I live in a secret fantasy world

I'm a mom with three kids, but in my mind I'm a princess, a genius and a famous writer.

Published April 8, 2009 10:28AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a faithful reader of your column and for many months wanted to send you this letter. My problem cannot be discussed with friends or family because part of the reason I am struggling with my life involves my children. Some might perceive anything I say against my children as a sign that I don't love them, which is not true.

Since I was 11 I have lived in a rich fantasy world that involved me being the princess at the party, the movie star at the premiere, a force that was admired and the object of desire, never picked last for the team. I was criticized a lot so it doesn't take Freud to figure out why I've immersed myself in fantasy, but the reality of my life couldn't be further from the dreams.

I also write and submit stories. I write about women who are married to men who are alcoholics; I write about women who have affairs out of a desperate need to escape the bleakness of their situation, but always get left because of their aforementioned desperation; I write about women who wish to be anyone but who they are at that moment. I write about me. I write about this because it is what I know and if it doesn't come out of me, I feel like I will flatten under its weight. I also harbor this fantasy that I will be published, but criticize and question myself, wondering who in their right mind would read anything I wrote.

I have been married for 18 years. We waited 12 years to have children and have three. My husband developed some  negative habits after the children were born. Since then he's resolved them, but out of those habits came lack of income, my increased dissatisfaction with my life and the pressures of having to raise children who can be difficult amidst the turmoil. I know this isn't my children's fault, but I just want to flee. I've dug my fingers into my countertops until they turn purple in an attempt to hold myself back from walking out the door. But the reality is I cannot leave and he won't either. Every time someone asks me to do something, or I want to take some time for myself, I can't because I have no other childcare. I hear about old friends getting together and having fun, and missed opportunities to do the same. I feel trapped and crated.

I am 42 now and still long for the romance, adventure, excess and happiness that I have been fantasizing about for 32 years. And as I write this, I have tears streaming down my face because I feel like a petulant, whining child for even thinking these things. And yet I do think these things. I should be grateful and satisfied with what I have, but I always wonder what if. I can hear people yelling at me, telling me to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled brat, that life is what I make of it and it is all up to me -- that things could be worse. I do know all of this. I know. And yet ... I wish for the tide to carry me out, but not drag me under.

Waiting for This Moment to Be Free

Dear Waiting,

These voices you hear yelling at you, telling you to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled brat, these are not helpful voices. They are not what you need right now.

Perhaps you have lived with these voices a long time. They may be the voices of your parents and teachers. They sound like voices of trauma. Survivors of traumatic events sometimes seem to emerge with one burning truth, that life is a treacherous struggle for survival and that to entertain anything fanciful or sensual is to court disaster. Perhaps whoever raised you conveyed to you the belief that you must suppress all impulses toward the creative and fanciful, lest such impulses render you vulnerable and bring you to ruin in a hard and ruthless world. Perhaps this was conveyed in a spirit of love and protection. But it was a murderous thing to do to a person whose true survival depends on finding creative expression.

Not everyone is creative. But for those of us who are, it is a life-and-death struggle. We suppress these impulses at our grave peril. Eventually, one reaches a point of crisis such as you seem to have reached. It has become unbearable to suppress your creative side any longer. Your ability to ignore who you are is crumbling. Your authentic self is threatening to emerge, intimately bound up with these yearnings and visions you have been having since the age of 11.

These voices threaten to murder that emergence, so you must counter them. You may feel that you are not allowed to turn and counter these voices, to disown them, to call them out and smash them, to bury them, to walk away from them. They may have protected you at certain times, buying you acceptance in a narrow, censorious society, keeping you from being branded insane, or an egomaniac, or a witch; perhaps it was seen as uppity and unrealistic to have any creative impulses; it may have seemed to you that in kowtowing to these voices you were keeping yourself within the bounds of consensus reality.

But it is time for you to embark on a journey full of amazement. The starting point is right there on the other side of these voices. So you need some tools to work with these voices.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is really great. It can help you.

I took a walk on the beach and it started to rain. I came home and messed around in the backyard, bringing in things that would get wet, watching a very long earthworm trek across the flagstones I had laid three years earlier. I was thinking that cognitive therapy would work wonders for you. I carried this thought inside with me and sat and thought, and found myself leafing through the April Sun magazine, reading an interview with shamanist Leslie Gray, and then I came back to your letter, even more convinced that these various longings and drives you are feeling are legitimate and must be honored.

Perhaps what you do is you start with cognitive therapy. But you move beyond it. You keep going. You keep going into richer realms. These realms, I am convinced by the tone and the strength in your letter, are right at your door -- shrouded from view by these harsh, hectoring voices.

That intrusive, negative thought you have about being published -- that no one in their right mind would read anything you wrote -- also deserves to be countered and dismissed. It simply is meaningless. Obviously you can write. You will get published because you instinctively speak of true things, and these are things others also have experienced. So you will get published, not because you are special but because you are honest and you speak of your own experience, which mirrors the experience of many.

So find someone who practices cognitive therapy and see if you can do something about these self-murdering voices. It will probably happen fairly quickly, the dissolution of these idiotic, cruel voices. Emergence of the self that has been so long suppressed may take longer. That is OK. It is like the soul's emergence. It is like that earthworm whose patience I so admired as it inched across the vast patio of flagstones.

Then keep going. You have deep creative resources. This is obvious. Your vision and talent were awakened when you were 11 and you have been spending all this time tamping it down to get along and fit in; all these years you've been trying to be the person you were taught you were supposed to be, but this creative force, this life force, to its eternal credit, has not yet been killed or stifled. It can't be. You can't stop it. It will not go away because it is trying to save your life. It is a gift trying to be given to you. Receive it. Accept it. And then pass it on.

Creative? Yeah, I know. It can be like that sometimes.

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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