Pieces of Me
Broken, sharp, jagged, shattered, scarred.
all fit together and find Home.
Freedom’s a funny word. This has been the winter of my content, not discontent. Which is odd because I famously fall in August and don’t come up from under till spring. That includes April. Such a glorious month but this year, as well as others, very hard. One blogger stated, “April, the cruelest month of all.”
I have found Freedom, tasted it, experienced it. Freedom from my excessive thoughts, bound and wrapped into them so much, I am prisoner to them. Yet I began to unleash the chains of my childhood which are wrapped up in my thoughts about life, living, being and who I am. The moments of peace so extraordinary because I hadn’t had any before. Freedom. To breath, to be in the moment…safe. To allow myself the freedom to belong just as everyone else does, though many take that for granted.
My childhood buried me in cement. My shame became me. I had no right to be here. I was not a real person, undeserving of breath, freedom or life. The special traits I’m often told I have, I don’t feel, relate to or connect to, it’s in my head only, lost in the path to my heart, body and soul. But I’ve had moments. The crackle of below 0 temperatures with my snowshoes crossed against each other, sitting by the frozen creek in the Adirondack chair while my nose hairs iced. The snap of the ice or a twig in the breeze, so cold it cracks. And no one but me is holding me hostage now, but those boys called brothers, they made me feel bad and to blame. It follows me. It became me. And being harsh with myself now over the impossibility of changing my atom structure is only adding flame to the fire of self-hatred.
Of course I’m going to struggle with issues of self-esteem. My formative years taught me I was unworthy of even life itself. Yet I am learning what my mind already intellectually knew, that I’m not to blame and am worthy. All just words in my head, it is my soul that is hungry for fullness, it’s my soul that lacked filling in its young growth. It’s my soul that was filled with dirt, and scum and blackness.
Yet I have found moments of fullness which turn into days, then weeks, then months. I have a bad day, or two, but this last week? That dental half hour toppled my world and it has taken a full week to begin to feel grateful for this life, this cup of coffee, the sunrise. That’s a lot of days gone missing. Yet the trauma is repeated as if I were 8 years old and the torment swims in and around me. It’s hard to get a grasp on body and mind, to calm it down, to settle, and find equilibrium in order to function healthfully. This requires sleep, proper nutrition, and exercise. All I could do while so excessively tired, was fall back on 8 year old survival tactics, becoming a devouring machine to escape pain, then curl up on the couch and be very still; watch stupid useless movies to drone out the thoughts and adrenaline rushes which were highly erupted to the point of a nuclear meltdown.
And that all takes work.
Saying to myself “You’re OK,” was not cutting it. I wasn’t OK. Something evil inside that is so terrific in its horror is awakened from its sleep when I’m at the dentist. “It” attempts to climb out; the memory of Danny’s sidling up to my bedside in the dark whispering oh so softly, “We’re going to play a game. You’re the Mommy, I’m the Daddy.” I sometimes wish I could remember and be done with it. Would that help? Make things easier? Maybe not. Maybe that is a fruitless wish.
So I do the work and go on, and feel better today. I once again have hope, feel gratitude, wholeness and a grip on my daily activities with the power to guide them— what I need, what I love, and what brings me pleasure. It took a while, and it takes work.
Therapy with Matt began the same spring Mom moved to the city. His office happened to be very near her new apartment. Over summer, during my sessions with Matt, the tearful well emptied. With the support therapy provided, I found employment as a nurse again. I stuck with Matt six years, the same length of time I worked as a nurse, and not coincidentally. I needed someone in my corner to handle the stressful job, but during the course of therapy both the job and Matt became liabilities. I finally mustered up the gumption to tell Matt over the phone I wasn’t coming back.
“I don’t want to compete with your cell phone anymore,” I barely squeaked, calling him to cancel not just the upcoming appointment, but our whole arrangement.
“What?” he said.
He couldn’t hear me? Or he heard me but couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t possibly be speaking up. I had locked myself in the bathroom away from my kids and husband. This was private, and a big deal, huge, pivotal. I needed to be alone when I finally took a stand. I felt embarrassed I hadn’t already.
“What?” he asked again, sounding shocked, not sure he had heard right.
Even after a long year of interruptions, as he went through a divorce, once taking a call from his car repairman, I kept quiet. I needed him. Without him, I knew I couldn’t continue with my job which stretched me to the breaking point and beyond. He knew it too.
Our call continued awhile.
“Margaret, a few doors down, is a very good therapist,” he suggested. Instantly I knew why he had suggested her, but I didn’t say it.
I felt restless in the little bathroom, going around in a circle, finally putting the lid down on the toilet, then sitting, agitated, as if the seat was searing hot. Yeah, you would recommend her, someone who, if I leaked out your unbelievable treatment, would know what you’re going through and understand. You’re having a difficult time, so of course it’s okay to interrupt every ninety dollar an hour session with phone calls from your lawyer, kids, and goddamn mechanic! My anger rose as these thoughts ran through my head, stuck in my belly, and clogged in my throat.
The only thing escaping my lips was a barely audible whisper: “I don’t want to compete with your cell phone anymore.” It was so quiet I might not have said it at all.
But I did. And he heard me. I felt his fear prickle across the phone lines. He knew he had done wrong and didn’t want anyone else to know. His defense? He probably believed he provided a great favor sticking by me, despite the interruptions, because at least he didn’t abandon me. The imaginary conversation that I should have had—needed to have—repeated over and over again in my head like a rat stuck in a wheel.
I answered his protests of the imagined rally. “I never left you,” he would object.
But you did abandon me every time you took a call! And each time you answered your GODDAMN cell phone, getting up, leaving me, going down the fucking hall, with me sitting alone, twiddling my thumbs like an idiot, waiting for the GOD of therapy to return. The very thing I was there for, working on, struggling with, SELF ESTEEM, plummeted, dropped to below zero, dropped to center of earth, to hell, every time you took a GODDAMN CALL!
Oh, how my gut ached to voice the necessary fiery explosions yearning, scraping, clawing for release, but couldn’t. The bars of childhood held firm, locked tight.
The things that needed to be said, the anger that needed to be expressed, remained unsaid. And like most things unspoken, hungering for expression, they lay waiting instead, simmering, repeatedly turning over in the brain until the lava cooled or another drama took its place.
I spent the weeks between therapy wiping up the spills of his arrogance, or dragging myself up by the scruff of my neck telling myself it was okay. At least one of us thought we were great. I made excuses for him, and for me, especially for me, because I tolerated it. Too long I did this, making it hard to live with myself. I kept my job because he stuck by me, but lost self-worth, or the tenuous, tiny amount I possessed. As a child I had no power, but as an adult in therapy? My need for him and what I permitted tortured me. After the repairman call, I knew I had to go, but it took another full year. I let go when I could.
He did warn me. But an ethical therapist wouldn’t just be clear about the intent to frequently disrupt therapy by accepting calls. An ethical therapist would have ended sessions; because it did end when he gravitated to his phone, more present with the device attached to his hip than the therapeutic hour. I became his therapist. He should have been paying me; I became his crutch, the tree that money grew on. A cash cow.
I listened to stories about his new dating scene, every nuance, his newfound “love,” the nights out dancing, and on and on, too many details about him, thrilled that my hotshot therapist confided in me. But all the while I piled on weight, gaining back a substantial amount that I had lost and kept off for ten years. Forty fucking pounds. It took a lot of poundage to keep “it” down, my rage at him, my fear.
When I first began seeing Matt, a crucial red flag rose that I didn’t pay attention to. I needed him too much even then to walk out. He didn’t have time to read the literature I offered from my weekly weight loss group that helped me not only lose seventy pounds but keep it off.
He said, “Those groups aren’t the way,” tossing the pamphlets down like trash. “I won’t have time to read them anyway.”
I felt shocked. “What?” I asked. “The group teaches me so many things…” My voice trailed off.
I looked at the parcel of information timidly handed to him, lying on the table where he had casually discarded it, as if discarding me. The group meant so much, a place where I fit in, a place where I found others who used food for reasons beside physical hunger. A place where, over time, I had succeeded at something I had long failed at. Being fat had haunted me since the age of eight after the rape, when my skinny kid frame blew up like a balloon. Fatty Patty became my name.
I stopped going to my group that felt like home, his voice stronger than mine, more important. He had to be right, I barely questioned it, ignoring a tiny voice inside that knew different, even as the pounds came on. His offhand rejection of my tested, successful weight loss group zeroed in as if he were a learned man in the subject and I knew nothing. But his thoughtless off-the-cuff remark, became the truth I had yet to discover. It solidified as the way to be that I had yet to become, like him, fully present, eyes blazing with life. He believed himself to be knowledgeable in all areas. I believed it too.
His cavalier response exhibited knowledge and experience, but really pertained to lack of time. I sensed it, but disregarded the repeated protests arising, unused to listening to that flicker of instinct, “Look at him, skinny as a rail since birth. What could he possibly know about fatness and what it takes not to be?”
He had other more important concerns that I didn’t know about. I didn’t know until that last year what he had undertaken when we first met. His wife had contracted a chronic debilitating disease. They had discussed how to keep their house, because she could no longer offer therapy in her office down the hall from him, where they had first met. They talked about what to do when the expense of owning a home in their posh neighborhood became too much on one income. They wanted to keep the house rather than move to a lesser one. He would take on more work, up to ten clients a day, as many as he could. Time between clients was not spent pondering how to help them, but looking for more.
And being just one more, of course he would not read pamphlets or have time to think about me from one week to the next. I was one of too many, aware of something not quite right, but not heeding the warning. He took on the load of two therapists, a sick wife, and two daughters.
And then the divorce; she was leaving him. I heard all the details about the therapist he began seeing after his wife left. “Start dating, have fun” was the motto from his therapist. Had he heard the term “counter-transference,” where the therapist lays his own burdens on the client? He had no clue why she had kicked him out, but if he treated her anything like he had treated me, it was easy enough to understand. He took precious time from my sessions describing it thoroughly, her rage, and his wonderment at her rage with no reason why she wanted to leave. He came across as the victim, pleading innocence, looking for comfort while talking. I gave it the best I could, poor pathetic Matt. At least his therapist got paid.
Another component of my regretful weight gain came from the change in him. Upon hitting the dating scene, sexual energy emitted from his being like an open fire-hydrant, as if I’d been sprayed with his musk. Being near him started to scare me. Piling on pounds with no conscious realization of doing so, or why, made me feel safer from his newly awakened sexuality.
I hung up the phone after finally cutting him loose. Dignity slowly crept back into me. I contemplated the fuller feeling: relief instead of the loss I thought I would feel. I collected paper images of cell phones from magazines and made a mobile of them, hanging it up in the breezeway window. I had stopped the abuse, cutting my noose.
Cory noticed the dangling mobile, looking at me thoughtfully, then asked, “Do you really want to remember him that way, Mom?”
At seventeen, his perceptions went deep, more balanced than mine. I took it down. What appeared to be easy for others, saying no, made me fear I might be physically harmed or worse, abandoned. I feared him or even his physical nearness. But over the phone, in a whisper, I finally said, “No!”
It still amazes me how much damage has been done to my nervous system due to years of untreated Post Traumatic Stress. I took a whopping dose of Xanax to quiet my body and mind during a dental appointment this morning as I had a simple cavity filled. I believe it’s the first attack (Danny’s rape) simmering below that my conscious can’t or doesn’t feel ready to allow up, that’s what’s nudged. And instead of condemning that little girl part of me, I cheer her. She (me) is amazing. Though she’s headstrong and still tends to take over at times, she is something. All that she went through in the dental chair and at the same time suffering daily terror at home while her brothers used, maimed, and raped her. Wow, she is an incredible little girl. And she is me. I am going to say it. I am incredible! I am not waiting till after death for my struggles to be unearthed and appreciated. I intend to to admire and appreciate them now…
If I took that amount of Xanax under normal everyday conditions it would probably knock me out for the day. But with the fight or flight thing going on, and with cortisol squirting out in abundance, these chemicals eat up Xanax as if I’d never had any. But it’s done. Thank science for the drugs.
I hesitate to encourage drugs; I am NOT doing that. Xanax has become the fashion drug of the stars. It kills them. It killed my 30 year old niece.Was her death one more suicide in our so called family? I think not. She did not know what she was playing with. And not one of them let on the truth of her addiction, not my younger brother, his wife, not my niece. But I knew something was very wrong. I heard her slurred speech as she got in the car with an extra large coffee at 10 am. I could have done more, I could have helped more. If only I’d known. Guilt haunts me and needless loss. I suppose people are ashamed if one in the family are into drugs. Is that why they kept quiet?
So really, I cannot be blamed, I am not a mind reader.But what if? Such a tragically needless waste. I am of the mindset of let’s get work together, air it and work immediately to stop it. I see no shame, I see a person who hurts and needs help.
For me, I rarely use Xanax, surprisingly so because I am the ‘too much girl.’ Eating, drinking, shopping, whatever it is, I work to to temper doing too much. It is in my genes, my mother and grandfather were very obese but that’s no excuse. My proclivities to overdo to put my pain far away, focus on one thing, eating. Better to work on one problem, it’s enough, and that’s my biggest problem and hurdle. I can’t imagine cutting but I can see how it works. I tried throwing up after eating too much when I heard about it, but that feels like ungodly torture. So I eat, and it stays, and my poor body reflects it. There are benefits. It does keep many at bay and does offer some safely though much pain. Safety is better. Pain I can handle, and am used to.
Shopping is tamed by going to garage sales; can’t get into too much trouble there. Drinking? Now that’s fun, too much fun. So it’s sporadic, rare and generally has a bad outcome, like how I feel afterwards. If I keep it to a glass or two I’m OK, but once started that’s hard. So I mostly stay away from it. Same with pills. I don’t like my body feeling different and I don’t like taking pills.
So beware of narcotics, they can be killers. Mine has been refilled sparingly over the years since seeing Raymond and that first panic attack. Even then I did not use enough which was the prescribed dose and he had to talk me into using it, but it has been helpful over the years on occasion and in very small amounts.
So I have jumped the hurdle successfully…that dental visit is done!
Once again, today’s post is inspired by a comment left at another site: Unsilenced by survivingmama
I often wonder, “What’s the point?” I’m not one to end my life though spent much of it wishing it would end. At the same time, if the end were to come, I’d grasp and cling and fight. I want what I know more than what I don’t. Though I don’t feel that way anymore, at least most of the time, I do feel the limits of my life more sharply. Sometimes I wonder, is this the day? What if today were the day? Are you ready, are you OK with that, if you died today? And it makes me think about the way I think. If I’m trashing myself, which I usually am, I try harder not to. I try harder to be with me, in me, and feel all I feel and not run from it by eating or anything else. Whatever the feeling is, it will pass, and so many feelings come and go; it’s hard to take, but I remember to tell myself, ‘It’s OK” and repeatedly if need be.
So what is the point? And yesterday in the warm sun on the patio, my fingers breaking up soil from last year’s pots, sitting in a chair by the wheelbarrow so my back and arthritic knees can rest, I wondered the exact thing once more. What is the point? And for me, already launching children from the nest and both us recently retired with enough to live comfortably, the point is ‘being’ here. Just that. In the moment, feeling the sun and earth, hearing the birds chirp and the pounding on the roof next door as the new house goes up, and the frogs waking from their sleepy muddy slumber croaking an erratic rhythm of tones….And everyone, as they go about their day, to make a living or whatever, be in the moment you’re in.
If I hadn’t switched out of my reverie to that moment I wouldn’t still remember the warmth on my shoulders and feeling spring bursting. I get so wrapped up in the future and the past I am not in the ‘now’ and lose that moment. I capture what I can. It will gone soon enough.
The depth of pain one experiences is also the depth of joy and wonder one can feel. You have to look for it. Mine is in my studio or out in nature. (Or washing dishes if I remember to snap out of it and be there with my hands and the suds) The point is ‘life’, living in my body, mind, heart and soul, easier said than done.
All photos courtesy of my garden, the grace of god, and my cheap little camera!
MOTHER, MAY I?
The anniversary of Mom’s death is coming, May 3rd. I sadly remember those last few weeks of her life in the nursing home. I didn’t drive to city.
My son says, “You don’t want regrets.”
I went up the very last week of her of life every day, 1, 2, 3, and that last day held her hand and apologized for my life of raging at her. I think now of my failures as a daughter, yet interspersed are the good things I did too. I did rag at the weekend nurse and insist on a special chair so she could get out of bed. I did move her bed out of from the wall so she didn’t have to lay on one side only. I had the super open her apartment and gather a few mementos to decorate the one half room she shared behind the curtain in the nursing home with the women who had no legs. It was so hard letting go that I stayed away until that last week.
So thank you dear son, you gave us one last moment of love, where I looked in her eyes and felt loved; finally. And I can carry on knowing that she loved me best as she could, just like she’d said all along; “I did the best I could.” Boy, how I hated that expression. It stopped me, which was the point. Shut me up.
I left a remark on a blog this morning that I’m sharing because it hit me so deeply: When You’ve Been Abused
Saying the actual name or names of my attackers is like vomiting.
And the older I got the less I liked anyone bringing up ‘family’ because I couldn’t play the game and pretend anymore, I would sneer and mumble my sarcasm under my breath, still too afraid to speak the truth.
One of the favorite comments when introduced as Mom’s daughter with seven brothers, with her by side glowing with pride, “Oh, seven brothers, you must have been so spoiled!”
And when young I dutifully smiled shyly believing that must true if Mother says it is. But as I got older, I’d say to myself, “Yeah, spoiled, but not in the way you think.” At least I’d begun to see the truth as it is.
I won’t say their names if I don’t have to. I protect myself from evil, or a kinder version, due to their youth, very bad choices
Seeds sown indoors during February as winter bore down erupted in glory! They were meant to bloom outdoors when it’s safe to plant at the end of May….
The grass is greening, buds are plumping, I’m about to explode as the earth does the same. The evening chorus of peepers puts me to sleep with their lullaby and birds that returned from warmer places sing me awake. They go about happily with their busyness trilling a delightful cacophony. Frogs croak as they shake off the mud. Nearby tiny crocuses open wide for the sun. The excitement of spring abounds…
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