Gators in the Swimming Hole

People usually fit into certain “types”. Granted, each individual is different, but humans habitually categorize people based on appearance and behavior. Few types of people inspire friendship in me and one type in particular rankles me. April was one of those.

Some people can have the same background as others, yet they fail to learn the same lessons for one reason or another that is rarely predictable, unless you’re an FBI profiler. April had never held a job in her life, not a strike against her in itself. What rubbed me wrong was her inability to respect the fact that I had to make a living and that crafts, including writing, took a back seat to keeping a roof over my head.

In college, I hung out with a gal with a similar history to April, a fellow NaNoWriMo participant who threw a fit one day when I got stuck working late and couldn’t make our write-in meeting. Grace also grew up with health problems. Her parents put her through college with enough extra spending money to support her gaming, movies and fine dining. More than once she paid for me to go along to a movie at the new theater on Billings west-end because my funds were limited. 

Unlike April, Grace respected my situation when I ended up working late on a Friday night or needed the time to study for an exam. She didn’t expect me to keep her as the center of my universe.

Several other folks revolved through my friends circle over the years with that attitude. Usually they dropped out once I identified them as the vampires they were. One, Hanna, hung on for several years with promises of helping me along in my writing career. I never saw signs of her fulfilling these promises and after a few years of sporadic communication in which she found it necessary to tell me exactly how I should think and feel about everything, even denying things she had said, I lost patience.

The final straw came when she told me I should drop my life where I was at and move to New York City. When I told her that would not work for me for several reasons, she responded, “Then you’re not that serious about writing.”

I admit writing has often taken a back seat to making a living for me, but I was not born into a wealthy family like her and was not lucky enough for key opportunities to pan out into career success. I do the best I can with what I have, and I know others out there can relate to working two or more jobs to meet basic needs while trying to feed a hobby like writing.

Which is why I don’t care if this post seems to ramble. It’s one step in getting traction back.

Anyway, anyone can expect to encounter people like that sometime in their lives. Roughly 10% of the current US population has personality disorders, usually indicated by a pervasive and disruptive need for attention. As a rule of thumb, that means two to three times that number are directly affected by these people and will suffer the consequences of growing up with a parent with a personality disorder. Who knows how many ex-friends and spouses also carry the scars left by these folks?

Recently, I made the decision to cut ties with most of my family over this factor. It wasn’t easy, especially with the number of “love your mom now because she won’t always be there” posts on Facebook, and for the fact that I didn’t do it out of anger. My feelings are mixed to the point of catatonia.

After finding out my mother had a diagnosed personality disorder last year, I hoped that meant she would work on learning to not manipulate people, including her own children, but after 60 plus years of doing things a certain way a person can’t change in a few short months. Despite her saying she respected me and my siblings and wanted us to live our own lives, her “actions” failed to back that up. 

As I became more and more aware of that disconnect, and of the fact that her behavior continued to affect my sense of self and my relationship with Buck, I finally came to a decision. It was based on something a senior firefighter told me when I was a rookie.

Ivan had scoffed as he looked at me and the other firefighters who packed into an extended cab pickup with no leg or elbow room rather than riding in the Chevy Six-Pack with the individual who was checking out of our housing unit, ending her season early. 

Her name was Andrea, and she was one of those toxic people who stirred up conflict as a hobby. Ivan read our sardine statement correctly. Anything was better than being in the same vehicle with her.

No one spoke as we started on the 30 mile drive through the August East Texas heat with a weak AC. Maybe we feared toppling the delicate balance of the situation. I wouldn’t let myself feel the relief of her leaving for several weeks. Andrea nearly cost me my job, and I knew my career and reputation would need a lot of repair if it survived at all.

Then into the silence, Ivan spoke.

“You know, when I was a kid, we used to go to this swimming hole on Sandy Creek. Every time we did, we’d throw rocks out into the water to locate the gators.”

That explained his excellent aim at long distance.

“What would you do if there were gators?” one of the others asked.

“We’d swim anyway. You see, as long as you know where the gators are, and you give them room, you can swim in the same hole.”

I think that opened up the conversation between the others, but I remained silent, staring out the window and contemplating Ivan’s message. 

Truthfully, I was too beaten to find anything to say. I’d been Andrea’s target for four hard months and only recently found out these guys had my back. My own mom more than hinted that the whole situation was my fault. 

No, I didn’t make all the right decisions and had made myself a target through my own arrogance, but it wasn’t all my fault.

Andrea disappeared after that, thankfully, but Ivan’s story kept playing through my head one morning on my drive in from the hills, and I finally realized I had to get out of the swimming hole, because a particular gator kept following me.

I know some people grew up with supportive parents who didn’t insert doubts into their kids’ minds every time a child showed a hint of independence. I also know I’m not one of them, and I do my best not to blame my failings on that fact, but I know I held back on some things out of a persistent sense of unworthiness or confidence that I would fail due to my imperfections.

People who grow up with personality disordered parents often find themselves in relationships with people suffering from mental illnesses similar to those parents. This explains several relationships in my past including the writer friend and why I didn’t ditch her sooner. Looking back, she reminds me a lot of my mother.

Children of parents with personality disorders are conditioned to a certain level of abuse. If that child was the “scapegoat,” the one on whom everything gets blamed and who gets saddled with the primary responsibility of meeting the parent’s needs, they are more likely to be the one sacrificing the most in relationships both with friends and significant others.

What’s truly sad is they often don’t think this is abnormal, and they often end up in an unending cycle of abuse.

I’ve been lucky in avoiding abusive personal relationships, but I have fallen into a few working relationships that were less than beneficial to my sense of self worth. I know now, this will be a lifelong project of unlearning thought patterns established in my childhood.

On the brighter side, at least I’ve made it to this point on the journey. I’ve known several people decades older than me who still follow the same patterns of entrapment, abuse and unhappiness, many of whom suffer at the hands of blood kin. All I can say on that is; just because you share a family tree does not mean those people deserve greater loyalty than anyone else in your life.

That’s why I love the theme of Fast and Furious. Family should be built on loyalty and support and not just kinship, just don’t fall for guilt trips disguised as proving loyalty to these vampires. They know how to play that game.

So, for anyone out there in a similar situation, you don’t have to do what I’ve done. Just know that you don’t owe anyone, parent, sibling or “friend”, anything if all they do is use you. It is possible to walk away, to get out of the swimming hole and find another one. Until you go try another spot, you might not know what you’re missing.


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