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

In pursuit of mental health

Lately on social media I’ve been reminded of the small, scared girl I once was. She called the shots in my life for decades, hobbled by fear, looking for someone else to give her a sense of security.

Fear ran so much of her life that she ended up missing out on a lot of life. Crushing Fear said that she couldn’t even think about it, and its friend Overwhelming Anxiety came along for backup. Don’t try, don’t fail. Opportunities missed. Life was a competition, and she just wanted everybody to get along.

That scared little girl is finding some love, healing and acceptance that she couldn’t get from the parents of her childhood. The pain of that lack of parental acceptance runs deep in many of us, etching itself into our bones and causing us to make unbalanced choices, in my case to be a people pleaser and gauge my worth based on whether or not I could make someone else happy. (Hint: Not My Job.)

I used to be angry at that terrified little girl–why didn’t she protect herself in better ways than withdrawing and disappearing? But when you’re 5, you do what makes sense at that age. Author and speaker Mary DeMuth, after being raped at age 5 by neighborhood teens, slept for safety when the adults in her life failed to protect her from continued assault. 5-year-olds do what 5-year-olds understand. How can I stay mad at my little girl who carried on the understanding of safety for a small child into her grown years? She did what she knew until she learned differently.

Years of therapy plus one divorce later, I’m learning that I’m capable of moving about in the world on my own. That I can be the mama to that scared child within me, be responsible for my own safety without hiding in a closet to do so. I can take risks knowing I may fail and fall and get bruised. I can enjoy life, go to the beach with friends, drive ten hours to see one of my daughters, or choose to eat chocolate for dinner (for the magnesium, of course). I’ve learned it’s okay to grow up, to find a different safety than I understood at 5. That growing and learning is healthy and leads to freedom.

I couldn’t have done this journey without my Favorite Mental Health Professional, my LCSW. If I can leave you with one thought, it’s that there is no shame in Pursuing Mental Health. If you feel off balance, seek help. You deserve to be healthy.

The bring your own beverage conversation: What belief have you carried from your childhood to your adulthood that doesn’t seem to be serving you well? 

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN THE TRUTH AND LOVE YOURSELF. (And who doesn’t need a picture of a happy puppy?)

 

 

 

Trauma Informed Living

I know teachers. Teacher friends, teacher daughters. I had a bunch of teachers in school. Some of those teachers from elementary school through my Some College days seemed to See me differently–like they knew how afraid I was all the time, how I felt wary and watchful, why I cried when I Wasn’t Good Enough, why missing one word in a year of 4th grade spelling tests was cause for High Anxiety. I didn’t know those were things for them to consider in their treatment of me in the classroom because those were my Normal.

I don’t know much about the ins and outs of Trauma Informed Education, but I’m hearing ripples of conversation about it throughout the teachers I currently know. When an educator can look at a child’s behavior as more than Good or Bad and instead view that student as a child who may Come From Crazy (me!) the dynamics change. And like with those teachers who could See me, the classroom becomes a Safe Place, a place where the student feels free to make a mistake, to be less than perfect and still be accepted and receive kindness.

It was hard to notice when my reaction was not your average reaction while in the grips–the very physical grips–of a trauma response. I remember in my high school creative writing class when the job of editing the class’s compilation was offered to me. My whole body began a hard trembling, my head became a confused, swirling buzz, and I fought tears. All I could do was to shake my head and say “no”. The teacher and the students smiled and urged me to accept, and I can only guess that I was well thought of, but every ounce of my will was at capacity just keeping me from bolting from the room. My face was hot and I was losing the fight to not cry. They moved on to pick another girl, a funny, artistic and more composed girl. She did a great job, I remained Invisible–and disappointed.

This wasn’t the first and it wasn’t the last time my body’s response called the shots. I’ve stood in stores, at church, and in my front room, unable to move, waiting for the panicked breathing and full-body trembling to subside. Slowly as I learn to name the Lies and replace them with Truth, I have less Triggery Badness engulf me. And I’m working toward quicker recognition of the signals so I can breathe and tell myself to save the STOP, DROP, and ROLL! for when I’m literally on fire.

I don’t know that I have some huge take-away from this post. I do wish I could thank the Mr. McMahons and Mrs. Swansons who treated me with perhaps a bit more gentleness than other teachers without making me feel like the weird bundle of nerves I was. And I’m thankful for the acknowledgment by the education system that when a child is acting out or withdrawing, they may be dealing with some bad mojo at home, and not just label them Bad or Dumb or Over-Sensitive. Those are horrible Lies for a child to carry in their bones.

The bring your own beverage conversation: Have you had experiences with labels being applied to you, and if so, how did those labels cause you to see yourself?

What tools have you found useful when dealing with a trauma response? I love using belly breathing to calm myself in the moment, and therapy with an awesome Mental Health Professional for the long haul, the deeper understanding, the overall changes.

Laughter is healing! I highly recommend the movie High Anxiety with Mel Brooks.

 

The Good Girl Lie

I tried not to jerk as her acrylic nail shoved into my closed eye. I was getting a facial and she was attempting to press acupressure points just below my brow bones. I’d had this done before by people a bit more mindful of their fingernails, a very good thing.

Why did I feel I couldn’t say “Would you please pull your nail from my eye” or at least turn my head?

I’m often captive to The Good Girl Lie.

A Good Girl can never make someone Feel Bad. A Good Girl can never make someone Uncomfortable. A Good Girl is never to Stir The Pot, Make Waves, or any other liquid or solid analogy that suggests she might have an emotion/opinion/thought that differs.

The Good Girl Lie that is still written in my bones says that my discomfort doesn’t matter, that I should protect the feelings of others above all else–apparently this includes the safety of my own eyeball.

As I write this I hear how foolish it sounds. This Rule, as my therapist/favorite mental health provider calls them, runs deep. I was the youngest of three kids, so I had plenty of opportunity to see how poorly it went when my older siblings had an opinion, had a feeling, had a thought that ran opposite our parents’. I became the people pleaser of all people pleasers, trying to ensure my lovability.

This is a joy I brought with me into adulthood. Our childhood coping mechanisms rarely work well in a grownup’s world–they’re too simplistic, too far off to one side, lacking balance. “I don’t want to get yelled at therefore I will only be Nice” may make sense to a five-year-old, but it doesn’t work well in the real world, where we need another piece, the “I am responsible for my own safety and well-being” part.

Wanting to be Good above all else makes sense to us when we’re kids trying to stay out of trouble with our parents and teachers, but the problem is that we end up taking care of everybody’s gardens, trying to keep everybody happy. No fences or boundaries in this scenario, just lots and lots of neighbors’ weeds and flowers to tend. It’s exhausting! But when we have our own individual thoughts (this is not the relaxing facial I was hoping for) opinions (I don’t like that the esthetician makes it sound like she won’t serve clients unless they buy the pricey products on her shelvesand our own feelings (when she puts her fingernail in my eye it makes me feel grumpy and annoyed rather than relaxed) then we can still be pleasant in the moment while looking out for our own wellbeing. Listening to ourselves can inform our choices and give us options rather than seeing it all from a single viewpoint.

So I didn’t ask her to remove her acrylic from my eye, but it’s a work in progress, yunno?

And I don’t have to go back to her, right? Well, at least not until after the second facial because I paid for two……. *sigh*

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have a personal equivalent to The Good Girl Lie? Something where you haven’t allowed yourself a voice because someone else might not like what you have to say? A place you just give in even though it’s abrasive to your soul? What’s a step you can take, a boundary you can make, to protect your own wellbeing?

Alright, let’s get out there and stay safe!

9/30/2017 Addendum: I realize I totally ate a slimy, undercooked poached egg yesterday just so that I “wouldn’t make a fuss”. It was gross. Still learning.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Unseen and Unheard

LATELY I’ve been on, let’s just call it an Unintentional Hiatus.

I’ve been plagued by a couple of things: Fibromyalgia has not been my friend the past few months, and the Lie that loves me the most has been in residence–even though unwelcome.

To address the first one, I’ve been in what is called a relapse of my Fibro for several months now. When your Flare decides to overstay its welcome its name becomes Relapse. The pain and fatigue have been hanging all over my body and brain, rendering me both whiney AND bitchy. If I could take a vacation from myself I would.

And now, the second, the Boogeyman, the Lie That Loved Me, Casino Lie-ale, Live and Let Lie…. I wanted to make this blog as a safe place for others who deal with their own Lies. To maybe feel they aren’t alone and realize we all struggle. But my most deeply etched Lie, that my voice doesn’t matter, has been a pretty constant companion lately, rendering me mute.

When I was a child I felt it was better NOT to have a voice, NOT to draw attention. Because, say the wrong thing and dire consequences would follow. I watched this over and over with my parents and older siblings, and with some serious mother vs father action. Better I should play in my room, go to the park, or hide in my closet. Unseen and Unheard was safest.

In my post-childhood years I have done a lot of shoot-myself-in-the-foot things like dumb myself down to let other people feel smarter, let other people tell me how I should think, believe that everybody else’s voice was more important than mine, that my voice/my thoughts/my beliefs were inconsequential.

And yet, I have loved to express myself in writing since I was small. I’ve known that the God who created me gave me my own particular voice, often sappy, often snarky, and a unique view of the life I’ve lived. How can I know that Truth, and yet believe the ever-present like-flies-at-a-picnic, like-dirt-on-my-car, like-failed-deodorant Lie that WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY BE THINKING THAT I HAVE ANYTHING WORTH SAYING??!?

Whew.

I think what I’ve just described is what’s referred to as Cognitive Dissonance. By definition, that means the mental stress and discomfort experienced by someone who has two completely opposing beliefs. I believe I have something worth saying, yet I believe just as strongly that I have nothing worth saying. Well no WONDER I’m tired!

And this is the power of the Lies In Our Bones.

So even if I end up only talking to myself I need to keep writing. To defy that Lie. To put myself out there though flawed and tired and possibly repetitive and maybe even boring some days. To put myself out there when I feel ugly and stupid and needy and simultaneously whiney and bitchy. I mean, don’t we all feel something of the sort sometimes?

Yes–even though I know God loves me without condition (even some of my friends and family do, more’s the wonder) my bones are still in the process of healing from the deeply carved Lies of past early experience. I’m a struggler. If you’re a struggler too, please join me.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE.

Conversations

I was sitting across from my mother at her kitchen table.

“B-but Mom,” I said quietly and quizzically, “you know what it was like to live there, we’ve talked about this…” I faded off.

We were talking about when my sister, brother and I were growing up in Portland and she was still married to our father. It seemed that again her version of the facts of that life had been altered in her mind.

“Mom, remember when we talked about how dad had touched me in a way he shouldn’t have? You know that. You know how much you guys fought? How crazy it was there?”

Somehow she could tell bitter stories of how awful our father’s behavior had been if it showed how badly she had been treated, but when it reflected badly on her as a mother who hadn’t protected us? Suddenly her words became wounded and sad and she would say “how could you say those things?”

Our dad had done much more to my sister from a young age, things my sister had tried to tell our mom for years. As an adult my sister confronted our mother about not protecting her, and suddenly Mom acted like it was all news to her.

I don’t bring this up to vilify my parents, though they surely could have made many better choices. I’m bringing it up for two reasons: the effect on relationship when we tell ourselves Lies about the facts staring us in the face, and the effect on a child’s psyche when they aren’t believed or protected.

What happened to any potential my sister and I had to have a healthy relationship with our mother who couldn’t face the truth of the facts of our childhood? Needing those Lies to uphold her view of herself as a parent meant there could never be any “Mistakes were made and I’m sorry for the pain you dealt with” conversations. Any opportunity for repairing the relationship was cut off before it could start.

As the mother of 4 grown children I’ve become more aware of how imperfectly I parented, how many needs I missed, how many times I was too wrapped up in my own misery to see that of my children. It happens. It’s the human factor. But being unwilling to admit it will only get in the way of relationship–we need to be willing to say “I didn’t realize” and “I’m sorry,” to keep dealings with each other clean.

And when a child isn’t heard, believed, or protected, apparently we can grow up to believe there is no safety in the world, and that we don’t have value, because if we did, wouldn’t we have been worth protecting? The great thing–it’s never too late to learn what are Lies and replace them with Truth.

What will I do for myself this week? I think I’ll remind myself as often as needed (plentiful still at 63) that there’s nobody else just like me, and simply because I’m on the planet I have worth.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: For starters, my beverages of the day have been hot tea and hot chocolate. Sense the theme? I’M COLD! At this time of year with Christmas and New Year’s and the matching set of Samsonite luggage most of us generally bring into the season, what are you struggling with? What message of truth and kindness can you shower on yourself?