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Blog

These are my thoughts, yo.

Filtering by Category: Relationships

The Night We Left

jasmine banks

It was dark and he had her pinned up against the wall. He pushed his face to her face, nose to nose. "There isn't anywhere you can run that I won't find you," he threatened. I believed him. She turned her head to the side and locked eyes with me. I winced and tried to ask her if she needed me to call someone. Not the police. Last time they came the beatings just got worse. I was the witness... the watcher... as he held her pinned to the wall. I was always the watcher. Even when he beat her behind closed doors I could hear her quiet pleas that he not wake up me and my brother. She was worried, even as her body was being used as a punching bag, for the tranquility of her children. "Let them rest. Let them not hear or know." Her incantations and utterances failed, because my sleep was never deep enough to ignore her, our, reality. 

 I could see her flesh turning red from his grip around her arms. That night after he left to wherever he'd go after he was finished raging, my mom shook me awake. My brother was in bed with me, our two small bodies buried under the blankets and still shaking from the fearful scene we witnessed earlier. It wasn't the first time, but my mother resolved that it would be the last. "Jasmine... pack a bag we are leaving," she whispered, and then she swept out of the room and I heard rustling in her bedroom. She was packing. We were leaving.  I knew what to do. I'd practiced it several times already in hopes that I might run away, though I never planned far enough to know where I'd run away to. I packed my things and my brothers things, making sure not to forget his E.T. doll. The fur of the doll was matted and worn down in places and the eyes were full of scratches and marks from where Isaiah dragged E.T. across the floor. I grabbed Strawberry Shortcake because she smelled like dessert and childhood and maybe a nice home with no stress about not having enough food stamps. We arrived at an nondescript building. It said "Y.W.C.A" on the outside and I had no idea what those letters even meant. My mom rang a doorbell under the florescent lit awning. A old white woman answered the door, looked around, and then ushered us in with a confusing sense of urgency. "He didn't follow?" she asked my mother, as if she knew her. "No. It is just us." That was the last night we saw him, my father, and the first night in a long string of nights to sleep in a homeless shelter. 

My mom did it. Something snapped in her and that beating was too much.  The first time he hit her I was 6 months old and in her arms. His hair trigger temper was tripped and he picked up a chair and slammed it across her back indiscriminately. She said I went fly, and thankfully landed somewhere soft, though years later her body still ached in places where the chair struck a blow. That beating wasn't enough. She stayed, stuck with a new baby, and tried to hold her marriage together. Years later after my brother was old enough to form words I remember him bravely screaming at our father to stop hitting hurt. My brother was full of courage. I was more calculating and spent my time thinking of ways I wished he would die. I don't know what was different about that night. Maybe it was how her eyes fixed on mine. Maybe it was because this time she knew I knew. I'm not sure. For whatever reason that moment was enough. Something inside welled up with bravery and she found the strength to leave. She resuced me and my brother. That was the night we left.

 

 

Your Mom Was Wrong About You

jasmine banks

We are taught to believe a lot of things about ourselves. Our family of origin imparts to us all sorts of messages both true and untrue. Regardless of what your caregivers did or didn't show you about your value... you are valuable. You are worthy of care and love and wellness. In some families the common thread, the unspoken rule, is you can't get well... you can't be "better" than me. This rule basically is the one that leads a sister to sabotage another sister's weight loss efforts, motivate a mother to keep her daughter from leaving to college, or catalyze a father's disapproval of someone dating a higher educated partner. Within the paradigm of the family rule is anxiety and fear that if someone leaves the fold in any particular way (even to improve themselves) it will put too much stress on the family system.

"Oh! You must think you're a big shot now that you are college educated." Really should sound more like, "I am afraid. I feel dumb and uneducated and your college degree somehow ignites these anxieties in my further." Obviously we don't REALLY talk like that, and I don't know if we should. Underneath every message, though, is a meta message that shows the true intent of what we are trying to gain.

This family rule informs the family structure. Underneath this rule is the fear that "if ____________gets better/sober/happier/more educated/married to someone "better" than me, I'll have to face who I am." Families and friends become uncomfortable or even stand in the way of a loved one's progress because the loved one "getting better" ultimately shines a light on their own very fractured lives. Some might know it as the "Momma is  happy or no one is happy" rule.

There have been intersections in my life where I realized part of my anxiety has been fueled by two conflicting world views. I carried the belief, as I had been taught directly and indirectly, that I am not deserving of self-care and to "make myself a priority" is selfish. The other part of me has slowly learned that I am full of value.  The impasse was: 1) embrace what you've been taught about your value- you are worthy (which means your parents were SO so SO wrong in some of the myths they taught you about yourself) or 2) keep the status quo firmly in place and live in the internal chaos of ignoring self-care and needs.

Who wants to have to say to themselves that their parents were wrong or even abusive and harmful in the things they were taught. All of us wants to believe are parents aren't lying to us, that they have our very best in mind. Some of us even go to great lengths to prove their parents right. I have a friend whose mom and sister made fun of her physical appearance and ridiculed her. Today she feels deep shame when she "dresses nice" or buys things for her appearance. She was indoctrinated with the belief that she is ugly no matter what and not deserving of outward beauty, so it follows that the simple act of replacing a shirt with a hole in it might incite anxiety. It is easier to place the blame on ourselves and take responsibility, "they must be right I must be ugly", rather than buck up and say, "they are VERY wrong about this." In fact, it might be developmentally impossible, as we are programmed to need our family of origin until we eject from the nest. Maybe we override the self in favor for some awful things that are said and done to us in order to survive a little longer. Another friend of mine was told by her father she was a whore. She became "promiscuous". Against her better instincts she slept around and slept around until one day she wrote to me, "I was trying to prove him right. I needed his love more than anything else. Admitting that he was mean and called me a whore because of his own issues meant I also had to embrace that in the moment he called me a whore he wasn't caring for me."

And there are less extreme examples-

There is the family who KNOWS that when __________is in a bad mood we all tread lightly. It is the reality that a single person's demeanor influences and controls the whole. Don't be too happy (i.e. embrace your individual emotional state) because so and so is feeling cranky.

I've made decisions over the last few years that have felt like rejecting my mother. She taught me, as a result of her own trauma, a lot of false things about myself. When I let go of the myths I learned from her and other family members I find myself experiencing the fear of a little girl afraid to disappoint her mother, her aunt, her grandmother....

Today I am further along on my journey. I am getting better everyday at doing simple things that tend to my well-being and help me care for myself in a balanced way. The hurt girl inside is learning better ways to behave, ways that don't include utter fits of emotional rebellion that involve binge eating, harmful relationships, and shame. It is okay that my mom and dad were wrong about me... after all, parents can't be right about everything.

Opening Up

jasmine banks

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So many self-help books tout that in order thrive in life you have to "stay open". Dr Quinn The Medicine Woman even had a line of jewelry about being "open-hearted". In the commercial she shows all kinds of relationships that were better for opening their hearts. We are supposed to believe these relationships, some at least, are diametrically opposed. Like the "goth daughter" with her mom. This commercial cracks me up!Kay Jewelry Open Heart Commercial

Dumb and cheesy commercial aside, this language is actually about trust. It is hard to stay open and extend trust for most people. It is especially difficult for those of us who are closed in many ways. If you know what I mean, you understand the mental wrestling matches we go through when we are talking about trust. When your primary messages were lessons about how untrustworthy caregivers are, trust is a dangerous word. Trust means letting your guard down. Trust means you aren't ready to sprint when danger hits. And danger WILL hit because that is just how your world works. When the calm of life settles in your suspicious increase, because your fight or flight tells you that someone unseen and dangerous is on the way. I've been intentional, over the years, about adopting a worldview that supposes people are born good and have the tools in them to be the best versions of theirselves. I've adopted this view as a means of survival, and because I have growing proof that it is mostly true. It has been the only way to diffuse my fight or flight responses that are almost always on high alert. There is a continual mantra in my head: "you are safe. you are okay. you are an adult now. you know how to protect and care for yourself. you are safe." I have so much proof of this worldview in my life. I've had so many people intervene with love and support and grace over my lifetime. The struggle has been the people who are not proof of that worldview. They aren't random outliers. They are people that we believe we should be able to trust: "friends", mothers, sisters, fathers, pastors, teachers, family. We all know folks who seem to continue cycles of hurt and suffering habitually. We've been those people, at times, that have hurt others- but the difference is the pattern. The line between those of us who are damaged and working through the wreckage we cause and those of us who are damaged and cause wreckage is responsibility Look for the ones who say sorry AND change their actions. Look for the ones that exercise repairing behaviors for their offenses, not compensating behaviors. After all, our pain and suffering in relationship with others is not about an exchange that requires pay out. So should we open up? Should we trust. The answer is yes. We should open up and trust ourselves first. We should open up and trust, in time, with the people who deserve that honor. Trust is something you exercise for yourself... Not because someone "deserves" it.