Chug, chug, chug.

You guys, I’m good. Not great, not fantastic, not awesome…yet. But I’m working.

I can see that people have been peeking at my Facebook page–I can only guess they are looking for a new post and I have wanted to write so many times but haven’t been sure if I have much to say besides telling you that I’m chugging along. I feel better every day.

Well, maybe not every day but most days.

I’m working out again with all my friends over at Tuff Girl, and I love it. I mean, I hate it while I’m doing it because who really LIKES grueling workouts while they’re panting and sweating but afterwards I feel great. I always have a better day on the days I work out.

Showing up at the gym was a real hurdle for me. I’ve predictably gained a ton of weight (as if I needed to gain even more) and that makes everything harder in my workouts. I was scared to go back, afraid people would judge me and wonder how I could have let myself go so badly.

Instead I found love, acceptance and encouragement from friends and people who care about me. For this, I am incredibly grateful.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will likely have to be medicated for awhile, and this is not a failure. It is simply me being smart and using all the tools available to me to feel better and be the best version of myself I can be right now. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to recognize that this is part of the help I need to keep feeling better every day.

And I need a lot of help, guys. I mean, don’t we all? Why is there such a stigma about saying, “I can’t do this alone. I need help.”?

There shouldn’t be. We should all be able to be the perfectly imperfect humans we are, recognizing our strengths and weaknesses and being able to freely ask for help when we are weak, and freely give our help when others need it.

This took me a long time to learn. I am finally reaching a point where I can start to give something back to the people that have propped me up during my dark times. A point where I could maybe do the propping for them if they need it.

I’ve also poignantly felt the passing of time, and I am trying not to feel as though I am losing this time, trying not to regret the dark months when I felt like I was missing out on my life.

Instead, I am realizing that these dark months were an important part of my life, like a painfully tight chrysalis that I had to break out of to bring me to the next phase. I am not sure I’m ready to fly yet, though. I’m just now pushing my way out and feeling the sun on my face.

And where will I fly to once I’m ready? I’m not sure yet, but I am thinking hard about it.

You see, I lost a dear friend recently to breast cancer. She lived with stage four breast cancer for three and a half years before it claimed her life, and she lived more in those three and a half years than I have in my whole 42 (okay, nearly 43) years of life. (If you want to read about her amazing adventures, you can read some of her blog.)

We had some intense conversations about life and depression and dark thoughts that sometimes came into our heads. She battled the dark thoughts so hard and lived the hell out of the time she had. She was a huge inspiration to me and I think of her often when I imagine what kind of living I want to do next. What kind of adventures I would like to have with the time I have on this earth.

She had a favorite quote:

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This is my one precious life. What I have gone through has been difficult, but my life goes on, and it IS a beautiful and precious life. How can I live it well? What do I want to do with it next?

For now, I want to love hard, most especially love the people who have stood next to me through these hard times, the people who have helped me keep going, the people who have held me up and sometimes dragged me to places I didn’t want to go to keep me moving forward, up and out.

For now, I want to feel happiness, and though it may sound funny, this is something I have to work at. It’s hard work, but I am determined to recognize and be present in the moments that are joyful and not let them pass me by. I appreciate them so much more now.

For now, I will keep chugging along and deciding what my next adventure will be. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

(P.S. If you are one of the people peeking at my FB page for a new post, did you know you can sign up to get new blog posts right into your email inbox? Look for the email signup on the upper right hand side of the blog page, sign up, and then you’ll know as soon as a new post comes out.)

 

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Dubious return…but showing up.

So about three months ago I took a Facebook hiatus. I mean, the hiatus was from a lot more than Facebook, but FB became sort of representative of me stepping away from life because I was so NOT FINE. (The post I just linked to was written on June 7 and up for a short time before I unpublished it. Being “out there” with my not fine-ness was just not something I was capable of at the time.)

Three days after that, June 10, I went out of work on medical leave.

I was in bad shape, guys. But more on that later.

Yesterday I decided to return to Facebook and just see. I’m feeling so much better and so I thought I could be virtually social as I start to be social IRL again.

As I scrolled through my feed I saw a post that hit me so hard I questioned my return and almost immediately deactivated my account. Again.

The post was a gut-wrenching one from an amazing friend who lost her brother to suicide years ago, and she was telling her story about losing him in honor of Suicide Prevention Week (happening this week, of which I was not aware).

Friends, I don’t know how to tell you this in the right way, but I was there. I was in that place of “suicidal ideation,” as they call it, and I teetered on the brink of executing a plan. I have been medicated since mid-July and the full bottle of Clonazepam above my kitchen sink beckoned to me, bidding me come, take me all in and just fall into the abyss.

You see, despair is a liar. It tells you things that are not true or even logical, but in the throes of severe depression, you believe them. You believe you are worth more to your family dead than alive. You believe that in your current state, you are not fit to be called “Mom” by anyone and should end yourself to save the kids. You believe that yes, they would be sad for awhile, but eventually  your husband would find love again and your children would heal because they are better off without such a broken excuse for a parent in the first place.

I believed all of these things. I believed them as I fantasized about swallowing the entire bottle’s worth and just drifting off…as Hamlet said, to sleep, perchance to dream, and this time without the nightmares that plagued me nightly so that not even sleep was a respite from my pain.

Part of this downward spiral had to do with a medication, and I somehow managed to convey to my husband how serious my condition was. The thoughts I was having. What I was contemplating. I saw his terror and then saw him bravely battle through it as he got me in to see my doctor the same day and say to her WE NEED HELP.

We talked about hospitalization but I knew that would make me worse. The presence of people I loved was what was keeping me alive, by a hair. The doctor’s first order was a medication change (from Zoloft to Abilify, for those to whom it is of interest) and the second and third orders were to hide all medications and never leave me alone until we saw how the new meds might help. My doctor looked me right in the eye and wouldn’t let me look away when she said, “Suicide ALWAYS ruins the lives of the loved ones. It never fixes anything.” I flinched.

Drew took a day off work, showing me so much radical acceptance and love that I wished so fervently I could feel in my heart. But even though I was too dead inside to feel anything at all, he stayed by my side.

A dear friend came and “babysat” me for a day with no judgments or expectations. Just love and good company on my couch with the TV on all day. I was too far gone to even be embarrassed that she had to be there to make sure I didn’t hurt myself, even though I can now say I know that with this friend, there was no need for embarrassment at all.

I felt somewhat better in a matter of days so we came off high alert. I didn’t fantasize about swallowing the pills anymore but I did have moments of such deep despair that my only release was forcibly purging anything I’d eaten. One day, that wasn’t enough and I desperately raked at my forearms and hands with my fingernails.

The scratches have finally healed.

Through all this, I was 100% honest with my husband and it is what has saved me. Honesty. The ability to step forward and say, even though the medication change has made a huge difference, I need help. I need MORE help. I need so much more help or I am literally going to die. I made a promise to tell him on days when I purged, to have him sit with me while I cried and he held an ice pack on the scratches on my arms to keep them from raising up into welts.

Three months ago when I left work, I simply could not function anymore. I had played my role for over a year–hey everyone! Look at me, healing from my trauma and working my little fanny off!

What I was really doing was drowning myself in work as a numbing practice and ignoring sign after sign from my body that I was NOT OKAY. Insomnia. Panic attacks. Chronic diarrhea. Horrible headaches. Permanent dark circles under my eyes. Strange aches and pains that had me believing I was dying…but that I still tried to ignore.

On June 9, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t focus on work calls. I could hear people’s voices but couldn’t tell you what they were talking about. I would stare at my computer for hours, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be working on. And for those of you that know me well, you know this is so completely out of character.

In late July, once my doctors stabilized me after the medication issues that caused my suicidal downward spiral, I had the courage to say, I still need more help.

I entered an intensive outpatient program through Yale and am entering my fourth and final week in this program where I have learned so much, first and foremost that I am not alone. I have learned about mindfulness and self-validation, and I have learned how to use real coping skills that work for me as an adult…because the ones I developed as a kid, when I just had to survive, were so unhealthy and obviously don’t work for me anymore. I did what I had to do then, and I am doing what I have to do to be healthy for me and for my family now.

After all this, I have not and will not deactivate my FB account again. At least, not because of my friend’s post and the emotions it stirred up in me.

I’ll stay on FB because I have decided to return to my life and be present. I may not be awesome, hell I may not even be functional all the time, but I am going to start showing up…for friends, for family, for this blog, and, soon enough, for work.

Right now, that’s the best I can do is show up and be 100% honest. And since it is Suicide Prevention Week, I ask you to think about me in whatever context you’ve known me before and ask yourself if you ever would have considered me a person who would be suicidal. I’m guessing most answers would be “nope, never.”

I do love my life, but guys, this shit is real.

It is like a monster tearing at your heart and whispering evil things in your ear to make you believe you don’t belong in the world. And in those moments, I believed.

Today, I know I belong in the world. What the future holds for me, I can’t be sure but for today, I want to be a voice for those without one to say, suicide is real, even for people you think are fine. Even for people you think are doing great, sometimes especially those people.

Awareness is so important, and the sister of the friend I mentioned earlier is fundraising on behalf of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you are so inclined to donate to this worthy cause, you can find her page here.

As for me, I’m here. Present. Not perfect, not healed, still medicated, still struggling, but here–willing to share my not-fine-ness, and so very grateful to be able to show up for my life.

 

 

 

 

On Telling True Stories

This week, I made a commitment to write every day, and I did. Some of what I’m writing goes into my personal journal and some is for sharing on the blog.

I spent hours and hours working on a post this week. I couldn’t get it right. I worked it, I revised it, I edited it…I revised it some more and realized that I hated the post. HATED it.

I gave it some space and waited a day then came back to it.

I hated it even more.

As anyone who writes knows, this happens at times. Sometimes writing is just work; it doesn’t always flow out like a waterfall of magical pearls of beautiful and meaningful language. Some days, it’s an ugly brick of concrete that you slap onto the ground, accidentally (or purposely?) let dry, and then earnestly work to chip and sculpt into something more pleasing from its hardened and unattractive form.

I did the work on that post, but it didn’t help this time. I had a paragraph that was a gem, but everything else was so bad that it made me question all my life choices. I was bored re-reading it myself.

Here’s the problem with this post: I had decided that I (and probably you, reader) needed a break from writing about IT.

And by IT I mean, me, my survivor-ism, my healing process, my sad/happy/angry/miserable by turns day-to-day existence as I figure out how to make peace with the past, be present in the now, and move forward into a future I claim as my own.

(First the letting go, then the rising up.)

I wanted to write about something else. Scratch that–I felt like I should write about something else.

And that, my friends, is why the post I worked so hard on just flat out sucked.

It wasn’t true. It wasn’t real. So I finally said, enough.

I’ll keep that one shining nugget of a paragraph and try to find a place for it at some point. But I have to focus on what is most real. I have to keep telling this story. My story.

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I loved reading this quote–and ordered Brene Brown’s book–because it hit such a note with what I’ve been grappling with lately, and it helped me realize that what I’ve been grappling with is the truth.

What is true? Are truth and perspective different? These are the questions that haunt me.

One of the things I have been working on in therapy is letting go of my over-compensation for those who have hurt me. Not just the abusers, but more importantly those who should have taken care of me, made me safe, and didn’t.

I tend to take more than my share of responsibility for things. I tend to give these people a pass, or at the least wonder what I might have done differently to lessen the impact of the harm others inflicted on me, either by their direct actions or their abandonment of me in my time of need.

I tend, too often, to try and see the perspective of these people to understand how I could have behaved in another way to make them behave better…or at the very least to make them feel ok about how badly they were treating me.

I tend to paint my own experience as “my perspective” instead of “the truth,” and do you see what that does? It makes it subjective and therefore open to interpretation and criticism. “My perspective” is vulnerable to being revised by those who are uncomfortable with what happened, with what they did or what they failed to do.

Even as I type these words I see the dysfunctional thinking that informs these beliefs, but they are hardwired and so incredibly hard to overcome.

These beliefs keep me thinking that I am somehow responsible not only for their behavior, but for fixing it for them so I won’t be hurt by their continued harm, leaving them free to go on hurting me.

Really it’s the result of years of manipulation as a child that created these pathways in my brain that their hurtful actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) were not the cause of my pain. That instead, I was the cause of my own pain for allowing myself to be hurt by them. I was too weak. I felt too much. My feelings were my own fault, my own weakness.

Because that’s a totally reasonable way to deal with a child, right? Well no, no it’s not. It’s sick and it’s twisted.

This is what happens when you grow up in the midst of people who manipulate reality–who manipulate the story–to meet their own needs and then call it truth and share it with others as such.

The hardwiring is so embedded that even at 42, and after all I’ve learned in the past year, I still wonder if I have done enough for these harmful, toxic people that I have since removed from my life.

No wonder my therapist yelled at me when one day I said, “Should I be trying harder to maintain a relationship with these people?”

She yelled emphatically and quite unexpectedly, “NO YOU SHOULD NOT!!!”

And then we laughed, because she had never done that before…even though we had been having the same version of this conversation for months, with my obsessing over whether severing these toxic connections was the right thing to do.

She had never answered this question so directly before, but I was so grateful that she did. It gave me the permission I needed–the permission she knew I couldn’t grant myself–to believe the truth of what was done to me not only by those who abused me directly, but by those who left me to suffer the abuse when they should have been the ones keeping me safe.

It’s not my “perspective;” it is the truth. It is what happened–or, better stated, it’s what was done to me. It didn’t “happen,” it was done. Perpetrated. Both the abuse and the abandonment. They are equally as bad. (Actually, the abandonment is probably worse but that’s a story for another day.)

But even as I acknowledge this truth, I still worry, have fear and anxiety about the story I know these people to be telling.

I know they are not telling the same story as me, even though I know the truth. They are telling a false truth to others who I imagine now have a negative opinion of me.

They are painting themselves as the victim of my “drama,” blaming others and/or blaming me, and I know that some people are accepting their stories as the truth.

This is so, so very hard on me. Even though none of these people has contacted or confronted me directly, there have been some subtle things that have happened to indicate their disapproval of my story and their acceptance of the other stories.

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Knowing these false stories are being told and believed impacts me more than I want it to. I have to acknowledge that. Anger and indignation can’t mask that there is a deep hurt that these people, who should love me and accept me and be walking in this painful journey with me, have not only turned away but have thrown lighter fluid on the fire by spreading a false story.

I have been abandoned again when I needed help the most. Again and again and again and again because they can’t face their own culpability. They have to tell themselves and others a different story to preserve themselves, while I stand alone and abandoned once more.

I want to let go of how much I care about what people think of my story–of whether they believe me or not. But I know that getting to a place where I can walk confidently with my story, with the truth, is part of the process. I am not there yet. I will be someday.

(First the letting go, then the rising up.)

In my finer moments I know that this thing, the truth, is a hard thing. It has sharp cutting edges sometimes. It is uncomfortable. It is not for the faint of heart.

Not everyone can walk in the truth, even when they haven’t been told a false story. There are definitely people who have walked away from me–or at least looked away–because this truth is too much for them to see and acknowledge.

I get it. I understand how difficult a hard truth is to swallow. It has literally taken me decades to acknowledge my own truth!

But it still hurts when I see people walk away because of my story and my choice to tell it. It still makes me wonder if, because my story is too much, am I too much? Which in turn pushes me to try to play smaller and write a shitty, lame post that I hate.

Making that connection this week has been a huge win for me. I can’t back away from my story. I won’t.

My story is the truth. I am learning to walk in it without shame or hesitation or fear of how it will be received. And once I do that, I kinda feel like I’m going to be unstoppable.

 

 

 

On Bathrooms: Yes, it is personal.

Hey there, person who is boycotting Target or posting angry rants on Facebook about bathroom laws.

You say it has nothing to do with people who are transgender for you. You say you are worried about children and maybe women who could be assaulted by a man posing as a woman under the new laws. You say it is about safety, not bias and unease related to people who are transgender. You may even be outraged! Angry that our nation is one that will pass such laws putting children in danger of sexual abuse in such an open manner.

I am calling bullshit on you.

There, I said it.

Here’s my question to you, oh champion of children: why is your open disgust and protective instinct just rearing its ugly head now? Children have been suffering sexual assault for a long, long time in horrible circumstances and with lifelong consequences. Many turn to drug or alcohol abuse and far too many attempt or succeed at suicide.

And, by and large, they are victims to this sexual assault in a residence and by someone they know.

And yet you scream and cry about public bathrooms and hypothetical strangers dressed as women.

Bullshit.

These facts are not new. Where was your outrage before this bathroom controversy? Because the threat of childhood sexual assault is real, and it has so very little–really, nothing–to do with public bathrooms.

I am going to summon my better nature and assume you do not know the facts. Let me share some with you:

According to studies by the Center for Violence and Injury Prevention and the National Center for Juvenile Justice (US Department of Justice), 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker: 34.2% of attackers were family members, and 58.7% were acquaintances.

Only 7% of perpetrators were strangers to the victim.

Based on these facts, your child is far, far, FAR more likely to be sexually assaulted at your family picnic than in a bathroom at Target.

Let me drill down even deeper. It’s hard to get a good grasp on the numbers, because of course so much of child sexual abuse goes unreported (like mine). But I tried to do a little research and get some numbers.

Most sources say either 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 girls are victims of sexual abuse as children. Since the numbers varied, let’s split the difference and say 1 in 4.5 of these girls will be (or sadly already are) victims of sexual assault.

For boys its more like 1 in 20. Sexual assault perpetrated against boys is a horrible thing, and should not be ignored. But for the purposes of this exercise and the bulk of the controversy over bathrooms (and to make me do less weird math) I am going to stick with girls for now.

Now let’s pause and acknowledge that 1 in 4.5 is a horribly, terribly, shockingly large number. THIS. MANY. GIRLS. Your fear about the threat of sexual assault is not unfounded.

But where is this threat originating from? Is it really about bathrooms? Let me dig deeper.

According to the US Census data (census.gov/popclock), as of the time I write this, the US population is about 323,547,400.

Girls between ages 7-13 have the highest incidence of sexual abuse, and they comprise 4.43% of the population (same source).

That means the number of girls ages 7-13 in the US right now is about 14,333,150.

If 1 in every 4.5 of these girls already are or will become victims, we have roughly 3,185,144 girls. Just take a moment to let that staggering number sink in: over three million girls between the ages of 7-13 have been or will be sexually assaulted.

We can apply our earlier statistic that 93% of juvenile assault victims know their attacker. That means we can isolate the 7% who will be or already have been assaulted by complete strangers (this is the group to whom the bathroom situation everyone is in such a tizzy over would apply).

Let me just repeat this: 93% are assaulted by someone they know, yet people are screaming about the hypothetical situation that COULD POSSIBLY HYPOTHETICALLY happen to just 7%. (Bullshit.)

Continuing on with the facts:

This leaves us with 222,960 girls between the ages of 7 and 13 in the US who are or will become victims of sexual assault by strangers.

This is the pool of young girls who could potentially be assaulted by a stranger–such as a predator posing as a woman in a public restroom, which is the supposed source of the fear I’m reading and hearing about.

But guess what? We can narrow that pool even further by cross-referencing data on the location at which an assault is most likely to take place.

According to a US DOJ report on sexual abuse built from reports to law enforcement, 84% of child sexual assaults in a similar age range take place in a residence.

If we apply that figure to the pool of girls we have narrowed down, we have 16% out of our 222,960…leaving us with 35,674 girls who are or will be sexually assaulted by a person they do not know in a place other than a residence.

So that’s .25% of the entire population of girls in this age group in the US who will be or already have been assaulted by a stranger somewhere outside of a home.

That’s 1 in (roughly) 402 girls.

But this number isn’t even narrow enough, because we’re just saying the place of the assault is “not a residence.” This number would include places like parks and playgrounds and cars and is not just limited to public restrooms, so our .25% figure is not even accurate to describe the supposed threat of a stranger in a bathroom. Maybe it’s half of this figure? I am not sure. I could not find any data on this.

But the fact remains that essentially, you are speaking out in anger at something that has less than a quarter of a percent chance of happening to your daughter…and still remains largely a hypothetical.

No, we should not ignore the plight of these girls who are assaulted by strangers in places other than a residence. I am not in any way suggesting this. These girls need protection and safety.

What I am calling bullshit on is the extrapolation of a hypothetical threat from a small subsection of a shockingly large group of girls who are victims, because that is IGNORING COMPLETELY the largest, most looming, ugliest and most stomach-churning reality:

  • the biggest threat is in your own home, in the homes of your families and friends, in the places your daughter already feels safe and with the people your daughter already trusts.

Fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, grandfathers, neighbors, family friends–they are the overwhelming perpetrators of these crimes, not faceless cross-dressing pedophiles.

This is the reality you are ignoring and I am just…stunned.

I am stunned and shocked and personally hurt by your blindness. YES I SAID IT. You are turning a blind eye to largest and most looming threat to your daughter.

You are turning away from the real threat because it is ugly and very, VERY uncomfortable and instead you are marginalizing even further a group of people who has already been marginalized, a group of people who are just looking for a place to pee in peace.

You are extremely uncomfortable with the fact that your daughter is statistically safer in a public bathroom than she is in the home of someone she knows, so you are transferring your fear to an easy target: people who are transgender.

BULLSHIT.

“But your facts will change, Stephanie!” You say. “Because PREDATORS! They will take advantage of these laws and dress like women and get my kids! The law is enabling them and they will use any opening they can to get my child. This law will change your data and the number of bathroom assaults by strangers will go up and up and up!”

Guess what? States that have had these laws in place for up to 15 years report seeing no incidence of increased sexual assaults due to the passage of these laws. Here you go:

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I hope by now you are calling bullshit on yourself, because you should be.

Listen, I have a daughter. And obviously I have a strong need to protect her from her being victimized in any way given what I went through.

And this bathroom thing is a non-issue to me. Because the threat related to these laws is non-existent.

Predators exist, folks, bathroom laws or no. They’re out there, but, far more frequently, they are right here in our homes and around our children on a regular basis.

Why are you not more outraged about these basic facts? Why is it only when the issue is around people who are transgender that you yell and scream and make a fuss and say our children are in danger?

The threat of childhood sexual assault is real, and you are right to want to protect your daughters.

But it has nothing to do with bathrooms.

If you believe it has to do with bathrooms, you are sadly mistaken and yes, you have hit a very personal nerve for me.

I was abused in my own bed. By two different people that I loved.

Statistically speaking, I would have been safer in a Target bathroom with a woman who is transgender, and you insisting otherwise makes my blood boil.

Because where was your outrage for me? Where is your anger and sadness and ALL CAPS PSAs for the millions of other children who are assaulted and abused and hurt and victimized in millions of other locations besides a public bathroom? Why is THIS issue around bathrooms the wagon to which you are hitching your angry star?

These are serious questions. I hope you’ll really think about them. I probably can’t change anyone’s mind, but maybe I can make someone think.

But I think my most important question to you is: Is this really about sexual assault at all? Or is it more about your discomfort with people who are transgender?

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I think for some people who are angry about the bathroom laws and boycotting Target, it is about protecting your children and now that you know the facts, you may see that the threat is not real. Hopefully you can see that your anger and fear is unfounded.

But that’s only some.

The rest are using this sexual assault nonsense as a camouflage because you are uncomfortable with the idea of a person who is transgender. And this is a convenient way to continue to marginalize this population in a way that makes it okay for you to do so because it’s about protecting children instead of your own biases.

You are the people that infuriate me the most.

How dare you co-opt the fear and shame and anger and grief borne by sexual assault victims to further your intolerant and hateful cause? How dare you insinuate that the threat is “other” when the biggest, most nefarious threat is right at home?

Your stance only serves to re-victimize girls–like me–who were abused by people we know in places we know. Girls who are left with a quiet sense of shame, who remain silent because people like you don’t want to face the hard realities of childhood sexual abuse and how close it is to home.

Because people like you continue to shake hands with our abusers and call them “good, family men” while vilifying marginalized populations. You bet your ass it’s personal.

You pervert our suffering to your own causes and make it that much harder for us to be safe.

Our children, our girls, ARE in grave danger and you are deflecting the real danger, and that disgusts me.

BULL. SHIT.

May 11, 2015

One year ago, it was an ordinary Monday, the day after Mother’s Day. There was work and lacrosse practice after school and the usual chaos that surrounds trying to get two kids to do their homework and chores and have something of sustenance to eat before they have to put on their gear before practice.

This Monday felt harder. The kids were borderline ornery–don’t get me wrong, my kids are smart and spirited and loving and kind–but on this day, they were not really emphasizing these traits, let’s say. Let’s say that on this particular Monday, what they were actually emphasizing was their worst selves, the selves that just want to sit on the couch and stare at the TV for a couple of hours, possibly while drooling, instead of taking care of their responsibilities. (I can’t say I blame them…but somebody has to keep the trains running, know what I mean?)

So it was one of those days when I had to push and prod and nag and wheedle, as I simultaneously tried to wrap up my work day, which had proven to have its own challenges.

It was just one of those fucking days.

We were late for lacrosse practice, and I drove as recklessly as I dared, feeling the anxiety building. In retrospect, I wonder if it’s really THAT big of a deal that we are the family who is late for lacrosse practice nearly every time. In the grand scheme of things, probably not.

But this day was about more than just being late. This day was particularly tough. With their laziness and pokiness and talk-backiness, the kids had pushed me to the edge of my sane place, where I sort of hovered with questionable stability, trying to balance on the right side of the line that demarcated normal mom from screaming irrational mom.

I fell.

Of course I fell.

I mean, I teetered for awhile and then I just went SPLAT! into the place where I shrieked for most of the somewhat-reckless car ride to lacrosse practice, using tired phrases like, If I had behaved like you when I was a kid!!! and Why is it so hard to stick to the routine after school? and Calgon, take me away! (ok, not really, but the sentiment is there).

I had had these mom-freakouts before, occasionally. But this one felt different, exquisitely sharp. I felt like I was losing it, like I had to get out to go, to do something. There was something clawing at me, begging for my attention, poking at my insides to get me to see it or hear it or feel it. Something. SOMETHING.

When I had relieved myself of both children I started to drive home. I had things to do, you know.

Always with the things that need the doing.

I didn’t want to go home, though. That Something was bubbling up from my stomach, demanding my focus.

I was going to get a Starbucks and go sit by the pond. That’s what I would do, and wouldn’t that be nice?

No, no I didn’t want to do that either. That would not be nice at all.

I would just drive. I would just drive somewhere, nowhere. I just needed some time on my own, alone with my thoughts.

So I drove, and as I drove, I knew it was more than being alone with my thoughts. I didn’t think I was going anywhere when I realized I was actually driving Somewhere.

That Somewhere took shape in my brain, and a clear picture of a yellow house formed in my mind’s eye.

The House. I was going to the House.

The House was one where I lived from 7th grade through 11th grade, just four short years, but this house has lived on in my dreams…or, my nightmares, I should say.

For some reason, despite my less than stellar childhood spanning every house (or apartment) I’ve ever lived in, this house has come to embody the terror, sadness and loneliness of all of it.

My most frequent recurring nightmare is of this house, being in it with my children, knowing there is danger outside, and knowing I can’t protect them from it.

We are always in that fucking house in my nightmares.

By all rights, That House (which was repainted red at some point) should have been demolished years ago. It is practically falling apart anyway. It has been uninhabited for probably 20 years, as other houses in the area–not really a neighborhood, just a couple of houses along a major road that is right next to a major highway–were knocked down in favor of a hotel and a large office building erected there.

But that house still stands–barely, by now. But it stands, and this day I believed that it still stands just to haunt me.

As I drove toward Wallingford, I suddenly came to realize that I was not just going to visit That House. I was going to visit every house we had lived in since we came to Connecticut. This was a thing I decided to do simply, cleanly, as though it had been my plan all along. I didn’t know why I was doing it; I just knew I had to.

We came to Connecticut from Florida when I was 8, and the first place we lived was in Meriden, a bit further north than Wallingford.  I would go there next.

As I headed that way, my stomach started to feel unsettled and I tasted bile in the back of my mouth.

Why was this feeling so ominous? I didn’t really understand what I was feeling. I had memories in that first apartment that were happy.

For a time, in that Meriden apartment, I remembered happiness. I remembered the pond in our backyard that we used to skate on in the winter and fish in during the summer. I remember an old railroad track we could follow through a meadow if we walked through a wooded area and over a little bridge on the pond. If we followed that track, it ended near a playground.

I remembered our time in that apartment as a relatively carefree time when we spent lazy days catching sunfish with my cousins, going on adventures, riding our bikes to the dirt BMX track at Falcon Field, which was right across the road from our street.

My memories of living there are glazed with a golden wash of childhood adventure and leisure.

Why, then, did I feel like something terrible was about to happen?

My dread mounted as I turned left into the dead end street, our apartment having been in the third and last house.

The first two houses looked much as I remembered them, with improvements. One of the improvements in the middle house was a looming stockade-like fence built on only one side of the house, the side that shared a border with my old house. Odd.

But when I looked at the old house, I could see why. Two trucks and a shoddy-looking camper were parked on the front lawn, and the driveway/parking area was littered with car parts and a bunch of other unidentifiable “stuff.” It looked like a broken down junkyard.

I wanted to pull all the way to the end of the road and right into the parking area to get a closer look at the backyard, the door we used to use to go in, the path down to the pond, and the trail through the wooded area, but there was no way for me to do that without making it incredibly obvious that I was staking out the place.

I turned around in the driveway of the middle house and headed out, my heart hammering.

Something was bubbling in my chest. Something.

Trying to remain calm, I drove across the street and into the Falcon Field complex. To my great surprise, the dirt BMX track was still there, exactly as I remembered it from nearly 35 years ago.

To my greater surprise, I noticed I was crying.

I turned around in the parking lot and left the track behind, following the road around the pond to the far side opposite my old house. I pulled into a new playground area where I could park my car and study the back of the house from the other side of the pond.

The dread was still bubbling, but I felt a bit safer observing the house from this distance.

I saw the bridge we used to sit on when we cast our lines into the pond.

I saw the path to the meadow, and the hint of the old train tracks with the high grass growing around them.

Behind me, I saw another path into the woods and up a hill–I had forgotten about that path, but I suddenly remembered that it was a shortcut to my elementary school.

None of these sights made me afraid; instead, they filled me with a fond nostalgia.

But the house was a different story.

I had a memory in this house, one that over the years, I had all but forgotten. Sometimes, an image of it would bubble up into my brain under some other context, never the right one, never making sense, but accompanied by the same sense of seeping dread I had been feeling since I got off the exit two miles from this house.

In that moment, sitting in my car in that parking lot, with a few kids playing on the monkey bars nearby, that memory came back to me.

It was foggy and nebulous, but it was there in full context: a vague impression of being pushed down onto a bed. The loud creaking of the bed frame, grabbing hands, the full weight of a body on top of me.

A shared joke was made, and I laughed.

I knew something wasn’t right, but I laughed.

I was going to be sick. I was going to be sick in my car as I thought about it. As I realized that this was the Something. The Something had solidified into this thing, this thing that had been dancing at the edge of my memory most of my life.

And as I thought about it more, I knew it wasn’t the only time it happened.

As I sat there, fighting against my urge to vomit, I realized that this nebulous memory was simply a series of impressions of about 30 seconds of my life, but I know it went on for longer and it happened more than once. Maybe twice? Maybe 10 times? 35? I don’t know. I don’t even have a true memory of any other time except for the feelings, the impressions of it happening again, often with the same shared joke coming up.

I stared at that house and started to feel the shame. Shame for how I had played along. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I push him away? Why didn’t I stop him? Why did I submit?

A young father nearby looked at me crying in my car. I tried to find a tissue and came up with a napkin from my center console to clean myself up. But I wasn’t ready to leave yet. The father turned away, chasing his daughter toward the slide.

I dug deeper, poking around in my memory, and found another Something. Another time when a memory had inexplicable dread and shame attached to it.

I relived this memory with this new context, remembered sharply the feeling of being trapped and scared and for once, for this one time, I found anger instead of submission. I wasn’t laughing, this time. I wanted to fight back, and I did.

He screamed out in pain as his face contorted, and I knew I was in trouble. Whatever he was holding back before, he released on me now as pure rage in the form of vicious punches and kicks. All I could do was endure it.

I was nine.

The remembering was too much.

It was too much for me to admit all at once, in a parking lot, in a neighborhood full of ghosts coming back to haunt me.

This is a real thing that happened to me, I said to myself.

I whispered it out loud in the car, I was abused.

This is a thing. This is the Something that happened to me. The Something that had been bubbling up, poking at the edges of my consciousness, for close to a year now. I had sought therapy to deal with family issues, things I thought were–or at least should be–long healed, but they just weren’t and I didn’t understand why.

This was why.

That Monday, I continued on to visit four other houses and two cemeteries. I yelled at uncaring headstones. I cried more. I remembered more. I got sick. I cried again.

Then I went home. But the real journey had barely begun.

I have been dreading  this day, May 11, 2016, for months. How would I react to the passing of a year, the demarcation of such a dubious anniversary?

It wasn’t a great day, to say the least. But it wasn’t my worst.

One year later, I call myself “survivor” instead of “victim.”

One year later, I no longer feel shame about what was done to me, although I do still grieve.

One year later, I’m still standing.

Ebbs and Flows

I have started this blog like four times…deleted, restarted, deleted again.

I have so much to say and I just don’t know how to start. It keeps feeling like everything I’m writing is like the blah blah blah drone of the Peanuts teacher.

So I feel like the easiest thing to say is, I am sort of living my life again. I have a life to be lived, and it’s high time I started living it somehow.

This pain, this healing process is a part of my life. And I suspect that it will forever be a key turning point for me.

But it’s put me in a state of suspended animation for the last 10 months. That’s almost a full year! It’s almost been a year. Holy shit.

This trauma and healing has disconnected me from people and activities and laughter and love and joy. This is what pain, trauma, deep depression does.

It took me on a turbulence-filled ride of ups and downs and sometimes the bumps are endurable and other times I am frantically looking for the barf bag and not necessarily finding it in time.

The only feelings I could feel were the ones related to the healing. In almost all other ways I became robotic, shell-like, almost inhuman, because there was just no room or energy for anything but pain, anger, sadness, grief.

It has changed over the last couple of months, though.

You know what? In that last sentence, I started to write “Luckily, it has changed over the last couple of months…” But then I deleted it, because it is not changing by luck or happenstance, it is changing through hard work and effort on my part.

It is changing through my (metaphorical) sweat and (real) tears and earnest intention to get to the other side of this ocean of grief from my old life and move forward to be me, living my life. Whatever “me” looks like beyond this grief.

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In therapy a couple of weeks ago, I expressed serious frustration at this ebb and flow effect. Like, WHY DOES THE DEPRESSION/PAIN/ANGER KEEP COMING BACK JUST WHEN I START TO FEEL OKAY? I could not understand why I wasn’t making progress…but my therapist assured me I was. Recognizing that there was an ebb and flow, in fact just experiencing an ebb and flow instead of all pain/anger/sadness/depression all the time, showed my progress.

So I started to think about this last near-year, and how it has all played out for me. I wanted to see it all laid out so I could chart my progress and not feel all my work was in vain, and it has helped. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Everything is fine! Nothing to see here! (early to mid May, memories resurface)
    • I am in a place of shock, with no grasp of HOW BIG THIS WAS.
    • My motto: Let’s just tuck this in with all the other dark things of which we never, ever speak and carry on. (Because carrying on with a smile is always the most important thing.)
    • The armor is cracked, but I am determined to keep wearing it.
    • Seriously, you guys, I can totally walk this thing off! Just give me a hot second.
  • Wait. Something feels…off. (mid to late May)
    • I start to feel a seeping sense of HOW BIG THIS WAS.
    • I have a vague idea that this might not just go down with a hard swallow like a cut-slightly-too-big piece of steak.
    • A bit of a panic creeps in–like maybe I have an entire steak stuck in my throat and I am completely unable to breathe. I think I might not be able to simply carry on.
    • OH MY GOD I MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO CARRY ON! This is a worst case scenario for me, and the panic grows.
    • I become desperate to keep up appearances–it’s what I have spent my entire life doing and I am really, REALLY good at it–and fail.
    • HOLY SHIT I HAVE FAILED AT THIS THING THAT I AM SUPPOSED TO BE REALLY GOOD AT.
  • Implosion/All is Lost (Memorial Day-rest of summer)
  • Phew! Glad that’s over! (late August-September)
    • I decide that the advent of fall, a new season, is my motivation to move forward and leave this behind.
    • I enjoy some time off with my family, I start exercising again, I begin to feel like I am successfully working my way out of the hole.
    • Look at me go! I CAN overachieve at healing from my traumatic past.
  • NOPE, everything is still terrible. I fail again. (October-November)
    • Cue sound of universe laughing at my arrogance in thinking I was all set with this.
    • Cue ill-timed recurrence of toe problems, one of several catalysts sending me back into another version of the black hole.
    • Cue new hole that is not quite as black and all consuming as the original hole, but still…it’s more of like a shallow, gray hole from which I can see the rest of the world but, like, through a weird sheer curtain like the one Sirius Black falls through in Order of the Phoenix (moment of silence for Sirius Black).
    • Cue me returning to a blob-like state of inertia and deep sadness, certain I will never be able to overcome the trauma of my past.
  • EVERYONE MUST DIE. (late November, early to mid December)
    • So much rage. I hated everyone and everything, so I hope no one took it personally.
    • Anger is my best friend, a comforting companion that I indulge in many ways.
  • CHRISTMAS! NEW YEARS! SHINY OBJECTS! AND SADNESS… (December-Jan 1)
    • I refuse to deny my family a happy holiday because of my own misery.
    • We made a perfect plan to escape for the holidays, and we rented a beautiful cabin in the Smokies in North Carolina, just the four of us and our dog.
    • I poignantly realize that the reason we have to flee for the holidays is so that I won’t be faced with the reality that we have no family to spend the holidays with. Because of me and my terrible life choices.
    • I am obviously the worst at everything. Sadness and self-loathing return.
  • It is a new year and I commit to being awesome again! (first 2 weeks of January)
    • I meal plan! I cook! I make a schedule!
    • My family seems more like themselves because I am back into my old role of steering the ship.
    • YAY! I did it!
  • Shit. That didn’t last long. (late January-February)
    • Seasonal depression.
    • More toe problems (I just can’t even with this fucking toe) that leave me heavily reliant on painkillers and unable to walk like a normal person. For two weeks.
    • I am the worst kind of failure and will obviously never be successful at getting my life back together. If it was ever really “together” in the first place.

So….

If you stuck with me through all of that, you can see what I mean by ebb and flow.

Today, in March, on this day and in this moment, I am trying to realize the hard truth: this isn’t just going to “happen.” I have to decide. I have to make it happen. I have to consciously say, today I will move forward in any small way I can.

There won’t be a morning when I awake to hear the birds singing and say, “Today is the day I am normal again! All of the sad things are over!”

There won’t be a moment in the therapists’ office in which I shout, “Eureka! I am healed! Thank you, doctor!” and skip out into the sunlight, never to return.

There will only be more ebbing and flowing, and me, deciding every day to choose my life. To choose the people I love today over a past I can’t change. To choose to actively become the person I was meant to be, whoever that person is, despite the challenges I have faced. Despite the challenges I continue to face.

I have to do it. I have to keep doing it. Every day.

I have to keep looking in the mirror and telling myself I am good, kind, smart person who is worthy of love and respect.

I don’t get to take a break from the motion of life to heal. I have to keep choosing to heal and grow every day, keeping time as best I can with the rhythm of this life I love so dearly. This life I have created for myself and for which I am incredibly grateful. I have to keep living it as best I can amidst the ebb and flow of grief and healing.

It’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility.

Son of a bitch.

 

 

Gratitude: It’s Complicated.

Listen you guys.

I know I’ve been sort of a pain in the ass lately. Sad and angry and full of hard feelings. I appreciate the support and the love many of you have shared with me.

I know I have come across as bitter and resentful and that’s because I am on some days. On many days, actually.

I was talking to a friend on the phone today–someone I haven’t caught up with in awhile but someone who, every time we do finally connect, lets me know that she’s thinking of me and lets me basically talk about all of my stuff like a self-absorbed jackass until we run out of time and I realize I should have asked her more about herself and what’s going on in her life, because I really do want to know. (Thank you, friend, for letting me do that.)

Anyway, in today’s monologue I was telling her about this anger I have toward the idea that I will somehow be “better in the end” for all this suffering. How the idea that I should be grateful for the potential of a positive outcome to all of this is just infuriating.

So I think I have a new thing, and it is Finding Pins on Pinterest that Infuriate Me. Here is one of them I found today while writing this blog:

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What’s that I smell? Oh, right. BULLSHIT.

This one is just…no. NOPE.

Because guess what guys? I already know that I’m strong. I am a goddamned iron soldier. I don’t need to find my strength–I grew it as a kid who did everything she needed to survive.

This healing process, for me, is all about the vulnerability.

I already know I can be a rock solid badass who withstands some serious shit.

But now that I’ve withstood it, now that I’ve endured and survived, can I still be human instead of iron? Can I actually feel the feelings of sadness and anger and despair and show those feelings to other humans without feeling like doing so is a failure?

This is the real challenge. This goes against all of the hard wiring I’ve developed in my childhood, which tells me NOT to feel.

Which tells me that I am a burden to others, unworthy of care and kindness and love.

Which tells me I MUST stay firm and steadfast and look like all is well no matter what rages in my heart beneath the surface.

Which tells me I cannot break apart and ask for help and cry AGAIN and show that I am weak and flawed and hurting so deeply.

But I am. I am all of these things. And to forgive myself for being a flawed, broken, hurting human who shares her pain and asks for help and tells the secrets goes against that hard wiring in my brain.

I learned that these things are WRONG and BAD and NOT HOW PEOPLE SHOULD BE and every time I write, or share with a loving friend, or ask for help, or cry or scream, it’s like having to hit the manual override button on that hard wiring every single time so I can carry on with this process.

But, here’s the catch on this whole “being better for my suffering” thing:

The truth is that I will be better in the end.

This is a healing process, and healing is always better than staying injured and broken. Even though we’re all a little (or a lot) broken, I know that there is a positive to the hell I am going through now, if I stay the course.

I can be less broken, and more whole.

I can connect with other people more completely. Share the human experiences. I can love and feel joy and friendship and kindness in a real and complete way instead of amid the fog that I have been half-living in all these years.

I can be the absolute best version of myself, warts and all…not some faux-perfect best version that I might show on Facebook.

And I will do all those things. Eventually.

And I will be incredibly grateful for it. Eventually.

But for now, my relationship with gratitude is incredibly complicated, because the anger and the bitterness and anti-gratitude of today comes from knowing that I could have been better from the start.

Under different circumstances, I could have been the best version of myself for all these years instead of just now clawing my way to it as a forty-something with kids of her own.

I could have had happy and productive relationships with friends and romantic partners instead of destructive ones that left me feeling even more broken and worthless.

What more could I have achieved in these last 25-30 adult(ish) years had I not been so very broken from the start? Who else could I have been? What else could I have done? What opportunities did I miss?

These are all questions I am letting go of. I can feel them loosening their grip on my soul even as I type.

I imagine, with hope, with optimism, that they will soon be replaced with gratitude for and pride in what I have already achieved despite these challenges; who I am now and all I have already done; and the opportunities I have created and acted on along the way.

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Oh, I have the strength all right. I’m doing it.

I am so very grateful for the possibility of a new kind of life, full of genuine happiness, joy and love.

There is sure to still be pain and hardship along the way, but just not so much, and/or not so all the time-y.

I look forward to being grateful for less soul-crushing pain in my life.

Most of all, in this moment, I am grateful for the people who have made me feel safe to share my weakness, my vulnerability, my pain and my heart with them.

People like the friend I talked with this week…she is going through her own version of hell and we just sat and shared in each other’s misery and strangely it was the best hour and a half I’ve had in a long time.

We waded through the epic sucking of life together, knee-deep, that friend and I. We carried a bit of each other’s burden and it was a revelation for me and I was so incredibly grateful for her sharing my load and I hope she felt the same.

This is where gratitude hits me these days, in the appearance of a few people who, amazingly, care about me and who love me for exactly who I am in this messy, chaotic time of my messy, chaotic life.

People who show up for me even when they don’t know what to say or do, but they show up anyway. People who don’t abandon me; instead they stand with me and carry a bit of the load.

For me, having people who do that is just so…different and miraculous.

Even though it can be hard for me to trust the good intentions of these people given my background, I am forcing myself to take the leap and accept them as the miracles they are.

And I am determined to force myself to a place of gratitude, not only for these miraculous people, but for the many wonderful things in my life that are being so completely eclipsed by the pain right now.

I’ll get there. Eventually.