There is rare, incongruent sort of day that happens from time to time, in autumn, sometimes in summer, when the weather is Spring-like and perfect in a way that just about takes my breath away, and sends my mind straight back to the most innocent essence of childhood. I don’t understand it, nor do I want to, for fear of ruining such a pleasant illusion.
The air is very breezy, leaves shimmer and flip on the branches like so many pom-poms in a pep rally, cheering us on in the business of life, or drift lazy on the air like confetti celebrating another new day. There is a hushedness and a dreamlike quality to days like this which make me feel pleasantly drowsy in a contented, deep-breath way.
I always feel a little melancholy along with the sweetness of days like that. It feels almost like experiencing all of one’s life in one moment of time, every good thing, every sad thing, every love, it is richness that is so poignant that it is nearly unbearable. But perhaps that is an internal experience that only we oversensitive folk have.
I think that in the way dogs can smell the tiniest drop of peppermint in a swimming pool’s worth of water, and cats can sense an approaching enemy with their whiskers, some of us detect changes in atmosphere, moods of others, even societal shifts, acutely, and you know something? It can be pretty overwhelming and exhausting. If we feel the stuff around us that acutely, try to imagine how intense our own inner atmosphere must feel.
My story that I have shared in the back pages here, tucked away amidst the deluge of verbosity that litters cyberspace, is no more significant than most of the rest. Everyone has stories. If you read mine and it blesses or encourages or fills you up in some way like a good home-cooked meal or slice of pie, that’s good. I just tell it because it is what is.
I, like most, made bad decisions in my early adult years. It took something out of me and when I met my now-husband of almost 22 years, I felt so very blessed that I would have another chance to maybe be truly loved and even have a family. And indeed he has loved me well and we have raised two great young men by the grace of God, who’ve turned out pretty well and are on their way to into lives of their own.
So here I am at that stage of life referred to as middle age, which is humorous, since I don’t actually anticipate most who are 52 are actually going to live to be a hundred and four. I certainly don’t think I will, nor do I want to.
I find personally, due to ailments that have stripped down the scope of my life some, that I face a quandary of sorts. There were a couple of disappointments that undermined that “life” I dreamed I’d have with my husband and our kids. Not about the health issues or loss of my career and the financial realities that placed us in, b ut that silly “White Knight” delusion I thought I had exorcised after my early experiences with “love”. I find I’m mourning something that never was, and I’m almost surprised by this. I know my husband is human and imperfect. But it’s dumbfounding the way I have managed to perceive him to be certain ways I so wanted him to be, and to then, over two decades in, face the reality of his human imperfections. That of course also means that I fooled myself yet again. And I just think; wow!
But at the same time, it is liberating. For all of our marriage, there was severe conflict of interest in the fact that his mother is, well, she is a textbook narcissist. I have such a damnable determination to believe everyone is capable of empathy and every difference can be worked out as long as all parties are determined not to give up until it happens. I have never met another human being that I could not make some sort of sense of, and thereby, couldn’t also generally accept and find the redeeming qualities that made it possible for me to appreciate that person. But my mother-in-law is the exception, and I hate the cliché of it. Even more, I hate the truth and reality of it. Because I know it could and should have been very different. But my Father-in-law died in May, and my husband has had no further contact with his mom since then. Over time I have learned that she is a person who literally has one face and persona she shows to others, and a very different and frankly, sinister face and persona she reserves only for those privileged to be called “family”. My husband is her only child. He was the last to give up on her. It is sad. My husband literally believes that his father’s relationship with his mother is best characterised as Stockholm Syndrome. Especially in his final decline into dementia.
My resentment toward my mother-in-law began with her intrusion into the wedding plans and grew with each successive instance of her meddling and self-insertion. I felt when it came to decisions and special occasions that there was a third member to this marriage and she often got the veto and my vote never counted. Having the history I had before meeting my husband, I chose forbearance in the face of what was obviously a very real inability on his part to change the way in which he dealt with his mother. I came to understand that fifty years of conditioning is not something one can just overcome. I pleaded for him to get counseling. Confrontations never turned out well. We settled on a certain degree of just putting up with her unreasonableness, with a huge helping of simply avoiding her as much as possible. Especially on my part. But the coping techniques and compensations we derive throughout our formative years, seldom work into adulthood and especially when the party who has always existed under that paradigm expects the newcomer(s) to go along with it like it is actually rational. And so when his father died and he no longer felt the false obligation to shield his Dad from her reign of terror by never rocking the boat, he finally took action in the only way he could, and that was to cut off contact altogether.
It goes without saying that it is tragic. But we have peace in our own household now that we have never had. No longer is there some “other shoe” always hanging over our head. She has a habit of using anything and everything against you, by that I mean, any news, any personal information, anything you share with her, becomes part of her arsenal.
Unfortunately, as my husband faced his father’s final decline, and the impending reality that once he was gone, there would no longer be a buffer, no one else left for her to terrorize, but that the full weight of who she is would become “his problem” my husband just kind of checked out on me. He wasn’t aware of it on a conscious level, and of course I didn’t figure it out straight away. He always was a person who focuses fully on whatever is on his mind in any given moment, to the extent he loses sight of the big picture. Most men are compartmentalized but he is like that almost to an extreme. It was especially frustrating for me when the kids were small. It made me really crazy sometimes, like the time he came in from outside and didn’t latch the screen door on our screened-in porch, when we had the front door open on a pretty day, and my cousin’s little 1 and 1/2 year old little girl wandered off down the street and scared the bejeebers out of all of us, and another time when we were keeping the children of a couple we were friends with, who lived in a trailer, and the girl, a very curious kid, asked about what was “in there” (referring to the door to our basement) and my husband said, “that’s the basement” and when she asked to see, he opened the door and before he could even flip the light on, she had tumbled down a flight of stairs with an open side, and landed on the concrete floor below. This is one of those things that can make a mother look at her husband and ask herself questions she does not want to even know the answer to. Both kids were perfectly fine, no harm, no foul, right? We can and do laugh about it today, but back then, well, you can just imagine.
But when his dad was rapidly declining and had to go into a home, and then ended up in the hospital, so much of which we feel might have been avoided if his mom would have listened to our input, (based on my nursing background) but with the history of such strain with his mom, we really could not afford to get drawn into conflict with her and knew that she would do whatever she wanted to do, regardless. It was a lot of strain during that whole year and a half. And at about Thanksgiving 2015 when his Dad got really in a bad way, I noticed this “there, but not really there”, state of my husband. I figured he was grieving, and coping, and it was all just taking a toll, but in the midst of it all, one weekend he dropped a bombshell. The kind that destroys marriages. Now, it’s not as bad as you might assume. But it was bad enough under the circumstances. And so I’ve been reeling a bit for the past thirteen months. And am only just getting my bearings. Things like this are seldom the real problem, but rather a symptom of the underlying “real issues”. The real issue had a LOT to do with his relationship with his mother.
I am encouraged that now we are dealing with the real issues. For myself, however, the means by which I coped with the underlying issue, took its’ own toll on me. Marriage is like that. Sometimes one person has a problem that is so deep-rooted, facing it and seeing it for what it is and finally realizing the toxic toll it has taken, is a monster of a thing to face. Sometimes the other person knows it for what it is, long before you do, and that person does a lot of forbearing for the sake of their love for you, their committment to the marriage, and an understanding of the sense of powerlessness we can often have when we have been conditioned a certain way. It was never easy for me to pray for my mother-in-law, and I had to pray for the Lord to love her through me because on the human level, there was, as they say, certainly no love lost between us. That my husband felt an exaggerated obligation to honor his mother, while frankly dishonoring his own wife, was not an easy thing for me to live with, much less accept. Being a person who has already experienced abuse and negligence in marriage, most people would have just called me a fool. But as a Christian, and as someone who eventually came to understand that this was not something someone really overcomes easily, when their family of origin was “messed up” but that person has yet to understand how abnormal the upbringing was, well, by God’s grace, God enabled me to endure until in His timing He got my husband to the right place for addressing it. But as I said, it took a toll. And the amazing thing is, though I have been sick and depressed many years, not the least of which is attributable to this paradigm I speak of, the last four or five God had truly given me a reprieve and delivered me out of that depression.
Yet, over the past six months especially, as we have finally begun to address and work through these aspects of our life together that were out of order and out of the Lord’s will, I have almost been convinced, at times, that the depression was back full force. It’s been hard. And as someone who does what I do here on this blog, being plugged in to some of the most distressing goings-on of our world in these times we are living in, doesn’t really need anything else hard emotionally, and yet, we don’t get to choose the timing on things like this.
Things are getting addressed, finally. I have described to people how when I was diagnosed bipolar and put on Depakote and Topamax, it took a good year and a half for me to start to feel normal again. It was like coming out of a coma, and finding that the world had changed while you were absent. Lights were coming on and I had not even realized I was sitting in the dark. That’s just a word picture of how it felt. You are only half-living when you are sick in your brain, your mind and your spirit. So now, it’s a little like that again for me. I have been living a life accepting the things I had no power to change, and just praying, but you tend to build up a callous where something chafes continually, and having to play second fiddle to my mother in law with my own husband, was pretty darn painful. We can’t dull one emotion without dulling them all. So again I was living but not fully. Sort of just a one-dimensional kind of living that is awfully similar to the “walking dead”.
As a pilgrim and stranger in this world, that is not as depressing as it might sound. I have always had my blessed hope, no matter what is going on here in this Earthly life, and that makes it possible to keep going when you really, otherwise, don’t really care to.
But it is kind of nice when you come back to yourself enough to enjoy an incongruous spring-like day in the middle of Autumn, too. Especially this time of year when the Holidays are upon us. That’s a time I have learned to dread. Because it always meant the gratuitous command appearance at the home of the “Queen Mum herself”, and all the accoutrements thereof.
It is sad, and as I said before, tragic, that it has to be this way. But you know, when someone treats you in a way that is wrong, and you put them on notice, yet they refuse to change, they are in effect forfeiting their right to be a part of your life. It is they who are making the choice, though they will invariably lay the blame squarely upon you. That’s fine, that, too, is their legitimate prerogative. They are free to believe whatever they want, whether it is true or not.
So, now my challenge is to somehow get up the energy and determination to rebuild in myself what those years have stripped me of. I don’t know how. So I have just been praying for the Lord to show me the way. My husband can’t do that for me. He feels guilty for it now that he finally and truly sees what those circumstances did to me, and to our marriage. But all he can do is work on himself. I have seen him sort of “blossom” since he cut ties with his mom. It’s great to see that, it makes me happy for him, but the irony is not lost on me, as he goes to the gym and loses weight and gains confidence, as here I sit, with my entire sense of self pretty significantly decimated. I have lost and reclaimed it before, so I am sure that I am capable of doing so again, but I’m not sure I am rested up enough yet to embark on that effort. I know enough about the human spirit to know God made us with an amazing capacity to heal and repair and rebuild, to rebound. When I am ready, I will do it.
Those family histories and ties and “ways” have a habit of biting you in the backside years down the road. Like those pesky viruses that hibernate in the nervous system, and show themselves in times of stress, they stick around, lurking and the older we get, the more vulnerable I think we become to them, instead of them being a non-issue, they can become quite significant issues. When you get older you have to accept that anythying you take on will not be completed in a day, or a week, or a couple of months even. Most things are more a matter of being the tortoise and not the hare. Patience was never my strong suit. And though perseverance and endurance actually have been hallmarks of my ability to “overcome”, man, I gotta say, at this stage I don’t feel like I have much of those left either. What will be will be. Losing oneself is not the worst thing that can happen to a born-again Christian. Self is not all it is cracked up to be. Dying to self is actually not something we can accomplish within our selves. That is why God allows the hard things that happen to us. He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it!
His ways are not our ways.
Next entry: My Sepia World