No Amount of Love from a Man
Will Make Up for a Damaged
© Chris Courtney Photography
Written 30 November, 2018
A couple of former students invited me to the movies yesterday. I love when students track me down after they’ve graduated. We become friends and colleagues and the power structure and status barriers shift. Mostly I watch them thrive, even if they don’t stay in the arts (because arts education is about so much more than becoming an artist).
As I talk to men now – as friends, as family, as students – I can see the toll this takes on them…because they want to heal the women in their lives…they want more than anything to heal us…and many of the men I know would give up their own peace, happiness and fulfillment to heal us if they only could, but they cannot – and that damages them.
Yesterday was…interesting. I’m in California to pay my respects to a friend who died last week. She was an actress, a teacher and a force of nature, and I needed to go back to California to pay my respects. I just found out that I have to leave before the official memorial, but when I think about her, attending the memorial is the least of why I’m here. I will make a pilgrimage to those places where we played and forged together, and where she left her indelible mark on the world, and I will acknowledge our existence even though she leaves no trace.
I’m in a heightened state of awareness and of presence is my point. We went to see A Star is Born. The film is not as good as the story it tells, and it deals with some deep issues, which sparked a truly unexpected conversation. One of the students, I’ll call him O, was just back in California, too, and he was telling me how he is just getting over a pretty serious physical ailment. After the movie, we went for coffee, and the conversation went deep fast.
O is dealing with a lot of turmoil and he is trying to find himself. His physical ailment is probably due to repressing huge emotions about his life. We talked deeply about very painful issues, and I am very frank and tend to say the things that people don’t necessarily want to hear. I do this with a significant amount of insight and life experience and empathy.
We talked about rage, and I tell him about almost killing my mother on at least 3 occasions. Not because I want his sympathy, but because I want him to know that he is not alone in his rage and that sometimes that takes us to places where we contemplate the worst violence on people closest to us. That doesn’t make us monsters. It makes us human. Monsters act on those violent impulses. Humans acknowledge the impulse and do whatever it takes, including self harm, to negate perpetrating violence on others.
I could tell by the look he gave me, a look of utter bewilderment, that he knew he was not alone. A few years ago, if I had gotten that look of bewilderment, I would have taken it personally and assumed he was judging me. I’ve learned that that look is bewildered because it’s hard for former students to wrap their minds around the fact that I am just as deeply flawed and fucked up as they are. What most of them get is that if I’m successful and like them, they can be like me and be successful…most of them get that…a very rare few do not…and there’s nothing I can do about that. But the look O gave me, the widening of his eyes, the moment he really looked and really saw me, the welling of tears and ultimately the recognition and the gratitude in his entire countenance revealed that he felt communion rather than judgement.
The conversation turned to O’s relationship. It’s difficult. He’s at a place where to be his authentic self, he has to hurt her – and he absolutely does not want to hurt her. He has been denying himself so much, his body has literally given up on him in a very profound way. He doesn’t want to hurt her to such a significant degree that he has been in physical pain for months. His Will to shift himself and the world around him is huge. I watched that part of him evolve in my class. Cultivating and using our Will is what I teach. He was one of my most successful students in learning it. And he has been using his Heraclean Will to make his relationship work for years now. He is not a selfish or unfeeling man. He is an artist in the true sense, a Renaissance man, who knows art and history and music and life – and he is quite frankly beautiful – and he hates himself because he is caught in a struggle where there will be no winners.
While we were talking, and I tried to assist him in figuring out the landscape of his relationship and the options he has, and I have an epiphany that is so huge it comes at me like a freight train: There is no amount of love a man can give a woman that will heal or fix the damage caused by the mother/daughter relationship.
If you’re a woman, you have to sit with that for a while and let it sink in. Our entire culture, media, myths, religions and every god damn Hallmark special ever made assumes that mothers and daughters love and support each other - and that, even if there are difficult issues, they abate with time or perspective or age. They absolutely do not. A show of hands from all of us who can't celebrate Mother's Day without incident if at all.
O tells me one or two things about his love and her mother and I get it immediately and in a way I've never gotten it before. The more O loves this woman, the less it heals her, and the more she feels unloved. It is a vicious cycle, and at some level she blames him – because he should be able to make her feel loved. If he really loves her, she should be able to feel it and know it and revel in it, but she cannot. She cannot because she was raised to believe that she cannot be loved, she is not worthy of love. She was raised to believe that anyone who does truly love her must be terribly flawed for choosing her. Even if she could rationally see his love, without feeling it, he must not love her the right way or enough for her to feel it and know it and for it to heal her.
At this point, I have to take a left turn and write out the caveats. I am a daughter. I am not and won’t ever be a mother. I won’t ever be a mother because of my own. She was a mother who never was a daughter. Her mother, my grandmother, died exactly 1 week before my mom’s 5th birthday. It was so traumatic for my mother I don’t even think she realises the date her mother died. We’ve never spoken of the date and how close it was to her birthday, but I’ve done the research. In the last few years, my mother has started telling me and my older brother how lucky we are that we never had children (in my case, luck had nothing to do with it, access to abortion did). It’s all I can do sometimes not to reply to her that she’s lucky she never had a mother.
Much as that thought pounds loudly in my brain, I can’t bring myself to be that hurtful to her. If this doesn’t come across as devastating, imagine your parents telling you they wish you had never been born. It’s interesting to me that my mother has actually started articulating this sentiment with some clarity, but it was obvious in so many ways and it was obvious in how she raised us. In most instances, this was not absolutely her fault, she had no choices and didn't know how to raise children, and she wanted so much more out of life so her resentment, in many ways, is at least properly placed. As not much more than a handmaiden, having children was what kept her imprisoned by her gender. The assumption that somehow women inherently want children and know how to raise children just because they can birth them is utterly ludicrous.
That interaction between me and my mother should convey all you need to know about our relationship. It is deeply hurtful, it is full of regrets, jealousy and resentment and we are locked in battle in which we both lose everything constantly because we both still breathe.
I never had children because I never wanted to inflict life on anyone the way life has been inflicted on me – and that has everything to do with my mother. To be fair, I don’t believe she would have inflicted life on me if she had the choices I have (thank you Roe v. Wade – to the marrow of my bones and the unborn bones of the ones whose lives I never had and would have destroyed – thank god for that choice).
In every romantic and sexual relationship I’ve had, the need to heal those wounds is profound. I am bi-sexual and interestingly, my relationships with women reflect issues I have with my father and relationships with men end up pushing the buttons of my relationship with my mother. It’s not always that clean or clear but for the most part that’s how it goes. And I have desperately wanted the men in my life to heal those wounds - or at the very least for them to so overwhelm me with love, care and romance that all my issues disappear entirely. I needed the men in my life to make me believe that my mother was lucky and truly blessed to have me. That can and will never happen.
That is an impossibility – the way flying horses are an impossibility.
And yet all of the men in my life have tried to sprout wings. They have tried with every fibre of their being to heal those wounds. Yes, I am very blessed to have found not 1, not 2, but many men who have tried to sprout wings for me and who have tried to fly, and who have tried to save me…from myself…and from my mother...and who have all inevitably failed.
All of them saw and see what the problem is. All of them try to mitigate the damage I do to her and myself, and the damage she does to me. But their help is like lighting a gorgeous fire to repair devastation caused by the deepest flood. The fire is beautiful, and it brings so much warmth, light and life to an utterly dark, drowned place. It is the exact opposite of the flood, but it can also be just as, if not more, dangerous if I walk directly into it and let it consume me. And it cannot move the waters I’m drowning in, it cannot dry them out, and it cannot repair all the residual injury and loss caused by years and years of torrential storms that have formed me as well as the landscape in which I struggle to survive.
And while I see this now, I also unconsciously but knowingly asked each of those men to save me. And when they couldn’t, I blamed them. Again, this was not conscious, but it was inherent. Crucial. It was the reason I chose them.
As I talk to men now – as friends, as family, as students – I can see the toll this takes on them…because they want to heal the women in their lives…they want more than anything to heal us…and many of the men I know would give up their own peace, happiness and fulfillment to heal us if they only could, but they cannot – and that damages them. All of the good men in my life have wiped away my daddy issues. I assume, because they are men, they have shown me that men can be devoted, loving, trustworthy, etc., but they cannot do the same for me about women because they are not female.
O has been critically physically impaired for the last 6 months most likely because he knows he cannot fix what is broken in his love. Not for lack of Will on his part, but because the only one who can heal her is her. Even her mother can’t heal her.
My mother could prostrate herself in front of me and castigate herself from here to kingdom come, and it wouldn’t heal me in the least – and I could probably do the same for her, and it wouldn’t heal her.
I have to heal myself. I have to dress those wounds and tend to them so they stop bleeding all over everyone else. And the strange thing is, as I write this, and as I think about that, a strange fear brews in my gut. The fear of stepping into the unknown. Because I know my pain the way surgeons know blood vessels, and to step away from that – to meet men…not as a means to heal me, but as a means for love and fulfillment…is a truly frightening idea, and one I have to step into as much for their sake as for mine. Because O and M and J and S and D and L and L and many others don’t deserve the pain they are in and the pain I have caused them because of the pain between myself and my mother. And if I can heal myself, maybe there will be hope for their healing as well.