A few sessions ago Patsy and I were discussing the way children of alcoholics turn out. There are three ways that children of alcoholics combat what they see. Let’s say there are three siblings. As they age one of them will become self-indulgent and most likely repeat the behavior they saw as children. So they themselves will become an addict of some kind. Find a way to numb the pain. Then there is the martyr. The one who feels like they have to take care of all the people and all the things and it is the way they deal with their childhood. Then there is the functioning adult. The one who escapes it all, seemingly unscathed (usually with plenty of mental illness) but who can see it all, and them all, for who they are. This lines up perfectly with my family. Guess which one Patsy says I am: The Functional Adult! I know, I know, I was just as shocked as you are. Here’s the thing though, that word “martyr” kept popping up in my brain. Because I don’t always feel like a functioning adult and when I don’t, I feel like a martyr. And I’m really fucking tired of feeling that way, but I think I’ve been programed to feel that way. I think all women have.
Before you ask, no I have not read Untamed by Glennon Doyle, per my last post, but I do want to and I know she talks about this because I have heard her talk about the book on her Insta stories and I’m ordering the book today and it’s now catapulted to the top of my reading list. But this word “martyr” and I go way back. Way, way back. Back to the day I chose to end my pregnancy in 2011 because my daughter was “incompatible with life.” Since I made that decision I have always felt part murderer, part martyr. But what I didn’t see, or realize until Patsy told me about this whole idea, is that that word and I actually go back even further than that. Way, way back.
When I was a little girl I would not tell my mom, for example, that my friend was having a birthday party because I knew I couldn’t afford to bring a present. So instead I would stay home, call my other friends after and ask all about it. I would feel this rage fill up inside of me, but I had nowhere for it to go. Or on Friday nights I would sit at home alone all night and wait for my mom to come back after the bars closed at 2am, just to make sure I unlocked the door for her (because she never could, she was too drunk), make sure she got into pajamas, had some bread and milk so she didn’t vomit, and then fall asleep. That’s a thing 10-year-old Missy did. And 10-year-old Missy was trained to do that. Not intentionally, but still, trained to do. The next day I wasn’t allowed to talk about it with others. I wasn’t allowed to ask questions, or laugh at my mom for falling down the steps, or bring it up at all to anyone else, because that isn’t what good girls do. And that’s when this whole thing with this word and I started. And I think it happens, nay, I know it happens, to all little girls in different ways.
Be quiet. Be sweet. Say thank you and hello. Hug your relatives. Offer your assistance. Always be helpful. Don’t tell your business to strangers (something my family still attempts to make me feel guilty about for doing).
These little girls grow up to become women who are partners, and mothers, and daughters, and friends, and members of the community. And they are active. Active to the point of having breakdowns because they do too much. Give too freely. Don’t talk openly about their problems. We actually want to be viewed as martyrs, because that’s how we are supposed to be. We want people to look at us and go, “Oh poor Missy, she has so much on her plate.” We think that means we are doing what we are supposed to do as women. Meanwhile, we are suffering. We start to take less care of ourselves. We start to skip doing things we want to do, we start to give more and more to people who now expect it. If we are lucky we have partners, like mine, who try to tell us to stop. Show us what we are doing. Tell us to take care of ourselves. But we don’t listen. We are programmed to know what is best for us. What is best for everyone.
We hide behind lies. We hide behind PTAs, room-parent responsibilities, we hide behind “hectic” jobs, behind “challenging” children, or ailing parents, or partners who don’t know how to do their own laundry. Guess what, they are adults, they can learn to do their own fucking laundry! We hide behind “projects.” We hide behind “my time management skills are not great.” You’re an adult. Learn better time management. We hide. It’s all just excuses, and we as women nod at each other and say we understand. Because we do, we are trained to. We hide and do all the things for all the people, then when there is a little bit of time for us we squander it by faking a headache to get alone time. Or crying in the shower (raising my hand here). Or, or, or…
I’m done with that shit, y’all. Done. And I’m done coddling family and friends who are okay playing the martyrs too. I love y’all, but if you can’t stand up to people, say things like, “No, I need this time for myself.” Or “Hey, cook your own dinner, clean your own laundry, let someone else worry about the thing” and take care of yourself first, I can’t help you.
I have yet, in my life, to meet a woman who does all the things for all the people, who keeps herself feeling well, and who keeps herself happy by doing what makes her happy with regularity and doesn’t drink a ton. Or doesn’t have to hide in her closet from time to time, or who is told she can’t share her truths with the masses, so she holds it all in until the first chance she gets to spew all the things to her best friend because she has no other way to let it all out. I haven’t met her. She doesn’t exist.
Listen, I know this is hard for some of you to read. It was hard for me to process. I kept thinking of people in my life who seem to have it all together and then I would be like, “Ope, wait, she hates her husband,” or “Hold on now, she has a secret gambling addiction,” or “She thinks she is a horrible mother” or “Now I remember, she’s the one who lost her shit at the PTA meeting.” We are all flawed, every single one of us. And most of the flaws come from deep, deep family shit from way, way back in our childhood. Our alcoholic parents. Our absent parents. Our abusive parents. And most of us are repeating that cycle, just in a different way. We are repeating the cycle of making ourselves feel less than. And our children are watching. Jesus, they are watching. That’s the biggest problem, children are always watching. We were watching as children, that’s how we got here. We were watching, and listening, and learning, and repeating. So ask yourself this, just this one thing today: When my children look at me what do they see? I hope what you think they see, and what you want them to see line up.
Stand up for yourselves, ladies. Reclaim your time. Take care of yourselves.
I’ll be here, trying to sort this all out.