Restructuring the Fractured Self

Contemplation of Infinity

Contemplation of Infinity

The Infinite Loop

A girl once decided to confront infinity.
She found herself standing in the center
Two loops coalescing into eternity.
Around and around
She felt consumed.
Until she looked again and understood
she was also Infinite.


Family has such weight during this time of year. Holiday celebrations, burying of old wounds as everyone comes together and so on.

I have been lost in the sense of family as of late. I have used the analogy with my husband that I feel I am standing in the center of an infinity loop that represents “family” and I am being crushed by the weight of it all.

On the one side of the loop is my family of origin. Two parents, 3 daughters, including me. Take me out of the loop and no one else talks to one another. A falling out happened three years ago. My parents and one daughter on one side, a daughter, brother-in-law and nephew on the other.

Want to know who stays in contact with them all? Me. I hold onto that infinity loop with both hands, hoping it does not fly apart. Early on, during all of this, I had the hope that my family would come back together. I naively believed that if I, at least, kept open communication with everyone, that somehow I could be a conduit for reconnection.

How well do you think that has worked out? On the one hand, I still get to enjoy everyone. On the other hand, I am completely fractured. We have to take separate trips if we want to see my family- as they can not be together. There is no meeting up with everyone for a holiday. If we want to see my parents that is one trip. If we want to see my sister, that is a completely different trip. Our “double travel” throughout the years has cost us $1,000’s.

Of course, conversations with this group is built upon lies. Do my parents still consider they have 3 daughters or is it 2 now to them??

And then there is the other half of the loop- my current “family” – husband and 2 stepchildren. We have the children 1/2 the time- every 2 weeks for 2 weeks. I felt hope for this family. I committed to it fully. Now, though, I am not so sure.

I see their mistreatment of me countered with my continued desire to fit in and have them love me as if I mattered. In some ways it has worked, in some ways it has not.

I see myself as the girl in the picture, staring up at the infinity loop wondering “Why?”, followed by “What lesson can I learn here?” (I am always asking this question, confirming that yes, God does have a sense of humor, as I have become a teacher in this life.)

I decide I must transform my relationship to this analogy I created. Rather than being crushed by the infinity loop of family – perhaps I am the infinite one here. Maybe I can see beyond all of this and use this sense of infinity as inspiration. Perhaps I am learning to question what family truly means to me and what boundaries such commitment to family may or may not imply.

So, I see myself as the girl who played with infinity and came out O.K. I am learning to repair my fractured self through seeing this situation differently. Does this remove all the pain? Of course not, but it allows me to heal some cracks that have been running deep for some time.

I think this is what we are frequently asked to do. We may not be able to change situations that cause of pain, but we can see into the cracks of our fractured selves and think differently. We can focus on healing ourselves.

Is it True…or do you just NEED to Believe in It?

Truth

Truth-
I would stake my life on you
If only my slippery mind could grasp and hold you.

When I watch my stepchildren, sometimes I am struck by the fantasy that this culture still wants to believe in – that divorce does not profoundly affect children, that children in divorce situations are “fine”, and that, as long as the divorce is “good”, the children are probably better off. None of this is true. Yet, we NEED to believe in these things. Otherwise, the pain of divorce is simply too great to bear. So we craft a narrative that children of divorce have no additional burdens than those children growing up in intact homes (Not that “intact” homes are always healthy environments- but that is another fantasy we NEED to believe.)

The legacy of divorce is significant for children. I am not saying it’s necessarily bad, but what is a problem is the fantasy that we create as a culture surrounding this issue and then insist the fantasy is real- not because of any facts, but simply because we so gosh-darn NEED it to be real. Because then our lives are easier.

We have other areas in our culture in which we craft and believe in a fantasy, again, not because there is any evidence, but rather we are not yet capable of confronting the alternative. I think a powerful example of this is our justice system. Many truly believe that the truth is always determined in court, that those in prison MUST have done something horrible, etc. Has the justice system gotten a lot of things correct- of course. Are some individuals in prison for a justified reason- of course. Yet, one can not look, even with a brief glance, a prison statistics and not think something may be awry when one considers the portion of prisoners who are young, Black males. But that is part of the fantasy, too, isn’t it? It must the young, Black male who is failing.

On a more global context, I have met people who believe in the fantasy that God loves us “more” because we are Americans. What? Why this fantasy? Because it plays into our self-image and we can not consider the alternative. If God loves us more as America, if we are “special” in His eyes, then whatever America does on the world stage is “fine” because God has chosen us. Obviously, this is not my view- but it has floored me to meet those that think this way.

We all have our fantasies. We need to make sure we do not confuse fantasy with truth. Just because you NEED to believe in something because it is easier to do so, or absolves you of guilt, or makes it so you don’t have to be responsible for anything, because everything is “fine” – does not mean everything you NEED to believe in is true.

Getting off the Altar Of Others and Setting Yourself Free

And there God is...

And there God is…


The Altar of Another

At certain times in our lives, we are likely to end up on the altar of another, as the symbolic sacrifice. This happens when another person is unable or unwilling to handle his or her own life, and looks for a scapegoat, or in this poem’s phrasing, the sacrificial lamb.

In my own world, the altar upon which I am most likely to be sacrificed upon is the altar of stepparenting. Only with time and experience am I realizing to do this to someone is not only wrong, but ineffective. I can not be the sacrificial offer of the failed marriage and the, at times, dysfunction of the children which resulted.

I am not meant to play such a role, nor are you. Whenever you find yourself in the situation of serving as scapegoat for another, climb down off that altar, and set yourself free. Your heart, spirit, and soul are too important to be relegated to such a role as sacrificial offer in the lives of others.

The altar I teeter,
Then totter upon,
Is one held dear
To almost all men.

To take my place
I held my beliefs,
cloaked my hopes, and
entered ceremony,
sacred

Upon these circumstances
Dressed in gold
I stood at the point
Of vision and vows
Coalescing

And allowed my self
To be relegated
To sacrificial offer
On the marriage with
Children altar

What God had made,
Man ended, and
Dues were to be paid.
Confused wanderings
In the desert commenced.

Delusional ravings
Along the parental spectrum
“They are not yours”
And
“Love them like your own”

What insanity,
What labyrinth
Lay in wait
For open hearts
And soaring souls

The parental axiom
“not our fault”
Tolling the bell of
The end, before it
Began

They know not what
They do-
Innocent are they-
Awaiting the lamb
Upon the altar.

In Praise of the Quiet Ones

seenothingspeaknothingSilence can easily be mistaken. Yet, it is such a wonderful, powerful choice to make. I witness a great deal in my house with my husband and stepkids. I observe and refrain from comment. I like to think – in peace and in quiet before engaging. This has often been taken that I am not participating. Someone who refrains from speaking is not necessarily withholding participation. I would say in the space of quiet, some of us are actually quite active.

On a side note, and I hope I am not the only (step)-parent to have said this, I did threaten to throw our “family” TV out the window the other night in order that I may have some peace and quiet in the home. Of course, this was met with a sense of shock by my stepchildren, as they turned to me with wide, round, “bug” eyes commonly seen on stuffed animals, wondering why I could possibly be so upset over something like the TV.

Sigh…it’s not the TV, it’s the bickering over what to watch, how long to watch, is it appropriate to watch, who watched what last, who should choose what to watch, where should everyone sit during TV watching, is it more important to watch “live” TV or what is recorded, should recordings but watched in order or most recent first in order to “catch up”?

I hope to God I am not the only one living in such a household- as they say, misery loves company. 🙂 Monday is my birthday, as my stepchildren eagerly asked me what I would like, I stated, “I would like a day of peace and quiet. No TV. Perhaps some reading or meditation.” Prompting my stepdaughter to respond, “I think I am going to die.”

The Value of My Silence

Everyone always assumes
silence implies-
but no, silence
simply refuses to state

In silence, I am not
with out
Hope,
Vision,
Rhythm

No.

I am with-
Sight
Feeling
Contemplation

I am present in
Skin,
Bone,
Muscle

Although I may
hold tight to words that
seek escape.

Witnesses are not-
Immune in stasis –
Complicit in silent
Agreement

We oscillate and sway
With the slightest
Perturbations-
But-

And God bless us-

we refrain from
summating the wave.

When You are all that Someone has in the Moment of Pain….

Come in, Come in

Come in, Come in

How many of us have sat with someone in pain, and prayed to take on their pain for them? The following was written after an afternoon discussion with my stepdaughter. She was in pain, again, partly due to life (child whose parents are divorced, being a pre-teen etc.) and partly due to her living with a narcissistic mother. I hate to always seem as if I am pointing the finger at this woman, mother of the child, but every child needs a champion, someone who understands the world they live in. And I see, and I witness, what is done to her, and you better believe I pray and tempt the fates, if only her pain could be mine.

“Fate”

In our afternoon-
separated by a half a room-
We are roped into a
slice of eternity.

In my imaginings,
I sense the wrappings
and coils of infinity.
The sensation- more binding
than reassuring.

And I do not know anything…
And my thoughts fail me…
And I wonder one too many ideas…

Do you need me to reach?
Or will movement induce
ripples for which you are ill-prepared?

Your pain weighs and grounds
us and I fear, oh, I fear,
that I may send it all toppling
down onto us.

I freeze- Medusa, in reverse-
my features set in stone-
in a pose I imagine to be
warm and welcoming.

We do not move closer,
we do not move further,
but the weaving begins.

Your pain, my solace; my former
pain, lending you a point of
understanding.

I want to help but instead I pray-
reverently-although I know it is wrong
and Fate will refuse to bend and bow
to my sacrificial will.

I want to take on your pain- you
are so young, my sweet, little one-
much that you do not know –
here, I sit, mirroring you, so you
understand that you are seen and you are heard.

Even when you feel no one else notices.
For today, even having one, will be enough.
I hope to God it is enough.

Part of the poem certainly deals with being a stepparent to a child in pain due to a biological parent. How much do you help? What lines are there for you to cross or not cross? On days like this, I hope my being witness and support is enough for her or for anyone in pain, for that matter.

Pain of a Child

Woman and Child

Woman and Child


As many of your readers have pointed out when I write about my stepchildren and their narcissistic mother, how difficult this must all be in relation to my concern for my stepchildren’s well-being. Bless you for being aware to state such things. The effect narcissism has on us as adults is somewhat limited to what a child experiences when interacting with someone of this nature- especially, when the narcissist is the “Mother figure” (I write “Mother figure” as narcissists are not truly capable of fulfilling the role of “Mother”).

Below is a poem I wrote about my stepdaughter who is struggling with her sense of self, as her Mother has never been able to mirror her in an effective way. Children need us to mirror them. From the young games of peek-a-boo to meeting the development level of the child at every stage, when that mirror is not present, a child struggles to create a sense of self.

Add to this, the dynamic of stepmom and you see my stepdaughter’s and my pain. I can help her to a point, but the point ends when my stepdaughter feels to bond with me as “mother”, means disloyalty to her actual Mom. So, here we are- she struggling to find a mirror; me, doing the best I can, whispering “Please open your eyes and see how strong you are…”, all the while trying not to take any power from “Mommy”.

Daughter of the Narcissist

Without a mirror, you take.

With no reflecting surface,
You must build from nothing.

You use materials of imagination gathered from others.

You want me to see you,
You beg me to see.

I whisper, “Open your eyes…please, open
Your eyes”

But, you can not.

From your birth in time, you tried
And were told there was nothing to see.

And, now you are blind by choice,
Grasping hands upon my arm,
“Take me with you”.

I turn to walk away, distance is the friend.

I can no longer and I never could
Give you what you seek.

Every spirit, every soul must find the path of awakening.

A child, too young to be an adult, yes, you are.

Sorry my little one that the path you claim is not yours, truly is.

I will hold your hand and hope, I will, I will.

But to carry you now, my sweet younger one,
I can not; having never carried you in my womb.
My heart can not take you in the fantasy that persists.

The feet you plant on the ground are yours.
The mind that drives the movement is yours.
The voice that sings in each shower is yours.
The hands that craft your world are yours.

Now use them.

Please find that home within
Without the need for mirrors
Your value is within yourself. Amen.

The Balance of Meeting the Needs of Others

Images don’t always tell the entire story. I feel this is especially true in the area of stepparenting. We have such a societal vision of the “ideal family”, and we work desperately hard to uphold this vision, that I don’t think we acknowledge what a stepfamily actually involves.

My stepchildren love me, yet they struggle to fully understand me and truly include me. It’s as if their lives, having been so torn apart and needing attention, do not permit the possibility of adding one more thing. Plus, no one truly wants a stepparent. It is a role never created in the original family dynamic.

At our family dinners, I am frequently ignored. I am not exaggerating or kidding. But the kids always want me present at dinner. They will talk over me, around me, sing while I try to speak, etc. It’s as if the children so need attention, that there is simply no space for my life at this table.

My time is important to me, so at times, I feel this family dinner places me in the bind of determining which means more to me- their needs or mine?

The poem at the end speaks to why I am there. I see my stepdaughter and I feel her pain at trying to create a family dynamic, so she can get what she needs- time and attention. And, she knows, if I am there, she will receive it. Once again, I see how the needs of others (good or bad) drive my actions.

“The ‘Family’ Table”

“Are you coming?”
The invitation sent with regularity

The “family” table is the marked destination.

Someone else’s needs have always been
a homing beacon for me-
Giving me sense and direction where I had none.

I follow a swerving, serving course. Needs, requests,
and wants pop-up as guideposts so I do not lose my way.

At your setting of “family”,
I am the interloper.

My part never writ in the original composition. The
screenplay set before my arrival.

I am never the understudy, though you bill me as such.
An understudy implies a role, of which I have none.

I come and I sit and I dutifully play my part.

While you, my sweet younger self,
with equal desperation,
holds together the fantasy in your tiny, tiny hands.

Art and the Orphan Archetype

The orphan archetype is one commonly found in artists. It’s because we don’t quite fit in that we are able to fulfill our role of witness, observer, and transformer. If we were truly one with the family or tribe, we would never be brave enough to say what we do. We stand back with the view of the partially disengaged in order to do what we do best – transform life into art..

One place I feel particularly separated from the center is in my role as stepparent. A division always exists within this dynamic. Below is a poem I wrote about this feeling. It arose from when my husband called me from the bedroom to show me some pictures he had hung. These many pictures of his children, year after year, were right outside our bedroom door. There on the wall was a shrine to his children (read as, “not mine”), with no other images. I was so struck by the solidity of all the images, and how I had given up the dream of having my own children.

You don’t have to be stepparent to relate to feeling “cut out” of life in some way. It happens to all of us.

“Pictures on the Wall”
Silly grins of youth immortalized
Alluding to what they may become

All the while serving as shrine and reminder
to what I would not become-mother.

The shrine, in my mind, pulses with life.
It frightens me-
Growing, growing each year as if it
has no desire to stop consuming.

The shrine sits along the wall of bedroom openings
“Mine” on one side
“Theirs”, of course, on the other.

Shrine to his productive capabilities
Where am I?

They speak to me.
Squinty-eyed, they watch me.
While I stand aside,
Ashamed,
and I can’t answer “Why”

The rectangular borders disturb me.
I want to dis-configure them. Take them out
of alignment.
I wonder if this would help them understand my
pain at a life that did not fit within the borders.

Rectangles are so solid, firm, and un-forgiving.
Oval frames would have been a better choice, I think.
Rectangles provide too much mass, weight, and posterity
for things that truly only lasted but one moment.

The moment was etched into eternity long ago.
The umbilical cord marked the line in the sand.
They were on their side and I was on mine.

Every shrine shall have its say. On the plaque,
I will scribe, “Here lies this shrine, telling only
half the story.”

I hope this poem is not to depressing of a take on stepparenting. I love being a stepparent, but it can make one feel left alone on the outside looking in. This is what I felt as I looked at those images of my sweet stepkids. We can lie to others, we may be able to lie to ourselves at time, but art always allows the orphan to tell his or her half of the story.

When Your Life is Different from What you Expected

Light of Life

Light of Life

I turned 40 several years ago, and of course, took some time to reflect on my life at that moment. I wrote the following…
At 40
When I was 40
I lost myself

Mirror, Mirror
On the Wall

Spoke and said I never had it

I dreamed a large
Virgin Mary
At this place

She cradled my skeletal remains
in her giant arms
Peace-filled smile upon her face

She rinsed my skeleton in the
River Styx
The smile broke and the tear fell

“oh this is where we get the River
Styx” my silly thought

With
waves
of her making
she mouthed

“I wanted to bear WOMAN
Instead I bore Man”

I knew she knew the pain
At life of difference.

I had a dream with the Virgin Mary in it. She informed me that she had always wanted to birth a girl. I thought how different the trajectory of Christianity would be had Mary gotten her wish and birthed a girl.
I have always been soothed by images of the Virgin Mary- so complacent, centered, and aware, I have thought. In my dream, I could sense her pain that her life had turned out differently than she expected.

Who hasn’t had this experience? I like to believe when I pray to the Virgin Mary she understands our pain at a life that has turned out differently than expected. Such feelings are not wrong. The difference between the lives we expect and the lives we lead is a great impetus to awareness and growth. Tension exists in this difference which inspires some of our most profound thoughts and compassion. We all live a life different than planned and in that, like the Virgin Mary, we experience the miraculous unfoldment of life to be lived.