Guilt and Redemption

I found out yesterday that my therapist of almost a year is having to retire because of her health. This has been an interesting turn of fate. Especially since this therapist was there when I faced my biggest demons this past year. Because of her support and the safe space she gave me, I finally found the courage to change my name and fully step into ME.

I will miss this therapist. She wasn’t the one I would have chosen from the list I was given, she was chosen for me, and she was perfect for me. She gave me the strength to listen to myself and stand up for my dreams and desires and needs. I have learned how to navigate the bizarre and twisted paths of my memories and have learned to not be afraid of my younger self. During our session yesterday, I mentioned how much more aware and awake I am now. And I have a fair amount of regret for the me that existed when my oldest was born and for the first two years of his life. I was so numb and traumatized from his birth that I can’t remember what it felt like being handed my firstborn and holding him for the first time. I can’t remember what it was like for the first year of his life. He is an incredibly strong and independent and stubborn being. He is not cuddly and not very affectionate, and I feel like I am to blame for that at times. On the other hand, I’m like that – because of my past trauma. My youngest is my cuddly child and I’m so okay with that.

I regret not being present during the first half of my oldest’s years old life. I wish I could have been where I am now. But I also know that I wouldn’t have been able to handle learning the truth about my past living only minutes away from the man who abused me. It was already killing me living that close not even knowing about those missing memories.

My therapist pointed out that from my oldest’s age and on he will only now really be able to remember what happens from this point forward. I’m in such a different [better] mental space now and I feel like I am present for my children’s lives.


One week ago I was in the ER. I went in because on my pain scale (I don’t fit the normal 0-10 pain scale…I have at least 0-13…thanks chronic pain.) my pain was easily 11 or 12. I was shaking, felt like maybe I had a kidney infection, and I was having a hard time staying mentally aware. I have never been to the ER. But I have felt that kind of pain before…many times. Just not that bad. I grew up being told my pain was in my head. The only reason I went in to the ER was because when I called the on call obgyn she said go in, it sure sounds like I had a kidney infection. But the entire time I drove to the ER, then as I sat there, I kept questioning myself. Even though my hands were shaking, I couldn’t focus, and in fact me, the detail oriented person who rarely misses a thing, completely missed that they had screwed up my last name and didn’t know until Phil came to be with me and they couldn’t find my name in the system. On the plus side I had an awesome nurse; he was tall and had a full head of shaggy red hair and an amazing beard and he was so laid back it helped calm me down.

I kept waiting for the doctor to laugh me out of the room and tell me that it was all in my head. Even as she stood there, taking me seriously, and expressing grave concern that I was either dealing with appendicitis, or an ovarian cyst. She said with no hesitation that she was going to send me for a CT scan. The nurse came to get for the scan and as I was wheeled down to the CT scanner, I continued to second guess myself. Nah, I really don’t feel all that bad (as I held up my shaking hands in front of my face). As I had seen my youngest get a CT scan I knew mostly what to expect. But getting injected with contrast dye was so weird. I was wheeled back to my room, and sat there to wait for my doctor to come back in. While I waited, the pain in my side suddenly intensified even more and I felt a burning sensation spread across my stomach. Then most of the intense pain was gone. I almost called my nurse in, but my body oddly no longer felt “sick.” I didn’t feel like I had a bad case of the flu or like my body was wracked with a high fever.

The ER doctor came in and said I had a large cyst on my right ovary. She ordered an ultrasound as she was really concerned that it was twisting my ovary. Once I had the ultrasound, she came back and said well it looks like it ruptured! I’m certain the burning sensation was it rupturing. I was sent home with orders to follow up with my regular obgyn in two months. But I’m seeing my OB next week. I’m not going to wait that long. This year I have promised myself that I’m going to get the answers and help my body needs. My body has been sick for most of my remembered life and it’s time to try to heal it.

Every medical interaction I’ve had with doctors related to my care out here has been some of the best I’ve ever experienced. I don’t have parents privately pulling aside doctors and telling them all that I was feeling was just in my head. I don’t have parents who refuse to advocate for me or take me seriously. I have learned how to advocate for myself. And if there’s anything the past year with my youngest had taught me, I have a strong and loud mama bear voice when it comes to health and I know how to research, I know how to ask the right questions, and I sure as hell know when not to take “you’re fine” as an answer.

Did you know that I can’t remember what it’s like to wake up in the morning and actually feel good? My supply of daily spoons has been lacking for a long time. After getting my gallbladder out two years ago this month, I was able to heal to a certain extent. But having that removed only showed that there is something else significantly wrong with my body. I’m 26 years old, I shouldn’t feel like someone 3 times my age. I know that most of my physical issues are directly related to my childhood and the trauma and physical abuse I endured. I’ve wrestled a lot feeling like it was my fault, like I should have done something different, that I was just lazy, and weak. I’ve felt for a long time that maybe it was all just in my head and I have become numb to how much pain I’m in all the time. But having a medical professional not only take me seriously, but become more concerned than I was about my own health’s condition, made me do a double take. Maybe my health really is as bad as I should think it is?

Mentally, I am finally feeling less trapped and numb and guarded. But that’s only serving to highlight how I’m barely surviving most days physically. I am very specific about what I spend my carefully guarded limited amount of spoons on. This one simple line of text has continued to stick with me;

I don’t know what my personality is. Not only am I deeply affected by this, it’s making me aware of how much my physical health has inhibited so much. I’m itching to break the pain cycles. I once again am allowing myself to have hope that maybe one day I’ll actually feel good and not only good, but my health will no longer being the first thing on my mind.

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When The Smoke Clears – Review of 2017

“You and I, against the world”
That’s what you told me
That night, in the terminal
As we were boarding
And I know you meant it
Holding my hand so tight as
We flew, from Lafayette
Back to Pacific time
And you lay ya head on my shoulder
Couple tears were shed over Arizona
An emotional roller coaster, yeah
We ride the highs and lows
We ride the highs and lows
– Smoke Clears by Andy Grammer

Phil and I keep looking back at 2017 in an odd sort of awe. We both felt, walking into 2017, that it would be the year that would break us. Our little boy was going to come into this world and have to go into surgery within the first day of his life. That little bear arrived 6 weeks early and our world was turned upside down. We had no idea what the impact of who he would be would have on our lives. October 31st 2016 was the day everything shattered with our little bear. We were told there were so many things we wouldn’t know for sure until he was here. Phil and I would be entering 2017 as special needs parents and that would bring many complications and tears and a whole new level of stress.

2017 would be the year we became a family of 4 instead of 3. Phil’s job was on the rocks and the week little bear came home from the NICU we found out he had lost the contract we were relying on. Add all of that stress to bringing home a 5lb preemie infant on oxygen and February was rough (to say the least). I felt like I was in a fog with how quickly little bear arrived. During running errands this morning, I felt tears in my eyes as I suddenly remembered the panic of knowing he was coming 6 weeks early and there was nothing I could do to stop it. From the moment I fully realized my water had broken to when I first set eyes on him in post surgery fog, I put my head down and drove forward with everything I had left. Christmas was bittersweet last year. We wanted to celebrate it and it was amazing being with Phil’s brother’s family. But there was a hint of panic and feeling overwhelmed at what was coming in just a few short months (or rather a few short weeks).

All of my life I have buckled down and pushed forward as best as I could. It was all about survival and pick up whatever pieces are left afterwards. When little bear got diagnosed, I made a promise to myself; I promised to let every feeling have its safe space and to not push feelings away. I wanted to stay present with the path we were being roughly shoved down. As a result of making this promise to myself, I can still remember vividly the feelings I was faced with during those first two weeks of little bear’s life. Despite being in an utter fog trying to recover from major abdominal surgery and struggling with not being able to hold my tiny infant, I remember the feelings I felt. We brought our tiny infant home February 13th, 2017, and tried to start adjusting to life with a new family member. We are eternally grateful to the friends and family who came and stayed with us through to the middle of March. Your presence helped us get through those first few weeks of having little bear home; Thank You.

I don’t remember a whole lot from when we brought him home to when I walked out of a neurosurgery appointment in the middle of April after having been told we needed to schedule surgery. Little bear’s head wasn’t hold steady and he needed intervention before his hydrocephalus became dangerous. Surgery was two days away and I had roughly a day to get everything prepped. I had been preparing for him to go into surgery since we brought him home. I was surprised we had made it 2 1/2 months before that surgery became necessary. It felt almost old hat; I knew what to expect, this wasn’t my first time handing my baby off to the nurses and I trusted his surgeon entirely. I didn’t cry, I knew he was in good hands, and I turned to go wait for him to come back to me. A dear dear friend sat with me during his surgery, and that was such a relief having company I trusted.

Little bear came out of surgery as pale as a sheet and in pain, but he settled quickly. He wasn’t handling the anesthesia very well so he wasn’t able to keep any milk down. I chose for him to stay in the hospital an extra day because I was worried about a little pocket of fluid that seemed to be collecting under his incision. It stayed stable over the extra 24 hours so I made the call to have him be discharged. My gut told me that we would be back, but I knew we would deal with that when it came. The next 10 days were a bit hellish as I watched the pocket of fluid start increasing. I have known the anxiety I felt sitting on the edge of my beds many nights during that week and a half. It felt crippling as I worried what I was missing and anticipating having to send him back into surgery. On the morning of April 25th, 10 days after surgery, his incision started leaking CSF (Cerebral Spinal Fluid). This meant we rushed to the ER at Children’s and thankfully his surgeon had just returned to work that morning after a week long business trip at a conference. It was like little bear had just been waiting for him. They took him back to surgery within 20 minutes of him getting admitted to put in a drain and then we started the 3 day wait to see if there was any infection. Over those 3 days his neurosurgeon discussed with us what we wanted to do if there was no infection. Due to a brain structural anomaly discovered during the first surgery a week and a half prior, we had two options instead of just putting in a shunt. We chose to go with the second option since the first surgery was still working, just not enough.

April 28th, little bear went back into surgery for the third time in two weeks.  As this was now my third time waiting in the surgery clinic waiting room, I didn’t feel nervous, just tired. I had every confidence in his surgeon. A short time later his surgeon came out, said the surgery went really well, and we should be able to go back to see little bear in a bit. I said Phil could go get little monkey from our friends’ house, I figured the most worrisome part was over. Right after Phil left, the nurse came to get me. She seemed a little off, and when I walked around the corner and saw that little bear wasn’t in the crib, all of the warning bells went off. Something was wrong, there were three nurses in little bear’s cubicle. One was holding him and when they saw me they told me they couldn’t get him to calm down. I knew instantly something was very very wrong. He was stiffening his arms and legs and gasping for breath and he didn’t recognize or respond to me. Soon the anesthesiologist came and said she had never seen anyone respond to anesthesia like this. Just in case he was in a lot of pain, they gave him another dose of motrin. The entire time, I was asked an enormous volley of questions regarding what was typical for little bear. To every question I answered no, this is not his normal behavior, something is wrong. Finally, they got his surgeon back to recovery, his surgeon took one look at little bear and said he’s having a seizure. Then in the middle of all this chaos, i discovered a quarter sized blister on his thigh. I was already feeling on the verge of a panic attack and was struggling to hold back full on sobs as I watched my baby struggle. As I watched his neurosurgeon start to pace and start asking for the meds he ordered and checking and double checking if they were on their way, I knew this was serious. Phil turned around and came back and was there with me as they rushed little bear down to a CT scan. He had stopped seizing, but was still breathing oddly. Once we knew little bear was stable, Phil left again to go get little monkey.

This moment is the most vivid out of the entire year of 2017. This was the year we were sure would break us and guess what, it sure did try. We faced some of a parent’s worst fears – and we survived. When my memories started breaking through in May, I went into pure survival mode. But I also realized I had been wrestling with and trying to heal wounds from being sexually abused as a child for a very long time. Even though I didn’t have a reason or cause for the deep triggers and sensory issues I have, I have been working with them and learning how to function despite them for years. Having my memories come back absolutely destroyed me. But having those missing pieces also validated so much and completed a story I had never known the beginning or middle of. Not only did those memories destroy me, they were what gave me the strength to say no more, I will no longer just survive. Phil told me that this was the first time he saw me actually fight back AND win. I changed my name, I broke the rest of the chains my abuser had over me. I am ending the year with an incredible sense of peace and well-being. The person I am now is not who I was a year ago, it is not who I was 6 months ago, and it is not who I thought I’d be at the end of 2017.

I feel like I have finally gotten past the constantly triggered stage. It is no longer one step forward, ten steps back, nine steps forward, eleven back. I am finally able to look at my younger self and feel nothing but love and peace towards her. I feel like I have given her the voice she never got and has always needed. She sits calmly and peacefully within me. She has given me such a gift and I am so proud and in awe of her strength. She survived so much and yet she is still here, she is me and we have survived and won. I know more battles are coming, but I feel like the return of my memories was the biggest one and the last big one I will have to fight regarding my past. I truly love who I have become this year. And that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that. I have a lot of dreams I am starting to push towards, but I also feel no overwhelming drive that they have to be done now. Nor do I feel like they will die without my ever acknowledging them. I feel like a peaceful river, flowing calmly between its banks, its strength hidden beneath the surface, but moving rocks and carving a new path every day.

2018 is my year of Reckoning. It is the year I will be standing up to the leftover hellholes from my past and telling them to leave forever. It is the year I will be opening the door to dreams I have never felt allowed to dream. It is the first time I am fully looking forward to the year.

If there was anything 2017 taught us it was that we can face [almost] anything and survive. What should have been the year that broke us turned into the best year we’ve had yet.

“You and I, against the world”
That’s what you told me
We ride the highs and lows
We ride the highs and lows
You’ll never be alone
Even when your world explodes
‘Cause after all the smoke clears
I will be right here
I will be right here
When the smoke clears
– Smoke Clears by Andy Grammer

Little Bear & Little Monkey

Walking Towards The Reckoning

It’s been several months since I last sat down to put thoughts into a written form. I think since my dad found my old blog and tried to discredit everything I’ve been through, I’ve been very hesitant to really put myself out there and write out the things I’m working through. I don’t really feel safe online anymore. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as the majority of my friendships rely on communication through online, I’ve had to get creative with who and how I stay in touch with.

As we move swiftly towards Little Bear’s first birthday, the entire weight of this past year is pressing down on me. I’ve started catching myself chewing on the inside of my mouth, not quite getting to the point of breaking skin, but enough to leave a raw area if I don’t stop myself. I’ve had more episodes of food simply running straight through me and feeling utterly sick and devoid of any appetite. My anxiety has risen and I’m not entirely sure why. Sure, I have some ideas, but I think it’s more a lot of little things instead of one big thing. I need to get in touch with my primary care doctor and figure out if there is something else going on with my diet and if I need to change-up things again and limit even more food. Have I ever said how much I HATE food right now? There are so few things that actually taste good, I can reliably eat without it making it sick, and it really just sucks.

2017 has been the year of learning how much I am capable of fighting back and a year of being so broken I wasn’t sure I would make it to the end of it. I chose the phase The Measure Of as my “word” of the year in December 2016. I knew Little Bear would be arriving in the beginning of 2017 and that would bring an intense world to bear on me and my little family. What I didn’t expect was the barrage of memories that came back in May. I didn’t expect to be utterly flattened by the severity of how hard those hit me. My memories returning brought a seismic shift to my entire identity, my entire life, my entire existence. The few months I have taken off of writing anything have not been quiet months. I feel like I have reached the [comforting?] place where I am not being constantly hounded by a new and damning memory. The haunting presence of my dad’s hands, the sound of his breathing, or the paralyzing fear I felt then no longer have a place on my shoulders. I have processed the major things. Following the trickle down effects is taking longer, but I fully expect that to be something I continue to for many years to come.

I have known for a while now that I’m supposed to write a book called My Father’s Daughter. I have known it’s supposed to be about my dad’s and my fraught relationship; the realities of being exactly like him, but also being the victim of his abuse. My memories coming back and fitting the last piece into the puzzle was the thing I needed to have before starting to write. 2018 is going to be the year I write that book. I have no timeline, no deadline for that book. I know it’s going to take a lot out of me. I know it’s going to be something that  breaks me but it is also something I need to face. I need to figure out if there is a way to confront and make peace with the immensely conflicting emotions I have about my dad.

The word I’m choosing for this coming year of 2018 is Reckoning. 2018 will be my year of Reckoning. It’s the year I am choosing to begin the end of the war I have fought for all of my life. My partner said something that’s stuck with me the other week; he said he felt 2017 was the first year he’s seen me really fight back. Up to this point I’ve only been surviving. I haven’t been strong enough to really push back, fight back. Maybe it was the arrival of Little Bear, maybe it was the return of my memories, or maybe it was a combination of all of that, but I finally have felt strong enough to say no more. I am fighting back and I am no longer willing to just survive, I want to live, I want to celebrate the person I am and am becoming.

I am learning not to apologize for my feelings, my thoughts, or my opinions. I am learning to give myself the space to do things I’ve never been allowed or allowed myself to do. Such as….I dyed my hair emerald-green a month ago, like my entire head up to about 1″ at the roots. My 16-year-old self was giddy when the color turned out exactly how I wanted it.

It’s a bizarre thing to step back and look at yourself and understand why you react the way you do. Then to not feel shame or guilt because the way you react is because of how you were abused. I think there is a way to not shame myself for reacting a certain way but still take responsibility for that reaction. It’s a major first step recognizing the cause of WHY I react a certain way. It certainly does not feel good knowing my brain is permanently altered because of the trauma I’ve been through. But that doesn’t make me damaged. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be trusted or that my reactions are just me being emotional. This is something I’ve also been wrestling with the past few months. My automatic response when something triggers me or sets off a chain reaction is that it’s my fault, I’m screwed up, and I’m just a mess. But I’m slowly learning to shift that response. It’s becoming more of a yes I understand why that is triggering to me and it’s because this was done to me when I was younger. It’s given me more patience and allowed for less blame that I put on myself. It is so hard to allow space for those panicked and triggered emotions. It is an uncomfortable thing to let them bloom so I can feel them fully without losing it.

I have felt free not holding myself to a blogging schedule. I want to get back to my beauty blog, but that’s going to take some time. I’m not sure if that blog is safe. Thanks for reading.

Fearless Girl Hiding Ashamed Girl

It’s been a fight this last week to remind myself that I am worth anything. I have found it a confusing place to be as it’s been triggers sending me into that place. I got my hair cut a week ago and while my stylist did exactly what I asked her to do, the haircut sent me spiraling. I didn’t figure out why until three days after I had gotten it cut and I realized it brought back all of feelings when my curls were cut off when I was 6. On top of that, memories of things my mother has done or said to me came pouring back this week too.

I remembered she was the one who told my dad to cut my hair. It was around that time she smashed my excited dream of being a ballet dancer. With one fell swoop I went from being unaware of my looks to being extremely embarrassed as I felt like an ugly child and wanted to hide. But I think I’ve figured out a way around these triggers. It will take some work, but I’m blow drying my hair straight and for now, it is working keep the triggers at bay.

I don’t have many triggers that can make me so uneasy anymore. But the triggers surrounding my hair and appearance are still massive triggers. I have many times felt so incompetent with my hair. My mother made it clear to me that my curls were an annoyance. She never taught me how to take care of my hair. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I finally realized I was capable of taking care of my hair and there were actual techniques and products I should or shouldn’t use for my curls. This year has been the first year I have taken significant risks when it came to my curls. Most of those risks have paid off. But these triggers that has surfaced this past week have made me feel damaged and not worth being anyone’s friend. I feel broken, but not emotionally (I am fighting for a foothold emotionally), but like friends are judging me, like I am too much baggage for them to handle. And strangely I am okay with that, I would prefer to merely melt into the background. This is evidence of how worn out my soul is.

I am confronting so much right now I don’t have the energy to put into friendships that aren’t serving me. As self-serving that sounds, that’s where I am at right now. I have long been one of those kinds of friends who is the first and usually only person to check in with their friends. I do not say that to pat myself on the back, it’s merely a fact. But lately, between my youngest and the complications that surround his care, my memories coming back, and having an entire overhaul of my past, if you’re not standing there helping hold me up, I’m sorry, but you’re dropped. Maybe that seems harsh, but for the first time in my life I am having to take a strong stand on protecting myself and only letting in people who are willing to give me space for my pain and the chaos that is my life right now.

It’s almost been an entire year since getting my youngest’s diagnosis of Spina Bifida. In that year I have learned who is my true friend and who are the ones who can’t handle the changes my family has gone through. Since May when my memories started coming back, I have shut out several people. I am sorry for that, but I have no idea how to voice the things that have invaded my mind. The last thing I want to hear is sympathy which is often translated by my scrambled brain as pity. Understanding that I carry the sign “Incest Survivor” has made me feel ashamed. Here is this HUGE thing that has broken through into my life and I have no idea how to talk about in person with anyone who doesn’t understand. So I have shut out the friends who I feel like I am that broken, diseased part of their lives they don’t need.

My son’s neurosurgeon asked me why the name change a week ago. I had told him in an email as a FYI that I had changed my nickname. I sat there across from him as he finished up going over the plan for my son’s care. I felt a huge wave of shame flood over me as I briefly explained what has happened since May with my memories. I used the words “my dad raped me” and couldn’t look him in the eyes. His shock and exclamations of “wow I’m so sorry” helped, but I feel like I am that little girl facing the bull on Wall Street. I have to stand there and throw my chin up with my hands on my hips so I don’t crumble and start sobbing with utter shame.

I am very good at self-care. I am very good at naming the things bothering me or triggering me (once I can put my finger on what the initial trigger is…). But I have pulled back a lot from in person or on the phone involvement with people. Besides what is necessary, I have pushed so many people away. I feel like toxic waste that no one should have to deal with. But I also know I’m not? I’m not even sure how to work through that in my head.

For those who have stuck with me and lifted me up, thank you. Truly, thank you so much. For those of you who I have pushed away, I’m sorry. I can only ask you be patient with me, maybe even reach out. I am still trying to figure out how the things I’ve remembered fit in the narrative of my life and who I am today. Sure, sure, my past does not define and all other like clichés. But trust me when I say THIS DOES. There is no walking away from this. There is no give it time and things will be okay. There are steps I need to go through before I can be “okay.” There are things I have to process and first allow myself to grieve and feel the pain. I’m not there yet, I am purposefully avoiding letting myself go into some of the most painful things. The four small patches of hives on my arms are proof that I’m fighting against and inevitable painful break through.

I know I will get through this. But for now, I’m admitting the shame, the fear, and the loneliness I feel being in the middle of this.

 

Please Just Sit With Us

It is the default response whenever someone is having a hard time to try to fix it or them. It’s easy, it’s less mess; it’s something you can practically do especially when you feel helpless in the face of someone’s pain. Anything to make it less uncomfortable, less negative, less painful.

I have been more aware of just how much I don’t want or need someone to come in an fix or slap a band-aid over what I’ve remembered about my dad and my mother. I am also aware of how that is also my default reaction to hearing someone else’s pain; “how can I fix you?” I am working to correct my reaction especially as I now know just how unhelpful that really is. I am discovering that most survivors of childhood abuse (sexual, emotional, mental, physical) never had someone stand up for them. They never had someone show appropriate anger at how they had been treated. They never were told or shown that how they were treated or what had happened to them was wrong. WE were never shown that it wasn’t our fault. More times than not, we were made to pay for the pain and damage wrecked upon us.

When I write, it’s often a struggle not to add a bunch of caveats at the end or in the middle of my posts. Caveats that my parents really weren’t that bad, that I’m not trying to ruin their “good name”, that I know things will get better, yada, yada, yada. I feel like the caveats are required because of the topics I write about. Because the topics of childhood SEXUAL abuse, INCEST, and a bad mother are all taboo topics in the culture we live in. Being angry (raging) at your mother is not looked kindly upon. Being absolutely broken because you never had parents who were safe or loving paints me as the bad child, the bitter one.

But here’s the thing; incest happens. Childhood sexual abuse happens. Bad mothers happen. And unless we can be allowed to truly feel the utterly heart breaking devastating loss caused by those things, how will we ever heal??  Unless we are allowed and encouraged and given safe spaces to speak up about what we went through, we will be hard pressed to heal, to process, to get rid of that misplaced shame and guilt our abusers so craftily place on us.

I shared my last post on Facebook with a request to my readers. I asked that those who read that post just be angry; be angry for the little girl who was violated, abused, and broken by her parents. Angry for the little girl who had every single dream ripped from her eager hands. I asked this because I needed to be reminded that that little girl inside me matters. I need to let her and myself know that I should be angry at what was done to us. I need to know that there should be anger because someone should have protected that little girl and no one stood up. As a parent now myself I am furious that the two people who were supposed to protect, love, care, and nurture me did not. I would rather die than treat my children the way I was treated. And if I were to ever see or hear of someone treating either of my children like that, that person will have hell to pay as this mama bear will rip their throats out.

Right now, that little girl, who kept silent and was the good child, is giving me all of her pain. That pain was so suffocating and it manifested all over my body as I got sicker and sicker the older I got. And she needs someone to be angry for her because she’s so tired and sick. I need to let her know that I’ve heard her, that I am listening, that I am going to protect her.

So the practical thing that will help those of us in the middle of processing our childhood trauma, is just sit with us. Just listen. Get angry, let us know that our pain is not in vain. Give us space to rage and scream and yell because no one ever did that for us. Give us the kleenexes when the pain turns into the gut wrenching sobs of that inner child who is finally being heard. Do not judge and do not try to change the perspective or give us “hope” that things will get better. The cycles of healing mean that we will probably get angry, very angry, more than once. It means that we will dissolve into silent screams of unspeakable pain more than once. Do not tell us to just move on. Most of us have heard some form of that statement and that has only hindered our healing.

If we are processing, that means we will get to a place where what needs to be processed will be. Then we may be okay for a bit until the next thing pops up. So please, just give us a safe space.

 

Reclaiming Passions

I have always felt like a liar; a charlatan; a fraud. If someone I liked or respected was really into something, I found myself trying to latch on to their passion and claim it as my own. Somehow my mind convinced me that this meant I would be acceptable, that if someone else liked this thing then I should like it too. This then meant that “passion” for something would fizzle out and I would move on to the next thing that I felt would be an acceptable thing to like and love and be passionate about. It took several friends making strange comments about how I was so fickle about thing before I started realizing what I was doing.

I was an exuberant child. I found a joy in life that I can remember having. I remember when I lost that joy. I loved bugs; I had several crystal clear memories of letting 17 year cicadas crawl up my swimsuit. I collected bugs and even once hid a baby bird I found injured in my room for a week before the poor thing died. I don’t remember when I started becoming aware that my mother did everything to dissuade me from pursuing the things I loved to do. But I came to that stark realization when I was about 10. I had just started piano lessons and oh my, it was like an intense drive took over my entire soul. Making music quickly turned into the outlet my broken heart needed. All of the emotions I was made fun of now had a hidden way to be expressed. My mother made a stink about taking me to lessons and it would only work if my teachers came to our house. I quickly out grew my first teacher (was with her for less than a year) and needed someone more advanced. My dad LOVED that I had discovered a love for music; it was a love and a passion we soon shared as he was and is a musician as well.

I have been a pianist for almost 17 years. And it a gift that my mother tried her best to take away from me. The last teacher I had knew I had a gift and she did her best to keep my wrists from absolutely failing. I believe my body started dangerously reacting to the memories I had repressed about that time and my body started failing. I was desperate to maintain a grasp on the piano and the emotional release it had become. It was that teacher who suggested I switch from piano lessons to voice lessons. She understood how much I needed that outlet and tried hard to keep me from giving up completely as my body continued to shut down. But, my mother made it clear it was a huge inconvenience driving me to lessons when I was the ONLY one taking lessons. She soon made me quit because she A. didn’t want to keep paying for lessons, and B. it wasn’t worth driving me to lessons since I was the only kid taking lessons. She was too busy to be interrupted to have to drive me 20 minutes to lessons.

When I taught myself to sew and became very good at creating my own patterns and patterns for others, I felt my mother’s jealousy towards me. She would ask me to make her a dress, but it felt like she was asking me to do something disgusting. I felt like she resented that I could make her a dress and make it well and make her look good. I made her dress for my parents’ 25th anniversary vow renewal at the Gettysburg reenactment. That dress was the least favorite thing I’ve ever made. It was so hard for her to thank me for making it. She acted like it was vile thing on her tongue when she told other people I had made the dress. She was always quick to point out that she did ALL of the decorations. It was difficult for me to put any pride into making her kit for reenacting. I hated it. And I think to make matters worse, I only got better and better with making my own dresses and kit.

I am aware of how much animosity I feel towards my mother. I have never felt important to her, I felt like she saw me as a threat, and I never ever felt safe. As I mentioned in my last post, I was afraid of telling her about anything I liked or wanted to do. She could shut me down with one sentence and I went from eagerly dreaming about what I wanted to do when I was older to not dreaming of anything. I never dreamed about my wedding. I never dreamed about what I would do as adult. I don’t think I expected to live to adulthood. When Phil came along, something inside me woke up with a bang. I suddenly had something in my life I really wanted and I had had enough of my mother taking everything else away from me. I think this is why she never fought for me when it came to Phil. She saw that he was the only person who made me happy and the only thing she couldn’t take away from me. I have never seen my mother as angry with me as she was when she realized I wasn’t giving up on Phil. I have never seen her turn so openly vicious with her words to me. She was so angry she was crying as she spat out how disappointed I had made her. I went to bed and cried in my room, called Phil and asked what I had done that was so absolutely horrendously terrible. We had just talked! That was all Phil and I had done.

In the 6 1/2 years Phil and I have been married (and almost 9 years we’ve been together), I have been slowly discovering that it is okay for me to like something solely for myself. It’s been a difficult road even figuring out what I actually like. Not only that, but for the first time in my remembered life I am not feeling afraid of disappointing someone or being a failure for liking something only for me. Do you know how utterly life-draining it is to not have anything you’re passionate about because you feel like you’re unworthy of being passionate about something? I was very good at sewing. I had a strong potential career with my music. I realized yesterday that something instinctively kept me from showing my mother my writing. I never showed her my writing. One way or another I knew she would take that from me too if I showed it to her. That turned into the only thing that kept me going. Writing was the only way I could get the suffocating pain out. It was my secret passion. It was the silent way I started fighting back.

Today, I’m reclaiming my passions. It is still hard for me to say I was a good seamstress. It is incredibly difficult to feel any pride over the things I was able to create. It is something I want to hide. The same goes for my music. The same goes for always wanting to be a dancer. I never told anyone that I always wanted to dance. I’m not entirely sure how possible it would be for me to do that now. I have a hard time bending and moving my body now. I am unaware of half of my legs, I can’t use my left leg very well, and when I used to go to Zumba classes, I always felt like a wooden marionette. I understand that this is how trauma has screwed with my body. And this is the result of my mother ripping away my dream of being a dancer at 6-years-old. But I think finally I’m ready to try again. I want to allow my body to heal and maybe taking a dance class next year would be the right place to start with that. But I’m done letting her rip things away from me. I’ve been done for years, but I’m saying it out loud now. I’m done.

The Mother-Rage

Of all things, I do not feel a rage against my dad. This may be surprising to many as he is the one who violated my body and trust. But I do not feel any sort of gut wrenching, seeing-red-rage towards my dad. Do I feel angry about what he did to me? Yes. Do I feel pity towards him? Yes. I think more than anything I can pity him and feel sad for who he is and what he’s allowed himself to become. He has, for all of my life, been a broken twisted man, stuck in a never-ending downward spiral of self-destruction. He told me many times while growing up that his dad never said “I love you” under my dad was 27. It always felt like a plea for me to excuse his terrible parenting. But I never answered the plea. I knew enough, even at a very young age, that you are not your parents and I knew that was an utterly bullshitting excuse for why he couldn’t “love” us.

Here’s the thing – If I were to come face to face with my mother right this instance, I would be hard pressed to keep from decking her. My mother knew something had happened. She knew my dad put me in a place that only she should have held. I did most of the household cleaning, and cooking, and I raised half of my siblings. She damaged me more than anything my dad ever did.

As a daughter, as a female presenting being, I needed a mother. Hell, I needed any sort of love and I never got it. The further into my teen years I got, the more afraid I was of telling her that I liked anything or wanted to do something. I never asked her opinion because too many times before she had torn me down without so much as a flick of her hand. She chose my dad’s side and made that very clear to me and all of my siblings. When my dad kicked me out just months before I turned 20, she came to me a few hours after he told me I had two weeks to leave. She told me that he was open to appeals. I wanted to throw my computer at her when she poked her head in my door. Tears were still streaming down my face and I yelled at her. I asked her if she really expected me to get on my knees and beg for him to let me know. I told her there was no way I could do what he wanted me to do and she knew it. It was in that moment I knew she would never, ever stand up for me. She would never, as she had never, defend and protect me. I was truly on my own as I had always been. The pain I felt in the moment was the climax of the pain that had built up for years.

I was scrolling through “on this day” memories on my facebook and stumbled upon several comments she had made on a few pictures. Every other comment from my friends were “you’re gorgeous” “you look amazing!” “that hairstyle is incredible on you!” and then there was my mom’s comment – “you look pretty in this picture.” It felt like oh I’ve gotta keep up with everyone else’s comments. She’s never complimented my appearance in person. She’s never looked at something I was wearing or wanted to do and told me she really liked it or thought I was really good at that thing.

Now, maybe these all seem like minute things. Maybe these all seem irrelevant. But many times my therapist has asked me “did your mom ever sit behind you and comb or brush your hair?” My answer is always no.  My therapist has asked me, “did your mom ever tuck you into bed at night?” My answer is always no. My mother never showed me how to do my makeup. She never showed me how to best take care of my hair. She never taught me how to sew, cook, take care of myself. The number of times I can sort of remember her telling me “I love you” barely fit on both hands. And all of those times were after I was married. She told a friend of mine that she was really heart-broken that I had been kicked out. I laughed in my friend’s face, “Really?!” She never showed any remorse to me. She never stood up for me. She never protected me.

This is why she hurt me, broke me, and damaged me more than my dad. She may have never put a finger on me, but she broke me almost beyond repair. I have never felt safe with her. My heart would always sink when I saw her coming to pick me up. When she got cancer, I was 11. She went through 6 months of chemo, and when she had the mastectomy, my 7 siblings and I were sent out two by two to friends houses from church. We would stay with them for two weeks. But two hours before the families showed up to get all of us, my mother told me that the family I would be staying with had only wanted my youngest sibling but they guess could take me too. I was devastated; I don’t think I’ve ever felt such gut wrenching fear and pain. I begged her to let me stay. I promised I would take care of my youngest sibling (he was practically my baby anyway), just please oh please don’t make me go. I hated the kids in that family. They were emotionally and verbally abusive to me. And I was going to have to spend two weeks with them. I barely survived. The last week I was there was the part that absolutely destroyed me. I went to a chess club two times a month and my mother had promised that she would come and pick me up for the chess club that week. I was so excited that morning when I got up and quickly did my school work and waited patiently by the door for my mother to come. And I waited. And waited. Two hours after when she was supposed to have been there, the mom of the family I was staying with walked by and said oh, your mom called this morning and said she wasn’t going to be able to come today. I was 11 1/2, in a situation where I already knew the family didn’t want me around, and no one told me that my mother wouldn’t be coming.

After my firstborn was born, I was so terrified I would become my mother. But my firstborn stole my heart. He has a mother that listens to him, plays with him, tells him over and over “I love you,” who holds him and makes sure that he knows he is loved and wanted. That is the mother I needed, and I am going to make sure till my dying breath that my boys have the mother they need.

Gaslighting and Weariness

Sometimes reading a book can be both helpful and triggering at the same time. I’m working my way through Miss America by Day written by Marilyn Van Derbur. It’s like reading my own story and yet at the same time, it’s not. Her story is an inspiration but it is also a tale of caution. It has made me start crying because of how strongly I can relate, but it has also made me cringe and feel the weight of what I am carrying knowing that this story of mine will be with me for the rest of my days.

I had a moment last night where I full recognized just how much my dad’s abuse has affected every single aspect of my life. And no, I am not exaggerating. The fingers of his abuse has touched everything and I am still uncovering pieces I didn’t know I was missing. Lately I’ve felt really worn down and exhausted just trying to keep up with all the chaos of the past year. It’s been almost a year since we were given my youngest’s diagnosis of spina bifida and on top of all the chaos and stress (and immense love) he’s brought us, the return of my memories has only added to the chaos.

I stumbled upon a letter my dad wrote to me on my 11th birthday. It has rolled around my head ever since finding it on Saturday. I remember it making me feel confused and uneasy when I first got it on my 11th birthday. But reading it today at 26 years old, it makes me feel sick, like I have a nasty taste in my mouth. It makes me feel like he’s turned the guilt back on me and is setting me up to make sure I feel as bad as I can when I get angry at him or call him out on his mistakes.

Text Reads:

“Dear C-llie,

How does it feel to be eleven years old? Doesn’t seem THAT long since mommy and I brought you home from the hospital.

Over the heads I have seen you grow and develop, from the first steps you took to running “laps” on a track to swimming “laps” in a pool. I remember watching you run circles around the little boys while playing football. And how good a bike ride you’ve become (Of course, you had a great teacher!).

Noticeable, too, is how you’ve grown inside. Over the most recent few years, you have really been a tremendous help around the house. You can cook, wash laundry, and change diapers. You wash dirty dishes, clean bathrooms, and vacuum. Oh, and did I mention that if you could drive, you’d even be able to do the grocery shopping by yourself!

Probably one of the most special things I see in you, C-llie, is your heart. When you gave your heart to J-sus back in 1998 (?), he gave a heart of flesh in return – one that is tender and forgiving. And it’s sensitive to sin and the love of g-d. I hope you always maintain that.

As your father, I know I haven’t always done things right. Yes, I still make mistakes, and have a ways to go until I become the father I want to be. Please forgive me for these mistakes and done hold them against me. Pray for me, and be patient with me. (If you don’t know how to do this, ask mommy because she has a lot of experience with this!)

Above all, please don’t harden your heart toward me. I hope you know that you can always talk to me and tell me what is on your heart. I really want you to be able to do this. Sometimes I may not seem approachable, but try to overcome any fear you might have about talking with me….”

You may not be able to see what I see when reading this letter. In fact, unless you have a parent like my dad, then I am going to assume you can’t see what has bothered me so much by this letter. So because of that assumption I’m going to take this letter apart and explain as best I can why it is concerning and mildly gas-lighting-y.

Every he lists as the things I’m so good at with helping around the house makes me feel like the household slave or the second wife. I was 11 years old, I shouldn’t have done all of those things. It begs the question of how I did get my school work done? I was supposedly homeschooled, but I believe my mother preferred the term “independent schooling.” Beyond her teaching me to read, I do not remember her being all that involved in my schooling.

“Probably one of the most special things I see in you, C-llie, is your heart. When you gave your heart to J-sus back in 1998 (?), he gave a heart of flesh in return – one that is tender and forgiving. And it’s sensitive to sin and the love of g-d. I hope you always maintain that.”

Okay, here’s the first gas lighting part. I craved my parents’ approval while I was growing up. I longed to hear these simple words from them – “I’m proud of you.” My parents knew that I had/have a sensitive conscious. It was often used against me when I did something they didn’t agree with. I was reminded many times of how they knew I would do the right thing because my heart was so tender and sensitive. It was something that was inappropriately taken advantage of by them and to this day I am very aware of when someone tries to manipulate me through this kind of grooming and praising of something like having a soft heart.

“As your father, I know I haven’t always done things right. Yes, I still make mistakes, and have a ways to go until I become the father I want to be. Please forgive me for these mistakes and don’t hold them against me. Pray for me, and be patient with me. (If you don’t know how to do this, ask mommy because she has a lot of experience with this!)”

This part makes me sick. This reeks of guilt and the clever use of phrasing puts it back on me. “don’t hold them against me….pray for me….be patient with me…” He knows he’s screwed up, but by reminding me of how soft and tender my heart is (see previous section) he’s now using that to remind me that it’s my job to not hold his mistakes against him. And that comment about my mother? THAT is one of the parts that makes me feel like a second wife. I, once again, was 11 years old. It is not my job to be patient with my father. It is not and NEVER SHOULD BE on a child to know what it means to be patient and not hold mistakes against a parent. This letter confused the heck out of me, but I didn’t know why or what to say except for thank you to my dad when he handed it to me at dinner that evening.

“Above all, please don’t harden your heart toward me. I hope you know that you can always talk to me and tell me what is on your heart. I really want you to be able to do this. Sometimes I may not seem approachable, but try to overcome any fear you might have about talking with me….”

This whole letter reeks of him knowing that I am afraid of him, that I don’t want to talk to him, and that he’s trying to cover his bases before I figure out why I’m afraid of him. As an 11-year-old, I guarantee I didn’t understand what “don’t harden your heart toward me” meant. My dad, multiple times throughout my life, begged the same things from me. Don’t harden your heart, be patient with me, G-d is working on my heart, forgive my mistakes. But not once has he ever taken responsibility for what he has done. I actually have done the thing he asked me all those years ago; I have not hardened my heart towards my dad. There is no heart left when it comes to my dad. He destroyed everything. There was never enough to even harden in the first place.

 

When the Calm Comes

TW: childhood sexual abuse, rape

Over the last three months, with the return of my memories, I have learned and am learning how to recognize when a memory is coming back. There is no scheduling the return of a memory, there is no way to even know what’s coming back until it hits. Being able to fill in the gaps in my memories has been validating, but it has also put my mind and body through a whole new level of hell.

I have a new understanding of how my body reacts to trauma and how my mind holds trauma. Because of this, I was better prepared when memories came back Friday night than I was three weeks ago. I woke up Friday morning and felt my mind go silent. The anxiety, stomach-dropping anticipation was gone, my body was still flinching and wound up, but my mind knew that I was ready for whatever was coming back. It’s exactly what happened three weeks ago. I thought I was in the “clear” when all the symptoms that had been ramping up for a week were suddenly gone. But I now know that when the calm comes, that means the memory will break through in the next 12-24 hours.

The past two major flashbacks have had to do with the actual rape. Which has meant those two memories have been enough to actually induce a low-grade fever [once they break through] and make me feel like I just got over the flu. It’s the weirdest thing to experience, but in a way, I think it’s my body’s way of detoxing? Either way, I’d still prefer feeling like this over the gut wrenching anxiety and anticipation I go through before a major memory comes back.

The two big pieces I’ve had come back only contain auditory and sensory memories. I have no visual memories of those memories. I can feel what’s going on, I can hear what’s going on, but seeing? I only see black. Ever since Friday night I am more convinced that my dad tried to muffle me or at least partly suffocate me with his body. To keep me quiet maybe? I do not know. This is why I freak out when my partner lies on top of me and lets his whole weight just drop. This is why it’s hard and almost impossible to take a deep breath. I feel like I physically cannot expand my rib cage enough to take as deep a breath as I need to.

I look at my 3-year-old and it is not difficult to realize how easy it would be as an adult to pin him down and control him. It is easy to look back at my 4-year-old self and blame her for not fighting back, for letting him do those things to her. But when I compare my own child, who is almost the age I was, to how small I was back then, my heart breaks knowing I really could not have done anything. That monster was in complete control and I think I’ve spent all of my life trying to take back control.

In spite of being knocked out and down by memories coming back, I am truly beginning to really like myself. I like who I am as a mother. I like who I am as a person. I like who I am as a friend. I think my younger self would be proud of the person I’m becoming. I’ve let her have a voice and I can feel her peace. My heart continues to break that she went through what she did WITHOUT any support. There wasn’t a single person she trusted, and those she thought she could trust didn’t seem to care enough to listen to her. The strength and resilience of my younger self amazes me. Her drive to just keep going no matter what is what has gotten me here today.

I’ve had one of Macklemore’s recent songs stuck in my head, and I think it’s actually fitting for where I am right.

I feel glorious, glorious
Got a chance to start again
I was born for this, born for this
It’s who I am, how could I forget?
I made it through the darkest part of the night
And now I see the sunrise
Now I feel glorious, glorious
I feel glorious, glorious

– Glorious (feat. Skylar Grey) by Macklemore, Skylar Grey

I have my doubts about being through the darkest part of the night, but I do feel like I can see the sunrise, I am more aware of my whole being than I ever have. Even though I still have a few blackouts in my memories, I do feel like I have all the pieces. I am aware, I am awake, I am broken but whole.

The Self-Mother

*Trigger Warning: talk of suicide

“Picture yourself when you were five. in fact, dig out a photo of little you at that time and tape it to your mirror. How would you treat her, love her, feed her? How would you nurture her if you were the mother of little you? I bet you would protect her fiercely while giving her space to spread her itty-bitty wings. she’d get naps, healthy food, imagination time, and adventures into the wild. If playground bullies hurt her feelings, you’d hug her tears away and give her perspective. When tantrums or meltdowns turned her into a poltergeist, you’d demand a loving time-out in the naughty chair. From this day forward I want you to extend that same compassion to your adult self.”

― Kris Carr

I stumbled upon this quote when scrolling through Pinterest. This is why I have several pictures of myself as a little girl around my computer. Looking at her reminds me to have patience with myself, to be kind, loving, and considerate to my needs.

Being a mother has taught me so much about mothering myself. I wasn’t very good at being gentle with myself when my firstborn entered my life. It was hard to be patient with him when I wasn’t patient with myself. In the three years that have passed since he first entered our life, I have learned what taking care of myself looks like. I have learned not to be afraid of putting myself first. If I am not in a good head space, taking care of myself, and giving myself compassion and patience, then I cannot be patient with my boys. The more I’ve paid attention to how I’m feeling and giving myself space to be not-okay, the easier I’ve found it is to lavish love, care, and affection on my boys and partner. This mindset used to feel selfish to me. I was never allowed to rest or lie low when I lived in my parents’ house. I always had to be doing something…productive. At the very least, LOOK like I was doing something.

The self-mother in my mind and heart did not know how to take care of me when I was a little girl. Being a mother to myself meant keeping me going. It meant getting me to stand up even though all I wanted to do was “go home.” Yes, I wanted to die. I would never have used those words when I was in the darkest moments, but that is what I deeply longed for. I just wanted peace and death seemed the easiest and surest way to get that. I felt so isolated and lonely. The two individuals who were supposed to be the ones I could rely on to protect me, care for me, love me, were the ones who caused the most pain. I can’t remember a single instance where I looked at my parents and felt safe, warm, protected, like I could count on them. I’ve sat in recent therapy sessions and felt like I have looked in every crack, corner, and crevice in my brain, trying (and failing) to find even just one little moment where I felt any of those things. Recognizing the sure lack of getting those things from my parents has given me a strong drive to give everything I can to my children. I don’t want either of them to be where I am one day and wonder whether their dad and I protected, cared for, or loved them.

I used to look down on the little girl I was and pitied her and sneered at her saying, why didn’t you do more? I used to tell her she was weak and yeah you survived, but barely. Now, I look at her and my heart breaks because I am feeling her pain all over again. I have more grace for her, more love, and I wish so much I could reach down and tuck her into my arms and ease some of her tears. Nurturing her now looks like giving her a voice, letting her show me, WITHOUT JUDGING HER, what she remembers, listening to what she has to say, and believing her. That last part is probably the most important. Believe your little self. Believe what they have to tell you, believe their interpretation of what happened. Don’t try to dress something up or down with your big person ideas, experiences, and words.