Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Step 4: The Step that Keeps on Giving

Ah, the Fourth Step. It never ends. Once you figure out something--a repeating pattern, an emotion that pops up every now and then for you for no apparent reason, that sort of thing--you've got to go back and reexamine your whole darn life to see how that "something" has been operating in ways unknown to you. Maybe not to your detriment, but maybe it has kept you from seeing the reality of a situation more clearly, or maybe it has kept you from appreciating as fully as you could have the little gifts that life sometimes hands you.

In prep for a lit course I'll be teaching in the fall, I've been going back and reviewing literary theory, so now my poor ole head is full of Lacan and Freud and Jung. You can't help but apply this stuff to your own life as you're reading it. I am a psychoanalyst's fantasy client. I got a double whammy as a child--first the ultimate abandonment when my mother committed suicide (I was six), and then she was replaced by a stepmother who really didn't want kids, but she wanted my dad, so my brother and I came as just a part of the deal. She was impossible to please and pretty much just wanted us out of the way, ascribing whole-heartedly to the "children should be seen but not heard" method of parenting. We did not have family conversations, period. There were simply a set of rules. You were left alone if you behaved. But if you broke a rule--well, then it was out to the backyard to pick your own switch from the forsythia branches, strip it of blooms if there were any, then be beaten 'til you cried and then be beaten 'til you stopped. There were hot summer days I was made to wear long pants instead of shorts because my stepmother didn't want anyone to see the bruises on my legs. Poor, poor, pitiful me, I know.

Well, people who know this stuff about me and also about the child sexual abuse I endured from my best friend's father have wondered before where my values have come from. Believe me, there have been times even I have wondered why I'm not a complete sociopath. My answer is "books." It's true.  I picked up most of my simple-minded little childhood values from the books that I read. Reading alone up in my bedroom, out of everybody's way, was one of the safest things I could do. In the balance, I can't say books were a bad way to learn about what's good and right behavior and what is bad and wrong and selfish. But I did grow up with some "pie in the sky" ideals about how things should operate--so I waited out my childhood until I was an adult, when I was sure things would change because finally I'd be in control of my own life. Hah. That was the bad thing about being "raised by books"-- I wasted a lot of my adulthood being frustrated that the good guy did not always win (in fact, he often loses) and that life is often unfair and unjust (systems and ideologies and religions actually don't normally protect the good guys; they merely reinforce the status quo).  Yes, I've been boning up on my Marxist criticism, too.

The unfairness of it all made me drink, drink, and drink some more. At first it was just to help me continue in the old pattern of putting my feelings on hold while waiting for something better and bearing life that way. But as the years passed and as alcohol turned on me and it took more booze to make me not care, I often overshot and the pleasant, happy buzzes turned into rants and rages. Booze became a problem. Indeed, alcohol started to cause problems.

Well, it's delightful to figure all of that out, but the question becomes: now what?

Here I am, fifty years old, and I still suffer when I look around and see injustice and see the "bad guys" winning and see institutions that should serve to make us all better people with better lives doing anything BUT.  Lately I have been trying to persuade myself that it's "one person at a time"--each of us is challenged to evolve and become a better soul, and THAT is how change comes about. The Rosicrucians have been transformative in this regard.

But some days it doesn't feel like enough.

Today I have no answers. If anyone else does, I sure would like to hear your thoughts.


Julie B said...

Lovely and thought-provoking words, as usual, Joyce. Don Henley says we've been poisoned by the fairy tale, something I have struggled with for years. Interestingly, I think that might be even more true for people who had a more idyllic childhood than you did, when the harsh reality of life feels inconsistent with the cocoon in which they have been raised.

I think your follow-up post is a good beginning of an antidote.

Joyce said...

Thanks for this--I hadn't thought about how the opposite is true, too: those who grow up getting every need met are in for a rude awakening too. I guess at some point just about everybody has to deal with their ideals running smack dab into reality.

Well, I'm talking to God a lot nowadays and asking where I fit into the plan... :)