perfect storm

I was just minding my own business.

The better part of my last two days have been spent doing yard work. This is not my yard. It’s not my house, either. This place and the property it sits on all belongs to my dad. He’s widowed (for a second time), in less than great health, and the property is starting to show the effects of that. So, I spent a lot of time getting things looking better. Not to make him happy – I’m not sure he really cares. Grief, and all the things named above, can do that to a person. It needed it. And while I now live here to care for him, I am also now the caretaker for this property as well. If it’s to be done, it falls on me.

While I wasn’t doing it for him, per se, I was pretty encouraged when my dad actually told me how great it looked yesterday, after just the first day. It seems to take a lot to get his attention enough for him to notice anything I do and comment on it. Okay…let me back up. It takes a lot for him to comment to me about anything he notices. There’s some kind of dysfunction there. It’s been that way for…a long time. I’m accustomed to it.

Here’s where some people might say it gets weird. My wife’s mom also lives with us. We moved her in with us first, to be clear. A couple of years ago, she sold the home she’d been living in for 50 something years, and moved from from her home state to where we were living due to my employer at the time moving us there. She’s also a widow – she’s lost three husbands, in fact! She’s pretty independent, as you might expect for someone with that kind of history, but was getting to the point of needing some additional support. And then, the unexpected happened and my dad found himself also widowed in the middle of last year. His physical and emotional condition were such that he just did not need to be alone. So, my wife, my mom-in-law, and I made the decision – with my dad and with support of my other siblings, to all move in with dad. The cool part is that his house was built in such a way that my dad, my mom-in-law, and my wife & I all have our own separate living areas. It works well – or at least well enough for this season of our (yes, unconventional) lives.

My wife and I don’t tell her mom anything about our personal business or the struggles we’ve been through, other than some rather vague generalities. The reason is simple: she simply cannot keep things to herself. If she hears it, she shares it. So, we are careful not to let her hear it, unless we want it to be known by others. Strategically, there can be some ways to use that to one’s own advantage – but it takes some careful thought to pull off!

Getting back to where I started, I’m 99.9% certain the only reason my dad told me how great the yard looked, yesterday, was because my mom-in-law told him that I would really appreciate hearing him say encouraging things. Yes…because I recently (and strategically) “complained” to her about how he never acknowledges the work I do. And they get together about once a day to have coffee and shoot the breeze. So I knew that eventually he would probably hear about that from her. Regardless of how it happened, I was somewhat encouraged. Or maybe I was a little gleeful that I was able to influence him through her. Could be.

Today, however, I paid the price. My mom-in-law’s propensity to share, or rather overshare, came back to bite me.

My wife is very organized, and I like things to be clean. We make a pretty formidable team!I’m a minimalist. Right now, just looking around me, there’s not one thing that is out of place in our little apartment. And it is very clean. I wouldn’t say spotless, but very clean nonetheless!

My dad and mom-in-law were outside on the back deck area earlier. My mom-in-law decided to clean off the glass outdoor table in front of where they were sitting. She got it pretty clean, and then she said something about getting out a toothbrush to do a deeper cleaning of one area. My dad, jokingly, said “if you do that, I’m going call you David”.

I was not there when it happened. I would’ve been just fine never knowing about it. In fact, that’s what I would’ve preferred. I was just minding my own business, getting things done. Then my dear sweet oversharing mom-in-law thought it was worth getting my attention, having me turn off the leaf blower, stop playing the audio book to which I was listening, and take out my earbuds so she could overshare with me about it. I mumbled some unintelligible reply about how I’m not the only one who does things like that, hastily put my earbuds back in and turned on the blower, only to have her stop me to retell the story. Seems she wasn’t convinced I heard her the first time, or maybe I didn’t respond as she’d expected (I wasn’t amused).

No, I heard her just fine! I just didn’t want to think about it any further. My feelings were hurt! That hurt was quickly turning into anger, and I was trying my best not to show her – or worse, explode on her, dammit!

People who are around me but don’t really pay attention to me might say I’m a perfectionist – the Enneagram 1 archetype. They would be quite wrong! A lot of my “perfectionistic” / Enneagram 1-looking tendencies directly come from the dysfunctional dynamic I lived in as the child of a man whose wife died “too early” and who was poorly counseled to “just move on”. A man who has high ideals but poor execution of those ideals. I have an insecure attachment style that reveals itself in how I endeavor to attune to others (especially my grieving, angry, self-righteous, perfectionistic dad) and accomodate their emotional state – so I can stay out of their way! I learned early that relationships are not to be trusted, and I have to be the one pulling the puppet strings so I don’t have to guess what’s coming next (this is also why, to this day, I do not like being surprised and my wife would not even consider the idea to try throwing me a surprise party of any sort).

I’ve done a lot of study on this, but never written it out in a blog before. I am an Enneagram 4. Specifically, the countertype “Self Preservation ” 4. So it makes sense, really, that people might think I’m a 1, or a 3. I even look like a 7 because of my appreciation for fun! But I am, and have been as long as I can remember, very sensitive. I am creative – I enjoy writing, love to sing, and music is my prayer language. I didn’t just declare it so. I was talking with someone several years ago and trying to explain my relationship with music and how it seems I hear from and often cry out to God most often through music, and that person told me “that’s because music is your prayer language”. And in that moment, I knew it to be true! I don’t even remember who I was talking with – I SO wish I could give them the props for that important revelation! I know it was a lady who was older than me, and to the best of my recollection, that’s all. But I am forever grateful for her pointing out that truth!

Self-pres 4s would rather have our fingernails ripped out than be “called out” in the way that my mom-in-law called me out. Worse, in that moment she pointed out that in fact my dad still – after 50+ years of being my dad still doesn’t see me for me. He doesn’t realize just how much of what I’ve done in life – especially when around him – has been because of him! This incident reinforced that no matter how hard I try to stay out of his way, I still manage to stumble into his path. And my attempts at appeasement through gaining his approval still fall short and leave me feeling less-than, in a state of incredible disregulation and self-loathing!

My mom-in-law had, unknowingly unleashed the perfect storm upon me. She would be distraught to know it ever happened! I can forgive her easily for not knowing what she’d done. I will not ever tell her! I’ll just add it to the long list of things she’ll never know. But in the moments that followed, I finished up the yard work, slunk up to the safety of the apartment, and fought first against the temptations to eat anything and everything sugary I could get my hands on, then the thoughts to pour a tall glass of whiskey, open a can of beer, or run to the internet and pull up some images or videos for some brief moment’s easy reprieve and reinforcement of the self-loathing.

First, I decided to take a shower. I was a filthy mess after the yard work, after all, and did I mention I like clean??

While showering, a song came to me. It’s a song I haven’t heard in years! A few distinct thoughts formed with the song. I see you. I delight in you. You already have my attention. I’m proud of you. I stood in the shower and cried tears of relief and joy!

The song that came to mind is He Knows My Name. I don’t even know when or where I first heard it. It was written by Tommy Walker, and so that’s the first one I pulled up. I also really like the version as sung by Israel Houghton. I put these two versions on loop as soon as I got out of the shower. Then I made myself a healthy smoothie and sat down to write.

You see, I’m not just an addict! That may seem to be the suitable lable for people like me, but it’s not a very accurate label in many ways! And it hardly describes anything I actually go through on a daily basis! Careful…if you keep reading, you might see yourself in what I’m about to write. You might not be able to see me only as “other”.

The more accurate but not as easy-to-say “label” might be that I struggle with an intimacy disorder that stems from insecure attachment due to trauma experienced from the earliest days of my life and then reinforced in various ways over the years. Somewhere between 35-50% of all people develop an insecure attachment style. So I’m not really all that atypical. However, I am also neurodivergent and have more dopamine receptors than a neurotypical person. This makes me seem impulsive and uncontrollable. People fear what they cannot control. It also means my mind processes more ideas at a quicker speed than someone who is neurotypical. Add to that: I was exposed to a powerful and effective source of dopamine production at an early age, and that left me with deep-seated desires, but also feelings of shame and worthlessness. I’ve since learned other methods of getting dopamine that can “do in a pinch”. I’m very prone to substance abuse too. But wait! There’s more! At the base level of all of this, I really struggle to connect with God in “normal” ways. I don’t think of myself as being a “good Christian”, yet I do love Jesus and have experienced relationshp with him, at least enough of it to want more. In fact, that is what I want more than anything! While I have read the bible countless times, I don’t often connect well to the typical passages from which most people draw meaning and even purpose when reading it. Instead, God brings passages or thoughts to my mind at other times, when I need them, and I do deep dives into the painful and less fun passages. And, as mentioned before, God often first gets my attention through song. He’s given me the ability to hyperfocus on things, and the desire and ability to write. So today, that’s what I’ve been doing. Instead of reaching out to any of those ineffective substitutes, I have graciously been able to sit here and write. This is my working self-diagnosis. We can call it addiction, just to keep it simple. But it’s anything but simple.

And a verse just came to mind just now. I had to look it up, but this one is from Genesis.

“What the enemy meant for evil, God is turning to good.”

I think I’ll sit here now and listen to this song a while longer. If you made it to the end of this one, I hope it was helpful or normalizing, or something useful for you.

Thanks for reading.

7 thoughts on “perfect storm

  1. tamweary

    I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the end…but I did.😂Thanks for sharing your heart and your hurts. Jesus can heal us everywhere we hurt. I love music as a ‘prayer language.’ I believe that’s me, also! My girlfriend and I just did a bible study last night on Joseph…from Genesis. God sent Joseph to Egypt ahead of his wicked brothers, to preserve their family from the forthcoming famine. And Yes, although his brothers had evil intentions for Joseph, God caused all of those hardships and hurts, to work together for his Good!! Romans 8:28

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Willow

    I’m glad you found a different path than sugar and/or alcohol. That was great, actually. I know that urge all too well (sugar, not alcohol), and how one wrong phrase can send you there. Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad it was cathartic for you. Sometimes sharing is helpful, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person


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