Friday, November 27, 2009

In control (part 2)

My first boyfriend grew up in what I would call a happy household. The parents were very happy together, and loved and supported their three children were possible. At the same time they also embraced other children like me and welcomed us into their family and lives. They were supportive of me when challenges arose, giving me a listening ear and support or questions when needed. They enjoyed the little things, and even though they had their own challenges, they shared their lives of love and laughter with me.

I grew up in what I would call an unhappy household. My parents had struggles in their relationship long before my brother or I were conceived.

In early memories I recall myself hiding on the stairs in the hallway after bedtime, because I heard my parents fighting. From experience I knew that when alcohol was involved, these fights would grow louder and louder and could grow into problem situations. I would listen to the flood of intense frustration, irritation and anger, knowing that there could be a moment that this would escalate into physical violence. I was the soldier at his post ready to run to my brother and call him out of bed to help me separate our parents.

I must have been five or six years old when I heard that the parents of my neighbor friend were divorcing. This was far from a regular happening those days and I remember that there were lots of discussions about it. Someone (I think it was the father of my friend) explained to me that in a divorce two parents decide to no longer live together because they are no longer happy together. This made so much sense to me that I went to my mom and asked her why she and daddy didn't divorce also!

My parents stayed together "for the children" until I was fourteen years old. Then my mom moved out and my brother and I stayed with my dad. This was a strange time. None of us could cook, my dad still came home drunk most of the time, and I remember our first Christmas together filled with emotions, lots of alcohol and lots of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Nina Simone. The music was played so loudly that the neighbors called the police.

I don't know exactly when it started, but while drunk my dad started to project his anger towards my mom onto me. I would get really scared and once had to lock myself up in my bedroom, while he was yelling from the other side. I told myself that this was unacceptable and that the next time this would happen, I would leave. The next time came long before I was fifteen years old. My dad chased me around the living room couch and up into my bedroom and then chased my brother with a piece of wood into his room, and I'm not sure but I seem to remember that he climbed out of his window over the roof to the neighbors house to protect himself.

Hidden behind the closed bedroom door, I made plans about what to do next. I waited until my dad left the house the next morning. Then I walked to the supermarket and walked back with an empty shopping cart. I filled this cart with my clothes, my music installation and other things I held dear and walked out of that door, deciding that this was the last time this would ever happen to me. I remember crying from relief and sadness while putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of my mom’s house. I did not know if she would be home and I did not know if her door would be open for me. She was there and she opened her door graciously and lovingly...

I turned fifteen. My mom had gone to school and graduated with great results. Then she found a job in a furniture store that she seemed to enjoy a lot. But slowly something started to change. She got more frustrated and started to have problems at work. I would come home after school to a seemingly normal home situation, but there would be little things that seemed "off".

For the longest time I could not put my finger on it. What was happening? For example: my mom take the pictures off the wall and placed them on the floor facing the wall. When I asked about it, she would laugh and say she was cleaning and that she had put them there. Another time I would come home and all my clothes would be pulled out of my drawers and be lying on the floor. She would explain that she had been looking for something special. My mom would start walking backwards though the living room and would stop and laugh when I would ask her why she was doing that. A little weird and I didn't understand...

Then my mom slid into full-blown psychosis and would sit with a knife on her bed at night too afraid to sleep. The next day, I decided to go to the doctor for my mom. He listened to me and then told me he could not help. I had to make an appointment and go to a special psychiatric department in another side of town. Say hello to healthcare and the child support system!

From the doctor I walked straight to this government-run department and asked to talk with someone. The people were very friendly and told me that they could come by and visit my mom, but that they could not come into the house uninvited. I told them that I would let them in. Say hello to adult responsibilities!

They came by; I let them in; my mom sent them away refusing help. I will skip my mom's response to me...

I lived with my mom until I was eighteen years old. I finished high school, and went to college while my mom went though different periods of psychoses and better times where she tried to put her life back on track. While I never got support from any of the healthcare related organizations, different families supported me by offering a bed, a meal and love when needed. They invited me into happy households and gave me the opportunity to experience the things I would otherwise never have experienced.

Why do I tell you all this? Lee, Teflon's dad, asked me at different occasions during the past few days: "Do you believe that we are in control at all times? Are you in control when you get raped? Are you in control while we are fighting in Afghanistan? Are you in control while Obama is doing nothing in the While House?"

I told him: listen, I do not believe we are in control over situations. Things happen. We do our part, and others do their part and together we create the situation. I could not control my dad's drinking habit; I could not control my mom's psychoses; I could not force the healthcare system to help my mother. However, I could take care of myself by opening myself to other possibilities and taking steps to change the situation and embracing what would come my way. I believe you can choose your happiness and actions during a challenge; over these you are always in control.

Only tonight I realized that while the philosophy of happiness has taught me that I can choose happiness in any situation, I figured out myself at a way younger age that every challenge includes valuable wonderful opportunities. Life for me is not about keeping out challenges or even fixing the challenges; it's about going with the flow. Letting go of control, I can grasp new opportunities that might otherwise have eluded me.

My wish for you is to let go of controlling your situation and to take control of your happiness and your actions. By doing this, I believe that you'll open yourself up to new possibilities that can't be found otherwise.


  1. Iris,
    Thankyou for such a touching, moving story and you write with such precision and clarity about a complex family situation. It's heartwarming. Challenges do create wonderful opportunities and, like you, I also knew that before I started in earnest with the Option Process. Your comment "going with the flow" is key in my opinion, but isn't it often hard do to? It takes courage, belief that whatever happens will be okay, ease and comfort at all times and conviction that so called "bad" things often turn out to be "good" things and so why hold on to this duality which creates unhappiness. It's an inspiring article about how to stay empowered during a confusing period and using challenges for personal transformation. Inspiring!
    Mark Oakley

  2. Iris,
    You are such an amazing woman. I'm honored to know you.



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