Take It Or Leave It

I’m not one to give unsolicited advice, mostly because I hate receiving it. Yet so many people insist on doling it out as if they’re on a mission commissioned by the Almighty Himself to do so. It’s their personal goal in life to tell the rest of us what we should be doing, why we need to do it and how we should be doing it.

Nowadays we call those people narcissists. We used to just call them annoying busybody assholes.

So I try not to be one, because I don’t like them. It can be difficult though, the older you get and the more life experience you acquire, not to share helpful tips with others even when they didn’t ask for it. Aka give unsolicited advice. I find myself stopping myself more and more from doing it so I’m not annoying my son or other younger people who have yet to figure some things out through trial and error, like I did. Like we all do. Like we all should.

Still, it’s great to come across good advice even if you aren’t looking for it, like this article I found over at the NYTimes. Here’s just the section on Life Advice:

The first kind of counsel for your consideration: words of wisdom for almost any life situation.

  • You’ve never seen a cat skeleton in a tree, have you?” When Alexandra Aulisi’s cat couldn’t get down from a tree, her grandmother reassured her with those words, predicting (correctly) that the cat would come down on his own. “This advice made me realize that, sometimes, you need to shift your perception of a problem to see a solution,” Ms. Aulisi noted.
  • “Don’t pickle things.” That line, brought to you by reader Sam Singer’s mother, means: If you have something special, use it now. “Serve daily meals on your good china. Wash your hands with the luxurious soap you received as a housewarming gift. Drink that bottle of amazing wine right away. Don’t save things for future use — because who knows what the future looks like?”
  • “Exercise adds 20 degrees.” For example, “if it’s 28 degrees out and it seems too cold to go running,” Rory Evans wrote, “once you get moving, it’ll feel like it’s 48 degrees. And that, you can handle.”
  • “Touch it once.” According to Christine H., this household hint involves putting something away the first time you pick it up. That way, “you don’t have to waste energy looking at it (and feeling guilty), or letting it get dusty so you have to clean it before putting it away.”
  • “Sleep on his side of the bed.” Mattie Scott heard this advice at her husband’s funeral. “It’s truly the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten,” she notes. “The effect was profoundly comforting, and it greatly lessened the ache of missing his physical presence.”
  • “Things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.” Gail Dekker first heard her friend, a wedding coordinator, offer these words to young couples whose emotions were running high. But it works in all kinds of situations, including Ms. Dekker’s house hunt. “My initial reaction was that there was something wrong with every condo I saw. My friend reminded me: A place didn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. She was right.”
  • “Take a breath.” Melissa Fanning heard this from a yoga teacher (“at a corporate retreat about which I remember nothing else”). It wasn’t a yoga instruction; it was a suggestion to pause at stressful moments, to avoid saying or doing something regrettable. “I use this advice every day,” Ms. Fanning wrote. “It has preserved peace, calmed me, and made me appear smarter than I am.”
  • “You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control your reaction to them.” Kim Radich uses this advice daily. “For example, when a family member reacted negatively to a situation, I remembered I can’t control their behavior, and I let it roll off my back.”
  • “Just be a gentleman.” Harry Kelly admits that this advice “may sound corny.” But that guidance came from his mother at a heightened emotional moment: as she dropped him off at college shortly after his father had died. “It means not taking advantage of other people and trying to adhere to your moral values,” he wrote. “Her advice has kept me from doing some bad things and encouraged me to do what is right. Best advice ever.”

There’s more, and some of it’s really good! It’s a collection of best advice ever given to the readers.

Some of the best advice, though, comes from our inner voice that we all like to ignore. If we listen closely it’s telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing, when we’re right or wrong, and everything in between. It’s our compass if we can learn to tune out the other voice that pops up and drowns it out.

You know the one that repeats all the negative things your mother ever said to you? Yeah, we have more than one inner voice. The one that’s trying to guide us in a positive way is the one we want to tune into, though, because it really does have our best interest at heart even if it seems like a killjoy.

And it’s more of an intuition or a feeling than an actual voice. The naysayer is usually the loud one we hear chattering away while this one, well it’s somewhere deeper, and nudges us from a quiet place hidden within the recesses of our soul itself. Perhaps it’s our “higher self” even, who knows, all I know is when I listen to it I have pretty good outcomes compared to when I ignore it and try to go at life doing things my own way (which sounds weird I know because that voice IS part of me and no, I’m not schizophrenic, it’s perfectly normal to have internal dialogue(s)).

Don’t let anyone make you feel crazy or weird just because you have internal dialogues or monologues. It really is normal. It only becomes a problem when the voices take on nefarious tones and tell you to do bad things. Or if you begin talking to your toaster. Then you might want to get some help.

Oops, it looks like I just went against my own personal vow not to offer unsolicited advice. Oh well, it’s too late now. Take it or leave it. 😋

Corruptors of Youth

Some of us don’t have a chance for normalcy. I was given my first line of meth by my brother and my first hit on a crack pipe by my best friend’s mom when I was thirteen and as an adult looking back now, it blows my mind and pisses me off when I look back to my early teen years and realize just how many grown people were involved in corrupting the youth back then! Particularly me!

Not just people in their 20s; you expect them to still want to hang out with teenagers, the male ones at least. I’m talking people in their thirties, forties and beyond. Wayyy too old to want to be “friends” with obviously damaged, highly vulnerable fifteen year old girls and boys, you know? And they were always around, supplying the goods or giving a ride to a concert or providing a safe house for us to go party. It seemed like a sport in the 80s to cross boundaries and the adults I knew all seemed completely fixated on themselves and getting either high, drunk or both.

Meth was really taking hold at that time and you could smell it cooking as you walked the streets and neighborhoods of Manteca. The odor was very distinct and I knew it well as I had smelled it up close, having been exposed to drug dealers, manufacturers and all manner of petty and not-so-petty criminals. As a freshman in high school I would walk to school and on the way I could smell at least two or three meth labs.

Our high school was a magnet for all of these middle aged corrupters of youth and usually one would spot me and offer a ride along the way, which I happily took. Hell, my oldest sister was still hitchhiking from town to town like the wannabe hippy she still was even though by the mid 80s we kinda knew that made you a target for a serial killer (and California was breeding as many of those as perverted narcissists it seemed).

We literally didn’t care. All five of us kids had a death wish of sorts, it seemed, we just sought it in slightly different ways. She liked to hook up with as many random strangers as she could because sex was her drug of choice. Meth and weed were mine, just like my older brother who I practically worshiped despite him being one of my worst abusers.

It was easy to overlook the abuse when the convenience of getting your fix meant your drug dealer lived in the same house as you, slept two doors down the hall and didn’t always notice when my sticky fingers dipped into his stash when he wasn’t around. I always tried to get in and out of his bedroom though because it was the scariest corner of the cave to me. His walls were covered in naked people doing all sorts of weird things, his collection of knives and bullets and brass knuckles and all manner of weapons of mass destruction scared me even more, but the smell made it feel like going into a gas chamber. I can still smell it if I try.

The smell was so strong, especially if he had skunk weed, that I knew when he was home regardless of the time of day or night because the moment he cracked the seal to that door, the entire house reeked of weed and teenage boy. This was on top of the overwhelming odor of cigarettes and cat shit which already made our cave smell so pungent!

Still, in a weird way I loved him even though it was just like having Sid from Toy Story as an older brother. Out of the entire clan he was the only one I had fond feelings for, but that was probably because he took me places and hooked me up with lots of drugs. He also had hot friends I enjoyed the company of and a reputation for being a bad ass that I benefited from as his little sister. He wasn’t my only brother, but he was the only one who seemed to enjoy my company as long as I was bringing my friends over to buy dimebags and quarters from him, so I did my best to tolerate his personality “quirks” when they were aimed at me.

Though there was that one unfortunate incident when I had to pull a butcher knife on him after he knocked his pit bull out cold in front of me and then turned and came after me in a fit of rage, but eventually we got past that. Plus, he wasn’t the only one corrupting me whenever he had the chance. My oldest sister, the free-love loving hippy wannabe was also into that, but she didn’t use drugs. Unless you count sex as a drug.

All of them were or should have been old enough to know better. At the age of thirteen, I didn’t realize it was wrong of them but by the time I was an older teen, especially by the time I was married and having my first child just before my 20th birthday, I KNEW what they had done was wrong and I was already determined not to be like them or to tolerate any adults around me wanting to corrupt the youth.

No Hard Feelings?

I can’t remember an interaction with anyone as a child, outside of school or with polite strangers out in public, that didn’t end in some kind of negativity.

Sometimes they could get through a conversation without it devolving into a screaming match or worse, but not often enough. Sometimes they’d wait until whoever they were being fake nice to at the moment left the room or even just turned their attention away enough for an eyeroll to go by undetected,but I noticed and took notes and mimicked them because it was all I knew as the youngest in the tribe.

As unbelievable as it sounds, my parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins and everyone we knew seemed to have the same narcissistic bent to them. It seemed to me then, and still does looking back, that central California isn’t just growing vast quantities of America’s food but also millions of narcissists ripe for the harvest every year. I say this because I’m sure it didn’t magically end when we left back in the early nineties.

Narcissism seems to just run through the culture and for someone who is highly sensitive, wants to just be grounded and down-to-earth and have genuine relationships with other people based on respect, civility and – dare I say – love, it’s toxic as hell to be around them. It feels like you are trying to have a relaxing swim in your pool but someone swapped the warm water out for acetone.

I had no idea that this particular personality disorder existed but I did know when I mimicked the behaviors I grew up witnessing I felt AWFUL. I hated myself, I hated everyone else and I hated the world. In fact, I hated life itself back then and was like a big ball of negative energy. A lifetime of watching people backstab and beat each other down (literally) had taken its toll on me before I really ever formed my core personality and it makes me sad now, looking back at the lost potential.

Hard feelings flooded through my veins because I was tapped into the dark, ugly current of it that ran through the San Joaquin valley. It watered the crops of narcissists that grew there, including my own clan and the only way I could survive was to cut off all contact with as many of them as possible and find a place where I could heal and hopefully thrive one day.

If you had told thirteen year old me way back then, as I was climbing out of my bedroom window at midnight to go run the streets and party all night with dozens of other kids just like me that one day I’d be sitting here on my little homestead, completely contented with life with the Tetons over my shoulder and my sled dogs sleeping peacefully in a semi-circle all around me, writing about surviving the madness happening in that house so long ago on Hacienda Avenue, I think she would have told you you were full of shit and laughed in your face.

Surviving Narcissism

One of my favorite channels is Dr. Les Carter’s Surviving Narcissism. He has helped me come to terms with my early childhood more than anyone else ever has and I owe him my debt of gratitude. Just the name of his channel is fitting because it really is survival of the fittest out there when you live with narcissists.

The damage they do mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically is hard to quantify but I have a feeling that most mental illness, suicide, drug addiction and general failure in life can be traced back to narcissistic abuse. I know that sounds extreme, but it comes from my own narrow lens on life because it’s how I grew up.

I lived in a viper’s nest of them. I don’t say that jokingly, either, because that’s how it felt as a child. I remember my earliest years were spent hiding – a lot – and trying to stay still, quiet and preferably unseen because out of sight meant out of mind in my clan of narcs.

Once you popped into view, one of them would take notice and unless they were already preoccupied with torturing someone else, then all gloves were off and they would hone in on you like a hunter with a laser scope. It didn’t matter who it was, if one of them had the urge, and they all often did, some sort of abusive behavior would follow and the only way to avoid it was to hide.

When you’re half the size of everyone else your age, you find all kinds of places to hide, too. Long after I should have been able to, I could slip into the space between the couch and the wall easily enough that there was room to drag all sorts of things with me. Mostly every spare blanket I could find because that was also where the cats liked to go to do their thing because doing it out in the open on the carpet meant risking a boot to the ribs, so they figured out early on, too, that hiding to sleep, shit and wait out the chaos until the next round meant survival.

This also meant that no one cleaned up the piles of cat shit that gathered behind the couch because that was far too much effort. Just like cleaning it out of the potted plants that somehow managed to survive in that hellhole. The stench was so bad I often used dryer sheets to cover my face with and would take them with me to my secret spot behind the couch to endure being so close to it. Even with blankets separating me from the smell, and even though my sinuses were always incredibly inflamed to the point I could barely breathe through my nose, it was still intolerable at times, especially if it was fresh that day.

Still, I managed to make it work because hiding anywhere else was too dangerous. There were no other truly safe spaces for me with so many kids in the house and us having to share bedrooms. Under my bed was another favorite place but it was often so jam packed with stuff that it was impossible to get under there, so the couch worked for me and the cats, too.

All those cats. Ugh.

Of course we all had to come out of hiding to eat, the cats and I, but my parents didn’t seem to notice if I barely poked at my food before slinking away back to my hideaway and the world I’d created for myself there that took me a million miles away from reality.

Luckily I had a vivid imagination and was above average intelligence for my age. I squirreled away books and paper and pencils in my hiding places so I’d spend hours reading and writing. I even wrote my first book inside the closet I shared with my older sister later. She was in seventh and I was in second grade, and it was all about a little girl who was being abused.

No surprise there, heh.

I made a cover and used the gigantic hole punch my dad brought home from the Navy to make it into a “real” book and everything. I drew the illustration on the front and tied the pages together carefully with red ribbon I’d snatched from my mom’s sewing stuff and I was SO VERY PROUD.

I would have given it to one of my parents as a gift, but they’d have just acted indifferent and tossed it on to the pile of crap already overflowing on the coffee table or dining room table or wherever. I knew even then they had no interest in what I did or thought or if I even really existed at all so I just didn’t bother and kept everything to myself. I had zero allies in that house and I knew it from the very beginning it seems.

Anyway, I am pretty sure in my first novel, which must have been all of five pages or so, all neatly tied together with bright, red ribbons that were carefully cut to the same length by eight year old me, ended up in one of those many piles of trash that grew like swamp monsters in my childhood home eventually anyway.

I remember bits and pieces of the story still, how my character was beaten with a fire poker and made to live outside in the tree house with the cat. I wish I still had it but, like everything from my childhood including school pictures (when they bothered to get them for me) disappeared long before I left home.

I can imagine it in my mind’s eye, even though it’s not a real memory, though, in my childhood home, lying there in the dark with all that smoke in the air and the yellow, nicotine stained walls, somewhere lost among all the pieces of junk mail and empty cigarette packs and overflowing ashtrays and dirty dishes and dirty socks and toenail clippings and dog hair and odds and ends and crumbs and coffee stained papers and whatever else found its way to the pile before the cats decided to climb on top and take quick naps when no one was looking, pushing and piling things onto the floor and adding to the never ending chaos that usually accompanies a narcissistic household.

I can close my eyes and I’m back there in an instant, my heart racing, struggling to breathe freely, looking for a place to hide. Which is why I try not to go there. That’s the key, though, I can control when and if I go there, how long I stay and when I can leave again. Mostly thanks to Dr. C.