The Informative Meltdown aka My Life As A Trauma Mama

Last night I slept hugging a pillow and my stuffed dog.

It was a rough week last week. I agree with the thoughts that “last week is over!” and “this is a new week!” and all that cheerful shit people try to encourage with. I agree with it, but I know it is far less than the whole story.

The whole story? It includes the week of my fifth birthday. It includes the day I gave birth with not nearly enough pain medication.

It includes me sitting on the edge of the bed after being belittled and badgered for an hour and a half and told I was not all the things I thought I was, like supportive, loving, giving….and wishing for death, time and time again. It includes the days I started realizing I didn’t need to live that way.

All those weeks and days and seconds are included in the whole.

Last week sucked big time, and the pain of it was informed by all the weeks that came before, even the moments when I stood frozen in fear with my hands over my face to hide my tears in 5th grade. I don’t even remember why anymore, but I can still feel it in my chest when I think of it. I feel the tightness, my breath coming shallow, my clenched jaw, my inability to cope.

INABILITY.

This is a place of Triggery Badness in me. It’s an oozing wound. And for people who would use other people for their own gain, it’s a raw piece of flesh to poke a stick in and stir.

I woke up crying today. Don’t remember that happening before, but it makes sense–that old unhealed, bleeding part of me was poked and stirred last week.

What my Triggery Badness told me last week was this: People who would gladly hurt others for reasons I can’t understand, people who need to control others and exploit the pain you’ve been trying to shed through all those weeks of all those years that came before, they are out there and they will find you. They will sniff you out–sharks smelling blood. THEY WILL COME.

All the Triggery Badness of last week, where it caused me to swear (more than usual) where it caused me to cry (more than I expected) where it made me wonder if I have really grown at all, healed at all…

SAVED ME.

It saved me. Someone else found me. Someone who I thought had been becoming a friend. Someone who had words of encouragement and praise. There were other things about them that I was uncomfortable with, red flags, green flags, purple flags–all the flags, really. And I did my usual thing–I said to myself, “don’t be judgmental! Maybe they are just that different from you so you’re uncomfortable. That doesn’t make them invalid.”

Then they struck. First a light strike–just a shark nose bumping my leg, just a comment to say that In my Best Interest, should I say that? Do that? Thinking Of You! So I considered their words. I did what was suggested because it made sense. They’re just protecting me, right?

Bigger bump. Their response that put me in a lesser position to them, that said I Am More Than You. I Have Superior Experience. I Will Guide You. Harder shark nose bump, awakening the trigger, starting its vibration.

Next strike, bigger strike, taking a chunk of my leg. Me bleeding out as they chided, You Are Doing This Wrong. I Know More. Listen To Me! You Are Great But Incapable, I Will Lead You!

Triggery Badness released in full horns and bells and whistles. ALARM! DANGER! DANGER!

And I realized what my Triggery Badness was trying to tell me, why it was screaming for my attention: This person needs to be Better-Than, which means they need me to be Less-Than. This person needs to be the one Who Knows, which means they need me to be the one who knows less, the one who needs guidance. This person knows your weakness, your fear that you are Incapable, Unable, Unfit. They smell the blood of that exact wound, that precise tender place–and are willing to exploit it. You Are Prey. (Watch this video–I saw it after I wrote this post and it explains my whole life!)

This person knows your weakness, your fear that you are Incapable, Unable, Unfit. They smell the blood of that exact wound, Click To Tweet

After trauma, one’s nervous system is wound too tightly. Its strings are taut. Its alarms are set to go off at the whisper of one’s breath. It takes time to retrain and rewire our brains after trauma. This is not something that happens overnight. This takes work and practice and more work. It will include the week of my next birthday in 2019. The week of Christmas in ten years.

It’s ongoing.

Don’t judge me for the path my healing takes. I’m working my ass off to heal those triggers, to rewire my brain and let the wounds close and form healthy skin once again.

Don’t judge me for crying. For clutching a stuffed dog and a pillow at age 65. For cancelling plans. For being anti-social. For whining sometimes. For being too silly, too loud, too quiet. Too sarcastic.

Don’t tell me “it’s a new week!” which translates to “Just get over it!” in my healing brain. I’m trying to sort out the good from the bad. I’m trying to be in charge of my own safety, my own mental health. I’m trying to not go back to a place where I believed I Am Incapable. I’ve been there, done that, I’ve peed on the T-shirt and burned it.

Have patience with me, with others who struggle. You can’t possibly know all the weeks I’ve experienced. You don’t know the weeks that will come. You don’t know what informs my actions. I will do my best to do the same for you.

For whatever reason we have trauma, trust us that it’s real, that we wouldn’t have it if we could help it. That we are likely working on it right this second to not run screaming from social interaction that can set off all that cascade of signals that we Are Not Safe.

We heal in community. Be a part of that healing community.

Be kind to you, be kind to me, be kind to others.

And be safe.

Same life, different day?

Photo by Anandan Anandan on Unsplash

 

IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING, some days are harder than others. Even some of the days on the road to recovering from being a Trauma Mama are harder, but the overall trajectory is better.

As a small child I didn’t know how to cope with the chaos of my home. I worked out my own coping strategies on an instinctual level for safety. That mostly involved hiding from what terrified me. Since that was pretty much everything and everyone, you can imagine the job of remaining hidden and invisible and only popping my head out when I had a smile on my face took up most of my time and energy.

I’m beginning to see how one part of my coping was to deal with one day only. Get through that one day by keeping myself safe. I didn’t look into the future with a sense of hope. As far as I was concerned, the future looked like “same life, different day.” Keep under the radar at home, in school, at church. Be unseen and unheard if you disagreed with others. Only be seen in small moments of lightness.

This is a tricky way to live.

I carried it on into my marriage. Try, try, try harder to make no waves. Try, try, try harder to soothe difficulties rather than solve them. Try, try, try harder to only be seen in small moments of lightness–moments that became much less frequent in time.

I’m five years out now from my marriage. Five years of ever so slowly thawing from the freeze of being my Trauma Mama self, of holding my body so tightly, fighting my emotions so fiercely that my body said “Enough! I now give you the magical gift of Fibromyalgia!” If that doesn’t teach you to slow your roll, nothing will.

Part of the thaw means I’m feeling a broader range of emotion, I’m seeing a broader range of possibilities. I’m even starting to see, waaaay out there in the distance, what is that thing? Wait–I’ve heard of those……the glimmer of A Future!

That processing led to today’s poem for the Poetic Asides Wednesday Prompt of SET:

 

Same.

 

I thought of my life

as a set recipe–

minor changes,

a variation

with

an added herb,

a trace of spice

but still

essentially

the same.

 

I thought of my life

as a slow leak,

a faucet dripping

Same sink,

same dribble,

same

leak,

new day.

 

I thought of my life

as a set of books,

new character

here,

lose one

there,

subtle nuance,

but still

essentially

the same.

 

I thought of my life

without a dream.

Imagine my surprise–

I’m not a book

or a recipe.

I’m not a faucet

to be fixed.

I am me

expanding.

 

I am not set.

 

jle2018

I'm even starting to see, waaaay out there in the distance, what is that thing? Wait–I've heard of those……the glimmer of A Future! Click To Tweet

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

Full Disclosure: I Hate My Cankles.

DECADES BEFORE a Kardashian talked about cankles, I was cursing my mother’s side of the family for them. Some people missed the handing out of a sense of humor, but me, I missed the receipt of that trim bony bit that is supposed to occur between feet and calves.

Recently I heard the term Body-Positive. Having been staunchly Body Negative my entire life, the term intrigued me. I even told my friend’s daughter that she should have a Body-Positive Instagram account because she carries extra weight her doctor thinks she should lose, but this girl seriously rocks her curves. I have no idea what a Body-Positive Instagram account would even look like–pictures of women outside the “norm” (otherwise known as “the body I have always wished I had but not enough to give up ice cream for”) and maybe some cheery little encouraging memes with flowers missing a few petals or a butterfly with a wonky wing….?

I poked around the internet a bit to see what’s being said about the term. I found pretty much what I expected to–websites urging us to see the beauty of who we are and what we look like, challenging women to stop measuring against what social media decides is Right and Perfect. Most women I know have at some point chosen to either suffer to live to those standards or to embrace their own style, their own shape, their own uniqueness.

Because I’m a Jesus follower I like to see what’s being said in that culture as well. This time I was disappointed to see the Body-Positive idea being made out to be idolatry, as if being Yay, I’m Cool With My Body translates to I Love My Body More Than God. May I  politely say, “Rubbish”?

While I may have been the last child in Sunday School left sitting with my nose and mouth scrunched trying to find the verse during one of those, what were they called? “Sword Drills”? I do remember that my bible says I’m to love my neighbor as myself. It also says I’m not to judge others. Even with my faulty grasp of math those seem to add up to not judging myself.

Like this:

Love others like I love myself + Don’t judge others = Don’t Judge Myself.

Sadly this means I will need to find a new hobby, since I excel at self-judgment. (If you need references I can readily supply the numbers of several friends and my therapist.)

What I’m learning as I go is that I Have Imperfections. Not only physical but character-wise. (Please feel free to !!GASP!! in disbelief. Thank you.) The problem isn’t the imperfections themselves as much as it is my unwillingness to accept them, apologize when they’ve hurt someone I care about, and learn to do things differently as a result. I can get stuck for days in the self-blame mire of “I can’t believe I’m such a horrible person!” and waste precious time and energy beating myself up. Better I should say, “Yup, you’re human. How about that,” get up, brush the dirt from my hands, wipe my skinned knees, and look around for anyone I might need to say sorry to that I knocked down in my flailing. Accept. Apologize. Learn. Sounds simple, takes practice.

All that said, if I do decide to make an idol of myself, I WILL have my cankles edited out in the statue version. I appreciate immeasurably the strength of my bones, I accept the shape thereof,  but I’m never gonna love my cankles.

 

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What do you need to learn to accept and appreciate about your own imperfections, in the physical or character trait realms?

 

 

New Definitions

When I was a young wife and mom I thought I’d be a proper grown-up when I had extra blankets in the closet like my grandma did. A quilt or two, maybe one of those fuzzy thermal ones, something to casually pull out when my guest needed warming.

My grandma was my model for everything good–she was sweet, and kind, and hugged me, and holidays at her house were the best when I was a kid. The noise, the food, the people scattered across couches and in the kitchen, and setting up platters and bowls of deliciousness on the dining room table. That hubbub was what I saw as the Perfect Holiday.

As my own children grew and had spouses and families of their own, those holidays together at my house or their houses were my drug of choice. All the craziness of making lists, buying ingredients, planning the meal, all that was worth it to get to the point where we were making jokes about my kitchen being only a two-butt kitchen as four bodies tried to fit and reach and stir in the small space. Any frustration was worth the decorated table and laughter and chattering voices asking for gravy.

Watching my kids and then grandkids grow, trying different recipes and always ending up with too many pies, that was my wife/mama/grandma jam.

When I ran away from home and became a divorced person, I hoped the family meals could go on in some way, some semblance of those times before. But the fractures in the family were too big, to the point we all would have needed lobotomies to be in the same room.

Life, eh?

So I find myself in this curious re-defining stage. What does Thanksgiving look like? How about Christmas? Who can be together? Who can’t? Who am I when my house is no longer a hub? When I no longer have a house? Add in moves a state or a country away and it gets more complicated, not less.

My whole life I’ve lost myself in books, stories of other people’s lives. And movies–I love a movie with a happy ending, the broken, dysfunctional family that reunites and manages to find the central love that binds them together after all. There’s always a decent amount of snarky humor and minimum of one curmudgeon. Eventually there’s a food fight or a dance scene, and credits roll on one-big-happy-family.

I wanted that to be my life. I tried to make that my life. Tried to find a way to make the hard stuff, the big disagreements, the unreconcilable pain, into simply a difficult side story with a soundtrack that lets you know things will eventually be okay. Turns out there are some things that can’t be made adorable, no matter who plays them or how they’re written. Sometimes there’s no redemptive meal around the family table.

I’ve felt a bit lost in these years between the then and now. I’ve done a bit of licking my wounds, made a skittish appearance or two at the homes of my children. I’m looking for a rhythm, as I suppose they all are too. What’s the new normal? It keeps shifting.

I could have joined friends for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving as I have these past few years, but instead I asked my son if he’d like to get together to watch movies and eat Chinese food. Why not? I did make a pecan pie since that’s his favorite. He’s bringing his dog, and I’m looking forward to time with her. Plus this son of mine, he always makes me laugh. And he still always hugs me, even at 30.

I’ll arrange times to see everyone around Christmas, as individual families instead of the whole group. I’ll fly to stay with my daughter and son-in-law in Portland, Oregon, where I’ll half hope for and half against a possible snowy Christmas morning. I’ll talk to the rest of the kids and grandkids throughout the day in California and England.

It’s different but it’s the same. The jam looks different, but it’s still about the people. If the only thing I accomplish is giving those I love a picture of being loved and important, then the definition of family won’t be so different, even when it’s a different shape. Hopefully the definition of me will be something like my grandma was for me, the picture of comfort and love.

 

Enjoy your day, whatever you find yourself doing!

Poeming: A Lesser Gumshoe

For yesterday’s prompt over at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides, we were asked to write a poem that uses at least 3 of the following 6 words: con, flush, oxymoron, pass, rub, toxic. 

I plead 3 weeks of a nasty cold with a dash of insanity as to how this amalgamation of characters  emerged from my brain. I had such fun with it–think of me what you will, but remember, all parties are considered innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law….including the author….

 

A Lesser Gumshoe

“I would pass this time ‘round,”
she said, flicking the ash,
elbow on table, cigarette in
the air like
a torch lighting the night,
“on those last ten years.
A hard pass on those freakin’
ten years.”
“Why?” I asked, waving my
hand in my face,
waving the smoke from
my face like a stiff
wind off the coast.
“Hmph!” she snorted,
rolling her eyes, taking
a long, deep drag,
“Toxic ten years, bein’
treated like crap,
that was the
rub of those years.
If I could
have those years back
of my life, wonder what
I coulda done…
wonder what I coulda done…”
She paused, staring off
into space, her eyes
glittering like the
knock-off tennis
bracelet around her wrist,
“Oh well,” she said,
glancing my way,
blowing smoke,
me turning my face,
my eyes watering
like the fake stone
fountain in the corner
of the bar,
“Instead I ran a con on myself,
yes I did, thinking I could
change the ol’ bastard….
Hah!” burst her staccato
laugh out into the room,
stabbing the night
just like she’d stabbed him,
“mighta just as well
flushed those last years—
and these’ll never
be as high as they were
ten years ago,”
she said, grimacing and
cupping one breast.
Grinding her cigarette butt
into the ashtray shaped
like the state of Montana,
she flung out one last line
as the cop approached,
“Him and change—
what an oxymoron…”

I sneezed.

jle2018

Poeming: Dollhouses

Photo by XINYI SONG on Unsplash

The prompt at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides today is to use a child’s toy as the title and go from there. Here’s one of mine.

Dollhouses

Carefully she laid

the handkerchief

embroidered with

purple violets

over the tiny

jewelry box

her eyes seeing

a rich sofa

for her dark-haired

Margot doll

underneath the chair,

a living room

for dolls to feel

safe in.

+

Carefully she placed

the pillow

covered in floral

fabric

in the corner of

the couch

then stepped back

to view it

Pretty places

pretty spaces,

playing house

had always made

her feel

safe.

 

jle 2018

Poeming: Anti-Transient

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Today’s prompt over at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem A Day Challenge is to write an Anti-(blank) poem. Sometimes I like to have fun with parentheses, like today. I judge this poem a bit sappy, but I like it anyway.

 

Anti-Transient

Sprinkle my ash in the wind
(where no pain)
let me float free like a leaf
(touches me)
watch with a smile on your lips
(when I’m gone)
know that I’m finally free

Sprinkle my ash to the waves
(I have loved)
mingling with sand and with stone
(you beyond)
sing with the tune of the sea
(total love)
carry my heart-song in yours

Sprinkle my ash to the trees
(where no pain)
birdsong and light through the leaves
(touches me)
made my heart full now they’re yours
(when I’m gone)
remember me in these things

Sprinkle my ash on the ground
(I have danced)
in the sunlight and in rain
(in bare feet)
turn your face up and embrace
(with pure joy)
all that this life has to give

Sprinkle my ash in the wind
(where no pain)
let me float free like a leaf
(touches me)
watch with a smile on your lips
(when I’m gone)
know that you’re carrying me

 

jle2018

Poeming: Christmas

The prompt today at Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides blog was Teenager. This is one of the poems I wrote.

Christmas.

 

No one was celebrating

at my house

No garland,

no tree

no music.

But I, determined,

walked to the

grocery store

parking lot,

bought a

bedraggled

remaining

tree,

carried it home

alone

Set it up with

lights and ornaments

unwilling to allow

the darkness there

to

claim my

fifteen-year-old

Christmas.

jle2018

Poeming: Tired of Hiding

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash Tired of Hiding She had always hid from painful mem’ries haunting her todays and she had run a million miles inside her head to keep away the awful looming pall of voices shouting on the other side of walls within the confines of a home that felt un safe […]