How I relish the start of a new year! In the weeks leading up to it, I spend my holidays holed up, reflecting on the year past and the year ahead.
So many reflections. How not to stay entrapped by them?
Reflections can be self-defeating. They risk miring me in an unchangeable past that leaves me smoldering over persecutions suffered, wrongs endured, indignities tolerated. Bitter about the resilient prejudice that leads some people to presume that, as an African American woman, I am "still" intellectually inferior, despite my ability to synthesize, distill and articulate complex concepts in such a way as to leave a room breathless. The patronizing explanations that come after a meandering, repetitive discussion prompts me to adopt my game face, a blank mask that hides my silent criticism of poor meeting management, a survival mask that the clueless intrepret as me "not getting it." The competitive coworker habit of interlacing everyday conversations with snide remarks, forcing me to mentally calculate whether to deal with the individual now, later, or not at all.
And then there are the family of origin issues that mirror societal patterns so closely they are downright cliché (but no less infuriating): a paternalistic culture that exalts and coddles its floundering men while the women carry the load; a mother who, unable to stomach her eldest child's emotional independence, retaliated with blindsiding recriminations; a once-enviable family turned textbook-alcoholic, sucker-punched by the long, ugly, agonizing demise of its matriarch who had given it her best shot, and who left in her wake an ex-spouse and children scarred for life.
That's a lot of pain and resentment to let go of. It's taken decades for me to let go of much of it, and I'm still unearthing truths that cast new light on who I am today.
A therapist familiar with the roles adult children of alcoholics play, and who had rightly pegged me as the surrogate wife and mother, once asked me: "What would happen if you did nothing?"
I have never done nothing. In all my relationships, I have been the doer. The fixer. The Stalwart Black Woman infinitely capable of nurturing whomever came knocking. Bloated with the deluded hubris of precocious wisdom, I invested myself in becoming the all-knowing adviser to family and friends, an oracle of sorts who could be counted on to step in and fill the gap. To repair, soothe, and listen. To offer unconditional emotional support.
But that which is readily given is also readily despised. The worth of anything diminishes if it is too available; admiration and gratitude metastasize into resentment and contempt. Those helped soon begrudge the helper, who, mystified by the abrupt changes of heart and yet taught to be loyal and forgiving, overlooks the mounting slights. But the slights keep coming. They become vicious -- outright attacks. And the more these outbursts are tolerated in the name of compassion, the more vicious they become.
The weight of showing too much tolerance, having too few boundaries, and being leaned on by too many people proved toxic to my system (surprise, surprise). By the time I reached my mid-twenties, I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, followed by fibrocystic breast disease, then uterine tumors, then idiopathic degenerative joint disease, and then a heart attack.
Four surgeries and numerous procedures later, I'm taking my former therapist's advice and doing nothing. I am pulling back from taking care of others so I can take care of myself. And I am taking extra, extra care to allow in my inner circle only those people who accept and love me unconditionally.
2015, here I come!
Death of the nefarious nigger: America's hate-obsession for Black men