Do or die

I felt some angst after reading an email.  Why, I questioned, does my perception of people’s responses to me or to situations affect me so much?  Depression dogged me the rest of the day. 

The next morning I contemplated my reaction again.  And an answer dawned on me.  I define myself by people’s reactions.  That is why I have difficulty with opposing viewpoints or a lack of acceptance from others; these things become personal threats.  Not only that, but I always assume I am in the wrong and must therefore change to suit the person or circumstance.

Two events from the past rose to my mind: one a defining moment and one a reflection of my anxiety.  The first took place when I was six years old after my mom returned from her 6 year stay in a mental hospital.  I screamed and cried and clung to the front porch of my grandmother’s house when it was time to get in the car to move to our new home.  Not only had my Granny been my mom and her home my home, but my biological mom was a very scary person.  My first memory of mom is her throwing up in her napkin at the Thanksgiving table after having too much to drink.  She was a ghostly figure who came in and out of my life at various times (when she would try and come back)…I didn’t like her and the instability she created.  I also had overheard my grandmother call her a drunken slut; even though I didn’t know what that meant I did understand the hatred behind those words.  Now I was to live with her and the man who did very hurtful and frightening things to me.

I used to stand on the couch in the living room of our first floor flat and stare out the picture window in what I believed was the direction of my grandmother’s house.  In my mind’s eye I can still see my mom passed out on the floor, and my inner ear can still hear her derisive screams that I look just like “her” (my grandmother whom she hated).  She embraced my sister, talked with her and appeared to care for her.  I was on the outside, and internally I was dying. 

One night I awoke, and my sister was not in the bed next to mine.  Fearfully I groped down the dark hallway and found no one.  I was alone.  Panic enveloped me; it was then my needs unconsciously shifted.   I could not allow this emptiness to happen again.

I changed from a girl who did not fit into a new situation and with a “new” mom to a girl who needed to adjust or die.  When sick, I found mom expressed care toward me.  I learned that neediness got her attention.  I learned to let her do things for me because she smiled and seemed to enjoy it.  I learned to pretend to love her and stand in awe of her.  I learned her ways and conformed to them.  And, the abandonment never happened again.  I was in.  I was no longer who I had been, but that awful circumstance did not happen again. 

The second flashback was setting the table in the kitchen of the house we built when I was a teen.  I would agonize over who’s untensils to arrange first, my mom’s or my dad’s.  I felt the order in which I did that would influence their behavior and love towards me.  Who needed to be placated; who needed to be appeased?  Who was the most unstable; whose wrath did I need to assuage?  Who needed my affirmation most; who needed to be pandered to?  Who would hate me most for not paying attention to them first?  I lived in dread of their anger and chastisement; their disapproval had to be avoided at all costs.  That usually happened when I did something on my own, when I did not figure their responses into the equation of my decision.

Following those memories, I became aware of an emptiness in my chest.  I recalled the picture of me running between my mom and my granny (described in my last post, Running in circles and set on a rock), and I remembered the image of the metal sheet locked and embedded in my torso (described in Taking it).  Those visuals and these flash backs certainly help explain my overwhelming desire to conform to people and situations.  Do or die.  Conform or be abandoned.  Adapt or be hated.  The choices were clear.  Perhaps they will also provide clues to the vacuum around my heart.

Oh Lord, help me get beyond this mode of functioning.  I no longer want to be in this place.

Taking it

The last couple of weeks have been a mish-mash of dreams, images, thoughts and feelings.  But, there is an underlying theme throughout which leads me to conclude God wants to free me from the need to be controlled by other people.  Here is a summary:

Within the last two weeks I have recorded 10 dreams; five of them seem to apply.  Here they are in very condensed versions: smearing my own poop on myself because someone else is defecating, agreeing to continue to work for a cause even though I perceived it as doomed, letting my escape plans be foiled by another’s ego, submitting to my grandmother and mother’s desires at the expense of my own and dragging my dad at my side trying to make him part of my fairly healthy life. 

After I awoke one morning following those dream filled nights, this image materialized in my mind’s eye.  A thick, shiny metal rod, similar to the hook on a padlock, was hanging around my neck.  To it was attached a large, rectangular steel plate covering my torso.  The plate’s back was embedded in my body; the front was exposed to the world.  People hit it, kicked it and beat on it.  With head bowed, I took it.  I stood stiffly as my body absorbed the blows.  (This is particularly interesting because I have been extremely tense the last few days.)

An event I attended has aroused reactions that are akin to the image and dreams. Although I am still processing the information I received (some of it was good) and my reactions to it, I have felt beaten, oppressed, depressed and discouraged.  My immediate, instinctive response was to surrender my new found goals and dreams and conform to that which I was told…or another interpretation could be what I perceived I was told.  And, it has been a battle to resist. 

Certain words leapt out of the page as I read these Bible verses:  “For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ.  Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.  Can’t you see the central issue in all this?  It is not what you and I do – submit to circumcision, reject circumcision.  It is what God is doing, and He is creating something totally new, a free life!” (Galatians 6:14-15, The Message)  (This was written to the church in Galatia as they struggled with conforming to people who wanted them to embrace Jewish laws and customs as additional requirements to having a relationship with God…thus the circumcision reference.)  Can you guess to which part I responded?  If you thought “…set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate….It is what God is doing, and He is creating something totally new, a free life!” then you are correct.  And, I believe that is exactly what He is working in my life right now.

A dream

Little did I know how quickly the future would come. 

In my last post, I stated positively that I knew there would be more battles to be fought and changes to be made, but no matter what the future held my God would work it for my good….so onward and upward, I declared, into whatever God had for me!  The day after I did my first edit of that post, a new fight began, following only a week of R & R.  Sigh.  But, I have given God permission to do what is necessary to shape me into wholeness, so who am I to complain?  (Even though I did…)

I had a dream.  I was in a house; its outside was exactly like the second home we lived in after my mother returned from her final stint in the mental institution.  Unlike the exterior, the inside was very dissimilar in its physical appearance, although what was there represented well the chaos of our family patterns.  The right side of the interior was like a vertical maze of floors and walls placed at haphazard heights and positions; there was no back wall, so light shone through from back to front.  The left side had no walls, floors or ceilings, as if a bomb had exploded or a natural disaster had swept through and left emptiness in its wake.  The house’s rear section seemed to be completely open to the back yard, but closer examination revealed a clear plastic casing stretching all the way to the back fence, similar to a tall rectangular green house.  Inside this structure there were hanging ropes which were used as zip lines by aliens who were rapidly sliding into the house to attack and annihilate.  My energy and time were given to counter attacks, vaporizing, demolishing and casting out those beings which were bent on destroying me and ending my freedom.  I was in my element, enjoying the fight; periodically I was joined by friends when the battle became too complex and reinforcements were needed.  Like characters in Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger we leaped, swooped, soared, and fought with deep satisfaction and focused strength.

I was a different person outside that environment, as shown by the second half of this dream.  In it, a new neighbor came to our backyard with a battalion of her friends to “help” plant flowers.  She was over bearing, controlling, very effusive and looked remarkably like Kim Kardashian.  (Since I barely know who she is and couldn’t even remember her name, I really don’t know how her image came to be part of this story…dreams are strange entities.)  Her idea of “help” was to do things her way without any consideration for others’ thoughts and desires.  I immediately abandoned my station inside and dashed to intervene.  She was deeply offended by my objections and began to stalk off in a huff, indignantly proclaiming she thought we had an agreement to help each other with our outdoor work.  (Of course, assisting in her yard also meant doing things only as she wished.)  Following and attempting to smooth her ruffled feathers, I entreated her to try to understand that we just had a break down in communication about what it meant to “help each other”.  Somewhat mollified, she and her friends left.

I watched as she crossed the street to her home, and I realized I should have been firm about who I was and what I wanted when we first met.  Doing so would have avoided that conflict and the turmoil tumbling about inside me.  Truthfully, I wouldn’t have wanted such a friend, yet my behavior exhibited the opposite.

Upon waking the next morning, I asked myself and God what the dream meant.  Some questions which ran through my mind were:  Can I perceive truth inside the house but not outside?  Can I exercise discernment for my family of origin but not for myself?  Am I still trapped within my old family structure and have difficulty functioning outside their mode of operation?  Do I lose my ability to discern and be myself outside of their sphere of influence?           

As the day progressed, clarity came with an answer somewhat different from what my enquiries implied but pertained to elements within each.  I have learned confidence and discernment when warring against the forces of evil emanating from within my family of origin, yet I lack those same attributes when life takes me away from that venue.  Allowing myself to be snowballed and steamrolled by external forces, people, and cultures, I don’t express my internal personality or stand firm in who I am or what I believe.  (This is somewhat relative and depends on the situations in which I find myself.)  Thus, I conform in subtle ways and allow myself to be carried along by the culture or personality dominating the moment.  (Not so much compromising standard moral truths, but compromising my very essence.)

Reflection has verified this truth.  Throughout the years, there are many times when I have jeopardized my integrity.  These vary from blatant lies when I was much younger (the words seemed to be powered by forces beyond my control) to more recent, less obvious, but still internally damaging, denials of who I am created to be.

I’m sure there are numerous reasons for this behavior, such as old patterns engrained in my psyche, the human drive for self preservation and everyone’s desire to be accepted and loved.  Most likely my introversion has also played a part in this equation.  But, no matter what the cause, I do not want to continue to relate to the outside world in such a subservient way.  And, I know my God longs for me to be whole, complete and strong, so I may live in the truth of who I am no matter what the circumstance.  That is why He gave me this dream…to show the reason for and to open the door to the next leg of my healing journey.