Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Changing My World

Today was a hard day. I had a glimmer of hope yesterday morning after laughing with Dearest One the night before. First belly laugh in a long time. I'm not sure why I thought that meant there would be a straight line from glimmer of hope to healing, but I did.

I'm spending much of my time doing handwork these days and that involves untangling yarn from the middle of the skein. I should have my own  brand of yarn named This Is What Healing Looks Like. A mess. That's what it looks like. Doesn't mean it isn't happening.

Sleep was elusive last night. My brain busy. It follows that getting dressed today felt like too much. Late morning I remembered -  there's that thing called supper.  Supper time came around and I went into the kitchen, looked at what I had taken out to cook and walked out again. I repeated this several times until Dearest One came home from work and we ordered supper in.

There were tears tonight in the midst of a normal conversation. I'm sensitive to anything that smacks of me feeling like I don't have a voice. I jabbed at him with a light, but effective, verbal punch. I cried when I realized what I'd done.

I'm grateful that Dearest One and I have done such hard work in becoming each other's person that when words get misconstrued and conversation starts going sideways, when tears fall and harms need to be made right on either side, we can talk and reassure one another; sinking into vulnerability as the place to connect with one another. It took us nearly 35 years to get to this place in our marriage. Previously we pinged off each other's trauma and piled more baggage onto our journey.

This work is worth it no matter how hard it is on days like today. It may not be changing anyone else's world but ours. I am grateful.

Forgive Yourself

When I saw this poster, with its words of wisdom, I instantly teared up. My therapist has been saying these things to me for a long time. The last time I thanked her for investing in her ongoing education, because it impacts our learning and growing, she thanked me for being willing to try something different than the survival patterns I've used all these years.

Years ago I was in a Bible study group with all elderly women. My children were all preteen at the time and I would listen to these women talk about their grown children, and the sometimes shocking choices they were making, and I wondered what age a person had to be before they didn't take their children's behaviour personally. I was very much into seeing my children's choices as a reflection of myself. That only added to my inclination to be a very controlling mother. After all, my reputation, such as it was, was at stake. I had no idea that my unresolved trauma history was impacting my parenting in ways big and small.

It turned out that the age one had to be was the age you were when your adult child made one of those life decisions that makes you cringe. It took that decision by Youngest Son to be willing to pry my fingers off the edges of my adult children's lives.

I know now, in a visceral way, that all my kids have their own trauma history to work through. My unresolved trauma impacted my mothering deeply. I was often not the mother they needed and I have deep regrets. People have a hard time picturing me as a verbally and physically abusive mother yet I was. I was bound determined I would never be an alcoholic like my mom either, but I went down that path, too.

Motherhood was the catalyst for my recovery on many fronts. It was what gave me courage to reach out for help and be steadfast in my search for healing even though that search has been a winding, and sometimes, not so pretty path. Only Daughter tells me every so often that the work I am doing in therapy and the changes I have made over the years, are impacting her life and her children's for the better. It's a reminder that today is not the end of the story.

All those words of wisdom in that yellow box up there are closer to being my reality than ever before. At least I am able to entertain them as truth, now. Although I think my regrets will always be there, I think it is possible to forgive myself for them, too. I inch closer to that every day.

A few nights ago I mused aloud to Dearest One that I wondered what age a person was when they decided to be at peace with what they believed and how they lived their life without feeling like they needed to defend it or apologize to anyone for simply being themselves.  I told him I was much closer to being that person than I had ever been and maybe now was as good a time as any.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Spring Chickens

Trigger warning: sexual abuse.

My mom would have had a milestone birthday today. I think she would've been surprised and wondered out loud how could she be that age already. Where had the time gone? She'd tell me again that I was a Spring Chicken at the age of 56. I don't feel like one these days.

I've been wondering what she would say about my time off work right now. I seriously wonder about that. She was an integral part of why I was put in the situation that ended in rape and continued sexual abuse for the months that followed. If she was alive I would've told her exactly what happened that lead to my being on an extended time off work. Yet she was so fragile at the end. Would I be obligated to protect her from my reality? What is fair? And to whom? Will I always feel like a bad person for feeling such anger?

I never allowed myself to feel angry about it while she was alive. There's still that frown of hers that I can picture in my head and the very real comment she made me to when I was 13 that what goes on in our house stays in our house.

There were many things that she didn't think should be brought out from the shadows and into the light of day. I don't think she ever experienced the freedom that speaking the truth can bring. I don't think she ever got over the boatload of mother guilt she carried. I'm guessing at these things because we couldn't have an honest conversation about the guilt although we came close way back when. She admitted that day to being an abusive mother. It cost her all she had to voice it. It was so much more than anything her own mother would have admitted to being or not being. There's that.

But. She knew he was a predator. Knew he bragged in the bar about the young women he got. She let me/sent me there to babysit anyway. I intuitively knew she had her own history with him. Intuition is a bitch sometimes.

She knew things were going on between him and I. I found out later that she rationalized that I was old enough to handle it. I remember thinking to myself , as I shoved blood stained underwear into the back of my jeans, "where are the adults and why isn't anyone rescuing me from this?" That I didn't feel like I could go to anyone is a sad reality. Let's take a detour down a back road and keep you there for hours. Tell you I'm not done with you yet when you try to get dressed.

It took years of therapy to see that he was always in a position of power in any encounter we had. That my voice meant nothing. My "NO!" eventually fell silent amid anxiety and fear. I thought it was all my fault for decades. To this day there are moments when my instinct, if you touch me without permission, is to want to throat punch you.

Motherhood is such a winding path. The baggage you bring with you into it. Baggage you don't even know you have. It can drag you down. The baggage that accumulates while you are actively parenting. She had enough to make one shudder. But still. There is no excusing not protecting one's own daughter. Not even doing the best you can in the circumstances.

If I indeed, am a Spring Chicken now at 56, she was a real Spring Chicken at the age of 41 when all this happened. I wonder what her milestone self today would tell her 41 one year old self if she could.

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Friday, November 09, 2018

Not For The Weak Of Heart

**Trigger warning sexual abuse.**

Six weeks ago I was driving along, minding my own business, when I had a flashback of a rape I experienced when I was 17. A tiny detail surfaced that I had totally forgotten about in the rape that took my virginity. That left blood on a couch. By a married man twice my age. The first of many rapes by him over a six month period that only ended when I moved across the country. But didn't stop him from trying again the first time I saw him on my return. The asshole.

I was nearly to a set of lights when the flashback happened and half a block from a parking lot. I pulled into an empty parking spot and momentarily forgot which pedal my foot was on. I pushed my foot down so hard that I lurched forward when I came to a stop. It was work to remember to put the car in park.

Once I did that, even though I knew Comforting Therapist was on a plane travelling out of country, I texted her. I texted Dearest One next. I asked him to come get me as I was too shaken to drive. I couldn't drive for days afterwards.

While I waited for Dearest One to get there I kicked the inside of my car. I totally understand why people, in a fit of rage, kick the shit out of their vehicle. Had I not been in a public parking lot I would've gotten out of my car and done the same.

I looked around and tried to ground myself by noticing as many things on the spectrum of the rainbow as possible. I reminded myself I was safe. That I'd survived the rape. I used every coping method Comforting Therapist has taught me while I waited to hear back from her. There were tears.

I have worked with my therapist long enough that I could have almost predicted what she would write. Things I needed to hear and be reminded of but my initial reply to her text was "oh fucking yay." That is my initial reaction to many things in life. I followed by saying that my aching for healing remained as strong as ever. That I was committed to doing what I could to facilitate that happening.

What followed was two weeks of slow unraveling to the point where I got sent home from work one day because I wasn't coping too well with the question, "How are you?" When you're the first point of contact for students and the public and you can't stop crying it doesn't bode too well for your ability to carry out your duties.

Later that day I had a moment where I almost lost my shit on a trio of boys who I thought was bullying one of the group. It was a saving Grace that stopped them from hearing me ask, after I rolled down my car window, if everyone was okay. I had a sliver of clarity where I realized I was in a public place and was about to lambaste unfairly, the boys I thought were being bullies, for every time a male had invaded my space in a sexual way from the time I was 8 until I was 19. I told myself to roll up the window and drive home.

It got so that I had to negotiate with Dearest One on a daily basis why I was okay to go to work the following day. I kept listing all the tasks I needed to complete before I could think about taking some time off. I spent a good deal of time beating myself up for letting such a tiny memory derail me.

Eventually I made a deal with Dearest One that after a conversation with Comforting Therapist, I would make a decision about taking time off. She told me that my executive functioning skills were impaired by the flashback. Those are some pretty basic skills one needs in order to do life in any reasonable way. After my appointment with her I made a call to my family doctor.

I've had the same family doctor for 20 years. I have never cried in his office, not even when I got my cancer diagnosis. I cried in his office this week. According to him returning to work is months away. I have these moments when I think to myself, "oh I could go to work and be just fine." Never mind that my daily goal at the moment is to have a shower and get dressed.

I've been assured that there are more flashbacks in my future. We are working on coping tools for when that happens. And even though I feel quite secure in those coping tools.....

You know when you want your kid to look at you while you talk to them and they look everywhere but at you? Even when you place their face between the the palms of your hands and they still manage to keep their eyes away from your eyes? That's how I feel when I think about facing another flashback.

Healing trauma is not for the weak of heart. Or spirit. Or body.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Softening the Edge

I've been talking with my therapist about edges. In particular, the edge I have to my very own self. The one that puts up with no BS and tells it to you straight. The edge that I was proud of and judged you with if you didn't have one. 

I thought it was authentic. 

Turns out it was a coping mechanism. 
Somewhere I read that our coping is rooted in wisdom. 
And so it was with my edge. 
I developed it to protect myself from more abuse. 
It didn't matter if you weren't intent on hurting me. 
Or that you simply wanted to love me. 
You got the edge any which way you showed up in my life.

Dearest One and I talked the other day about when I developed that edge. Grade 7. I was bullied and then by the end of the year I became the bully. 

Calming Therapist is quite sure that, in time and with practice, I won't need the edge. That a softness will replace it. Assertive yet soft.

I'm pretty sure the first time she mentioned it, my face said, "fuck you" in return. 

But I heard her and something, possibility perhaps, opened up just a smidgen within me.

I'm learning that my being is tender beneath the edge. I've been practicing asking for my needs to be met. Doing so makes me feel vulnerable and exposed, imagining all manner of things that could hurt me. I can't yet ask without tearing up or facing an inner dialogue that accuses me of being demanding. 

But it turns out I really want the softness. Want it bad enough to keep trying with safe people. Practicing.

Today Calming Therapist and I talked about the me that existed before the edge. 
I forgot there was a me before the edge.
She was kinder.
She can be again.

*found on Pinterest

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Odd and Ends

I decided the other day that since we are closer to Christmas than not, I would leave up my nativity set that has sat on the fireplace mantle since last December.

My mom had little joy in January and February every winter. She hated the gray days that seemed to never end. In retrospect I would've benefited from taking a leave from work this past January and February. Mentally I just wasn't in the game. Grief zapped my energy in every which way.

I was cleaning out my car the other day - well the laundry basket that sits on the front seat with an extra blanket and odds and ends of things I think I might need. Nestled in between the blanket and the wall of the solid basket were two parking stubs from January of 2017 - hospital visits - the day before my dad died and the day he died. I peered closely at the times on the tickets. I relived a bit of those days in my mind.

Last month I stayed in my childhood home sans my parents. Blocked out the sorrow for the duration. It was the best I could do. This photo seems fitting, especially when I think of the nativity set sitting there gathering dust.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Gritting My Teeth

I've been going swimming several mornings a week for over 6 months now. Ahead of tests that will determine whether I need oxygen for night or not, I decided I would try and get in shape as best I could. I started out being able to do 5 minutes worth of (slow) laps.

Over time I've been able to increase it so that now I can do 30 minutes. I savor every single moment of it. I can't put my face in the water and hold my breath due to my issues with oxygen but I can do a slow breast stroke keeping my nose, not unlike a dog, above the water as I go. I love the water like I have never loved it before. I feel free and relaxed. I feel no body shame. For an introvert who spends the bulk of her day interacting with students and the public the quiet of those 30 minutes is wonderful.

There's a small handful of regulars that brave the weather and early mornings to swim. You nod and say hi. Occasionally you talk. I haven't gotten past the nod and smile and wishing someone a good day phase except for a retired husband and wife couple who I've known for 20+ years. After my laps I wade into the hot tub and feel like I've found a little piece of heaven.

Today, in the relaxing space of the hot tub, I was reminded again how hard it is to be content to be me when it comes to my spiritual life. I talk to God mostly when I'm driving my car. At times I must look to passersby like someone with road rage the way I pound the steering wheel and throw my hands up in the air all the while talking a mile a minute. The remainder of my prayers are mainly silent.

One of the retired couple came over to talk to me in the hot tub recently. They relayed about how they'd woken up a few days ago with a sore joint and how after two days, and the help of a brace, 'ta-da' there was no pain and the good Lord had taken care of it. How wonderful was that? they asked me.

Inwardly I gritted my teeth. I smiled. Well, it felt more like a grimace. I shut down when someone talks to me like that. It feels like an affront. It makes me grit my teeth. I immediately distrust when someone gives God the glory for their problems being solved like a magician waving a magic wand. I wonder what they do when it doesn't work out quite like that.

There's also a part of me that envies people who have a free and ready voice to give God the credit for every little and not so little good thing that happens. There are areas of my life where I do this. Big things. My sobriety. My marriage. (that story includes praying my first novena and is literally a miracle but I'd be hard pressed to tell it to anyone.) The fact that my grown kids talk to me.

Sometimes I wonder if not being vocal about my faith means I am ashamed of it.

Yesterday I watched a clip of  Brennan Manning saying that everything is grace. I believe it is.

My spiritual life continues to be a paradox.

**I initially wrote this  a year ago and never posted it. I ended up needing a CPAP machine, not oxygen, for night. Who knew it was possible to wake up rested?! I still go swimming. The retired couple still come to the pool, too. All of the words up there, and the passage of time, have brought me no closer to any conclusion.**

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Looks Like In Heaven

It's a snowy winter land out there this morning. For many mornings in a row I've woken up to the song above going through my mind. I'm guessing the grieving goes on even while I sleep.