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!
“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?
I’m so fortunate to have a REAL LIVE AUTHOR write a guest post for me this week! (Although it would be pretty awesome if I got a real DEAD author to come back and do one, right??) My coffee and pie friend, Jeanette Hanscome, is author of the book Suddenly Single Moms among others.
Here’s my pie errr–author friend, Jeanette,
and the book cover for Suddenly Single Moms.
I love this cover since it coordinates with several of my coffee mugs making it possible for me to not only have coffee while reading, but look good while doing so.
And now, ON TO THE IMPORTANT BIT!!
Guest post by Jeanette Hanscome
Needy, that Dreaded Word
After my husband left, I feared the labels I would earn almost as intensely as I feared court orders.
I dreaded the first time I would have to check Divorced on a form. (I’m still trying to figure out why my marital status matters when getting my teeth cleaned.)
I resented that low-income applied to me and my kids.
I absolutely did not want to become an emotionally needy friend.
You read that correctly—at the lowest point of my life being seen as needy felt like the worst possible fate.
Even worse than too sensitive.
There was just something about that word. Needy.
I’d never heard it applied to me or anyone else in a positive way.
“One thing I love about you is that you’re so needy and fun to be around.”
It was more like, “I know you’re in a needy place right now, but I don’t have time to talk.”
“Stephanie seems like a nice lady, but she strikes me a rather … needy.”
I tried very hard to ration my public displays of emotion, and cried in front of carefully-selected friends on a rotating basis so none of them would feel burdened by my load of grief.
When people at church said, “You seem to be doing so well,” relief flooded my soul. If they raved that I radiated with joy and reflected God’s grace that was even better. Radiating joy and grace meant I wasn’t becoming needy.
Then something horrifying happened. I moved, came out of survival mode, joined a new church, and started (cue slasher film scream) feeling. I remember the day it hit me that I was in danger of being described as, “in a very needy place right now.” Some new friends and I were talking after Bible study and I no longer had it in me to radiate joy. I wanted to tug on one of those kind women’s sleeves and whimper, “I don’t think I’m doing so well anymore.” But I kept smiling and talking because I didn’t want to be that girl. The one who got weepy when it wasn’t even prayer request time. The one who took people up on “Call me if you ever need to talk.” I would wrap my arms around a hurting woman like me in an instant, but I wasn’t ready to be her. Not when I was still trying to find my place in a new church. I was totally blowing my reputation as a reflection of God’s grace!
God did a beautiful thing a couple of weeks later. He sent a friend who gave me permission to be needy but refused to let me label myself as if processes pain was a sign of weakness.
I will never stop being grateful for friends like her, because here’s the thing: I was needy. Extremely. My husband had left me and our two sons. I’d lost my marriage, my home, my credit (we had to file bankruptcy), and my sense of value. When we moved I’d left my church home behind, ministries, 14 ½ years’ worth of relationships, every friend that I felt safe to fall apart with, and my oldest son who decided to stay back where his job was. I was needy for love. Needy for hugs. Needy for friends. Needy to belong. Needy to share my story. Needy to be known for something other than my story.
Pain puts us in a very needy place.
When a friend is hurting because of a loss, I expect that she will be a little bit needy for a while. I hope that she will know she can come to me for the things I ached for when my life had been reduced to what I could fit into my parents’ garage, one bedroom, and a dinky storage unit that I would eventually have to clear out. If I say, “Call me anytime,” I mean it and hope she will take me up on it.
One of most refreshing things I’ve heard in the past year is, “We’re all a little needy.”
I also like, “We’re all messed up.”
I wish I’d known this sooner.
Obviously, I don’t want to stay needy. I don’t want to become clingy. I don’t want to run to people so quickly and often that I wear them out and miss out of the comfort of Jesus’ presence. I don’t want to be so focused on sad circumstances that I can’t see other people, live in the present, or enjoy life. But why suffer in silence when we don’t have to?
“But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.” Psalm 40:17
No matter which version of the Bible I read, I can’t find a verse where God tells David to suck it up and be a better reflection of His grace and joy.
He created us to need Him and to need one another.
So, at least for today, I’m letting go of my fear of being seen as needy. Because we all are whether we admit it or not.
What will I do for myself today? If I am feeling needy I will admit it. I will cry out to God and ask Him to send what I’m aching for, whether it’s time with Him or time with a friend. If I know I need to be with people, I will reach out to someone—a kind, sensitive person who will be sweet and supportive. I won’t even waste my data coverage on the “I can see that you are in a very needy place right now but I don’t have time to talk” “friends.”
The BringYourOwnBeverage Conversation: When have you felt chastised for being needy? How did that impact your ability to reach out when you truly needed support? How has God taught you that it’s okay to be a little bit needy sometimes?
Thank you so much for your post, Jeanette! We’ve had many conversations over pie about neediness, and I love your clarity and humor on the topic. 🙂
I’m glad you’re here. I do love company. Wish I could get you a beverage.
Thanks for joining me on this road trip to learning self-acceptance and self-love. If you were like me, you somehow got the (LIE of an) Understanding that it would be selfish to take care of yourself and to love yourself. I thought “I’m to love God, then others, then if there’s any time or energy left over I can care about myself.”
Yes, I believe in a Creator who made me and this crazy complicated universe. I even knew at a young age that He loved me better than my parents did, and far better than I loved me since loving myself wasn’t even in the picture. That would just be selfish! (LIE.)
Pretty much my life goal as a small child was to stay out of the way of the angry parents and far away from conflict. If I would be visible I should only be happy (other moods not being well tolerated in my house) and if possible I should make the grown-ups smile or laugh. My anxiety would be soothed if they appeared happy even momentarily. I hid in books, toys and craft projects. I learned to avoid my feelings at all costs. (I still love to make people laugh.)
We each take up our own unique space on this earth. Can we learn to love and accept ourselves with all our unique flaws and frailties?
That’s my older-hopefully-wiser life goal. To love and accept myself. I’m inching in that direction–better in my 60s than never! Consider this an invitation to join me as I explore the hows and whys of it all. Bring a drink of your choice and I’ll bring mine, and we can each do that *CLINK* thing. 🙂
Skimmer’s recap: There’s a lot still to be learned and a lot of LIES to be unlearned–BYOBeverage.
What are a few lies YOU need to unlearn? Thoughts?