Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sailing The South Seas

I had my second appointment with my psychiatrist, Dr. M., yesterday morning. I think I'm in love with his aura. The man radiates tranquility, security, peace, and comfort. Being in his presence is soothing and relaxing. It's lulling. He is an incredible listener, insightful and non-judgmental, and his level of attention is extraordinary. While I'm talking with him he seems like he has all the time in the world to listen to and try to understand and help me. He makes me want to understand myself.

During our appointment, I happened to mention in passing, while I was making a completely unrelated point, that my parents are divorced. He paused in his note taking and looked up at me and said, "Divorced? When did that happen?" I said, "Oh, I didn't mention that in our first meeting?" No, no I didn't. Apparently, it slipped my mind. It appears I'm still in denial about the fact that it's suddenly started to bother me after 18 years.

We started talking about the divorce, and I did pretty well for about two minutes. I had been feeling good prior to coming to his office, and I had had no intention of crying or getting emotional this morning. That's why it was completely unexpected when I felt my face crumple and my eyes well up with tears while trying to respond to his question, "What is your understanding of why your parents got divorced?"

You would think that I would be OVER IT. In fact, until relatively recently (around the time that I started therapy) I didn't think that I had anything to get over. Which of course is the crux of the problem.

At the age of 12, when it happened, I shook it off. I understood that my parents were getting divorced because they had failed at the communication game. My Dad loved my Mom with everything he had, but he demonstrated that love through actions that did not translate into a love that my Mom understood or needed. My Dad showed that he loved my Mom by spending hours outside landscaping the yard, gardening, and refinishing not one, but two basements. My Mom wanted attention, someone to make her feel special and beautiful and desirable. She did not experience my father's actions as expressions of love for her, and she was profoundly unhappy.

I was a confidant to both of them, particularly my mother. I was sad for them, but I understood that it was their deal. Not mine. I never asked them not to get divorced. It wasn't my place and it would have been futile. I tried to help them get through it, and afterwards, when my siblings and I were on our joint custody schedule, I tried to keep us all together. I was compassionate, but I was all business. I was trying to make things work and get things done.

At the time of the divorce, I remember my mother telling my father that she did not love my father anymore, and then a little while later, that she had never loved my father. I thought this was true for most of the last 18 years. Recently, at the suggestion of my therapist, CG, I asked my mother about it. She said, "Why are you bringing this up now?" My mother and I don't talk about these sorts of things. I explained that it was something I was struggling with in therapy. She told me that it was probably something that she had said in anger, and that she didn't remember saying it. Hmmm...

It seems that at the age of 30, I've suddenly realized that I'm not sure how one knows what love is. You see, I don't want to be my Dad, who was told one day by the person he loved that they no longer loved him after 13 years. And I also don't want to be my mother, who woke up after 13 years and told the person she was supposed to love that she no longer loved them. It's a quandary when you don't want to grow up to be either one of your parental models (at least not this aspect of the models).

My Mom had a good point though, and yesterday in therapy I asked Dr. M. the same question. Through tears and tissues, and pauses to get a steely grip on myself - during which Dr. M. filled the silences by telling me that crying was OK - I explained that I had always thought that I had not been affected by the divorce, and I told him that I couldn't believe that it appeared to be affecting me now. In fact, I thought it was ridiculous that I was feeling like this now.

I grew up hearing all these people blame single mothers and divorce for destroying America's children and I laughed righteously. I had not been ruined by my parent's divorce. Neither had my brothers nor sister. We were good kids. We were successful, and we loved each other and our parents. Fuck those ignorant people. They did not know anything.

For 18 years I never cried about my parent's divorce. I would get disgusted and contemptuous with my mother every time she said she felt guilty. Guilty for what? I would ask. We are fine. Everyone gets divorced. There are lots of worse things in the world. The important thing was that we had had two parents who loved us. Who cared if they were together or not? But now, one question from Dr. M. and suddenly I had more tears inside me than I could hold in.

In answer to my question, Dr. M. told me that divorce is always traumatic for a child. Always? He went on to say that children cope in many different ways. He said that it sounds to him like I coped by refusing to let myself be affected emotionally by my parent's divorce. I just pushed it away and told myself that I was completely unaffected, and I believed it. (I was a very stubborn, strong-willed, and opinionated child). I did what I needed to do to protect myself. And for 18 years this brilliant strategy worked, more or less.

But now it seems that my powers of protection have started to fizzle out. According to Dr. M., I appear to be experiencing and confronting at least some of the emotions that I so successfully pushed away at the age of 12. It makes me feel a little bit like I'm losing my marbles. It's nice that I protected that 12 year old child, because I let her become the woman that I am today. But it's disconcerting to be experiencing emotions at 30 that I feel like I should have dealt with a long time ago.

It's difficult because I am not as tough as my 12 year old self was. I've realized during the last year that I have needs and vulnerabilities. She never needed anything, and she was not vulnerable. She rarely cried, and when she did it was usually out of rage or frustration. She was never depressed. She didn't have the patience for it.

I miss being encased in her seamless armor.


Amber said...

OMG what is that a picture of?? It scares me and fascinates me.

wordnerd said...

I've come to terms lately with the fact that 'sucking it up' is not healthy and that it mostly just delays the inevitable. I think that when I was younger, I would have just 'sucked it up' too if my parents had divorced.....and I think that it's completely abnormal that a thing so profound as a divorce would not affect some point.

JUST BEING, allowing yourself to feel whatever you are actually feeling and surrendering to really hard to do.... because once you let go....sometimes it's really scary because you can feel things so deeply and feel (at least I do) like it's never gonna get better...I guess we (I guess I should say I...because I can really only speak for myself) need to remember that feeling things is mostly healthy and that it's the only way to get through them...that and a good therapist...(PLUS some good vodka in th e freezer doesn't hurt every once in awhile!).

I think we'll be ok (I include you in this) because we have friends and family that love us and want the best for us and we are conscious that there's a part of us that needs some fixing.

PS - I think my twelve year old self would have been ass kicking best buddies with your tough little twelve year old self.

wordnerd said...

PS - Buttercup, I hope you don't mind that I linked to your post. Your post, as well as Andrea's (@ really resonnated with me and some of the things I have been going through. If a link bothers you, let me know and I'll take it down.

Wood said...

Powerful post, buttercup.

I was the same as you about my parent's divorce when I was younger. Whenever anyone would talk about how damanging divorce was to kids, I would be infuriated. Look at me! I'd say. I'm the most well-adjusted kid ever!

In the last year, though, things have changed. For me, it was having a baby. Once I had a baby I couldn't help but wonder about when my parents when they were new parents. On the one hand, it gave me a new perspective on how much love my parents, and all parents, have for their children. but on the other hand, because they divorced, and divorced when I was so young (age 3), it raises all sorts of new questions for me about the divorce -- questions I never used to have. I never used to allocate blame, but now I find myself siding with my mom and feeling outraged on her behalf at being left alone as a single mother with a 3 year old to raise. I also used to be great at believing that it wasn't about me -- you know, divorce doesn't mean that your parents don't love you. But there is a tiny part of me now that thinks if my dad had loved me the way that Dutch loves Juniper, he never would have left my mom. Because once you have kids, it isn't just about the two of you anymore -- it's about the whole family. I never realized that before.

I think I'm regressing. I know that those things aren't true and that I can't ever understand what their relationship was like (and they are both clearly better off with out each other), but I think because I denied myself the opportunity to even think about those questions when I was younger that I'm dealing with them now.

Anyway -- great post. Gave me a lot to think about.

Tracy said...

Hi Buttercup,

I feel proud of you after reading your post. Don't think of your newfound vulnerability as a weakness, but as a strength. It takes serious guts to step out from behind that armor and to just be and to feel and to really live. Your grief process has begun and that will lead to healing and growth. And I can't help but to think that it will also put you in a better place with R. Lots of love from sunny southern California!

Buttercup said...

You all are wonderful. Thank you for your comments. The picture is Pippi Longstocking. Around the age of 12, she sailed the South Seas all by herself as a pirate, owned her own horse, had a monkey, and lived by herself in a great big old mansion. She was one of my heros when I was younger.

wordnerd said...

Fifi Brindacier in french canada!

Gypsy said...

What a great read this was. Thanks for letting us in!

I think the Doc is right. All children are affected by divorce in some way. I was older when mine split: 18. At the time I was definitely sad and angry and disappointed, but mostly I was self-involved and had my own angst to deal with. It did hit me like a ton of bricks later, though.

I also think that around the late 20s to early 30s some switch gets turned on in the psyche where we can more clearly remember, confront, and process events from our childhood.

I'm bookmarking your blog :-)

Bean said...

You weren't 12...You were 14 years old because I was 6 in first grade.

Bean said...

And I remember specifically having Mrs. Smith (my 1st grade teacher) talk to me about it.

Bean said...

On a personal note and reflection of your past two post. This is Dr. Bean saying...You have a personal insecurity with the fact that you think Mom wasn't desired or made to feel beautiful and with that you internalized this feminist perspective and need for superiority over men. As well, that is probably a factor as to why you take a personla hit when RAj says another woman is pretty. You say that you didn't feel vulnerable when you were younger but that's wrong...everyone is vulnerable from the time they come into this world to when they leave. You were just hiding. But why be upset about it. You are a great person, beautiful, intellegent, etc. Us kids were better off that they got a divorce.

Buttercup said...

This is why LITTLE sisters, though incredibly wonderful, are not your therapists.

Also, to reiterate for the record: I do NOT believe that I am personally insecure. Do I have concerns about a long term relationship, and am I exploring how some of those concerns are connected to my feelings about the divorce? You bet.

Buttercup said...

AND, Ms. Bean, I was Twelve (at least when they started getting divorced - you probably don't remember that), because I remember talking to Mr. K, my Seventh Grade teacher. Possibly I was 13 when they finished getting a divorce. But I was most definitely NOT 14.