I just had a long and heartbreaking conversation with a beloved friend of mine. Her name is Vivienne. Our backgrounds are similar, but her ex-husband was physically abusive while her children watched, and the guilt of that crime is eating her alive. It wasn't until her youngest son stepped in and threatened his father (while Daddy was beating her), that she found the courage to leave. If the boy hadn't intervened and made her see how awful the situation truly was, she'd still be married to the brute. Of that, she has no doubt.
She's in the obsessed with "ifs" phase. If I didn't marry David, if I hadn't stayed with him so long, if I'd gotten a college education, none of this mess would have happened. If I'd married a good man, if I'd been a decent mother, if, if, if. Egomaniacal insecure freakazoid at its worst. The self flagellation bounced from bad choices she'd made, to unworthy physical appearance, to complete responsibility for everything wrong in the lives of anyone she loves and a few she doesn't even care about.
She has three children, two of whom are clean and one who's been a violent drug addict for four years. In and out of institutions, jail, psyche wards, hospitals, rehabs, her addict child, who's now eighteen, has taken the usual toll on everybody in the household. They're exhausted, disspirited, hopeless, bitter and angry. That too, according to Vivienne, is her fault. My poor boy,He's such a victim. He's suffered so much and it's my fault. This in between exuberant oaths that she'll never allow him back in the house, that she's done with his shit, that she doesn't even feel bad about not paying for his car insurance. The car he didn't set on fire, that is, but the new one she bought him with the money from her second job. Or third. I can't remember which. she says, referring to the addict.
Insecurity is a pit bull with pointy, pointy teeth. Once it latches on, the jaw locks and it's hard as hell to escape from. Blind as a bat, too. It makes us blind as a bat to the truth of any situation that has anything to do with us. One of the great things Daytop taught me (that's the rehab my son Leland was in), is that unless I held him down and crammed that cocaine up his nose, the only one responsible for Leland being a drug addict was Leland. But how do you get the same point across to somebody who's addicted to their own insecurity? Who stubbornly refuses to believe one word of praise you give them? I know what it's like to hear a compliment and not believe it. Back in my uber basketcase days, my feelings boiled down to one of two emotions when praised: gratitude that the person complimenting me was kind enough to lie to try and make me feel better, or contempt for their idiotic statements. That was it. That's a hard wall to scale when you're on the outside, even when you know its dimensions. I told Vivienne the truth as I saw it about her situation. I think her son is using her, that she's enabling him, that she needs to stop beating herself up for things she can't change and get to work on the things she can. I told her I think she's addicted to being kicked like a dog and if her ex-husband or troubled child aren't available, she does a pretty good job kicking the shit out of herself. I suggested trying some gentle self-love techniques, such as simply saying goodnight to herself before she goes to sleep, and for a time, I thought I might be getting through. But then she veered back into the groove of self-hatred and began hating me for my big mouth. Oh, how we adore the rend and tear of those teeth, how we crave the vivisection and gnawing pain of it. What a comfortable pair of old socks it is, well worn and familiar. God, I was just like that. I still feel it in the back of my head, like the phantom friends in the movie A Beautiful Mind: always there, always wanting me to come home to them and their beautiful incisors. I wish Vivienne could see what I see in her. She's a beautiful, brave, infinitely kind woman who's been through hell; someone whose biggest crime was loving people who needed a swift kick more than a pat on the head. They were all about tough love at my son's rehab and good God, it was tough to do after years as a marshmallow. Once again, I refer to the airplane scenario of putting on the oxygen mask first before you put it on your child. Vivienne is starving for air, dried up and hollow with the lack of it. She needs to learn how to breathe in life, to see value in it, even when everything's been grey and awful for most of her existence.
But I believe in her. She has spirit inside that sad shell, and she's always gotten up when life or some ham-fisted scumball knocks her down. After about an hour on the phone, she'd finally had enough of my advise and told me it was horseshit, bullshit, melodramatic blah, blah, blah and she was going to hang up. With a hasty "I love you" she slammed the phone down. But I hope she thinks about our conversation. I want her to see with clear eyes what everybody who's not an addict sees when they look at her: a treasure. A highly-detailed, exquisite, one-of-a-kind masterpiece, full of colors both dark and light but still breathtakingly beautiful. Sure, she made mistakes with her life. But she doesn't have to keep making the same ones. She ought to throw the lot out and begin screwing up with a whole new set of fuckups. I highly recommend it. The old ones get rotten after awhile. New mistakes keep us fresh and sometimes help us stumble onto good ideas. I was once a miserable, whining, bitter, disgusted and disgusting piece of grinning self-hatred. Now I'm not. I'm still insecure. It's always with me. But it's not as loud as it was and I don't let it dominate my every thought and emotion. A slow, tough process but worth it. So is Vivienne the treasure. Worth it, a thousand thousand times over.