Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Unexpected Remorse

My relationship with my Mom has changed a lot. I didn't want to cut her off entirely, but at times when I'm processing some of the events from my childhood it makes it hard to be around her. Her health has been poor pretty much my whole life and drives so much of her constant state of anxiety & irritation that I make a conscious decision not to confront her about the past. For the same reason I try to nurture the connection between us, knowing how painful for her it would be if I stopped communicating.

To me it has felt the more compassionate choice for both of us to find a way to be present to her while taking care of my boundaries and needs. When angry, frustrated and hurt I try to do Loving-Kindness practice for myself and not feel too guilty for not seeing or talking to her. Hogen suggested that I ignore her behavior when it is hurtful, not compassionate and really make a point to give attention to her when I recognize behavior I know is healthy.

I have worked to accept that I cannot change my Mom or expect her to learn or change. I do have control over the way I learn from my past and how I choose to react to it. I am the one who is in the present moment and I can respond to that. That is how I face that my Mom has consistently minimized, re-framed, and passed off all responsibility for the actions she chose during my childhood.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday my Mom actually admitted that while she thought sometimes she was making a good decision for me, she knew she wasn't. She also said she knew at times she wasn't doing the right thing. Mom particularly noted that she feels remorse for forcing me to respect my aunt and my grandmother, punishing me when I questioned that respect.

For all the present-moment-wasting times I've played out conversations in my head with her she never once admits responsibility. It is so entirely unexpected. I was honestly stunned and just tried to stay open, neutral and present to her when she was talking. Oh, that and safely navigate the car in ugly, suburban traffic.

CK asked me if I acknowledged her for telling me all this, for taking responsibility. We both went back to Hogen's advice. I said I don't think I did, I was too surprised by it. I'm trying to come up with a way to make sure I do bring some mindful appreciation to her action.

I'm still rather stunned by this. I've played out conversations in my head with my Mom so many times. Conversations with people is one of the things my brain does a great deal of the time when I'm avoiding the present moment.

These imaginary conversations have often been painful, sometimes angry, but never has she taken responsibility. I never practiced my response for that in my head.


Can’t see the Way for the mileposts

I woke up just past 6AM with no alarm, just awake to the brightness of what promised to be a hot August day by Portland standards. I didn't feel too exhausted. I was alert but something about it let me know that I was still anxious just below the surface. I'd taken some melatonin the night before and felt like I had rested, but the grief and anxiety from yesterday still persisted.

I came into the office to find that important reports still had not been run as expected. I sat down to my day and let my mind settle into the tasks at hand. I worked on projects steadily until CK came to meet me for lunch. We walked over to Blossoming Lotus for another tasty lunch. I was able to have the big salad I was craving and CK enjoyed her usual, yummy barbecue tempeh sandwich.

Sometime during lunch, with a toddler making hot, impatient sounds, she said my email about having a baby together was sweet. I felt some of the grip of the anxiety let up. We talked briefly on all the things we have to figure out in the next few years and that could settle. This possibility, these feelings are ones wholly new and while not entirely terrifying, I feel keenly vulnerable in exploring them.

Sitting in the park after lunch for a few minutes I told her that I was trying to make space to allow myself to feel grief about my past. During the first 30 years of my life (I had started to say childhood and she pointed out that my first marriage wasn't supportive either) I wasn't able to really experience the sadness, anger, and fear. Not only did I not know any other way, but the times when I did experience those emotions I wasn't supported and at times I was punished for it.

Underneath my impatience is fear. Fear that my loved ones are eventually going to get tired of me going in and out of waves of sorrow all the time. That the burden of my need for support will grow to be too much. That I'll no longer fulfill them and they'll withdraw at best, leave at worst. So I want to "get over it", want to stop being reminded of my past, my pain.

I wish there was some kind of time line for this. A project plan with due dates, task lists, even meetings and go/no-go decisions. I want this process to be something I can organize, categorize, and understand the process of. I don't feel like I see that I'm reaching milestones. My therapist points them out to me, but since I am not actually feeling better I don't feel like I've accomplished anything.



Today turned out to be less productive and more stressful than I was anticipating. DW came to have lunch with me finally, after changing schedules, over sleeping and coming late. Things went OK until I commented on that I felt sometimes she wasn't very compassionate in her view towards people in general. She got defensive immediately, I withdrew and noted to never mind because I just wanted her to have a good trip. She immediately stormed off to her car. Upon my insisting she talk to me she made a point to defiantly light a Camel.

This blow up is really a long time coming. When I split up with her father she really made a lot bad choices that hurt everyone in her life a lot. It culminating her in assaulting a police office and being put into state mandated therapy, at first in a locked up facility. She told me in as many words to stay out of her life.

Per the therapist decision they decided to work with the relationship between DW's father and her, leaving me out. Since I made both DW and her father uncomfortable they were both glad to leave me out. A couple of years passed. DW even made a point in her blow up today to note that she didn't decide to leave me out. I chose not to point out to her that her therapist didn't preclude her from contacting me, rather the decision was to limit family therapy to just her Dad and her.

Later she contacted me a little, making a couple of hesitant phone calls. When she got closer to being released I was invited to come to a final therapy session. At that time DW noted that she just had to be in the present, wouldn't talk about anything that had happened, and was very defensive. When I suggested that there wasn't any "going back" to how things had been years prior, that things would have to be established all over again, including trust, DW told me I was being unreasonable. Just as she expected.

Since then I have seen very little of DW. She has been doing the things she wants to do, even more so now that she is 18. He father continues not to talk to me -- DW tells me it is because I have wounded him so much; I did point out that he hurt me a great deal too. She will come over, occasionally when I've made a point to contact her, for dinners and tell me everything she is up to.

Today I found out that I have just not been living up to the expectations of "Mom". DW really feels a need to have me be in the role of mother for her since her own mother was crazy and abusive. I'm the only person who has ever given any serious effort to the role in her life and that I went on with my life when she told me to get out has apparently been very painful. I was told I should have not listened to her, I should have pushed it on her.

She continues to be so defensive that it was really impossible to get her to see that it isn't blame that I'm laying at her feet, I'm just noting the truth. She didn't want me involved in her life and I listened to her. I've tried to make myself available to her, but she has set priorities to be with her friends and do the things 18 year-olds do. I've often had to be the one to send text messages or leave voice mails to get her to come over and let us know how she is doing.

Ultimately things ended on a more positive note. I think it made it clear to her that although one relationship is gone, we cannot time travel and do it over again, but there is a way for us to build a new relationship. Oddly enough this is practically what I said to her when she was released to her father's custody again. Maybe she's in a better place to hear it now. I hope so.

I don't have a good road map for being a good mother. An 18 year-old, who isn't even my daughter by biology or marriage, wanting me to be a good mom seems to be a really big challenge. I can think of a long list of mistakes I made when I was trying to parent her age 4 through 12. I do believe I owned up to making a mistake with her right away, if not immediately, apologized, and tried to not ever make the same mistake again. But now, how do you suddenly parent an adult?

Kind of moot for a while. DW is off to parts East to see the country. Wander her way around with no responsibilities. I think it is OK that she does this although it is clearly something that my own mother would never have let me do. I was paying bills, paying for college, paying for books, paying for loans, and encouraged to get out of the house as quickly as I could. Pushed into the decision to move in with someone before I was really ready to. It is something I've always kind of wished I could do and now seems even more unlikely.

Maybe by the time she's back I'll have a better handle on her wanting me to really be in a parent role again. Funny how it is totally a role. The only thing keeping it in place is the desire to have it there. She wants, from the way she sounded this afternoon, feels a need to have me play this role for her. There was part of me that just wanted to walk away when she stormed off. I guess some part of me still plays the role too since I went after her instead and despite it looking strange, sitting on the sidewalk next to her car while she talked to me.