Breaking Through at Long Last
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Burn.
Either near a breakdown or a breakthrough, I told my- self. They feel pretty much the same. It’s that sense of being near rock bottom and not knowing if you can go any lower and at the same time wondering why you keep banging your head against bedrock.
Although life in general has been really quite wonderful during much of this past rollercoaster of a year, there’s still an issue that’s been bugging me for release and I haven’t been able to figure it out until now. It’s the last significant trunk full of hurt and fear that has to be unloaded before I can move into my new life, and yet I haven’t known until now where the baggage was or what was hidden inside.
To mix metaphors a bit further, I’ve walked through these dark rooms of my marriage and my childhood with only a candle against the monsters hidden there and far too much wind whistling past me and threatening my only defense. And I’ve come back again, the next time with a candelabra of flame to look more closely. And I’ve returned again and again over these last three years, each time with more powerful lights to defend myself against the shadows. Now I’m back with a spotlight aimed at the cracks in the corners where the most heinous of my remaining devils hide, stinking up my life all these years when I didn’t even realize it and no longer even realizing the bad smell coming from near the foundation, direct from my earliest programming. But there’s nothing I could do to lure them out when I didn’t even know they were there. No, I have to go hunting them, armed with my spotlight and blowtorch, and then drag the shadows into the light and watch them dissipate in my acknowledgement.
To ease the heaviness in my heart that I could not ex- plain, I drew a hot bath last night. Or rather, it drew me. Suddenly I’m in that moment again. The blown fuses not yet re- placed from the latest hurricane, I set candles about the room and let the mirrors triple their glow as I slip into the waters and inhale the high-vibrational intensity of rose oil and then let my meditative bath draw the poisons out from deep within.
Perspiration trickling into my eyes, I pile my hair high on my head. I turn and scry into the mirror beside the garden tub and think how much I look like a century-old portrait of my mother’s mother’s mother and suddenly see something very different. Not my mother’s side of the family but my father’s.
His mother. A woman I despise.
The Ice Queen. Younger than I’ve ever known her. The coldest bitch I’ve ever met.
“There’s a thin line between your father and your future relationships,” I hear Mark tell me, an echo from a conversation weeks ago. The issue goes deeper than my father…all the way back to his mother and possibly to women before her. Then it occurs to me: Daddy was—and still is—a Mama’s Boy from an iron-fisted matriarchy.
I’ve known this. I’ve always known this. Only now do I understand the significance. Only now can I take a step back and see this dynamic at work in my upbringing, in my programming, and especially in my fears.
The demon I have to face isn’t so much my father as it is his mother. She was the first person I remember to make me feel unheard and invisible, and since I was 18, I have been loathe to admit I carry her DNA. That was the last time I spoke to her…around the time of my high school graduation, 25 years ago, when she butchered my reputation in the name of a good drama and an overactive imagination. I was the first one in my family to turn my back on her and walk away with nary a thing to do with her since. She’s still alive—95? 100? years old last month—and she’s never met my children and never will. I truly believe they have been richer for not being exposed to her manipulations. I protected them from her connivances. For most of their lives, they haven’t known she existed. But I did.
The best I can tell from birth and marriage records as well as from the hushed whispers of her siblings who died years ago, she was the quintessential Alpha Female from birth. It’s in her blood—my blood—all the way back to the mid-1500’s Ger- many and Switzerland. While my mother’s pioneering side of my gene pool signed contracts with X’s and eked out a living among the Creek, Cherokee, and renegade Scots, my father’s side turned up their aristocratic noses, came to America, and bought up huge plantations. Though I’ve never been inclined to join the DAR, I have evidence of my ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War should I choose to dig the proof out of my file drawers. What I really have is the indication that the family al- ways thought itself superior to everyone else, and I’ve always found their social climbing to be distasteful to the point where I cannot tolerate others of their ilk in the modern era.
My father’s mother grew up hearing stories of the family glory days, before they lost their wealth in the War Between the States. She believed she was better than her peers and certainly better than the family she married into and the half-breeds she birthed. At the age of 15, she took up with a bad boy migrating through town. Bad boy? He was 25. He also ran like hell when he found out she was pregnant, and both she and her constable father went after him. She didn’t come home until around a year later—with her new husband and the biggest premature new- born anyone had ever seen.
I think my grandfather paid for his sins for the rest of his life. Somehow, he always reminded me of a beaten dog, even though he died when I was only five. Even that young, I sensed how he felt. Afraid to speak for fear of being kicked in the teeth or—in the balls. He was a soft-spoken man, from what I re- member, though I don’t remember him speaking on many occasions. I don’t ever remember him making a decision, nor do I recall anyone ever saying he made any decisions at all in the family. His wife ruled with an iron fist, first her husband and then her children. Especially her sons.
It was because of the way she and other women in the family treated their doting sons that I always feared having a son of my own. Women in my father’s family had a pretty bad track record and were inclined to disown any son they could not control.
She treated my mother and my brothers and me shabbily, but my father always defended her even though I never saw her show him any affection. She would lash into my soft-spoken mother for imagined transgressions, and my father would not say a word in my mother’s honor. And my mother dared not question the treatment or else suffer the same from him. For as submissive as he could be to his own mother, he was as domineering as she when it came to his relationships in our own home.
He slipped his mother rolls of cash—often 50’s or
100’s—on Mother’s Day and on her birthday and at Christmas- time and often on Sundays when we went to visit and stayed the day. She would shrug at it, take it without comment, and then hand it later to a more favored son whose conception had not trapped her into a marriage beneath her station in life. I know this because Daddy would sneak the rubber-banded roll of cash into my palm and tell me to give it to her, preferably without my mother knowing. No one else was supposed to know because we didn’t have the money to pay my brother’s college tuition or to fix my other brother’s car so he could drive to work or to buy a real heater for the house instead of a fireplace. Right on cue, I’d deliver the goods and throw my arms around my grandma… but it was always like hugging a sign post. No reaction. No warmth. No arms around me. If anything, a sigh of disgust that I’d touched her.
It probably was disgust. My mother had asserted her- self—at least on three occasions. She refused to name my older brothers after their father or grandfather or any other men in the family. To my father’s once-aristocratic family, such heresy was unpardonable. Then I came along, the long-awaited daughter. By all rights, I should have been a Beth or Liz. I was the only girl in eons not to be named after her, her name being a family name that goes back to 1559 or earlier. In every generation I could research, there was at least one recorded Elsbeth or Elizabeth or Anna or Ann, since the 16th century. I grew up apologizing for the fact that my middle initial stands for Elaine and not Elizabeth, to the point where I ceased to use my middle initial in any official paperwork so I wouldn’t have to explain yet again.
I grew up being ignored in favor of grandchildren who carried her name. She couldn’t even be bothered to attend my high school graduation and hear me make the salutatory speech because “something good” was on television that night and my own father had plenty of excuses to make on her behalf.
I grew up having her twist my words into something that suited her and left defenseless when I tried to correct her. Correcting her was not allowed. So I did the one thing I could do.
On a Sunday afternoon when I was 18, I tried to have a relationship with her. My kind of relationship. One where I told my grandmother something about me that she could be proud of and how I felt about it. Somewhere in the conversation, I happened to mention that during Summer quarter of college, I lived in a co-ed dorm, with the guys on the first floor and the girls locked away on the third and fourth floors. No shared rooms. No shared showers. The only thing shared was the lobby and check-in desk.
How was I to know my grandmother would be delighted with this scenario and change it to suit her wildly creative imagination? I myself funnel that family trait into my novels and works of art. She used a different medium to convey her artistic talent. She immediately told her gossipy best friend—with me standing in front of her—that I was living in sin in college, sharing a bed and showers with those lewd college boys.
I kept saying, “No, Grandma, that’s not how it is.” Then, “No, Grandma, that’s not what I said.”
But she didn’t hear me. Or didn’t want to. She talked over me, her eyes gleaming as she wove her story of her grand- daughter gone bad while I stared at her in shock. Mine wasn’t the first reputation she’d ruined, not by far. But crap, to hear this coming from my own grandmother? With me three feet in front of her and begging her to stop, to listen. And of course, if she said it, matriarch that she was, it was so, and everyone was required to believe it.
I couldn’t shut her up. I couldn’t change her mind. I didn’t have anything to fight back with. The only thing I could do was cut her out of my life and walk away. That day.
Except that she’s somewhere inside me still. Hateful, cruel, snarling, materialistic, manipulative, domineering bitch. Coursing through my veins. And me determined all these years not to let her to the surface.
If my own self-esteem issues can be traced back to Daddy, then his can be traced back to her. It’s a lesson in astrology that shows me this, this early programming to replicate my parents.
From my mother, I learned not to be happy as long as anyone I love is hurting or unhappy and, therefore, I can never be happy. Not only that, but I’m personally responsible for the happiness of all my friends and family. She taught me where to look for emotional security but it’s never there for me just as it was never there for her, in those nice safe places full of elusive promise with steady, stable, conservative men. She taught me to be my own person and at the same time, pulled me backward toward the more traditional, conservative approach, and I just fought all the harder and felt all the more out-of-place. From her, I learned that while I love people and love deeply, I don’t need them, and that makes me so misunderstood by people who don’t feel this way. She taught me to be a trail-blazer and at the same time, to suppress my emotions so I wouldn’t get hurt. I’ve worked hard at reprogramming the traits I don’t want, though I still struggle with my codependency and maybe always will.
From Daddy, I learned to be discontent with the status quo and to be creative and use my imagination. He taught me to be selfless and serving and see only the best in other people. At the same time, he taught me to be negative in the name of being realistic and to fear the unknown. He taught me to be afraid of success and to sabotage it every time it came close. He taught me to talk a good game but never to step up and do anything about really changing the world. I’ve worked hard at reprogramming the traits I don’t want, but I still struggle most of all with negative thoughts that sabotage my emotional security and send me scurrying for scarecrows to ward off my fear of the un- known.
And then there’s her. The Bitch. The family matriarch. There’s what she’s passed to me. From her, I learned my attitudes about sex and getting what I want sexually, though her era required her to hide her true colors behind the Church and a life of hypocrisy. She taught me that life is all or nothing when it comes to control. I either control entirely or I get controlled, and I resent getting controlled. She taught me that everything in life is a power play, to control and to dominate and to change things to how I like them by transforming them into what I want them to be. She taught me not to trust anyone, not really, and that when I can’t trust, to control. She taught me that marriage is a power play, too, and that if I don’t control my mate, he will control me and I will struggle under his thumb. From her, I learned to lead, to make things happen.
While breaking through, I still have unanswered questions, but at least now I know the questions are there and what a few of them are. Can two people who love each other and make a commitment ever really stay faithful to each other or are we damned by our biology? Will a man who is submissive to his mother always turn into a dominating monster to a loving mate? Will a man ever choose his wife over his mother, even in one argument, or will it always be two against one? Can a relation- ship really last a lifetime without the complete eradication of one of the two who becomes one? Does a stiff prick ever have a conscience? Is it better sometimes to spend our lives alone rather than risk our hearts one more time?
This is the programming I release…if not tonight, then over the course of the next few days as I work through its impact. After hating my father’s mother for so long for the way she treated me—and the ones I love—I’m surprised to find I’ve made good use of some of her DNA. Her blood in my veins does not make me her. Her deeds are not mine. I am not her.
While we share some of the same traits, I’ve chosen—and will choose—higher manifestations of those same facets. I can lead without being domineering. I can love unconditionally. I can trust. I can break through what I’ve been taught from birth and move happily into a new life.