Teaching an old dog new tricks


My back is at the stage that I’m fine once I’m up and walking. It’s just the getting up that’s a problem. Takes me twenty or so steps before I can actually straighten up fully. Before then, I’m hobbling around bent over like a hunchback. Nighttime is intermittent pain and sleep.

That pain just drives everything else out if it’s bad enough. It stokes my anger, too. Damned bastard back! I think as it spasms yet again while I try to stand up just to take a pee. Anger is so much more proactive a feeling than sorrow.

Not that the anger sits with me for long. It just comes and goes, stabbing at me in random fashion.

Been thinking a lot about my family. My DNA-brother is trying to be understanding out on FB. Trying, and failing miserably. I feel I can’t trust any sentiment that might once have made me feel like he’s a real human being. He’s so cold. So wrapped up only in his life. So unable to actually CARE for another person. Just when I think he might have changed, he lets loose with something that tells me no, same old same old just with a new coat of paint.

I know the bigger and better part of me needs to see past all that stuff. Hear the pain hidden behind his words.

And there is so much pain in my family.

Normal for me growing up meant stuff like my brother’s reaction to death – which only made him sad because it served to remind him that he, himself, would die someday – was okay. He was fine; no reason not to feel that way. I wasn’t told that was a cold, hard reaction. I was told MY reaction was out of line. That I needed to understand him, not the other way around. Same with my sister: when she had an off day, the family walked on eggshells. The second child in the family dictated everyone’s behavior because goddess! Don’t set her off. Let her have her way. Don’t speak up, don’t defend yourself, don’t cause any more problems.

You know: normal.

Problem is, that wasn’t normal.

Like a caged animal, though, that’s what I was fed. I was the one that was wrong for feeling unloved, unsupported. Their push me-pull me actions were not the problem; everyone did that. Siblings did that. The lying, the back stabbing – all part of being a ‘loving family’.

Don’t get me wrong here. This isn’t a blame-bash session. This is a full understanding coming on me. This is a I get it down to my socks kind of feeling.

No wonder any sign of human kindness blows me away. I never got it from the one source everyone said you always got it from: my family. Or if I did, it would be there one day and snatched away the next, replaced by ridicule and shame, making me even more vulnerable.

They taught me not to trust.

What happens to a puppy you raise when you feed it with one hand and cut it with the other? It grows up into a mad dog, biting the hand that feeds it.

And I know if that happened to me, it happened to my siblings. I know that underneath all my DNA-brother’s bullshit and hateful language lies a lot of pain. That pain lies underneath all I hate about my sister, too. I hear echoes of it in my uncle’s words.

My family is mentally ill. Even the ones that don’t have some built-in chemical imbalance or whatever you want to blame for mental illness.

We were raised in cages. Cages of crazed behavior passed off as normal.

It wasn’t until I began writing out here that I really started to learn about the rainbow variety of mental health. I saw myself in so many people’s words. And I began to learn that my ups and downs weren’t the ‘norm’. Not everyone struggled the way the tribe did, despite the fact I’d been told ad infinitum that my problems were not unique and everybody had to go thru it. Still, it was hard to stop blaming myself. My mother taught me (and was no doubt taught by her mother) that discipline and iron will are the only things that can pull you through life. Just stop thinking that way, she’d say to me so many times. But for me, stopping my circular thoughts was impossible. I was weak for not being able to do it. Weak, on top of everything else. Wasn’t ’til I came out here that I began to acknowledge how strong you’ve got to be to do this.

The door is open. I had a dream as a kid about being in this huge house. A mansion, a castle. So many rooms, but no door leading outside. Only one, hidden in the basement. An old door I’d assumed was locked. But as I touched the doorknob, the door swung open. It had never been locked; it was always open.

Almost forty years on and I feel today like I finally understand that dream. That door – the way out of the madness I was raised in – was always available to me, always open and ready to walk through. I’ve just been too afraid to walk through it.

I feel like one of those rescued dogs you see on tv adverts. Half starved, barely able to stand, blinking against the light because it’s been in the dark for so long.

Now begins the long task of teaching this old dog new tricks.



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