I’m always telling David and Katherine to use their words (instead of whining and screaming), but I’m often afraid to use them myself. Unlike Eric, who vocalizes a resentment before it’s had time to fester and start a family, I hate confrontation so much that I’ll befriend the resentment–dress it up, take it out on the town, hang out with it for years–anything to avoid conflict.
On some level, I fear that any conversation of substance will end the same way as the one I had with my dad almost two decades ago–when I conjured up the courage to tell him how hurt I was that he missed my high school graduation. (He was golfing.)
He responded defensively. “Of all the things I’ve done for you,” he said, “you have to concentrate on that?”
I tried one more time, a year later, to tell him I wanted a better relationship with him. Newly sober, I was struggling with all the drinking in our family.
“Dad,” I asked, “would it be possible for you not to drink around me?”
He followed through–by excluding me from family trips, where my sisters and he bar-hopped all night.
If I were an emotionally healthy, chemically-balanced woman, I might have let go of my hurt long ago. I certainly should have cremated it with my father’s body when he died. But I’m an extraordinarily sensitive manic depressive with an excellent memory and a hearty menu of issues.
Part of my recovery has been to not look back so often, and to become more assertive in communicating my feelings because depression is anger turned inward (at least at some level).
It’s not easy. Because when you use your words, you learn a lot about a person and his priorities–you invite responses that are downright ugly and difficult to hear.
But silence isn’t the solution–not if you want to keep your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels low. The trick is using your words with absolutely no expectation of what kind of response you’ll get (yeah right). You say them for the sake of expressing them, not for anything you hope to hear. If that’s at all possible.