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

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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

 

 

 

 

Burn Brightly: The Healing Fire Within You

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I haven’t written for awhile. I’ve been walking among the shifting sands once again. As painful as it has become, I’ve learned so much on that dry, barren waste land that actually gives so little. Or does it?

Over the years, I have continually returned in search of some spark that would perhaps ignite a fire for warmth. I was mesmerized by the vast night sky where on rare occasions I’d catch a glimpse of a falling star burning brightly against the cold, dark night. My chest would swell and I’d all at once become hopeful again. It didn’t dawn on me to ever completely escape this desolate place, over time it grew comfortable to me. Here, I did not have to ever risk losing again or connecting to others. I was often lonely and in despair over lost connections, but somehow I felt I belonged here in this space, searching. And so that is where I’ve been tucked away.

I could shout out expletives all day long in this crisp, cold air and nothing ever truly changed. I could become deeply entrenched in endless preoccupations that were unhealthy such as over-eating or gambling and it would offer no satiation. Perhaps there was temporarily relief in that I was distracted from the pain for a brief time. Still yet, the pain and suffering was relentless and continued to return.

A seed of awareness began to grow within me beckoning me to sit with the pain. I felt it was all at once too consuming. Might I ignite into flames if I sit too close to the burning fire? The pain seemed so elusive to me, always changing direction, sometimes raging while other times smoldering, refusing to be snuffed out. Often, I would turn away from the mystery that was burning inside of me, relentless and consuming.

Pain and suffering, I felt, wasn’t just mine to hold. It had consumed others in my family. It was historical. To acknowledge my own pain and suffering and be vocal about it only served to massage the pain in others around me. Their pain became more visible to me often in that I became silenced or shut down. I knew this was there way of managing the years of pain they have been dealt. We all deal with pain differently. I kept going back to the pain, often choosing to suffer because I was not yet ready to sit with it and heal from it.

Somewhere within the countless journeys into the cold and dark barren waste land, I found myself and my voice. My entire life has been fraught with fear and uncertainty. I did not have a lot of confidence. I was the “little sister” and the “youngest granddaughter” which meant I was often not taken too seriously. My early years were marred by a neighbor who molested me and then quickly after a step-father who was authoritarian and intimidating. My perpetrator had threatened to harm my mother if we exposed the truth, and I was the one that told. Because of these things, I grew up with immense anxiety and fear. My step-father did not allow any type of expression of anger and we were not truly allowed to disagree with him. He has since apologized for being too strict when we were younger. Despite a late apology, of which I do appreciate, my voice and confidence was very late to “bloom”. Growing up, I became very clingy to mother and became overly dependent on her.

The last few years, the fire raged on and it became impossible to just “ignore”. For me, unlike some, I ended up very sick and unable to work. Life unraveled and I was left to deal with the pain that was consuming me. First off, I had a lot of excuses as to why I hadn’t dealt with the pain or as to why I dealt with it in the way I did. Often, I loathed myself for leaving the fire unattended and burning so brightly in my life. I felt like such a failure. I’d keep going back staring into the faces that were incapable of loving me. Some where incapable of expressing truth to me. And others simply did not care to answer my requests. It tore ever fiber inside of me to accept the reality that I wasn’t going to ever have what I wanted with those I loved. It could be that we were both too broken, but certain relationships I knew I had to leave. And it took years for me to do so. I realize that some people have the confidence and capability to easily cut ties when faced with unhealthy individuals. I knew I needed to leave, but I wasn’t able to “let go”. The process took years and it was a messy one. I also was “unhealthy” myself and was learning. It was a very imperfect process.

Going back now to the barren wasteland is a way of grieving. I’m slowly letting go of certain dreams, while accepting “what is” and even looking outward at the immense possibilities that exist in truly “letting go”. I’ve even begun the process of planning for just myself and am lighter as a result. Accepting “my mess” and imperfections has cultivated self compassion and even humor, at times. My voice has become very strong and I quite possibly have “overdone” it at times, but I hope one day people are able to see it was done out of love and even from a place of desperation and destitution. I know now that the place I rose from was difficult and nearly impossible, at times, to navigate. I’m accepting that given what I had, I did the best I could. Those in my family who continue to struggle are, in fact, doing the best they can. I struggle sometimes to see that with some because their ways of coping are actually so very hurtful. I know that with certain people I have to let go and “let be”.

I would have never guessed healing would be such a circuitous route of so many detours. But, I feel each time I get lost, I find more layers. I also pick up more confidence. Building a strong foundation takes immense work. I’m not sure if it were so easy, it would even be worth it. It is a painful process, but one that truly enriches your life. It seems the deeper I go in the more connected I am to myself and the more compassion I hold in my heart. It’s just life. There is no rulebook. I just want to keep finding more of myself. All the pieces of me that I lost or willingly gave up, I want back. All of me is valuable, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This mess created me and this mess is what will heal me in the end. I just need to sit still long enough to embrace the warmth of the fire.

 

Shattering the Silence: Speaking out Against Sexual Assault

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*This content has the potential to be triggering for some.  It deals with issues of sexual assault and child molestation.

There will be a day in the distant future when such a strong framework of laws and protections exists for the victims of sexual violence, that our current system will seem archaic and outdated.  Our cultural norms regarding these issues will be one that fiercely protects the victim, ensuring that they will be safe and supported should they choose to speak out.  This is the cultural change I am witnessing and it heals and frees me.  

When our voices, raised in thunderous revolt, echo in the chambers of courtrooms, casting off reverberations, breaking glass and shattering the silence that has surrounded us, we will no longer be shrouded in shame and self doubt.  Those things we learned from living in a culture that encouraged secrecy, perhaps the ultimate incident of gaslighting.  We were often denied our reality and our own voice.   

And you will hear: “I am here.  I exist.  I will not remain silent, nor will I accept your complacency for the crimes commited by those that would not see me, value me, or believe my story”.  We as victims will say: “No more”.

Many of us have had to endure being preyed upon only to be discarded by a system that did not see the value in holding our perpetrator accountable.  Often adults surrounding us were so complacent that they shrugged off our concerns, hoping we’d somehow forget that it ever occurred.

This complacency is deeply burrowed, like a parasite, into the fabric of our culture.  We still hear daily of the lamentations of men and women who suffer under a perpetrator denying them their visibility and worth, attacking not only their physical safety, but their emotional and spiritual safety as well.  Enough is enough.  When will it end?

And so, the stories continue to roll in, #metoo, #metoo from both men and women, and the assaults must stop. Period.

Not only should we be believed, but we should be protected and provided immediate options for treatment that are paid for by those who commit crimes against the innocent.  Because, these crimes often last a lifetime.  The take host in the body of the victim and wreak havoc in a variety of ways from anxiety, panic attacks, depression, etc.  Some victims even turn to substance use as a way to numb the affects of sexual assault and molestation.  Enough.  Enough.

The system must make it clear that an abuse of power will result in power being stripped, and taken away, immediately.  

We heal our society, NOT by being silent and sweeping things under the rug; We heal by continually confronting, enforcing consequences, and caring for the wounded.  It is that simple.

There should be zero tolerance for those molesting and assaulting powerless victims.  We can do better by holding the perpetrator accountable and requiring that victims, especially children, get the treatment needed so that the impact is minimized and the victim can feel supported and safe.

There has been way too much complacency for an issue that potentially can cause a lifetime of suffering.  When our voices are heard and our stories told, we will together demand a safer world that protects people from violating acts and holds perpetrators accountable in a swift and forcible manner.  

And so, I will continue to share my story, shouting it loudly and fervently.  

I was FOUR when I was violated.  My next door neighbor, Wally, was sexually molesting my sister and me and had threatened to harm our mother if we told.  It so happens, I was the one who opened my mouth offhandedly and exposed the “secret”.  Due to this event, I struggled with bedwetting, anxiety, and was diagnosed with ADHD.  Later in life, I was diagnoses with Bipolar I and PTSD, and continued struggling in various ways relating to the assault.  Our perpetrator never was held accountable and he was allowed to remain living next door, taunting us.  The newspaper article pictured above provides evidence of this story.

I also was sexually assaulted again at age 16 by a different neighbor. I sat in the middle of the truck and had to straddled the gear shift.  My friends father fondled me during the entire trip.  I felt embarrassed and powerless not knowing what to do or say since my girlfriend was sitting right beside me.  My parents did not act at the time and I was told by another man in the neighborhood that it was my fault because my “shorts were too short”.  My concerns were silenced.  These incidents were in the 70’s and late 80’s and during those time you were just supposed to “suffer through” and “tolerate it”.

It is so important to keep these stories alive and to continue to say “No more”!!  I’m encouraged by the progress seen and hope that one day we live in a world safe from sexual assault.  It is so damaging to so many of us and one way we can heal is through activism.  

Keep talking, shouting, and sharing, we will be the change we seek to create a safe world for ourselves and others.

 

     

The Metamorphosis Series #1: The Suffocating Cocoon!

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I won’t stay stuck here forever.  It’s a dark and suffocating place.

All of us have areas of our life that make us feel unworthy and unloved.  Some of those areas go back to a time when our esteem was first forming.  For some of us, we were stunted by abuse or neglect and now are left trying to pick up the pieces that were not given to us.  This is extremely hard work.  I wanted to write this piece because we collectively can benefit from hearing other people’s pain to learn that we truly are not alone.

There is no shame in acknowledging that certain tools were left, often unintentionally, out of our toolbox.  Many of us struggling, to no fault of our own, did not have a solid foundation in our formative years.  At times, our needs may have been overlooked resulting in poor coping mechanism and difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries.

As a result of a difficult past, I developed a host of ineffective coping strategies I utilized to try and to get my needs met.  I feel that those who have hurt me, often did so unintentionally, often without awareness of their own issues or mine.   Perhaps they would have been more empathetic, had I been coping more effectively at the time and communicated my needs in less abrasive ways. Those who harmed me with intention often had their own issues of self worth.  I feel sharing has the power to set us free from the patterns that have become deeply entrenched in our minds and thus reflected in our behavioral patterns.  Often these patterns of behavior mirror back to us what we believe about ourselves and further imprison us, committing us to an false identity that leads to the self-fulfilling prophesy of failure, resulting in low self esteem.

Clearing a path for your authentic self to emerge is difficult work that is cumbersome, requiring courage and persistence.  A lot of this work is not linear, and it can not be completed in a vacuum.  Meaning as you heal you often are still in the same environment and around the same people who will challenge the healing process, skeptical of the changes you are making.  This may even mean you have to distance yourself from certain people who are not willing to accept the person you are becoming.  Often, healing is brutally messy and even painful.  But, it is a process that I believe to be worth the endeavor, despite the chaos that can ensue for a few years while things adjust.

This has been an excruitiatingly painful year for me.  In this year, I have faced discrimination in the workplace and lost my job.  I also cut ties and went “No Contact” with my Narcissistic after having a very tumultuous and abusive relationship with him for a decade.  And, lastly, it is the year that I was scapegoated by my family and blamed for the turmoil and divisiveness that was stemming from my sister’s struggle with addiction.  All of these invalidating experiences, where I was gaslighted, devalued, and discarded, resulted in a very unstable time for me.  I relapsed with my Bipolar illness and became suicidal for the majority of the year.  I was very hurt and enraged and spent the year fighting with my Mom and sister trying to salvage the relationship, but also determined to defend my reality in the process.  This pain lead me to time spent questioning my reality, my motives, and my intentions.  This process lead me to links in my past, shedding light on places of hurt that had stunted my growth, causing self-doubt and despair.  Being so vulnerable and sharing openly, I feel, only will serve to diminish the power these myths have over me that claim: “I am not good or worthy”.  And it is possible that my reflections will resonate with someone along the path of healing, and together we will heal.

In my formative years, there were some remarkable events that caused me significant pain, influencing my world view and challenging my self esteem.  One of these events being when my biological father released his rights to me, not wanting to know me or have me as part of his life.  I won’t get into the rationale as to why this occurred.  I was too young to remember the event, but do recall the years in my life of wishing I had an affectionate father who made me feel safe, secure, and valued.  This one event had impact on my self esteem and worth that followed me throughout my life.

At age four, I was molested which left me feeling powerless, invisible, and ashamed.  I was not considered in that event, just a little girl whose only purpose was to provide pleasure for the perpetrator.  My voice was muted and I was devalued.  I absorbed the shame through this event and when I was much older, in my teen years, I felt very ashamed and guilty for having normal thoughts and feelings about boys.  I was heavy for many years in order to remain invisible to men and feel safe in my skin.  This event impacted me greatly and as a result later in life, I married a gay man to avoid feeling violated.  I did not know for certain he was gay prior to marrying him, I just knew that I did not feel threatened by him in any way.  When I lost my weight after being divorced, I became involved with a man who was a narcissist and the relationship seemed like a parallel to my molestation.  I felt used, devalued, and invisible in the relationship and it took years to finally reclaim my self worth and separate from him.

My family environment was also turbulent as well.  My step-father was intimidating and abusive at times, shaking  and pulling my hair and throwing things.  It wasn’t an every day occurrence and there were times he did try in his own way.  Our family has many good memories and my parent both have accounted and apologized for the past.  Still yet, I lived in fear and tried to be as perfect as possible.  My sister and step-father butted heads and it made for a very scary and not so pleasant upbringing.  My sister left me a lot alone with my step-dad as my mother worked, and I was terrified and often felt abandoned.  I wasn’t allowed to express anger or really have a voice.  This caused me to stuff lot of my anger and ultimately I never really learned how to express anger in healthy ways.  I still struggle with this today.

Throughout my life, I have been misunderstood and treated differently as a result of suffering with two disorders: ADHD and Bipolar I.  As a small child attending kindergarten, I often was berated by the teacher for having ADHD.  I was different from the other children and was asked often if I had “ants in my pants”?  I didn’t understand why I was getting into trouble all the time.  In my adult years, I loathed myself even more when I became sick with Bipolar illness.  I had friends who laughed in my face when I told them I had gone into a psychiatric hospital for care.  One friend told me she did not believe in mental health problems and that I needed to “buck up & get over myself”.  These sentiments were later expressed in subsequent years by employers when I attempted to get accommodations in place during an episode, so I could remain working.  I was discriminated against and let go or it became so uncomfortable that if I did stay, I eventually left on my own accord.  I’ve experienced years of frustration, often being misunderstood by friends, family, or coworkers who feel my illness is just an excuse I make up for bad behavior.  It is dehumanizing and extremely hard to not only have an illness and suffer greatly from it, but then have your credibility questioned as a result.

Lastly, My sister has struggled with addiction for years and it has caused immense strife in our family.  I confront while others often enable, defend, lie, and hide.  I would have let things go, but she had five children, all of which are young adults now, and I’ve had to watch them struggle along with their own stories of addiction.  Not one of them walked across the stage to graduate and two of them do not even hold GEDs.  Their potential was robbed without their awareness.  I longed for a better life for all of them, including my sister.  This situation has truly been difficult to navigate and I am often devalued in the process.  It has caused me to question my reality and whether or not I am a good person.  It has truly been trying, at times, and I have often lost my patience in rage and despair.

Even with all the strife in past and present relationships, I have always tried relentlessly to reconcile things.  I struggle with letting people go, even if they are not good for me.  I’ve lost a lot of trust in humanity and in others because of the way I have been treated by those close to me.  I admit all my wrongdoings and I still long for the day when I feel accepted and loved completely.

I often feel like a scared kid, just hoping someone picks me up, holds me, and helps me walk through this pain in my life.

I’ve decided that someone has to be me.  We all must manage our own pain, develop better boundaries, and love ourselves.  We must forgive ourselves.  Sadly, I can forgive everyone who has hurt me, but I have the most difficulty forgiving myself.  I often desperately continue to return to those individuals in my life that are not truly open to loving me, or even themselves.  I become angry when they devalue me and my reactions become the rationale for why they leave.  And so, I must go through the difficult task of starting over and rebuilding, learning to let people in slowly, with stronger boundaries in place.  I also have to disengage from those increasing the intensity in my life which often leads to relapses with my Bipolar illness.  This is a balancing act.  I hope sharing helps others out there who are also navigating several tough situations at one, they are not alone.  It’s messy, it’s hard, but it’s possible.

And this is my toughest lesson to learn and my greatest challenge in my lifetime: To love myself enough to develop boundaries and slowly let those people in that will enrich my life and foster my growth and maturity.  I believe they are out there.  I truly am in the middle of this metamorphosis and I hope to one day look back on my life and see that I did it, I changed.  I forgave myself, loved myself, and let go of those who are unwilling or unable to join me on this journey.  No one said love would be easy, but I do believe it is worth it.  And if you are struggling with self worth, I will say to you: WE ARE WORTH IT.  Every human being is worth the journey towards healing and wholeness.

I’m using this piece as a series and am going to follow up with posts of thoughts and progress regarding my healing process.  It helps me feel not so alone.  Happy healing!  Thanks for reading!

Watching You Suffer

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I see you suffering and I acknowledge your struggle.  You’re dragging around this heavy wrecking ball, fearful of both hanging on and letting go.  There is a part of you that is becoming so exhausted, clinging to this shattered dream.  You spend each day searching for any signs of love, security, or hope that may still exist in this desperate situation that consumes you.  You want more for yourself, but you haven’t committed to the process that will bring you through to the other side.  Self love seems to be this elusive, unattainable reality that is easy to post memes about, but more difficult to practice or embody.

There is a stillness inside of you that will guide you to your homeport where you can seek refuge and be safe.

I see you suffering and acknowledge your struggle.  When stillness engulfs you, you flee making desperate efforts to find stimulation and solace.  You are apprehensive and uncomfortable with being still.  It is easier to remain engaged in chaos, it is what you are familiar with and what you know.   And so, you’ll seek stimulation in substances, in partners, family drama, food, sex, gambling, etc.  Those things become your way of coping and they distance you from yourself and what you think you don’t want to know.  It is appealing to engage is endless distraction.

You spend your days dealing with the problems that arise out of your preoccupations rather than accepting accountability and listening in the stillness to what your voice wants to tell you.  Often these preoccupations from abusive relationships to addiction, provide the daily drama that keeps you hooked into what you have mistakenly fabricated as “your life”.  Everything from financial woes to strained relationships with loved ones who truly care for you, is emanating from the web of deception telling you daily that you are trapped.  It took years to form the cage you feel safe in and you willingly discard the key that will set you free.  Instead you have bonded with the lies that make up the fable of your life.

I see you suffering and acknowledge your struggle.  Your voice has been desperately trying to break through to you.  It longs to sit with you in the silence and hold you in that sacred space, communing with your authentic voice.  It is ready to penetrate through the daily bullshit that keeps you hooked in the madness that you have began to identify as your life.  There are days your voice trickles over, spilling from your eyelids, rolling down your cheeks.  And still yet, with it shaking you, through violent sobbing, you get up, searching for something to soothe yourself, silencing yourself, becoming lost once again.  When will you listen to your voice?  It has so many beautiful stories to share with you.

I see your struggle and will rejoice when you finally let go in courage and create a pathway through action and intention to free yourself.  Everything you created for your safety and survival long ago is crushing your spirit and holding you back today.  There is no longer a reason to doubt your strength and ability to protect yourself.

I see you suffering and I know it’s getting harder to hang on than to let go.  It’s almost time.  You have this.  You are enough.  You always have been.

Reframing & Rebuilding: 5 Lessons Learned While Healing

 

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Healing from childhood trauma has been the most significant endeavor of my life.  The last two years I have been raw and rapid cycling, while dealing with a lot of anger and pain from the past and present.  Below, I share some of the lessons and insights I’ve learned in this arduous process.  I’m hopeful as my life enfolds, I will have even more to celebrate and share.  I hope you are able to find something relatable here that will help you on your journey.

A few years back, I set my intention on the process of healing.  In the beginning, I was unknowingly halfway in, still dancing with the things and people that were leading to my eventual demise: gambling, an abusive ex, stressful jobs, and the addiction that had touched my sister and her family.  All of these preoccupations were causing relapses of my Bipolar I illness.  My moods and perceptions were hijacked every few weeks and I spent more time rapid cycling than I did in “clarity”.  I can remember times when I felt calm and clear headed, feeling that I had leveled out, only to be taken hostage again.  During these days, my mania took me to extreme rage and suicidal ideation.  There were very valid reasons for my anger and yet, I wasn’t able to be constructive with it.  I ended up being hospitalized, losing a great job, and unemployed.  After years of my manic motor running, and my eventual collapse, I was forced to take a harder look at myself.  It was in this state of desperation, I began to truly heal.  At this point ALL of me wanted it.  It has been a breaking of my will, so to speak, and a readiness on my behalf to not only seek help, but receive it.  I’m not perfect at this, but I keep trying and I keep reaching out.

  1. Lesson 1: Acceptance of what is & letting go.  This was and still is a difficult lesson for me.  I’m not only stubborn, I also consider myself somewhat of a justice warrior and often have a difficult time tolerating situations that do not feel “right” or “fair”.  The reason this lesson is so important is it allows you to leg go of what you cannot control.   My sister’s addiction, a broken healthcare system, and an abusive relationship were all examples of preoccupations I had little control over, but engaged in anyhow.   Doing so did not change the person or the situation, it instead alienated me and caused conflict leading to loss of relationships and jobs.  I still feel there are times to stand up and fight, but I see the value in accepting life, as is, and letting go of what is not in my control to change.
  2. Lesson 2: Be Still. Sitting still in the silence or practicing mindfulness gives yourself the space needed to process.  It helps me sort out what is mine and what is not mine.  I often discover emotions and the root cause of them in this space.  Sometimes, these discoveries are real gems.  They are what I have been avoiding and running from my whole life, a missing puzzle piece.  Sitting in the stillness and letting the emotions be with you has helped me find answers to my vulnerabilities and the reasons for much of my fear and sadness.  I used to run away from the uncomfortable emotions that arose in stillness, now I embrace it, giving it the time and attention it needs to heal.
  3. Lesson 3: Forgive Yourself and Others, Cultivate Compassion. Let go of the notion of perfection.  My life has been messy.  I have had good days where I ran non-stop serving seniors and the disabled.  I’ve had other days were I’ve been horribly cruel to my mother when in conflict over the addiction that hit our family.  I spent years being angry and then a couple more years being engulfed in rage, often hurting people I loved.  I gave a decade of my life to a tumultuous relationship fraught with desperation which led to shame.  I was disappointed in myself and lost, often suicidal. In relapse, my mania would cause many problems for myself and others.  At the end of the day, the self-loathing I did for years increased the likelihood for relapse.  I decided to cultivate compassion for myself and others.  Forgiving myself and others allows me to focus on understanding myself better so that I can cope and decrease the intensity in my life that has caused so many issues for me. It’s a work in progress and I feel it has the potential to open doors and soften who I am in times of stress and conflict.
  4. Lesson 4: Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries! I used to not have any boundaries.  I would let anyone into my life and onto my plate.  I became completely wrapped up in their life.  If someone had a tragedy, it was MY tragedy and I would put more energy and effort into resolving it than the person suffering.  I gave money, time, and tons of energy.  I realized that these people often left me once I tried to set a limit.  Now, I’m excited to finally have an empty plate.  I am working on rebuilding my life exactly how I like it, and will only let people in who are able to give as well as receive.  This is a SUPER exciting time for me.  I don’t have many people in my life yet, but I am excited to find people with similar interest and set healthy boundaries for myself.
  5. Lessons 5: Be Persistent: This alone has saved my life!  I’m persistent.  I might fail over and over again, but eventually I get up and try again.  I am persistent when I need help & I will seek until I find it, using any and all resources available to me.  If I get depressed and I “give up” from time to time, that’s ok, I just try and make the “giving up” temporary!  I also research and educate myself on issues that affect me.   Be persistent and know the resources out there to help you in your recovery process.  Never judge yourself by the times you quit, always look at the times you were persistent and pushed through.  Many things should be a lot easier to access, so don’t be too harsh on yourself!

I’m still learning so much in the healing process that has not settled yet.  I hope in the future to write more about humility and turning towards others.  I know I can be closed off, difficult, and stubborn.  I am doing my best to change a lifetime of poor coping due to trauma and living with a mental illness.  The 5 lessons above have been significant agents of change in the process of healing for me and I’m now 100% in this thing for the long haul!!  Happy healing!

Dismantling the Cage

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The excerpt below is taken from a book I am writing called: The Cage, The Flamingo, and The Peacock.  My hope is to help others heal by sharing my experiences of learning how to set boundaries, protect myself, and to eventually embrace all of me in love and acceptance.  It is a work in progress.  The following is the introduction to the first section of the book called, “The Sacrifice”, where I candidly discuss various events in my childhood that instilled fear and distrust, distorting the perception of my world in my formative years.  I’m hopeful that sharing will help other victims feel less alone in their struggle and will encourage others to speak out, spreading awareness of these issues.

“Child molestation and abuse were the acts that formulated the inception of my cage.  I would say most of us have some type of cage that we acquire in the formative years of our life.  With each invalidating act, steel bars of  fear, shame, and sadness captured my spirit.  This separated me from the world, and often times, from myself.  Doubt and despair began to settle in my small frame, my vision limited from the large, steel bars, surrounding me.  Yet, the bold, little bird of beauty still longed to be set free, to commune with the earthly delights that were close enough to instill desire, yet far enough away to weigh my wings with hesitation and fear.  I longed to taste the honeysuckle and let its juice trickle down my chin, lost in its sweetness.  It was not accessible to me.  

Will knowing the origins of this constricting cage help me to be free?  After all these years of protecting, will I be courageous enough to cut through the layers and abandon the “safe world” I had created so that I can finally taste the sweetness this world offers?  Instinctively, I knew it was time to revisit the beginning so that I could grieve what was lost and reclaim all that was mine, empowered to design the ending. This is the path I will take inward, to dismantle the cage that had entrapped me and kept me crouched in darkness and fear.  It’s time to claw, crawl, and carve a way out of the darkness and into the light, leaving no open wounds uncared for and no scars forgotten.  It is time to visit the places inside of me that need light and compassion. 

If you find light along my journey for yourself, take the light and use it as a way out of the darkness.  Together we will heal.  Light is meant to be shared, for it drives out the darkness that deceives us and dampens our joy.  And so, we begin the descend, into the basement where it may be a little uncomfortable and dingy, at times.  It’s necessary, the destiny is clarity and stillness.  This is healing, this is love, this is light”.  

 

 

The Story of Us

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The Story of Us

I feel you around me,

Beside me, inside me.

Your Breath, my lips,

Your hands, my hips.

 

The fear dissipating,

The storm, abating.

The calm of the sea,

An understood liberty.

 

Together, Apart,

The Ending, the start.

Your skin and mine,

My leaves, your vine.

 

Your mouth brushes.

The chill on my skin.

Your lips are parted,

And warm within.

 

You Pull, I push,

I leave, you come.

The story of us,

Forever undone.

The time I spent with you I refer to as the “Decade of Darkness”.  There is a saying that states “the devil will come to you disguised as everything you ever wanted”.  I now know this to be true.

I was young and naive when I met you, coming out of a divorce with my husband who had come out to me a few years before.  I had not dated for years and was relatively innocent when it came to understanding men.  You were eleven years my senior, coming out of a marriage of 26 years.  You were a retired veteran and had been a deacon in your church for the past 3 decades.  I remember the first few months, I was captivated by your display of chivalry and maturity and even recall calling you “my angel”.  And yet, looking back at my diaries during that time, I was expressing doubt and concern about you.  I even stated that “something was not right” and I “must listen to my intuition”.  Even so, I denied the voice of concern that was always present when I was with you.

I spent years swept up in the preoccupation and pursuit of you.  You spent years taking advantage of my preoccupation.  I must have seemed like an easy target for you at the time.  You and I both were both separated, but not yet divorced.  Your behavior was one of rushing in, loving so beautifully and fiercely, and then withdrawing from me.  Having spent the majority of my life married to a gay man, the passion with you was all too consuming and represented something I never knew existed, but knew I did not want to lose.

I remember reluctantly giving you your space when you shared that you just needed more time.  I would interpret your cold and callous ways as you being “far away”, tied up in grief and regret, when in actuality these expressions were tactics to discourage questions or concerns.  If I did question, I was made to feel guilty and was called pushy.   I was convinced that you loved me deeply, but that you needed more time to divorce your wife and commit to me completely.  You kept me baited with emotional manipulation by withdrawing your presence from me, and threatening to break things off with me if I pushed to hard.  When I wanted to approach this topic with you, I often received the silent treatment or was told by you that I was “getting sick again”.  You would use my Bipolar illness as leverage to discredit my concerns and instill self doubt in me.

You continually reassured me during times that I questioned your faithfulness, that you had never lied or cheated on me, but looking back, there is too much evidence to ignore.  At the end of our relationship, you boasted of your sexual prowess, sharing how your current “victim” was completely enamored with you. I understood this, after all, “making love” was one of your favorite weapons in your arsenal among the others: stonewalling, gaslighting, and discarding.  I sat in silence with my jaw on the floor as you gloated about your new partner’s deep admiration for you, while in the same breath asking me to come down and sleep with you.  It was my first real awareness that I had given myself to someone I did not truly know.  All the little games you would play to keep me dizzy, doubting, and derailed.  All the little games you played to protect your fragile ego.   It makes me literally sick to my stomach because I am someone who would never cheat, knowingly.  You had me committing crimes, blindfolded.  The last two years that mark our end, you were still pursing me, inviting me to your home while you were immersed in a relationship that was nearly two years old.  I’m fairly certain you were cheating on both of us when I was disentangling from you.  It is this display of behavior that has allowed me to see you without the mask you wear, and it is horrifying and nauseating at the same time.  I gave a decade of my life to someone I did not even know.  We were engaged at one point, I almost married you.

Our “Decade of Darkness” is marked by a very “dark” event in our earlier years. As we grew closer, sharing holidays and taking trips, the pressure for me to be visible in your life boiled over into a breaking point.  My trust in you was dwindling as I grew more and more impatient that you had not divorced, as promised.  I had broken up with you several times, only to regrettably accept you back when you showed up at my door, apologetic.  In a heated exchange, I threatened to expose our relationship to your wife and adult child, in response, you choked me and  threatened to put a bullet in my head.  I should have walked away, reporting the incident to the police.  Perhaps, you would be in prison now instead of romancing another while attempting to contact me and flirt.  But, I was in shock at the time, and being a victim of child molestation, I shelved the occurrence and pressed forward.  You slept over that night and we went for breakfast in the morning.  Life went forward, and eventually you divorced your wife, but the event was shelved carefully for processing much later.  It was just too difficult for me to acknowledge that the love of my life choked me and threatened my existence.  Years later, you would deny that you choked me, stating through chuckles that you were only trying to scare me.  In our last year, in a response to an e-mail where I confronted you again about being choked, you continued to deny it and sent me pictures of what “a real choking looked like”.  You sent this knowing that I had to see a doctor to ensure there was no damage to my throat.  It was sore and I was hoarse for nearly two weeks.

As a victim and a survivor, I realize to those who have not experienced this type of relationship, it is unfathomable that I went back. The decade I spent living with narcissistic abuse was all too consuming and confusing.  I moved across the country twice to leave him and then moved back to be with him.  I’m a smart woman and never was a “doormat” in his life, we were apart more than we were together.  Still yet, I kept coming back because he made me feel, at times, loved and the chaos was familiar to me.  It sounds ridiculous, but this person gave me something I did not even know that existed prior to him, a feeling of complete acceptance.  Looking back now, I see it was not real.

Another major issue at play is that I do not have a close father figure in my life.  I do not know my real father and my step-father has always been distant. When my Narc came into my life with such ferocity and intent, I experienced what I had missed my entire life, love and intimacy with a man.  Because of this, I was unwilling to let go.  But, in time, I did.  The relationship with him personified the grief of never having a father, it brought that loss to life.  I could see the child within refusing to let go, determined to get what she needed.  When I finally left, it was because I knew that I was enough.  My Narc never gave me the love I wanted, but he helped me find the love I needed to be fulfilled and complete.  It’s a love story that ends with self love.  I’m taking the space to grow and am no longer desperate and searching for someone to complete me.  I’m excited to do that on my own.

 

 

That Fear

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That Fear

It’s still there,

That fear.

It’s still there.

 

I can’t recall,

A time when I was free.

Please, Let me be.

Don’t waste it on me.

I’m not doing anything about it.

 

It’s still there,

That fear.

It’s still there.

 

Haunting me,

Choking me,

Hugging me,

It really loves me.

 

It’s still there,

That fear.

It’s still there,

With me.

 

This is another older poem of mine written about an emotion I am all too familiar with, fear.  All my life, I have been running from some invisible danger.  I’ve been restless and on the move, seeking stimulation to avoid the stillness. To be still, is to be unprepared.  One should never let their guard down.  There is, however, a valid reason for why I have been trapped for so many years in this state of extreme watchfulness.

When I was only four years old, I was molested by my next door neighbor.  Although most of the details of the molestation are not well-formed, I believe the memories laid dormant in every inch of my physical being until later in life when it became too hard, too exhausting, and too damaging to continue living at such a heightened state.  When the abuse occurred, I swallowed the shame and secrecy, and denied myself awareness of the event.  I carried in my small frame the promise to never make “the mistake again”, resulting in extreme hyper-vigiliance.  Revealing the secret at the time placed my Mom in danger as the perpetrator was threatening to harm her if the secret was told.  Out of this came my ability to read situations and people with surprising accuracy as it was a way of survival for me.  Years later, I communed with the part of me that had been silenced, devalued, and frozen in fear.  I continue to commune with her and reassure her that she is worthy, visible, and safe.  This event colored my perception of the world and as a result, I have always been fearful, having multiple phobias and general mistrust in others.

And so, “This Fear”, is an expression of what I have always known and remembered.  And I’m working very hard with intention to calm those places within me that still haven’t heard my adult voice that is saying: “I am safe, I am here, I am visible”.  This fear will then let go little by little, realizing that I am not longer under siege.

I felt moved to write this tonight because I was speaking with a friend who also had experienced quite a bit of trauma in her life.  She is truly struggling at the moment.  It reminded me of the last decade of my life of which I call the “Decade of Darkness” where I was engaging in an abusive relationship with a Narcissistic and was recklessly gambling.  I see now that I was filling my hours with chaos in order to avoid the stillness.  Often times stillness to a survivor of trauma feels threatening.  I’m still learning to “be still” and enjoy the peace that is provides.  It is a transformation and I haven’t made it to the other side yet.  I’m intrigued about a life lived with less chaos where I am able to relax and have less chronic pain from years of remaining on guard, often holding my breath.

I feel that this is my greatest work in life, to heal so completely that most of the fear within is released.  Perhaps, I can help those who also hold fear, shame, and despair and are fruitlessly avoiding the stillness, feeling it is less safe somehow.

And so now, I am ready to “do something about it”.  I’m infinitely blessed to have the insight and awareness as to why I held on for so long.  I just want to pick my four year old up and hold her tight, hugging her completely, reassuring that she is in safe hands now.  That fear “really did love me”, it was a source of protection and watchfulness for a time, and I thank you little one for keeping me safe.  Your job is done, you can rest now.