Friday, September 5, 2008

The Blame Game

About four years into our marriage, bickering was at an all time high. I suppose it was the cumulative effects of a cross-country move, Bill’s new job, my return to the workforce, and all the other realities of being a dual-academic career couple with a toddler and an infant. At our second or third session, the counselor observed, “Boy, blame is really important with you two.” He was an astute fellow: Bill and I devoted most of our arguing to determining who was to blame for a given situation rather than figuring out a solution to the problem.

For the past eight months, I have made a full-time job out of blaming myself for my situation: if I had only followed my instincts and not done the chemo, if only I could eat more, if only I hadn’t gone to Florida and caught a virus, if only I had insisted on TPN instead of the feeding tube, if only, if only, if only. I had made a sport out of whipping myself and I didn’t know how to stop.

While I could look at my situation as a former clinician and see that I was not at all responsible for the rapid decline in my health, I could not change the way I felt. I felt I was to blame somehow. If only I had zigged when I zagged, then everything would have been fine. “Why didn’t you trust your instincts?” I asked myself over and over. “This is all your fault. If you would just eat more, if you would just start taking walks again, things will get better,” I tell myself several times a day. But then I walk 10 feet to the bathroom and back, quickly becoming out of breath. Still the need for blame persists.

On Tuesday morning my therapist finally admitted to me, “I wish I knew how to stop you from being so hard on yourself.” Being hard on myself is how I have achieved almost everything in life. I always expected a lot of myself though not in a mean way. I just set my standards high. It was functional for a long time, but now it has morphed into a process of self-flagellation that is making a bad situation worse. I knew on Tuesday that somehow I had to stop playing the blame game for good.

Tuesday night Amelia and I were watching Season 1 of Little House on the Prairie. Amelia discovered the Laura Ingalls Wilder books last year and read every one. For several months all Amelia talked about was Laura Ingalls Wilder. Every conversation, no matter how seemingly unrelated led back to Laura Ingalls Wilder. In researching the author’s life for a school project, Amelia discovered that Laura’s mother was born in Bill’s hometown, which made her positively giddy. As if that wasn’t enough, she also learned that Laura’s older sister Mary was named Mary Amelia. I have to admit that after several months of entertaining this obsession I was beginning to wish that Laura Ingalls had never put pen to paper.

Amelia is no longer obsessed with Laura Ingalls so I decided to start renting the TV shows from Netflix. Amelia and I have been watching them together and, I must admit, they are even more wonderful than I remembered. While Charles and Caroline, the parents, are portrayed as kind and loving parents, they are no means caricatures of perfect parenting. All the characters are realistically portrayed and the themes translate into modern life beautifully. The pacing of the show is much slower than modern shows, which is surprisingly refreshing.

And then, of course, there’s Michael Landon. Clearly I was prepubescent when I watched this show in prime time because I do not remember noticing him. But, good God, he was one handsome fellow; he’s got that dark and stormy thing going that I just love! And there’s a gratuitous shirtless scene in every other episode, which just fans the flames of my desires. (We explained gratuitous to the kids at dinner the other night and Bill described it as “not necessary.” He then went on to explain, “They just had him take his shirt off for the mommies watching the show.” Indeed!) I’m so overwhelmed by his attractiveness that I practically drool for the entire episode. This irritates Amelia highly.

On Tuesday night we watched an episode in which Charles and Caroline allow Laura to adopt a baby raccoon against their better judgment. Eventually the raccoon bites the family dog and Laura, but Laura makes Mary, her older sister, promise not to tell. The following evening a raccoon raids the hen house and Charles discovers and kills the rabid animal. Charles later notices the bite mark on the dog and ties him up out back to observe him for signs of rabies. When Mary discovers the reason that the dog is tied up, she divulges Laura’s secret. After a trip to Doc Baker, the family learns that the dog will become rapid within 8 days and, if he does, Laura will develop the illness within 3-4 weeks. If she develops the disease, there is no treatment.

In the next several scenes everyone in the family is riddled with guilt for their role in the unfortunate turn of events. The girls cry and blame themselves aloud while Charles and Caroline merely look beside themselves with grief and culpability. As I watched them struggle, I realized the real power behind blame. If there is someone to blame, then someone is responsible, and if someone is responsible, then the event is subject to control. If it can be done, perhaps it can be undone.

For months I have been sitting here blaming myself not because I truly believe it is my fault but because I want so desperately to believe that I can fix this somehow. I want so much to believe that all will be well if I just zig at the right time, make the right choice, or take the right medication.

What underlies blame is a belief that we humans have control. Sometimes we do, but probably far less often than we would like to think. I think I can finally let go of the blame now that I realize that it was just a corollary to the fallacy that I am in control of my destiny. And I hope I can reorient all that misdirected energy to something useful for a change.

9 comments:

desert dirt diva said...

I'm the first to comment, yea...
this was an enlightneing post, as my hubby and i always play the play game, then my kids start and pretty soon all my quiet bliss(yea like that happens) turns into very loud argueng,....grrrrrrrrr, then like the saying goes when mama is upset, know one is happy.... so i take this bit of advice, and next time it happens applies this...or at least ry... have a great day!

Ana's World said...

Hello, I followed a link to your blog from AOL the other day and have since saved it to my iGoogle. I am inspired to read your blog everyday. And this one hit close to home. Coming from a Catholic family guilt is as familiar to me as my own face. We live, breathe, and eat guilt. I'm sad to say I've passed it onto my now grown children. I see it in them when they go through a difficult issue in their lives seeking places to lay that blame...far, far from themselves. UGH! Hopefully, your blog will help some young family or person and save them from this terrible crutch perpetuating it to future generations. Thank you and you are in my thoughts everyday...truly. God bless you and your family. Ana

Songbird said...

Baptists have guilt, too, and as a recovering one, I deal all the time with the blame game. You've expressed this so clearly and powerfully, thank you.

Julieann said...

I found your blog through my AOL news screen---and as I started reading this post---I could not believe you started talking about Little House---If you go to my blog and turn your volume up, you will know why :)


I am so very sorry to read about your illness, I know those words don't take away the pain you are feeling--but I will keep you in my prayers and if you don't mind, I will visit you here again. You write so beautifully and eloquently--Thank you so much for sharing your life with us here ((gentle Hugs))

Julieann

Julieann said...

P.S. I totally agree with you about Michael Landon :o)

Julieann

Jeanne said...

My sisters and I always remark on how we were "raised in guilt." It's so hard to realize that we are NOT in control of our own lives. I FEEL like I am in control...but what happened to you could very easily happen to me...to anyone....because, truly, none of us are in control of our own lives. So we just have to carry on from day to day, doing the best we can and hoping for the best!

((hugs))
Jeanne

Joanne1971 said...

Just wanted to pop in say "I too followed the link on AOL to find myself here engrossed in your blog." I was just telling my husband at Five Guys tonight about how you've wrapped gifts for the children until their eighteenth birthdays. We thought that was very touching. I told him how you questioned what they will be like as teens, as they will be so very different than they are now. Then I realized (and voiced) "What difference does it make? They will love and cherish those presents." What a wondeful opportunity you have, knowing your time is limited. You have had the time to say good-bye. What about those poor children who lose a mother suddenly, in an instant, who never had a chance to say good-bye, say I love you one last time. And certainly there are few who plan presents for their children's future. Have you considered leaving each child a present for their children? Maybe gifts only your husband knows about, gifts he can give on the day each grandchild is born. My mother and I are not close but shewas there for each of my four children's births and I cherish those memories and the gifts she brought, for she is my mother depsite the distance between us. The gifts I am picturing are small Christmas ornement size. Just something small. You'd have to buy 8 or more of course, what if each of your children have 4 kids each?! That is why I suggest only your husband know about the gifts. Label them Grandchild #1 and so on. Anyhow, just something I thought of! Thank you so much for making your blog public. It means a lot to me to read your words and reflect on my own life as a mother. HUGS, Joanne (South Carolina)

starsgoblue said...

Your blog is beautiful.

Chipper said...

Michelle,
This is simply the most beautiful blog I have ever encountered. I have read back to August 30th. And will go back to earlier posts after I get some sleep tonight. This is quite a gift; with joyful anticipation I will now read your blog every day.
Chip