Sculpting the Shame Away: When the Child Feels Like the Criminal

road walking cute young
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some labels have such influence and power over us that they often dictate and predict our behavior from places deeply embedded within us. Labels that are donned upon us in our formative years are not easily shed. It takes not only a lot of work to free oneself from them, but it also takes the awareness of just how deeply rooted they have become and how pervasive they are in our thoughts and perceptions. Our thoughts have the ability to change us or to paralyze us with certain behavioral patterns which can further entrap us if we remain in one space for too long.

In scanning my inner spiritual landscape, I noticed that despite the work I had done to heal myself, I had underestimated the potential that words hold. I was taking for granted the power of language, both the spoken word and the inner dialogue running inside my head. I was aware of the critical incidents of my life that caged me in fear and anxiety, but I often times neglected the words surrounding these events that more than likely had an even greater impact in my life. The words had faded partly because the details over time had become less clear leaving only their imprints of how I felt about myself and the world in general . What took hold was how the language surrounding the event made me feel about myself. I carried shame, fear, and self-loathing from various events of my childhood and these feelings played out for years without me truly knowing why.

Perhaps I am just too “overly sensitive”, but as a child I ingested these words, wearing them tightly like a corset, even if they at times were squeezing the life from me. The words surrounding certain events held significance in my life and so I would lace up carefully, always trying to find the meaning behind the tightly tied corset that was denying me my freedom. I honestly was unaware that the words I donned without hesitation were slowly suffocating me. I just kept going, often completely oblivious of how small, in ways, my world had become.

Throughout my life, I have always felt that on some level I was inherently bad and at some point others will “find this out” about me. I was always waiting for “the shoe to drop” whereby I would be abandoned again because others had discovered my secret of being defective in some way. I used to casually joke in my adults years that I had a habit of disclosing too much too quickly as if to reveal my messy life, quickly pushing away people that I felt might leave anyway in time. I was aware of this behavioral pattern and at times even committed to changing it, but it is still something I struggle with to this day. It’s hard for me to let people truly in because I feel my life is too chaotic and it can be too overwhelming. I keep my circle extremely small because the stress and anxiety of navigating relationships is hard for me. Not to mention, I have been burned badly a few times by giving too much and getting little to nothing in return. As I heal from my past, I am developing better boundaries and am eager to rebuild my life around healthy people and hobbies that will help me maintain my peace and integrity.

I had a striking revelation the other day as I was struggling again with severe anxiety and depression. I have desperately wanted to be completely free from the chronic pain caused by being tensed up and hyper-vigilant. I was asking myself in desperation” “What more can I do”? What then came to the surface was this overwhelming fear and sadness that had caged me long ago at the tender age of four when my sister and I were molested by our next door neighbor. It was the fear that I was “bad” because I had messed up by telling which seemed so abominable at the time that it might of jeopardized the safety of my mother. Much of my molestation has been blocked out. What I do know is that while taking a bath with my older sister, I blurted out the unfathomable: “Wally (our next door neighbor) saw my butt today”. Of course, my sister recalls it differently and I guess I used a few swear words as well. We were in the bathtub and my Mom “dropped the soap”. In any case, this lead to my sister quickly shutting me down in fear, saying: “Be quiet, you will get Mom in trouble”. Our neighbor had threatened to harm our mother, who was a single mother at the time and she was also our only safety. This is ultimately, I believe, where my fear and mistrust began. We also had our home broken into around that time where a man entered, fixed a sandwich, and got into bed with my mother. I remember being awakened by a blood curling scream where my mother was shaking, but had called the police. This further reinforced that the world was not safe.

I had underestimated the power of the words surrounding the event which communicated to me that I was “bad” because I had placed our safety in jeopardy. I realize as an adult that the expressions of shock, horror, and rage were not directed towards me, but I couldn’t tell that to my four year old self who doesn’t have the reasoning of an adult. I was only able to see the body language and words from my mother and sister. I believe I must of felt a huge degree of fear and shame for telling and it was after this event that I began to wet the bed. I was often unintentionally made to feel inferior because of wetting the bed. I felt powerless to stop just as I assume I felt powerless when being molested. My innocence was shattered and I was no longer a happy go lucky child of four who played with dolls and fisher price toys, I was now a child who felt they had committed a crime. As an adult, I understand what happened, but as a child I assumed responsibility for what I couldn’t even understand or articulate. I carried the weight of this event in the way I felt about myself and the world. No one is to trusted, perhaps even myself.

That incident was followed in time by my Grandmother’s often simple, but often harsh ways of discipling us. Often, we stayed with our grandmother while my Mom worked. She had many foster kids and did a good job of keeping them in line and was loved, but she didn’t take the time when anyone got into trouble to explain the reason for the punishment. It was simply that I was “bad” child and therefore deserved a paddling or to sit in the corner for 15 minutes or so. I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap because I “took the Lord’s name in vain” when I really only said “Gah…”. Her discipline was stern and you were either “good” or “bad”. Years later when my mother remarried, my step-father not only was stern, but unpredictable and often times I did not even know why I got into trouble into much later. I spent my life trying to live in perfection to avoid punishment and I began to develop a lot of fears and phobias. Deep down, I just felt flawed. Not every child would feel as I do, but I absorbed a lot of the unresolved conflict of my caretakers and adults around me.

I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 6, before the disorder was really known about, and would get into trouble often. Because of my poor impulse control, I got into trouble at school often and this reinforced to me that I was flawed in some way, a bad child. Back then there were no resource classes, I was often a target of teachers and they would embarrass me in front of my classmates, telling me “I had ants in my pants”. My cheeks would grow red in embarrassment as the room full of kids looked on. There were a lot of reasons, looking back, why I would develop the perception that I was a “bad” child and this lead to me being overly sensitive and anxious about myself. I still feel awkward to this day in social situations wondering when they will find out that I am flawed. I push people away or self isolate because I feel uncomfortable around others.

Having these revelations regarding my molestation and childhood has allowed me to reframe my feelings and to grieve for the time lost to the individual who stole my innocence at such a young age and colored my world in fear and anxiety as a result. It allows me the distance to separate myself from his actions.  Many times, especially as children, we take on the unresolved pain of adults who harm us. It’s nearly impossible to escape pain, yet we can stop suffering when we accept the reality of “what is”, grieve, and reframe as needed. It is hard work and I often times feel like a sculptor chiseling away to reveal truth and integrity in the structure of my life.

I hope my writing is helpful on some level. I’m learning every day and I want to stay awake. I long to leave this branch I am perched on and spread my wings in flight, effortlessly. I want to embrace my struggle and my willingness to search deeply inside for answers. I feel in doing so I will be able to shed the negative self-talk that has reigned for much of my life and replace it with open awareness that is non-judgmental and free of past imprints. It’s possible I have been protecting myself a bit too much and holding on too tightly to the armor that I wore to keep me safe. I realize the tightness of it means it’s time to loosen it’s hold on me and let go more. It served it’s purpose for a time, but those threats are truly no longer there. And so, I will just keep chiseling away until I feel more comfortable in this new reality.

***Below is a poem I wrote probably more than a decade ago. If I had to guess, it was written around 2003 or 4. It’s untitled as most of mine are. I am posting it here because I find it interesting how it conveys the feeling of being stuck, but moving forward in courage and hope despite that reality. Hope you enjoy!

Watching one’s feet

As life circles by

A tiny little universe

A place where you can hide

If I ever left the comfort

A few seconds in my life

I would detract my head in like a turtle 

My shell would suffice

Let me go back

I shiver with fear

The rain is upon me now

I have to shift gears

My eyes are opening

The sun, cutting sharply through the trees

The forest is growing

I physically am unable to leave

Toothpicks are prying my weary eyes open

Sunlight makes me squint

Everything has an outline

It’s shiny, the condition, mint

So, my legs drag on

Even in apathy or fear

I will keep the hope and courage

In the body that I wear.

~Amy Taylor

 

 

 

 

I Give You Permission…

There has been too much time wasted on disapproval, self-loathing, and saying “no”. The following is a letter to myself. A letter to remind me of my freedom and my immense potential. Perhaps, I’ve been waiting to hear these words my entire life. I didn’t know that I needed to hear them from myself the most. 

backlit clouds dawn dusk
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Dear Loved One,

I’ve watched you grow over the years despite being in immense pain and wanting to give up. If you recall, I was there with you each time you softened: risking vulnerability, stepping out into a land that was unknown, becoming more and more aware of the archaic coat of armor that no longer served you. I was there at the inception of your journey to heal, listening to you silently cry, expressing your disillusionment at life and those who you felt abandoned you. In that storm of grief and loss, you set your intention on healing and began even saying it “out loud”, sharing your desire for something you ultimately did not understand yet. You had become so uncomfortable, anxious, and depressed due to the patterns of behavior in your life that you had become trapped, much like having a 200 pound steel ball attached to your ankle of which you were tasked to pull around each day. You were severely anxious and your body ached from the constant pain of the weight you felt was yours to bear. And still yet, you dreamed of being free, not knowing how, nor even fully believing it was possible. But, you dared to dream. Dreaming takes courage.

Light and love are now flooding in to your awareness, into that once dark room of windows that had been sealed shut, where you hid for so long. Sometimes, it still scares you, as if you are in a dream and that too much sunlight, streaming in, will wake you. The warmth you are basking in is your reservoir of love, it has always been there, you just had not discovered it yet. What you refer to as “stillness”, is yours, and the more time you spend there, the more your sense of self  will expand and grow.

In this journey of uncertainty and anticipation, I want you to know deeply that: YOU ARE LOVED. You willed yourself here and you worked very hard for years to see the truth. As doors continue to open, and a more peaceful life emerges, I want you to remember the following…

I give you permission to….

  • Mess Up. You will make mistakes and there will be some that you truly regret. You’ll lose your temper, become triggered, and fall back, at times, into old patterns. It’s ok. But, try not to linger there for long in self-loathing, instead step back, and learn from your mistakes. Life is full of them and they are unavoidable. Once you embrace yourself, your ability to love others with forgiveness also grows. This will also decrease your vulnerability of becoming triggered in the future.
  • For Heaven’s Sake! Laugh More! You are not laughing near enough these days. You will never regret laughing more in life. 
  • Do Not Deny Your Emotions. You are safe with me! Cry, sob, get angry, be giddy! In my presence there is no insecurity, no fear, no feeling that you cannot express. Let it be expressed in the sunny stillness I have provided for you and just “let go”. I will still be here loving you until the end of time. 
  • Fail: Yes!! You have my permission to fail as often as you like, be it big or small. The important thing is to try . Not getting the job, failing a class, having a relationship go sour is not important to me. What is important is that you are out there experiencing life, trying your best and failing and succeeding as you go. You can come and console yourself over a cup of coffee with me any day. I want to hear of your adventures as you fail and succeed in multiple ways! Every time you try, even when afraid, is an adventure and I want to sit with you and laugh and cry about all your endeavors no matter the outcome. 
  • Protect Yourself: There may be people or jobs where is is necessary to “cut ties” in order to protect yourself. You may have to say “No” multiple times and it might be really hard for you. But, you have the right to have boundaries and to say “no” as often and as many times as you need. Your peace is the priority. 
  • To Truly Be Happy: Do what makes your heart sing and be unapologetic about spreading your sunshine. Your vibration might be too much for some and that is okay. Keep searching and your light will attract those who desire being around it. Do not dim your light for those who find it blinding. Others can adjust if they like. 
  • To Not Be Good at Certain Things: We all have our weaknesses and it’s ok to admit and accept them. Love yourself anyway. We all have strengths unique to us. It’s ok to not define yourself by the aptitudes others possess. Your life is becoming more defined, be proud of your uniqueness. There truly is just one you. 

There is so much I want you to explore since you are becoming still enough to see the space around you. It’s just the beginning and I am excited for you! As you begin to employ healthier patterns of behavior, you will find ample space and room in your life for other people and adventures that will fill you in healthy ways. 

I give you permission to continue growing in love and acceptance of your authentic self. To sit in the sunlight, unafraid, as long as you like. You are loved. It is you who is cultivating the space around you that is fostering your safety and growth. Because, you are truly capable and strong.

You summoned me and I was here, waiting with anticipation, for the call. I am your presence of self love and will only continue to expand with your consciousness of me. 

In peace,

Your Spirit

 

The following is a poem I wanted to share that I wrote nearly 25 years ago when I was struggling in college. When I was writing this entry, the following poem came to mind and I feel it is very fitting. The journey always seems to come back to self love and awareness. I hope you enjoy!

 

Harmony and Melody

I have become whole in your presence.

I am no longer afraid to stand still, naked in the mirror.

Eyeing my bruises,

But seeing beauty in desperate times.

Realizing that I am deeply spiritual.

It was you who reminded me of that.

I found the child in me.

I found the adult.

I opened my mouth not only to sing the melody.

But, to attempt to sing the harmony as well.

And, it came.

And, it was beautiful.

Because, it came from me.

And it came from love, from hope.

It came with the joy of a child.

With the strength and wisdom of an adult.

You witnessed this,

And watched and waited, gently pushing.

As I became aware of my own identity.

You were careful with me.

You taught me to feel.

When I was afraid, you taught me to move.

Anger moved me.

And from this, I learned to give.

 

Shedding the Cocoon: Why Some of Us Take Longer to Leave

silhouette of a man during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

I have had my share of relationships that were lonely, unfulfilling, and, at times, excruciatingly painful. Instead of facing the pain and moving on, I suffered through years of being tormented by self-doubt and self-loathing. My identity and self-worth was too reliant on the opinions of those I clung to, refusing to “let go”. Over time, the offenses, both big and small, began to stack up becoming obvious, overwhelming, and messy. The spaces in my head and heart were impacted with words, memories, and regrets of which there seemed to be no impasse. I was suffocating, drowning in a lack of love for myself. One could say, that it was in the darkest of times, where I lashed out demanding to be loved, that the seeds of self-love were planted. I knew I deserved more, still yet, I went right back to the places and people who were incapable of giving me what I longed for and needed.

I believe that for many of us, for reasons often not easily articulated and summed up, self-love is an elusive concept. Perhaps trauma in the formative years left us with a larger than normal gaping hole, a deficit of sorts. Sometimes we didn’t get a full cup of self esteem whereby parents, classmates, and friends gave steadily, filling us with a vast reservoir. It can seem instead like a barren wasteland where the sole voice shouting is your own and it reverberates into the valley. And this may be why, when we see a traveler who notices our breath, we give more weight and importance to their presence in our lives. Even if, they are only there to serve the greater purpose of a mirror. I believe that for some of us, in this lifetime, our task is to find ourselves and embrace the light within us. I spent many years searching, making the mistake that someone walking by would mirror back to me what I longed for: love, security, and worthiness.

Because, I made the costly error that someone else would “see me” into existence and worth, I stayed on in desolation and depravity. I was grieving what I had missed and longed for that wasn’t granted in my formative years. I spend years demanding more from others, but not demanding enough from myself. I spent years focused on what others felt about me instead of relying on my own sense of self worth and mastery. Trauma followed me because I chose to stay immersed in it, searching for answers, often bewildered at the lack of love from others.

It took so long to leave my lover and certain members of my family because I had to be resolved that I had not missed in some way the love I was searching for. It was as if I had a very developed and lengthy “tally” sheet where I had to “check off’ every  lost attempt at connection. I went to great lengths to count and examine all my efforts, my failings, my mistakes, and misgivings. I scrutinized myself, always coming back to try in another way. It was easier for me to see my mistakes as the reason for why you did not love me or stay. Fighting often was the last resort to stay engaged and have your attention, like the child throwing a tantrum. I waited, often years, fighting to receive the bare minimum in order to relate to the ones I loved. I kept track of the times I came back and the times I miserably “failed” when I exploded in rage because messages and phone calls were often not returned. It took years of countless rejection and “conditional” love to completely fill the “tally sheet’ to where I said “enough”. I didn’t want to believe that I was not loved. I refused to face that reality. It sucked and it seemed impossible to accept.

I’m still unhappy and even broken, at times, that the love and commitment I felt towards  my sister and her kids and to my ex-fiance, where not adequately reciprocated. I fought for them tirelessly for years and as the tally sheet of abandonment grew, I began to take a harder look at myself. My ineffective coping of gambling and eating, had become too destructive and damaging. Anxiety and depression reigned, and my system of tallying collapsed. I took a long look mentally at the tally sheet and what I had feared had come to fruition: They didn’t care. It was probably more like, they were incapable of caring. Still yet, the evidence was overwhelming that I had been wailing and arguing into the wind. In fact, my love was like sand in the wind, always shifting, having no place to land. I spent a few years being scattered by the wind, feeling devoid of meaning and hope. Those were the darkest days of my life. The years of being left were undeniable. I had to face the reality that there was no concrete evidence that I mattered. I was left alone, often stonewalled for months. I loathed myself further for being the weak one, always pleading for love.

Things have slowly shifted. I found the stillness that I longed for where I simply exist, cocooned in a peaceful silence. I stopped searching desperately for approval and love, and instead accepted the loss of time and relationships and I began looking forward. I still slip, at times, and am carried by the wind, but I quickly return to a new space within me where my reality is embraced. Now, I see myself as stronger. I’m no longer continually distracting myself from the pain. I look around me and I see both pain and love. I see others desperately trying to disappear into the drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and gambling. I see those choosing to suffer instead of embracing pain and sitting through it. I’m in no hurry to heal and have been purposely single for over two years. I see learning self compassion and love as my greatest endeavor and accomplishment. I’m continually getting closer to letting go of the fears that have haunted me my entire life. I am committed to myself and my journey.

I’m uncertain in the end how truly unique my journey is. I smile knowingly at the scores of individuals in my life, from: family, boyfriends, and even therapists, who often were exasperated with me. I recall one person telling me my life “looked like a train wreck”. I’m sure many healthcare professionals felt “She is never going to get past this”. I had therapists get angry and roll their eyes saying “You’ll never leave him” or “You are a mess with men”. My life was a mess and I chuckle at how desperate I used to be. My self esteem was so low, that I’d throw myself desperately at my ex so I wouldn’t have to spent the night alone. I was angry, sad, and lost. What actually helped me was acknowledging that those hurting me were also angry, sad, and lost. Some choose to keep running, I chose to stop. I am immensely proud of myself for that choice. It is not an easy one and it does not require perfection. I choose to share my life and my mess, to prove with time and acceptance, healing does happen, even in the messiest of lives. No one thought I would ever change and here I am in the midst of metamorphosis. It is a long process and I am not even sure if it truly ever ends.

Life has a way of cocooning us in darkness. But, we can discover light if we work hard enough. And like most things, the light wouldn’t be so precious if it were easy to come by.

I encourage anyone who is lost, like the shifting sands, to find the stillness, embrace the pain and learn from it. Thanks for reading!

Sunshine and Palm Trees: Gently Awakened by the Streets of Los Angeles

white vehicle parked on road between trees
Photo by Vincent Gerbouin on Pexels.com

I haven’t written for a long while. I recently moved from Washington to California, an endeavor that was fraught with angst, anxiety, and trepidation. It was a difficult move, one that resulted in a few trips to the ER, an upper endoscopy procedure, and a loss of thirty pounds over several weeks. Although my esophagus was somewhat inflamed, I was relieved to learn that it wasn’t anything serious. I have been struggling with swallowing and there were a few weeks that I was subsisting primarily on a liquid diet. Things are slowly resolving, but I feel the drive down, being cooped up with my dog, and an exacerbation of my GERD, caused a temporary condition where I felt as if something was sticking in my throat. The anxiety of living in a large city, Los Angeles, and the dryer climate here, added to the problem all of which just takes time to acclimate and adjust. Meanwhile, besides taking Zyrtec, Flonase, and Prilosec, a does of patience is in order.

I’m taking this pause, pregnant and full, to share a slice of the reality of my current bewildering existence. I want to remember this time because I feel it holds immense relevance for me. The scenery here is as diverse and complicated as the population around me that appears to always be moving and alive, each individual having their own tempo, history, and space.

I can recall strolling down Venice Beach during the first week of my arrival here, feeling completely satiated. I was taken back by the display of diversity: the young and old, the rich and poor, the refined and the rough. In the span of a few blocks, humanity from every corner of the earth appeared to be represented. There were artists peddling their often unique and fanciful creations while the homeless camped out on the lawn. Hopeful musicians played music that spilled onto the streets while tourists and locals sat in open-air seating, eating food of which the scent permeated the air. The colors, scents, and vibration of life on this street made me full. Of course, there was always the pause to contemplate the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, but at least here, in this space and in this moment, it was peaceful. And, even, at times, joyful, as what seemed to be “hippies”, were dancing freely on the lawn to the live music playing on the streets. I spent several minutes on the shoreline watching the surfers as the sun began to set. I left that evening, happy.

The first few weeks in Los Angeles was exhausting. My roommate and I were staying at a Homewood Suites that was South of the center of LA were we wanted to move. We spent a week, in harrowing traffic, on foreign streets, searching for a place to live. Every driver really should spend a few days on the streets of LA to understand the true definition of: Defensive Driving. It was grueling work and nothing was truly a “perfect fit”. It was expensive and we were doing our best to find a place as quickly as possible. During this time, I developed the swallowing issue as well as horrific allergies and GERD. Of course, I was experiencing significant anxiety as well. And when we got through with a full day of apartment hunting, we had a dog waiting to be walked. A few times, we had the energy to take her to a “dog beach” or to a Beach Boardwalk nearby. She loved the beach, but ran from the incoming waves of the ocean.

We finally decided on an apartment that was very centrally located. It was a one bedroom for $2400 a month!!  Ouch!! It was clean, had a pool, and allowed pups. The biggest perk is that we are within walking distance to many museums, a grocery store, a pharmacy, the Original Farmer’s Market and The Grove! The Grove is a premier outdoor shopping area where sitings of the stars are common. I’m not too interested in “the stars”, but this area is actually very nice, pet-friendly, and beautifully maintained. It has a little trolly that runs through the middle and fountains that dance to music. Oh, and the music that is played is often jazz and it is perfectly suited for the experience.

Adjusting to a new city takes time. I walk to the grocery store nearly every other day to pick up an ingredient or two that I need. I am still not accustomed to the homeless having to live on the streets. Many times, I have seen them lying on the streets, sometimes with their dog, while mice or roaches traverse nearby. It is very hard to watch. There are those homeless that are obviously struggling with mental health issues, sometimes screaming unintelligible expletives into the air, shouting at unknown entities. I find this unacceptable, but am at a loss of what to do. I keep walking, Gracie will pull in curiosity, while my eyes catch site of the many Mercedes, Volvos, or BMWs parked on the same block. It is a difficult disparity to see all in the space of one city block.

I often don’t drive too much as my roommate, who is currently finishing up in Washington, does all the driving. But, I have been out a few times to take Gracie to the park and to go to a medical appointment. I’ve driven through neighborhoods in Beverly Hills, and was somewhat awestruck by the Beverly Hills “civic center”. WOW. It’s a very impressive center. Again, the have and have nots demonstrated. And the wealth displayed in some of the homes of that area is mind boggling. I don’t feel I would ever be comfortable having that much money. Although, it is nice to see some of the homes, architecturally speaking.

Well, there is a lot to this city of which I may one day call home. I probably will not live here forever, but what I learn here will most certainly stay with me forever. I feel a bit trapped, at times, due to living in a city of such high density. It is entertainment rich, diverse, and full of opportunity. The diversity makes me feel spoiled, like I can taste a bit from other countries by frequenting certain local bakeries and eateries. Here I have access to all different types of people and cultures and that not only excites me, but perplexes me. I have a lot to learn.

I sometimes feel when I’m standing on the busy sidewalks of LA, hearing the horns blast me back to “reality”, that I somehow fell asleep awhile back in the slow town of Bellingham, WA. Los Angeles has gently shaken me awake. The perpetual days of sunshine, the buzz of life on the city streets, the display of immense diversity has awakened me. And this time, I want to stay awake. I have no idea what this city holds in store for me, and maybe that is the best part of this journey.

I remember telling myself before I left for the move: “Wipe away any assumptions you have of living in this large metropolis, and open your sense as wide a humanly possible”. Take it all in and stand unafraid. In some ways, I feel I willed this space here as I was stagnating in Washington state, I was very unhappy. The transition inside of me is now paralleling an actual transition in my life. And this is what was meant to be.

Thanks for reading… we’ll see what Los Angeles has in store for me!!  For today: Another day of sunshine and palm trees!