'Pictures of You'

The Cure

“If it ain’t one thing it’s your mother.”

 

‘You’re never ready,’ she said, “You’re never ready. Whether you had a good relationship or a complicated one, you’re never ready to lose your mother.” Over the last year several of my friends and colleagues have experienced their mothers passing. I suppose it’s that strange time of life that seems to have just suddenly made its way into mine.

As I was driving away from my visit with my friend, this song came on my playlist and as I drove and listened, my friend’s words stayed with me. I thought about my relationship with my mother and how our story has changed over the years.

“I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures 
Are all I can feel”

Brene Brown is famous for bringing to light the stories we all make up in our heads about the world and the people around us. I personally find it helpful and my clients have benefited from using it as well. It goes, “the story I am making up about this situation is _____________ and I feel __________ about that story and I need ___________. This technique helps us to better identify our current unmet needs (that often originate from unmet childhood needs). It can also help us understand that it is the story we tell ourselves about the situation, others’ intents and perceived reactions that is the problem, or at least is greatly contributing to it. This helps us identify reality from what we are making up in our head.

The PICTURES we have—the memories—are subjective. They are personal and powerful—but they are subjective. And, being subjective, these stories can alter our reality and convince us to act accordingly. Our childhoods are a great example of this. We have memories and emotional associations to our unmet needs which continue to affect us in adulthood if not corrected. And, as we get older and lose our parents to aging and death, it is an opportunity (however unready we are) to revisit those picture-memories and see them through new eyes, the eyes of maturity and experiences we didn’t have yet as children.

Let me better explain by using my own childhood relationship with my mother. As a child I believed my mother was unable to cope on her own and that I needed to help her cope. I believed she was lonely and I wanted her to feel loved.

“Remembering you standing quiet in the rain
as I ran to your heart to be near
and we kissed as the sky fell in
holding you close 
how I always held close in your fear”

As a child I feared for my mother. I worried about her inability to care for her emotional needs and I grieved and longed for her to meet mine. I wanted to be close to her in ways she feared to be close to herself. Throughout my adult years I have continued to be plagued by the guilt that I was unable to make her well and happy and, I somehow failed as a child because I could not save her.

“Remembering you running soft through the night
you were bigger and brighter and wider than snow
and screamed at the make-believe
screamed at the sky
and you finally found all your courage
to let it all go”

As children, our parents are ‘bigger and brighter’ than our very tiny and unexperienced existence. They are the ultimate authority in our lives and they are the first intimate relationships. This makes for very complex relationships. As I’ve matured and worked on the anger and hurt and confusion of my own childhood there have been many many moments that I “SCREAMED AT THE MAKE-BELIEVE and SCREAMED AT THE SKY!” My childhood need to have my mother “finally find all her courage and to let it all go.” As a child, I recognized, although I was yet without words to describe it, that my mother was holding onto something that was making her sick. I desperately wanted and needed her to be free of it. And, I wanted to help. It felt vital for me that she was well–and it was. It continues to makes me very sad to think of that time.

“I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
that I almost believe that the pictures
are all I can feel”
Sometimes….I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel…

“If only I’d thought of the right words
I could have held on to your heart
If only I’d thought of the right words
I wouldn’t be breaking apart 
all my pictures of you”

These are the unspoken feelings of my inner child. They describe how she continues to feel about the story she tells herself about her mother. She wants to know the right words to make it all better. That is, if only she knew them. If only she could have been better, she wouldn’t feel so responsible. And, if only she had the right words, she wouldn’t be behaving that made things harder for Mom. These are all my pictures of you.

“There was nothing in the world
That I ever wanted more
Than to feel you deep in my heart
There was nothing in the world
That I ever wanted more
Than to never feel the breaking apart
All my pictures of you”

As a child I wanted my Mother to instinctively know how to love me and all I “ever wanted was to feel her so deep in my heart.” But, as I’ve grown up, I realize that those were my very old pictures of her. They were but one story of her. My childhood story of her was not the only one and it was certainly not the whole and complete story of her. In maturity, I’ve learned to forgive my mother for the way she loved and cared for me that was not what I wanted or needed and forgiven her for NOT loving me or caring for me in the ways I wanted and needed.

The pictures I made up about my mother was made so very long ago. It is one that I have played out and reacted to over and over a million times and in a million different ways—always leaving me worrying about how I could have made it better for her. If only I could have been perfect?! I tried, oh how I tried my best to be perfect. I just never could do it. I could never be perfect enough. Much of my adulthood has been about realizing that by reliving these same old stories through the same old pictures, these stories will be all I have left…

“There was nothing in the world

That I ever wanted more 
Than to feel you deep in my heart

There was nothing in the world 
That I ever wanted more

Than to never feel the breaking apart

All my pictures of you”

As an adult, I feel my pictures of my mother to be breaking apart. I need a new relationship with my mother. The unfinished business and the things left unclosed and unexplained will be left as they are…undone. But, the work of forgiveness and being curious about who my mother IS, not just as she WAS to me allows me to have a new understanding of her and a new experience of her love. It will not replace the lack of love I felt as child but I can break free from all the pictures that confine me to an older time. Those pictures are like old black and whites to me. A time of long ago that is gone. As a child, all I wanted was to be free of feeling responsible for making my mother’s life better when I didn’t know how. It was a burden too heavy for me to bear. As an adult, I can choose to stop carrying the burden and begin to see my relationship with my mother through the eyes of my adult self. I know better now what it was I REALLY needed as a child—that is, freedom from worry. I can now free my inner child from the fears of undeserved responsibility and by doing so can respond to reality rather than to my unmet childhood needs.

I kept hearing my friend’s voice say to me “you’re never ready.” And, as I made my way home in the GS (short for The Golden Sparrow.) I thought “No, I won’t be.” So, then I asked myself “what do I want, really? What do I want to do with all of this awareness?” Well, I want a new relationship with my mother. One based on the reality of today. One that I will reflect on with clear lenses when she is gone. One that not only replaces the old pictures but adds to them and brings out their color and fullness, no longer black and white. I want to be close to her and “feel her deep in my heart.” I want more than to have been…

“…looking so long at these pictures of you

that I almost believe that they’re real

I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you

that I almost believe that the pictures 
are all I can feel.”

I don’t want my childhood sadness and loss to be “all that I can feel.” My childhood pictures are not ALL there is. It is not the only nor full story. To be fooled into believing that my reality was the only reality has made me “almost believe that they’re real” and be therefore been trapped by it, struggling close to my own death in an attempt to solve an unsolvable problem. I am working on changing the lens and have begun taking new pictures. And, like my mother…

“… I finally found all MY courage

to let it all go.”

The Wisdom That Comes From Our Emptiness

The wisdom of emptiness may seem strange or even alarming to you to read especially if you struggle with an eating disorder or an addiction because it is emptiness that we feel and want to avoid that compels us to use these behaviors in the first place. This is not new information within the recovery world, and I want to be careful to avoid triggering the eating disorder or addiction voice by saying these words but there is wisdom in emptiness.