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Friday, November 07, 2003

Needs 

This is the fourth exercise from "The Angry Heart: Overcoming Borderline and Addictive Disorders", by Joseph Santoro, Ph.D. and Ronald Cohen, Ph.D.

In this exercise, I am directed to write about my most important emotional needs, how well they were met by my parents when I was a child, and how I am trying to satisfy my unmet needs today. I am also to write about how that has changed over the last few months, and how I think it will change over the next few years.


I am a very needy person... of that there is no question. With that in mind, let's take a look at how this breaks down.

Most important needs: Acceptance. To feel attractive. Love. Consideration. Respect. Trust. Honesty. Openness. Appreciation. Physical affection. Intimacy. Independence.

So, let's see... as a child.

Did I feel accepted? Not really. My parents accepted an image of me that they had created, but not the real me. I was supposed to be a certain way -- the gifted, well-behaved child. If I acted in any other way, it was either heavily criticized then swept under the rug, or ignored completely.

Did I feel attractive? Oh, fuck no. I remember, starting around age 10 or 11, my dad forced me to get on the scale every day, in front of him. If I gained so much as a pound, I was treated harshly and told I was fat and would "never get a man". Fat was synonymous with "hideously ugly". Actually, it was worse, because if you were fat it was YOUR FAULT. TOO MANY TWINKIES, BITCH! The irony is that I was not a particularly heavy kid, but my parents were both obese.

Did I feel loved? Yes -- my parents were affectionate and frequently told me they loved me.

Did I feel my parents were considerate? Sort of. I was bitched at for wanting time alone, but my preferences were always taken into account. For instance, what restaurants to go to, where to go on vacation, etc.

Did I feel respected? No. They did respect my wishes about some things, but they also practically stalked me -- read my email, searched my trash bags, etc. They were also very disrespectful in their communication with me, very often harshly critical -- especially my dad.

Did I feel trusted? Hell no! See above stalking behaviors. Furthermore, I heard the "Nothing is wrong with you!" speech far too many times. In the sixteen years I lived at home, I was permitted to go to a doctor once. And once to a psychiatrist, at my insistence. I had chronic pain in my upper abdomen for over two years, and literally snuck out and took a cab to a doctor's office. The doctor suspected gallbladder problems but I couldn't afford a followup. I think now it was probably related to a car accident I was in when I was 14, but it rarely bothers me anymore.

Did I feel my parents were honest with me? Dad, yes. Mom, no. Dad was perhaps too honest -- for example, telling me the circumstances surrounding my birth and how I was definitely not a wanted child. And telling me he suspected my mom was having an affair. Mom, on the other hand, is devious and proud of it. Sometime after the fact, she bragged to me about how she got me to talk about things then used the information against me (referring to the time I ran away).

Were my parents open with me, and did I feel I could be open with them? Dad, as noted above, was at times too forthcoming. Mom was, I think, pretty open without being scary about it like my dad. I certainly did not feel I could share much of anything with my parents, especially any problems I was having. These would be met with harsh criticism or even outright mockery.

Did I feel appreciated? No, definitely not. I was praised for my high grades, sure, but that's not the same. The words "Thank you" were never uttered in the household by anyone. I did a lot of work as a kid -- chores, as well as hard work like carpentry, hauling loads of boards around, hours of work in the garden, picking up rocks in the yard, pulling weeds, working at my dad's businesses... but this was required of me and I was never shown appreciation for any of this. Not even when I saved up money for months to buy them gifts.

Were my parents physically affectionate? Yes, definitely. Probably a lot more so than most -- I was showered with hugs and kisses very frequently. Except when they were openly displeased with me, which I avoided most of the time.

Intimacy? Not sure how this applies to my childhood, but on the subject of emotional intimacy, I'll refer back to openness above -- I was unable to share much of anything with my parents unless I was certain they would approve.

Did I feel independent? Off and on. In some ways, independence was encouraged -- for example, I was allowed to choose my own relation, and make a lot of choices as to what activities I wanted to participate in (if any), etc. On the other hand, being away from my parents was highly discouraged, and I got guilt-tripped about it a lot. Like being told I cared more about my friends than about them, or that I must not love them if I wanted to spend time in my room alone.

My parents were very self-sacrificing in some ways -- in the entire time I lived at home, I never once had a babysitter or even spent so much as an hour in the care of a relative. Even when they were running two businesses at once, with no outside help. Still, many of my emotional needs were unmet as a child.

How am I trying to satisfy my unmet needs today? For that, I turn almost completely to Steve. And he's doing a pretty damn good job of it, considering how hopelessly needy I am. When he can't be around... well, there are always good old-fashioned internet friends. Yay or something.

How has that changed over the last few months? I have no idea, and don't think it has much, really. Except I've tried to make my needs somewhat more clear to him.

How do I think it will change over the next few years? Hopefully, I'll be somewhat less needy. Barring that, maybe I'll make some better local friends, so Steve won't have to do all the work. That is, assuming we are still together in a few years. One can hope.

Defending Your Life 

This is the third exercise in "The Angry Heart: Overcoming Borderline and Addictive Disorders", by Joseph Santoro, Ph.D. and Ronald Cohen, Ph.D.

In this exercise, I am to write about the pain I have experienced in life and how I have defended myself though denial, over-eating, drugs, alcohol, anger, self-injury, withdrawal and isolation, or other dysfunctional coping mechanisms. I am also to write about how I would like to be able to cope with pain in the future.


Oooh. I suspect this is going to be a long entry.

My parents are the masters of denial. If something bad happens, it's quickly moved into the "Never Talk About This Again" basket. That includes my drug abuse, psychotic breaks, every falling out they have had between me and them or each other, etc.

It would be fair to say I learned this ugly art from them, and while I don't practice it to the extreme they do, I still use it.

The most obvious example of this would be grief and shame over relinquishing custody of my daughter when she was three years old. I love her dearly -- she was by far the most beautiful and precious person to ever be a part of my life. And yet, I think about her maybe once every few months... briefly, at that, because I can't bear thinking about her and the avalanche of guilt that accompanies it.

When she first left with my ex-husband, I started drinking like a fish. I became a hardcore alcoholic practically overnight. Wino, I guess, I was drowning my sorrows in cheapass boxed wine. Once, I had $15 to spend on groceries, and most of that went towards the purchase of another box of wine. I was drunk from the time I woke up until I passed out in the early evening.

I started using hard drugs when I was very young -- thirteen, in fact.

I'm not really sure why -- probably because I was miserable, but I don't clearly remember why that would be. My parents were great... it wasn't them. I think I just don't want to remember. Watch closely, folks, this is denial in action.

So yes, drinking, drugs, denial... lots of that. Self-injury... rarely, but it's happened. I sliced the living shit out of myself a few months back, following some of the worst experiences of my life... after I miscarried, lost my job, had a psychotic episode, failed suicide attempt, and almost lost Steve. Literally hundreds of permanent scars from those cutting episodes that went out of control.

Suicide attempts... yes, three times. Once after my parents found me (after I'd run away from home with Mikey), once after I got demoted from a position I loved, once as noted above, following the miscarriage and lost job. I've never made a bullshit suicide attempt, as those strike me as pathetic and lame. Cry for help, my ass. It's pathetic enough that I never succeeded, although at least I know I *should* have. Most likely would have, last time, if Steve hadn't called the ambulance on my ass.

Anger is on the list, and Mikey fits in there. I hate everything about that man, just thinking about him pisses me off. I don't think he could draw a breath without further angering me. He probably hurt me. In fact, he probably hurt me a lot. But I can't see it, all I can see is that I would love to shove a splintery 2x4 up his ass and give it a few good twists. Maybe inject some Drano into his scrotum, while I'm at it. Yeahhh...

As for the future -- how would I like to be able to deal with the pain? Mmm.. this is a rough one. The most honest answer I can provide is that if it ever gets to that point again, using a more effective method to off myself.

But I don't think that's what the authors of this book want, so I'll aim a bit higher, despite the fact it seems like an impossible dream right now. It'd be great if I could somehow move through painful experiences, without repressing them, without hiding it from myself and everyone else, without emerging with even more baggage.

My Genes and Me 

Second exercise from "The Angry Heart: Overcoming Borderline and Addictive Disorders", by Joseph Santoro, Ph.D. and Ronald Cohen, Ph.D.

I am supposed to describe the movements of my "microcosmic dance" (the piecing together of one's genetic code) and write down my impressions of what it means. Then I'm supposed to talk about how genetic influence affected me today, and how I may be breaking free of any of the negative influences.


This exercise is just a bit more New Agey than I can comfortably handle. I'm apparently supposed to move around the room in a symbolic dance that represents my genetic origins.

Uh, no. Not only would I feel incredibly stupid, I couldn't gain any insight from something like that. Furthermore, I do not dance.

That said, the rest is doable.

So, let's see. Genetic influences.

My mom carries the gene for schizophrenia and perhaps other related mental disorders. After all, both her brother and mother are paranoid schizophrenic, another brother has OCD, another is bipolar, another is a kleptomaniac and pathological liar, and who knows what else? Mom, herself, is most likely schizoaffective and certainly has generalized anxiety. My own brother is bipolar (and probably NPD, too), and my daughter has Asperger's.

Dad, on the other hand, was always remarkably stable. He's belligerant, loud, racist, and almost never displays an emotion other than anger... but I wouldn't classify him as mentally ill. He's just a strange old man -- seventy-eight at the time of this writing.

On the other hand, Dad's genetic code has graced me with a predisposition towards diabetes and heart disease. Skin cancer, too, since he's responsible for my pale skin and profusion of moles.

My brother sometimes says of me, "You're a little too much of Mom, and not enough of Dad."

In our family, this is understood to mean that I'm mentally unstable. My brother denies that he's got his own issues, despite the fact it's glaringly obvious to everyone around him.

Amusingly enough, my parents refuse to admit that I have any sort of mental problems, although they readily agree that my brother is fucked up. That's funny to me, because I'm the one who wound up with schizophrenia, which is arguably the most severe mental illness there is. Denial, denial, denial. After all, I'm the "backup kid", as Steve puts it.

I guess it's hard to admit that both of your children are broken.

My mom was 28 when I was born... she turned 53 today. My dad, on the other hand, was 53 when I was born, and recently turned 78. Twenty-five years and a foot of height apart, and yet they somehow have been together and mostly happy for the last thirty-five years. Pretty amazing, if you ask me.

My parents are good people, and I think they did an excellent job raising my brother and I. Not entirely the way I would have done it, but damn well just the same. I suspect my dysfunctions are more based on genetics and PTSD from my previous marriage than they are on childhood trauma.

Still, we shall see. I told Steve yesterday morning that I've noticed I'm very defensive about my parents and my childhood, and it's true. I don't think they really did anything wrong, and certainly weren't abusive, but I probably do have some childhood trauma just because of how sensitive I was (and am).

Breaking free of the negative influences? I am not, unless you count reality-checking as a coping mechanism against schizophrenia. Well, I'm reading this book, and actively trying to do something about my BPD.

When it comes to physical health, I'm definitely not doing a damn thing. I have about a 50% chance of getting Type II diabetes, and you sure don't see me exercising or eating healthy. Skin cancer? I've never worn sunscreen in my life. Heart disease? I'm sure the cocaine addiction didn't help that much, and fuck, I'm 25 years old with a previous heart attack... and I smoke.

So, in short, my mom's genes are at least partially responsible for my mental disorder(s) and my dad's have me all nice and lined up to die at 50.

Beginnings 

I'm currently working through a book called "The Angry Heart". Although it's intended to be an adjunct to therapy, shrinks are not currently affordable. No health insurance and all that jazz.

Anyway, since I've been updating less frequently than normal, I think I'll start posting my exercises from the book. After all, it's a form of directed journaling, and might even be interesting to someone.

Below is the text of my first exercise from the book, in which I am directed to write an entry about some of the significant beginnings in my past, as well as what reading this book means to me and what I hope to achieve.


...

Perhaps the most major beginning I recall in my life (thus far) was moving out of my parents' home. It was not an easy or pleasant time for me, but it was then that I felt I had achieved freedom and become an adult. I did many things for the first time -- rented an apartment, paid my own bills, shopped for groceries, spent time alone... I was free (or so I thought).

The second major change, or beginning, occurred when I told Mikey to go without me and that I wanted a divorce. This was at once one of the best and worst times of my life. I felt infinitely relieved that he would no longer be a part of my life, but I was devastated at the loss of my daughter. It was this event in my life that led to the first true freedom I had ever experienced. I cut my hair, dyed it neon pink, got multiple piercings, stayed out all night drinking, visited friends (for the first time in eight or ten years). I felt alive and was amazed at the control I had over myself -- just little things were exhilarating to me, like being able to listen to whatever music I wanted to.

The third, and most recent, major beginning in my life was when I decided to pursue a relationship with Steve. It would be easy to write something about how he changed my outlook on life or relationships, or how we clicked perfectly and I knew he was the one. While this is true, this change was in fact something much more about me than it was about him. It was about radically changing my approach to loving relationships. Having seen the patterns I'd experienced before, I could no longer stumble around blindly hoping things would work out. Instead, I took a proactive approach -- I made my needs, wants, and desires clear, as well as my limits. I researched the topics of relationships, effective communication, and problem solving. I was ready to build something -- an intimate, loving, mature relationship... and Steve seemed to be the perfect partner for this endeavor.

I am reading this book because I have come to realize that taking a proactive approach will not be enough. I have too many issues -- insecurities, past hurts, poor coping mechanisms and emotional instability -- to achieve what I want without resolving these. What I hope to gain is simple -- control of my emotional reactions, healthy coping mechanisms, and resolution of past trauma. It should be noted that simple does not mean "easy", especially in this case.

I want to change. I want to stop hurting Steve and myself. I want to no longer be a destructive influence on our relationship and our lives. I want to find the grey area. And above all, I want to experience the one thing I have never felt -- calmness. Contentment. Peace.

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