Dope for the Somnambulist

My Story
“I will never forgive you for what I have done to you” – quote, unknown author
I wish I could tell you otherwise… but I have never been a sunny girl, not even when I was little. During her pregnancy my mother vomited until she had to be hospitalized. Let’s just say that I was desperately unwanted at the time. Did it permanently affect her unborn baby? Who knows these things for sure? What we do know is that my mom’s continued anguish would have exposed me to a somewhat toxic prenatal environment; and then there’s epigenetics, which describes that extreme emotional experiences are passed on genetically.
I felt lost, like a displaced person, and they gave me the striped passport as "Foreigner Without Home Country". It was post-war Germany and my folks were Romanian refugees, traumatized by WWII, the Holocaust, and unimaginable circumstances on their trip over the snow-covered Carpathian Mountains on a horse carriage (one of the two horses died on the road). In Salzburg, Austria my beautiful teenage mother quickly fell in love with a handsome Jewish man who spoke her language. When he left for Munich, Germany, she followed him… Unmarried and pregnant at twenty-one she sent a letter to her mother in Austria, “If you want to see me alive, come NOW”. So my grandma came to the rescue and never left. She ran the household while my parents tried to get a go at things. My dad would ride his bicycle around in the rain, selling nylon stockings until he almost died of pneumonia. Although he eventually became a successful businessman, an anxious poverty consciousness was transmitted to me. My family’s legacy was a sense for moving on, in search for greener pastures, and not looking back too soon…
I was essentially on my own. They loved me a lot, but they were busy. They would tease me for crying, “Oh look, the little mimosa, there she goes again”... and my mom did spank me a couple of times for lying. I would feel so humiliated and insulted that I would not talk to her for days… and it resulted in my compulsive need to tell the truth (I do have to make a deliberate effort to avoid unnecessary disclosures…).
In elementary school I concluded that I am stupid. It never occurred to me that other kids might be getting some help with their schoolwork. My grandma didn’t really know how to help me with my little issues and neither did I know how to tell her about things. I felt ridiculously out of place. I fantasized about being invisible and being able to walk through walls. It didn’t happen… Noticing that adults seemed inflicted with a condition of collective amnesia regarding the hardships that must be endured during childhood, I made a pact with myself to remember my childhood suffering... And I do - my heart goes out to all the sad and lonely children.
As teenagers we had discussions in which the Jews were ridiculed and blamed for not having assimilated with the Germans, while the Aryan right to supremacy remained undoubted. They thought the Germans are better. My people thought the Jews are better. I was told to identify with the aggressor. I was told to identify with the underdog. I chose the underdog and began to read and learn about it, but it was futile. I couldn’t fight against everyone. My best girlfriend had a parrot who, apparently oblivious of the political changes during its lifetime, would occasionally screech: “Heil Hitler”. I often went home crying, but could never tell my parents, knowing that my dad would be floored with all that. I was left alone with my shame in secrecy.
At fourteen my dad would ask me at the dinner table: “As what do you feel?” and I was supposed to say Jewish, Romanian, or Israeli – but none of these options really applied, though. I couldn’t identify. I didn’t belong anywhere. I brought up teenage pregnancy, and he would threaten to disown me… I didn’t like these family dinners. I did a lot of crying there. Eventually I gave up and embarked on a life of denial and confusion. So I met a German boy and we fell in love. He was the cutest of them all and I was enchanted. We did what teenagers do and I told him that Jewish girls don’t have sex. He laughed and said they are lying. When I turned sixteen we had sex and I got pregnant. My mom manipulated my dad to go on a business trip to Italy so we could secretly fly to Yugoslavia and get me an abortion… I had to promise her that I would never see him again, which turned out to be an impossibility (to this day). It did cause us all a lot of heartache.
I realize that my childhood does not look tragic. After all, I was not physically abused. I’m guessing my more or less catastrophic over-reactions to life cannot be sufficiently explained by imposing all the responsibility on to my family’s behavior. It looks like I was just born with an uncomfortable vulnerability to people and reality in general… which predisposed me to anxious ruminations, resistances, and self-destructive acting-out that seemed like pleasure seeking. I wish I could have brought some joy to my poor daddy… but his need for control and my stubborn defensiveness against his blaming didn’t leave much room for such things. We weren’t exactly playful about it, either… We were locked into that thing. Feelings of shame and the need to blame became hurtful and toxic.
Without necessarily knowing what I was doing, I had the irresistible urge to go far away. Eventually I left for California, where supposedly people wore flowers in their hair because it never rained… My musician lover in London hooked me up with his brother on 129 ½ Doheny Drive in West Hollywood, who took me along to a couple of recording studios. I met some famous musicians… my decision was made promptly … and I moved to Los Angeles. You’d think I was finally happy when I was free to hang out at Malibu Beach looking onto the surf, but no - I felt confused, lonely, and depressed, and I missed my home and my friends. There I was … many years and thousands of miles apart from my childhood plight… and my feelings were the same as they had always been. At the sunny blue Pacific Ocean my internal climate had remained foggy and gray.
So I became a psychotherapist… found a man to love and marry, gave birth to a perfect baby boy, but when it came time to bury my mom and grandma, the bubble burst and I could not go on. Something inside of me imploded and I lost the path. I began to smoke, drink, and use drugs more and more. I destroyed my marriage and career, and with it the opportunity for a good life… and for decades I sunk into the swamp. In 1984 I ended up returning to Munich – divorced, penniless, with a little boy who didn’t speak any German, “Daddy, I’m home!” He was not amused…
Back home I got myself a man to love and a cool little shoe store to finance our lifestyle. We stayed up all night for years and I’m not going to lie - we did have a lot of fun. Then came the years where I tried to be asleep before the birds start to sing at dawn. I needed heroin to get up and Johnny Walker to make it through the night, silently suffering through the hellish hangovers and attempts of kicking. We crashed. It was harder on him and he was hospitalized many times. I married him for visits at the psych ward… when his mom tried to keep me out. It got dark around the house.
Locked into our own little world, we had to go on until one of us couldn’t do it any longer. Meanwhile, my son had gone to Hawaii for an exchange year and I went to visit him for his eighteenth birthday. During a long-distance phone call I realized that my husband had found himself a little lover… and the bondage was released. I was free to go. I knew that my ex-husband was in recovery and asked him for help. He let me go to his rehab and I took the chance to get out alive. On May 2, 1999 I came back to L.A. to get clean, seized the lifesaver, and held on. I did cry every day about my son’s childhood. Eventually, the recovery work helped to forgive us all. The truth is – we just couldn’t help it.
Meanwhile, I have understood that words have the power to destroy people and that our words say more about us than about the other person; also, that blame is hurtful and useless, no matter how justified it may be. Responding to aggression with stubborn defensiveness and resentments keeps the lock on misery. While nothing gets resolved, we stay stuck in a vicious cycle and it interferes with healing. Essentially, we sacrifice happiness for blame.
In the past I have judged others while wanting to be understood. I see now that it’s not a recipe for happiness. These days I try to understand and empathize. I have learned to look at my own actions, pull my spirit back to the present moment and look for the joy; had to give up my inflated self-importance (unless I forget), as well as over-identification with the past. Instead, I embrace the ability to have some experiences, look at what I bring to the table, and make myself useful. I’ve gone from “Whatever it is, I’m against it” … to… “Bring it on!” I like it a lot better that way.
* Somnambulism is defined as walking in one’s sleep or in trance; sleepwalking