No One To Teach Me

Copyright 2013

My efforts to be what I think you want—what you say you want—is a failure every time.
As it is doomed to be.
Either you are lying or I am not enough.
Most likely both.
As fucking usual.

And I want so much to ask you
What I could do, what I could be.
Even if it hurts, I want to know.
But I know you well enough to know you won’t tell me.
You’ll tell me I’m wrong
Or you don’t know.
Which just means you don’t want to hurt me.

I’m glad you don’t want to hurt me.
I am.
But how will I ever learn
If no one is willing to teach me?
Lessons—all the ones worth learning—hurt a little.
And it’s not as if without your input there is no pain.
The pain of continuing to get it wrong is worse than the pain of learning how to get it right.
My time is every bit as limited as yours.
I am asking for help—which is not easy for me.
Because I cannot make it alone.

Maybe because I’m not clear about what I want.
Maybe because what I want is too tame, too calm.

My clumsy attempts at affection, met with ridicule or ignorance
Or worst of all, pity.
But a pity that makes you want to run away, not reach out with compassion.
Because my need might crush you
And you can’t risk it.

You say it’s all my imagination.
But how could it be?

I am too melancholy, too needy, too ugly, too drab.
I am too much of whatever you’re not looking for
And too little of what you are.

I always thought that what I wanted was so simple, so easy.
But I guess it was still too much.
Or the too little that turns out to be not enough.

What chance did I have, I ask you?
And if I haven’t figured it out by now,
What hope do I have?
Especially alone.
With no one to teach me
Or hold my hand
Or wipe my tears
Or touch me tenderly?
What hope do I have?

There is no chance that I will get what I want if I cannot ever ask for it safely.

However much it hurts,
It can’t hurt worse than this—always feeling wrong.

If no one will teach me, I can only learn from observing and from experience.
And my observation and experience are skewed by my disappointment and hurt.
And while those things are real, they are not all there is.  I hope not, anyway.

You tell me that I am wrong about my observations.
But you cannot (or will not) help me correct them.
So the only thing I can do is observe some more and hope like hell
That I will grow new eyes.

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Posted in emotional abuse, family, friendship, healing, mental health, recovery | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Not Tough Enough

So I had an interesting day today.

I was thinking that I should post something, since I’ve been trying to do so every couple of days, to stay on top of the blog.  I was going to try for humor, a post about how I never keep any promises to myself about dieting, fitness, etc., just talk about someday and overeat while dreaming about being thin and fabulous, and giving myself another excuse to hate myself.

But then I logged on to Facebook, and someone had posted this:  http://magazine.nd.edu/news/40695/.  As a cradle Catholic, my reaction to this is what it always is, something to this effect:  “I honestly don’t understand why this is even a question.  If these were not priests, but just guys in your neighborhood that were abusing children, no one, and I mean NO ONE would be trying to protect them.  How can the church have any authority on moral issues of any kind when it has taken such a firmly immoral stand on this for so long?  And only God knows how long it went on before it came to light.”  This reaction is in quotation marks, because I actually typed it on the Facebook post.  Then I decided not to post my thoughts on this for fear of offending my Catholic friends, or risking their disagreement with my opinions.  It didn’t occur to me to not care that much about what offends other people.  I mean, if they are offended by my opinion but not by the criminal, immoral activity of the church, then I’m not sure I have any reason to care what they think.  Other than habit, of course—the habit of caring more about what other people think than what I think.

I’ve always wondered why the child sex abuse scandal in the church bothered me so much.  I was never abused by a priest.  I don’t practice the religion anymore and have long since abandoned my belief in many of the doctrines.  Why do I care?  My experience with priests and the Catholic Church was almost entirely positive.  So I didn’t want people to think that I had been a victim of child sex abuse by a priest.  I mean, the only people that are entitled to be outraged by this are the actual victims of it, right?  That’s an argument I’ve actually heard, by the way.

Before I could analyze my own ongoing reactions to various child sex abuse scandals, I continued to peruse the Facebook page for the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse (https://www.facebook.com/AbolishCSA), and came across this article, which cut much closer to the bone:  http://goodmenproject.com/on-rape-and-sexual-violence/the-good-life-what-my-sister-did-surviving-inces/2/  (WARNING:  this article is graphic and may trigger your own traumatic memories.  Please proceed with caution.)

You see, I too was molested by a sibling.  My older brother, who was five years my senior, but still a child himself.  This was a fact of my life that I never repressed or denied.  I only minimized it.  I just decided at some point that it wasn’t a big deal.  Even in the face of loads of evidence to the contrary.  That whatever trauma I experienced as a result of it was just something I needed to shake off and pretend it didn’t matter.  I re-traumatized myself every single day by doing that. 

He was also physically abusive.  The sexual stuff was never violent.  It was gentle, almost like love.  But it often followed a beating or a terrorizing event.  It was almost like an apology for what had come before.

That screwed with my definition of love, too, by the way.  Love and gentleness is wrapped up undeniably and inextricably with threat and fear and rage.

The problem with an incestuous abuse relationship is that you don’t just fear the abuser.  You also love him.

I only remember a few actual specific incidents.  But they were spread out over several years, and I also remember a feeling of dreaded familiarity every time, so I know it went beyond the specific incidents I remember. 

My brother was a child himself.  I never tried to hold him accountable for harming me.  Because he couldn’t have known the damage he was doing.  He was not an adult, charged with caring for children.  He was a child with that charge, and that charge turned out to be too much for him.  I blamed myself.  I blame myself.  Not only for the things that happened then, but for my inability to overcome them like good and strong people do.  Only weak people, only victims, only people who want to stay stuck in their stuff don’t overcome.  Only stupid people don’t overcome.

So I must be weak, a victim.  I must want to stay stuck.  I must be stupid.

I didn’t tell because I didn’t want to hurt my mother.  She had been hurt enough.  I didn’t want the burden on me of putting that burden on her.  I told her when I was grown up (18) and she said it was between him and me.  And let’s face it, at that point, she was right.  I’m the one who wasn’t brave enough to tell at the time.  I shouldn’t punish her for that.  But somehow, I do.   I knew it would hurt her, so I didn’t tell.  It didn’t matter that it was hurting me.  I also feared she would blame me.  Or tell me I liked it and that there must be something wrong with me.  As if I needed her to tell me that!

I rolled my eyes at all the celebrities and wanna be celebrities that came out and confessed their abuse as if they were doing something brave instead of what they were actually doing:  telling the secret they swore they never would.  What the hell is wrong with me that this is the way I thought for so many years?

I judged others for not being as “strong” as I was, and then I systematically began to destroy myself. I didn’t do it by cutting myself or doing drugs or drinking too much or attempting suicide.  I did it with food and isolation and verbal and psychological self-excoriation.  I was too lazy to kill myself quickly, so I’ve settled for destroying myself the long way.  This has led me to a fat, unhealthy middle age, a skin condition that is the modern day leprosy, and a self-image that I fear will never, ever be healthy.  I do not believe that telling my story here will lift all these burdens immediately.  Maybe they will never be lifted.  Maybe I’ve destroyed myself enough that I can never recover a sense of true well-being.  And that might be a fitting punishment.  But I have absolutely no hope of ever getting healthy on the outside until I’ve let go of my self-blame for this festering wound.  I told myself that everything that went wrong in my life, every bad choice I ever made, every defense mechanism I ever used, was all my fault.  There was never any blindness to me.  I was 100% awake and I did it anyway.  Well, no one is 100% awake to everything.  No one.  And trauma survivors likely less so.

 “Throughout my teen years, I had the normal thoughts and desires of boys my age, but when I got attention from girls, my feelings and reactions were far from normal. Kissing triggered flashbacks and touching made me wince and flinch. I was backwards. Physical gestures that gave others pleasure or comfort made me want to cry…”  Nathan C. Daniels

In a few words, he has managed to describe the dilemma that I’ve lived with my whole life.  Add to “teen years” the phrase “and throughout my adult life” and you pretty much have my reactions to sexuality to this day.  How do you let someone love you if you are afraid to be touched?  How do you allow yourself to be touched when it is the only thing you want and the thing you fear the most?

When I was in my 20’s and still a virgin, I had friends laughing at me or telling me what a freak I was.  All those years trying to explain it.  Trying to make others understand, while all the time berating myself for being afraid, for not being able to let it go.  For not being tough enough, when so many children went through so much worse and were able to overcome it.  I mean, I didn’t dissociate or self-harm (at least not in any obvious way), so doesn’t that mean that what I endured wasn’t that big of a deal?  Add to that the backwards feelings and lessons from my mother and grandmother (my parents) about sex and the fact that “good girls didn’t do that” and I just believed that my reality was that a healthy sex life was not in the cards for me.  And that too was my fault.

So many people have done so much more with their experiences than I ever have.  By denying them, I have not only punished myself, but deprived others of any potential wisdom or strength I might have been able to provide.  Some people have come through and been stronger than ever.  I have allowed myself to stay stuck and weak.

I don’t know where to begin to change that.

 

Posted in emotional abuse, family, healing, incest, mental health, mother, pain, recovery, sexual abuse, silence | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Conversation

Copyright 2013

He asks me…
Why so quiet?
I tell him…
You make your living with your voice.
I’ve made my life suppressing mine.

Not only do you use your voice…you give voice to the voiceless.
But only if someone else has harmed them.
I don’t think even you could give voice to the victim inside the self.
The kindest therapist, the most skilled doctor, the most loving friend…none can speak for
       me.

And I’m sure he is annoyed.
Because I have a voice.  And I’m not using it.  And that’s my fault.
So many of his victims have had their voices violently stolen from them.  Through no fault
       of their own.
This is a choice you’re making, he says.  Make a different one, he says.
And he’s right.

And if I told him why I made this choice, he would scoff.
After the brutality he’s seen, my story would bore him.

After all, it’s not a crime when it’s inside a family, I say.
Yes it is, he says.
Not unless there’s something to point to, I say.
What do you mean?
I mean…something that can be seen outside.  A black eye.  A broken arm.  Shattered glass.
        Demolished furniture.  Blood.  A knife.  A gun.  Something.
A broken spirit leaves no scars.  Killing the spark inside a child that makes them who they
are is not a crime.  More’s the pity.

He is silent.  I continue.

I used to think that no one would believe me if I spoke.
They would laugh, or think I was crazy.  Worst of all, they might tell her.
Punishment would be swift.  And severe.
Now, I’ve stayed silent so long that I don’t even believe myself anymore.
And she still punishes me anyway.

But who am I kidding?
He will never ask these things, nor say them.
Because I have made myself so bland that no one thinks there’s anything interesting in
       there.
So he doesn’t ask.
And I don’t volunteer.
And he goes on thinking I’m a smashing bore.
And I go on thinking his story (or anyone’s) is far more interesting than mine.
And I go on remaining silent.

 

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Learning to Speak

At the gas station where I regularly fill up, there is a dead fly trapped in the tank between the readout and the glass.  It obviously got caught in there the last time they calibrated the machine.  Every time I see that fly, I feel a little sad.  I imagine it in there, realizing its mistake too late, gasping for air and flapping its wings until it can’t anymore.  It no doubt did not take long.  It’s a very small space.

I can be moved to tears over a homeless or abused animal.  I caught the tiniest glimpse of something as I was surfing through the channels one day…an Animal Cops episode where a dog had been chained to one spot for too long and had worn its fur down to nothing, developing a growth that had grown over the chain.  The fleeting picture stayed burned on my retinas for months.  I have to change the channel or mute the TV every time the Sarah McLaughlin “Arms of an Angel” animal rescue commercial comes on.  I absolutely cannot stand it.

I also fly into a fruitless rage when I read about children who are abused, neglected or abandoned.  I guess I find myself touched most by victims who are powerless, who cannot speak for themselves or free themselves from the insanity of their situation.

I get so angry (and judgmental)  about people who stay stuck in their own problems when they seem to have the means to get themselves out of it.  People who stay broke, even though they waste money; or stay fat instead of going on a diet or exercising; people who stay in a job they hate and complain about it constantly; people who stay in bad marriages, hating their spouse but staying all the same.  In short, people like me.

But I realized something recently.  These people are powerless and voiceless too.  They don’t appear to be.  Just because their neuroses are not my own, I am tempted to call them lazy or stupid.  But I know I am neither lazy nor stupid and I often can’t find my way out.  I stay trapped because my voice, the one that has the right answers, is so often silenced by the abuse I lay on top of it.  And knowing that I silenced myself doesn’t improve things…it frequently makes them worse.

I stay absorbed in my own neuroses, things I know are literally killing me, because I am angry at my own powerlessness.  At the powerlessness I have created by saving every bit of compassion I have for everyone other than myself.  My compassion itself has become a kind of powerlessness…a kind of paralysis.

But I don’t look at the fact that my anger and my silence are more than likely the result of my own powerlessness against childhood demons that will not die.  Or, more accurately, the ones I will not kill.  I cannot forgive myself for my powerlessness then so I allow myself to continue to be powerless now.  I cannot allow myself to be happier than I was as a child.  I commit to nothing because I know I will only disappoint myself.  And so I stay stuck.  And I stay angry at myself and at the world.

When I was a child, I used to wish that I had bruises or cuts to show someone, because then they would see, would understand, would help me.  Because if I just told them what was going on in my house, they wouldn’t get it.  They would think I was crazy.

Now I’m older and smarter.  I don’t wish for cuts and bruises anymore.  I know that people who have cuts and bruises to show are so much worse off than I am.  But that knowledge only keeps me stuck.  Because I know that my problems are nothing compared to those that have those bad marriages, or are being abused, or have nothing at all. 

But it makes me wonder…why aren’t there halfway houses for people who are emotionally crippled as the result of someone else’s carelessness?  Why isn’t there a place where people like me can learn kindness and confidence again?  Well, not again.  For the first time.  Still, even now, as an adult, there is a piece of me that thinks that those who are physically abused have it easier, because they have scars to show.  My logical brain is horrified by the thought.  But, emotional cripple that I am, I still believe, on some level, that it’s true.  Physical abuse can be seen, treated, understood.  If I had an alcohol or drug abuse problem, if I could understand it myself, I could get it treated.  But emotional abuse is likely much more common and may be more dangerous, as there are no visible scars.  But confidence killers always seem to get off scot-free, as long as their words are their only weapons.

I ask myself, how many of us are walking wounded?  How many of us have given up on ever pleasing ourselves, much less anyone else?  How many of us silence ourselves because we no longer trust our own voices?  How many of us beat ourselves up because we have formed the habit of feeling pain? How many of us are like that fly, rapidly running out of oxygen and flapping our wings trying to escape, even though there is no glass trapping us inside?

All the years I could have spent developing my voice, I instead spent hiding from it, hiding it, belittling it.  And now I no longer hear it, and I certainly don’t trust it.  I’ve been so focused on screaming at the sky for being blue that I no longer have any energy or wisdom to “change the things I can.”  So I weep salt tears over dead flies and hurt animals and hypothetical children.  And I continue to abuse and silence myself and never cry those tears for the hurt and damaged child that is still making decisions for my life.

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Okay…Here Goes

My name is Lisa.  Even telling you that much makes me uncomfortable, but I figure we should at least be on a first-name basis.  I wanted to be completely anonymous because I wanted to use this blog to just write, to just be real and raw and open and unafraid.  And my biggest fear was that someone I love (read “my mother”) would find this blog and be hurt by what she read here.  And her pain would get to me the same way it has my whole life.  It would manifest by shutting down whatever I’m doing that might possibly be construed as possibly in some vague way hurtful to her.  This is what I’ve always done.  And I have to tell you.  It’s not working for me anymore.

This blog is not going to be about my mother.  It is going to be about me.  About me “figuring things out a little bit at a time.”  But much of that will involve things I learned – both rightly and wrongly – from my mother.  The voice in my head is often my mother’s voice.  But it is nothing to what I can do to myself, in my own voice.  I take the meanest thing she ever said to me and multiply by 100 and that’s what I do to myself.  She was mean.  I’m cruel.

Well, back to why I decided to tell you my name.  I decided to start this blog – anonymously – after some members of my writers group told me that my writing might resonate with people if I ever had the courage to share it.  Then I found other blogs with writers that were struggling with some of the same issues that I seem to struggle with everyday.  And I realized that even if my mother does disown me, I wouldn’t be alone in the world.  I would have friends that perhaps understand me better than she ever has.  Then, today, when I decided to actually “go live,” I read a quote by Brené Brown:  “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” 

Well, here I am.  I’m showing up.  And I’m allowing you to see me.  At least a little.

This blog is about me and my struggles with depression, with self-analysis, self-hatred, shame, all the biggies that I’m discovering are part of the psychological makeup of so many people in this country – and likely others.  I’m going to get raw, I’m going to cut close to the bone.  I’m going to self-excoriate from time to time and I’m sure I’ll be prone to self-pity at other times.  I’m going to use this blog as a way to get to know myself, to embrace my humanity, to forgive my own imperfections and to forgive the people and events in my life that I cannot change.  By bringing them into the light.  By no longer hiding them behind a veil of “appropriate” or “worthy.”

I will do this through essays, vignettes, letters, and probably the occasional poem.  None of them will be perfect.  But I will forgive myself for their imperfection and will embrace the next one.

Why a blog instead of traditional therapy, you ask?  Well, my mental health needs to be, for once, my primary concern.  And who can afford traditional therapy?  Certainly not I.  So, blogging it is.

Why a blog instead of a private journal, you ask?  Why air your dirty laundry in public?

Well, one reason is accountability.  I am more likely to write something real at least once a week if I’ve promised in a public way that I would.  Another reason is, as I mentioned above, that I’ve been told by people I trust that my writing could resonate with people out there.  So that’s the reason.  The real reason.  If blogging about my pain and my recovery and my mental health and my boring exterior but complex interior life can help even one person, if blogging about my “stuff” can help even one person get a handle on the stuff in their own life, then the whole thing will be worth it.

Do I have dreams of changing the world with my words on a page?  Yes. Yes I do.  But I’ll settle for bringing a little bit of light into even one dark place.  And if I’m the only one that ever reads it, then at least I have at last given myself permission to take up a little space in the world.

I invite you to join me on this journey.  I promise I’ll be nice.

Posted in family, healing, health, life, lifestyle, mental health, mother, pain, recovery | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments