With all that’s going on you could think that life is getting more dangerous. That’s what, the third terrorist attack in a month now? Every time I look at the news now I’m afraid of what I’m going to see. The streets of London do feel a little less safe every day; it gets harder to see a way out of this, especially as these lunatics seem more and more eager to copy the techniques of those who’ve gone before. I keep trying to remind myself that factually, life isn’t more dangerous than it’s ever been. Yes, we are living through a tense period where some psychopathic men are determined to use any means available to them to cause terror and havoc on the streets; but this isn’t the second world war. It’s not the wars of the roses. It’s not the Viking invasion. We’re still safer than we’ve ever been. I’m as likely to live or die walking down the street tomorrow as I was twenty years ago. Calm logic can clear the head, occasionally.
A couple of weeks ago in counselling class we did an exercise where we had a circle on a piece of paper, and we had to write the names of friends and relatives at certain places in the circle depending on how close they were to us, the centre. Mum’s name was closest to mine, naturally; moving out there was P, followed by some AA friends, followed by the people from work, and the counselling group. After that we had another circle where we had to do the same thing but for ourselves at the age of 18. Obviously nearly all the names in my younger self’s circle were different, apart from mum and a few relatives from dad’s side that I still see. The point of the exercise wasn’t entirely clear other than it was meant to get us thinking, and it worked on that score. It got me thinking about how I had so many more friends when I was eighteen! I already knew that anyway, but it was interesting to see it so graphically.
The challenge now, as I’ve probably mentioned before is to build up new friendships to fill out today’s circle. We all agree that we generally have less friends as we get older, it seems to be a part of ageing in a big city – but that doesn’t stop me wanting to have a bit more of the social life that I used to have.
I’ve talked about it a lot in therapy the past few weeks, this big challenge of building new friendships that I’ve been avoiding for years. Now that I’m trying to picture a life without P as my closest friend and confidant, it’s something I need to start taking seriously. As does P.
The “divorce” that I’ve been contemplating for the past two years finally seems to be happening. He emailed me last Wednesday, after five days of silence, as if nothing had happened. Until then I’d been thinking he was annoyed with me, and I’d been feeling quite relieved about being left alone for a change, but then an email comes through at work and it’s the same old superficial chatter about nothing. I wish I could be less hard on him but it has come to the point where I need the space more than I need him to be happy. I replied with a brief apology for the previous week’s abruptness before hammering home how angry the election made me and how much I need some time to work out where I want this friendship to go. I haven’t heard anything from him since.
The stuff I’ve learned about in counselling class this year has all shed an interesting light on it, especially the recent topic of transactional analysis, which talks about the games people play with each other. I’ve ordered the famous book from the 60’s that expounds the theory because it has struck a chord with me. TA talks about going into a childish state and playing victim games with people who might fill the role of parent: now I can see what I’ve been doing with P for such a long time. To an extent I’ve done the same with my mother all my life. Getting angry with him for “not understanding me” is me being the child while he unwittingly plays the parent/rescuer role in the relationship. I’ve seen that I have to get out of that game altogether; I have to be an adult now.
I’m still talking about P a lot in therapy but I’m also talking about mum a lot. All conversations lead back to mum now, it seems. Apparently I’m still angry with her, after all these years. When I’m angry at the world for not getting me, it’s really my mum I’m angry with, or so it would appear when I follow a certain controversial train of thought in the therapy room. Logically it’s hard to understand why I would still be angry with her when I forgave her many years ago. But I must know by now that my inner child doesn’t work with logic. It never will!
My therapist has pointed out a rage that exists in my inner child, and when I use the space to properly explore where that rage started it started with mum. The child in me can never let go of it; as long as I ignore it and refuse to face it I can’t properly form intimate relationships with others.
It’s such a shame because as an adult I really don’t harbour any ill feelings towards her any more. The other day I was flicking through some old photos of us when I was a kid – I’d been meaning to scan some of them to the computer for ages and now I had the time – and seeing the pair of us huddled together on Brighton beach in 1985, looking like any happy and normal family unit, made my heart swell with love. In an adult frame of mind I can be quite upset at the thought of blaming her for anything any more. But the separate child part of me continues to exist concurrently and it continues to blame her for the abnormal, difficult life I’ve had. I’m sure if anyone else were to look at those photos they would see nothing abnormal in my childhood: I looked happy and well fed in all of them. But privately I can look at them and notice the glaring absence of any other children – I had no close friends as a kid, it was always just me and mum, or my aunts. To my adult mind it’s hurtful to think that way about such sweet, charming pictures; to my child mind it’s the only thing that’s important.
Among those old photos were a few of me as a teenager, taken at a time in my life when I woke each day feeling ugly and unwelcome in the world. As an adult I don’t blame mum for any of that any more; in my child’s mind the debate is still open. The truth is that even at my most grown up and logical, it’s hard for me to look at those particular photos and see a normal, healthy kid. I haven’t forgotten how I looked in the mirror every day between the ages of twelve and eighteen and saw acne, greasy hair and cheap glasses, and it’s still the first thing I see when I look at the photos from that period now. I found loads of them in my search the other day, but I could only post two to the facebook album that I decided to create of my walk down memory lane. I was happy to post the pictures of my younger self, the ones of the sweet and innocent nine year old with perfect skin. Any later than that the only pictures I could bear to post were the rare ones where you couldn’t see the spots, because of poor focus or over exposure.
Looking at what my journey might now involve, I wonder if there needs to be a coming to terms with the way I looked twenty years ago, the way I still can look sometimes because of the skin problems that I still frustratingly have. I’ve long suspected that this has to be part of the work. But, as I’ve said to my therapist quite a few times now, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. I can’t make myself accept the way I looked in the 90’s; I can’t just decide to love all parts of myself, including my complexion. I know that in my dark moments I am regressing to that teenage state of mind – I don’t get how I can stop that from happening. I don’t get how to make peace with that poor, sad child.
There’s one haunting photo that mum decided to take of me one day when I was sitting in the kitchen, staring into space. I was about fourteen or fifteen. I was wearing this awful garish jumper that she had bought for me; my face was covered in acne; I was wearing round prescription glasses that cost nothing; my hair was greasy and unruly. It was the time in my life when I felt the ugliest, the most alone and unloved. Had anyone told me that day I would eventually make friends and experience moments of real happiness, I’d have scoffed. It wouldn’t have seemed feasible. In my eyes there’s a faraway look that speaks volumes to me now, twenty years later. It’s a look that says how I really felt about life at that time. Everything just seemed so hopeless and pointless back then. Within a year of the photo being taken I would be desperate enough to attempt suicide. I don’t know why mum took a photo of me that day: it’s one of very few photos that ever got taken of me in those years. She must have just got herself a camera and decided to have a play with it. I very much doubt she noticed anything wrong with me that day; if she looked at the photo later I doubt she saw anything meaningful in it at all.
My problem was I saw myself as unlovable – I believed everything the bullies were telling me. If I can’t learn to believe something different now then I don’t think I will progress in this journey. Have I missed something in AA’s message? Is there something I’m supposed to be doing to make this feeling of self love and self worth appear? Looking at that photo now I feel so sorry for my teenage self. God, what a lonely existence I had. But to see that kid as innately beautiful and worthy of love? I just don’t know.