’d accidentally date a relative (a very real and gross possibility.) I wanted to go to college out of state to a)have a normal dating life, instead of the over-monitored, imaginary dowry-protecting hell that constituted life anywhere near my mother and b)I could tell that there were all sorts of plans being made for me that no one was bothering to discuss with me let alone get my consent on. People were making plans for my future that were not me.
On the rare occasions I did visit, my mother went out of her way to be unpleasant while guilt-tripping me about not visiting enough. She even enlisted her cronies to harass me this way at my father’s funeral. Given that even when I lived with them, holidays were a spectacular hell that involved her screaming tantrums at least twice and regular fights with my father, I of course wanted to avoid them at that time of year. As an adult, she directed all that rage at me – while insisting I was angry at HER (yes, but my anger rarely involves shouting abusive epithets at people) and flying into a rage when I did anything from putting on music she decided she didn’t like (it’s jazz, classical, show tunes, the worst of folk from the 60s or nothing with her) to trying to demonstrate I needed to “learn to compromise” when I asked if a salad dressing she demanded I make be served ON THE SIDE since I really disliked it.
When I called out the poor behaviors, I was “rigid” “blind” “projecting” or “selfish.”
Like I said, Kafkaesque nightmare. Still is.
What plans can I make now?
The popular view from those never trapped in hell is that family is everything. Obviously, this does not work for everyone. It certainly didn’t work for me.
If I’d had the means when I was younger, I would have found a runaway shelter. If they had them back then, I didn’t have the means to find out, and the entire community had a values set where they would have refused to believe I was experiencing what I was experiencing, and they would have all trapped me back with my family while smugly telling themselves they did the right thing.
I can say here I officially retract any and all apologies to any of my sister’s fuck buddies. They didn’t want them, need them, or deserve them. If they feel emasculated, it’s not my job to build them up. I prefer to build up men that see me as a human being equal to themselves. They’re out there, and I do find them. If my sister is so stupid that she fucks lesser beings before bothering to discover they’re lesser, that’s on her.
My father asked me on his death bed “not to abandon” my mother and sister. I did try to be there for them after his death, but they immediately reverted into the bullshit behavior that destroyed their relationship with me in the first place. I was lied to, ignored, and during wedding planning subjected to more “I prefer to be subtle than honest,” crap from my mother – which meant she wanted to demand something she had no right to, and thought she’d get it by her usual abusive implication game. In fact, my sister reverted the moment she found out Dad was sick. She’d be Twittering in church but couldn’t text me a goddamn update on his condition. She also demanded I “not diss her mommy,” forgetting that the woman was also my mother, too, and did not behave with even a third of the consideration that she received. She even accused me of “dissing our mother” when the woman had started screaming at Kris’s daughter – which she was still screaming at her. I actually had not said a word about the woman, I just wanted to get my niece outside and away from the abuse. I had actually been taking pains not to criticize anyone. But in Kris’s inner dialogue, all I do is diss the woman – what I do is REPORT ON HER ACTUAL BEHAVIOR. Kris got a mommy. From years of observation, I got a demon who taught Kris everything she knows and does when it comes to lying and cheating, especially lying to herself.
I cannot honor my father’s wish that I live out my days in an abusive relationship. After all, I am the one that moved away from the family resources, and I have received by far the least support – mainly to “punish” me for being independent and escaping the slave dynamic my mother worked so hard to establish for me. He was himself an abuse survivor, and it was the old school whipping and beating type. Because it wasn’t the abuse he experienced, he failed to recognize I was also living in an atmosphere of violence. And yes, there is a significant difference between a normal, healthy family that squabbles and what went on with my own family.
Emotional violence is as real as a punch. It spreads through generations.
Because of this, I have made these choices:
1)I have become educated and continue my education on emotional violence, female domination behaviors and feminism versus stuff like my mother and sister did to “keep me in my place.” I am constantly continuing this education.
2)I do not expect them to change. Overtures and apologies from them are not because they want to make it right, it’s because they want to restore the old dynamic. This dynamic has had a marked negative impact on my physical and mental health. I actually started balding my senior year of high school because of what I was living with, followed by a round of ecxzema I have never had since.
3)I choose not to have children. Violence spreads through generations. Also, my mother was quite fond of throwing around the “unfit mother” claim when my sister was pregnant and going through a divorce. Since I practice a minority religion, I would be totally unsurprised to find my mother trying to assert “grandparent rights,” or have my child removed from my care. I told her once that I wasn’t having children, and she insisted on interpreting it as I was jealous of my niece. (Out of all the people in the world I don’t envy, my niece I envy the least.) The truth is that I do not trust my mother with a child, especially not one of mine.
4)I choose to stop trying with them. Every time I know I’m going to see or talk to these people I get stomach cramps. I even feel ill when I see an email from them. After years of sneaking them money, generous and much thought out gifts and attempts to share my life that were only turned into streams of verbal abuse later or totally ignored, I accept that they are always going to think of the things I do as things that are owed them, and not the gifts of love that they are. I don’t need to give anymore – all they do is take.
5)I do not need to replace them. I went through a phase where I thought building a new family would work, but these attempts have failed because it was the wrong approach for me. I am working on building a broader network of friendships; not everyone needs to know I have been through what I’ve been through. As part of that, I am consciously choosing to be slightly less helpful in friendships and slightly less generous. This means that I do not feel used when there is a normal ebb and flow as relationships change; this is especially true where I’m living in Minnesota right now. If Mike didn’t love his job so much, I’d want to move west, but he loves it and I won’t take that away from him.
6)I choose to engage with my communities. This has been a hard road for me, because my communities, especially the local Pagan community, tend to have dogma that they refuse to recognize as dogma, especially when it comes to how they treat younger generations. I know I have to start showing up, but I’m also drawing firm lines as to what I will contribute as it gets exploitative way too fast, and any signs of success are also used as excuses to criticize, the attitudes some have expressed towards Starhawk case in point. Also, I have reason to believe that a rumor mill has been flying a bit where I’m concerned – and notably no one has stopped to ask me for my side of it. Way to go, community – gossip is our meth, and it’s ruining us all. I am, albeit reluctantly, a member of the sci-fi community as well, and my feminism makes me unpopular but my voice needs to be heard so that the idea of women as equally human becomes normalized – especially among the women.
7)I turn my attention to enriching my own life. After years of hand-to-mouth where the rare moments of financial largesse went almost entirely to gifts or provisions for my family, I am finally keeping some resources for myself. I’m even buying myself things I’ve always wanted, that have been on gift lists forever, that go ignored. I have that bottle of Muguet, that silk robe, the Russian nesting doll I always wanted. I am giving myself the things I denied in favor of trying to bring things to my family that they wanted. Because my only reward for kindness to them has been punishment, I am simply rewarding myself instead; the good feeling at the objects I am collecting that are relevant to my own life are amazing.
That’s my plan. Yes, I am also getting professional counseling, etc. but these are the actions I take for myself.