Cartoon Heroes + No, I Don't Want to Go to Costco
Don't make someone a priority in your life, if you are only an option in theirs.You know what the best thing is about watching cartoons? The storylines are black and white; everything is so clear cut.
There's never any confusion about who the heroes are and who the villains are because it's obvious in everything that surrounds the characters: the colours of their outfits (light for the heroes, dark for the villains), the places they live (bright open spaces for the heroes, shadowy enclosed spaces for the villains), and even the music that plays when they come on screen (upbeat, energetic or hopeful music for the heroes, somber, heavy, or gloomy music for the villains.)
It's. So. Clear.
Which is awesome because then you know exactly who you're supposed to be rooting for. There's no confusion.
If only life were like that.
We as humans want to compartmentalize things. It's actually not even a conscious decision, it's a subconscious thing we do in order to deal with all the information that life throws at us. We want to know when we look at something or someone, is this good or bad?
If only life were as simple as a cartoon; if only brooding music could start playing when someone who means us harm enters the room. (Can you imagine that? Some asshole walks into the room and suddenly the theme from JAWS starts playing? That would make everything so much easier. Also hilarious.)
Why am I talking about all this?
One word: FAMILY.
The place in our lives which is the least black and white is our family. It's such a mixed bag of emotions: we love them, we hate them, we want their approval, we push them away when they can't give it to us.
I've vowed to cut my family out of my life so many times...and then I always end up back at the nest, looking to see if someone has a worm to spare for me. (Usually no.)
It would be so much simpler if they were evil cartoon characters with no redeeming qualities. But they're not, so it's messy and complicated.
I both emotionally and physically walked away from them.
What triggered this: in July I went to visit them for my mother's birthday.
I didn't want to be there.
The only things which keep me going to family events are obligation and guilt trips.
I genuinely have no desire to see any of them.
They don't know me. (And I don't know them.)
They don't give me the space to be fully myself. (And I can't give them that space either because it's contingent on me needing to be who they want me to be so that they can feel comfortable.)
Family time boils down to this: hanging out with people who no longer know me, and can't fully accept me, all because we have a shared history. (Gee, sounds kinda like a high school reunion. Everyone is a bit uncomfortable and awkward, making small talk and looking at the clock waiting for the moment they can go home and take off their support hose or loosen their ties.)
That day at the cottage was everything I hate about my family. Judgment, lack of acceptance, people wanting to be heard without wanting to listen.
My mother didn't stop talking the entire day; and she started hammering on about the same topics incessantly.
At one point she started on about grand kids. She knows I don't want to have kids, she even said she approved of my choice; that I ought to live my life and enjoy my career. So to hear her prattling on while we were all sitting on the dock about which one of us - between me and my brother - was going to give her grand kids, well it made me livid.
The only thing I added to the conversation was that I might adopt children one day because there are so many kids in the world that don't have homes, so I thought that if I did want to raise a child, that's what I would do.
She said "That's not the same because they wouldn't be your REAL kids."
(Really?! She who cried as though the world was ending every time one of her cats died. She actually threw herself onto the cat's grave and wept. This person couldn't imagine getting deeply attached to a living creature that didn't come out of her body?! Really?!)
I felt like I was ready to blow. As my mother prattled on, my father looked judgmentally at my body as I tried to get a tan in my white bikini. (He's been graciously pointing out my problem areas to me #pearshape since I was 11. "Your butt sticks out, your hips are too big.")
The next morning, before anyone woke up, I got in the car and took off.
I had wanted to leave the evening before but it had gotten dark by the time I was truly at the point of explosion and driving alone at night through deserted country roads while being really, really angry seemed like a bad idea.
So I left at the crack of dawn. And then I didn't see my parents for three months.
It did me a world of good: I was finally able to process and make peace with my feelings about them.
After a lifetime of struggling, I found a good therapist, and I continued reading self-help books which I've been doing since I was twelve. (Healing the Shame that Binds You was an integral part of my process.)
I needed to make peace with who they were, and who they weren't - and WHO THEY WERE NEVER GOING TO BE.
I needed to let them go, and to let go of the desire for their approval, because it was holding me back.
When I saw them again in the fall, I felt different being around them. There was a kind of...emotional moat around me in their presence.
moat /mōt/ noun: a moat is a deep, broad ditch...filled with water...that...surrounds a castle...to provide it with a preliminary line of defence.
A preliminary line of defence. Yes. Three months away from my parents, plus all the time and energy I invested into my emotional healing gave me that.
I emotionally let go of my parents, but there was one person left in my family dynamic.
My brother was the final frontier.
I remember when we were kids, all my little brother wanted was to be like his big sister. He wanted to hang out with me, do what I did. I remember one time he cried because I wouldn't let him wear my barrettes. (My parents made me hand them over of course.)
But then as we got older, things shifted. I was the one who wanted to spend time with him, and he was the one who didn't want to spend time with me.
I know I wasn't easy to be around. The things my parents were putting me through, especially my father, were taking their toll on me. I was angry, I was depressed, and I really struggled for a very long time.
I know without him telling me that my brother has his own complicated ball of emotions surrounding our childhood. Although he lived an entirely different experience than I did, the absolutely fucked up dynamic of my parents marriage left its mark on both of us, no doubt. And I don't know what watching me get physically abused by my father did to him; to see his big sister be hurt like that. But that's his gift basket of parental emotions to open; I have my own basket.
(It's a bottomless basket, where no matter what you do, you just keep getting more and more nut-covered cheese balls.)
My brother has his reasons for needing his distance from me.
The problem was that I wasn't getting it. I wasn't getting that he really didn't want me to be an active part of his life. I held on for a really, really long time to the idea that one day, him and I were going to be friends.
But I finally, FINALLY let that idea go last Christmas.
The opposite of love is indifference.
By early fall, I felt indifferent towards my parents.
But I still felt angry towards my brother - because I still loved him so much.
EMOTIONAL LITMUS TEST: When there is anger, there is still love. Because anger is emotion. When there is no anger, that is indifference because indifference is the absence of emotion. When we feel indifferent, that's when we know that the love is gone; that whatever was there isn't there anymore.
Letting go of my brother was one of the most emotionally difficult things I've ever done.
But I did it.
I reduced his value. And I raised mine.
I come from a family where I was treated as though I was less than he was. My parents imposed and allowed blatant unfairnesses between us. I won't go into the long laundry list of things because I don't feel the need to go picking at that scab for the umpteenth time. (I briefly touched on that list in this post.) Suffice it to say, we were not equals, and the most fucked up reason why was that he was a boy, and I was girl, and in Egypt where my father grew up, that's just the way it was.
But through what I now realize was a blessed series of events, I managed to take my brother off the pedestal he was on.
Last spring, he was getting ready to move out of his girlfriend's place (who he'd recently broken up with) and into his own place for the first time. He asked for my help in making it look comfortable.
So for a period of time, I was on call for all home related activities: IKEA for home furnishings, Leon's for furniture, and Home Depot for paint and supplies.
Before he moved, I helped him paint. For the record, I loathe painting. I would rather get a Pap Smear everyday for a week rather than spend one day painting.
But I gave up time on my weekend to paint. And then I had to take a day off from work that week in order to rest because it had so exhausted me. (For those of you who've never done it, painting is not a leisurely activity.)
At around this same time, my brother decided he wanted to start personal training, and I offered to train him. I've been working out for thirteen years, and can easily create training plans based on someone's needs and limitations, so I did that for him. I gave up my regular gym schedule - my sacred time - for two weeks to focus on training him on his schedule.
Here's the problem with everything I was doing - I gave what I gave in order to try to get something, namely a closer relationship with my brother.
I also gave to my own detriment. I over extended myself until I was beyond empty.
We cannot do that. Ever. We must give freely - with NO AGENDA - that which we can give without feeling as though the other person will then owe us for whatever it is. If we can't give the thing without incurring that real or emotional I.O.U. then we shouldn't give it.
And the problem with trying to give until we are beyond spent is that it creates the expectation that the other person will fill us up. And then when they don't - which often happens because people who are willing to take that much from another without batting an eye usually have nothing to give, or no desire to give it if they do - it creates an ugly, festering resentment.
Which is exactly what happened.
Once he had moved into his place, and all the training was done, I didn't hear from him. He go busy with work, life, a new girlfriend.
I was beyond angry.
But...I got it. FINALLY. In the fall, I got that I am the sister for in-between girlfriends. I can tell how his relationship with his current girlfriend is based on how much I hear from him. This last break-up/new girlfriend cycle drove that point home.
The thing is, since he was 18, I think the longest my brother has been truly single - where he wasn't with anyone in some capacity - is maybe a few months. Maybe. His fear of being alone is the opposite side of the same fucked-up coin as my fear of being with someone. (Thanks for the positive role modelling mom & dad!)
Now I do want to make it clear, that my brother has done things for me. I don't want to take that away from him. When I moved back from Montreal a few years ago, he took the train down from Ottawa and drove the U-haul truck back with me. Over the years, we have done things for each other, without a doubt.
But what that experience last summer taught me is something I had failed to acknowledge my entire life: my brother is human. He's not always kind, he's not always generous or thoughtful, and he's not always right. His opinions are not gospel, especially his opinions about me. (e.g. "You are everything that is wrong with our family.")
(We think that because they're our family, they know us best and that they're right about everything. Even if we intellectually know it isn't true, in some other deep part of ourselves, we think that they know better than we do what's best for us. That is the weed that needs to be pulled out from it's ugly and twisted root.)
So he came crashing off the pedestal he was on, and then I took a sledgehammer and pulverized that son-of-a-bitch into dust.
There is no room in my life for pedestals.
There is no room in my life for ANY PERSON to be on a pedestal.
I will never again elevate another human being above myself. I'm as high as it goes before I hit God. But in my life, no one gets to come before me. No one. Ever again.
I deserve my own love, my own time, my own consideration before anyone else does.
So do you - you deserve your own love, your own time, and your own consideration.
We cannot make someone a priority in our lives when we are only an option in theirs.
If we do, we are allowing the systematic breakage of our own hearts.
So I let my brother go.
Last week, he sent me a text. I saw it but forgot to respond. Genuinely forgot. I just saw the message, and then got distracted, and then didn't think about it until the next day which is when I responded.
When my brother was up on a pedestal, I would have dropped everything and answered right away.
But I forgot because it just wasn't important.
The message: "Hey Pal, do you want to go to Costco? I need to pick-up a few supplies for my trip." (He's taking a trip with the new girlfriend in May.)
In the last few years, and most notably last fall, the only time I would hear from my brother was when he needed to go to Costco because I have a membership, and he doesn't.
"Hey Pal, do you want to go to Costco?"
Not "Hey Pal, what if we grab a bite or go for a coffee, spend some time catching up, and then go to Costco?"
My brother has often said that Costco runs are an excuse to spend time together. But if the only time we see one another is walking through the aisles at Costco - when he's distracted by whatever he's trying to find - if he needs that as an excuse to spend time with me, and if that's his definition of "spending time" - then I think what he's trying to say is that he doesn't want to spend time with me. That time with me is not a priority for him.
And that's ok. It's ok that my brother doesn't want to be around me. I'm a very reflective person. What you read here on my blog, that's me - ALL THE TIME. I eat, breathe, sleep the understanding of humans and their behaviours. I can spend an entire day thinking about how to explain a complex idea in a simple and concise manner. And I have a tendency to think that out loud. It's the place where my mind lives, not a place that I occasionally visit.
My brother has told me that that's too much for him. I've been told that before; that I'm too intense. And that's ok. Not everyone is going to like me and my reflections. It's totally fine.
So I'm not taking it personally. I just finally got the message and I'm re-adjusting my priorities, as well as my expectations. Or lack thereof.
Last summer, after all the trips to IKEA, the painting, the training, I wish that my brother had at least offered to take me out to dinner or made some sort of gesture to say thanks. Just something. I realize that this goes back to having an agenda, but I mean, I DID SO MUCH. There has to be a line between having an agenda and expecting people not to take us for granted.
He bought me a burger one evening, after one of our gym sessions, before we went to Costco.
"Hey pal, do you want to go to Costco?"
No. No I don't.
It's a lovely statement in a way. To be told that if one is in need, someone will be there.
But the thing about life is that there are very few emergencies, generally speaking. Life is a string of routines (even the most exciting of lives has routine in it - excitement can become routine as I learned all to quickly working on a cruise ship). Life is a lot of "same, same but different." The days are the same but the years gradually change.
And it's the people who are there with us for the mundane that we end up caring most about and sharing our lives with.
I've tried to beg, plead, and cajole my brother into making our relationship a priority. We're a small family; it's just my parents and my brother and I. We have one cousin who lives here, but everyone else is in Egypt, so if the two of us don't stick together, one day when my parents are gone, we will be strangers to one another.
I kept telling him "If we don't take time to talk about and fix the hurts between us, there will be so much piled up that we won't be able to move past it." But fixing our relationship is not a priority to my brother. His efforts are reserved for fixing and healing the relationship he has with the girlfriend of the moment.
That's his decision and I have to respect it because it is what it is.
We cannot force ANYONE ever to make us a priority. They either want to do it, or they don't.
Eckhart Tolle says that in any situation, we have three options: Change/Accept/Leave.
- Change: Change the situation or change our attitudes about the situation. Change does not mean expecting the other person to change since we have no control over that.
- Accept: Stay in the situation and accept it for what it is. But if we do this, we must TRULY accept it, because if we stay without acceptance, then we continue allowing our hearts to be broken by everything that the person or situation isn't giving us.
- Leave: To go away from that which is hurting us.
I made my family a priority for a long time. I made getting their approval important. I twisted myself and my life into a grotesque caricature of my real self in the hopes that they would accept me, that they would be different than they are, that they would love me in the way I needed, and that they would make an effort for me without me feeling the need to negotiate for their time, attention, and love.
I let go of those ideas. They will always be who they are. And I will always be who I am.
And since I've smashed all the pedestals, people get to choose whether or not they have a place in my life based on the way they treat me and make me feel.
You make me feel bad, like I'm not worth your effort, or that I will have to work to earn your love? Boom, you're out - I don't care who you are. If your behaviour sucks, I'm giving you the boot.
In letting go of my family - aka the people who were holding me back - I found myself.
Something happened to me in London. It's as though when I arrived there, I was on one side of something. And once I got to Heathrow to board the plane back home, I was on the other side of it.
I met myself. For the first time in my life, I truly saw ME.
"I've spent a lifetime believing what this tiny circle of people has been telling me about who I am. But holy shit - THEY WERE WRONG."
One of the things she said in an episode which literally shook my world was:
We need to stop trying to be good enough for people who aren't good enough for us.MIND BLOWN.
I've spent a lifetime trying to prove that I was good enough for them, when as it turns out they aren't good enough for me.
MIND BLOWN. AGAIN.
I love my family. All of them. In spite of everything.
Despite some of the absolutely hideous pain that they've inflicted on me, they have redeeming qualities because they aren't cartoon characters.
My father taught me tenacity.
My brother taught me inclusiveness.
My mother taught me love, kindness, and compassion.
They are beautifully flawed. As am I.
But I don't want to be around them, and I'm done trying to be anything that they want me to be because the truth is, if we weren't related, I think it's fair to say that none of us would want to have anything to do with each other. (Ok, fine, let me only speak for myself and say that I would not want to have anything to do with them.)
They just aren't my kind of people. And they don't bring out the best in me.
Life is too short to spend time with people who cause us discomfort. So let's not.
We need to let go of the people who are holding us back if we want to truly find ourselves. Because, yeah, sometimes, it does come down to them or us.
In letting them go, I changed.
In letting them go, my life changed.
I know this because my writing has changed. My writing has always been the truest reflection of myself. And I've always been a pretty good writer, getting better and better as time has passed.
But since I came back from London...the posts I've written, well they're coming from a different place. They're fed by a divine muse that won't stop talking. I can't write fast enough to keep up.
I don't need to try anymore when I write. I mean I do...this post alone will come up to about 12 hours of work. So there is effort required. But it no longer feels like effort. And spending the better part of my evenings and weekends writing doesn't seem like a sacrifice, where I would never have done such a thing in the past because it would have been unpleasant.
What caused that shift?
I am free to write because I am free to be me.
I gave myself that freedom when I let them go.
It doesn't matter if they want me, or love me, or approve of me, or anything anymore. It doesn't matter because I decided that I couldn't emotionally afford for it to matter, so I made it not matter.
I don't care what you say because words are cheap: tell me how much you value me by showing me what you do.
We already know - without needing to think too hard about it - which people in our lives we truly matter to.
Don't make someone a priority in your life, if you are only an option in theirs.