communication, family, memories, mental health, narcissists

That’s not really how I remember what happened…

Bill left for Bavaria yesterday afternoon. Before he left, he made me lunch and started the dishwasher. I swear, I have the loveliest husband. It makes me wonder if people think I’m a shrew. It seems like the best guys end up with the most complicated women. A lot of very kind, considerate men are pretty co-dependent, meaning they go to extremes to people please and not speak up for what they want or need. There was a time when my husband was a lot like that, although he’s definitely much better now. He’s been seeing some great progress in his work with a Jungian therapist, but I also do my best to reassure him that he doesn’t have to be a people pleaser to keep me in his life.

I’m not lying when I say that Bill is a very considerate guy. However, I don’t think he’s like that solely because he’s desperate to keep the relationship going. I think he knows full well I’m not going to leave him. I truly adore him, but I also know that if we ever did break up, I’d probably end up living in a cardboard box. 😉

The truth is, Bill is a very service oriented person. He genuinely enjoys taking care of people. I am the lucky recipient of his attentions, and our relationship just works. That is an amazing thing. It’s a great thing to still be able to laugh heartily with your spouse after almost twenty-one years of marriage. We really miss each other when we aren’t together.

That was the mindset I was in last night, as I tried to decide how to spend my evening. I was watching political videos on YouTube, but they were annoying and distressing me. I can barely stand to listen to Donald Trump speak, never mind the rest of the idiots who comprise today’s Republican party, even when what I’m watching is a critical video. YouTube now has so many ads to get through… it can be a very frustrating exercise to make it through any commentary video. Even the really good content providers– the ones who have scored product endorsement deals– are annoying these days. You get the YouTube ads, plus their plugs in the videos.

I ended up looking at the movies I downloaded to see if I could find one I hadn’t yet seen that would appeal. I decided to watch The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021), which is a dramatized retelling of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner’s life story. I remember watching a documentary by the same name that came out in 2000 or so. The documentary was interesting, although I haven’t seen it recently. I remember Jen from Fundie Fridays praising the 2021 movie, which was why I downloaded it some months ago. So last night, I decided to watch the movie, which was very good and surprisingly moving. I mean, at the end, I had a lump in my throat. Tammy Faye seemed like a genuinely Christlike person. What a shame she got tangled up with Jim Bakker.

Then during the credits, Tammy Faye’s daughter, Tammy Sue, sang a song her mother had made famous. I was absolutely delighted by Tammy Sue’s voice. I’d heard her sing before, but it was when she was much younger. The song she sang for the soundtrack of The Eyes of Tammy Faye was really beautiful. And anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t issue those kinds of compliments easily.

I was feeling pretty good as the credits rolled. I noticed the time. It was about 9:30 PM. I wondered if maybe I might like to watch something else, when I got a private message from one of my sisters. She was writing to let me know that she was thinking of going to a birthday celebration for our mom next month. It’s being arranged by my other two sisters.

The day before my own birthday last month, I was invited to attend, but the notice was too short. And… well… I just don’t enjoy family gatherings much. They’re too toxic for me. The last thing I want to do is spend thousands of dollars and fly eight hours to spend several days fighting with my relatives. So, I declined the invite.

My mom later told me that she’d asked my sister to invite me, even though she knew I wouldn’t come. I have repeatedly explained to her why I don’t like our family gatherings. They usually require a few days of recovery, and often add unpleasant fight memories to the big bank of them I already have in my mind. But even if I wanted to go to Virginia, it simply isn’t feasible during the summer when I have to arrange for Noyzi to be boarded. The Hundepension books up quickly for summer dates, especially in August. We also just took a big vacation, which cost a lot and used up a lot of Bill’s leave.

Sometimes I feel sad that I don’t want to go home anymore. I do love my mom. I love my sisters, too. I just don’t want to be around them all at the same time. It always devolves into traumatic episodes. Most of the time we’re all together, and we’re alone and not, say, at a family reunion with the extended family, there’s a big fight. I haven’t had one of those in a long time. I don’t miss the fights. But I do wish we all got along better. It would be nice if we could. It’s not only up to me.

The last time I did a “reunion” with the immediate family was at Christmas 2003. I’ve written about the incident a lot. It marked a turning point for me, and what I’m willing to tolerate, now that I’m an adult and have the freedom to opt out of the drama. The short version of the story is, my sister– the one who messaged me last night– asked Bill and me to give her a ride to our parents’ house. I reluctantly agreed, but I told her ahead of time that if there was a fight– no matter who started it– we would be leaving. If she was okay with that, we would give her a ride. She agreed.

We went down to Gloucester, and sure enough, there was a fight. It involved me and another sister, who criticized me for talking about Ex. I had only been married for a year at that point, and I was still shocked and amazed by how incredibly toxic Ex is. So I was talking about it, and my sister proceeded to sanctimoniously lecture me, even going as far as to tell me about how important it was to “be a good Christian” and forgive Ex (as if I really care about that). Naturally, that really pissed me off, because I thought it was mean, discounting, and disrespectful.

Bill and I were also relegated to a very uncomfortable pull out couch in the “office” in my parents’ former home (a converted garage). I had started my period, and was feeling yucky, and now I was angry with my sister for chastising me. I decided that I just wanted to go home.

The sister who had gotten a ride with us had other plans. She wanted us to take her to Williamsburg, where there are lots of outlet stores and restaurants, and drive her around all day. Bill and I had no extra money for shopping at that time, so we couldn’t shop with her. Also, having spent plenty of shopping days with my sister, I knew the day would involve watching her put salespeople through their paces, until she either ran out of energy or money. I wanted no part of that, so I reiterated that we were going to go home the next day.

She then immediately tried to talk Bill into changing my mind, which he wouldn’t have been able to do even if he’d actually wanted to do that. It occurs to me that it’s another level of disrespectful for my sister to actually think my husband would listen to her over me. He shares a bed with me! She must have a pretty low opinion of me to assume Bill would want to please her over his own wife.

The next morning, my sister was still in bed as we were loading up the car. I told her we were going to go. She proceeded to throw a HUGE tantrum. She was screaming at me like a petulant child, and had the nerve to try to make demands. I remember looking at her and calmly saying, “You’re not in a position to make demands of me. It’s my car, and I want to go home.”

She started yelling about needing to dry her hair so she wouldn’t catch a cold. She stomped out of the room to get the hair dryer. I realized that waiting for that would mean she’d be in my car for several hours, angry and rude because she hadn’t gotten her way. I turned to Bill and said, “Let’s just go.” And we left. My other sister later laughed about that incident and said my temper tantruming sister had been furious that we’d left her in Gloucester. But then, apparently, she’d said something indicating that she was impressed that I had a backbone.

At first, I was really upset about leaving my sister. But then, after about a half hour or so, I calmed down and realized that what had just happened was another major victory for me in the fight against being abused and manipulated by my family members. We got home without incident and had a much better time in our own space, and in our own bed. My sister resumed speaking to me about a year later.

The following year, when Ex tried to manipulate me into agreeing to spend Christmas with her at my father-in-law’s house, I had the strength to say no. It was because of what had happened the year prior. I realized that I didn’t even want to spend the holidays with my own family members. There was no way in HELL I was spending it with my husband’s ex wife in my in-laws’ house. And although there was tremendous pressure to surrender to Ex’s delusions, I found the nerve to do what I wanted to do– stay home… which turned out to be the right thing to do. I can pretty much promise that if I had attended that Christmas with Ex, it would not have gone well. And it’s not because I wouldn’t have tried to be civil, but because she’s a narcissist who has to have everything her way.

Back around 2015, I was thinking about this chain of events while chatting with my sister. I thought she might be mature enough to talk about it. I even tried to frame that incident in a positive way. Ultimately, what happened at my parents’ house in 2003 was a good thing, because I finally stood up to people who had manipulated me my whole life, and left me nursing deep psychological wounds. Because I did that, I had the strength and wisdom not to give in to Ex’s crazy demands.

It was a monumental decision for me to refuse to attend that Christmas with Ex. That decision might have even been instrumental in making sure my marriage to Bill would be successful. Because if I had given in to Ex and attended that Christmas, there might have been a huge fight… or, even if it had gone “well”, she would have have a precedent to suggest doing it again. The definition of the gathering’s “going well” would have entailed my keeping my mouth shut the whole time while Ex made disrespectful comments to Bill and me, monopolized everyone’s time, and hovered over Bill’s visitation with his kids.

Who’s got the time and the money for that experience, especially since no one going to that fiasco, except Bill, even liked me? Why would I want to spend time and money, on the biggest holiday of the year, in that miserable situation? Ex is a NARCISSIST, and her aim is to control everyone. Those who can’t be controlled are jettisoned. My being there would just give her information and supply her with fuel. Or, it would tempt me to commit a felony. 😉

In 2015, I had wanted to explain all of this to my sister. I wanted to tell her that the fight we had in 2003 had, in a weird way, actually turned out to be constructive for me. But, when I brought it up, she got very angry… and she framed a narrative that I didn’t recognize at all. She made herself the victim of the whole thing. According to her, our other sister, who had lectured me about talking about Ex, was the one who should have been “punished”, not her.

She conveniently forgot about the HUGE tantrum she threw, complete with insults and swearing. She was entitled to speak to me that way, because it wasn’t her fault that there had been a fight between me and our sister. But I had told her from the get go that if there was a fight– and I didn’t care who started it— I would be leaving. She had agreed to those terms. And when the fight happened and I tried to enforce the terms we agreed upon, she tried to change them. When that didn’t work, she became toxic. And when I refused to acquiesce to her tantrum and left the house without her, she became pathetic. When I wanted to talk about it with her in 2015, she got mad at me for reminding her of that painful incident in which she ended up having to take a bus home. She plainly considered herself a victim. And when I told her that our other sister had said tantrum sister been “proud” of me for leaving her, tantrum sister turned that into a victim situation, too. She denied saying that, and blamed our sister for “telling lies” to me. (Um… I don’t think she lied…)

Well, last night, tantrum sister brought up that 2003 era fight again. She was ranting about our mother and our sisters, telling me outrageous stories about crazy, “toxic” things they have supposedly said and done to her over the past few years. Granted, if there is any truth to what she said, it is pretty fucked up stuff. However, experience has taught me that this sister has a very skewed view of things. She embellishes and twists and takes things out of context. And she ALWAYS makes herself out to be the aggrieved one.

Tantrum sister never mentions her part in these conflicts she has with others. In her stories, she’s always the innocent victim, being “picked on” by everyone else. Once again, she blamed our sister for being “toxic” and causing her to be punished. I didn’t bother trying to tell her that– no– she got left in Gloucester because of her decision to throw a huge tantrum when things didn’t go her way. Yes, the fight with our other sister had set up the reason why I wanted to leave early, but she had to take a bus home because of HER bad behavior and blatant and disrespectful attempts to manipulate Bill and me.

I have learned that correcting my sister’s memories isn’t a productive exercise. It will only lead to pain. I can’t change the fact that she won’t assume responsibility for her conflicts with other people. Trying to confront her over these discrepancies generally turns into a fight, and fighting with her online was the last thing I wanted to do on a Sunday night, after having just watched a good movie. So, I let her rant a bit, then told her it was getting late, and I was going to go to bed… And then I thanked God for the ocean that separates me from my sisters.

I did gently push back, though, when she started trying to tell me our mom is a narcissist, and making tentative comparisons of her behavior to Trump’s and Hitler’s. I know a thing or two about narcissists. My mom isn’t one. However… I do think that perhaps my sister could be one. She thinks she’s an empath. She’s actually said this to me and been completely serious. I know a little about empaths, too. I’m married to one. She and our mom have never gotten along. I do get along with my mom. My mom is far from perfect, but she’s not a narcissist. Sending me a birthday card with a heartfelt note in it is not an example of “love bombing”, nor do I think this is an example of our mom trying to make me into a “flying monkey”. In fact, our mom mostly tries to stay out of conflicts; she doesn’t create them.

Why am I writing about this? It’s mainly because it helps me keep the craziness straight. My sisters must think I’m stupid and the easiest target for gaslighting because I quit trying to offer my perspectives. But no, I’m not stupid… I have an excellent memory and normal intelligence, and I remember very well what happened at Christmas in 2003. We each had a part in that fight– that is, two of my sisters and me (the eldest wasn’t involved, because she was smart enough to book a hotel room).

In 2003, I should have known that I can only talk to my sisters about innocuous things like the weather (although even that topic is becoming contentious these days). My being upset about the shit Ex was pulling when Bill and I were newly married in 2003 wasn’t something my sisters wanted to hear about, and they felt quite free to tell me to STFU and demand that we sleep on an awful pull out couch for two or three nights while I bled from my private parts. That tells me that I don’t need to waste time hanging out with them. They don’t even treat me with as much respect as they might treat a friend. I don’t think any of them would choose me for a friend. And the reverse is also true. I don’t think I’d pick any of them, either.

See… I would hope for sisters who are good friends and care enough to listen to me when I have struggles, just as I would listen to them. Instead, they just want me to show up and shut up, so the whole family is together and it looks nice. When the conversation is about something they don’t want to talk about, instead of asking to change the subject in a respectful way, they resort to criticism and lecturing. Quite frankly, I don’t value their company enough to have them tell me what I can and can’t talk about, or demand that I look or behave in a certain way. So, I’ll just stay away, thank you very much.

My sister told me she doesn’t really want to go to the “birthday bash” next month. For my mom’s sake, I think it would be good if she didn’t go. But my mom would like her to be there… because in spite of what my sister thinks, our mother does love her and is proud of her. She’s hoping that, for once, there will be a nice visit with three of her daughters and the grandchildren. Maybe it will happen. Experience has taught me, though, that this “bash” may actually end in blows. Especially if there’s any booze involved. I’m glad to stay in Germany and just hear about what happened later. 😉

Oh… and by the way… it’s also not lost on me that this sister probably shit talks me, too, with our other sisters. However, I can’t control that, so I don’t really give a shit. I’m just gonna tune out.

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