I am Weak, but I am Strong

Thursday, January 05, 2012

While discussing my plans for my life going forward, I confessed that I just didn't know.

"I just feel... ambivalent.  Surely there must be more to life than feeling ambivalent about your partner? Surely there must be something more? I feel gratitude. Friendship. Affection. But Love? Passion? Commonality? Is this it? Is this what I have to look forward to the end of my days? Ambivalence?"

Besides, I added, who would want this mess of a human being that I have become...so pitiful that even I can't bear to listen to my internal voice?

"Dawn", Gilda said, "You are ambivalently/anxiously attached to Terrance. This is your attachment style. You learned this from your mother."

well, hello thunderbolt.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am past the "my mommy and daddy screwed me up and let me rage at her/them" stage of my life. It wasn't that I have a fucked up parenting history that was my thunderbolt. I mean, cmon - the fact that with the things I have seen and experienced and lived through? The sexual abuse? The emotional and verbal abuse? The neglect?  Yeah. No major epiphanies there, folks.

It was that I always kind of knew that my attachment with my mother was most likely in the "not healthy" range. Shit, I named it over a year and a half ago.

( at which point I raise a toast to my spot on instincts and intuition. Yeah Dawn!)

No -  it was that I was repeating it.

Me, who is so careful to scan and monitor my reactions and feelings. Scrubbing myself raw to make sure that there are no gremlins in this machine, and that my motivations are known to me. Never lie to myself, never pretend, never obfuscate....puzzling over this large and unsolvable riddle in the middle of my life for well over a year.

Suddenly, it was like I had been given the key to the lock. The Why of my inability to soothe myself, the craptastic modulation of emotional highs and lows.

Gilda had found the link, the words that I understood. Attachment. Babies. I know this, of course. I assessed for it in the infants for whom I cared, and the mothers - trying to fit myself into their lives, support their needs.

Over the next several weeks, it all began to make perfect sense - this inability to find my own happiness. I was stuck in the patterns of my earliest life, replaying it over and over.

If you've have never had one of those epiphanies in which all sorts of things knit themselves together, like some crazy movie montage, your own personal Usual Suspects moments, then I can only explain it in those terms.

While I normally maintain some characteristics of a child with anxious attachment (no discernible emotional response -  no highs, no lows, just middle of the road, preferring auto-regulation), the turmoil of last year ( the depression requiring the medication switch and ensuing grief flood) had swung my response style between that of an anxious then ambivalent child.

In truth, it most likely reflects the styles of each of my biological parents, and how I related to each of them.

My pendulum swung back and forth, from flooding grief wanting comfort to frozen response in which I perceived Terrance as a threat to be avoided.

Fucked up, right? Yeah. I know.

For some ( a long ) time I felt so terribly bad for Terrance. How did he choose such a fucking lemon for a wife?  In truth, I still feel bad.  Of course, this then became grief... because who else could ever want me? So damaged and imperfect, so utterly up fucked?  If we did separate, how would I ever bear to drag anyone else into this mess? I mean it is bad enough I have saddled poor Emily with This as her mothering example.

Over the past few months, as I have worked through this new knowledge, I admit that I have had varying feelings about sharing the information. A fear of seeming just too damaged has played a part, particularly as I look forward to the end of the Dissertation and a life beyond. Not that I am naive enough to believe that we all aren't damaged in a multitude of ways, only that I wear it so openly, so transparently. I know this choice of mine is terrifying for lots of people, socialized to never admit weakness and certainly never talk about it.

After I considered burying the information, my self doubt grew stronger. Until finally, I relented.  Yes, I said to my inner voice. I hear you. No pretending. No lying. No covering up.

I can only ever be who I am, you see. When I try to pretend otherwise? The consequences are just never worth it.  I get sick. I doubt my own intuition. Every instinct about what is right for me gets muffled, and I lose my way.

For a person who has survived precisely because her intuition?  I become wrapped in a shroud of haze, fading away.

You'd think that - like depression - I wouldn't have to learn this lesson over and over. Yet, I do. I am penultimately human.  Flawed. Beautifully so.  Learning to extend forgiveness to myself and others.

When I do these things, my Center returns. My happiness returns. My ability to be pleased with my work, with my choices, with my life returns.

Here are a couple of articles about adult attachment that I found quite intriguing. Yes, there is some technical language, but I think this doctor has a pretty good handle on the implications of attachment in adult relationships. Avoidant and Ambivilent   Now, mind you, this is still kind of a "newish" concept in therapy so I am curious to see how it plays out. There is also some intriguing evidence that attachment style affects brain chemistry in a variety of ways.

Also - and this is something that made me quite literally weep with joy - attachment styles can be changed. Emily was/is securely attached to her father and myself. For her, it was Terrance that mitigated the responses during my post partum depression. As long as a child has one parent/adult to securely bond? Things will be all right. Once I emerged from my depression, Emily recovered the attachment to me as I worked to become a better mother. While about 75% of children re-enact the attachment style of their parent/mother, it is possible to change that pattern.

It is always possible to change the pattern.


1 Baleful Regards:

monicac2 said...

Damn! A true "aha" moment over here. Turns out, I am an 'avoidant' just as sure as I am typing this now. Very good information - thanks for sharing!

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