Posted by: shelliejelly | July 29, 2009

Slow learner

Part of my counseling stretched beyond the topics of O. and my divorce, necessarily, perhaps. That is the funny thing about counseling: You can start by talking about one specific issue and end in an entirely different place. Every time I’ve turned for help I’ve learned something about myself that had nothing at all to do with the original point of entry. I suppose that is the nature of living—your experiences build on one another, and you see each new and different situation with at least some perspective of the old and distant ones.

As I moved through nearly a year of working with Carol, the topic of my family kept appearing and reappearing. My experience in my family has always been one of quiet peacemaker. I worked very hard to not make any mistakes, to somehow balance the differences among all of us so that tempers and emotions would stay level and even. I didn’t drink, though I smoked through some of high school. I got decent grades. I came home when I was expected and called if I was going to be late. I applied to colleges and, when accepted, worked diligently through all four years, smiling at my parents as I walked across the stage and was handed my diploma.

“Somewhere along the line,” Carol would tell me, “you learned how to act in your family.” When she would ask me to think back and try to remember why I might feel compelled to feel and behave in these manners, I always told her I couldn’t recall anything in particular. And I wasn’t lying. I couldn’t, still can’t.

Sure, I have reference points. A brother who often behaved badly. A father who was often withdrawn because he absolutely hated his job. A mother who couldn’t stop herself from tryingto make everything okay. But, as with O., painting my family with only these colors isn’t close to being fair. So much more is there, like a brother who once became frantic at the thought of my dying when my mother had to take me to the hospital to have stitches put into my cracked open forehead. Or the father who wanted nothing more than provide me countless opportunities. Or my mother, who to this day is my greatest supporter, my friend.

So, to untangle this web and boil my own personality down to a few moments or occasions seemed impossible to me, and the notion this exercise would somehow help improbable. But thinking about it did give me insight, help me broaden my perspective so I could look at my place and begin to make connections with current behavior.

“I always wanted to do things right,” I told Carol. “I always thought that if I lived my life in a certain way, did everything right and played by the rules, I’d get a fair outcome.” Even knowing that life isn’t close to being that predictable didn’t deter my almost childish belief in this basic equation. Even her look that told me I couldn’t plug in variables and be assured a correct answer didn’t make me less devoted to this idea.

And that’s why I think it’s so hard for me right now, why I sometimes sit and am completely confused by all the sadness and misfortune I’ve had this past decade. “Oh, Jesus Christ, Michelle,” I sometimes say to myself, “get over yourself.” That’s what I imagine you’re thinking, too. How can I be so selfish and egotistical to think that I’ve lived so righteously that I deserve a better hand than someone else?

It’s not that I do, exactly. There’s the rub, in that word exactly. Though I don’t think I deserve a better life because I’ve lived a particular way, accepting the complete randomness is proving difficult.

“But you have a lot of good things in your life,” I often scold myself.

“True, true,” I counter, “but what’s with all of the loss?”

“Yeah, okay, you’ve had some loss,” I reply. “But c’mon, you aren’t the only person to lose people you love. And some people have lost far greater than you. Look at the Kennedy’s you idiot.”

“Well if you’re going to resort to name calling, I’m not going to do anything you say,” I pout. “So shut-up about everyone who has even greater reason to be mad at karma.”

Then I usually stalk off, left in the same place I was before, thinking that if I live in a particular way I’m bound to have an end result that at least resembles what I am expecting. Circle around and around the same old familiar ground. Sometimes Carol would chuckle at me as if to say, “You can’t seriously be telling me this again.” I would stare at her wide-eyed, wondering how it was possible that she didn’t  feel the same way.

Baby steps, I suppose.



  1. […] been constructing expected worlds for most of my life, and holding myself to them. My feeling of expectation may be different from what Perrow is […]

  2. […] manuever the various, disparate details and actually create an outcome—my life becoming a mathematical equation where if a, then b will equal c. If I’m kind and loving than I will find someone who is kind […]

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