April 08, 2010

Crib Notes in my Birkenstocks

When you're going home for Easter weekend and you've been studying for the examination your whole life yet continue to freak out about passing OR failing as a good-enough person, desperation might force you to write a few crib notes and stick 'em in the buckled straps on your Birkenstock shoes. In case you don't already know because you used to write cheats on the palms of your hands, crib notes are little pieces of paper with teensy-weensy answers in the rare event you forgot what you learned. I like using size 3.5 in Century Gothic font. Seems rather appropriate for the occasion.

“I am a WoNderful woman of worth.”
“I stand tall and proud of my ability to draw from my own strength.”
“I am good enough, smart enough and gosh darnit, people like me.”

Yes, those are the answers escaping memory while squirming under the scrutinizing glare of pietistic kinfolk. The ones who dare any kid of 58 to assume she's a WoNderful anything much less proclaim it with a straight face. I've discovered wincing to be fairly convincing of my feminine meekness. You must act as if you don't really believe you're WoNderful. It's your therapist making you say it so that makes your hubris tolerable. If affirmations are prescribed it's no different than taking Xanax for anxiety. People will understand since you've been through a terrible ordeal they wouldn't wish on anyone especially a female of a certain age which probably means she'll never find another man who'll take care of her again.

Testing....Testing...How's my 'healing' at this point?

Day One

Dear Diary,
It’s been several months since the last visit to my parent’s home. We are thrilled to see each other. Mom and Dad are their usual hospitable selves, cooking up a storm even though they’d rather be sitting in easy chairs watching Fox News. Their house is clean (a little too clean; it bothers me to put folks out when a random cobweb makes me feel at home). There's extra toilet paper in the bathrooms and soft towels stacked liked luxurious linens in a Nordstrom department store. Fresh soaps smelling like French lavender are arranged beside every sink. Mom even moved a lovely reading lamp next to my guest bed since she knows there’s not much else for me to do other than read before drifting to sleep. I am still an oddity: the eldest daughter who has no husband and as far as anyone can tell, thinks she's WoNderful. We had a tender and warm welcome on Day One of a four-day weekend.

Day Two

Dear Diary,
We're still pretty thrilled to be together. We’re weary from lots of talking and lots of walking back and forth to Mom’s refrigerator or to the downstairs freezer for Schwan’s ice cream bars. I figure going up and down a flight of stairs cancels out the calories if people take double steps on the up-climb. Maybe that’s not true. I’m certainly not above lying to myself to feel better about my choices.

Mom delegates tasks to the grandkids so everyone earns their place at the table. We cook and clean and eat and chat and watch TV and visit the greenhouse to see their thousands of flowers and vegetables getting an early start on spring planting and we talk about the weather and farming and the price of electricity and cost of drilling new wells now that the aquifer is lower than ever. We talk about the local news: who’s having babies, who died, who’s getting divorced and how the next generation of farmers is more devoted to money than cultivating the earth and the normal stuff people talk about in rural towns where people watch out for community welfare by keeping tabs on rule-breaking folks.

I’m a bit uncomfortable during the last segment of conversation because “I” break the rules; but since I live in the city, it’s to be expected. Still, anxiety is starting to raise it's wicked head. I stare at my shoes.

“I am a WoNderful woman of worth.”
“I am good enough, smart enough and gosh darn it, people like me.”
“I radiate love and peace with every step and breath I take.”

That last one’s a skosh over the top but a woman under scrutiny doesn’t argue with positive affirmations countering inner and outer critics. I envision myself as a Buddha with peaceful lotus blossoms springing from my love-trail while walking past the Quonset, wood shop, and over the soft ground covering a buried gas tank most likely leaking into what's left of the aquifer.

At the end of Day Two, my ‘affirmations’ are holding me steady. Dad’s slightly worried about my repetitive tap-tap-tapping on my head and collarbone whenever familial conversations drift to the topic of religion. Mom wonders if I have an anxiety disorder. My sister assumes I’m begging for attention. My nephew worries his Aunt has a typing disorder because her keyboard’s in another state and she doesn’t know what else to do with her fingers.

Day Three

Dear Diary,
There’s enough leftover food to feed an army without cooking for another week. This facilitates meandering musings getting very close to the borderline of forbidden topics. However, we’ve bonded as a family for three days and nobody’s blown up or started crying so our boundaries relax a little. Maybe this time we’ll make it through the visit without one sibling telling the other that Jesus would not want them for a sunbeam. All is well. All is swell.

Then my sister starts heralding Glenn Beck as a smart man who knows what's up in this world and if people know what's good for them, they''ll read his book and hearken the wisdom of his political commentary. I look down. Real hard. And crimenantlies! I musta lost my crib notes stepping over Dad's geraniums in the greenhouse. I am stumped for a few seconds until retrieving an affirmation hanging out in my corpus callosum:

“Even though I have this anger towards my family,
I deeply and completely accept myself.”

Then, as feared, Henry’s Law enters the picture. Now Henry’s law is based on a quote by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau's Law sounds too scientific so it's simply Henry's Law to me. Henry's Law of Familial Fusion is: 
“If I knew for sure that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I would run for my life.”~Henry Thoreau 
I know how Henry feels. Running a couple hundred miles is not a viable option when family members start telling me things for my own good or talking over me as if I weren't able to figure out they were talking about me. Then here it comes, the dreaded discussion about a particular family member breaking up the eternal clan ‘cuz she should be doing better than she's doing though they love her anyway since she does so many good things for people, as anybody can see as plain as the no's on their faces.

My breathing may have been shallow prior to introducing Henry's Law; at this point, I've stopped breathing completely---anticipating the next comment about “Loving the sinner and hating the sin” which from the side of the sinner sounds an awful lot like people lying to themselves about making judgments they aren’t supposed to make. I learned about cognitive dissonance on Wikipedia.

I start thinking about a lot of things while holding my emotions at bay, which is very hard to do when feelings become runaway horses without saddles or reins. This kind of covert aggression against the odd-one-out is very hard to take when you’ve spent the last several years learning how to separate yourself while maintaining connection to people you love because of your differences. I wish other people would love me because of my differences instead of seeing difference as invalidation.

Well, if wishes were horses beggars would ride.

I don't mind difference. It makes me feel like a person in my own right and not an unpalatable mélange of oatmeal, raisins, and brown sugar cooked down like a bowl of morning porridge. I like that last word. Porridge. It reminds me how Poor we are when difference is threatening and connection is reduced to no difference at all.

The rule of law in a closed family system is conformity at all costs to individual integrity. You are not supposed to say anything threatening other people’s security by validating your own difference in thought, behavior or feelings. The right answers to the test of familial enmeshment can be the wrong answer to loving yourself. I try very hard to be honest with about falling into old patterns of "false togetherness” which you might say is denying yourself and others a Growth Opportunity. If I dare to speak up for what I believe to be true, my family says, “We should all learn to tolerate each other’s differences.”

The problem is that I never liked the word tolerance very much and that was long before people had to tolerate me. There’s nothing quite as educational as being on the experiential end of the tolerance stick. Maybe we start with tolerance as a goal when the next step is actually acceptance. Once we accept each other's differences, we can move towards the highest goal of all: appreciation. Appreciation for one another’s differences because we are not threatened by our own.

I made a lot of mistakes differentiating myself from my family (autonomy) and then reconnecting to them (togetherness). It’s not as easy as it sounds and sometimes people assume they have individuated when in fact, they are still attached as strongly as ever---rebelling against a dysfunctional family rather being ‘free’ to be themselves. People on either side of the great divide are still telling one another whom they should be or what they should do in order to be worthy of one another’s love and respect. They are still actively invalidating each other rather than accepting one another as separate, yet connected.

“And people who really know what’s good for them, will be obedient without question.” My sister continues, bringing my reverie back to the present moment.

Unfortunately, my reign over galloping emotions was broken. “I hate Glenn Beck”, I said in a not-so-grown-up voice. Without looking at my shoes for support continued, “And anybody who believes that jackass is an idiot!”

It isn’t easy working on yourself and despite your highest intentions, falling flat on your Birkenstocks.

The rest of the night was a little rough, to say the least. I felt terrible about my outburst, my inability to remain objective, to act with lovingkindness and tolerance for my sister’s opinions. I felt lousy about myself and all my high-falutin’ pretenses that I accepted my family, even welcomed our differences with an appreciative and glad heart.

Day Four

Dear Diary,
I sit by my sister for breakfast and apologize for being rude. I ask her, “Can we agree to disagree?”

“Of course, comrade.” she says (comrade being a codeword for communist). “But I will never talk politics with you again and since you aren’t interested in obedience to God’s laws, we will avoid that topic, too. Do whatever you want but remember: there will be a day of reckoning and we’ll see who’s right then!”

”You are a WoNderful woman of worth,” I insist. “I love you exactly the way you are.”

It’s a start.



  1. This is breathtaking. Poignant and humorous, simultaneously.You should write a book.

    Only a saint could swallow her tongue on the subject of Glenn Beck.

    Tank you!

  2. meant thank not tank

  3. The problem is not Glenn Beck, but how long a family visits together.
    The solution is to leave one day sooner.

    I learned in 4-H that the party should end when the guests are still wanting more of the enjoyment of the occasion.


  4. Tank YOU, anonymous! ha!

    I appreciate each person who takes the time to read my long messages.

    About the book? I've intended to do that for YEARS, though I resisted writing anything 'too permanent' when my ANGER was doing my 'thinking'.

    I appreciate your comments very much.


  5. Dear Doris,

    We used to blow up after two hours, so maybe we're making progress???


  6. Oh CZ..you ARE good enough, smart enough and, gosh darn it, this people really likes you....and hates Glenn Beck and wears Birkenstocks. I'm headed out of state for a family visit next month with a Limbaugh-loving, Obama-bashing brother. Time to start preparing those crib notes. As soon as I stop smiling from your blog.

  7. This was such a great read, you totally nailed all the details and nuances: the overcleaning, overshopping, overstocking - and then barren wasteland of conversation. The way the weight of being together becomes too great after the first and second day and sparks start flying.

    I feel like you had the last word, "I accept you as you are" - you're the better person, and I love your feisty-ness!

  8. I'm laughing, but it almost hurts. I hate Glenn Beck too. He's a snake oil salesman at best. My sister-in-law was married to one abusive man and felt tremendous guilt when they divorced because she's a Mormon. When she married her second husband (so her daughter could have a male role model), he turned out to be the one with NPD. Eight children later, she was still afraid to leave him because a second divorce cast her in the role of FAILURE. She's dealt with "as plain as the no's on their faces." FYI - She still lives in Idaho and she hates Glenn Beck too. Congrats on having a backbone - and a heart.

  9. Good luck with the Crib Notes, sisi!

    If you fall face-first on your Birkenstocks, well, you know who will commiserate with your misery.

    Finding an appropriate balance between expressing disagreement without acting like a six-year-old is never easy. At least not for this six-year-old.

    If you feel comfortable letting me know how it went, I'd love to hear from you!


  10. "I feel like you had the last word, "I accept you as you are" - you're the better person, and I love your feisty-ness!" ~Upsi

    Oh, I dunno about that. My sister is a totally awesome woman with a heart-of-gold. She was my biggest champion when my marriage fell apart, doing anything and everything she could to help our family. I love her dearly.

    Which is why I feel like such a dork for acting like an idiot myself. For not being a little more grown-up in my emotional reaction to what I felt was 'dismissing' my right to be different.

    There are better ways to handle situations like that and until I feel GOOD about respecting her AND myself, I'll keep trying to do better. Which means admitting to myself that I failed to live up to my ideals.

    Feisty I am but better than my sis? No way. We may agree to disagree on political or religious topics but what she DOES actually counters what she SAYS she believes.

    This is why I get frustrated with political polarization. If anybody needs a friend to be there, she's first in line. Yet, she swallows the party-line without recognizing she lives totally opposite of what fatheaded blowhards are purporting behind TV cameras.

    It's a reversal of the narcissistic illusion when the Narcissists pretends to be better than he or she is. You have to pay attention to the BAD things narcissists DO and not their professions of honor and goodness.

    My sister says things that belie her truth as a compassionate person who would never turn her back on suffering people. She doesn't 'say' she's generous and kind, she ‘does’ generous and kind deeds for other people. And not just family.

    I don't think she knows how GOOD she really is.


  11. Hi Janet Marshall!

    Tell your sister-in-law she is welcome to email me anytime or join our message board or read my blog.


    (If I get any spam after posting my email address, I'll edit this comment.)

    At first, I posted my email address on the links and ended up with an in-tray of sex ads about growing a bigger dilly-wonker to prove my manliness.

    The world is one helluva weird place, isn't it?

    Glad to 'no' you're laughing with me, Janet. You can always figure out when I'm anxious or stressed because my funny bone rescues me from the misery...a little bit. Just enough to take a painfully honest look at myself!

    I love Idaho but anyone who doesn't appreciate Beck or Limbaugh, will have a challenge on their hands if they live in a farming community (not the celebrity-towns).

    There are a few Democrats in my hometown, despite the vast majority of Republicans. About 1% nearest my estimation, which is a little too close to the statistics for NPD but let’s not go there.

    I don't know how those Dem-folks remain cool-and-collected when political discussions enter the conversation, which has to happen now and then. Maybe I'll call up Mr. Nerves_of_Steel, the ONE democrat on Main Street that I know of.

    He's been very kind about not taking it personally when neighbors hang garlic on his mailbox. I could use a few tips.



  12. I love this. Oh, my goodness. I have been there so many times!

    And you're right. Tolerance is a poor substitute for acceptance, and does nto compare at all to celebration.

  13. "For not being a little more grown-up in my emotional reaction to what I felt was 'dismissing' my right to be different. " ~ CZ

    There comes a time when one no longer asks others for their rights nor asks others to notice their rights. Existing with ones rights and do not wait for others to chime in.

    birth right are non negotiable (being individual or unique). To ask for ones right is to say that the other person actually has a voice in the matter which essentially they do not.

    Birth rights are not about other peoples opinions or decisions.This isn't to say that prejudice is a fantasy but that regardless of another persons change in mind does not have to determine one existence.

    so hold that glass of water or that space with in a room filled with fearful people who mostly fear what they have yet to discover with in.



  14. Interesting...
    I don't care for Glenn Beck, either, but probably not for the same reasons as you. I happen to be a Limbaugh-loving, Obama bashing conservative (who prefers Mephisto to Birkenstock).
    Thing is, it's my NH who definitely has more Democrat leanings and criticizes my politics all the time. Well, actually he criticizes my having any opinion...or independent thought...or anything not having to do with focusing on him and the house. But I digress.

    I guess what I wanted to say is, don't generalize! It was implied that there is a political correlation to NPD. It's not really fair to go there, and frankly I was a little disappointed to see that dichotomy suggested in this otherwise stellar and enormously enlightening body of work.

  15. "There are a few Democrats in my hometown, despite the vast majority of Republicans. About 1% nearest my estimation, which is a little too close to the statistics for NPD but let’s not go there."

    Hi anonymous July 11, 2011,

    Is this the comment you're referring to? Cuz if so, just switch political parties and the statistic stays the same. It just so happens that the town from whence this odd woman came, is predominantly Republican.

    I don't believe it matters which 'group' we're examining, we'll find normies and abnormies, neurotypicals and aspergers (lol), anti-socials and altruistic avatars, non-clinincal narcissists and semi-cooked narcissists and a small percentage of pathological stay-out-of-their-sites malignant narcissists.

    There may be some groups attracting more narcissists than other groups, but my guess, my very best guess is that there's an equal number of narcissistic republicans as there are narcissistic democrats. You can find those folks in the 'extremes'.

    Nonetheless, I really and truly dislike Limbaugh with a visceral repulsion, though I shan't let my opinion of the maN override my relationships with people like yourself. AS long as you won't let my opinion of the maN override your relationship with me. ;P

    It took a fair number of years to form my own opinions and then dare say what I thought and felt out loud. so I have come to appreciate any person in our society who thinks seriously about political issues and participates in society by speaking up.

    By the way, thanks for your comments and appreciation of my blog. I love hearing from people who don't mind reading something taking longer than a 35 second soundbite.


  16. Thanks for your response! I took a chance on commenting on a 15 month old post, but I'm glad to see you're still on board.

    "I shan't let my opinion of the maN override my relationships with people like yourself. AS long as you won't let my opinion of the maN override your relationship with me. ;P"

    Agreed! It seems we've so much in common it would be a shame to let politics color the discourse, when it is truly irrelevant to the subject at hand.

    "...longer than a 35 second soundbite"
    Are you kidding me? I have STEEPED myself in your writing (to the neglect of my chores, I regret to say, lol!) since I discovered it only a few days ago. I also plan to register for the WoN forum but right now I'm absorbing everything on this site. I adore your writing style and keep coming back for more.

    I'm not one to make a lot of comments on things, but when I saw politics injected here I had to say something. But in light of your gracious response, that may change (my reluctance to comment, not my politics) :-)

  17. Great! I'd love to hear from you on WoN so don't be shy about joining and letting me know who you are. We're a diverse group. Mostly women---only a few men stick around but that's not because they aren't welcome. Women tend-and-befriend in crisis. Men fight or fly away. hehehe

    Having participated in more liberal veins of political thought, I can verify unequivocally and without doubt that the pretense of morality has nothing to do with reality. Anyone claiming to own the moral high ground simply because of their 'affiliation with a political party' is suspect, in my opinion.

    That's what narcissists do ya know. They profess to be something/someone they are not. I try to keep both eyes open when someone claims to know what's best for everyone else. A little humility counters the creeping crud of narcissism.

    Big hugs,

  18. "I'd love to hear from you on WoN so don't be shy about joining and letting me know who you are."

    Well, I've done it! Pending approval, of course, I shall be known on WoN as "Snowbird". Now I can reply to some of the posts instead of just lurking (and ask a question or two as well.) Looking forward to the dialog!

    formerly referred to as Anonymous July 11 :-)

  19. Hi CZ. I don't think your comments were so terrible. You hate Glenn Beck, so what, you have a right to your feelings about him. He's a t.v. personality so he actually wants you to have feelings about him. The part about anyone believing him is an idiot, well that statement is true, but probably not the best way to communicate with a Glenn Beck lover. It's not like you came right out and called your sister an idiot, but pretty darn close!But maybe you are just preparing her for life in the real world were people will say even worse things to her when she admits she even watches him. So you are kinda like helping her to arm herself against painful encounters with real people who know how to think for themselves.

    Anyway, I think you are great; so smart and funny.

    ~~ milkthystle

    1. Hi Milkthystle!

      Yea, my communication skills are an 'ongoing process', aren't they? I am learning to be fair...if I'm gonna hate on Beck, people can hate on Ralph Nadar, my hero.

      BUT, at least Ralph isn't an entertainer pretending to be a journalist. And at least Nadar contributed to everyone's best welfare without sticking his name and trademark on every seatbelt sold. And at least Ralph doesn't have a personality disorder. ;-P

      I live in Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh territory so the person who's considered to be an idiot isn't my sister. It's 'me'. Its really hard not to be defensive when you're the Odd Woman Out and everyone is looking at you cross-eyed like 'where on earth did you come from?'

      But just because its hard, doesn't mean i don't have to try to get along. And so I try.


  20. Hi CZ! I hope this note finds you well.

    I can relate to this post so well. I believe I read it long ago, and maybe commented, but couldn't see if I had.

    I don't have a pair of Birkenstock at the moment, because I left them in the rain too long, more than once. I shall get a new pair just as soon as I can, even if it is only to put a few reminders of what a wonderful woman I am :) I sure need them these days.

    I always enjoy reading your posts, CZ.

    Michelle aka dogkisses :)

    1. Hello Dogkisses! I was reading your blog two days ago, about the flood and fully intended on posting a comment to say "hi" as soon as I logged on to my desktop (I hate posting comments using an iPad!). It's lovely to hear from you and I'm so glad you are safe and "dry."

      I've been working in my garden a lot this past month and always think of you and your beautiful pictures! We are finally getting a few birdies in our neighborhood now that our trees have matured. It's so wonderful being outside digging in the soil and hearing a chorus of birds in the background. I don't know what "kind" of birds they are but maybe that's another interest I can take up at this stage of life!

      I always enjoy reading your posts, too!


    2. Ha! Well, I guess we communicated telepathically across the ocean! I love that!

      Your garden sounds like it brings you joy. I need more containers, so I get keep getting my hands dirty, but then when it floods, they pretty much start floating. What a place this is, but I hope to move in January. 'Til then, I'll enjoy what is here and boy, did it just start raining as I am writing!

      Thank you for thinking of me and I'm glad your flowers bring my photos to mind.

      I have a new neighbor that brings you (or rather, your blog and all I learned here, to my mind)... I'm working on the least amount of contact as possible, but life seems to test me and keep on testing me. I haven't mastered the art of knowing exactly how to deal with people who are toxic with narcissistic realities, but I did learn to say no. That helps a lot!

      The thunder beings have calmed now. It's been hot and we needed rain.

      Take good care, CZ, and thanks for your reply :)

  21. Hi CZ,
    I am reading this after reading the recent Parentification post. I think I'll make some crib notes. I can relate to your story so well. I would see how long the visit would go before I could take the chiseling at me covertly, My in-laws talk over me and indirectly about me. But yeah, they respect differences. Subtly showing that the 'other' party have faults and fail. I was thinking of starting a tally too, how ways can a person say 'you are not worth it' without actually saying those words. I struggle with communicating what I think, in fact, this is one of my recent self-awareness moments. I realized how poorly I can communicate my opinion to others and in a way that doesn't devalue another or assume anything further than what they said. You handled it well after the fact. xxTR

    1. ha! Are your shoes covered in sticky notes, yet? I wrote this many years ago, eventually having a huge falling-out with the same sister. As usual, it was over something stupid but the pain goes deep and disagreement cuts like a knife when people haven't immersed themselves in recovery work. If there is anything I can say to ACoNs, it's: Keep Working At It. Never Give Up. Walk into therapy; walk into 12-step groups; join online communities but Keep Working At It and Never Give Up. Once you get through the initial fear of talking about FOO and admitting you were affected in not-very-healthy-ways, there's true and realistic hope. Until then, hope is a lie we tell ourselves to maintain the status quo.

      My issue with my ex and family members has been overestimating the power of 'bonds' to keep people in relationship. I assume we can work things out no matter how pissed off we might be. Well, that's not always the case because sometimes people decide they don't want to be friends with you and we must accept their decision as their right. I know that I am hard on my siblings because I don't pretend or silence myself.

      I am finally understanding and accepting that "my way" doesn't work for everyone. I am learning to confront without being confrontational. To be honest without hurting people who have every right not to confront issues they don't want to talk about. We can stand up for ourselves and set boundaries without putting people on the defensive. This is something I'm working on now...Communication is so important (and thank you for your excellent posts about "Verbal self-defense").



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