Memory #377

Note: The Memory Series is made up of entries that are my attempt to puzzle together so many disjointed and out of context memories and pieces of memories that float around in my brain. Most of these are memories I’ve always had, but even though I remembered these events, I never really examined or understood them. They are now critical memories to revisit as I work through my healing process. The numbers attached to each memory aren’t that important; they’re mostly random except for their order in my life. This is the first I wrote in the series.

This day, she was 14 or 15. This day, she was tired of the front. Of the cheerful, sociable exterior. It was exhausting to keep up and she was sick of it all.

Bitterness blossomed within her, sharp like acid, hollowing her out. She looked around her room, which was a disaster, strewn with clothes and cassette tapes and paper and dishes and books and a million other things. She felt so much wrong inside of her.

She smashed a picture in its frame. The shards of broken glass mingled with the rest of the rubble on her bedroom floor.

That girl, she picked up the biggest shard and held it in her hand. She caressed the flat side. It was smooth and shiny. She tapped her finger against the cruel point at one end, wondering what it would feel like.

She dragged the point across the inside of her arm, watching a trail of red bubble up in its wake. Interesting. It hurt, but not really.

I was that girl. I was that girl who spent the next hour and a half carving up both of her legs and arms. My legs. My arms.

That girl, that me, was so desperate to be relieved of her anger and her sadness. I wanted to release it, to bleed it out, a painful but satisfying purge.

I felt better, for awhile. And then, as always, I felt worse.

I went to cheerleading practice the next day, not even considering what my body would look like to everyone else until my friend looked over at me during stretches, just two minutes into practice.

“Jesus, Stephanie! What the hell happened to you?”

She was staring with horror at my legs, splayed out in a straddle.

I looked down and saw myself through her eyes. My bare legs, riddled with angry red scratches in random patterns. My arms, covered in just as many cuts.

I hesitated, trying to process this. This was new to me, not being ready. Not having my story straight. Not even having thought through how I would explain this away, not even thinking I would HAVE to explain this away.

I ALWAYS thought ahead. I ALWAYS had my story straight. I was good at it. It was what I did. How could I have gone so wrong this time?

Because today, this moment, I was at a loss for the briefest of instances. How could I have let this happen? How could I have been so careless? I was going to be revealed. This was it. I had failed.

After two beats, I stuttered out, “Oh, uh, yeah. We were walking through pricker bushes. Pretty dumb, right?”

She knew I was lying. I could tell she knew I was lying. Everyone knew I was lying because by that time most of the team and the coach were all listening and looking at me with doubtful faces.

Then the moment passed and everyone let me carry on with my charade. Just like that, they all accepted my obvious lie without further question or discussion.

I was elated: Thank God they left me alone about it! That was a close call.

I was outraged: How the hell could they leave me alone about it?!? I need help! Can’t they see I need help?

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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.

A Blog with Many Swears and Capital Letters

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Last night I had another bad dream. They have become a common occurrence over the last few weeks and I find I am in a new place where sleep is no longer an escape but another minefield to navigate in this awful process of healing through pain, of getting through to a place where I might call myself a “survivor” instead of a “victim.”

But last night was awful…because last night one of my abusers appeared in my dream (a first) and the twist is that HE was there to confront ME. (How’s that for irony?)

He told me that he “knew what I was up to” and that I was not only a liar, but a ridiculous person. He had a piece of paper in his hand and said he wanted to talk to me about what was on that paper, and I just knew, I just knew with dread and terror and overwhelming fear that the mysterious paper had all the worst things about me written on it.

He had them, all the terrible things inside me, written on that paper, and he was wielding it like a knife that could cut through to my very soul.

I couldn’t actually see the paper but I knew–like you know stuff in dreams–that he was going to tell everyone all the terrible things and expose me as the fraud that I am, and I was so afraid and ashamed.

In the night this dream terrified me, and I woke up in the darkness shaking a little, and it was so hard to get back to sleep.

In the morning the dream had lost some of its power, but I was still pretty rattled. I realized, with a little help from a wise favorite person, that these were my own inner demons talking to me in my dream.

These horrible thoughts that I have internalized over the years will not go down without a fight, and even if I can banish them during the light of day, they are still going to show up and whisper maliciously in my ear in the middle of the night.

All the work I’m doing, all the effort, is infuriatingly slow with such incremental gains in this process followed by setbacks. One step forward, dragged forcibly back three steps.

And you guys, I am PISSED.

I am just so angry and bitter and full of rage at, like, everything.

Example: We went to church this morning, only because Emma was singing with the choir. Otherwise I’d probably be still in my pajama pants in bed instead of presentably dressed and make-uped as I furiously pound this blog post out on my keyboard

At church I didn’t sing. I didn’t smile. In fact, I was actively enraged in my heart by the ongoing discussion of Advent and joy and God’s love. Immediately at the end of the service, I stalked out to the car and sat there stewing by myself until Drew collected the kids and came out. I just couldn’t do it–I couldn’t people, I couldn’t church, I couldn’t pretend. I was angry.

Our pastor gave a sermon that I would have otherwise (in what seems like another life) loved and greatly appreciated. She talked about not asking “What should I do?” but instead being called to ask “What can I do?” To be driven not by uncertainty of “what to do” but instead to be driven to take any action within our power when we see need. It’s a powerful message and one in which I believe strongly.

Plot twist! Today, this sermon only added to my growing fury.

Why?

Because I am just generally infuriated at all the shit that I ALREADY HAVE TO DO and I don’t need to go to church to be asked “What ELSE can I do?” because basically all I can do every day is just exist and try to seem normal and get through the hours without wanting to scream and punch things almost every minute.

Here’s the thing I think is at the root of my general outrage at life: One of the ongoing conversations I’ve had recently with my therapist is about “re-parenting.” I have to re-parent myself, she tells me. Because there is a sad, neglected, lonely, hurting little kid version of Steph Nash in my heart that never got what a child needs.

And I, fully grown adult Steph Nash, with two children who I am already actively parenting, and a husband and a job and a house and a bunch of pets, have to re-parent little Steph Nash.

I just want to make sure you got that. I have to parent myself. Even though I was just a kid when all these things were done to me and some caring adults should have helped me and didn’t.

I HAVE TO FUCKING DO IT MYSELF.

You may not be surprised to learn that I am feeling a sense of barely controlled rage just typing those words.

What kind of bullshit is this??? That is a serious question. What. Kind. of. Bullshit.

We actually started talking about re-parenting a couple of months ago in therapy and for whatever reason, it did not enrage me then. I was just like, okay, that makes sense. Children have to be loved and nurtured or they grow up without good coping skills. It follows that I need to love and nurture myself to make up for that. (Mentally check off box for being so awesome at healing from my traumatic abuse. Look at me, winning at therapy!)

It was all very rational. I didn’t put much stock into the unfairness of it at that time, I just sort of accepted it (or so I thought).

I even made up a little mantra:

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

Isn’t that ADORABLE? Maybe I should create a little inspirational graphic and post it to a Pinterest board! Because it’s so adorable and re-parenting is so easy, amirite?

OF COURSE IT’S NOT. It is a ridiculous concept that infuriates me.

It is unfair. It is so ungodly unfair, and I am so, so, SO angry.

I shouldn’t have to do this.

IT WASN’T MY FAULT AND I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO DO IT.

But…but…I have to do it anyway.

I have to cry and scream and fight and do the right thing for myself because other people who should have, didn’t. I have to work and work and every time I think I have made progress and am “moving on” I have another bad dream or anxiety attack or sleepless night or day when I just can’t get out of bed.

I just have to keep doing it and it’s not fair and it’s so. fucking. hard.

So, thinking about doing hard things, here’s something I pinned on Pinterest about 8 weeks ago as a source of inspiration for myself:

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SHUT UP stupid Pin.

I loved it so much when I pinned it and now I look at it and I am like FUCK YOU!

OF COURSE I can do hard things because I have been doing them my whole freaking life! I do all the hard things ALL THE TIME!! They don’t get easier because you tell me I’m beautiful!

Riddle me this, PIN, why do I have to keep doing the hard things over and over and over? Why does it ALWAYS have to be my responsibility to do all the hard things? (FYI, The Pin did not answer.)

Here’s an idea–why can’t the people who hurt me and/or the people who were supposed to take care of me but didn’t do the hard things instead of me?

And, to make this idea even better, while they do the hard things, I will do some easy things…things like, I don’t know, eating all the pizza/ice cream/cheeseburgers I want without getting even fatter than I already am, or just laying on the bed with a bunch of puppies all day–puppies who somebody else feeds and potty trains and I just get to lay on a big comfy bed with them and play and pet them and get my face licked with delightful puppy breath.

Either or both of those suggestions seems way better than having to “re-parent” myself. They seem fairer and less rage-inducing, for sure.

But here I am, in this reality. Every day. EVERY. DAY.

And as much as I might rage (and I do), it IS my responsibility, even though it wasn’t my fault. Because nobody else can take responsibility but me. Nobody else did, so I have to. And it sucks. It sucks to a degree that I cannot even come close to conveying with mere swear words and capital letters in an angry blog post, even though I tried really hard today.

I have to keep working–this hard, hard work–to silence those voices that tell me I am unworthy and unlovable. I have to kill the demons that show up in my dreams to tell me that I am a liar, that I am a ridiculous person with terrible things inside of me and that I should be ashamed. And those demons are like, invincible or something I think.

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At least I hope it’s bravery.

I have to remember that my answer to the question my pastor challenged us to ask ourselves today, “What can I do?” may simply be “I can go on.”

I can get up, I can look in the mirror, I can hug my kids and my husband, I can get dinner on the table sometimes (even it it’s takeout) and I can seem like a normal functioning human most of the time.

I know the anger will pass. It’s going to take a little more time–it’s a lot of years’ worth of unexpressed anger I have to work through. But for now I have to sit with it for awhile, in this uncomfortable place of fury and indignation, because the only way out is through. I have to dig through the anger to get to the roots of grief and sadness.

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Don’t worry–I will eventually let go of this anger that is temporarily poisoning my spirit. I see it, I can name it, and I am aware enough to not let it impact my good, important relationships and to try and find healthy ways to express it, such as, I don’t know, writing a blog post full of swears and capital letters.

In the meantime…I’m going to stick with my righteous indignation. And probably eat a lot of cheeseburgers, because fuck it.

 

 

 

 

 

Black Holes and Heavy Loads

Maya Angelou quoteA little over six months ago my life changed.

Irrevocably.

Nothing actually changed. But everything changed. (I swear I am not purposely trying to be confusing.)

In simple terms, on May 11, a really lovely spring day in Connecticut, I had some long-repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse come back to me in a rush.

That should have been enough. But there was a cascading effect. My brain had spent 30+ years holding strong the wall that protected my heart, and when the curtain on these specific events of abuse was torn away, other events became clearer to me. Over the next 2-3 months, I uncovered ugly realities behind “memories” I had whitewashed over. I swam, rather unwillingly, to the shore of the blissful river of denial. It was not pretty.

Now that the rose-colored curtain has been pulled back, here is what I can say with clarity: as a child I was abused. I was hurt, physically and emotionally; I was neglected, abandoned and belittled. I was surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse. I was the victim of rage that was meant for another person, a convenient and generally helpless outlet for anger felt toward someone who was out of reach. Presumably caring adults who were nearby and could have helped, didn’t.

The details of my abuse, of the things that were done to me, are unimportant at this moment in time. The whos, the whats, the wheres–they are not a part of my story I am ready to share widely. At least not yet.

Suffice it to say that my abusers were all people who were supposed to love and protect me. People I trusted. People I looked up to, idolized, worshipped. People I made excuses for all these long years. People I worked with great diligence, throughout my childhood and into my adult life, to please and to convince that I am a good, loving, smart, worthwhile person.

These last six months have been god awful, my friends. When I look back on them I see a black hole. These months will for the rest of my life be the demarcation of the “before” and “after.”

The images associated with these dark months are grim. My bedroom, with all the shades drawn to make it as lightless as possible. Me burrowed into my bed with the comforter covering my swollen, red face. The mirror in the bathroom covered with a towel so I wouldn’t have to look anymore. I couldn’t stand the sight of myself, because when I looked I saw someone the world would be a better place without.

“You have to feel all the pain you’ve blocked out all these years,” my therapist told me (and continues to tell me). “You have to get through it. You can’t turn back now.”

With the onset of this gut wrenching pain, all of my old coping mechanisms tapped more and more insistently at my heart. My rational mind knew they were wrong, but the pull was so very strong. The pain was unbearable. How could I possibly be expected to endure this? I had to do something to make it stop. To distract myself from it.

I felt such intense yearnings to binge eat. To not eat at all. To throw up after I ate. To physically hurt myself. To drink. To detach from everyone and everything good in my life, because that’s what I deserved. I was not always successful at ignoring these yearnings.

You see, when you are treated like everyone’s whipping girl for so many years, you start to treat yourself that way, too. The messages of worthlessness and shame nest in your heart.

And the shame, my friends, the shame was visceral. I tried to make myself disappear in that dark room, knowing that I was unlovable with all this blackness inside of me.

For the first two months, I cried every day. Copiously and multiple times. I hated myself for it. One day I stood in the grocery store, tears streaming down my face, trying to hold back the heaving sobs.

After so many years of priding myself on being a soldier, being unflappable, being a fortress of strength, I was unable to leave my own home for fear of falling apart. I was disgusted with my pathetic state of being.

I missed so much living during these months. My son played the lacrosse game of his life–scoring three goals in a row to bring his team back from behind and win the game–while I was in my darkened room of shame, unable to get up and go out. My daughter marched in the parade and sang at church, and I missed that too.

I breathed in and out. Sometimes I screamed. Sometimes I felt like I would never live through the day. But, often despite myself, I kept breathing in and out.

I mourned myself. I mourned a sweet, eager, smart 9-year old girl, the same age as my daughter, who swallowed the terror she felt because of what was being done to her and smiled.

I mourned a 13-year-old girl, the same age as my son, who was newly thin from anorexic behaviors and tried to commit suicide because she felt so alone and so unloved.

I mourned a high-achieving, well-liked teenager who was desperate to keep appearances up, to hide the cuts on her body, to keep her vomiting quiet, to make sure no one knew all of her dirty secrets and only saw the shiny exterior.

I mourned a girl who moved around a lot and grew up as a chameleon, easily fitting in with lots of different crowds but never getting to know anyone too well. Or, more importantly, never letting anyone get to know her too well because chances were, if they knew what was inside her, they would abandon her, too.

I had shunned all of these versions of myself. I had cast them into a dark room and shut the door on them, so it makes sense that I had to spend so much time in that blackness with them to move through this.

Into the third and fourth months, I didn’t cry as much. I ventured out of my safe zones, a little bit. I talked to a few more people. I found that some people that I had trusted with my story should not have been trusted with it. I found that there were some people I had been looking at through rosy glasses, and this was the time to take off the glasses and look at who these people really were…and then let them go. When I let some of these people go, it felt as though a huge burden had been lifted off me. But I still wondered if I would ever feel happiness again. “Joy” was not even a consideration.

Mercifully, I also had some of the right people in my life. My husband, who has been nothing short of heroic during this crisis. My children, with their light and their unflinching love for a mother who had nothing to give them for three months. Women who I call family even though we don’t share any blood. They were all my lifelines.

I am in a better place today. I am functional, although still pathetically fragile. I am trying to figure out what my life means now, so radically different from what it used to be even though, on the surface, nothing has changed.

I have had quite enough of useless platitudes telling me I am going to launch forward into SOMETHING AMAZING. I am tired, friends, and I am not amazing. I cannot stand the fucking pressure of trying to bring forth something AMAZING from my struggles, because just getting through the day is the most amazing thing I can manage most days.

This is not a mountain to climb or a brick wall to get around. I carry the burden within me, and I don’t know how to put it down just yet. I recognize this. Maybe soon I can put this heavy, heavy load down. Maybe soon I can marry the logical, rational voice in my brain that tells me that I am a smart, competent, capable, kind and compassionate human with the voice of the lost girl in my heart that tells me I am worthless, shameful and unlovable.

Maybe soon. But not today.

Today, I hugged my kids and my husband. I had a relatively productive day at work. I interacted with other humans in the world like a normal person. I ate and I slept enough and I met my meager steps goal on my fitness band. I played Guitar Hero with my son. I sang songs with my daughter. I laughed with my family. I felt happiness.

Today was a good day, and for now that is enough.