• jess

LIVE: From my childhood home. Talking 'bout family triggers.

I think most of us struggle with being back home. And yet, here I am. Three weeks into chilling in Illinois. It's literally the longest period of time I've spent with my mom in over 10 years - probably more like 15, if we're considering how much we actively avoided each other during my busy adolescence.


So, hey. What's up trauma? I'm doing something I never thought possible. You can git fucked.


I don't need to tell you, Complex Trauma makes family visits complicated and upsetting, even 20 years after shit was going down.


The old dynamics live on; even when you try to change them in yourself, it's natural to fall back into the same patterns when you're around old influences.


The old dynamics live on; even when you try to change them in yourself, it's natural to fall back into the same patterns when you're around old influences.

And those old patterns can drive you to the brink of insanity.


No matter how old I get, I still feel like a broken kiddo when I'm back here around my gnarly family tree.








The gnarled family tree


I'm happy to say, I'm dealing with a truncated family experience.


My dad has been out of the picture since I was 11 (my choice, and I stand by it... happy belated Father's day, butthole). My oldest brother and I mutually keep our distance for the time being, because we trigger the fuck out of each other and it gets very explosive. And my middle brother is happily hanging in Ukraine - even though he's my life raft normally when I'm back at home, there are some difficult dynamics there, too.


That means, I'm really just dealing with my mother. And we've been through a lot together in the past year that positively changed our relationship for the best.


My mo was there for me like no one else was when I left my toxic ex and lost everything last year. We spoke on the phone nearly every day. She WAS my support system. We got to know each other more as "humans" than "mother and daughter." It's a weird blessing that came out of a terrible time.


Still...

When I come home, my mom is going to act like I'm an idiot. And it's going to try my last motherfucking nerve.


When I come home, my mom is going to act like I'm an idiot. And it's going to try my last motherfucking nerve.

She will treat me like I'm 10 years old. She will make insulting suggestions about every single thing I do. She won't take my words at face value - we'll have circling conversations where I state "yes, mom, the words I'm saying are exactly what I mean." She will poo-poo my emotions and shut down if I express my feelings.


I will get very frustrated and the tension will build. Then, I'll feel the guilt and shame of "being a bad daughter" after I snap. We'll start avoiding each other.


I'll continue to spiral, as I kick myself for being impossible. Difficult. Overly emotional. ALL the things I heard growing up.


I'll continue to spiral, as I kick myself for being impossible. Difficult. Overly emotional. ALL the things I heard growing up.

Thank god, we're past the point of getting into terrible screaming matches these days. But, up until a few years ago, we used to engage like I was back in high school, being an indignant punk.


The problem for me has consistently been, she was insultingly reductive and refused to ever hear me out about my perspective for many years of my adulthood. I was still pissy about always being the silent little helper whose fate was determined by other people for all my childhood, including her.


Plus, I was full of damaged ego for being a fucking published cancer researcher who was still treated like a handicapped child whenever I walked in the door.


Now, we have a better understanding. She's a sweet lady, and we have a lot more transparency and depth between us... but these old patterns of constantly questioning my capabilities while also semi-worshipping my accomplishments still drive me up the motherfucking wall.


I know she's trying to "help." I know she's just my mom. But goddamn it, I grind my teeth around her.


I'm even happier to say, my trauma recovery has helped her trauma recovery. And this lady didn't even acknowledge she had any mental illness until a year ago. Small wins for Jess.

I'm just glad we can talk about trauma, depression, and anxiety now. She says more than "I just don't get it" and walking away. It's taken years, but improvements have been made, and it really helps with my trauma recovery progress when I'm back at home.


I'm even happier to say, my trauma recovery has helped her trauma recovery. And this lady didn't even acknowledge she had any mental illness until a year ago. Small wins for Jess.





The black sheep

If you've made progress on your mental health recovery, there's a great chance your family hasn't. Then, rather than trying to learn from you about themselves, they probably shut you out.


It's intimidating for them to be around someone with some trauma recovery a lot of the time. You're the black sheep who's trying to disrupt the old way of being with information and lingo that no one else understands or accepts.


People often aren't always ready to confront what happened or to take accountability for the ways they continue to perpetuate trauma cycles. They don't necessarily want to change their victim mindset.


People often aren't always ready to confront what happened or to take accountability for the ways they continue to perpetuate trauma cycles. They don't necessarily want to change their victim mindset.

In my family, I'm the mental health obsessed one. No one else has received any counseling or therapy for the 20-40 years of bullshit we all went through. And make no mistake, my family had it a LOT worse than I did. Still, no one else talks about it. No one else really even acknowledges that our home was different from others.


There's a lot of denial.

At best, my brothers will say "everyone has a fucked up family," and talk about some depression/anxiety that they believe is unique to them when they're trying to shut down the conversation.


(i.e. "You don't know what it's like to be me, I lie awake at night and think about everything I've ever said before!" lawl, yeah no idea what that's like.)


My brothers also see our early lives with my father differently than I do. They talk about those particularly shitty years as just that - some rough times. I think their advanced ages and father-son bonds with my dad before he went off the opioid deep end really gave us unique experiences and family narratives.


And, well, they don't value my perspective. Trying to talk to them about old family matters is futile 90% of the time, and leaves me feeling worse than ever. So... we don't really go there.


And, well, they don't value my perspective. Trying to talk to them about old family matters is futile 90% of the time, and leaves me feeling worse than ever. So... we don't really go there.

My mom will acknowledge that shit was fucked back in the day, but it quickly devolves to a place of self-blame. She doesn't like to talk about it, and she didn't/doesn't/can't realize the full impact of being a kiddo while these things were going down. It just breaks her head as a mother who never wants to see her kids suffer.


She completely shuts down during these conversations about the past. I don't think she's fully integrated her years of abuse and desperate support of her heroin addict son yet, let alone being able to comprehend how I was doing as a child in the background.


I get it. But I want it to improve, for everyone.





The energy is kinetic


Being around the anxiety and unexamined fucked up core beliefs of my family members is very hard on my recovery most of the time. Their energy is easily transferred to me. Their weird actions and quirks spark tense memories that still live in my body.


And I don't always feel in control when I'm around them.


Being around the anxiety and unexamined fucked up core beliefs of my family members is very hard on my recovery most of the time. Their energy is easily transferred to me. Their weird actions and quirks spark tense memories that still live in my body.

The most dramatic case is my oldest brother. Frankly, he reminds me too much of my dad to be comfortable around him most of the time. We also have a rocky history between us, going back to his days of taking over the family addiction business and putting us through a daily hell.


He was a violent, deceitful little fucker... I haven't quite gotten rid of that decade+ of bad memories and physical instincts.


To this day, his presence puts me on edge and vice versa; we're always just one wrong word away from a mutual fight/flight response. We have eruptions between us, screaming face to face like back in the old days. Only he's even bigger and scarier now as a meathead tradesman than he used to be as a strung out addict.


It gets semi-dangerous when we're together, to be honest. Even five years into his sobriety, we find things to scrabble about. They seem like automatic responses that neither of us can control. It's not a good look for anyone involved.


It gets semi-dangerous when we're together, to be honest. Even five years into his sobriety, we find things to scrabble about. They seem like automatic responses that neither of us can control. It's not a good look for anyone involved.

At this point, I just keep my distance from my oldest bro and save us both the triggerings. I think it's for the best, at least for the time being.


My middle brother, Eric, who wrote a guest post for me from Ukraine... is well, in Ukraine.


Normally, he and I are best buds when I'm back home. We get along great 98% of the time. The only issue being, his presence definitely encourages me to be shitty.


Shitty how? Shitty to myself. Eric is a pack a day smoker and a fan of beer. We have the most therapeutic hang-sessions, listening to old punk rock tunes from our adolescence and giving my mom a hard time in playful jest... buuuut we're also drunk from dawn to dusk, making frequent visits to the patio for cigarette breaks.


We don't really "do" anything other than hang together and go to Chicago to hang there with our oldest, bestest, friends. And drink more there. While eating Taco Bell.


After a few days of hanging out with my middle brother... well, I look and feel like shit. I'm back in my old patterns that don't serve me anymore.


After a few days of hanging out with my middle brother... well, I look and feel like shit. I'm back in my old patterns that don't serve me anymore.

Emotionally, I feel enlightened and loved. Physically, I'm bloated with salty snacks and alcohol, and my lungs are crunchy with smokey abuse. I'll probably develop a sinus infection. I'll probably continue daily drinking after we part ways. It's a double edged sword.


I love Eric more than just about anyone on the planet, but I need to have a handle on my own negative coping behaviors before we're palling around. Or else I'm setting myself back 100 yards on the mental health management front.


Next up, the force I'm contending with now. Momzilla. See, my mother can be calming or riling, depending on the moment.


Let me state again, we've had our times of being shitty to each other, but she's not inherently a bad lady. She doesn't try to use or abuse. She's a kind, caring human.


It's her unmanaged mental health that causes me grief. Namely, all that neuroticism plays with mine.


It's her unmanaged mental health that causes me grief. Namely, all that neuroticism plays with mine.

My mom's general go-go-go activity level and penchant for bursting into a room to disrupt whatever I'm doing with an anxious outburst definitely encourage the anxiety living in my own system. Her unfocused thinking and tendency to say she's doing one thing while actively doing another make my agitation grow. She's unpredictable and trying to align my schedule with hers is damn near impossible.


Then... her whirling thoughts make it difficult to have deep conversations... which is all I really ever want, if you hadn't noticed.


Sometimes, trying to have a discussion with my mom is just a futile effort. I've learned to frame our conversations with letting her vent until she runs out of words to say and then telling her I have an important topic before I ever approach what's on my mind. It's not ideal, but it's a strategy I've been trying... and it's working.


In short, the little lady means well... but she basically runs in circles all day, talk talk talking about whatever random thought enters her brain. Is there a human in the room? Nah, she could be talking to the dog, the horses, or the imaginary twitter universe about her hatred of Trump. The whole time, she's doing half a task here and two things over there - manically running from one end of the farm to the other. It's dizzying.


This energy is killer for me, as far as pumping anxious vibes into the house. Oh boy, they rile up my physical symptoms. I can feel my stress rising just talking about it.


This energy is killer for me, as far as pumping anxious vibes into the house. Oh boy, they rile up my physical symptoms. I can feel my stress rising just talking about it.

But I accept her, and we're figuring it out. We both WANT a relationship, and that's the most important part.





Family wrap


So, in a nutshell, those are my family dynamics that still test me to this day. And yeah, I'm still avoiding some of them. I think it's the best we can do, considering where everyone is at on their own trauma acknowledgement and recovery path.


So, in a nutshell, those are my family dynamics that still test me to this day. And yeah, I'm still avoiding some of them. I think it's the best we can do, considering where everyone is at on their own trauma acknowledgement and recovery path.

Happy to say, just dealing with my mom's high neuroticism has been mostly doable... after some adjustments and strategic re-alignments on both people's parts.


I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to stay up here, but it's reassuring to know that if everything goes to hell with my semi-unemployment experiment, I can potentially survive in her home.


I just have to keep working hard on my positive coping skills and adaptive behaviors. Some day, maybe 4/5ths of this family will be able to get together and act like a real family.


I got it. We all do.



Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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