Playlists are the new tea leaves

On Friday on my way home from work, I was thinking about the removal of toxic people from my life. I know some people don’t like describing other people as toxic. In this case, I don’t mean that the people themselves are toxic, but that they’re toxic to me, or we’re toxic to each other. (But should anyone think that a person can’t possibly be toxic, just look at the U.S. government.)

The one lesson I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t completely rid yourself of anyone who has been impactful in your life in any way. Sometimes this is a wonderful thought, because all those people who influenced you for the better are, in some ways, still with you. But sometimes this is a rather distressing thought, because you realize that the bad shit has influenced you, too, and you can’t fully rid yourself of those influences. Our experiences and our brain wiring make us who we are, and we can’t control or undo either.

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The temperature fell into the negatives here in Colorado this weekend. Looking out your window at a world covered over in white is always a peaceful feeling, as long as you don’t have to go anywhere. This weekend, I was lucky to have no plans or obligation. I’ve spent the past two days avoiding leaving the comfort of my house, and the past two nights burrowed under the pile of blankets on my bed.

Being warm in a comfortable bed is a lovely thing, a thing of privilege, and anyone who has such a privilege should be immensely thankful for it. But as thankful as I am to have these basic comforts, for me, it also invokes some not so comfortable memories.

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Blessed are the forgetful

A few years ago, I was briefly in another graduate program, and took a course in cognitive development. As a result, I no longer believe in free will.

Not that we don’t make decisions, and have choices.  Not that we don’t have the ability to learn and change and adapt. But the more I learned about the brain, the more I learned how much of a slave we are to our past experiences. Once something has been imprinted on our brain, it influences us to degrees we’re not even consciously aware of.

As I get older, I think that’s what bothers me the most about growing up in an abusive household – the fact that I was raised to be fearful, raised to be in a constant state of anxiety, raised to be a scapegoat, raised being told I wasn’t allowed to have emotions or reactions or a voice. I’ve been able to become more self-aware, and process my experiences, and overcome a lot of the negative emotions, and learn not only better coping mechanisms, but also acquire a lot of the skills that I should have been taught as a child.

But what I can’t do – what none of us can do – is erase those experiences from our brains. Not consciously, not unconsciously, not at a cellular level. Those are the experiences that shape how we react, how we make decisions. As I was studying the brain, I began to wonder if all we really do, cognitively, is react to information we already have. We think we’re making choices, but really, we’re just responding to not just a situation, but the summation of all of our experiences and situations.

Which means we never actually forget things. Even if we consciously forget, our brains don’t completely lose that information.

That’s where my anger resurges – not that I had to suffer through years of abuse, but the idea that something was done to me that impacted me in ways that I can’t undo. The concept of “healing” simply means rewriting as much of your cognitive wiring (so to speak) as you can, knowing that it can never be entirely undone.

That’s one of the reasons why I was fascinated by the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – the idea of erasing something entirely is enticing. Yet also dangerous, because as much as I wish I could undo what was done, if it suddenly wasn’t there anymore, who would I be? Would I get stuck in a loop of sorts, like Joel and Clementine, suddenly longing for and  being once again drawn to the very thing I’d forgotten?

Because even within that movie, all they succeeded in doing was erasing the conscious memories. The point was that Joel and Clementine didn’t completely forget one another – they were still drawn to the same places, and when they met again, still drawn to each other.

So if I could erase all the memories of the abuse, I’d be reacting to and driven by things that I didn’t understand.

But there are moments when the concept of selective forgetfulness is seductive.



Reasons to not feel bad about cutting off toxic parents

I have a lot of experience with toxic parents…I’ve gone no contact with them a number of times, recently for the very last time. I’ll deal with them if there’s ever a death in the family or some reason why I need to be in their physical proximity, but aside from circumstances like that, I will have no part in their lives. They’re just awful people.

But it took me a while to get to the point where I could break off contact quickly, cleanly, and with no feelings of guilt or regret. Getting to this point was a process. So when I saw this article from Bustle from last year titled ‘5 Reasons You Shouldn;t Feel Bad About Not Talking To Toxic Parents‘, I had to share.

I think the biggest take away for me was the author’s point around not allowing others to pressure you into keeping in contact with toxic parents because family. I’ve always personally said that sharing DNA doesn’t make me obligated to tolerate someone. I also tell people who don’t understand me, who like to give me the “but they’re your faaaaaamily!” line, that if you wouldn’t encourage someone to forgive and forget about abuse suffered from a spouse or significant other, then don’t tell someone to forgive and forget abuse from parents. That usually shuts them up.

If not, just ignore them – because the other part of the article that I was applauding in my head was when the author said that only YOU understand your experiences and how those experiences impact you. Others will sometimes try to tell you all about yourself, or explain your experiences, or rationalize your parents’ behavior. I started shutting this down by pointing out that of course my parents were never abusive when other people were around! Most abusers aren’t abusive when other people are present – so I remind them that they have no idea what happened behind closed doors. They have no idea what my experience was growing up. Only I do, and it’s up to me to decide how I move forward with my life.

One thing this article didn’t get into that I’ve had to deal with (and others, too) is the idea that if your parents spent money on you, they 1) must love and 2) couldn’t have been all that bad.

Yes, financially and materially, my life wasn’t that bad. But as anyone who has ever been abused knows, you pay dearly for any gift or favor an abusive parent gives or does. All the material things they showered me with were thrown back in my face any time I didn’t do something exactly the way they wanted, or failed to live up to expectations, or started to push back against the abuse. Money and material things were used not only to make me feel guilty, but to control me. And when that stopped working, the reaction was viscous. To this day, they post passive aggressive shit all over Facebook about how horrible and ungrateful I am and tell family members all about how much money they’ve spent on me. They just don’t understand why I don’t worship the ground they walk on.

Spending money on someone is not love. I’d rather have had parents who were broke but loved me than the financially stable but abusive assholes I got. But such is life.

Point is, I don’t feel bad about cutting abusive, toxic parents out of my life – and you shouldn’t have to, either. It doesn’t matter what relationship someone has to you…NOTHING makes abuse excusable, and you should NEVER feel obligated to tolerate your abusers.