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Archive for January, 2013

It’s funny sometimes the things that hit you from the past that suddenly seem so unjust and sad.  In comparison to so many other things, they aren’t that big of a deal, but I have found they can be a sort of a visible sign of the hidden dynamics of my childhood.

This evening, I was feeling a sense of loss, and for some reason I started to think about the animals from my childhood and I suddenly recognized a pattern that I hadn’t fully seen before.  My parents don’t make a life long commitment to their animals.

Going back over my life, I know about 11 animals that they have had.  They kept one dog for the dog’s full life span.   I am 45.

First there was the German Shepherd that I have seen pictures of from when I was 3 or 4.  I seem to remember being told that they gave the dog to someone else, because she was “too much for them to handle.”

Then there was the pet store mutt that my mom let me buy when I was 9 or so and my dad was on deployment.  By the time he came back, the cute puppy was an ugly adolescent and he said that she needed to go.

Then they found April, our Dalmatian.  This is one purchase that I had nothing to do with, she just showed up one day.  She was bought for my father’s birthday, although she was definitely the family dog, not just his.  This dog they did keep for the next 14 years or so, until she died of old age.

Then there was a kitten, Cassie, who my mother got for me while my dad was on deployment.  My dad came home and was not at all pleased about the cat.  I kept on having stomach problems and based on the conclusion that I was allergic to the cat, they got rid of the cat.  The interesting thing is that I have successfully owned 4 cats as an adult.  Maybe I outgrew the allergy, maybe I was only allergic to that cat.  Maybe it was a handy excuse.

Then there was Sheba.  Sheba was the Collie that I bought with my babysitting money and made the commitment to do all care, training, etc..  She was completely my dog and I adored her.  She also was a bit of a stubborn dog and, as a 16 year old, I didn’t fully understand dog training, so her training came along slowly.  I bought Sheba while my dad was on deployment with his knowledge and supposed approval, however Sheba was not as well behaved as he expected when he came home 6 months later.  After a month or two, I was told that I would have to sell Sheba because I would be going off to college in a couple of years and it wasn’t fair for my mother to have to take care of my dog.  I did find a good family for her and Sheba did well, but it was terribly difficult for me to give her up.   Interestingly, I remember feeling more frozen inside about it than heartbroken.

After that was Rowdy, a full grown lab mix that my parents adopted a year or so later.  This dog lived up to his name, jumped up and broke my mother’s nose, and moved on after only a couple of months.

Thankfully, my parents managed to refrain from acquiring any more animals for the next 8 years or so, until after April died.

Then there was a series of dogs while I was estranged from my parents which included a terrier and 2 Dalmatians that I know of.  All of whom last for a couple of years at the most, because they “got to be too much.”  However, they decided that, “It would be easier to keep a dog once one of us is retired.”

My father retired and about 4 years ago they got a mixed breed named Molly who lasted a couple of years or so.  But my dad discovered that he was allergic to her, so she then needed to go.

About a year ago they got a labradoodle, because this combination is supposed to by hypoallergenic.  I can’t help but wonder how long Annie will stay with them.

I’m trying to figure out what I think about all of this.  First, it was a lot of loss for a child/adolescent who adored animals.  I really could have used any extra bit of love and consistency in my life.  This was lesson after lesson that what I came to love could not be relied upon to stay with me, but was likely to be taken away.

I saw my parents demonstrating that they were unable to make a real commitment to creatures that they should have made life long commitments to.  They treated these animals as if the animals were expendable.  But at the same time, I wasn’t allowed to see how they were acting as being problematic.  It was another example of the crazy making behavior that I wasn’t allowed to name for what it was.

Also, there is something here that is very troubling to me about my dad that I am having trouble identifying.  I think it has to do with the fact that over and over, the theme was that he decided that he didn’t want an animal for some reason and then that animal had to go.  The cost to the animal and me didn’t seem to enter into the equation.  I’m not sure where my mother stood- it’s like she gave up her voice in the matter.  She would bring the animal into the house, but then not fight to keep it there.

I know that I have a deeply ingrained message of, “Don’t be difficult.  Don’t cause problems.  Don’t make anyone angry.  If you do, you are likely to be abandoned.”  The pattern that I am talking about couldn’t be the sole “cause” of such a deeply ingrained message, but I think that it is a symptom of the dynamics that existed day in and day out that left me feeling deeply uncertain of my security with my parents.

Over the last couple of months, I have slowly come to accept that there are parts of me that believed that my father did not want me.  I have long recognized that he competed for my mother’s attention (although I couldn’t see it as such when I lived with them.)  It is clear that he wanted me out of the picture for extended periods of time; why else would I have been sent off to stay with Grandparents with acknowledged histories of physical and emotional abuse?  And it seems that deep inside, deeply buried where I never thought about it, I believed as a child that when it came down to it, he would rather that I was not a part of their lives.

I don’t know whether he did or not.  I know that he is proud of me and that he believes that he loves me.  But I also know that it isn’t a love that warms me, but instead feels like it traps me.

I see my husband with my daughter and I see a fierce love where he very much wants to be a part of her life.  I see a healthy love where they give to each other every day keeping their relationship alive and strong.  I see a love where he is willing to put her needs before his and where her welfare automatically enters the equation when we make life decisions.  I see a love where he finds joy in her joy.  Sometimes I envy my daughter her relationship with her father and the sorrow and pain that comes from the knowledge that I knew none of that with my father feels overwhelming.  I never, ever had the belief that there was even a chance that I was the most important thing in the world to my father.  Our daughter knows that she is the most important thing to her father- not the only important thing, but if he ever had to make the decision to save one of us, she is the one that he would save.  And that is the way that it should be.

There is so much about my relationship with my father that I do not understand.  There is so much pain there.  There is no trust.  There is immense grief.  There is fear.  And there is anger.  Eventually I will need to come to terms with it all.  Not today, not tomorrow, not next week.  The emotions are so intense where he is involved that it will be something that I take on a bit here and a bit there.  But I can do that.  Bit by bit, step by step, and eventually I will get there.  As Mama Bear has said, it isn’t a race, there is no rush.  This will still be there next month and I can take all of the time that I need.

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Learning lessons

Something kind of magical happened tonight…

As you know, we are getting ready to move to another town in a couple of weeks. Moves are always challenging and moves are particularly challenging for children. I know from personal experience, because I was a military brat. So, we have been sure to talk with our daughter about the move and work on helping her express any concerns, however in general she has been quite positive about the whole thing up until now. She has very good associations with the town that we are moving to and knows that her dad and I love it there, so I am sure that is helping the process for her.

Even though she is only eight, she is an excellent swimmer and has competed on a wonderful swim team for two seasons now. It has been an excellent environment for her, and the coaches are really about developing the whole child, as a part of developing her as an athlete. She is quite friendly with the kids on the team and this team is probably what I will most miss about living in this town. Unfortunately, we are not sure that there is an appropriate team for her in the town that we are moving to, so it is unclear as to whether she will continue to swim, at least in the near term.

Tonight was her last swim meet with her team. After we got home, she was sitting there, looking troubled, so I asked her what she was thinking. She mumbled something vague, so I said that she looked sad to me. She then burst into tears about how much she was going to miss her friends on the team, how it’s less about the ribbons than about the swimming and having fun with her friends. She came over and climbed into my lap and just cried and cried, tears dripping down onto my arm, snot getting on my shoulder, while I just held her and rocked her. She talked about how hard it is to not know anyone when you move someplace new, how she felt like she didn’t fit in when we first moved here, how much she still misses her best friend whom she left 2 ½ years ago, and so much more.

I resisted the urge to point out that she does a marvelous job of making new friends and that every time we go to the town, she instantly finds other kids to play with. Instead, I just said, “Yes, it is very sad to leave the people we love. Yes, it is hard to go some place new. Yes, this is kind of scary.” And I let her cry and just wrapped her in my love.

It was over in less than five minutes. She is still worried about these things, but she knows that her dad and I will be there to hold her and support her through whatever she experiences. She knows that whatever feelings she has will be accepted. She doesn’t have to limit or edit her experience in order to be acceptable to us. She can fully be herself and she will be loved for who she is. And because of all of this, she went from being very troubled and crying very hard to peaceful and trying to think of solutions to some of her problems in 5 minutes. Wow.

I have been working very hard over the last few months to better tolerate when she is in distress and not try to jump to finding a solution for her. I know that my urgency to make her feel better has more to do with my difficulty tolerating her distress than anything else. I have had mixed success at doing this. Tonight it felt like it finally all came together and after that initial urge, the rest of the process just worked naturally.

This is a huge triumph for me, because growing up, it was more about what my mother could tolerate and when she would withdraw than it was about her being with me while I worked through something that distressed me. I learned years ago to not withdraw with my own daughter (at least not most of the time), but instead I would go into a problem solving mode. But my daughter is bright and she deserves a chance to solve her problems first, before I intervene. What she really needs from me is a safe place to fully feel her feelings and see that they don’t frighten or overwhelm me; that even though they are very intense, she can work through them fairly quickly and that they will pass. These are all lessons that I had to learn as an adult- they are lessons that I am still learning- and I am so very grateful that I can teach them to my daughter when she is supposed to be learning them.

Dealing with all of this pain and fear and grief feels like torture sometimes, but seeing how the results don’t just benefit me (and they do) but that they also enable me to give my daughter a much different start to her life than I had, makes it all seem more bearable. The cycle stops here.

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Well, I seem to have lost my emotional anesthesia from being so sick.  The challenging feelings are back.  I noticed them some yesterday, but today turned into a very difficult day.

Over the last couple of months, I have been trying to do a better job of observing what is going on when I am hit by memories, largely in hopes that if I can be more mindful of what is going on and keep my feet on the ground, I will be less likely to be swept along by it and into the middle of a raging river.  An added benefit is that I am also starting to notice some patterns; I hope that the information might end up being useful when coordinating my care, but at the very least, it is helping me to feel a bit less out of control and helpless in the face of such unpleasant sensations and emotions.

Today, starting in the morning, I noticed that I was very sound and motion sensitive, somewhat light and smell sensitive, and feeling emotionally unstable.  These are signs for me that I have an impending migraine.  I did what I could to try to prevent it, but those symptoms just didn’t seem to be abating, although the headache didn’t showing signs of appearing, which was a bit odd, but I don’t always get the headache.  Then I was hit strongly by emotional memories and moderately by body memories.  Last month, I noted a couple of times when migraines and memories seemed to be linked, so when this happened, I had the thought, “It’s like I’m having some sort of brain storm.  I think that something is triggering both the migraine symptoms and the memories at the same time.  But nothing externally has happened today to memory wise trigger me, so I think that I need to look at this as something I just need to let run through/past me and do my best to not engage with it.”  I sat there rocking myself, crying for about 10 minutes and then it seemed to ease.

Today had a spring like warmth, and my daughter and dog were in the backyard, so I went to sit on the back porch.  Talking with my daughter, feeling the outside air, and running my hands through my dog’s fur helped me to ground myself somewhat.  But I haven’t been able to fully shake feeling vulnerable and uncertain all day.  On the other hand, each time I have felt myself starting to feels bits and flashes of body memories, I have stopped and paid attention to exactly what is going on with my body in that moment, and I haven’t gotten caught up in the memories, allowing them to progress into something more full blown, so things could be much worse.

I have a feeling that after our move, once we get the new health insurance figured out, I probably should start to look into this memory/migraine connection.  The mind is a complicated, weird thing.  Who knows how things are connected?  Maybe there is something biochemically going on sometimes that makes it much easier for me to be triggered?  We have already been trying to take into consideration factors such as hormonal fluctuations due to my being in my mid 40s and likely entering perimenopause, but maybe we need to take a deeper holistic look at how my body is affecting me emotionally?

Have other people taken a holistic approach?  I don’t necessarily mean alternative medicine, I am most interested in how other people have looked at how their entire health may influence their emotional functioning.  I think that we very often tend to forget just how intertwined it all is…

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Coping

It’s been interesting observing my instinctual drawing inward and shutting so much down these last couple of weeks, as I have been so ill and am trying to begin the prep for the move.  It’s like my mind has said, “There is only so much that I can deal with at one time and being sick with the flu and dealing with the move can’t be avoided, so everything else gets packed away.”

I guess that I could look at it as a bit of a holiday from dealing with the trauma!  😉  I was worried for awhile, because I had some of the most vivid flashbacks ever over Christmas, and I feared that the stress from the move was just going to increasingly activate the trauma reactions, but my mind seems to have figured out a way to deal with it.

Yesterday, I went to my session, and I was so very, very spacy the entire session.  It was like my mind was saying, “There is no way that I am going into any difficult emotions right now.  They are there.  They are strong.  And for right now, they are contained and they need to remain contained.”  So I had a very scattered session, feeling the whole time that I was missing doing something that I needed to do.  Finally, in the last 15 minutes, I realized that while I didn’t want to dive into the feelings and connect with them too much, I needed to just hold and sustain the parts of me inside who are containing those feelings for me right now.  I needed to acknowledge how parts of me are helping me out right now and to give them some gentle, loving care and assure them that once the move is complete, I will go back to dealing with the other issues.

I am sure that people who don’t dissociate have ways of putting things aside and compartmentalizing whatever can’t all be dealt with at the same time, but at the moment this does seem like a bit of a handy skill to have on hand because it does the job so thoroughly. It isn’t one to be used lightly, but in a period of extreme stress, when there is some heavy stuff waiting in the background to be dealt with, that is a time for me to take advantage of whatever coping skills I have.

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Changes

Today we made some announcements in our community about some big changes that are coming, so I feel like I can finally write about it openly here.  At the end of the month, my husband will be changing jobs and we will be moving to a town that is a couple of hours away.  In many, many ways, this will be a very good thing for my entire family.  Quite simply, the area that we are living in is a bad fit for us.  Part of that is because we aren’t related to anyone here- and everyone is related to everyone or married to someone who is related to everyone.  Part of it is because the people here simply have different interests and values than we do.  Part of it is because the town is just too small- less than 5,000 people.  Unfortunately, we have discovered that when you live in an environment that is sufficiently wrong for you, it eventually becomes depressing.

So now many things are going to change…  My husband has been making his own hours and largely working from home and now he will be working 8:00- 4:30 in an office environment again.  I am looking for a job to go back to work, preferable part time, but most likely full time.  This is be a big adjustment for our daughter who has gotten used to having both of us around a lot.  However, our hope is that my husband and I will be happier and have more energy and so that the time that we spend together as a family will be of better quality.

We will be moving from a huge house to a very tiny one for the short term and putting many of our things in storage in the basement while we figure out where we are going to live long term.  This means that I have to pack for a two part move in less than a month.  I hate two part moves, because you have to make multiple decisions about everything that you pick up- do I 1) donate, 2) trash, 3) put in storage, or 4) really need this item in our temporary housing.  There is no “just packing.”  OK, whine done!

I am very excited about this move, because I know that we love the place that we are moving to…  This is the area that is more home for me than anywhere else at this point.   I grew up in the military, so I living in and around this town for 12 years, means that I have lived there twice as long as anywhere else.  It is not a perfect community, but there is much that I love about it and it offers many things that my family values.  I fit with the people there and simply feel comfortable walking down the street and going into the stores in a way that I never have in the town that I currently live in.  It makes my heart sing to know that I am going home!

One very practical, immediate benefit will be that I am no longer making the 4 hour round trip drive to go to therapy!  I will be 5 minutes away from Mama Bear’s office.  I could even walk there when the weather is nice and I know that I will have the energy to make it up a steep hill afterwards.  No more worries about the weather.  No more pulling over to deal with a flashback.  No more stopping to cry.  No more worries about hitting a deer.  This makes me very happy.  🙂

Coming to the decision to make this move was not easy, however, because my husband is a minister, and this means that he will no longer be working in a church full time.  This is not a simple matter of moving from one accounting job to another, his vocation is tied into who he is in some very important ways.  The past few months have been a time of much soul searching and personal growth on both of our parts.  For my part, I have started to learn to push myself past the fear of stating what my needs and desires are, even when I fear that they may be at odds with what he needs and wants.  I am working on fully accepting that in a relationship, everyone’s needs need to be taken into account.  They can’t all always be satisfied, but they are all always valid and should be known.  And everyone needs to have their needs come first some of the time.

This really is just another facet of my learning how to be fully and authentically me.  What I have been working on in my current life has completely intertwined with what I am working on from my past.  Not the trauma part, but the relational part, which in many ways is even harder than dealing with the trauma.  Taking calculated risks in my relationship with my husband has helped me learn how to settle into myself.  As I do this, I am better able to deal with issues with my parents, freeing me up to take other risks in current day life.

So this is a very challenging time for me, with a lot of change.  But it is change that I am hopeful will lead to a lot of growth and fuller exploration of and expansion into the person whom I can be.  I will likely be writing less over the next month or so, both because Mama Bear and I are trying to keep from stirring anything up during this period of transition, and because I have an unbelievable about to do over the next 4 weeks.  However, change always stirs things up in me and creates motion, even while trying to keep things calm, so who knows what will actually happen?  You just might be hearing more from me than I think.  😉

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At the moment, I am just reeling under the impact of some additional perspective into my parents and my relationship with my parents that has come up in a period of about 24 hours.  It isn’t bad, in fact it is quite good because it reflects that some very important internal changes are going on right now.  But it is certainly disconcerting to literally feel dizzy because of shifts going on inside.

What it all boils down to is that I am finally really accepting that I both can and should trust in my own perceptions of things.  Sounds simple and obvious, doesn’t it?  For me, this is a profound change, particularly when it comes to my parents and it is shaking me to my roots.

I have spent 20 years trying to learn how to do this, in one form or another.  Sometimes I am largely successful, but even then, it isn’t based purely on my own perceptions, but my sharing them with others whom I trust and having them reflected back at me as being accurate.  It wasn’t really trusting my own take on things, but rather trusting others to be able to evaluate things correctly and reflect back to me where I was on target and off base.

For a long time, I would pretend to not understand as much as I understood, when it would have involved stating, “This is the way that I see things.”  This happened all the time in everyday life.  I rarely do that anymore, although it has shown up occasionally in times of extreme stress.

The place where I most profoundly distrust my take on things is in regards to my parents and my relationship with them.   I have said before that I have a complicated relationship with them.  They really are not bad people, but they are the products of their upbringing.  I grew up fully buying the story that they were fantastic parents.  All of my friends thought that they were wonderful.  My mother was always cheerful.  My dad was always charming, outgoing, and “fun.”  They were constantly active and on the go when my dad was home, although he was in the service, which could take him away for months at a time.  I was provided with everything that I needed and then some.  I was enabled to go to an excellent college, despite the financial strain it put on my parents.  I had everything to be grateful for and nothing to complain about, right?  I certainly believed that.

But looking back, I remember being sad and alone so much of the time.  As a teen, I believed that I had everything, but there was a hollowness inside.

And then after college graduation and marriage, all hell started to break loose in terms of body memories and flashbacks beginning to emerge.  It was all unbelievable.  Abuse had nothing to do with the image of family that my parents created.  When I told my mother that I believed that I had been sexually abused, her response was, “But we were so close.  I knew you so well and I would have known if something was happening.”  And that was the family myth, that we were so close that she almost had a psychic link with me.  It was like I was being told, “If I didn’t see it, then it couldn’t have happened.”

During that period, my parents never overtly said, “We know better than you.  You are wrong.  You can’t trust what you believe to be the truth, if it doesn’t match with how we see things.”  But it was such an underlying and completely pervasive message while I was growing up that it was in my bones and so I felt immense pressure to comply with their version of reality, which most certainly did not include abuse.  I did not have the strength to resist that pressure and take on healing from the abuse at the same time, so I cut off contact with them for years, although I did re-engage with them after the birth of my daughter.

Recently, Mama Bear asked me what it was like for me to not have contact with my mother all of those years.  My response was, “I don’t remember.”  I hate to say it, but I suspect that I don’t remember because it wasn’t any real hardship for me.  It just was.  And frankly, it was a relief to no longer feel so much pressure to believe that the sky was green and the grass was blue.

As I have talked with Mama Bear through the years about my parents and my relationship with them, I have been very aware that she hasn’t ever met them and her view is purely through me.  In the back of my mind, there was always the worry that one day she would meet them and go, “What’s the big deal?  They seem completely normal to me.”  I wasn’t worried that she wouldn’t see them clearly; I was worried that my perceptions of them was that off base.  I was worried that I was being “too sensitive” or “blowing things out of proportion” or “distorting everything” or “unable to see things clearly” or “indulging in my imagination.”  Even though I was painfully developing a new understanding of my parents and my relationship with them, I couldn’t fully trust that understanding, because it went against the image of my parents as the “perfect” parents.

I have worried about sharing many of my insights into my parents with my husband, because he has met them and I feared that he would scoff at me and say, “I just don’t see that!”

But over the last few months, as I have felt more able to share with Mama Bear things like fearing that everything that was off about my mother was all in my mind, she has been able to help me start to see that I can trust how I see the situation as being at the very least what the reality is for me and probably very close to what others would see as well.  As she said, “Your mother is not going to react perfectly, she already hasn’t, many times over.”

One of the most profound disconnects for me is between my mother’s belief that she knew me so well and was so close to me, and the devastatingly deep sense that I have of being completely and utterly alone with the abuse and in so many other ways while I was growing up.  Obviously my mother’s version is much more palatable than mine and it was what I would have told you if you had asked me in my early 20s or before.  My version was much too painful for me to own.  Now days I am slowly replacing that aloneness with the knowledge that in the here and now, I have many people who love and support me and who can bear to know that terrible things happened, that I was hurt very badly, and to be there to hold my hand or provide a shoulder for me to cry on when needed.  In the context of the very different reality of now, it becomes possible to own the oh so painful reality of then.

The clincher came for me today, though.  My mother had not known about the accident and was surprised at a reference to it in an e-mail, so I sent her something that was almost exactly what I posted on my blog the night of the accident.  It was completely honest about how the experience was frightening, could have been much more serious, and that I had an extreme reaction after the accident.  I was curious to see how she would respond.  Her reply had 3 sentences: The first was “Is there anything that we can do to help?”  (My mother is known for offering help when I am unlikely to accept it.)  The second was congratulations to my husband for something.  The third was asking me to give him a hug from her.  Nothing at all that was directly about the accident.  No, “That’s so terrible!” or “Thank, God you are alright!” or “I’m so sorry that you went through that!”  It isn’t that she isn’t caring, and I am pretty sure that she had some of those normal reactions, but she couldn’t reach out to me when faced with a situation that had been potentially life threatening.  And it became very clear that my mother is unable to deal with any difficult emotions and she so will ignore the situation.  Suddenly it becomes so much more believable that she couldn’t bear to see that there was something wrong with me when I was a child.  And it becomes crystal clear that her version of reality is severely edited, whether she is aware of it, or not.

So now I am reeling under the realization that I really can accept how I see and feel about things.  I shouldn’t second guess my perception of things when it does not agree with the family myth.  It probably isn’t 100% accurate, but it probably is as accurate as the next person’s perception would be.  The problem does not lie within me, it lies within my mother.

(I will write about my father later, because this is already much longer than I expected.)

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