Tuesday, February 20, 2024

How I am getting healthier by learning to mouth off to toxic blame- shame

Hello friends of this blog on how I lost 100 pounds without gastric bypass or weight loss drugs. This month's Happy Heart February weight loss challenge has been a bit of a departure from the usual focus on how I lost 100 pounds. I'm needing to work on problems of toxic shame and chronic, undeserved guilt which have flawed my self-image, crippled self-esteem and sabotaged self-care. They stem from gaslighting, exploitation, parentification and neglect in early years. 

So today, I'm sharing how I'm getting healthier by mouthing off to toxic blame-shame. According to my father, I was both "too critical" and "too sensitive" to criticism. I'm not sure just who he thought I was too critical of because I literally groveled at his feet for attention and love, which was very transactional, especially when he remarried and had a family. 

It became my job in my tweens to "fix" everything and everyone. I was my dad's wingman before I knew the term. As he saw it, he messed up his first marriage and by golly he wasn't going to mess up the second, not if I could help it. So he sacrificed me, my childhood, mental health, care and love on the altar of wedded bliss. And he and his wife were still miserable.   

Whenever his wife was unhappy (she didn't say she was unhappy she would just pout in a passive aggressive way) he'd say, not "what can I do to help but "maybe Mary could help?" He forgot that he was the one who married her, not me. I was never asked about any of it not even to check and see how I was feeling. But it sure was my place to make their relationship work. He'd then invite her to think up tasks to add to my already long list of responsibilities, to make her feel better. But it never did. And then that temporary "little extra helping out" just became part of my permanent to-do list.  Despite doing most of the work, including sleeping with her babies, I always annoyed her. And Dad was quick to remind me how disappointed and upset she was with me.  Though he never said how or what I could do better. I really worried a lot about that, pleasing people. It's a big part of my constant feeling of failure now.  

Back to sleeping with the babies. It got so bad with the youngest that I was locked in his bedroom. There was a hook so I could get out but I had to tiptoe then hurry back. They could only justify locking him in if someone was in there with him. So I had to get up with him, soothe him, find his blanket, tuck him in, etc.  Just as I did my own kids, later. That's part of the parentification. Neither his father nor mother ever asked how he did at night or whether he kept me up. No one cared as long as they got what they wanted. So not only was I supposed to husband Dad's wife I was supposed to mother his child. Creepy. 

Interestingly, as an adult the boy still complains of how he was locked in "his room." He never mentions how I was there with him because he evidently has forgotten. I say interesting because he calls it his room, which it was. He didn't sleep with  me in my room. I slept with him in his, in a tiny, uncomfortable youth bed. I had no desk, dresser or space of my own. 

During this period I was in college and had a job. But I was also made to sleep with my parents' babies beginning at age 11 and up. At my mom's house, she and her boyfriend slept two floors down and I slept with 4 foster kids under 4 and all with special needs. I say their homes because I never thought of any house as my home. I'd say I "lived with my dad and his wife or mom and her husband." I was not encouraged to think of any as "my home." Being shunted back and forth between parents' homes, without a proper bedroom or space in the family, I have learned, is "hidden homelessness." And is part of my PTSD. 

In college, the childcare and chores, were in lieu of rent. I don't know how they justified it to themselves when I was younger especially considering I really didn't cost them much. Beginning around 11, I was responsible for babysitting, childcare, hanging laundry on the line (even in winter snow), folding clothes, ironing, washing dishes, dusting, mopping, changing beds, making lunches, cleaning the bathroom, fixing supper and cleaning up afterwards and anything else asked. 

It took me till 59 years old to ask myself, besides all that, what else was there for my dad and his wife do? Their kids never did any chores when I was around even though I was doing all this when I was younger than them. They were all boys. My boyfriend (now husband) says I "wiped everyone's asses and waited on them hand and foot." I never realized how much till just recently. 

It also recently occurred to me what a good deal they got in me as live in babysitter, nanny, maid and au pair. I also went to school, had homework, student teaching and a job. Food was pretty sparse and I bought all my own clothing and essentials. So basically I cost them nothing. But what they saved in fees boggles. Rent would have cost me about $200 a month. A nanny/au pair would have cost them at least $200 a week especially with all the nightime care. And they would have been required to provide the nanny with her own room. 

Another interesting thing is that there was a big room beside the garage that could have been mine. Dad said I couldn't use it because it wasn't heated. Fair enough. But when I moved out, he made into a nice (heated) apartment for the son of a friend of theirs (who was younger than me) Now I realize of course why he didn't for me: who would have slept in the baby's room?  

What bothers is that I never questioned it. Of course you would exploit your own daughter while rolling out the red carpet for someone else's kid. That's gaslighting for you. I remember how they worked so hard to make that nice space for him and then bragged about what a good house guest he was. I wonder if he'd been so nice if he'd had to climb icebergs to get frozen diapers off the line or comfort a toddler every night. 

As I write this, the voices of gaslighting and toxic shame are screaming loudly. They say things like don't exaggerate! You're betraying family secrets! You ought to be ashamed (I am)! You're too sensitive! You're too critical! That never happened! 

These aren't imaginary voices, they're memories. If I had questioned or complained, my parents and stepparents would have come unglued. See previous blog post about dad "paddling" 13-y/o me (his word. Mine is beating) because I was ungrateful. Again his words. This was the first forced-to-sleep-with-baby time. 

So I didn't question, out of fear. I believed them when they said I was ungrateful, disrespectful, , a poor family member. There's gaslighting again. I was so worried being a bad daughter that I never saw what shitty parents they were. I was expected to behave like family while being treated like the help. I was a scapegoat, servant, support system, spouse and surrogate parent. I was a "family member" when it came to responsibilities, but not the rights. 

This how successful the gaslighting was. I didn't get that I deserved better. I knew others weren't treated that way. I didn't treat my kids that way. Yet it took my nearly 6 decades to understand that I deserved love and care. It will probably take me the rest of my life to FEEL that I deserve it. That you don't have to earn your home. That it is YOUR home too. That care isn't transactional. It bugs me too because I was a grown-ass adult when some of these things happened yet I was treated like a naughty child. They didn't even care enough to adapt to my being an adult. They just kept shaming and belittling. I'll blog more later on how they were caught doing this at my place of work and made to look very foolish. 

So, this blog post has gotten long and there's more to come. There are so many more experiences like this and virtually no happy ones. I'm sick of the nightly nightmares and chronic PTSD induced pain. I'm going through  a lot of emotional house-cleaning to myself in a better place. And one of the ways I'm doing that is to start mouthing off (something I was often accused of but do not remember once ever doing.)

I'm going to talk back to the crazy talk I had to endure and which has made me the mess I am now. I going to call this shit out for what it was instead of believing their gaslighting. I'm going to explain, in no uncertain terms, how this scapegoating, shaming, parentification, exploiting, transactional life, shutting out and abuse makes me feel. I'm going to rearrange my head until I can get some relief from constant self-hatred, from feeling always in the wrong, of feeling responsible for everyone and then ashamed when I don't get every little thing right, of feeling like a human doing instead of a human being, of feeling like a little girl alone, out on the street looking in at the family inside. 

And when the voices tell me I'm wrong, that I should just keep it hidden, that no one cares or wants to know, that I'm being disrespectful or disloyal, or whatever, I'm going to shut them out. If I feel dismissed as I have so often before, I'm not going to shut up and crawl away. I'm going to keep talking, yelling if I need to. I'm going to get mad and loud. I'm the only one who knows what really happened. I'm the only one suffering. They claim it didn't happen or they don't remember. Up to now I've been too good at pretending it didn't happen and it doesn't hurt. Well, it did and I do.  

Does it sound like I'm talking to someone or a group of someones? I probably do sound a little paranoid. That's another part of gaslighting, how it makes you feel stupid and untruthful and selfish, and so ashamed of yourself. And that is the work of the evil one. He wants me to think no one cares. That I'm just making a fool of myself. 

But I believe, even though I don't feel it yet, some, maybe most care. That to expect ridicule, or scolding or dismissing as I've experienced is a sign that it was real and that it did happen. That I expect it to keep happening is another symptom and also another scare tactic to keep me quiet. 

But I also believe that it will resonate with people who have been hurt like this. Maybe telling my story will help you sort your own. I don't want anyone to suffer like this. If you've experienced childhood abuse or trauma, neglect, abandonment, exploitation or manipulation, keep reading. I think we can find comfort together. If you haven't and you're just here to lend support, thank you!!! 

Love you all

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