When memories try to drown you…

Today has been hard. Like, every past mistake, missed opportunity, multiple moments of abject failure kind of hard. Excruciatingly bad even. I have come to the realization that I truly hate my job, I hate the town I’m living in and I certainly can’t imagine growing old in this part of the country even. Something has to give. And, after decades of it always being me who gave up everything, the thing I want most is for the looming specter of unpleasant experiences, trying to choke out my few cherished memories, to go away for good.

I never intended to stay in this godforsaken place for so long. After graduating from high school I wanted to hit the road, attend college in another state and create the dream I always had in my head of how my life was supposed to be. I was going to be a journalist or a writer, whichever, I was going to be successful and happy. Instead, I followed my much older, very damaged boyfriend to a state university that was entirely too close to the darkness that made up my childhood. Granted, I had a mother who told me not to expect much out of life and that should have been my first red flag on things yet to come. Fast forward 34 years and I’m still stuck, still being pulled in all directions by negativity, anger and dysfunction in this same dreary town, this same immobilizing state. To say I feel depressed and hopeless would be an understatement because now I have moved into the territory of anxiety and despair. It’s a crushing feeling, like all the weight of my past is pressing down hard on my shoulders, drilling me further and further into the ground so my feet can’t move.

It never dawned on me, until now, that I even had the right to say NO to a life I was neither excited by or inspired to live well. I was simply going through the motions of breaking free from one bad relationship just to jump right into another because the thought of having to go back to my childhood home would be mortifying. That was one of the few things that did spark a fire under my feet, a fire hot enough to make me say yes to moving in with someone I didn’t know well and then once again, 4 years later, when asked if I wanted to get married. My parent’s ugly marriage should have made me shy away from the idea of wanting to tie that noose around my neck but, the fear that saying no might send me but back into that hell left me feeling as if I had no choice. Take what you are being offered, do the bare minimum and look for happiness later became my new motto. Each day dragged into months, into years, into decades until it seemed as if my chance to be happy had been thrown away. I lost my shot because I chose poorly. At least, that’s what I believed until today.

So, the reason today has been hard: my one good decision in life, my daughter, came to visit this past week. When she first decided on a college almost 7 hours away I won’t lie, I panicked a little but, I was not going to hold her back. I did not want her to feel the disappointment and regret I felt for letting my dreams slip away so I loosened my grip and let her go. To have the ability to make that time slow down so I could take in every moment with her, to savor every last second would have felt amazing! I live a lot in my own head at times but when I spend time with her the only thing that matters is making sure she knows how much I love her and how proud I am of her. She is a big reason why I hang on, why I endure living in a place that holds so few good memories, aside from the amazing partner I’m lucky enough to have now! She loves him just as much as he loves us both and I am grateful she has one positive male role model in her life. Her father, my ex-husband of almost 12 years now, still lives in the same town as does his stepfather, our daughter’s only sane living grandparent. But, that could change at any moment, leaving me the one left behind again. That is why I slid head first into that old familiar darkness, the dread, the absolute belief that I failed miserably at life.

I MUST have failed after all! I settled for financial security over love and happiness and, despite knowing I was making a huge mistake, I tied myself to even more dysfunction than the family I was originally born into. Most people long to trade up or do better than their parents but I just swapped one screwed up situation for another and then lost all courage to walk away. In looking back the thing I regret most was bringing my daughter into that pain, uncertainty and resentment because it was no place for either of us to be. The promise of stability was a lie and sabotage of self-esteem existed around every corner, which was the favorite past-time of my former mother-in-law. She too, was a horribly damaged person with many similar childhood experiences as me and so I thought that might help us bond but, I was wrong. I horribly underestimated the level of petty vindictiveness residing in that barely 5 foot frame and quickly learned that I wasn’t going to be allowed to be a successful wife or mother for that matter. The first time I told her no was the last time I received any kindness or cooperation from her. I was on my own and every milestone, from the birth of my daughter to all accomplishments after that time would become a power struggle. God, it wore on me; to the point where I wanted to check out, completely and finally. I just wanted it to stop.

My daughter’s 1st birthday marked the beginning of the long war waged to establish who the real ruler of the family was going to be. It wasn’t me, my ex-husband or his step-father, it was my ex mother-in-law and she always made sure I knew it. She had an opinion on everything from all of my daughter’s clothes and toys to where she would eventually go to kindergarten, grade school, middle school, high school and so on. Once those opinions were verbalized they quickly became law and I was overruled at every turn by my daughter’s father. “Just let her do this. She’s just trying to help! If you just let her have her way then I can keep getting gifts too. Why do you have to ruin this for me?” My ex-husband completely ignored her purposeful interference and sided with his mother because if she was picking at me then she wasn’t criticizing him. I became a non-person, a surrogate, a womb for rent and a complete nuisance to my then spouse and this woman who must have her own way, always. Her opinion of me stayed negative until the day she died and I never had a chance to show her who I really was. I don’t think she would have cared, in hindsight, but I feel I deserved to at least have my say.

The first 9 years of my dear daughter’s life were a blur of hurt, disappointment and growing anger for me. I couldn’t make friends with any of the parents of my daughter’s friends because my mother-in-law got there first, whispering to each one about how I worked and didn’t have time to do play dates or school events…but she could. And then, it metastasized into, “I’m more of a mother to her than she is. I’m more of a wife to my son than she is.” As sick as that last one sounds it rang pretty true since she did actually buy all of my ex’s underwear and socks until he was well into middle-age but, I digress. It never got better, she never let up and I just grew more and more distant from everyone except my daughter. The loneliness and despair I felt must have been evident because her need to know where I was at all times while she was young turned into panic if I was more than a room or two away. I feel great regret over that. I worry that everything I thought I was hiding inside somehow spilled over onto her, creating a sensation of anxiety that would not have otherwise been felt had I been stronger. Again, I felt I had failed.

Each year this gnawing emotional sickness chipped another bit of my self-determination, motivation and mental well-being away until I had had enough and no longer cared what anyone but my daughter thought. I was not going to let her think all relationships were as one-sided as mine was with her father nor was I going to let her see me get trampled by her grandmother any longer. After more years than I care to admit, I walked away. I filed for divorce. I took back my life. So why do I still feel as if I have never really lived for me? Can I chalk it up to old habits or damaging ways of thinking being hard to break? In the beginning, of my New Beginning, I wrestled with the notion that I wouldn’t have had my beautiful daughter without accepting all of that drama into my life. After several years of therapy, where my therapist told me that was utter “horse shit” I stopped thinking in such black and white terms. It wasn’t a suffer with or without her situation. Whether I had her with him or with someone else I still would have had her and while she may have looked different she would still possess all of my intelligence, quirkiness and imagination. Of this, I am very certain!

Yet, today I still felt gutted and utterly drained, like I was just floating aimlessly. After my daughter drove away I went for a walk in a neighborhood close to my office. It was the neighborhood I first lived in with her dad, the place I settled when I felt I didn’t deserve more. Today I was back there and as I walked by that old apartment complex my head was swimming. What if I had said NO? Or, rather, “No thank you. I need to make it on my own.” Could I have said no? Yes, I could have and just acknowledging that should be enough but today that little self-affirmation wasn’t enough. My mind zeroed in on conversations I had, emotions I felt, places I went and it all led me straight back to emptiness. Maybe it’s really just self-pity and given the fact I am no longer young and my daughter is now the age I was when everything went so horribly wrong it’s logical to feel a bit of fear for her as well. Don’t do what I did! Don’t settle and never, ever let anyone talk you into setting your dreams, your life and your power aside! I want to scream this, and I do, in my head. Always, forever, living in my head but never out loud. Today is the day to stop that, right?

Yes, today is the day. I find myself, once again, unable to take anymore. The negative self-talk stops here and now because I am ready to be free of this damaging legacy set forth by people I wouldn’t even give the time of day. They hold no power over me and, to that I say, finally, “No thank you! I will make it on my own. I will make it without memories of you dragging me down.”

We deserve to break the chain, once and for all.

© 2021-2022 L.A. Askew

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