Saturday, January 19, 2013

Still Unlearning Bad Ideas

I snap clothes before I fold them. I hold them up as they should hang, flick out the wrinkles and twists with a pop, then smooth them flat and fold, nice and neat. Back in That Place, so many years ago, I spent weekends with a boyfriend and did my laundry at his house. His washer and drier satin a nook off of his dining room, where he spent most of his time in the evenings. He hated that I snapped my clothes.  “It gives me a headache,” he said. “It’s too loud.” My theory was that the headache and sound sensitivity came from the half-gallon of cheap scotch that he drank every evening from the handy, economy-sized growler, but that sort of observation led nowhere pleasant and I was using his large appliances. I put up with that for nearly two years that ended a little over five years ago. Since then, I’ve had my own washer and drier and no one around to complain about my folding methods.
This minor bit of trivia comes up now because I help fold the clothes here. I still hold up the pants or shirt and flick out the wrinkles, but then I apologize to the Gentleman Companion. “Why?” he asks. “What are you apologizing for?” Good question. The apology is for my inability to stop cracking the clothes as I fold them and giving him a headache with the noise. Except the Gentleman Companion does not mind the snap and fold technique. He thanks me for folding his clothes, in fact, and he put all of the clothes in the washer and drier. The apology is actually to that last dude, who I thought would be the last dude for just such nonsense.
That same last dude also begrudged me my time away from him. Understand, first, that our time was only on the weekends because I lived three hours away, and he kept an accounting of all of the times that he visited me and all of the times that I visited him and I was always somehow in arrears despite the exchange rate being roughly one of his visits to every ten of mine. Understand, also, that our time together was also compromised by that half gallon of cheap scotch and hangover.
But I digress. 
The point being that, if I wanted to do something in my town on a Friday evening or Saturday or Sunday, if class or work or other activity kept me from being on the phone with him for as long as he wanted during the week, then I ended up with nasty messages on voice mail, sullen attacks on my manners or my commitment to the relationship, and mournful criticisms of my failings as a companion, a woman, and a person.
God, but he could be an ass. But, again, I digress.
This, too, comes up now because I’ve taken a liking to a boxing class at my gym (more on that at another time, perhaps). Usually, I go on Saturday mornings, but they also have classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I plan to roll out of bed and into writing on the weekends once the semester starts, but going to the Tuesday or Thursday class means getting home late. Thus, I found myself not only asking for permission, but also presenting a list of reasons that this is a good idea for both me and the Companion.  “Of course you can go to your boxing class!” he said, a bit shocked that would even ask. “Why wouldn’t you just assume that you could do what you want? Who would have a problem with you doing something you like?” Well, actually, the last dude. The one before him, too, in fact. A couple of the others before that would have just made fun of me for taking a boxing class in the first place.
Indeed, just moments ago, the Companion came into my office to ask me something, and my hackles went up when he glanced in the direction of my screen. I snapped at him, and then apologized because I was not actually miffed at him. My reaction was a reflex that goes back to using the family computer in the dining room in the 1980s. The whole family would look over my shoulder as they passed through the room, which was often. I felt my privacy violated. I felt monitored. Privacy was such an ungainly thing in our house. When it was violated, mockery always followed. Since then, I try always to keep my computer screen and my back turned to a wall, so no one can sneak up on me and judge. I respond the same way to the question, “what are you doing?” That question carries the association that, whatever it is that I’m doing, I should be doing something else.
Of late, I keep having these revelations, discovering assumptions that I have about interactions, about marital types of partnerships, and about myself. Most of those assumptions are really bad ideas. They all have their own internal logic based on experience, but in reality, they are not very productive to live. They take up a lot of my time and energy, actually. Who knew that cowering was so exhausting?
I was raised with disrespect and abuse, taught to be both a bully and a coward, to cringe and bend toward power, and to know myself as both self-important and abjectly worthless. Disrespect and abuse were normal. I did not like them, but they were the way of my world, and I became twisted in response, unable to avoid disrespectful and abusive connections and attempting to fully retreat from all sorts of intimacies.  That is the reason that I am so weird about maintaining connections.
About four, maybe five years ago, I made the conscious decision to discover and unlearn all of these very bad ideas. Sometimes, the whole process is so demoralizing. I get sick of my own recurring crap. In therapy, I think, “GAWD! This? Again? How many times have I trod this territory?” I think it right now, as I write this post. Those brain ruts run pretty deep. Then, I have these revelatory moments, these epiphanies. I’m not sure that I had the ability to have them even as late as five years ago. I had a vague awareness that something was not right, that I was neither being treated well nor responding appropriately. Now, I am amazed that I put up with so much from so many for so long.
The key difference, now, is that someone does treat me with great respect and affection. No, that is actually more the key chain, the key is that I trust that respect and affection. I never find myself thinking with resignation, “well, this is about as good as I can expect.” I think, “this is what I wanted and never thought actually existed except as an act.” These revelations are the unlearning of those bad ideas.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I'm always happy when I see a new post from you, because you write so thoughtfully.

The brain ruts do indeed go deep. Mine are mainly from my brothers, a bit from parents, and it's terrible and ridiculous how they still infest my current reactions with people, when I have lived away from the family-of-origin longer than I lived with them, and do live with someone who is respectful and affectionate. I would say I trust that, but in fact when I am tired or otherwise not thinking clearly, the default does seem to be not trusting it. I'm better, but I'm not "cured."

Clio Bluestocking said...

Thank you, Dame Eleanor.

I wonder if we ever get cured. Perhaps, in the words of those sages, the Beatles, the comfort lies in "getting better all the time."

RPS77 said...

I've got some very deep "brain ruts" myself. Mine are mostly internally generated, rather than the result of the way that other people have treated me, but I can completely understand the frustration that comes from having to confront for the umpteenth time patterns of thinking and feeling and acting that you thought that you had put to rest long ago.

In spite of all the difficulties, it is a great thing to be able to recognize the ways of thinking that are hurting you, and to take steps to change them. It's a great thing also to have someone close to you who helps you do this.

penn said...

Even four and a half years into our relationship and over a year into our marriage, I still find myself doing some of these behaviors. I apologize for being late at work or for savoring my time alone while the husband is off somewhere else. And he responds the same way your gentleman does.

If you ever figure out how to heal those ruts, let us know. I fear they are like the Oregon Trail; so worn in that you can still see the ruts over a century later. But I hope not.


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