GROUNDING

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Each morning I awake and try hard to calm the anxiety. No, I don’t want to get up at 4:30 so lay in bed half sleeping till after 6. Sometimes I just have to get up, but I was still so tired from the egg dying get together yesterday I lay quietly. 

A few times these past weeks I’ve had to take Xanax in the AM, a very unusual occurrence for me unless I have a medical appointment. Just a half and it helps. But more times I use meditation to get below the buzz. Most of it is irrational like believing my breathing was a problem, but it was only congestion in the back of my throat.

I ponder why this spring I’m affected with fear and anxiety when other years it just felt like big highs then some lows till leveling out by May. I think it is because for the most part I’m not using food to quell it. That’s hard.

I need other ways. Going below it works, by staying with it, in it, and working to go beneath into other rooms. Deciding not to allow fear to run my day helps. Deeper breathing helps. This too shall pass, helps.

Take things easy, try not to get excited over flights of thoughts. Samuel helps to ground me. Try to remember just what base you have. I think of Chet and the damage. I think of him more now that I ever did while he was alive. And Mom sitting across from me telling me if it ever happens again to tell her.

I took it as blame, as if I had some control of it. She could have saved a life-time of feeling ‘bad’ and crippling self- blame had she handled it with love; holding me, telling me she was sorry, stroking my head. But I sat across from her, tears of shame burning my cheeks as they fell.

And it did keep happening, Chet kept attacking. It took the bugs on my body and that terror making me go to her. It stopped only then because she finally hired a babysitter instead of expecting me to keep him off me.

So much damage. But think of it. Think of who I am really am. To have that much zip to keep going, trying and living. There is a strong base in me. Go there. That is where I can be held, and loved, and calmed.

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The Courage to Live

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FEAR

I have lived a life-time of fear since age 8 invading every moment in one way or another. Forced to grow up within a male population called brothers who attacked in the night, or even during the broad light of day, made fear a constant companion. Even though Chet, Dan, and Pete are dead, and the most evil, Tom, still lives spreading his poison, I live in fear at the easiest upset. 

It is hard not to resent what they did. Living with low esteem added to continual fear of people, and the inability to speak up for myself, eroded my natural abilities and has been debilitating.

Yet I persevere. I can get over what they did to my body. But what they did to my trust, shattered beyond repair, what they took from ever feeling safe with touch and loving sex with my husband, the betrayals of each attack, and this list goes on… these I can heal from or after time have learned to live and accept as the damage done.

But fear? Anxiety? Jumping at every loud sound, or medical people working on my body in any way sending me in panic for days, even months after? These are just some of the life-long effects I resent living with that were caused by these tormentors.

These challenges erode my courage, weakening me, and in the wee hours of the morning tend to make me wonder how I can continue to cope; especially since an aging body needs many more medical interventions to keep functioning.

It pisses me off. I’d like to put my real name on my blog and use real names for who did what when. Not to get even, but to stand up and say NO. No this is not alright. NO, it is not alright to silence me out of your own shame and fear of how it will make you look.

Yet the anonymity of the freedom to talk openly without hurting anyone offers a resource I cherish, as if this outlet is a replacement for therapy. Expression of honest feelings, which aren’t right or wrong but just there, is a freeing experience. Dumping it all and feeling heard and acknowledged is a human need as crucial as air.

I do not want to give that up. So even though I could put my name on my blog, I chose not to. Not out of fear, (I don’t think so) but out of my own need to talk freely when and how I like; and for the first time ever in my life.

Taught to be pleasing, to live with and love the criminals who attacked me masked as ‘brothers,’ makes it a challenge to discover who I really am even now. I continue to search for ‘her’ going below the surface of the ‘nice’ girl my mother manipulated and trained me to be.

Mom’s need reined, that of ensuring the fallacy of an upstanding family was on show, but at the expense of her daughter. I acquiesced because I craved her love to the very end unable to provide a moments warmth for myself and needing what little she had to give.

The book erupted out of me after her death 8 years ago. It was finally safe to speak of her sons. All that had been suppressed arose; the joys, the traumas, the black tarry secrets of others, and the wonders that sustained me. 

Yet I am left with challenges I resent. It makes me turn resentment into fortitude, grasping courage like an old tree rooting it deeper, transforming the bitter truths into beauty. This I will do, or try to day after day. 

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PERSONALITY

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Cory’s photos…

I can change many things, one thing I cannot change is being me. I grew up terrorized. My personality formed believing I was bad, dirty and unfit to live. I felt ashamed to be in public with the very same brothers who attacked me sexually fearing they would not want to be seen with a fat sister. The fatness came at age 8 after the first attack eating to appease my mother’s guilt and my terror.

I do not feel dirty anymore. I feel whole with access to my interior which runs deep, wise and compassionate. But the feeling part of me, the personality that formed holds a belief I cannot change; I am not worthy of love nor is anyone trustworthy enough to receive mine. I can change many things but I cannot change this. Maybe I have chipped away it more than I realize as I work on it daily, but the basis of my personality was formed believing it so it will continue to challenge me and need work. The more I work on it the less starved I feel. 

I’ve found moments of breaking through the worn cloth of my formed personality to feel a glow, the warmth of human love, necessities for all of us…but the moments are fleeting and the castle’s draw bridge snaps shut fast not daring exposure as too much betrayal will surely bring annihilation. How much can one risk?

I did not receive protection or touch that holds the purity of a brother’s love. That belief was founded, but unfortunately blocked out such sweetness from any further relationships. Guards permanently stand erect, the moat full, drawbridge locked, and the castle rock solid. Any touch frightens me at the same time I crave touch.

Good thing for cats. I have had cats and kittens throughout childhood and adulthood along with dogs, gerbils, white mice, rabbits, chickens, goats and horses. There are safe ways to fill a need if one is persistent in her efforts.

But I cannot change being me. I cannot go back and be someone else, a little girl loved and protected by her brothers. Things done irrevocably changed me and took much. Sex never became safe or satisfying. Trust, no. But I can trust my cat. That doesn’t mean she won’t take a swipe at me, but that I trust we can still be OK. And that give and take has been risked with human relationships too which also have their ups and downs. I am leaning into taking risks again. My time will come…

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and my own photo of the little model…

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PEACE

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Peace, in-between the strange things my body goes through, spinning me around with pain, fear and confusion, blessed peace. I sit on the patio watching Mama Dove come back to her nest after her babies flew off.

“I know how you feel,” I tell her, remembering the years of loss after my children did exactly what I raised them to do…leave the nest.

But she’s back on the nest and at first I wonder at her mourning. I understand. You get used to tending to others needs and it becomes your need. That’s why I tend plants.

Samuel had a worker here recently washing the gutters. He moved my 6 foot cherry tomato plant on the patio. The poor thing had gently rested its tall branches, beginning to bear fruit, against the house wall. It collapsed when he pulled it out of its delicate position. When he put it back it was all bent oddly and twisted.

We fought. I cried real tears, wiping them off my cheek surprised at my emotion over a tomato plant! I loved that plant with care, sitting on the deck steps next to it tenderly watching the lacy intricate blossoms become tiny green balls, anticipating the taste of a little warm tomato on my tongue.  

And now he ruined it. Up came the old rage, only now the rage has fizzled into something else. It is not rage, it is an old haunt of terrible loss and sadness, almost gagging me with its heaviness. A loved person took something precious that is mine from me. At first it was my body.

One of the assailants, Chet, stole off with my pony.

He laughed as he explained , “I had to give him carrots because he wouldn’t move.”

My stomach retched as I pictured poor little Tony with his crippled feet standing still as this heavier mean person kicked him in the belly and pulled on his tender mouth with the bit.

Mom let  another assailant, the most tortuous one, Tom, ride my horse when I wasn’t home.

Laughing, she said, “He reared up and then bucked him off!” And her merriment cut like a saber though my gut. 

My old, gentle, sweet horse bucked him off? A well of satisfaction arose inside me, but evoked a much greater sorrow of betrayal and worry over my poor old quiet horse. That horse had never bucked, not once. And I could not imagine him provoked enough to do that unless treated with great cruelty and ignorance. 

This morning the Dove is still sitting in the nest and she is not mourning, she is laying eggs again. Her mate comes back from the forest nearby with a twig or piece of grape-vine, landing on her back. Beak to beak he gives her the foraged building material which she carefully tucks in below her belly making the nest new again. This process is repeated all morning. 

I cannot believe my luck! To watch this wondrous cycle again? I sip coffee waking gently as the hummers go to and fro from the feeder, birds back and forth to their feeder, also close-by, the chipmunks running ‘round and ‘round the lavender bush, so funny in their antics, and I feel at peace, I am at peace. And I will lavish in it because it won’t last.

How my senses can be overwhelmed here at home? But so much life and activity. I do the things that sustain me and my body. I walk. I bike the canal, a good hour of flat, shaded biking that oils my joints, all along the canal which looks like someone threw diamonds on the water when the sun is out. But I am basically alone.

That is when it comes to girlfriends. I have one who assures me that we are friends for life, the one who shoots barbs in a sweet voice. I used to be her ‘best’ friend when I said nothing about how that hurt, like I needed armor when around her. After I spoke up about it, she never calls or emails. I have initiated our get-together’s. I am tempted to do it today.

But maybe it is better not to fill the gaps with someone like that. Why disrupt my peace? I need places within open and ready. I will meet someone who has the depth not to be petty and childish. One who can dig deep into their past to fix it, not act it out with others till the day they die.

It is a better choice to be my own best friend, which I am learning to do. And the peace is sustaining in all ways. I sleep really well. No easy feat for me, after years of waking in the nights watching late night comedy or 3 am news. I am sleeping. I look in the mirror and like who I see, appreciating my strengths and gifts.

I think of the years when I pushed myself to succeed, and damage that caused to my body and nervous system. I wanted to succeed like I saw others succeed. But others had not spent a childhood being tortured. I do not think that’s an understatement.

How else to describe being chained up while others do horrible things to your body, things which sometimes your body reacted to with pleasure because that’s how bodies are made? The chains are made from confusion and shame. That confusion would taint and prohibit any sensual pleasure for the rest of my life. The only safe touch I feel is with my massage therapist.

But once I worked with Raymond, and he suggested that I work towards a career, there was no stopping me. I bought the heavy nursing books, and did exceedingly well the first semester. I dropped out after starting the second semester, my clinical nursing instructor scaring me out. Raymond couldn’t believe it. He seemed to have as much invested in my success as I did. He too could feel his job was satisfying if I succeeded, or why else push me so much?

And that is when I had my first panic attack. I had to succeed finally at something.

I called Raymond in tears, “I dropped out. I feel like I’m going to die.”

“Let the feelings come,” he said.

We made an appointment. I felt his advice was ludicrous. 

“Can you go to another school?” he asked after I sat down.

But why? Why couldn’t I be happy with being me? And appreciate how being tortured fucks up a child. Why couldn’t I learn to be loving with the grown woman who had suffered so much? Why couldn’t he work with me to learn that, and not push me into something which would weaken my immune system permanently?

Well, because, there are things such as bills, living expenses and two sons to put through college.

Yes, I feel now I did all I could, and succeeded. It paid the way through my son’s college years, but at such an expense to my body. It wiped me out, and drained my adrenals. I don’t regret it. Once started I just had to finish. I had to finally finish something no matter the expense.

I went back year two, after taking a year to work as a home health aide, then as an aide in a hospital. At the start of year two, I dropped out again. I went to the office of the lead instructor wanting back in again, so torn. She was a much gentler nursing instructor who assured me I could do it, and that she would be my clinical instructor this time around.

Another instructor also encouraged me. They had noticed when my head bowed down during a film about sexual abuse in the the darkened classroom and surmised I’d been a victim. I hadn’t realized I had made such an impact or been noticed. They also noticed my compassion towards patients and hard work, and wanted me back in. I bought my books yet again, that makes three times, and I finished.

I don’t have to go anywhere anymore, or be anything, I can just be. And that’s OK. It is OK to be still, to be quiet, not to push— that sometimes being productive comes with quieting my mind and body. After surviving so much, I need rest. I have to keep reminding myself, it is OK… just to be, and enjoy peace when I have it.

3 DAY QUOTE CHALLENGE-DAY 2

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Not sure if this meets the demands of a famous quote or saying, as it was said to me more than once during therapy with Matt. And you will probably have the same mixed feelings as I did. Yet there are times even now, over ten years later, that the expression comes to mind. When I struggle with something with no easy answer, or seemingly no answer at all.

Stymied by the day’s list I’d bring in, upset, he would say, “AFOG.”

I just looked at him quizzically and said, “What?”

“Another Fucking Opportunity for Growth,” he’d explain, smiling, almost proudly, as if ready for my protests.

Because not everything is a disaster, though it used to feel that way. It was hard to sort out everyday struggles and challenges with that which past trauma’s made exceedingly difficult. So everything felt overwhelming.

But it made me pause. And made me smirk in spite of myself.

CHAPTER 21: MATT

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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!”