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?

 

 

 

 

 

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Trains, pains (but no automobiles)

“Does it hurt there?” my doctor asked as she pressed on the inside of my knee.

“HOly!” I said.

She pressed on my outer knee. “Barely,” I said. She pressed on my inner knee again. “HOly!” I exclaimed, clenching my teeth.

Just as I had been congratulating myself on making it to 63 without the knee problems several friends had already faced a decade ago, I had started having problems. So not cool. 

Diagnosing by poking to find where I have pain is complicated by my fibromyalgia, since it carries some extremely tender points of its own–namely the place on my inner knee the doctor kept pressing. But given the totality of the symptoms involving my kneecaps and the fact they hurt most when using stairs, she thought I likely had “runner’s knee.”

GUFFAW!

One thing I often tell my dog on walks is “Mama don’t run.” He really wants to, even at 14 1/2. Even in my much smaller college days I hated jogging, which I guess is what you call slow running. There was too much jiggle and I felt like I couldn’t breathe and jog simultaneously. It was an annoying gym class. I was not a fan. And now decades later, my opinion hadn’t changed for the better. Running was for those blessed with long and lanky genes and definitely not for short, heavier me…and so went my train of thought–derailing somewhere about the point the train hits the crossing called Everything Is My Fault Because Somehow I’ve Done It Wrong.

Lies derail me. Instead of “okay, what can I do now?” I get hung up in the spider-webbed space of all the words I use to judge myself. Every direction I look I see a negative message and I wind myself more firmly into the web. I get stuck.

I somehow believe I should be able to be Faultless.

I somehow believe I Should Have Known how to avoid whatever problem I’m facing at the moment.

The Truth is, I’ve made each choice, each decision, based on what I knew/didn’t know/payed attention to/didn’t pay attention to IN THAT MOMENT. Given the experiences and circumstances leading up to then I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I would have made the same good/bad/shoot myself in the foot choices, because I was exactly who I was at that time. All the coulda-shoulda-if only thoughts tightly packed into that derailed train simply weigh my thoughts down and waste my energy.

Current example: rather than telling myself I Could Have Avoided having (not really a) Runner’s Knee by listing fifteen things I Should have done differently in the previous 62 years, instead I take a deep breath and do the exercises given me by the physical therapist. Recognizing the muscle fatigue of fibromyalgia may mean I can’t complete all the sets. I think my new math equation looks something like this:

available energy (minus) wasted self-flagellation energy (equals) higher quality energy to discern how I can best move forward. 

Okay, I know it’s silly math, but it’s math I can understand, math I at least know how to use. By lightening the energy load on my train of thought by dumping the thought patterns that overload and derail, I’m left with better, clearer energy to stay on the track of learning and moving ahead.

The Bring Your Own Beverage conversation: Final math equation of this post– Available energy minus (what thinking do you need to unload?) equals higher quality energy to move forward. Solve for (what thinking do you need to unload?)

Class dismissed. Now go be kind to yourself.

The F Word: Frailty

 

I’m just coming through another one of the times that tries my soul: a Fibromyalgia flare. If you’re not familiar with Fibromyalgia, it’s a chronic pain and fatigue condition allegedly caused by an overactive/oversensitive Central Nervous System. It can be managed to some extent on a daily basis, but the owner of the aforementioned Frailty doesn’t know from day to day whether it will be a good day or a bad day, a normal pain and fatigue day or an F word day (er, of course I meant Frailty there…..)

A few weeks ago I hit the perfect storm for a flare–the decision to have my 14 1/2 year old dog euthanized, the 5th anniversary of my sister’s death, among other things. Even weather changes seem to contribute. A bad day turned into bad weeks. It seemed like sleeping and trying to ease the extreme pain of this unwelcome flare were the only goals I could work toward. I had no extra brain cells to use.

I hate this scenario, one that I revisit on an unexpected basis, though it feels more like it drops in on me like a surprise guest–“Here I am! Hope you don’t mind if I drop in unexpectedly to stay awhile and change every plan you’ve made for what is as yet an undetermined amount of time!”

It’s brutal.

And how I tend to treat myself during this state of Frailty is brutal too. I tell myself I’m useless. I tell myself it’s my fault, I must not be doing something right or this wouldn’t happen to my brain and body. I get angry. I get sad. I feel sorry for myself, and then I get angry at myself for feeling sorry for myself, and that makes me sad. It’s a real party of one.

This particular flare was so bad that the friend I rent from told me she actually came in to see if I was still breathing. (And here my imagination goes a little TV Fabulous and sees her leaning across my curled body with a tiny makeup mirror to see if I have breath to fog it or is it necessary to call 911, at which point she looks around at the shoes, books, and electronic devices tumbled by my bed that the paramedics would need to navigate and decides it’s better to just close the door and let nature take its course.)

Frailty. It’s a big bad word to me that begins to define my worth and take me to a dark place of Not Good Enough and Worthless and Too Weak. And–dare I say it–UNPRODUCTIVE. (GASP!!)

Once I realize the party is headed for StinkTown, one thing I do is to allow the words of self-flagellation to fly at me but simply glance off. To recognize that while this Frailty may derail me for a time it won’t shut down the railway altogether–I have a temporary Out Of Service sticker on my forehead, but in time it will lose its sticky and the train of my body and brain will begin to run again.

A couple of things I like to do for myself in these times: I’m a fan of visualizing. Whatever makes sense to you will be the best, but for me I actually visualize myself with big pieces of crumpled paper being blown at me like I’m in a storm, and on those papers  are the negative words and phrases written in large, dark print. They hit me but then continue on in the wind past me. They don’t stick. I also love to listen to affirmations. My favorite at the moment is from Belleruth Naparstek, “Healing Trauma.” Her CDs usually have an intro, a guided imagery segment, and then an affirmations segment. The affirmations in her voice are deeply soothing to my mean-spirited brain, and help me treat myself more gently.

IMPORTANT: all this takes practice. When you try to change your thinking be gentle with yourself–it won’t change at once.

The BringYourOwnBeverageConversation: What do you see as your frailties? What frailties cause you to belittle yourself? I saw as I wrote this post just how big of a deal being Nonproductive is for me, and how little grace I give myself when I need it.

Hope to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Shouldn’t I be a grown-up by now?

I was perusing the quotes on my daughter’s Pinterest board and came across this:

“Characterize people by their actions  and you will never be fooled by their words.”

I thought, where has this girl been my whole life? and realized, right–she wasn’t around till 1980 when I was 26 and gave birth to her.

All my life I’ve had trouble with being easily fooled. For whatever reason, I’ve trusted others easily, even when they might not have had my best interests at heart. I’ve trusted that when someone says something they mean it, and whatever good thing they promised would come to fruition.

My bad.

So how did it happen that my daughter knows things to be true, like that actions speak far more loudly than words, when I’m just learning it some 36 years after her birth? I mean, shouldn’t I be a grown-up by now? Shouldn’t I know these basic truths so well that I’m not surprised any longer when someone’s words and actions don’t match up? Often I’ve hidden behind that trust of others, wanting badly to be able to trust them, without weighing in the all-important factor of how the life they live doesn’t quite match the words of their mouths.

I think it comes down to this: we learn when we learn, we grow when we grow. We each have our own trajectory on this road trip called Life, each of them skewed by the varying twists and turns along the way. And it’s unfair of me to judge myself for not being to the place of adulthood where someone else is. This is my own pot-holed road.

What I will do for myself today: if I should perchance learn or apply a new truth today I shall do a happy dance, yes, even in public, and celebrate learning at 62.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What are you learning that is dance-worthy?