Sunday, December 28, 2014

From the trenches






     I was thinking about a blog post I had read offering career advice, and how similar such advice is to other self help advice. The posts author noted that most college graduation speakers are essentially not an accurate representation of the working world. These are people who have found their lucky break, or are one of the few majorly successful individuals out there. And when they offer advice on how they achieved this and they tell graduates to follow their dreams the advice couldn't be more misplaced or unrealistic. I am paraphrasing of course on what I took away from his post, and I think he made a really good point. It would have been much better to have someone come talk to graduates who was in the trenches of the working world, who had failed, who understood the struggles, and who had perhaps tried to follow their dreams and what they learned on the way.
I think the exact same thing is true for self help advice, especially advice given to survivors of childhood abuse/sexual abuse.

      A lot of the time when we hear survivor stories it's when they have already done the majority of recovery work and it seems as if they just believed in themselves and they miraculously transformed. Our culture and media coverage of survivors does not help to change this image, in fact it prefers to promote the miraculous recovery and the individuals who believed in themselves, a higher power, or had some other kind of inspiring moment that helped them to completely recover. The reason for this is because the subject of abuse is to dark and horrifying for our culture to deal with. That is why the poster faces for abuse in our country are people like Elizabeth Smart, and Erin Merryn. This is not to diminish their experience in anyway or say that their recovery and stories are not important because they are. But we don't get to see the real raw experience of healing from abuse. I have not read their books, perhaps there is more of that in their written and personal accounts, but I think you can take away the gist of what I am trying to say. Their televised interviews are not so raw and gritty and focus more on them being a miraculous survivor. It's very tame. Not only that the type of coverage these stories receive makes such women into passive victims (even if unintentional), and tends to strip their power away when it is clear that both women are not passive but actively pursuing justice.

     When it comes to self help advice and recovery stories I think a lot of survivors get the graduation speech version where "if you only follow your dreams and believe, you will recover". I think while inspiring a lot of self help advice is guilty of this. Even all of my favorite inspiring articles in O magazine seem to be from the perspective of those who have reached the finish line. At times it can feel like an advertisement to lose weight, "if you only follow this diet you can have your dream body". There is nothing wrong with inspiring articles, we do need them. But I think we also need the real, raw, and gritty versions of how people really got to that place, and for it be delivered with empathy and humor.

     I was thinking about all of this and reflecting upon the career advice blog post because I had written a self help style post yesterday. And while I think I captured some of the realness of my experiences I thought that in an effort to continue to keep it a more honest and real self help post I would write a follow up post; from the trenches.
Not long after writing my post yesterday I still ended up feeling depressed and despairing about the future.


     I still don't love myself, I have a lot of ideas about my worth that still need to be dismantled. I still don't like being me, and I still don't like being in my body. My Bitch Self hates it. I think the Bitch self is connected to my inner child and that they desperately desire to be someone else. The need to be perfect probably comes from the fact that inner child is the one who holds all of the abuse that happened. I still felt lonely yesterday, even with the realization that I have so much more than I would if i were still connected to my family, I felt lonely. Being a survivor who comes out and speaks the truth does not result in being admonished for your bravery (not very often). It more than likely results in you seeing the true nature of your entire family and seeing the beliefs they hold manifest themselves in the flesh. And all of these beliefs are toxic. It results in them shaming you and trying to punish your for upsetting everyone, or you have do what I did and disconnect for a time period. Though in my case it will likely be permanent.

     It's hard to love yourself when you have been told you are worthless, not only over your entire childhood but again when your entire family rejects you for speaking out. When I feel so low I can tend to disassociate to detach from the feelings of rejection and that I feel I lack in value. This is often when I go into a mode where I have to fix everything, and I want everything to be perfect because somehow I think it will make everything okay, or maybe finally make me lovable, someone my family would love.
Any attempts to step outside my role of scapegoat and be confident were either dashed or taken away from me. This was especially true of anything that remotely looked like an accomplishment. Vaarsuvius couldn't have that because it might take away from them. They were jealous and Narcissistic, and they told me I could do nothing right, but yet I somehow was supposed to achieve perfection. Perfection was not what they wanted either. If I were perfect I still would not have won their love and respect. They didn't really want me perfect because then I would have been a threat. They wanted me stuck between never good enough and reaching for perfection where I would spin my wheels and get nowhere.

     My family had a hierarchy, a caste system and I was supposed to stay in my role/ station in life and not reach above it. In so many ways I was told what things were for me and what things were not for someone like me. Not only that stepping out of the role of lowly creature for even a moment, and showing any sense of power would get me in trouble. I would be put back in my place. Laying low and out of sight was often best. Not only did they tell me what I could and could not do, directly or indirectly, I began to adopt this program for myself and began to define what things were for me and what things weren't.

     I think planning New Years resolutions gives me a sense of control over my life that I did not have back then. It is also a rebellion against who they said I had to be. I want to decide for myself what I want to be and map it out all over Pinterest. The only problem is that I am still buying into the belief and what they told me. And that is that there was something wrong with me to begin with. It is wonderful to have the power to decide who you want to be and what you want your life to look like. But if you assume that there was something wrong with you to begin with it won't be an empowering change, you will still be fighting your Bitch self and holding onto self hate.

      My mode of planning the perfect life is an attempt to run far away from the part of myself I do not love. I think if I create the perfect life, and the perfect self I can leave that other part behind. But it's still there, always there. When I think about the advice to love yourself, it assumes that you have enough inner love already to do that. If you don't and you try it, your inner self will call you on the carpet. It will be like a trying to pull one on a little kid, who then crosses their arms and shows you that they have all intentions of going limp noodle. I loved a passage I read in The Courage To Heal, it was a writing exercise to your inner child. It suggested that you be honest, if you didn't feel warm and fuzzy self love towards the inner child to be honest about it. Tell them that is where you are at but you still want to start talking. Admitting that lets you be exactly as you are in the moment which is actually self compassion. Also you can't just placate your inner self with insincerity, and even if you don't feel warm and fuzzy your inner self will at least know you are not trying to lie to them or ignore what you feel. I did some of those writing exercises and it seemed to help create a truce inside myself. But not even this exercise was enough to completely change how I felt.  Dealing with perfection and self loathing are a daily struggle, best met with self compassion, though I don't always manage that. I keep slowly going forward and trying to change the messages from my family that I internalized as truth.

     New Years depression can set in because I look around at things I want to do and realize that that I don't have all the money in the world to do them. I get frustrated and depressed and I carry around this idea of what I thought my adult self was supposed to look like, what I was supposed to have achieved.


      All of this is connected to those same messages about value. I am not currently working because a lot of my coping mechanisms of dealing with things fell away when I started to address the abuse and begin my work of healing myself. I was exhausted and I felt I couldn't keep up with the world. Reality check: being a survivor often means feeling exactly what I just described but many people do not have the option to stop working. I am lucky and I don't take that for granted, but even so my spouse and I make sacrifices to make this work until I can return to a career. And for survivors like myself sometimes you may have a limited amount of people in your support network, and perhaps no spouse. This is devastating when your family then rejects you in favor of protecting the abuser or just because they can't handle what you are saying. It can be really difficult to take time off from work or explain why you are having such a hard time if you are still in a career.  I have a very hard time not feeling like an adult, feeling lazy, and worrying that I won't heal up fast enough to make any contributions to the world. This is compounded by the lack of visible scarring, so when engaging with others trying to explain why you needed the time off or why your are exhausted can be difficult. Our world does not make enough allowances for mental health and healing.

     I hope this post helps other survivors out there, and to let you know you are not alone. I wake up with bad hair, bitter coffee and have an apartment that I wish a maid crew would come clean because even sans career, some days are too much to want to lift a finger. I face the bathroom mirror with self loathing and my body frequently with shame. I consume copious amounts of books and self help articles just to try and make myself feel better, and everyday feels like a therapy session. Part of me still wants to wake up after New Years eve with a body that would make Heidi Klum jealous and then head to my corporate offices and a company that would make Martha Stewart jealous. I am still that little girl who wants to be 13 going on 30 and who prays:




    I still feel that way, but I hope to keep searching for ways I can authentically love myself. However I grimace because the journey there is messy, and I will  fall back into self loathing and those other things I learned from childhood. I will want to be perfect and just to have a magic fix. But maybe even then I will still be achieving the spirit of my goal to embrace my imperfections. Because when I think about it if I feel my life is not perfect and I have messed up in the self love department, and I fall back into the hole where I try and be perfect; embracing that whole mess is pretty much what accepting imperfection is. It is not trying to be perfect by not being a perfectionist or anything else. It is doing exactly that and being as kind to yourself as you can. I feel like I should say "aha". Anyways from the trenches, one survivor to others, I want you to know that I still think having to go through the abuse and then all work of healing sucks. I didn't want to be here, but here I am anyway. It's not pretty, it is often gritty and sad. I just keep trying to heal and work things out as best I can. I think that is the true reality for survivors, even those who are thriving, you do the best you can, and try to let it be enough.
 Best wishes,

Nora

Saturday, December 27, 2014

It's a New Year and it's going to be perfect (because I said so).

    It's a couple days after Christmas and we are about to come into the New Year. I don't know about you but it's about this time of year where I start to feel an urge to plan for next year, and all the awesome things I am going to do, how much self change I want to set out to attain and how this New Year will be perfect. Cue the obsessive scrolling of Pinterest and creating boards and New Years resolutions left and right. I think "oh won't this be wonderful" and get a sort of New Years resolution happiness spike that will eventually result in a crash, burn and lots of tears. Perhaps even a wallop of depression. I always think of Bridget Jones setting out with her journal to make right all the things wrong in her life, and her hope to conquer the new year without last night's panties clinging to her legs, but instead in the laundry hamper where they belong.






     It's the greatest feeling swallowing that New Years punch, a cocktail called "Perfection". It gives you an energy boost and you go out and buy that new diary because you have determined there is no way you will let yourself down this year. Only you didn't read the full description of what you just imbibed, and what it actually says including the fine print is this: "Perfection; the best lie ever promised". You of course find this out after the fact when you have hit the depressive slump and headache that always accompanies such a cocktail.



     So what's an imperfect girl to do? I don't know, I am making it up as I go along. I started out this year by doing releasing bundles for Winter Solstice/ Yule. These are really lovely and you can find how to make them and perhaps do your own releasing for New Years eve or even Twelfth Night here:http://pixiecampbell.typepad.com/pink_coyote/2011/11/make-your-own-releasing-kit-instructions.html
Perfection was the general focus of my releasing bundles this year, and I am glad I did it a week ago so I had already made it my intention before arriving at today my annual New Years resolution freak-out. I think it's the only thing stopping me from starting new Pinterest boards in which I do a mock dream board for my perfect future life. However that is not to say that using Pinterest as a vision board is a bad idea. In fact I think most times it can be really helpful, however it is only helpful if you are putting the kind of intention into it that does not require perfection, or that you fix yourself. I have often done vision boards because of a dissatisfaction with my "flawed self". It's like trying to go forward while your bitch self is holding you back as she criticizes the fact that you are not a glamorous executive who has been feature in vogue and has the toned body of a model. For any guys reading this and trying to relate I think you have your own visions of perfection and you are marketed to just as much as women. I cite the men's underwear models and suite mannequins in department stores as a perfect example.

Oddly enough, and as much as I hate it, you can't go into the New Year without "this bitch self". She  (or he, let's call him fat bastard) is your co-companion for life. I think this self is created from and formed from the muddy clay of all our imperfections. I think this self feels like a Frankenstein monster and looks to you to fix it, to make it right, your the one who is supposed to make them beautiful and perfect.


     In my case the "bitch self" is also the part that carries all the shame and pain of abuse. Even more reason for her to want to be somebody else desperately. She doesn't want the body that was violated, she doesn't want the low self esteem and what she feels is lack of success in the real world because her abusers defined success, beauty and value. I should say "our abusers" as this isn't really a separate part of myself. This is the part of me that drinks those cocktails of perfection in hope of waking up to a better tomorrow and then gets depressed when things clearly did not live up to those standards. Bridget Jones plan didn't live up to all she hoped either, it wasn't  a perfect New Year and she continued to make mistakes and stumble through. But out of all the chaos and feelings of imperfection came something good. First thing to note is that she kept moving forward, despite falling on her face and hitting those depressive slumps. Part of the lie of perfection is that you can't keep going forward when things don't turn out perfect, you can. That is part of defeating the whole lie, not accepting that what you doing isn't good enough or that you are not valuable. I believe that a lot of the lies we hold about ourselves, "the bitch self", can be unconscious. We can see our dissatisfaction with what we are not, but we may not see what else is driving that message and what we actually believe about our self worth. The bitch self who wants to be perfect does not see what motivates them or figure out that they are okay just as they are, until the run into something that makes them see that unconscious message. That something is a Daniel Cleaver. 




     I sometimes end up making changes in my life, especially about how I think about myself and my value because something comes into my life and pushes me and pisses me off.  This push seems to help me find exactly where my boundaries lie and what I believe. Getting angry I seem to find myself and then I push back. Bridget Jones get's exactly what she wished for in the handsome albeit loathsome boss Daniel Cleaver.  However when he treats her like dirt that creates a push and causes her to spring back and realize that not only does she not like to be treated that way, but she doesn't think she deserves to be treated that way. She sees all the the messages she tells herself directly in what Daniel Cleaver says to her and how he treats her, and she is able to reject it as all utter bullshit. The Daniel Cleaver experience brings all those unconscious messages to the forefront. Sometimes it takes us a few times of running into Cleaver to really finally have that "push back moment". I have noticed that a lot of those "aha" moments have come when I was able to get outside the abusive family system and clear my life of any other toxic relationships. So maybe it's not just feeling that push but all those other important things that go into being able to question the messages we tell ourselves about our self worth (therapy etc.). Either way when we do get to a push and find confidence in ourselves it helps us re-examine all the things our bitch self is saying to us.




     I don't think the push from running into Daniel Cleaver is always enough to help make the companionship with your bitch self an easier road to walk. They are still tumultuous and vindictive. They cannot stand the current state of your life, and they might even hate you, and you them. What I have discovered about my bitch self is what she really truly hates, and loathes more than imperfection, more than anything; herself. Remember she is birthed from the earth, mud, clay of all your mistakes and imperfect parts and she cannot stand it. She is as disgusted with herself as Frankenstein who is created from a mess of parts. Enter my favorite bullshit advice; "love yourself/ embrace all parts". I say bullshit not because it is untrue but because it is not in depth advice. It's also advice that assumes we know what self love is, and what it feels like. Yes embracing the bitch self and all her broken, imperfect parts will move you forward because you will no longer be fighting a war within yourself and against yourself. My experience coming out of an abusive family system created this idea that if I stopped racing to achieve perfection I had just given in and quit. Of course I also learned that if I wan't perfect I was not valuable at all. Vaarsuvius had a defining set of remarks that have stuck with me in this regard. I once brought them a project I had done to show them. They looked over it and stated with nonchalance "that's nice". Then they began to tell me where all the errors I had made where. I protested and said that I just wanted to them to see the whole overall idea and not worry about the things that needed to be fixed, because those could be fixed later. They still would not acknowledge the beauty of the idea in my project. I protested their lack of reaction and they told me "what do you want me to say" and proceeded to essentially say that it wasn't perfect, it wasn't like I had mastered something at the level of Picasso so how could they praise it? They asked me if I wanted them to lie about it being good. So ever after that I have carried this idea that if it was not Picasso level then it was not good enough, and that I shouldn't accept something as good if it wasn't. Worse yet they got me to believe that praise for anything less than Picasso would be undeserved, cheating, and anyone doing the praise would be lying. 
This is not only how I came to think of my creative projects but also myself. Anyone who said good job when I had clearly made mistakes was just lying or being nice.

     Figuring out how to love the bitch self and stop seeking perfection is sometimes a complicated puzzle and being advised to love yourself can feel like a joke when you have so many past programs to dismantle. My actual practical advice is to not worry about it. Seeking self love can just as easily become a quest for perfection. The actual practice of self love and figuring out what it looks like is something we may just stumble into (I had this happen about thing Holiday related). I also think it more realistically looks like what you would do during meditation. In mediation the goal is to be present and quite our minds but our inner voice(s) always pipe up. It is easy to get frustrated and turn it into a quest for perfection as well, but all we really need to do is accept the chattering voices as they come up and then return to our state of presence. It looks like this: Breathe, quite, then chattering voice, acknowledge and then return to our focus of breathing and quiet, repeat. 
      I have also found that there are some actual strengths on the underside of my imperfections, and this has helped me to see them differently and hate them less. The truth is we need that bitch self, it is part of us and can be wielded as a great tool. Bridget Jones happy ending wasn't Mark Darcy, it was being her bumbling fantastic self. If all else fails in making friends with you inner bitch, Martha Beck just wrote a great article on exactly this subject in the December issue of O magazine. 



     I am still figuring out how I want to head into the New Year, but I know I want to cautiously approach any resolutions and remember not to drink any perfection cocktails or punch as best I can because I won't be perfect at that either. I am going to promise myself that if I do end up with a perfection hangover that I have still managed to be what it is I am trying to be in the first place; human. A wise person I know told me that they had heard the best advice; and that is instead of trying to reach for enlightenment and higher consciousness on a spirit level that, we are actually spirits trying to learn to be human. And that essentially should be our focus, with compassion learn to be human. I actually think it's harder to do than trying to be a zen master especially when we are tasked with facing our inner bitch self or that fumbling clunky girl that might look a lot like Bridget Jones.


Friday, December 26, 2014

It came without ribbons; A survivor Christmas

The Grinch: It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags.
Narrator: The the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
The Grinch: Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...
Narrator: He thought
The Grinch: ...means a little bit more.


Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome Christmas Come this way
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas day
Welcome, welcome fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome dahoo damus
Christmas day is in our grasp,
So long as we have hands to clasp
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas bring your cheer
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome all Whos far and near
Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas dahoo damus
Christmas time will always be,
just as long as we have glee
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome Christmas bring your light
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome in the cold dark night
Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas dahoo damus
Welcome Christmas while we stand,
Heart to Heart and Hand in Hand
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores
Welcome Christmas,
Christmas Day!

It came without ribbons; A survivor Christmas


     This year one of the important things I learned about how to get through the Holiday season was to be nice to myself. I think this has been said many times by others but to actually have that "aha" moment for yourself it suddenly becomes more than a self help saying. Perhaps others have felt similarly about the advice of be nice to yourself. My reaction has always been "okay...".  Having grown up in an abusive family where the idea of being loved by others feels strange, stranger yet is the idea of self love. How are you supposed to do something when you have no idea what it is? I have struggled with this a lot but this year happily stumbled onto something that finally helped me get a grasp on the self love thing.

     It started with Thanksgiving when I decided to have a traditional dinner, with a large turkey despite it being only two of us. When you are estranged from a dysfunctional family it can feel like you don't get to do all those normal Holiday things, that somehow having a family is required like a license to participate. And when you are the one choosing to have those firm yet difficult boundaries leading to estrangement; it can feel like  you are choosing self exile and therefore deserve to be punished. Then from there it is easy to think that you don't deserve those Holiday traditions associated with family because you are without one. I for one have felt like I somehow deserved to feel bad for the estrangement and that because it was my choice it's my fault. 
Serving the full traditional dinner for Thanksgiving flipped that script. I felt like it didn't matter how silly it seemed to have so much food, or that I did not have a huge family event to participate in. I felt for the first time by doing it anyway that I was not punishing myself. I also felt for the first time what self kindness feels like. And in looking at that I am starting to see a way of looking at self love. When trying to figure out what self love feels like; there is often an underlying message we have learned that says we don't deserve love and shouldn't be nice to ourselves. I didn't think this directly, it was on an unconscious level that the thought existed. The thought that said I didn't deserve a beautiful big Holiday dinner because I was estranged from family and it was all my fault. The other thing I began to realize is that I was shouldering all the blame just like I always have. Yes estrangement is my choice, but all the actions on the other parties part that made it necessary for estrangement is not. It is not my fault that those actions created a hostile and toxic relationship environment and were impacting my health in every way imaginable. When it comes to health and sanity I feel like it's not actually a real choice, and if anyone ever asks you to choose between that and a relationship with them, there was no real relationship to begin with. People who love you would not ask you to do that, and the bad behaviors would be stopped. 

     Christmas this year came quietly and left quietly. It came without a lot of hustle and bustle of a large family event that would have occurred in the past. There was no lack of ups and downs emotionally. I had to give myself leave at certain points to just hate the whole Holiday. I also expressed sorrow, grief and then got angry again when I remembered family Christmases past. The night before Christmas Eve and the day of were particularly rough. I had some good moments of peace and then emotions would shift again. I went to bed Christmas Eve still somewhat loathing the whole experience. I surprisingly woke up  feeling much more cheerful Christmas day. I actually think I can attribute that to feeling so miserable the day prior, and feeling and venting all the emotions instead of stuffing it. I didn't ruin anyone's Christmas with all my feelings either, my spouse is very supportive and did not accuse me of being an emotional drain or ruining the holiday, having a bad attitude as I might have been if I were with family.  That in itself was an important discovery, after years of having to stuff emotions or get in trouble or be accused of having a bad attitude and ruining things for others, nothing bad happened when I chose to acknowledge how I felt and go with it.

    It was important to do whatever I needed to do this year, and celebrate in the way's I felt like, even if that meant not doing some things. I didn't have any set schedule of things I had to do this year and this gave me flexibility to take each part of the two days as it came. It was my focus and intention though to make sure I got out of the house with spouse, so I wouldn't end up sitting in a quiet house all day without my noisy boisterous family. That helps to keep away the assumption that because I am without family that I can't go out and do fun Holiday activities (more self love and belief that I deserve nice things regardless of family or not).

     One of the things I did find difficult was finding meaning in the Holiday. Previous years Christmas would have been a highly ritualized occasion, steeped in family tradition. The meaning and focus was entirely surrounding them, and the birth of Jesus, but mostly around them. I have also had a lot of trouble with the beliefs handed down to me and have spent the last few years trying to re-define God outside of the rigid fundamentalism I was brought up with. And even more recently I have begun to question the existence of God, and trying to rectify this entity who is supposed to be supremely loving with all the petulant behavior documented in the Bible. To say the least I am at a huge exploration point of my beliefs. And when you begin to ask those questions; the power of Christmas as a spiritual Holiday can lose some of its potency. It had left me wondering how to feel about Christmas if I were not celebrating the birth of Jesus. What else is there? Santa Clause? Family? 

     In the live version of the animated classic "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" the Grinch sees that even by taking away all of the Who's gifts Christmas still comes. Everyone in Whoville comes together to celebrate, join hands and sing. Here is a Christmas without the focus on the birth of Jesus and we even see that presents and Santa Claus do not affect its existence either. Christmas came, it came just the same.  Stripping away the commercialism and focusing on what is important, the Who's learn that it is family and friends who are most important. But if you do not have family to celebrate with, deriving meaning from Christmas becomes harder. How do you find enough things in your life to celebrate and make meaningful?

      Lists of gratitude are helpful, but if you are like me you have to stumble into it to so it becomes something more personal than just a favored platitude. I think I started first with being ungrateful, and going with the flow of all my emotions as I mentioned earlier. Simply moving from whatever emotions you are going through straight to gratitude does not allow for acknowledging that what you are feeling is important, and that it is your feelings and there is nothing wrong with them. If you just shut if off and start telling yourself to be grateful you are internalizing all that emotion and doing to yourself the same thing your family probably did to you- tell you to stuff it and get over it.
My moment of being grateful came much later during the Christmas day, and it was because I realized that even though it was just my spouse and myself I still actually had much more than I had ever had before. In a way I have more family because my spouse actually loves me. I have health that has only continued to improve since departing from my family. I have confidence and more mental clarity than ever before. I actually have more of a real loving Christmas with my spouse even if a tiny Christmas, than I would if I were still with my family. I may have stress and panic programs, but it actually pales in comparison to how I would be feeling if I had to spend the holidays with family. I realized that I actually come out with way more.

     I also stumbled into things that were unexpectedly meaningful. Even without all the ribbons, tags, or birth of a savior and a huge family gathering I had a warm and cozy day with my spouse, cinnamon rolls and coffee and a day to sleep in and relax and do some nice things we might not normally do. Cinnamon rolls are not a usual thing for us, so it is a huge treat to sit together Christmas morning with gobs of sticky sweetness and our coffee, and relish that outside the dysfunctional family chaos; we have peace on earth and in our home.   




Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas

Can I just hate Christmas? Please?

Every year no matter what I do, I go to bed December 23 full of tension and anxiety. I wake up with my stomach in knots and will continue to feel that way till after December 25th. I hate it.
I lay in bed last night breathing deep and trying to concentrate on the feelings that were bubbling up while trying to stave off a complete panic attack. I did reach a small point of success when I found another unconscious idea I had about Christmas.

     I found that a lot of the anxiety was rooted in fear about not being able to predict what would happen, and fear about needing to be a certain way, be in a certain place or something really bad would happen. This would make sense if the magical spell of Christmas was predicated upon my parents moods, and how they thought we were behaving. Libby Anne has written about how in fundamentalist Christian families you must go cheerfully and willingly with a smile on your face. If you were angry, grumpy or anything else you could be said to have a bad attitude that was displeasing to God and disrespectful to your parents. In reality when it came to Christmas a bad attitude could very well be punished with no presents, being isolated from company etc. I believe this was very much a reality in my home, you just didn't know if you were not perfectly well behaved. And with abusive often vindictive parents what this good behavior looks like depends on their mood and whether or not you've pissed them off.

      So imagine a mini version of me going into this holiday with all of the following things: I must have a good attitude, be obedient, not be hyper or obnoxious, I must be grateful. Then add onto that the probable rejection of my Christmas present to Vaarsuvius, and the disappointment and broken heart from getting gifts from them that were unkind, or seemed to show they didn't know me at all. That's what happens when a Narcissist goes gift shopping. Then also imagine that I am starved for attention and affection and this may be the only time of year were I get to have other family or friends visit. I was also starved for love and kept hoping to get that out of all our Christmas festivities. And with Christmas being one of those few special times during the year were things might be cheerful I was so starved for that I would try to hang onto it for dear life. But as I mentioned above imagine that this one super sacred thing is predicated on the whims of two narcissist abusers, and their interpretations of fundamentalist parenting. Then imagine that they stir up drama and strife and even potentially pit myself and Other child against one another or potentially one of them will try to pit us against the other. Christmas was better than most of the rest of the year, but it didn't change my parents into saints and angels either. There was still all those abusive dynamics.  

     So even though I have seen Christmas through rose colored glasses as this one magical time of year, I think I see now how much it could also be miserable. I used to think that my anxiety stemmed from over excitement, but I am starting to re-consider. I think the excitement portion is completely eclipsed by the all out panic. I have been going through this panic/anxiety attack about Christmas since I was five or younger. And the issue was only added to by the ongoing shaming by Vaarsuvius for having a problem, and for not being able to calm down and relax. They treated me as over emotional and were practically rolling their eyes. And then I also became an inconvenience from being distressed.

     I also had to hide the mess, anything they did or said that was hurtful or disappointing had to be hidden or I risked being punished for reacting or having a bad attitude. And the anxiety around gifts and trying to mask disappointment was huge. Opening gifts you are on show in front of everyone, so you better believe I pasted a smile on my face and feigned nothing but gratitude no matter what I got or feigned grace when Vaarsuvius was unkind about the gift I picked for them. The underlying pressure comes from the fundamentalist parenting philosophies as well as trying to avoid setting off two narcissist abusers, you had to walk on eggshells. And part of being able to walk on eggshells well is to know where they are, and to try and predict things as best as possible. You can't predict what is in an unopened present, you have to be prepared to just react with a smile. Then while I could predict a lot of my parents moods and whims, their own issues/holiday stress could set them off and they could lash out or be controlling, and unpredictably so. So I think I did the best I could or shrunk into a tiny anxious ball. I wonder to how much this is some crazy self protection program- be sick, anxious, and curl up into a ball. I would not have been much of a threat or target to pick on.

     I did feel a lot of pressure release as I figured some of this out, but the anxiety program is strong. It gets set off by the mere fact that it is an anniversary effect/ seasonal. I keep doing everything I can to shift it, to change things so the program does not run like it has. I opened my last few presents this morning instead of feeling like a little kid having to patiently wait and repeat all those feelings I would have had growing up. It helped quite a bit, but there is still some lingering anxiety and panic. I keep trying to dig through it and see what it is then shift accordingly.

I wish anyone else going through this the very best, and my complete empathy. You are not alone! Merry Christmas.
Sincerely,
Nora

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What in Dickens name?

    I can often feel shame at my level of frustration with the Christian community at large. See I was taught that anger makes you bad, hateful, unreasonable, even disobedient. While I understand where my frustration and anger come from, and that it has sat a long time unexpressed I still feel the urge to repress it or risk being seen as irrational. It makes sense that something that was inadequately diffused in the past may not come out eloquently or be the Emily Post version of expressing anger. In fact I think it takes a while to find a balance to expressing frustration and anger. I have also found that things that frustrate me, or make me angry are things that actually deserve a solid thoughtful critique. But it can come out as just an angry rant without enough thoughtfulness to show the larger picture or question at hand. So I am going to thoughtfully try and tackle an experience I found truly frustrating and it begged the question; what in Dickens name?


Scrooge; The musical!

      But it isn't "The" musical, it is "A" musical. "The musical" could imply that this was a Broadway production on tour, but it is not and it's only the beginning of a slight deception that becomes a very large one. On the radio it is announced that the musical is being held at the Champion Center which sounds like it is a local sports arena or the cities main event center- it is not. You don't really see anything on the musical home page to indicate that it is not what it seems except for the tab that mentions church resources. So I Googled Champion Center and found that it is indeed a Church and that they are producing the musical in their event center.

      I was now weary of this fact, especially in light of what seemed to me to be deceptions on their part to get people to come. However I tried to keep as open mind as possible, I felt that Dickens work stood on it's own for conveying some great spiritual messages, and that a church could have chosen to produce a musical of it for those reasons. I could see how A Christmas Carol reflected a lot of Christian Values.

     I was sadly mistaken. The Church didn't feel Dickens work had enough messages of salvation on it's own. They re-wrote it to fit their message of salvation. It was no longer a story about Ebeneezer Scrooge finding personal salvation by not shutting off his heart from love and connection others. It was a story of why Ebeneezer Scrooge had hardened his heart to Jesus, and therefore Christmas.

     It followed a classic Christian line of reasoning that Scrooge had hardened his heart against Jesus and God because he had gotten hurt (during childhood) and it caused him to abandon all thoughts of faith. So then he was shown as the unrepentant sinner who just needed to give Jesus a second chance. And the reason he was to do this was not only because God loves him, but because if he did not he was going to hell for all eternity. Hell and damnation was actually part of the theme in the production. There was even a brief intermission where a Pastor came on stage to lead everyone in a prayer and to accept Jesus into their hearts if they wanted.

     Of course after being shown that it was people who had hurt him in the past, not Jesus, and that the alternative to a loving God was all eternity in hell, Scrooge accepts Jesus into his heart. Cue the bursting celebration music.

     I was quite upset for the ride of deception I had been taken on and for how my good will was abused. This wasn't a church who appreciated Charles Dickens or A Christmas carol. This was a church who seemed to so desperately believe it needed to convert people to salvation that it was willing to use deceptions to do so, then spring the message of salvation on it's patrons attending the event. It's the kind of desperate belief that starts out as well meaning, but turns dark. They believe that people don't know what's good for them and they are going to save them, give them the good medicine whether they want it or not, and shove it down throats if they have to, if it means saving souls. As a matter of fact we have seen this well meaning belief turn dark before. Sir Thomas Moore was so deeply committed to his beliefs that he decided he would rather burn people at the stake than risk them being sent to hell. He felt he could at least save their souls. This man wrote Utopia, was an idealist and a conscientious objector to war. I cite this belief being taken to an extreme but it is the same belief.

     I have always felt that as a community if Christians needed desperate measures to convert others, and that their being a shining example of God's work was not enough, that there are some flaws within their beliefs. You shouldn't have to work so hard to convince people that something can bring about amazing benefits to their lives, if that is truly the case. But many Christians don't believe people know what is good for them. I think this might come from some of those same philosophies that are applied to Children. Children don't know what is good for them, children need to simply obey and bend their will to God and their parents. We see the message about being children of God frequently so it makes sense that those other child rearing philosophies also influence the spiritual realm of thought.

     The frustration and fury did not end with being given a message about an eternity in hell. The patriarchy and misogyny were alive and well in this production of a Christmas Carol. I have seen this type of patriarchal misogyny over and over in the community I was raised in. This was particularly true of the Christian community where “women are from Venus and men are from Mars”. It seems to start with people getting married. There are the jokes about a wife being an old ball and chain, a nag, over emotional and having to literally drag her man down the isle from the former life he loved so much (there are way too many cake toppers for this). Then it becomes about her being a Mom, a nag, an old ball and chain, and over emotional.

     This production seemed to take it's cue from those jokes. What should have been a sweet domestic scene in the Cratchit family was instead a scene of the family sitting down to dinner, and when Mrs. Cratchit wasn't looking they all made faces and gagging noises because everyone knows women, and Moms are terrible cooks.

     You can't seem to tell those that prescribe to this type of humor that it is wrong because they will look at you as an over emotional nag. I know from experience that when you say something about this being problematic, and you dare to object you are met by the good old boys patriarchy club who laugh it off and remind you that you are too sensitive to take a joke. I think that if I wrote a letter to this church telling them this is how I saw the scene they would probably tell me “of course we respect women, it was just innocent fun”.

     The portrayal of women being nags wasn't left in the kitchen. No at one point Scrooges housekeeper is featured flying on a broom and cackling like a witch. And this same poor woman was later subjected to Scrooge chasing her about his bedroom in his fit of happiness at having made Jesus his Lord and savior. He was trying to hug her against her protestations and lack of consent. We can see here the traces of the idea that women don't know what they want, they are irrational, and consent doesn't matter. And her consent matters even less because she is a miserable old nag who just needs a hug from Jesus Christs new poster boy.

     I think the truth is that most of those who end up purporting these beliefs have been learning them from a young age, soaking them up like a sponge. They genuinely don't see a problem with it or understand the larger issues of a patriarchal mindset. In fact it's so normal that a lot of it is unconscious. Adding in the spiritual component of Christianity can seem to lend some legitimacy to a patriarchal way of thinking, because it seems sanctioned by God. That is I believe one of the main arguments for traditional gender roles. And you know what, that's fine. If traditional gender roles make you happy, then all the power to you. However I would very firmly argue that the belittling mockery of women, and taking away their right to consent is not something a good, benevolent, loving God would ever sanctify.

     I actually think Jesus held women in higher esteem than do many of today's Churches. I think of the woman at the well, and how Jesus sought her out. I have always thought that in the midst of chaos she represented quiet wisdom and an openness. I think he went to her to be grounded because she represented a pillar of strength, and not because she had a weakness that needed to be ministered to. I think he truly respected her. How can churches claim they respect women in the same manner when they choose to not be reflective of the ways they diminish and demean them? They can't. To truly say they respect women; they would have to become self reflective and change.

     Thus concludes my really saddening and anger inducing experience. And it becomes more so by the fact that I know this was not an isolated experience, or an isolated set of beliefs I encountered. The parts of Christian communities that feel a drive to minister and convert, along with holding patriarchal ideals has and will create many similar productions.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The spell Christmas would cast

     Pat Conroy wrote an article for Southern living about his Christmas memories, and about his father The great Santini. It really struck me how similar a view we have looking back on Christmas's past. Like Conroy, in my childhood home it was as if time stopped just for Christmas. It was like the rules of reality changed just for a moment. For the most part is was like nothing bad could enter this time capsule, like it was sacred ground and all fighting ceased because everyone shared this feeling of sacredness.

      The times this sacredness came into question and things were a little rocky was because we all put so much emphasis on its importance. We had differing views of what elements had to be there for this picture perfect Christmas, and if anyone deviated it was like invoking a curse and there was this incredible superstitious feeling that the Christmas spell would then be broken. Sometimes one of us would occasionally want to do something different and re-define what Christmas looked like, but it usually created chaos and animosity. Sometimes the dynamics of the abusive family would creep in, but for my part I would just try harder to cling to the sacredness of Christmas and block out everything else. It was a hyper focus, like I was clutching to it for deal life and survival. Often it really was about survival, the magic of the Holiday's was something to keep you going through the rest of the year, something good to look forward to and focus on so you could wear blinders to everything else.

     The way in which Conroy describes his father, The Great Santini and his ritual at Christmas actually reminds me of one of my parents who did things almost in a similar way "Dad would take his chair of honor and say "I won't even wake up until I have had my first cup of coffee" (...) Dad would moan and stretch and take his time as he sipped his coffee with infuriating slowness (...) finally, he would grab a present. He would study the tag as though it were written in the language of Cherokees and say on his one terrific day of the year, "To Tom, from Satan Claus," and a shout of joy would go up from the children of The Great Santini."
 I always favored sitting on the arm ends of the couch, while Other Parent took a center place by our Christmas tree. A tree which we had all gone to get together, another sacred family ritual. We would get it in the truck and on the way home, as they did every year; Other Parent declared "This is the best tree we have ever had". There was also the sneaky ritual Other Parent, Other child and I would do together; trying to get the largest tallest tree we could without Vaarsuvius realizing it. This actually worked because a tree doesn't always look that big surrounded by other trees and with no ceiling to measure its height by. Other Parent would stand by our tree on Christmas eve and hand out presents that we were only allowed to pile at our feet until everyone had all of their gifts. They always threatened that we would have to wait to open them Christmas day or that we could only open one. Everyone could pick one gift from their pile and we would all open it at the same time. At the end, like every year Other Parent would fuss and systematically clean up all the wrapping paper like a garbage collector cleaning up holiday chaos. It was a funny compulsion they had.

     I was thinking about how it seems so strange that in an abusive family you could have anything good, warm and hopeful like Christmas. For instance how is it that someone like Pat Conroy could have had an intimidating, dominating father figure, The great Santini, and still look back on any part of his life with fondness? It's because life is complicated, and people are complicated. You will often find some bespattering of good things in a bad situation or individual. Sometimes I think people are tempted to think that maybe situations like Conroy's or my own were not that bad at all because of those occasional good things, but that's not true. Especially when you begin to look at cycles of abuse, those good elements are often part of the cycle, sometimes referred to as the honeymoon phase. If it was all bad all the time an abuser(s) might have a hard time keeping those close to them in the fold. So the cycle starts out all warm and fuzzy, then slowly like a frog in a pot of water, the temperature is ever so slowly raised so that the frog doesn't realize it is being boiled. If there comes a point of awareness that one is in an abusive cycle, the abuser will switch back to the warm and fuzzy honeymoon phase and the cycle goes on like this on repeat. Now in some cases people will stay in situations that are all bad, all the time because of threats on their life and things like Stockholm syndrome. But the classic cycle of abuse is as I have said.

     Those good elements are made to be confusing, you are not supposed to be able to tell up from down or how bad it really is, and you are made to think it is all in your head. Citing all the good times as reasons for  the situation not being so bad is an abuser favorite. I have had this lobbed at me more times than I care to mention. They try to argue that the sacredness of those good things outweighs anything bad, and is a sign that there is nothing really wrong in the relationship. It is hard to argue when they ply you with all the warm and fuzzy things, and you can feel defenseless because they are arguing from a point of truth. I have had to come back every time with the counter argument that is the most solid; yes there were good times, beautiful times, fun times. There were also bad times. And no matter how many good times the behaviors that create the bad times have not been addressed and have not been changed. Good things don't change the fact that there needs to be responsibility for the abusive behaviors in the relationship. Good times are not a substitute for a real healthy relationship dynamic where abusive behavior is not excused, or better yet does not occur at all.

      Christmas being perfect so you could survive the rest of the year is a lot of pressure to put into one day. It's why almost every year I would end up so tied up in knots that I felt unwell. In addition to Christmas being a cease fire time in the family dynamic, it was also one of the few times a year where I could feel love in a way that reflected my own primary love language; gift giving. I also felt a lot of trepidation and anxiety in giving gifts because I wanted to receive love and attention from my family members. I thought if I could give the perfect gift with all my personal feelings of love that I would get love back. Nowhere was this more hopelessly directed then at Vaarsuvius. Even after being crushed numerous times by their rejection or dissatisfaction with gifts I gave them I continued to hope for many years, and each year would tell myself that this year would be the year that I got them the perfect thing, and on an unconscious level I hoped it would equate to their expressing love for me. It's never happened, never will. I did slowly start to feel more and more numb about giving them anything. But this anxiety created in trying to give them things manifested in how I felt about giving gifts to anyone.

     This year I am desperately trying to shift away from Christmas having to be perfect, or having the perfect gift. I am trying to change how I perceive the whole holiday. While I do love those few warm and fuzzy Christmas memories, and that our world seemed to stop just for Christmas I no longer need to clutch to it in order to survive. The last few years I have still been clutching tightly,  not to survive the same abuse but survive Christmas without family. It was still a hyper focus on the Holiday to survive pain and distract myself, and I hoped that if re-created all the warm and fuzzy feelings everything would be okay. But everything is not okay. I don't have my family with me for the holidays anymore and that is a huge loss. But I also acknowledge that if I were to be with them I would be sacrificing huge parts of myself and my health. This year I am trying to be kind to myself while not ignoring the pain. I also don't want to feel like I am in survival mode anymore and that if I give someone the wrong gift they will not love me anymore.

"His quavering voice was weak, but its memory ran past thirty Christmases to hat irretrievable time when our father seemed prince-like and generous with his love of us. The Great Santini at Christmas-the best of times, the best of times, our best days as a family on earth." Pat Conroy

You can read Pat Conroy's essay in the Southern Living Magazine, December issue 2014.
http://www.southernliving.com/magazine

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Growing bones; The List

Because of conversations I have had with family and friends about this topic, and recently I read a blog comment discussing it; I thought I would write about it. It is a good item to add to the list.

     The topic is methods of healing from childhood abuse. I have found that abusers, those that defend them and sometimes even the victims themselves operate from this perspective: It happened in the past- move on. Sometimes childhood abuse experiences also get diminished "Others had it worse, mine wasn't that bad". When the abuser themselves use this argument of "get over it already" or " I didn't hurt you that bad" the general motivation is to diminish, shame and squash the victims impulses to make the abuser accountable, it can keep the victim in their place and help the abuser stay out of trouble. Now coming from interested parties and those that might defend the abuser, it comes from a place not wanting to deal with the harsh reality of the abuse, and that a person they care for might be the abuser. Victims turn to this mode of thinking for a few reasons, because it can help them survive bad situations, keep them from getting in trouble with the abuser for telling, and also keep their family/friends comfortable, not rocking the boat so to speak. The last reason a victim might choose to think this way is to protect themselves inwardly. 

     Healing from abuse is a process and it can often times be painful to acknowledge what happened, and all the feelings that go with it. It can require some deep and painful digging into oneself, and be the epitome of a long dark scary hallway. We are afraid of what we might find down there, and rightfully so. Abuse creates lot's of complexities we have to sort through. Sometimes we can't handle any of this, or we are not in a safe enough place to begin our healing. Sometimes a victim is not even conscious of the abuse, it has been stowed away for safe keeping in an effort to survive. This survival mechanism can protect us from memories we cannot handle. It can be a combination of unconscious things and conscious things and the victim/survivor very flatly decides that the things in the past are done and over with and they want to move on. It ranges from a sort of denial to flat out denial (this excludes survivors who have blacked out everything).

     So denial is never good. Long term affects of denial do manifest in our health and well being, so it is not optimal to stay permanently in a state of avoidance. However the healing process can look very different for each person. One may have a stop and start flow, dealing with some aspects now and then picking it up again after a few years. Another might have their "aha" moment and start and take a more slow steady road. The Courage To Heal addresses this subject, and has similar remarks about timing and how we go about our healing. What matters is what works for you, and being conscious of how the abuse has affected your life.  Deciding to heal from abuse is a choice, look at your life and ask yourself the Dr. Phil question "How's that working out for you?". If you feel that you are fine in the current moment, okay. As long as you are going in the direction you want to go in, and are happy then continue with what you are doing. If that question sparks more questions then maybe it is time to re-evaluate. Even then you might only change a few things.

     I think it is our natural knee jerk reaction at times to avoid the healing process, which is often just as much a growth process. I was reminded the other day about a quote I had heard while in college, it was something to do with growing bones. What a painful thing that would be! I think though it really encompasses healing from abuse very well. 

Our healing is like growing bones, sometimes very painful, awkward and bizarre. Why would anyone decide to go through something like that?

Because the alternative is not having any bones.




The leather sole; identity


Love love love!
 I was raised in the thick of farmland, had animals could ride horses and once rode a cow. I was by all definition a country girl, I owned the boots to prove it. 

    A love and appreciation for animals and agriculture was instilled in me from an early age. But I also had a love of fashion ( Haute couture), and  I was a miniature Martha Stewart following in the steps of Other Parents Sibling (who I am going to dub for the sake of this blog; the Black Butler). Aside from my taking after the Black Butler, Vaarsuvius was dumbfounded as to where I came from. They had a hard time connecting with me on many things outside of agriculture based activities. Other Parent was actually the one who often tried a little harder to get involved with my interests. The country lifestyle was really Vaarsuvius dream, and Other Child was the one who most followed in their footsteps. 

     Being raised on a farm, in a agriculture community I could say in truth I was a country girl. But I think environment aside Vaarsuvius passion for agriculture, animals and a country lifestyle did dictate on some level that it also be my passion and part of my identity. When this is the main way in which one is able to communicate and be in a relationship with their parent you try and fit in as best as possible. We all have different facets of ourselves that we use to navigate our worlds. Some examples would be; Parent, Teacher, Professional/Career, Family, Social etc. So it makes sense to develop a facet to engage with ones family and their primary interests. Another dimension to this is if you are not just engaging with the family, but surviving it. Both of these things were true in my case, and the Country girl facet that developed was one of several that I would use to navigate my family and life. I wanted to do things with them because I wanted to be loved and accepted, but at the same time I didn't always have a choice about it and was pushed, shoved and drug along for the ride. I needed ways to survive those experiences, and so this facet or split piece of self developed and became good at navigating the game of being a country girl and good family girl. 

     What may have begun as a learned appreciate for agriculture and animals developed into a survival mechanism. It is a disassociation mechanism. I do not black out and become someone else, for me its just like putting on a pair of cowboy boots and going into a country girl "mode of being". It is not much different from someone putting on their career face when they step into an office. The difference is this is not naturally developed trait.  To make things confusing for me I had all these other interests, all the fashion and cooking seemed to have an air of "girly girl" to it. This was deemed to not fit with being a country girl. Also to be divided and not have a focused identity was not understood at all. I didn't understand it! Also it gave Vaarsuvius and Other Child an excuse to belittle me, and exclude me.  I felt like Alice in wonderland trying to get to her true size because nothing seemed to fit, and I could not fit in.

      Underneath what I call my Cowgirl and Princess personality modes, were other split pieces of self. These broke off when their seemed to be a task that needed to be done in order to survive. Some were focused on surviving family relationships, others enduring the abuse. I think I have narrowed it down to about ten pieces or "modes" that I operate from. If you met me you would likely not be able to tell that this is a daily experience for me, in fact those that do know me well cannot tell.


      Despite being raised to be a good little Christian, Republican country girl I turned out to be a  feminist (ha ha parents the joke is on you!) a political progressive, and spiritually undecided woman. I still listen to my very nostalgic collection of country music, love rolling hills, animals and have a unique appreciation for farm equipment. I love, love the smell of alfalfa hay and when they do first cuttings in the local fields where I live. I don't think the country girl in me has died, the one who started out loving those things not the one who was pushed, forced, and drug along. However I have had to make room for massive personal growth. I have had to allow for more than one way to identify and find self value. I was a country girl and that will always be a piece of me, even though I am far from home now and have left behind all of my family and relations. I came forward with my experiences and memories of childhood sexual abuse and they did not believe me. So I left them behind to take care of myself, go forward with my healing, and to show them just what little country girls are made of.