Still codependent but working on it at age 67!

As a lifelong co-dependent and apparent sucker for abuse, it took me FOREVER to arrive at this simple answer to all who have taken advantage of my kindness and understanding:

Don’t be afraid to lose someone who is not grateful to have you.

As I head towards 70 years old I find that I have taken abuse from far too many in my life, first from a supremely judgmental family and then just about everyone else I met along the way. From the beginning, when I felt like I must take care of my mother’s emotional needs, I tried to comfort, mediate with and please others instead of standing up for my own needs. In fact, I hadn’t the slightest idea what my own needs were. After years of counseling, I still sometimes struggle with that…

The main sign of codependency is consistently elevating the needs of others above your own. Other signs include controlling behaviors, self-sacrifice, and fear of rejection.

Yes, gigantic fears of rejection and abandonment! And I was certain that if I was honest and truly myself, no one would want to be around me. I learned this behavior from my mother, who worshipped my father, but was also super angry at him most of the time. She thought having her own opinion or interests would be far too selfish, so she took on my father’s interests instead for most of her life, doing things she has no real interest in to please and be with him. After my father’s death she seemed lost. She had lost her leader.

What a shame and a waste of her unique personality and charm. Years of counseling and reading have helped me wake up to my own personality and charm, but also I find now I have a very low tolerance for abusive people. A number of people who used to be in my life are no longer welcome, because I have such a low tolerance for abuse and nastiness. But why should I fear losing them if they were never grateful to have me in their life?

I know it seems late in life to come to these conclusions, but at least I finally got it.

Sibling Relationships as our Parents Fade

We all know that death is a part of life, but as a middle boomer, I have been learning first hand about a few of the many emotional issues our parents demise can bring up among siblings. I believe a few of my personal struggles may reflect what other boomers are experiencing.

No, I am not talking about who gets what here, although that can certainly create major animosity between brothers and sisters as our parents pass away. What I am talking about here is experiencing the death of relationships with our siblings as our parents fade, and how these stressors may bring up previous traumas from our past.

Suddenly, after 40 or 50 years of growing apart, siblings may be forced to come together to decide quality of life and death issues for our parents. Differences between siblings can be countless after decades of living separate lives. Brothers and sisters may remain worlds apart. For example, my brother and sister could not possibly be more different.

Here are a few major sibling differences:

Very different health statuses and therefore view of quality of life issues

Differences in standards of living (homeless versus very well-off) & financial need

Differences in ethics and personal style

Very different personal relationships with our parents

Differences in the way we treat each other in difficult emotional times

When we add in parents who may be experiencing varying degrees of decreased mental capacity or dementia, we find an emotionally charged situation which often brings up old differences and new personality conflicts as family dynamics finally get settled. Because family members may be the ones whom we have relied on for emotional support in the past, they can be primary sources of relationship stress. It may take some time and work to understand all the stressors involved if siblings should choose to work through this process as our parents’ health fails. Otherwise this may be the best time to resolve decades of anger and frustration by finally ending a toxic relationship with your sister or brother.

Postscript: I just saw a film that dealt with this issue well, “June Again” a new Australian film.

Do you feel marginalized as you age? I do.

Perhaps you’ve heard about a new article in The Atlantic by Science journalist Ed Yong entitled:

“The Final Pandemic Betrayal.” Mr. Yong won the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for this “series of lucid, definitive pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic that anticipated the course of the disease, synthesized the complex challenges the country faced, illuminated the U.S. government’s failures and provided clear and accessible context for the scientific and human challenges it posed.

The subtitle of Mr. Yong’s latest article from April 2022 is:

“Millions of people are still mourning loved ones lost to COVID, their grief intensified, prolonged, and even denied by the politics of the pandemic.” I saw an interview with him this week that really hit home for me. At least nine million of us have lost someone we knew and cared for and yet it seems we just go on, ignoring the tremendous losses to so many. In just two years, COVID became the third most common cause of death in the U.S., which means that it is also the third leading cause of grief.

“Each American who has died of COVID has left an average of nine close relatives bereaved, creating a community of grievers larger than the population of all but 11 states. Under normal circumstances, 10% of bereaved people would be expected to develop prolonged grief, which is unusually intense, incapacitating, and persistent. But for COVID grievers, that proportion may be even higher, because the pandemic has ticked off so many risk factors.”

In his recent interview, Mr. Yong discussed what is for me the most important aspect of this horrible loss of life. The groups hardest hit were “marginalized” sections of our society. Who are they? The elderly, those chronically ill, the weakened, the brown, the black and low income groups who have less access to decent health care.

My experience in the past eight years, as I grow older and my own health declines, has been a movement from a “normal” person to one who definitely feels marginalized. First with the aging process we slowly become invisible in our culture, or worse, someone who should just get out of the way of the younger and more vital. Yes, it’s true some help me with doors and seem to feel some compassion for my difficult circumstances, but I have experienced a pulling away from others as I have become more disabled. I have found it almost impossible to make true friends in this rural area. It seems just about nobody believes I am worth their time and energy. I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

In this way I have learned what “marginalized” means in this country. We have always put an emphasis on being healthy and able-bodied, and when I was also healthy I rarely noticed what happened to those who are not. Yes, I do have financial resources unlike so many Americans, but I do not live by bread alone. Thanks to those of you who have made an effort to welcome us here. And to the rest of you, I hope you don’t ever become elderly and need a friend.

Father-Daughter Relationships: What I learned after the death of my father

It is now two years since my father’s death. He died one week before the Covid-19 pandemic struck our country. I was watching an interview with Will Smith the other day, where he spoke about his alcoholic father and his death. The interviewer said, “You rarely say anything about your father,” and Will responded with, “He was never there, so what can I say.” About his father’s death Will said, “The death of my father started a new phase in my life.” I have to say I agree to some extent with both of these observations as they relate to my own life.

An older friend said to me in the past year or so, that after our parents die we may finally feel more comfortable being honest with ourselves about our relationships with them. That has been my process in the past two years. Yes, I’ve had lots of counseling, in fact the first time I went in was to discuss my problems with my father and how he couldn’t seem to be there for me. Yes, I agree that we would best get past our fixations with our parents’ behavior towards us. But I enjoy understanding my past and how that explains my behavior in the years following my childhood.

Human behavior fascinates me!

Suddenly, in the past week or so, I saw this simple quote and it blew my mind! As strange as it may seem, I was constantly seeking appreciation and approval from most males in my life after my father tended to ignore me most of my childhood. I never felt truly appreciated by him. The exchanges I remember with him were observations like, “You have all A’s on your report card except for this one B+. What happened there?” Yes, I turned to my father for criticism and judgment, and I usually got it. (Interestingly, my brother dropped out of high school and ran away instead of taking this criticism day after day!)

So then men became those whom I would always try harder to please.

WOW, am I slow in figuring these things out! I called my first marriage ‘criticism central.’ I could do nothing right around my “was-band.” And it wasn’t until my divorce in my late 40s that I figured out what I was doing and decided to do things differently. When I first met Mike, who seemed genuinely caring and loving towards me, I was always suspicious, waiting for him to reveal his true feelings and change into my super critic. We even had a joke between us about this, where he would say: “We’re married now ###. Things are going to change around here!”

In retrospect, I would say most of the friends I’ve known weren’t grateful to have me in their life. My first husband, a wealthy man, bargained with me on how much it would take to make me go away. When we arrived at a number, he asked me to sign a contract written on a napkin so that number couldn’t go up. Yep, I could certainly pick ’em! That is why it took me so long to truly trust Mike.

Why does it take us so long to learn these lessons? Because they were our first experiences in the world. My father represented the way men act towards me and I knew I wanted him to love me so I kept trying harder. I mean how many people do you know who have three Masters degrees?

Along the way I learned that those who are heartlessly critical of others are also boundlessly insecure within themselves, not good company for anyone…

The Pros and Cons of Writing an Autobiography

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself : ‘How alive am I willing to be?’” – Anne Lamott

Whether to create an autobiography is my latest writing dilemma. I go back and forth almost every day. I kept a journal from Junior High School on, so I certainly have the material to work with. I also have lots of pictures from my past. Don’t get me wrong. My goal is not to punish anyone. I just want to write something that some might enjoy reading some day.

PROS

I certainly don’t want to get stuck in my past, but on the other hand, wouldn’t it be interesting to see where my mind was at in 9th grade? In college? In my 30s in comparison to my 60s? As a psychologist I would love to study my own transition from my early beliefs as a naive youngster to what I now like to call older and much wiser. Perhaps a study of how a liberated woman’s mind developed, starting in the mid-1950s.

I like to believe my life had meaning. One way to pass on that meaning is to write about it. As a member of the transitional, mid-Baby Boomer generation, from the conservative, sexist 1940s and 50s, to the 60s, 70s and beyond, I wish to acknowledge how much our country changed especially in terms of women’s lives and roles. I lived a non-traditional life of first building a career and delaying marriage. I chose not to have children, choosing instead to get to fully know myself before I brought anyone else into my life.

I lived most of my adult life working and single, enjoying the freedom that brings. I experienced a divorce (at age 45), which at least half of Baby Boomers have been through. I also spent a few years studying the trends in Baby Boomers in my 50s, and then wrote a book about them.

I have a graduate degree in psychology and studied midlife love for a few years after my divorce. I also opened my own version of a dating service in the early 2000s. That’s how I met husband number two, while trolling for matches for my women clients… My second book tells this story: How to Believe In Love Again.

I feel I have lots to share with other Baby Boomers and their children and grandchildren, eventually!

CONS:

What a lot of work! Do I have the stamina at this late date?

I certainly don’t want to get stuck in my past. As far as I’m concerned, I have already spent too much time thinking about what happened ‘back then.’ It seems to be one of my obsessions, and yet I do appreciate all the enticing memories I have from so many trips abroad and a few great love affairs. (You know who you were!) I find my trips down memory lane to be fantastic entertainment for when I’m sick and stuck in bed for days… It just seems like this is the right time to set the record straight in my own mind (before I lose it…LOL!)

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

And then there’s the whole question of seeing the past honestly and calling an asshole an asshole. On that topic I’m afraid I agree with my hero,

Anne Lamott: “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

As Anne says, acknowledging and telling our truth is what aging is all about!

But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” – Anne Lamott

A pilgrimage into my past…

A pilgrimage is a journey where a person goes in search of new meaning about their Self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life

When Mike first suggested that we drive to Manhattan Kansas to visit his older sister, I thought he was kidding. Neither one of us is crazy about Kansas, him less than me. You see, I was raised in Emporia, Kansas until age 11, when we moved to Boulder, Colorado. Talk about a culture shock as I entered my teens! But we always drove back to Kansas City at Christmas to see our grandparents on both sides, so this drive east felt somehow familiar to me. It was mostly uneventful until a truck pulling a long trailer almost changed lanes into us! Grrrrrrr…

To make up for it, we witnessed an AMAZING orange sunset behind us at the end of our day!

We rented a beautiful Airbnb apartment on Tuttle Creek Reservoir north of Manhattan and it was lovely. So well-appointed and comfortable, our home away from home. Mike got to spend some quality time with his sister, who suffers from a number of disabilities, and I had lots of time to relax and read.

This was our view of the lake from our apartment.

Then we experienced quite the adventure when we were in town having dinner on Wednesday. A tornado came right over us! We were at an Olive Garden when the storm hit. At first they said they couldn’t serve us and then they did because where else were we going to go? When our food came they told us to run in the kitchen if they called us, but the storm blew over eventually. It was quite the memorable Kansas dinner and the staff was so protective and friendly to us…

Yesterday we started east on I-70. Along the way we saw so many highway signs bent over backwards or completely destroyed by that storm! The wind was so fierce on Wednesday, but by Friday is was a beautiful sunny day with almost no wind. We decided to head south at Oakley, Kansas on the backroads, and I’m glad we did.

We observed hundreds of miles of tiny towns, silos everywhere, and Eastern Colorado farmland…

I was surprised to find how this trip east affected me emotionally. It brought back many memories of my father, who died last year. I felt his presence at various points in the trip and missed and mourned his passing over and over again. He loved collecting plants and birding along Kansas backroads.

Kansas was home to him…