It Was the Best of Times AND the Worst of Times

Despite all of my preparations, last week was both a great week and a terrible week. I had a schedule, a to-do list, plenty of projects to work on, books all lined up for reading, some new games to play, and a new exercise regimen that would allow me to get a close to full workout in at home. Yet I made it through only two days before I started to fall apart.

Turns out that if you have identity issues and are struggling to find your purpose after working to remove the trauma and unreasonable demands that were the basis of the identity and purpose you developed in order to survive said trauma, those are going to get so much worse when you have nothing you need to do. Especially if your identity and purpose were, like mine, closely tied to what you could produce or do for other people.

Thankfully, I had a friend who was there to chat with me when I’d finished the book I was reading Wednesday afternoon and was left with nothing but an awful empty feeling where I normally felt my sense of purpose. While “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents” didn’t shatter my worldview or wake me up to some greater truths I’d been missing, it did exactly what it said it would do early in the book: “I know you’ve suspect much of what you are about to read, and I’m here to tell you that you were right all along.”

As someone who has been working through my relationship with my parents (and have a penchant for seeking out emotionally immature people to help in order to feel useful and purposeful), I’ve already started to work on a lot of the exercises and processes the book outlines. I never had the context to think about it in the orderly, evidence-based manner the book presents it, so I’ve struggled to properly direct the effort. Everything prior to reading this book was made up of one-off events and thought-experiments done either in conjunction with my normal therapy or because I realized the stress and anxiety of being aware of what I needed to do without doing it was eating me alive.

Which mean reading through the book not only gave me the words and ideas I needed in order to better contextualize this all in my head, but it had the ring of familiarity and truth that results from actually experiencing a lot of what it was describing. I never skipped an exercise since it was always worth doing again, but there were a lot of things I’d have struggled with if I hadn’t already made a lot of progress on them. As it is, the 180 page book took three days to read through since I needed to take frequent breaks to process it.

Even now, two days after putting the book down for the final time, I’m still working through it. I’m emotionally drained, mentally overwrought, and far more tired than I should be given that I turned my alarm off five days ago and have just been sleeping as I felt the need. This has not been an easy journey, though I certain it is a necessary one. I’m as sure I needed this and whatever else is going to come out of ruminating on the book over the next few weeks as I am that I needed to confront my parents about all the unanswered questions I had from my childhood.

I wish I could say that it made me a different person over night, but this book reminded me that change happens gradually and slowly, no matter how big each step feels. I may no longer be talking to my parents and I might be working to figure out what kind of relationship I still want with them, but I’m still trapping myself into the same old roles with friends and fixating on the same old dreams of mattering to the world in a manner dictated by the unfulfilled needs from my childhood. Which, you know, isn’t healthy. The book called those “Healing Fantasies” and does a great job of pointing out how harmful they can become as you grow out of the need for that particular survival trait.

Really, it all coupled in a very interesting manner with the book I finished a couple months ago, “The Body Keeps the Score,” that has helped a lot with resolving some of my more accessible trauma (specifically the stuff dealing with my parents since I prepared for my conversation with them by reading that book). One helped me process my trauma, addressed some of the underlying causes of trauma, and explained the lasting effects of trauma and the other has helped me (start to) figure out what to do now that I’ve processed the trauma.

There are no easy answers, but I’ve never really been interested in answers. They’re frequently unreliable and they’re a dime a dozen. This book was full of very good questions and those are worth their weight in gold. I’m still a bit too shaken up and worn out from that and the weekend of escapism I’ve binged in order to let my mind rest to really know what all the questions are or how I want to ask them, but I’m looking forward to working them out as I skim through the book a few times and record the most salient pieces of information.

This week, a work week, will be good for working through things. The structure of a work day and the more regimented schedule I’ll be forced to keep as a result lend themselves to orderly thought patterns. While I hope to let myself rest and not push too hard for a task list I know isn’t achievable like I’ve had the two weeks leading up to last week’s scheduling collapse, I still think I’ll be able to start the messy mental work of untangling my thoughts.

Maybe I’ll even good a couple good poems out of it. I could certainly use some given how I’ve been too worn out and unfocused to make anything worth posting this past week. You’d think being trapped inside all the time and seeing how long you can go between trips to the grocery store would be rife with emotionally charged moments to turn into poetry, but I guess not.

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