Sunday, March 05, 2006

For Your Approval

I have been working out of town during the week for almost 2 months now, and I am exhausted. This is a complete lack of work-life balance. I meet my co-workers for breakfast at 7, work until 7:30-8:30 (early in the world of busy season auditing), have dinner with my co-workers, drop into bed, get up and do it again. I miss going to the gym and writing after work, like I normally do in Seattle. I can honestly say, though, that I have learned from all the traveling I have done in this job.

I can pack like nobody's business. I can navigate any airport in a rental car. Security, delays, lost luggage, bad driving conditions, rude hotel staff- all in a day's work. I feel comfortable traveling on my own, and being on my own, which was not the case before. I feel independent and self-sufficient.

This was not always the case. When I was on the streets, I was so drunk, manic, and/or depressed that I could only manage to do 1 or 2 things a day, and 1 of those was to get drunk. There are few things as demoralizing as spending the day at the welfare office, and it exhausted me. I feel good about spending my Saturdays doing errands now, especially when my bikini wax is over.

One of the things that made it so hard for me to do everyday things is that sometimes I cannot deal with people very well. When people are rude to me, I take it personally. My job now, and waiting tables before, has helped me with that. People are rude, thoughtless, and insulting to me all the time, and it bothers me less and less. On the other hand, there are things about my job that really bring up issues for me. I suspect that some part of me is attracted to situations that challenge me, and this is certainly one of those situations.

I (don’t be too shocked) have problems with authority. These problems (again, don’t be shocked) have to do with my parents. Specifically, they have to do with approval, my desire for it and resentment about feeling that way. I know that the thing with my parents is huge- the foundation of it all. I come back to it again and again, as I am trying to deal with myself. I can recognize that I am replaying these frustrations- trying to fix the situation post-mortem through current situations and other people, instead of fixing the problem inside of me.

My dad and I were the best of friends until my brother was born when I was 6. He then made it clear that Jeff was his favorite, and that it was because I was a girl. My dad grew up in an abusive home, and instead of directing his anger at his abusive dad, he hated his mom and his older sister. He felt that his sister was favored, so he recreated the scenario with my brother and I, only this time with the favored brother and the abused sister. I know that the way I was treated had nothing to do with me; it had to do with my parents’ issues. At the time, though, I did not understand that, and the only explanation that made sense to me was that there was something wrong with me.

I developed this idea that in order for people to treat me decently, I had to earn it, and if I wasn't getting someone’s respect, I was not trying hard enough. I have a hard time recognizing that other people have their own issues that have nothing to do with me. I often hold myself responsible for other people’s behavior and think that if I am clever and smart enough I can fix it, not wanting to recognize a lot of things are out of my control and there is not much to do but accept it or walk away. It is also hard to see things for what they are when you are constantly reliving the past. I keep thinking I can win people’s approval, and that I will be recognized at work, and that will make up for my dad rejecting me when my brother was born. When my efforts do not get me the appreciation I crave, I feel inferior, and I want to rebel against the authority that makes me feel so bad about myself.

I have been awkwardly struggling to get out some of the anger and frustration I feel towards my parents. The fundamental issue I have is very powerful and very immature- what other people do is not always in response to me; the world does not revolve around me. My parents are only human, very flawed humans, and while that does not excuse what they did, I cannot make them 1) sorry in the way that I want them to be, 2) take it all back, 3) work out all their issues in a way that is satisfactory to me.

When I was in the foster home, I never wanted to speak to my parents again. I went to the house during the day and removed every single picture of me from their possession. I wanted to disappear and start a life completely separate from them. I could not walk away from my brother, though, so I kept in minimal contact with them. It broke my heart to not see my brother every day. He was, in fact, everyone in the family’s favorite. Everyone thought he was the normal one who would be successful, which put a lot of pressure on him and probably contributed to his suicide.

After Jeff’s death, I ended up making many of the decisions about the funeral and being the pulled together one, taking care of things. I was in shock, and I stayed in shock for the next 5 years. In the meantime, my parents tried to drag me into their very contentious divorce. Suddenly, they were proud of me. I feel like they have both tried to rewrite history, because Jeff could not possible be the favorite now, could he? My family knows nothing about unconditional love. I feel like a traitor just talking to them. I do not know if it is to the memory of all they have done to me, the memory of my brother, or just to myself in the present.

I still think the way they are treating me is bullshit. I am living with the consequences of what they did, not them. My dad is still spending his holidays with his uncle who sexually abused me, and he is being verbally abusive to my step-niece. My mom still guilt-trips me and messes with my head. Both of them seem to equate love with pressure and expectations that have nothing to do with me, that I validate them and cover up what they have done. All I can do is accept it or walk away, because I know I cannot fix them. I wish I had washed my hands of them after the funeral.

Which brings me back to my job. My friend (and former co-worker) and I were discussing how my job is like a bad relationship. You can never do anything to anyone’s satisfaction, constant criticism, the destruction of your self-esteem, isolation from your friends, and people taking their issues out on you. For me it is really difficult because I keep thinking I can make it better if I just try harder, work more, say the right things, whatever I can do to fix it. Little things give me hope, occasionally someone says something nice, and I think it will all turn around.

I just cannot accept it for what it is; I keep trying to turn it into something it is not. Just like I could never accept that there was nothing I could do to get my parents to treat me respect, and love me for who I am. Just like all the times I tried to earn caring and consideration from someone who was not giving it, instead of walking away from them.

What comes first, washing your hands or walking away?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From Friendster blog:

Parents can be hard. ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) has some interesting info on highly dysfunctional behavior that we learn from our parents, even if only one of them is/was drinking. I think the washing of the hands should come first. If you can't walk away just yet, at least the washing of the hands can help you build a protective force field around your heart allowing yourself the luxury of knowing that being born of them was nearly an accident of nature.

Posted by: Gail | March 8, 2006 09:25 PM