What About Everyone Else?

UVA Lawn

You have probably heard about the Rolling Stone article discussing the prevalence and denial of sexual violence at the University of Virginia. Or maybe you haven’t heard because unlike me, you are not an alumnus of that University and do not follow hundreds of Facebook pages devoted to sexual violence. Needless to say, I have been inundated with the article and comments from others. And my reaction has been strong.

My strong reaction is not because I am opposed to violence. It is not because UVA is my alma mater and I am concerned about its future as a school. It is not because this happens at every school with almost the same response from administration. My reaction is much more personal.

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Letting It Break

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When I was growing up, I suffered all types of abuse, but I find the most difficult to overcome was the abandonment and neglect. While my abusers stayed in my life (to my dismay), they emotionally left me before I was born. They neglected me in my early life by not meeting my basic needs. So while they were still around, they were not, unless of course, they needed something from me. This feeling of abandonment was exacerbated by the bystanders who walked out of my life while I hoped they would help me.

In my adult life, I struggle to find gratitude and appreciate what I have. It seems as though the people, animals and things that matter to me the most are appreciated the least. It seems that way, but it isn’t the case. As a child, I “learned” that what mattered to me most would be taken away. In some cases, this was a result of manipulative parents who would use my favorite things against me so they could break me. They would also remove my favorite people from my life because they were dangerously close to exposing the family secrets. And their methods certainly worked. So, I developed a defense mechanism. Continue reading

Dear Inner Child

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Stronger Than You Realize by Kris Rozelle

Dear Inner Child,

You’ve been through so much and I am not sure how you coped. Your strength inspires me with every memory I recover. I know you are the reason we are alive today. And I thank you for all you did to keep going. Sometimes, others ask me how I lived through it and I don’t know the answer. You carried that burden. And to some extent, you still do.

Unfortunately, some of those approaches you used to stay alive might be setting us back these days. The dissociation, the isolation and the anxiety were perfect coping strategies in an environment of prolonged and inescapable trauma. But we aren’t there anymore. We live in a different world, a more benign world. Sure, there are still plenty of people who need an attitude adjustment (or much more). And the days when the kids just don’t care about boundaries can be a little rough. But in the current reality, there is safety, the kind you never knew as a child. Continue reading

Here Comes the Holidays

Fallen Xmas Tree

So, the holidays are here. You may be thinking this is a little early, but I include Halloween in my definition of the holidays. I call it the holiday trifecta. And they come every year. And every year, I brace myself. I actually attempt to store up energy, but of course, that never works out.

Each holiday affects me for different reasons. Halloween is stressful because of the spooky factor. I have just about had it with things that go bump in the night. And surprises? Well. I have had my fill of those too. I make it an early night every year. And that has worked out so far because my kids are young.

Thanksgiving is the big family holiday. I have always managed to spend Thanksgiving with friends and I am exceedingly grateful. But the societal bombardment of family dinners, even dysfunctional family dinners, can be overwhelming.

And then there is Christmas. It is supposed to be the ultimate happy day according to the messages we receive in the media. So why do I feel like I just need to get through it? It reminds me of the happiness I have not been capable of finding. It makes me feel inadequate. And I don’t need that. I can make myself feel inadequate without additional help. Continue reading

Am I So Different?

Am I So Different
One of the most devastating feelings during recovery is the deep sense of isolation and separateness. There are days when I feel like the only person on the planet who has suffered such horrible trauma and pain despite knowing many survivors of abuse and trafficking. There are days when I feel like I don’t belong here, even wondering if I may have landed on the wrong planet at the wrong time. I have caught myself wondering when I get to go home. And home isn’t heaven. It isn’t some perfect family homestead where everyone is loving and kind. It is a nebulous place where I will feel like I belong.

I hear about this same feeling of isolation and separateness from other survivors. And I know where it comes from. It comes from our internal belief systems. We feel so different from the rest of the world. And it is much easier to isolate from the rest of the world to avoid further harm from others. It seems like the safe option. But we weren’t born feeling that way. Our abusers had their strategies. They made sure we felt unworthy of love from others and different from the rest of the world with their not-so-subtle insults. “You deserve this.” “You aren’t as special as other people.” “Nobody will save you because you aren’t worth it.” They kept us away from those who might help by teaching us we weren’t good enough to be with them. Continue reading

The Storm Inside

Hurricane

I have worked hard to maintain my mask of normalcy over the years. I was trained by my family that there could be no external signs of abuse, physically or behaviorally. And since I was convinced the abuse was my fault, I thought it imperative to comply. When I felt anxious, I would use the manic energy to be more productive, so it came across as a positive thing. When I felt depressed, I would hide from the world. Those were the sick days from school or work. I was proud of my ability to preserve my mask no matter how difficult things became.

But the anger and rage was a different story. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I knew that acting out my rage was unsafe in my home because my father had made it clear that he would kill me. The rage was seeping out of me on all sides with no outlet. It was in my energy. It was wrecking havoc on my life through manifestations of chaos and drama. Interpersonal relationships were severely impacted by my anger and inability to allow the smallest indiscretion. Sometimes, I would self-harm or find any way to numb out. Sometimes, I would be passive aggressive, finding a way to sabotage something important, especially if it mattered to my parents. I did everything possible to avoid acting out my rage in a noticeable way.
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The Good Life

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There’s a popular Zen saying in the self-awareness circles. “Before enlightenment, carry wood chop water. After enlightenment, carry wood chop water.” As with most Zen concepts, it seems like a simple idea on the surface. And as with most Zen concepts, it isn’t simple. It encapsulates so many challenges in my own life.

While I do my best to stay conscious as I move through my life, it is hard work. So, I find myself going through the motions. I wake up every morning and make breakfast for the twins. I make their lunches while they eat their breakfast. I drop them off at school. I write. I pick them up from school. I take them to activities. I make dinner. I put them to bed, clean the kitchen, do laundry and get ready to do it the next day.

I find myself asking if this is what life is about.
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