A Cracked Christmas…and why I am addicted to being in control.

blur close up crack cracker

My mom was a hoarder. Although I didn’t have a word for it in my childhood as the TV show, Hoarders, didn’t exist. I just knew something wasn’t right with her. We had two deep-freezes full of outdated butter and other things. Mom bought more boxes of butter (and fish sticks and ice cream) on every grocery run. When a freezer got too full, she added more freezers.

Each December I would beg to decorate. My school friends’ Moms put their trees up the day after Thanksgiving. Eventually Mom would nod with a dramatic ‘fine’, and I would climb into the attic to the boxes marked x-mas. I would sift through them and only put out the newer decorations. The cracked silver bell door hanger and the dusty choir boy candles from the 1950’s  stayed at the bottom of the box with the burned out lights, broken tree ornaments and stinky wax poinsettias things. Mom hoarded everything she ever received that had anything to do with anything; and especially Christmas. Yet it also seemed she hated everything to do with Christmas–at least when I was around.

I am an artistic type and so I enjoyed the entire process. All alone I would put the tree up–pushing the stacks of hoarded stuff to the corners of the living room. Mom stayed busy in the kitchen. Dad would come home and declare it looked good; and then now you just need to leave it that way. Then he’d turn to mom and tell her she always over did it and put too much stuff out. I would sing inside at the rare praise, hoping that Mom would listen to Dad.

A few days later, I returned home from school to the harsh reality of my life. Mom had oodles of cookies piled up in the kitchen. She’d already done her work in the living room. The tree sagged, overwhelmed with too many ornaments, many cracked, glued together, and dirty. The bookshelves overflowed with grimy candles. The counters in between the two rooms were covered with nut trays and waxy poinsettias (with layers of dust– too old to come clean). She had redone my decorating; putting it just as she wanted it–and how she wanted it was to have the entire house overflowing with broken, old, fused together…stuff.

I didn’t actually process what that felt like, until I started therapy a few years ago. Yesterday I found my therapy notes about my childhood Christmases. It was insightful to re-read. I could still feel the raw emotions that I felt when I first penned the ‘exchange’ between my younger self and my adult self. But the hard feelings were subdued now; less painful.

I also realized, as I read through the memories: this is why I am addicted to control. This is why I became co-dependent.

There was no submission to one another in our household, and no respect. Boundaries were non-existent. There were ongoing power plays and codependency followed by reluctant obedience followed by retaliations to prove who was really in control. Mom hoarded and ignored. Dad screamed and hit. The uncles molested and assaulted. They were all perverse with one another. And they lived, willingly, with all of it. Controlling their own little worlds, oblivious to the damages done to themselves or others. Just so long as they remained in control of something and/or someone. (Children being the easiest to control).

I decided that most things were my fault, or my responsibility. Now I see that was a form of maintaining some sense of control. In reality, I was in danger. I was abandoned and neglected and outright abused. That truth was too scary to realize, though. I chose the easy lie–that I had deserved it all for being bad.

As an adult my efforts to be in control of the narrative did double-duty each Christmas season as the stress and expectations mounted. I tried to make the holiday into a Hallmark movie for the entire family; hosting gatherings and making nice. I had my own boxes in the attic marked x-mas–yet Mom’s tired junk made its appearance anyway in my own home. She reminded everyone of what a fussy baby I had been. She asked catty questions about how much ‘that new bedspread had cost’ (even though my bedroom door was kept closed, and eventually locked, during family gatherings)…but…. So long as the house and the decor looks nice I can make everything inside of me, and others, be nice as well!!

Nope. I could never control my family. They won every time. Sadly, I still let them win sometimes- even though I have estranged myself now.

As a child I fluffed out that fake tree and made things pretty and believed it could work. I thought Mom would let me have some say, that she would honor my need to have a pretty home, that she might honor ME. She let me get by with it for a day or two. Then she showed us who really ran the house. I’d return from school, see those cracked silver bells on the front door and knew I couldn’t win.

Mom sat wordlessly during dinner, ignoring my dad when he yelled, veins popping in his head, because he couldn’t find his reading glasses with all the bleeping Christmas $*^! on the countertops.

I barely touched my dinner. Then I ate cookie after cookie, their rotten butter and outdated flour putrefying with everything else inside my guts. The next day I’d likely have to skip school, again, due to stomachache.

Dad hit with his hands and cut with his mouth. But in her own way; Mom won the fights. She got what she wanted and what she wanted was to hang on to every old thing she could and to insulate herself from everything. Misery loves company; as they say.

But some things are actually better cracked — like nuts. So the real question is: can I let go of my own need to insulate myself from pain; letting the cracked parts of y life reveal the tender flesh within?

I think so. Probably for the wrong reasons though. Oh, I think I have healed a lot in my recovery process. All I have to do is read some old journal entries to realize that. But, well, mostly I think I am just stubborn enough not to let my mother ruin another Christmas.

 

 

 

Being Nice is the Hardest Thing to Heal From.

woman in pink white floral apron smiling while holding a white creme food during daytime

The photo is a repeat photo. I’ve used it before in a blog post because it fit there as well as it fits here…

I’ve been the woman in this photo. Baking treats for people I don’t even like because I just wanted to be that nice lady who is good to everyone no matter what. Also known as: a doormat.

But in my heart I often want to be Minny in the movie The Help and bake that kind of pie for another (see clip below if you have no idea what kind of pie I’m talking about).

I think of a recent airplane ride where the stranger beside me kept touching me. Not to the point where I could have filed a police report. He was touching my arm a lot with his hand as he was talking to me. I wanted to tell him to stop, but I didn’t want to be rude. So I just shoved my bag down in between us on the seat and made myself as small as possible next to the window. All that accomplished was having him tilt his head over and touch my shoulder…with the top of his head.

WIERD.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is why I am nervous to fly…I often sit beside the strangest characters on airplanes. Though — on the return flight God made up for the weirdo with a lovely millennial from the West Coast. The flight went super fast as we shared thoughts on food and God and Donald Trump.

To quote a sitcom theme song from my youth: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have… The facts of life.”

Back to the point. A simple definition of mental health is ‘when the inside matches the outside’. I’m learning how to let that happen. It is hard. I suffer from being too passive (and then being too aggressive when I can’t handle ‘being nice’ any longer.). I’m learning assertiveness. Healthy boundaries. Being honest in relationships (one can be nice about it, but the key is being HONEST). It was a watershed moment for me when I began to learn that being nice can actually be… mean. Particularly if you don’t actually think and feel the way you are presenting yourself. That’s lying.

The devil lies; it’s his hallmark trait.

I don’t want to be a liar. Lying to someone is the meanest thing you can do to them.

So if I’m really ‘nice’ inside; why did I have such a hard time telling a stranger, “Please stop touching me.”?? Why was I dishonest in that moment? Sigh.

During my formation years boundaries were non-existent and so I had to hide who I really was in order to avoid being abused any further. I became whomever I thought people wanted me to be.

You need to know yourself in order to be honest. It is still difficult at times to decide for myself what I really want to believe, and who I really am. I feel like a lot of people establish those basics in childhood. But until one knows ones’ self — how can you even begin to be honest with others about who you ‘really’ are???

Books like ‘No More Christian Nice Girl‘ were life changing for me (well, life changing for my mind–my actions are still in progress–those old neural networks take a while to retrain).

Yesterday, while reading some of the blogs I follow, and pondering some of the comments left on this blog, I was reminded of this statement (the title of this post) which my therapist frequently tells me: Being nice is the hardest thing to heal from. 

She further explained, “I can have a volatile couple in for counseling and they will be fine. They will work out their issues because they are being forthcoming and getting it all out, albeit they might be too aggressive, at least they are getting their true thoughts and opinions in the open. When I get a couple in here where one or both spouses are being overly nice; it is very difficult. The nice spouse doesn’t understand why the other spouse has any issue, as they’ve ‘always been nice’. It can be a real problem when someone is too agreeable. If someone doesn’t share their real opinions and desires because they just want to please the other, or avoid conflict, then the burden of making all the choices falls on the other spouse, who can grow resentful. It’s a lot of work to form all the opinions and make all the choices for the other person as well as yourself.”

My BHH and I do fight openly, so I guess that means we will be ok. We can be too aggressive with one another, though. We are working on that. My passive nature extends mostly to strangers, coworkers, and friends that I haven’t let in close enough to see the real, convoluted, deeply-over-thinking, nervous, me.

As for me, I see my habit of being too nice as a combination of several things. I am still trying to figure out who I am and what I actually feel and believe (this takes a lot of alone time, for me, which I have learned to carve out and try not feel guilty about doing that). I still battle a good deal of (self-absorbed) fear (often the fear is that I will be rejected). I also tend toward resentment (aka anger — often the anger is that others don’t immediately know my heart and thoughts on a matter–and I think that stems from all the childhood rejection by my family of origin).

Curious if others have struggled with being too nice and ended up wishing they would have served Minny’s pie instead?

Have you found it annoying to be around someone who is too agreeable?

Is it just aggressive types who have anger issues? Or do you think nice, or passive, people can also suffer from anger issues?