Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

Fall and winter are hard. They’ve been difficult for years because I have both the shorter days to deal with and the holidays. Holidays have been awful for years, really ever since I left home, because if my family isn’t directing manipulation and abusive behavior towards me, they’re directing it to my siblings. This Christmas was the first time I’d gone to visit my parents and both of my younger siblings since I was 18. Which, god 18 was a long time ago. Anyway, the older of my two younger sisters flew into Boston the Saturday before Christmas and the three of us, (my sister, my partner, and myself) took Greyhound up to northern Vermont to celebrate with my parents and my youngest sibling (who lives ten miles away from my parents).

There were good moments in the three days that we were there. It was great spending time with both of my siblings at the same time because it’s pretty rare we’re all in one place at the same time. It was nice to remember little family traditions and share them with my partner. It was good to spend time with my mother in the mornings when we both woke up before every else. There was snow, which always makes Christmas seem more real. There were some really bad moments there too, and they kind of crushed the good things. The bad parts… They’re pretty bad.

Both of my sisters and I drove someplace where we could take a long walk the morning of Christmas Eve. We didn’t wind up walking very far because my youngest sister slipped on the parking lot of her building and landed on her knee and elbow. We wound up walking a bit into the center of town and getting coffee and just hanging out for a bit. It was really nice, minus the part where my sister’s knee hurt. But on the way home, my other sister burst out crying because she didn’t want to go back to my parents’ home because she didn’t want to be around our father. He had apparently come up behind her that morning, put his arms around her, and tickled her stomach that morning. She was afraid to be alone with him. We wound up taking the long way back to my parents’ house and promised her that we wouldn’t let him get her alone again if we could help it.

So we got back and my youngest sister asked if we wanted to watch a movie with her. She’d started Die Hard (best Christmas movie ever, if you ask me) the day before and I said yes because it’s awesome. Then we asked my other sister if she wanted to watch with us, which she did, but my father had been trying to talk her into playing a game with him just the two of them. So my sister agreed to watch it with us, the three of us on the futon with my partner sitting at the counter. My father got really pissed that she had chosen to do something with us instead of him and stormed off, slamming the door behind him. It made me anxious and I’m sure it made my sister anxious because she had “caused” him to be angry. Anyway, we watched the movie and eventually moved on from worrying about what he might say or do next. I was definitely on edge the rest of the evening, but we all got through it.

Christmas started out fine. I hung out with my mother again early in the morning because I was waking up at 5:30 again for no reason. When everyone was awake and downstairs and properly caffeinated (minus my sister and myself), we opened stockings and my sister played the Christmas elf (don’t ask, it’s a family thing from long before I was old enough to understand Christmas at all) and handed out presents from under the tree. Everyone was having a good time together, which was nice. My father was kind of an ass. My partner went out of her way to make a batch of hot sauce to give him, and I’d gone to two different stores to find appropriate peppers. He basically unwrapped it, asked what it was and what he was supposed to do with it, and set it aside. No thank you, no acknowledgment of the effort we put into it. Then he opened a card that my sister had given him and made a big deal out of how wonderful and thoughtful it was. So I was already pissed at him and decided not to bother with a gift for him again, because clearly he didn’t give a shit about anything from me.

Later that morning, my mother was in the kitchen cooking and roasting vegetables for dinner, and we were hanging out in the living room with my partner. My sister was in the rocking chair that my mother has had pretty much since I was a baby, rocking. My father came up behind her and leaned on the back of the chair so she wouldn’t be able to rock anymore. She slid as far forward as she could in the chair. After it became clear that he wasn’t going to leave the chair alone, she said something about how she couldn’t rock anymore and his response was that she should lean back in the chair. So my father is standing there, ignoring her very obvious discomfort and she is sending pleas for help from the rest of us. I told him that it looked like she didn’t like him hanging on the back of her chair. He ignored me completely. I waited a minute and then said “I think she’s asking you to stop. Please stop.” which apparently was not appropriate or reasonable in my father’s mind, because he left the room muttering “for fuck’s sake” as he left the room. So everyone except my partner was panicking over what he might do, because he had obviously been pissed off at my sister trying to communicate a boundary with him and had ignored her completely and then was pissed at me for interfering.

This is a pattern with my father. He doesn’t tolerate us setting boundaries with him, especially when it involves my sister. She’s his favorite and I think he has some fucked up notion that she’s not her own person and he can do what he want to and around her. (Side note: it took years of her telling him not to touch her ass and my mother kind of telling him to stop before he actually stopped. When she was 25.) She just basically is not allowed to have bodily autonomy with him. She’s just a pawn for him to move around. And for the most part, my mother doesn’t do anything to discourage him from this behavior. She might speak up on occasion, but usually it’s in a way that everyone else can tell has no chance of being effective at all. And she was giving my sister a guilt trip to spend more time with him, alone, in a way that feels obligatory, like she owes him that.

I don’t know if I’m going to go back for the holidays after this. It basically stirred up a lot of childhood trauma and I’ve spent the last few days with varying levels of dissociation. It’s not okay. I know it’s not okay. And I can’t do anything about it because my father acts like a fucking child anytime someone dares to tell him no. Actually no, that’s an insult to the children I know. I know he’s an abusive asshole. I’m pretty sure everyone except my mother knows this, but somehow we get dragged back into his shit every time. I texted my therapist the day after we got back to Boston to see if she had any free time before the weekend. She wound up calling me to check in even because she wasn’t working that week and I think she could tell that I couldn’t wait until my next appointment. My sister left Friday morning and I’ve been trying to get back into life at home. It is good to be home, but it’s been really challenging because most of the trauma that I’ve been struggling with this week didn’t really hit until after we got back. It’s like I went back into that childhood mode of just doing what I had to to survive until I got back home and now that I’m back a whole bunch of stuff has been coming up. Trauma over being around my parents, grief over it not being safe emotionally for me to be around them, sadness that the hopes I had that things could be different were dashed pretty quickly, and feeling like I was stupid for getting my hopes up in the first place.

I’m trying to stay grounded. I had TMS Thursday and Friday and overall felt like I was coping well and listening to the parts of me that are needing attention. I’ve been taking long walks again, something that was very much lacking in Vermont, listening to music, and drinking a lot of tea. I’m gradually getting back to where I was before Christmas. And that’s probably all normal, even if it feels horrible. We will all get through this, one way or another.

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