Happy Family

After hearing nothing from Don since Christmas, he sends family photos. This one is before the 8th and last child was born. Tom, the oldest, is holding me on his lap. 8 years later he crept up in the night and sucked on my vagina while I slept. 

All these beautiful children, none of who had their needs met to live a healthy life. One died by suicide. Two with heart attacks just like my father, and all at an early age. The other four still living aren’t part of my life, and that makes me sad. My feeling is that no one possesses the ability to really know me. 

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The Vicious Cycle of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The tears drip down as email after email goes back and forth between me and my son. The more we share, the better I sleep. It has been too much held in for too long. Not wanting to hurt him, I held things in. And in, and in, and in.

And in the process have allowed myself to be taken advantage of and treated poorly. That helps no one, not him, not me.

After reading the post shared before on my blog called, I Am Beautiful, one thing mentioned by the other author, Aishwarya Shah, was that overeating was a form of self-abuse. There are many other ways too, but that is my go to. I don’t want to abuse myself with food anymore. When hurt by others, I eat.

What if I respected myself not to overeat? That would force speaking up, and expecting respect. Because not doing so leads to eating. But others resist this change in me, preferring I continue being a doormat. My husband, my son, and certainly my daughter-in-law who tramples all over me, and probably always will.

But I don’t have to trample on myself and treat myself badly. And I don’t have to tolerate it from others either, even my son. I have felt much guilt over my son. He was also sexually abused at the age of two. Immediately upon learning about it the offender was taken away never to be around him again. Though I took action, what I allowed to happen to my child has haunted me all these years. 

I have needed to forgive myself for that, and in the process proclaim my right to be treated with dignity and respect. Instead of allowing transgressions because of the guilt for what I felt I allowed to happen, I need to take care of myself now. I cannot change the past. And at 36, if he has issues about his childhood, he needs to do the same.

Sleep?

The 2 AM dance in my head occurs. If only the use of the bathroom wasn’t needed, because returning to sleep afterwards is often hard work. No, you will not get up. Stay. And a long time later sleep did come, but not till my brain calmed down and went over every painful experience it ever had.

I don’t think of this shit in the daytime, why does it feast on my brain at night? Hushing the harsh voice that blames me for not disciplining my mind, the knowledge that parts of my brain are broken from the unprocessed repeated traumas of my youth, brings some balm to at least that aspect of my nightly troubles, but the thoughts continue to swirl. 

That included thinking about abusive siblings who feel as close now as they ever did. In the thick of darkness these thoughts invade, even though for a good portion of my adult life another ‘family’ was built from ground up that had nothing to do with blood.

To love those that hurt me so much? To hate those that hurt me so much? But the hate is gone. The rage is gone. In its place is sadness. Sadness that each of them lived with what they did, and grew in a family that drove them to it.

The love and closeness of blood family does not dissipate like a poof of air at the end of a wand. Family is family. This was mine… sadly. And yet while these rabid thoughts played out, a hint of something else flickered… the awareness of the light of my own soul. In the dark, while trying to sleep, a spark of truth.

My tired brain, awake like an hot wire frantically whipping wildly in the road during a storm, won’t stop and move onto other mundane matters until it had its ride. Eventually fitful sleep comes.  But this new awakening of what lies beneath holds promise of growth, light, and ever-lasting life.  

The Price of Abuse

photo by Patricia

Price tag? One life.

Thinking back on my life, and looking at it now,  the wonder is how this place was achieved with so much trauma and anxiety ruling each day.  The power of one individual makes me take stock, but with a sense of sadness at what was stolen.

My life is worth admiration. Yet I’m not in it enough to appreciate that fact. There it is beside me as if I’m living that life apart from the real body and being. Retreating to my safe place is where I still go.

Though work occurs now to be present in the moment, it is work. At least now there is awareness that I go elsewhere.

A therapist once said, “Just show up.”

What did that mean? Years later, after the book, and delving into the community of women survivors of childhood sexual abuse blogging on-line, I learned there was a real clinical word to describe being apart from the body during trauma, and for some, long after. What I refer to as ‘zoning out’ is called dissociation.

It happened without my conscious knowledge. No therapist ever told me, or mentioned the word. This unconscious survival tool buffered me from any more taken from me because precious little was left; an ember burning for life, one spec of fire buried under rubble, a kernel of hope almost extinguished by the hands of brothers.

They didn’t mean it. They were messed up. I was an easy target. It was never about me. It was all about me. Rage and dissociation took my life. Yet the work was diligent to have a life, forging on to fight for one, pushing through no matter what. That takes lives too, draining the already over-taxed adrenals so much it could kill you.

At the least it has gobbled up energy stores, unlike most others around me who go, go, go. The body takes many hits for psychological pain, pointedly traumatic pain where the family requires silence. Unprocessed traumatic pain inflames all body systems damaging them permanently, alone with the psyche, and spirit. Emotional growth becomes stalled requiring much work and many years to catch up.

There are many outlets to this unconscionable  pain running deep in the bones of little girls growing to womanhood…  those take lives too.

You did not mean to take my life. Yet you did. And the guilt ate you dead. Though I envisioned ways to chop you up, I did not really wish you dead. I wanted to love you. I wanted you to love me. I wanted a loving family, with loving brothers. I wanted warmth. Connection. A body to be in. You took that. You didn’t mean to, but you did.

 

Come Home

You get to have your feelings, space, body and mind. You get to inhabit all of that, still a reminder because for too much of the time my mind is squirreling away in its trenches of self-doubt and self-recriminations. Or buzzing off in some way due to anxiety that ebbs and flows, but is always there below baseline no matter how hard the work has been to soothe it.

You own it, it’s yours. Yet it has never seemed that way. My body was used, taken by those I loved and trusted most. Then when I fought or said ‘No,’ more force was used, either physically or psychologically. I was shut off and shut down. The box of my body was intolerable, and I escaped leaving my body and all else behind.

I have never come back and been able to stay. Moments stretch into minutes, and sometimes hours; when focused on my work in the studio, riding my horse of long ago, or hosing the foamy sweat off her after a summer ride, the stillness by the creek when parts dare to come in- join hands, and become one. There are periods of time feeling whole and content.

Waking in the morning is not one of them. Fears press down; being alone without Samuel, relationships that need improvement because of all my faults, and, and, and… then the voice of calm, reason and compassion, “It’s OK, you’re OK. You get to be in your body because you are OK, and as equal to others as anyone else. You get to have your space with boundaries.”

The soothing voice relaxes the ever present take off flight that signals leaving… going somewhere else to escape the pain of being me, and all that was learned in childhood that said I was bad. Come home. Come home again and again. You are OK, at home, and safe.

Dungeons and Dragons

photo by Patricia

The human body amazes. Mine has taken severe abuse, not by others, though that is true, but by me.

“Punishment,” I said to Samuel.

There was no other explanation. The eating machine had taken control. Things went down my poor stomach that weren’t wanted, and didn’t taste good. My head says that Sunday’s inability to sleep after a happy afternoon with friends, then calls from both sons, was part of the PTSD package due to what happened so long ago.

My personality says it is something different, that I’m different, an oddity, a belief ingrained along with the permanent damage from the sexual attacks endured from age 8-11, ongoing attacks on all facets of my being. 

Living with the effects of PTSD from the childhood attacks of sexual abuse will not go away. The craving continues to forget those facts. Going along day after day, quietly and happily, these realities intrude with little warning or fanfare. Turning to food, stuffing it down automatically, kicks in. More damage is done. 

I don’t want to be weird, a misfit, different. Perhaps a bugle ought to play alerting me to the whys of not sleeping then I could be better prepared to handle it healthfully instead of the knee jerk reaction of food stuffing. 

The next day the bad eating continued even more severely, making me sick then unable to sleep… just like when I was eight and went to my mother tapping her lightly on the shoulder while she slept.

“I’m going to be sick,” I said.

She murmured back, “What do you want me to do, spit straw?” I went to the bathroom and threw up. The eating continued. She fed me, overfed me really in her zest to do something. But she didn’t stop the terrible nightly attacks. Nor did she do anything to relieve the belief that it was all my fault. That would be contrary to her need for a happy family to be on show.

That was her unconscious way of keeping me silent. That self-blame will keep the family secret in, and the shame. Her daughter’s weight bloomed along with the shame hidden in the thick folds of  my skin.

She also wanted me to love myself, giving me the book, “How to Be Your Own Best Friend.” Mother, you split me, broke me in two. I have failed at that too. 

You’d think I hate my mother. I love her. I also needed her desperately all the way into my fifties when she died at 91…desperately searching for the love that felt just out of reach.   

Sometimes I take up where my mother left off, casting myself away like so much garbage. My poor heart pounded with the extra effort of trying to digest the food, while also trying to sleep. Giving up, moving to the couch, it slowed and sleep eventually came.

A great appreciation comes for my body and its tenacity for life even after so damage has occurred to it; some by my hands, some by others. My psyche also has taken a disturbing hit that is also permanent. My unwillingness to accept that has to be readjusted over and over.

Accepting what occurred and how that destroyed many aspects of my body and mind is a fact faced repeatedly because the urge is be like everyone else. Accepting these realities time and again is an ongoing job needing focused diligence. Acceptance, like patience, does not come easily.   

The aspect of feeling abnormal and bad will always be there, ingrained into my psyche just as my wiring has been damaged by the feeling of constant danger lurking behind every corner.

Fighting the dragons and demons, and coming out of the dungeon to the light, is my work, and a daily challenge. So is learning to be kind and gentle to myself. As winter approaches the dungeon grows deeper, and darker, and the work becomes harder. It needs to be recognized, appreciated, and accepted.

No amount of denial helps. Acceptance and self-love does. 

 

A Simple Life

photo by Patricia

The fog hidden in that most call dissociation, surrounds with comfort. Tucked away from the world, my own life opens. Yet the outer workings of the world invade because tuning in to its happenings is ongoing, and crucial to feeling a part of it.

Peace can be easily interrupted, which makes the times when having it so gratifying. The tendency to invert inside myself like a turtle is what makes keeping relationships difficult. People like to interact.

That takes a significant amount of energy, energy that is stored for those who mean the most, a special few. And energy for things that need doing, or are high on the list of wanting to do.

Repressing trauma from decades ago takes energy. A life living with unprocessed trauma sapped adrenals, and the stores of it are depleted. Protecting what is left means a quiet life where tasks are paced.

Simple things bring pleasure; the colors in the leaf that gently dances down from the branch- wafting side to side on its way, the otter by the creek bank chewing on grass unperturbed by my presence, the gentle rain falling as thunder claps in the distance.

It’s OK to choose the life you lead, even a quiet one with simple pleasures.