Full Disclosure: I’m a Christian and I haven’t forgiven everyone who’s hurt me.

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

Are you horrified?

Picture this: I’m 9. I have my dolls in front of me, Margot, the dark haired one in my right hand, Cisette, the blond, in my left. I’m kneeling on the braided rug in the living room, my two dolls having a conversation. I’m deep in my imagination and deciding what they should wear to go to their friend Jill’s party.

My father comes quietly up behind me. I don’t realize he’s kneeling on the floor until he sticks his hands up my blouse and rubs my nipples. His daughter’s nipples. Who’s 9. My shoulders hunch and I turn around and say “No” and move away from him. He gets up, never saying a word, and leaves. I feel sick. I carry this secret in shame until I meet the man I will marry. In all our fervent sharing of our 22 year old histories, I share this. He acts understanding. I feel some relief, and a tiny bit of shame falls off like dead petals from a rose.

Several years later, I’m a young married mom of my husband’s daughter, whom I love more than I thought I could love anyone. I’m a marginal cook, a worse bathroom cleaner, but I’m trying to learn. The husband I once shared my deepest, darkest, most shame-filled secret with sneaks up behind me. He reaches around me, touches my nipples through my t-shirt. I turn, the rush of shame covers me and confuses my brain. He does an “I’m so funny!” face and backs away. “You know I don’t like that!” I say. “Oh, you know I’m just teasing,” he says, and laughs. I feel confused: am I overreacting if he says he’s “just teasing”? Is it okay that my body is now flooding with the shame of that 9 year old girl I once was whose father who was supposed to love her and protect her but has instead invaded her sense of safety? Over the years I shove down the emotions that say “No! It’s not okay!” and try to learn to brush off the sensation that pumps adrenalin fear through me. I am supposed to trust my husband, right? I must misunderstand him, I must be wrong.

Even now as I write this, my shoulders hunch protectively, and I brush my hands across my breasts to wipe away the creepy sensation the memory evokes.

I am now safe. I learned I was in charge of my own safety, and that it’s okay to say “I don’t like that. Don’t do it.” And that if those who are supposed to love you keep doing it time after time no matter what you say, it’s okay to leave that situation. And five years ago I did that. I ran when I was afraid enough of his bullying and intimidation to put my  safety into the hands of someone who was finally listening–me.

These wounds remain as long as they're continually poked at with a stick by someone who is supposed to love you. Or by any ol' asshole. Click To Tweet

These wounds remain like third degree burns as long as they’re continually poked at with a stick by someone who is supposed to love you “like Christ loves the church.” Or by any ol’ asshole. I allowed that–I allowed my oozing, bleeding wounds to be stirred so they couldn’t heal. For serious decades. And that was my bad.

I must forgive, you say?

Please feel free to whisper that into the ear of the small child playing dolls in her living room, thinking she’s safe inside her home. Forgive him so he doesn’t take up space in your head, you say? Tell that to the young mom who has to experience the “I am unsafe” fight/flight/freeze adrenalin every time she’s touched again that way–go ahead, whisper that in her ear while she’s learning that even in her marriage her words, her feelings, her thoughts don’t matter. After all, he’s “just teasing.” Please, go ahead, recite a bible verse to her while every cell in her body is terrified as if she’s being chased by a bear. Go ahead.

Forgiveness? I keep that in my head–it will come. I won’t forgive as if it’s okay that either one of those men did that. I will forgive because I need my heart to stop pounding with the memories. I will forgive because it hurts to hold my breath that hard.

I will forgive so those men can no longer hurt me by the memories. But it’s a process. Know that.

I am changed forever in my trust of men, of anyone who claims to love me, because of those two. The adrenalin rushes, my thoughts scramble. How do I trust those words?

I’m working toward a sense of freedom in forgiveness. I’ve been slowly thawing and healing. But the thawing comes with great pain–as your toes burn when warming from being in freezing cold for too long, my heart, my gut, my chest, every part of me feels the burn as I slowly warm. I cry. I cuss. I get angry. I grieve.

I want to forgive, and I will. But I’m not there yet. And just because I know I want to doesn’t mean I can turn a page and Presto! be free.

* Immense thanks to the many people of Twitter who have become a healing place. Who can relate to the pain, to the burn of the thawing. To the cascade of memories as I thaw, to the cascade of realizations, the anger I feel toward myself and others. I want to especially thank Jennifer Michelle Greenberg @JennMGreenberg for a conversation we had today. She gets it. She’s been there, and she’s writing a book about it. She’s a safe place in what is a very scary world for the frightened child in me. 

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Are you a survivor? #MeToo #ChurchToo #IHaventToldAnyoneToo? Give yourself a hug and a break. Tell your story to someone. Start the healing, and then continue it. Are you someone who wants to preach to those in process? Don’t. Ask how they are, let them cry, and listen. Be a safe place. Be part of the healing, not part of the shame.

Are you someone who wants to preach to those in process? Don't. Ask how they are, let them cry and listen. Be a safe place. Be part of the healing, not part of the shame. Click To Tweet

Growing Up.

“As a child I was molested by a man who was really hairy,” she told me. Now a middle-aged woman she went on to say of her husband, “I make him shave his body.”

“Oh!” I said, filing this startling fact away in my brain for later perusal.

Today I understand why her actions were unsettling to me: she was still living in that place of early trauma rather than working to heal and move away from it.  Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a terrible neighborhood to buy a house.

I’m happy to be identified in a myriad of ways–as the woman who laughs at her own jokes (I can’t help it, I crack myself up!) As a creative soul. Someone who listens. Someone who keeps growing and learning to be a better human on this planet, the best one I can be this side of heaven. Remember me as someone trying to get her foot out of her mouth. As someone with far too many hobbies, far too many books. Someone who forgets the occasional appointment, and who walked 50 feet away from the four-year-old at Disneyland forgetting for a moment she was there.

I don’t want to be identified by my early trauma, like I remember the woman from the beginning of this post: “Oh the things that poor dear went through, no wonder she makes her husband shave his armpits.”

Being a slow learner, I definitely took my time to begin the healing process from the Triggery Badness of my childhood. But I’m getting there. For me that’s the goal–to move out of that neighborhood. Become a grown-up in all ways. No longer a traumatized seedling, but a well-watered and mature tree. (Perhaps you’ll also think of me as a woman with mad metaphor mixing skilz. With a Z.)

Some of the steps I’ve taken toward that goal (with the help of my favorite Mental Health Provider, my therapist) have been:

  • Looking at the Truth of my experiences
  • Admitting to myself what is true of those years and what were the Lies I told myself to keep the pain of those events at a distance
  • Allowing myself to grieve over what were very real hurts and losses
  • Making a practice of staying aware of my emotions and their messages
  • Learning to pay attention in my life, to be present.

These sound like wonderfully psycho-babbly steps, but what does any of that look like?

As a child I coped by hiding from what terrified me by literally closing myself in my bedroom closet with my books and toys. Sometimes I disappeared by running off to the swings at the park–anything that would silence the loud, mean voices of my parents arguing, the shoving of furniture and too often of each other.

I felt responsible for how I was treated–for being touched inappropriately by my father, for not being as interesting as my older brother and his friends. I turned off my instincts and stopped listening to my emotions and pain because I didn’t like what they were telling me, that life wasn’t so positive. The truth of what I went through? Not nice. Not nurturing. Lie #1, No Mistakes, only Goodness and Getting Along.

As a child my home never felt safe. When was the next explosion or long cold spell coming? I couldn’t know, so fear started making a lot of my decisions. Fear’s kind of safety for me looked a lot like hiding, staying out of harm’s way. Stay Under the Radar and Don’t Have a Differing Opinion joined No Mistakes as firm (but not helpful) beliefs I carried into adulthood. Let me just say here: the coping mechanisms of a five-year-old child do not serve one well in the six and over age bracket.

Disentangling lies like those from how I move about in the world changes things drastically. What? I can go out into the world and be mindful for my own safety? It’s okay if people don’t like me? I can have my own ideas even if someone doesn’t agree?  Staying aware in my life helps keep me safe and lets me wander farther afield, a good thing since this is a big old world.

Coming to terms with the Truth that I cannot be perfect sounds so simple, but those early Lies run deep in us, they etch themselves in our bones. It takes awareness and practice to heal them and learn better, truer ways of thinking and acting. What is my body saying to me? What emotion am I feeling? What is my pain saying?

Grief is probably nobody’s idea of a good time. But without grief there’s no closure. One thing I had to recognize as true was that I would never have the kind of mother I yearned for–someone who appreciated me simply for being me, who’d want to call me up to ask how my day had gone and was there anything new with the kids? I felt ripped off and I felt guilty for feeling ripped off. I judged myself as Bad and shoved that pain into a box and into a dark corner of the garage. Unfortunately, that box and the next box and the next box just weighed me down and kept me living in the house of that old trauma neighborhood. Few of us really want to clean out the garage, but sorting through those dog-eared boxes? I felt relief. Acceptance. Moving day was coming!

My hope for what I share of my story is that you’ll be encouraged to see that even at 63 I’m learning, growing, changing. And any of us can if we want to–we can trade those old, unhelpful Lies for Truth. We may have to sort through some boxes of junk to get there, but we can. We can accept what’s true about the garbage we’ve been storing, and then we can send those boxes to the dump.

My mind is so much more at rest these days. Next week I’ll share one of the tools that has helped me learn to let go of some of what was never mine to store in the first place.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What ways did you learn to cope with difficulties when you were young that don’t serve you so well anymore? Did you develop certain beliefs about people or life that don’t make much sense for you now if you’re honest about it?

 

 

 

 

 

Not very Mary (Tyler Moore)

Today as I was trying to back out of my spot in a very crowded Sprouts parking lot, a woman next to my car gave me the stink-eye and muttered loudly. I had a sudden compulsion to roll down my window and yell “IF I’D WANTED TO HIT YOU I WOULD HAVE!! BETTER STEP LIVELY!!” Normally I’m the essence of Kind Thoughts and believing everything including global warming is my fault, as in I’m sorry I made you feel threatened for your personal safety. Or as in My car door touched the the car next to mine when I tried to get back into my car…if I wasn’t so fat I wouldn’t need to open my door that far. Today I’m sure I huffed and muttered something about them parking diagonally like a drunk.

I’m not feeling Nice. I’m not feeling Generous. I’m also not feeling like beating myself up for the rudeness of others.

Normally I would judge myself HARD for these thoughts. I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t mutter in parking lots…and Jesus would never be too fat to squeeze into an impossibly tiny space…

Do you remember the eternally effervescent and kind Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show? She was single and making it on her own in the big city as an assistant director of a 6 o’clock news show. Sure, she was sometimes a bit goofy, but LOVABLE goofy, the best kind. I loved that show! Of course since it started in 1970 I could only possibly have watched it in reruns…ahem….

Today lacked a certain effervescence. It lacked a certain self-flagellation. Maybe they weren’t the kindest, but I did manage to bite my tongue and not yell my immediate thoughts at the aforementioned driver and pedestrian.

But what would have happened even if i DID yell? It’s likely that no small children would have died. It’s likely I would not have been swallowed up into the asphalt.

Where many people could stand to be a little harder on themselves for their actions (know what I mean?) I go polar opposite. I’m fat because I fail, and why do I still have Fibromyalgia, certainly if I had self-discipline in all areas I would be well. Why am I not yet over all the traumas of my early life? WHY WHY WHY???

What will I do for myself today? Maybe I could just give mySELF a little room for error today and not use it all up on others.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: Do you beat yourself up regularly about anything, and if so, What? (i don’t want to feel alone here people, spilling my guts.) What do you think is the Lie in your words to yourself? Heck, in my words to myself?

The blame game

Somewhere in my teens I was informed by my mother that was the reason she had to get her teeth pulled and replaced with dentures. My birth that early September had followed  an extremely hot summer, so she was forced to chew ice.

Picture, if you will, mojo exuding from the tiny splayed fingers of my unborn hand as I reach toward my mother’s mouth while chanting, “Chew ice! Chew ice!” in a tiny demonic voice.

I’ve never known such power since.

What causes a mother to blame the child in utero for her own actions? I’m frustrated to only be able to make lame guesses since nothing about that makes sense to me. All I know is that she did, and that I felt guilty–and that doesn’t make sense either.

I can’t know what motivates someone else since I can’t see inside their head, as much as my nosy self would like to. And even they may not know why they blame us. Yet we’re the ones left trying to figure out what to do with their big steaming pile of…. guilt.

One of the deeply written lies in my bones was (I’m improving!) that I had the power to show others how capable/smart/creative/wonderful/loved they were, and how happy they could be. Turns out others also carry lies written in their bones (surprise!) and it’s up to them to do their own work to change. Most importantly, they have to want to do it differently in the first place. So, if my mother didn’t want to bear the responsibility of ruining her own teeth, Damn the Truth! Blame the unborn!

Finally I had to face the billboard size fact: I am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness/unhappiness–or teeth. Sure, I needn’t be a giant headache inducing pain in someone’s hiney, I still need to make my own choices daily/hourly/minute-ly to be the best me I can be. I still need to be the empathetic, laughing at my own jokes person I am. But Other Person’s steaming pile of guilt? Here, let me put you down over there with the others….

What will I do for myself today?  If I carry guilt from my own poor decisions I will learn from it, I will make changes. I will also remind myself that I can’t force someone else to carry their own *pile*. I will practice saying “No thank you!” to those who would make me liable for their choices.

The bringyourownbeverage conversation: What situation are you currently in where someone wants you to carry their judgment/unhappiness/blame etc.? How can you remind yourself to Just Say No to their guilt?