The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

The Real Tragedy…

first published Oct 24, 2014MasksComedyTragedy
Aya (our resident love guru)

Like theater, the story of each human life is either comedy or tragedy. Certainly there is a mix of both laughter and sorrow in every life, but taken as a whole, each can be placed in one of these two categories.

The comedies end with the protagonist understanding the redemptive power of love.

The tragedies are those in which the protagonist never opens the heart to possibility, to risk, to intimacy, to fearless emotion, to the spiritual self.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

 

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Decisions? Decisions! Decisions.

NEW!

Cel

I grew up in a small farming town with an older sister and two younger brothers.  My sister and I could not have been more different.  She was everything I was not but wished I could be.  She took risks and did as she pleased, while I was afraid of disappointing others. She was outgoing and made friends easily, while I tended to trust only those I’d known all my life.

She left home as soon as she was old enough and headed to a big international city, where she found rewarding work and moved a large circle of interesting friends.  She had many admirers, and eventually married a successful man who loved her and treated her well. They traveled extensively and saw the most exotic corners of the world.  They had two children — a niece and a nephew — whom I only saw perhaps once a decade.

I stayed put, rarely venturing more than half a day’s journey from home. I envied her life, but I knew I could never follow in her path.  My brothers, rather than envy her, resented her for leaving them with a heavier load.   They were happy to remain in our town; content with their lives. The difference between my brothers and me was that while I despised myself for my fears, they either did not have any or they pushed them down so thoroughly or disguised them to themselves, they were not aware of them.

There are many kinds of fear in the world, but I suffered from a particular brand of cowardice that permeates small towns. I was afraid of making a mistake with my life; of doing something unfortunate which could not be undone, so I let others make choices for me.  Before I committed to a suitor, I needed my family’s approval. I was afraid to venture into the unknown lest what I believed to be right be proven wrong.  I hesitated to make my own moral decisions for fear I’d end up in Hell, and so I followed the rules of the church.

In a small, closed community, politics is little more than institutionalized gossip, power struggles among the powerless, and petty vengeance. Those who are willing to speak most loudly are those who seize control. And so it was in our town.  No one attempted to topple the pecking order; it was simply accepted as the natural way of things. Our brand of cowardice preferred a strong, confident person telling us what was right and wrong, even if it wasn’t.

Gossip was a necessary evil which kept us obedient. The worry that our deepest personal secrets might be publicly revealed,  perhaps discussed at a church social or whispered about in the beauty salon as if we were a character in a tawdry novel, was enough to keep most of us on the straight and narrow.

Those who did not fear change, who were willing to speak truth to power, who embraced the unknown, who thrived on risk,  quickly came to the conclusion that if they didn’t leave, they would wither and die.  They, like my sister, made their escape and rarely returned.

I envied my sister for breaking away; for being brave enough to create her own version of happiness while I remained riveted to my unchallenged, uneventful life.

I did not have much trouble or sadness or conflict so I assumed I was happy. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.  I nurtured my children, obeyed my husband, did the requisite charity work, faithfully attended church.  Others made my decisions for me.

Because of all this, I missed many opportunities.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

Too Clever For His Own Good

First published Mar 24, 2016 Wenceslas_Hollar_-_The_sword_of_Damocles

Lig

Mine was a sad story, an old story, a story that’s been repeated a million times.  I saw the opportunity for easy illicit gain, and believed myself too clever to get found out.

This miscalculation was my ruin, all my youthful potential wasted.  With one ill-conceived plan, I blocked every path I might have taken to a normal happy life.  There was no undoing any of it yet not a day went by without me willing myself back in time to warn my younger self against this colossal mistake. For me, there would be no forgiveness…not by anyone else, but certainly not by me, of myself. This compounded the tragedy and deformed my life into one of adversity.

If I’d been able to forgive myself for throwing away my life, for wasting my talents and intellect, for hurting and disappointing and bringing shame upon the people I loved and who loved me, I might have found a measure of contentment in whatever I could make of things. But I didn’t feel as if I deserved any respite from my guilt and my shame, because my guilt and my shame told me I wasn’t worthy of respite. And thus, the unbreakable, inescapable circle. I punished myself far more harshly than society could have.

I’d started out with such promise, so clever and ambitious. Everyone thought I would be a great success. But eventually it occurred to me that I might not have what was necessary to fulfill these expectations. It took more than just cleverness and ambition.  To win, you had to play the game by their rules. But I’d always bristled at rules. I choked on the bit of authority. I would not follow when clearly I was smarter than all of them.

I would show them!  I would beat them at their own game! I would write my own rules!   They might try to keep me out, but they would be underestimating me.

And when I couldn’t break through, I decided to take what I felt was my due. I’d show those smug bastards!

In the beginning, none of them had any idea. I lived the kind of comfortable life from which they thought they’d successfully excluded me.

But my situation was untenable. I lived in denial for a while but it hung over me like the Sword of Damocles. I could not hide my malfeasance forever.

When discovery was imminent, I ran away with whatever I could salvage and lived the rest of my life in hiding, abandoning everyone and everything I’d ever known or cared about. I would not bring anyone else into my sinking ship. My life options had narrowed 1000-fold.

I never married. Never let myself get too comfortable in any once place, with any one person. Never dropped my guard. Never used my real name again.  Never let anyone get too close for fear of giving it all away or dragging them down with me. Never stayed in any one place too long. Never again held job worthy of my talents.  I died sad and alone, never again feeling the touch of someone I trusted, which I took as my penance.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

 

To the Bone

first published Jan 5, 2015

 

i.dailymail.co.uk-article-2440732-00329A4100000190-682_634x385.jpgarticle-2440732-00329A4100000190-682_634x385

Se

I had  lived through many a freezing winter but none of them prepared me for the killing cold of that place. It sucked the heat from every cell causing the body to shiver and give up precious energy.  It was a place which, by all reason, should have been uninhabitable by humans.

And yet,  there we were.  Sent far from home for dubious crimes against the state.  I had made a joke to the wrong person.  My off-hand remark was reported.  No trial. No words of defense.  Just a guilty verdict and a train ride to hell.

They are wrong who say hell is an inferno. My hell was a frozen wasteland.

Escape was impossible. In the winter,  nothing but blinding whiteness for a thousand miles. Even in the all-too-brief summer, when the snow bled back into the earth and the yellow moss peaked through, we were hemmed in by dense confounding forests, impassable mountains, rapid rivers rushing with melt, and mosquitoes which attacked in thick, monstrous clouds. The guards, who were not much better off than we were, barely made an effort to keep us from running.  Why waste any more of their precious energy chasing us? Where could we go?   To stay was almost surely to die, but to escape guaranteed it.

From where I am now and from where you sit reading,  the wretched conditions seem abstract,  but in that place,  in that time, they were as real a misery as any human being can suffer.

We were forced to work, sometimes on so little food and so little sleep,  we were little more than walking dead, our souls tethered to our bodies by the most tenuous of threads.  We swung our pick axes at rock and frozen ground,  barely marring the surface, yet forced to keep on. We were left to sleep a few hours,  then awakened to do it again.

We lived in huts made of wood, which did little to keep out the bitter, bone-biting wind.   We huddled in tight clusters, taking comfort in the body heat generated by others,  inured to the stench of other filthy unwashed men,  all of us decaying from the inside out.

Food was as scarce as warmth.  We suffered from all the plagues of starvation.  Our teeth fell out,  which made eating difficult, compounding our malnourishment.  A downward spiral of organ failure.

Our pleasures were few.  Some made vodka from potatoes,  or wine from anything that would ferment. We drank to forget,  but in the long term,  it made everything worse. It destroyed our health,  our resistance,  and the harmony among fellow prisoners.

Death was not mourned. Clothes, shoes, coats were immediately stripped from corpses, grabbed as additional layers for personal use.  An old professor, whose only crime had been telling the truth,  didn’t last there more than a month.  He reminded me of my grandfather. I sat beside him as he died.  His cashmere scarf was already around my own neck as his soul left his body.

Some could not wait for their natural ends. They committed suicide by escape.  They wandered out into a frozen landscape, where the snow-covered tundra was indistinguishable from the silver sky.  A colorless, disorienting,  horizonless void.  But at least they died in freedom, a choice to be admired.

I did my time of eight years.  I was 24 when I went in.  I was 124 when I came out;  sick,  half-toothless,  mostly crippled and in constant pain from a broken leg which was not attended to properly and healed badly.   There was nobody waiting for me when I returned to the world.  My situation was not much better at home. I was dead within the year  but at least I saw one more springtime.

In my final hour, I sat on a bench in a park,  so tired,  so hungry, in so much pain, knowing I wouldn’t last much longer,  But I did not mind any of that. I was at peace; content to feel the warmth of the sun on my face; to smell the living green of the grass and the budding flowers; to see the girls with their hair loose and free.

And I was free, too.

 photo: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/10/01/article-2440732-00329A4100000190-682_634x385.jpg

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

 

 

Beyond The Veil

First published Jan 2, 2015

aeg eye curtains sky

 

Ipo (again)

There is a veil which separates humans from the spirit world. It is neither completely opaque nor completely transparent.

Sometimes, humans can see shapes and shadows moving behind the screen. Some catch occasional glimpses by accident. Perhaps they are looking in just the right place in the right moment. Some are able to peek behind it regularly. They know how and where to find the split in the curtain. Others don’t know where to look and cannot not see anything at all. And even those who can see do not always know what they are seeing.

An earthly event with a thousand human witnesses produces a thousand different accounts, each person experiencing and perceiving events in their own way.

And so it is when humans peer behind the veil.

Humans can only see as much as their limited senses allow. The Other Side is not comprised of substance or dimension which humans can perceive or understand. They can distinguish light within a certain spectrum, but The Other Side has colors which humans cannot even dream of. They can hear only within specific frequencies. Most of what is on the Other Side vibrates differently.

Skeptics who seek unequivocal proof of the Other Side will never find it. There must always be room for doubt. Without doubt, there can be no faith.

It does not require faith to believe in the things you can see, feel, taste, smell. Faith is believing in the intangible; in what you feel, what you think. In what your heart tells you. It follows from your perception of reality.

Faith is the path to love and love is the path to all other lessons.

Humans are given this choice —  to believe or not to believe — so they may exercise their free will and follow the path of their faith.

It doesn’t matter if that path leads to false reality. In this case, simply developing faith is the lesson.

This is not to say you shouldn’t question. It is not faith to follow blindly, obediently believing everything you’re told. Try on various beliefs until you find the ones which feel right.  It is through this process, you develop faith.

Those things in which we have faith are what we love. For some, it’s God. For others it’s money or power. For the lucky ones, it’s faith in themselves.

And we love that which we have faith in — the things and people we can count on; who and what does not disappoint us; who and what we trust. Faith is the belief that these will always be the answers to our questions.

When a belief system no longer provides answers, faith is lost. Spirits are crushed. Souls are set adrift. By instinct, humans will immediately begin searching for a new set of beliefs which will answer their questions and quiet their doubts.

Thus, our lives are about the search for love via our search for faith.
Me:
I am fortunate in that the deeper I go into the belief system which I’ve held since I was a child,  the MORE answers I discover and the clearer those answers become.

I was raised in a formal, organized religion but never had any use for it. My form of religion has always been extremely personal,  which I believe is the only valid kind of religion. The answers are different for each of us, and can be found only within each individual.

Dogma is anathema of enlightenment.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.
photo: (c) Adrienne Gusoff

The Wide Eternal River

NEW!

Ipo

We are each of us born into the wide, eternal river.  One human may enter the waters in a safe harbor, clear and calm. Another, into a turbulent, exhausting whirlpool.  along we are swept,  each on our own journey, sometimes catching in eddies or pounded upon rocks or tumbling over falls or perhaps floating in peaceful pools; always colliding with others, sometimes clinging to them for a while.

We do not control the river.  We can only control ourselves. Some learn to swim.  Some are ever dragged along.  And even still,  the best navigator can be tossed or battered or become trapped.  And some who relinquish all effort to control encounter nothing but wide, peaceful waters.

Then comes the time when we must step out of the river, as it flows on without us. We travel on, along the bank, contemplating the flow and the struggle,  until it’s time for us to step into it again.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

 

image:  loop water GIF by weinventyou

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

To my dear readers…

I’m taking my usual December hiatus — life gets busy for all of us this time of year and it’s a good time to focus on family and friends.  Normal posts will return on January 3.

Until then,  I wish you each joy and peace and all that good stuff,  and hopefully not too much stress.

I hope and pray that next year brings us far better political news, especially here in the USA, than what we’ve had so far.

Thank you all for following, for your continued support, and for your feedback and comments which are always welcome and appreciated.

With love,

Adrienne

 

           May your holidays always be filled with childlike wonder

 

 

 

 

artwork:  (c) Adrienne Gusoff   (one of my original greeting cards for Recycled Paper  Greetings,  circa mid 90’s)

Til Death Do Us Part

first published April 11, 2016old-couple-holding-hands

Sa

I know he loved me, in his detached way. He showed me by the things he did for me. He was a wonderful father, and by almost any measure, he was a good husband, faithful and a good provider. He watched out for me; he took care of my feelings; it made him happy to make me happy. What more could a woman want?

That’s what I told myself for our first two decades as man and wife. There was a quiet voice in the back of my heart whispering, “I want more” but there was too much going on in my life, commanding too much of my attention to allow me the luxury of dissatisfaction.

When the children got older and were more independent, I had the time to indulge my sexual and emotional fantasies, of which my husband was usually the object. I longed for him to look me in the eyes and really see me. I ached for him to hold me and feel my heart beating for him. I wanted to shiver at his touch.

I became more assertive about putting more romance in our relationship, but he resisted. Emotional intimacy wasn’t in his nature.

And so, my dissatisfaction and resentment began to grow. I was angry that he couldn’t let go enough to show me his love in the way I needed to be shown. I wanted to feel it viscerally, not just believe it intellectually.

He sensed my resentment; felt me pulling away. And even knowing the reason, felt helpless and frustrated in the face of it. It was a dark time in our marriage.

I took a lover. I have no guilt about that. I needed to feel those feelings. I needed to held and seen that way by someone.

But such illicit affairs are usually short-lived. Passion fades and then the practicalities set in. The clandestine trysts, the hurried phone calls, the fear of getting caught. One or the other wants more while the other fears to upset their entire life. We went back and forth like that for a while, crying and fighting and making up, until eventually, we mutually agreed to part ways amicably.

To leave my marriage would have devastated my husband. He was a good man. He deserved better from me.  The problem was mine.

But that little interlude gave me new perspectives.

That was when I first began to truly love my husband, to accept him as he was; with all his limitations.   My heart had been opened to love, and I liked the feeling. I was determined to keep it open to him, even if he had difficulty keeping his wide open for me. Instead of finding fault in what I wasn’t getting, I focused instead on the ways he showed his love. His way wasn’t my way; he wasn’t expressive; he wasn’t passionate; but I came to understand that neither way was right or wrong. It was just a matter of style.

And once I loved him without expecting him to reciprocate in the same way, he began to open up, loving me more in the way I wanted to be loved. He did not become a romantic but he made more of an effort. I appreciated how difficult that was for him, and it made me love him more. I learned to read between the lines, and there was a lot written there.

As we grew older, we stopped resisting each other. Instead of growing apart, we grew together. For fifty two years we were married, and I was grateful I did not leave him. I never told him about my affair but I always believed he knew. By unspoken mutual consent, we agreed never to mention it. That was part of accepting each other as we were.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

 

 

A Prison of His Own Making

(continued from previous post, 11/24.   Please read it first.  This will make much more sense if you do!)
Originally posted  Nov 30, 2014

 

prison of his own making

Ru

There always came the day of reckoning when I’d be pushed to the wall and the truth squeezed out of me. There were tears and anger at my emotional treachery. My wrongdoings had to be discussed and dissected so the relationship could be closed with finality.

I would listen to the litany of all the ways I had disappointed and hurt her. I did not run from this. This was my penance. Once again, I had selfishly allowed an innocent person to fall victim to my toxic curse. Whatever vitriol and disgust she felt for me, I felt it exponentially more. She would get over me; but for me there was no escape from my worthlessness.

These final conversations, though painful and difficult, came as a relief.  I was weary from dancing around the truth. I welcomed the opportunity to relax my vigilance.

If I had withdrawn completely from sex and emotional relationships, I might have avoided most conflict. If I could have merely skimmed the surface of love with no deep or meaningful involvements, I would have taken fewer trips to the black depths of my soul.

I tried. I did enter into these emotional hibernations from time to time, but I could never withdraw completely. I could not forgo passion or the excitement of discovering a new woman. I loved the sensation of falling in love.

To hibernate forever would have been tantamount to abandoning any hope of overcoming my curse.  So I tottered on the razor’s edge between optimism and despair, my mood dependent upon which way the wind was blowing.

After every hibernation, came finally an awakening; a desire. The seeds of Hope. But before love flowered, it was strangled by the weeds of her expectations: Reciprocal love. Commitment. Proof of the depth of my feelings. Intimacy.  Trust.

None of these desires were unreasonable.  Other men seemed able to fulfill them,  but (so I believed) they were not as flawed as I was.  I, however,  always hurt my women in the end.

Believing this, I didn’t trust myself around them. I saw myself like the Frankenstein monster, destroying those who were good and kind to me because I couldn’t stop myself.

This cycle was repeated so many times, with so many women, it wore a deep groove into my psyche. I was exquisitely attuned to every nuance. Long before a woman noticed anything amiss between us, I sensed the moment when the balance shifted. As soon as she cared enough to be disappointed, I started to slowly back away, using the same techniques one might use if confronted by a wild bear: No quick movements; speak softly; do not become agitated lest you be perceived as a threat, and be attacked. Avoid eye contact and walk slowly in reverse, without turning your back. If confronted, play wounded or dead.

I continued this way, one woman after another, around and around, the shape of my life always drawn by someone else’s needs. I felt emotionally distant from my own relationships, and always on the wrong side of the cage.

Unable to understand the root of my problem, I thought of myself as tragically complex. I imagined my head filled with millions of tiny gears, levers, and switches,  each acting upon others in arcane ways. I had no hope that anyone would ever understand me, least of all, myself.

From here I see there was only one moving part in my head, and that was the axis of the hamster wheel I ran on.

Each lap, I`d notice something a bit different and I`d think I was making progress. In reality, I never went anywhere. To have gotten somewhere, I would have needed to step off the wheel.

Sometimes to go forward you first have to step sideways.

I spent my life fighting to control my guilt and shame and fear without success. I did not understand that mastery over human emotion is not possible.  I did not recognize that others were also caught in their own emotional struggles;  struggles which were going to plague them with me or without me.

Humans seek the emotional interactions which move them along their spiritual path. The victim seeks the abuser; the masochist seeks the sadist; the giver seeks the user.   Those who cannot bear the truth attach themselves to liars.   Those who cannot accept responsibility for their own feelings seek out those who burden themselves with responsibility for the feelings of others.  And vice versa.

Similarly, we can only give to others that which they are willing to accept from us. Kindness is not always met with appreciation.  Compassion is sometimes fosters anger or guilt;  trust can engender suspicion and fear. Love is not always received with love.

Humans radiate uncontainable emotion, broadcasting not only in words, but in body and face; by action and inaction;  attention and inattention;  fear and trust.  Others perceive these emotions instinctively, unconsciously.

So many signals! So much energy! All there for the taking. A boundless emotional bazaar! Find anything you’re looking for! Set out shopping for anger, and you can always find plenty to raise your ire.   Seek victimhood, and your ego will become bound by every slight and insult and disappointment. Search for love, and you will find it mirrored back to you everywhere.

In my case, I sought guilt and found it by the boatload.

We choose what we seek. Mastery comes in recognizing when we’ve found it.

 
artwork and photo: (c) 2014 Adrienne Gusoff

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.

The Curse that Was Me

First published Nov 29, 2014

my voodoo vignette

Ru

My father was always angry at the world. To his mind, no one – not the people he worked with, not his own family, not complete strangers – gave him the respect he believed he deserved.   At home, he was a sullen bully. The rest of us responded each in our own way, based on our own character.

My mother was passive and docile. She accepted his emotional coldness and frequent verbal abuse, cowering but never daring to talk back to him or demand anything for herself.   My sister found her comfort and support elsewhere. She spent as much time away from home as possible. Whatever positive things she learned about family was from the parents of her friends. My brother, the oldest, hated my father. They got into frequent screaming matches, which often ended with my brother storming out of the house.

Me? I took on all the emotional weight upon myself.

No matter who was upset, I always felt I was to blame. If my mother cried, surely it was because of something I’d done. If my father was in a particularly foul mood, somehow I knew I was at the root of it. The voice in my head said, “See what you did?! This is all your fault!”

I felt perpetually guilty. Even if I couldn’t see it, certainly I was responsible for the suffering of someone, somewhere. It was irrational, of course, but this was hard-wired into my brain when I was very young.

Everything I became followed from that.

Since any drama triggered a cascade of guilt and self-loathing, I developed a lifelong distaste for confrontation. I cut as wide a swath as possible around anything emotionally fraught. By the time I was a young man, I’d become quite adept at avoiding conflict.

I cultivated the persona of an affable, agreeable, easy-going gent; polite and courtly in my manners so as not to cause offense.  I made myself small and innocuous to diminish my emotional footprint on the world.

Avoidance of confrontation served me well enough in my twenties. Nobody expects too much maturity from a man at that age. As I got older, however, this behavior became habit, and soon it became my character.

Since I internalized any unpleasantness (hurt feelings, tears, anger) as being my fault, from my perspective it seemed I always left a wake of tears. I felt cursed. Anyone who got too close would inevitably fall victim to this poisonous spell. I would disappoint and hurt them. I was dangerous; not worthy of anyone’s trust, love or affection

All my romantic liaisons followed the same basic script and always ended the same way.

Generally, to avoid conflict, I acceded to as many of her superficial and material demands as I could without actually giving anything significant of myself. I did this to keep her quietly satisfied and emotionally calm. When she asked for more than I was willing to give, I had an unassailable excuse at the ready, one with which she could not argue. Like Houdini, I could make myself vanish.

In this way, I found myself always stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was either submitting to her will or fretting about finding ways to painlessly avoid such acquiescence.   I felt cornered, trapped by my inability to say “No! This is not what I want! I want to do it my way.” Although this cage was of my own making, I resented her for putting me there.

This resentment harkened the beginning of the downward spiral.

I approached each finale with mixed feelings. On one side, I hated to let go. I took great comfort in the love and touch of a woman. Their emotional essence which so confounded me, was the very thing which drew me to them. (What was the point of being with a woman if I felt nothing?) If only we could have remained in the passion phase! But the seed of romance quickly become overgrown with duty and obligation and expectations which I could not fulfill.

How could I be responsible for someone else’s happiness when I could not even nourish my own?

Her emotional demands piled up. The pressure built as she required more of what I could not give.

I avoided and evaded and let her believe whatever she wanted. Honesty and assertiveness were not options. They would have occasioned drama, which would inevitably precipitate cascades of guilt. Rather than revealing my true feelings (or lack of them), I held up a mirror and reflected back what she wanted to see. Direct questions were met with silence or evasion or misdirection, leaving her to fill in the blanks. When pressured, I lied.

But one can only avoid confrontation for so long.

(continued in next post)

 

photo/styling:  Adrienne Gusoff

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