Tools of Recovery: Self-knowledge and Ownership of One’s Crappola

Take your life in your own hands and what happens?
A terrible thing: no one to blame. — Erica Jong

In the aftermath of my Humpty Dumpty leap yesterday, my son called me. As soon as I saw his face on my phone, I started crying . . . again.

For those who haven’t been following along and don’t know the history, here is the not so brief summary: I had him when I was 17. I didn’t know the depression I sometimes battled was actually Bipolar II Disorder. By the time I was 19, I was single parenting him, homeless, and stuck in a state away from the dysfunctional family I’d run away from. I ran back to them. I didn’t know I had PTSD. By the time I was 24, I was single parenting two children and had lived through a near suicide episode. I knew I was a mess, I just didn’t know what was wrong with me. Throughout all of it, my parenting consisted of yelling, threatening, emotional neglect, and counseling efforts to change his behaviors. I fought for him with school authorities, but, he never saw that. I loved him with everything I had in me to love with. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much because of how I had grown up and the brokeness inside of me. When I was 26 going on 27, I found myself enmeshed with and attached to a man who had impulse control and anger issues. We were a match made in purgatory. My son was 10. There were some good times. However, the volatility of the bad times, which often accompanied the cycling of hypomania and depression, on top of a constant state of anxious hypervigilance, overshadowed the good times. I fought for my son to be free from the chaos and sought more stable environments and people who I thought could offer what I couldn’t. He experienced it as rejection and abandonment. Since he was 16, for the past 12 years, our relationship has been very rocky and broken, to the point that just under three years ago, as an adult, he went through an adoption process. He didn’t just change his name, he cut any and all legal ties to me. Human In Recovery was born out of my realization that I had to figure out what was going on with me and learn how to live differently if I was ever going to have a relationship with him, be able to have a healthier relationship with my oldest daughter, and, hopefully, parent their youngest sibling in ways that enable her to reach adulthood knowing she is loved.

He and I have been doing a reconciliation dance since 2012, with many, many missteps, lost connections, and outright cessation. However, I’ve taken risks and steps to be in community with him and his family of choice and faith. Since last May, I’ve been attending their weekly faith meetings. Since October or November, my attendance has been inconsistent for a number of reasons, and we had one of those breaks in November and December. So, I wasn’t sure how solid or shaky our relationship was, when the ugliness and conflict happened between me, his sister’s boyfriend, and his sister yesterday. I was fairly certain that, once he heard about the incident and found out that I’d behaved the way I had, that would be the end of any future relationship. I was fearful and heartbroken, not just that I had lost future relationship with my daughter and her children, but that all progress between me and my son would be gone and I would be cut off permanently. I posted something to that effect in a private Facebook group for the community members affiliated with his church.

To see his face on my phone, him reaching out to me, when his usual response to my screw ups, real or imagined, is to withdraw, was such an unexpected happening. All of the fears and hopes overwhelmed me and tears just flowed.

We had a long conversation. I told him my actions: the whys and wherefores. I described my perspective of the events and behaviors of the others involved. I tried to keep it to “Just the facts, Ma’am,” and I did my best to be clear about what my role and behavior had been. He asked me how I was feeling.

“Ashamed, sad, heartbroken, angry. Overwhelmed.”

He told me that, as hard as it was, I was dealing with this honestly and facing things head on. “That’s huge growth,” he acknowledged.

We went on to discuss the circumstances and ongoing events which had led up to this incident. Part of that conversation included me identifying and recognizing characteristics his sister has which are part of a generational cycle of dysfunction. I essentially trained her and, through my behaviors, attitudes, and actions during the course of my nearly 18 year relationship with the father of my six year old, my daughter internalized a lot of messages about what it is to be a woman in relationship with a man. Thankfully, she’s a more engaged and openly loving parent than I was able to be, and my granddaughter is joyful and happy. However, she and my six year old are pretty much the only ones. But, I digress.

My son advised me to let go of self-blame, let go of shame, and ask for forgiveness. Even if my daughter and her boyfriend don’t forgive me, God and Jesus will, have, and do.

This morning, I was thinking about the events of yesterday and I realized three things:

  1. Mistakes, even huge ones, don’t have to be cataclysmic and apocalyptic, even if they feel that way.
  2. Even if the mistakes set back relational progress, they don’t erase personal growth that has been achieved.
  3. I need to examine my past and identify the triggers and why they are triggers, so that I can plan how to preempt my ballistic reactions to them.

Learning to live what you’re born with is the process, the involvement, the making of a life. — Diane Wakoski

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