24 June 2010

The Only Way Out is Through

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about how memories take shape, and how they in turn shape us. Parenting From the Inside Out gets pretty deep into brain mechanics, in an effort to explain how our childhood memories effect how we raise our children. A lot of the brain-talk is a little more scientific than this blog needs to get, but what stood out for me was this fact: the human brain is thought to be the most complex thing in the known universe. The most complex thing. 

Makes sense then that we are the only entity concerned with "truth".

Here's a question I've wanted an answer to -- the truth, as it were -- for some time.

As I've noted before, this parenting thing has been hard for me. I look around at my mom friends and wonder: why am I struggling so hard? Most of said women are not only succeeding as moms, but are also juggling jobs, cottage industries, daily blogs, or pursuing their dream project on the side, or dealing with multiple children, or at the very least, not falling apart as often as I seem to.

So what gives?  I've got one stellar child. A little active, maybe, and a frequent night waker, but by all accounts a model mini-human being. I don't work, I have a very proactive and supportive husband, my health, and lots of friends and resources at my disposal. What is wrong with me that being a mom is such a struggle?

10 group therapy sessions, 6 individual sessions, a few 12 step meetings, multiple pertinent books and hours of reflection later, I understand a little better.

Bear with me. Some of you won't like this much.

Apparently, I have not been merely experiencing my daughter's childhood; I am reliving my own. Which was light on roses, heavy on the thorns (if you get my drift.) Additionally, I am feeling for the first time all the difficulties that I was unable to accept and absorb as a defenseless child, one without the benefit of facebook, cathartic writing, warm baths, margaritas, reckless driving and the ear of good friends that I enjoy today. What I couldn't take on board then got stowed away below decks, if you will.

I'd really rather not get much further into this line of thought because I know plenty of readers will consider it 100 proof BS, and I'm not prepared to defend my nascent standpoint. But that's where I'm at and let me tell you, it's not a fun place to live most times (big shout out to my husband for being dragged along on the roller coaster).

Along the way I found the incredible Mary Karr. She became an illuminated signpost in the dark unmarked path I was straggling down. I have now plowed two-thirds of the way through her memoir triology,

The Liars' ClubCherry : A MemoirLit: A Memoir

so let me summarize her journey for you: spectacularly traumatic childhood leads to eventual alcoholism and general babymamatraumadrama. Things begin to turn around when she 12-Steps her way into religion. Stability, personal and professional success and general satisfaction with life are the end result (but please don't take my word for it -- read for yourself. I don't do justice to her extraordinary powers of storytelling).

Hmmm, I began to think to myself. Religion. God.  Prayer. There's a concept. Heck, I remember God. Used to be pretty tight with him back in the day.

So I tried it. I thought long and hard about what I wanted, what I really, really wanted, then took a deep breath and asked for it: more of the Santa Barbara feeling, please. I'd like more of the contented inward stillness I get when I'm in that town, descending the Thousand Steps or under the eucalyptus on the Douglas preserve or watching the top of Los Padres winking through cottony wisps of coastal cloud. I'd like the peace that comes from being with people who care about me and want the best for me, like I get when my half-sister and I converge there and hang out with her dad (who lives in SB and is the reason I know the area at all).

That's what I asked for,  and the very next day my half-sister called to tell me that her dad was thinking of us and wanted to sponsor a little trip, for she and I to be together.

Wow, I thought. If that's the power of prayer, than count me in.

Of course, if you've read my older posts, you know that this is not the first instance of me reading helpful intervention as From Above. But I have to learn something about three thousand times before I really believe it, apparently.

MythologyA few weeks into this rapprochement with the divine -- because though I was willing to recognize a higher power, I wasn't necessarily reuniting with my childhood notion of the Great Bearded One -- and I stumbled into a problem. While reflecting on the way I had as a child been sacrificed to my parents' needs, I remembered the story of Iphegenia. Re-reading my high school copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology I came across this passage about her:

"The Greeks, as has been said, did not like stories in which human beings were offered up, whether to appease angry gods or to make Mother Earth bear a good harvest or to bring abut anything whatsoever. They thought about such sacrifices as we do. They were abominable. Any diety who demanded them was thereby proved to be evil, and, as the poet Euripides said, "If gods do evil then they are not gods".

Which made me wonder: why am I praying to a god for resolution to a situation s/he/it allowed in the first place? If god can remove/resolve the effects of a painful situation, couldn't s/he/it have prevented it from happening at all?

At the 12 step meetings I attended, I was bereft to hear member after member exclaim how little they knew after so long, even after years in the program. I don't want to sit in a cavernous hall ten years down the line to realize I still don't know anything. I feel like shit now, thank you very much. I would like to feel less like shit tomorrow, and even less the day after that.

Somehow, I don't think praying to a god to take my pain/sins/flaws away is the way to feeling less shitty. Not for me, anyway. I know it works for other people, and bully for them. For me, the only way out is through.

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