Archives for the month of: August, 2013

“What you fear most has already happened.” -Annie G. Rogers

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…I stood at my mother’s side as she recited marriage vows for the second time in her life. I do not have clear memories of this occasion, but have learned from retelling after retelling that my 5-year-old brother (the ring-bearer) would not stop flinging the pillow that had previously held the rings around during the ceremony and later tried to order prime rib at the reception. I know from pictures that my mother was glowing with happiness, and that the style of her second wedding has stood the test of time much better than her gaudy wedding of 1985. 

The same statement could be made of the marriages that followed the respective weddings. My mother was the third in an ever-growing line of women to be manipulated by my biological father into being the perfect wife while he romped around, obtaining sketchy business deals and sexually transmitted diseases. Although they divorced when I was young, I can remember the air of anxiety, shame, and subtle rage that permeated our household during those years. 

By contrast, in my stepfather, my mother found a stable man who treated her with respect and dignity. They were introduced by a mutual friend and became smitten immediately. To this day, if you ask my stepfather (who I have called “Dad” since I was six) what his favorite color is, he will reply with, “The blue of your mother’s eyes.” He was not without his baggage: a father with an alcohol problem, an unfaithful ex-wife, siblings who could not seem to function in the world. But, unlike my biological father, his problems were his own.

His first test came when I became violently ill while he was having dinner with my mother at our house. The second was when my brother got sick all over him while sitting on his lap, looked at him, and exclaimed, “Ew! You’re all wet!” The third and most difficult test was my obsession with driving him out of our family, protesting, “Why are you always here? Why don’t you just go home?!” He thoughtfully and compassionately dealt with all of these.

My dad became a safe base for my brother and me. Where my biological father was unpredictable, my dad was steady. Where my father was never able to meet our emotional needs, my dad was there with a hug and genuine empathy. While my father chose time and time again to not show up, my dad could be counted on to attend recitals, parent-teacher conferences, and t-ball games. He introduced us to new things without being pushy and was there to catch us when we fell. 

In addition to choosing to take on the responsibilities of parenting where another had chosen to give up, my dad made my mother immensely happy. We could laugh again. While they have had disagreements over the years, I have never heard one of them raise their voice or address the other with anything less than respect. We learned to be the spontaneous, openly affectionate people we could not be with my biological father around.

So as I stood in front of our gathered family and friends 17 years ago and watched as my mother said her vows, I was content. I say this not because I remember, but because it had to have been so. My mom and dad getting married cemented our identity has a family that had its problems, but was ultimately happy and healthy. They have shown me and my siblings what healthy love, communication, and relationships look like, and I am forever grateful to them for all that they have given me. Mom and dad, although you will never read this, thank you. I love you.

Boots, hardly…but an incredible pair of shoes. The Dansko clogs given to me by my mother were sturdy, comfortable, and colorful. A rainbow of colors felted into a black background that carried me through two of the most transformative years of my life thus far.

They were a Christmas gift given one week after I graduated with my BA in Psychology and proceeded to move in with my abusive father (I kept telling myself I was doing it for the health insurance). Three weeks later, I was crawling back to the welcoming arms of my mother, having failed to fix my father and further broken myself in the process.

The economy was in the toilet, and seemingly no jobs were to be had. I had quit my retail job in anticipation of finding something in my new state, and thus came back home to endless games of computer Solitaire in between cover letters and scam job postings on Craigslist. I finally landed a part-time clothing retail job in a small boutique (SO not my style), and wore my new shoes every day. They put a smile on my face, and my customers were constantly admiring the bright colors that shone through the grey New England winter and my depressed state of mind. 

After a few months at the boutique, I obtained my first “real” job, as a case manager in a community mental health center. This was the most overwhelming thing I had chosen to do in my life. Having no experience, I dove into trying to help my caseload of usually 50-60 and never fewer than 40 adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Those shoes were a conversation starter with clients who did not initially feel comfortable talking and with other professionals who controlled the resources my clients needed.

The clogs carried me through many places: bed bug infested apartments, courtrooms where I sat next to clients and testified that they were a safety risk or were failing to take adequate care of themselves, the frantic drives to clients who left messages with hints of suicide. They also carried me through many positive events and emotions: the feeling of relief and hope when a client successfully completed detox, finally making a connection with a client who had struggled to engage in services, and the feeling of satisfaction when a client successfully advocated for themselves using strategies we had practiced.

Many personal events happened during the two years those shoes remained in commission, but what sticks out most to me about that time was my work. By the time the shoes were tattered and worn down, I had learned a lot of what I needed to know about myself and my calling. They saw me through crises of “Am I good enough?” and “How can anyone possibly do this for years?” to the realization that my best is good enough and letting go of the notion that I have to fix everyone was how I would be able to do this work for years. When I enrolled in my MSW program, the shoes had been worn almost every day in my whirlwind tour of the community mental health system, and they were tired. Pieces of felt were falling off, and the tread was nonexistent. I reluctantly shoved the clogs into the back of my closet, to be looked upon with fondness and gratitude.

I feel like I have a lot to write about, but I’m working on 2 hours of sleep following an overnight, followed by three hours of class and now I’m in the midst of another overnight leading into 3.5 hours of class tomorrow…excuses, excuses, but I’m tired. So I’m going to write about today’s daily prompt (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/daily-prompt-fake/), “What was the last lie you told? Why did you tell it?”

I am a person who feels and says that they value honesty, but lies all the time. I typically do not tell outright lies; my transgressions tend more to the side of lying by omission or simply not being honest and forthright about something that is bugging me. Tonight was an exception.

I went to class not looking forward to seeing an acquaintance of mine. She used to be a friend, but sadly, our friendship could not withstand the issues arising from her relationship with her fiancé. Long story short, my fiancée did their engagement photos before we realized what a jerk this guy is, and he proceeded to gush over the finished product but not pay her and eventually berate and bully her, at one point screaming and yelling at her over the phone when she contacted him about payment. Eventually, my friend paid us the money that was owed in cash, asking us not to let her fiancé know because he controlled the money and would be angry. I voiced my concerns twice about this guy being controlling, manipulative, and abusive, and she told me that several people had expressed those same concerns, but she was sticking with him. She still seems to think we are good friends, but I have largely disengaged so as to not put myself in the line of fire with him.

Back to the lie: they have decided to get married in a small ceremony in about 2 months, and tonight she asked if my fiancée and I would attend the wedding. I had to tell her we would not; I do not support this marriage and he never made things right with me or my fiancée. My lie was this: I blamed it on my fiancée. I first tried to dodge the issue, saying that I will be working every day in September (not a lie), but then she said it would actually be in October. I then said, “Yeah, I don’t think we’ll be able to make it…you know, because of (fiancée). He never apologized or ever contacted her again.” She assured me that she was not offended and had predicted that would be my answer. Although there was truth to my statement (fiancée really would not be okay with attending this wedding, obviously), I should have told the entire truth. Instead of saying that I do not want to see this man and possibly reiterating my concerns about safety in the relationship, I deflected it onto my fiancée. That was the wrong thing to do, because my fiancée is her own person and gets to decide when her opinions are expressed.

I guess the reason I told that lie was that I was afraid to cause trouble. My class is a very tight group, and any interpersonal struggles become apparent to others very quickly. I also do not want to really lose my friend/acquaintance, as I do like her as a person. As usual, I was trying to make everyone happy (or at least as not unhappy as possible), and it did not actually work. I regret that I did not use the opportunity to tell her my feelings about this man again (I know it is technically none of my business, but I think it is my business to worry about the safety of someone I care about), and I inadvertently put my fiancée on the line if my friend says something to her fiancé. My efforts to remain comfortable in the moment by displacing my thoughts and emotions onto my fiancée could have pretty negative consequences.

What about you? What was your most recent lie and why?

I have struggled with headaches from when I was a child. I usually have up to 5 headache days per week, and they are very intense. I’ve discussed it at length with various doctors and have seen chiropractors, all to no avail (but, you know, they still get to lecture me on losing weight. ugh). 

Finally, I started seeing a different chiropractor, and he has made a great difference. I now have headaches about 2-3 days every two weeks. This is because in addition to my adjustments, he works on the muscles in my neck and back that are pulling my spine out of alignment. He is a really great chiropractor.

Today I went for my regular appointment, and my neck was giving him a ridiculously hard time. Normally my muscles resist for awhile and then give in, but it was like he just couldn’t get anywhere with them today. He paused for quite some time and just sat there, and then asked if I had been traumatized as a child. I told him that I had, and we discussed how childhood trauma can create a long-lasting muscular fear response in which we tense up our muscles around our neck and shoulders to protect the head (even if the head was not the focus of the trauma). He didn’t ask for any details about the trauma itself, but said that he had been wondering that for a long time but didn’t know when or how to ask. 

It actually felt really good to have someone who did not previously know about my trauma to come to that conclusion. Like many survivors of trauma, I tend to doubt myself. What if I’m making it up or simply misunderstood something? The fact that my body told my chiropractor about my trauma and he asked me about it was really validating. He told me he would like to do some “energy work” like pranic healing or reiki, and I told him I don’t really believe in that stuff (there is absolutely no evidence for it) and he said that was fine, to just let him know if I ever wanted more information.

I really would like to find a therapist that deals specifically with trauma and maybe the body’s physical response to trauma. In addition to my headaches and muscle pain, I also have vaginismus and I would really like to work on that so that I can possibly use a tampon, have a gynecological exam, or do any sort of penetration. I think, though, that this will have to wait until I graduate. I just don’t have the time or energy to devote to it right now, but I may work on finding someone who would be a good fit for me. 

If anyone is comfortable sharing, I would love to hear from other survivors about the physical effects trauma has had on their body and how they cope with it.

This weekend was pretty mixed, so I thought I would just write about it. It seems like a lot of stuff happened, but I’m guessing it wasn’t really that much and hopefully writing it down will help me process it.

– I went back to school on Friday night. It was nice to see my classmates, but it really hit me how crazy the next nine months are going to be. Between work and my internship, I will have no days off in September, and if I want a day off in October I will have to use PTO. I know I chose to do this, but it is SCARY.

– I got to Skype for a few minutes with my brother on Saturday before we lost the connection. It was good to see him, and he seems like he is having a good time.

– I started moving a bunch of stuff from my room at my mom and stepdad’s house (they have generously not pushed me to move my stuff even though I technically moved out six months ago). I found some great books that I had forgotten about, and some pictures and mementos. I also found a lot of triggering stuff, which my stepdad took to the dump for me. I now have most of my books at my apartment (more are under the bed, which I can’t even wrap my head around tackling right now), which makes me feel way more comfortable.

– I didn’t have to work this weekend, so my fiancée and I got to both sleep at night, a rare treat. However, it wasn’t so great, as we both had nightmares and she had flashbacks all night Saturday into Sunday. We spent hours drifting in and out of sleep and awareness and trauma and body memories and it was pretty unpleasant. It was disappointing because we always look forward to being able to sleep at the same time. Hopefully tomorrow night will be better.

– I slept a lot on Sunday. Usually when I sleep through the night and then try to sleep during the day to get up for work it’s a fitful sleep, but today I only woke up a few times. Must have been because of the crappy night’s sleep before.

Okay, so the weekend seems kind of mundane when I write about it. Sorry to have been boring! haha

This is a fantastic band covering my favorite song by Emmylou Harris, “Deeper Well.” The lyrics speak to the struggle of addiction, and I like how the Wailin’ Jennys made the tempo faster and more frantic.

When I got to work a few hours ago, I saw a bunch of stories online about the death of Gia Allemand, a former contestant on the reality TV show “The Bachelor.” She had been taken off life support after a suicide attempt. Now, I do not watch television (except stuff on Netflix), so I am not familiar with her at all. But I still read a few of the stories and I have to say I was absolutely disgusted at some of the comments.

There were many comments expressing sadness over this person’s death and wishing peace to her family. However, sprinkled in were not a few comments calling her selfish for “taking the easy way out” and “leaving her family to deal with it.” A few even expressed that the author felt “no sympathy for people who kill themselves.”

I know that in general, people are more likely to say things behind the screen of anonymity afforded by the internet than they would be to say them out loud to someone’s face, but I find this sort of comment absolutely sickening. I know there are many reasons a person may hold those beliefs: maybe somebody close to them has attempted or completed suicide and they are struggling to deal with it, or maybe they themselves have had suicidal thoughts and cannot reconcile their beliefs. And I feel for those people. However, that does not excuse making hurtful comments about someone else and their situation, about which you know basically nothing even if you regularly watched them on television.

The majority of people who attempt or complete suicide are experiencing some type of mental illness or substance use disorder. People who attempt or complete suicide do not do it because they are selfish, weak, or wanting attention. They do it because they perceive it as the only solution left. Their lives are literally so unbearable that it would be better to die. Think about that for a moment. Try to feel what the person who decides the world would be better off without them is feeling.

Now think about their family and friends (who presumably love them dearly, although we know there are exceptions to this). Someone they cherish, someone they may even have been willing to give their own life for, is gone. Someone for whom, if they had only known how, they would have given or done anything to make it better. Someone they envisioned a future with, someone who mentored them, someone who provided a shoulder to cry on and likewise maybe cried on their shoulder but didn’t dare say what was really wrong or how bad it was. Think about how it would feel to be grieving someone you love while simultaneously wondering what you could have done to prevent their death. How do you think it would feel to go online to check your email or work on funeral arrangements only to be bombarded with comments about how selfish and weak your loved one was? Can you feel the vomit rising in your throat?

It is easy to judge others and to project our own fears and insecurities onto them. This does not give us the right to actively hurt people by calling their loved ones weak and selfish. The truly selfish thing is to use someone’s personal tragedy to feed one’s ego. You get the momentary glory of sharing your opinion with the internet, while the person’s family gets to have their grief and loss deepened forever. Is it worth it?

*Trigger warning, mention of SA*

I feel like I’m living in two separate worlds or states of mind. Overall, I feel pretty good about my life. Yes, it’s stressful and I don’t have a lot of free time, but I live with an amazing woman whom I love very much. I feel very fortunate to have met her after more than two decades of feeling unlovable and pretty much accepting that I would never have a partner. She understands me, she cares about me, she loves me. Yesterday I had to stay at work unexpectedly for an extra four hours. She brought me my medications and breakfast. I know this is something that a lot of couples would do for each other, but it means a lot to me. When I’m with her, I feel content.

We usually get to spend a few hours with each other in the mornings before she goes to work, and then I go to sleep around 2:00 pm. This is when my inner world shifts. I do not sleep well (does anyone sleep well during the day?) despite melatonin and my partner’s best efforts to be quiet when she gets home from work. I’ve always had nightmares, but they seem to have gotten a lot worse lately. They range from the ludicrous (giant bed bugs early in my sleep yesterday) to the truly disturbing (being forced to watch while persons unknown to me are sexually abused and being powerless to do anything about it, later in my sleep yesterday).

Sometimes, I can shake off the nightmares fairly easily. Sadly, this has not been the case recently and I feel like they are poisoning my waking hours. I try not to entertain the images, but there’s a haze over my thoughts while I’m getting ready for work and during the first few hours of my shift. Next, I find myself in a fog of discontentment over my life and relationship. I say a fog because when I try to rationally assess my thoughts, I recognize that I truly am happy in my relationship, but it’s like I am compulsively thinking, “I would be better off alone,” or “I’m not meant to be partnered.” This usually persists throughout the night, unless I do something specifically meant to help me snap out of it (looking at pictures of my partner on Facebook helps). Then, when I get home from work, the joy that I feel upon seeing and spending time with my partner drives all of the negative thoughts into their temporary graves, to emerge again upon my awakening at 11:00.

I can’t help but think the nightmares and the distress they cause are the root of the other negative thoughts. I also know that spending about 6 hours completely alone before my clients start to wake up does not help, it just lets things fester in my mind. I do love time alone, but six hours awake and alone in the middle of the night is excessive. Anyone have experience with something like this? Any suggestions on how to cope?

Working third shift leaves me with a lot of time on my hands at work (unless, of course, I am cleaning up bodily fluids or something…last week was not fun), and I like to try to spend my time productively. My usual routine is to do at least two crossword puzzles per shift and catch up on homework. However, being on summer break has afforded me more time to do nothing but watch Netflix (Orange is the New Black…so addictive and great). Unless I get addicted to a show, I usually watch documentaries, and the other night I saw a pretty good one.

“The House I Live In” is a film that examines the “War on Drugs” and its consequences to the US as a whole, the individuals who have personally been its victims, and their families. It also explores the racism and classism inherent in the policies stemming from this effort. I think I’m making it sound kind of dry, but it’s a very interesting movie. Anyone with an interest in drug policy, racism, classism, or criminal justice should watch this film.