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*written July 2013
I did something amazing. I was in Boston to meet a friend and I went home. I went back to the place it all started, where I experienced so much pain. I knew I was ready. I knew I needed to do it alone. I’ve struggled so much to retrieve memories of my youth that were not traumatic – I couldn’t find images, feelings, laughter from so many years while I felt imprisoned behind the gated doors and windows. I was scared to meet up with that sad little girl crying on the stoop, but I went. I marched right up the street from the station. I took a picture of my old school and remembered Molly asking my why Malik always looked up my skirt in the coat room in Kindergarten (I replied, “I think it’s because I can read.”) I remembered running down the street to Caroline’s house where her mom made cookies and we were allowed to lick the bowl. I remembered roller skating the day Ronald Reagan was shot. I took a picture of the Mackie school yard where I smoked my first cigarette behind a dumpster. I got a little scared as I approached the block my old house was on – I walked on the far side of the street and pondered it from there for a few minutes. I knew I was strong enough. I knew I was ready. That little girl wasn’t crying anymore. Alison Meridith can go f*ck herself – I *do* have friends. People *do* like me. I’m happy. I’m healing. I’m intact. I’m integrated. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been… so why was I so scared of an old brick house with bars on the door and windows?

I took a deep breath and wandered down the block. I realized just how busy the street was where I used to run across four lanes of traffic to get my mother’s newspaper three blocks down. I don’t remember how old I was, but I know the Sunday Globe was almost too heavy for me to carry. I remember it was scary. Nearly as scary as crossing the same street to catch the T to school in first grade – my mother never got up in the morning, so I usually missed the school bus and had to get there on the city bus. Those places were so big… I used to be so small. There was a lovely little shop on the corner – a building I remember burning in an apparent arson when I was a girl – so I thought I’d find something to mark the occasion. I discovered a sweet card intended for a newborn, and I realized that is what this day was – a rebirth. I decided to mark the occasion with a gift to myself and bought the card and a cheap bangle bracelet. I steeled myself for the next step and walked back up the block to my old house.

The magnolia my mother planted the year I was born has grown almost to the third floor. The bars were still there but there was the sweetest little dog asleep in the dining room window who perked right up as I stood there to take a picture. I was weeping the most cleansing tears. The little girl wasn’t there anymore. She’s happy now. She’s healing. She’s whole. I felt like an honest to god grownup, ready to move on and live life without that sad little girl hanging off my skirt. I scanned the house looking for traces of my old world when a young man came out of the house to smoke on the stoop. I had a lovely conversation with him about the house that belongs to his family now. I don’t know if he noticed the tears behind my glasses and sweat.

I called my boyfriend and texted my therapist to let them know what I had done. It felt amazing. I was released. I was liberated. I am free.

I wept all the way back to Copley Square then proceeded to recount the experience to a dear friend I spent the day with. We went into my old church and chatted with the receptionist before going into the sanctuary to say a prayer of thanks. I’m not really a praying kind of girl, but this day was extraordinary, and that church was as much my home as any other place – I found real sanctuary there for many years. My gratitude fills me. My liberation is like this incredible gift I never dreamed I’d receive although I write that with the knowledge that this is no gift. This was hard-fought and hard-won. I busted my ass to get this far. I worked like a beast to battle demons and ghosts, misunderstanding, sanctimony, judgement, rejection, loss… I won.

I know I’m not done yet. I have plenty of work left to do and there will be ups and downs for sure, but I’ve made tremendous strides and I’m pretty freaking proud of how far I’ve come.

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My heart aches, bleeds with grief for the senseless loss of life and innocence. I’ve been reeling all day, torn between wanting to avoid the horror of the news and wanting to be prepared to discuss it with my own children. And then there’s that magnetic draw to become engulfed in the news, to try to glean some sense from the madness… because it is all about madness, right? That’s where I get mad.

First they trot out the reporters with half-confirmed fact-like information, then come the psychologists to talk about the crazy. If the massacre happens abroad it’s a terrorist, but if it happens here in the US it must be a crazy person. There must be some diagnosis to explain this horrific crime. Except when there isn’t. Or when the mental illness is a result of trauma, abuse, bullying or just lousy parenting. Or when a human being perfectly capable of making choices makes some terrible, terrible choices.

Choice. Ay, there’s the rub. Mentally ill people make safe choices every day. Victims of child abuse choose not to abuse their own children. Children exposed to domestic violence grow up to choose not to abuse their own spouse.

It burns my ass when the media wants to paint the picture of a killer as someone who is mentally ill, because whether that person is or is not mentally ill should not paint the mentally ill as killers.

The vast majority of mass murderers in the USA are young, white men of privilege, yet the vast majority of young, white men of privilege live a lifetime without killing anyone.

Sigh. My heart aches. Sad times.

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Will I ever stop chasing the little girl I was? I wish I could stop her from feeling all the hurt, change her path so she might find an easier way. I guess it isn’t up to me. All I can do is work to heal the woman she has become.

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EMDR was different today.  I was pretty stuck in my head.  There were very few images, just darkness and a very intellectual kind of narrative.  I thought I was too distracted to allow the treatment to proceed, but some interesting things came  up anyway.  I remembered being a little girl on Christmas Eve.  I don’t know what I was sick with, but my mother gave me Castor Oil.  I remember the square bottle with the greasy yellow label.  I woke up in the middle of the night when I was horribly ill – both vomit and diarrhea in the bed.  I was sick and scared.  I called for my mother.  She was furious.  I ruined Christmas.  I remembered her washing me as I stood in the tub with the shower running.  She never let me take a bath, she said it took too long, even though I was scared of the shower because it always got shampoo in my eyes.  It happened every time I wet the bed, which was pretty often.  She would put me in the shower and wash me.  She would tell me I was dirty.  I was disgusting.  I stink.  She used a green bar of soap.  It was like a skeleton, all dried and splintered.  I think it was Zest or Irish Spring.  She would wash me – it was rough.  That soap burned my privates.  I would cry and she would scrub.  She said I was dirty.  I was disgusting.  I stink.  No one would ever want me if I smelled bad.  She would scrub so hard.  It stung.  It burned.  Today I could smell the soap.  It scared me.  I dropped the paddles and told my therapist we needed to stop.

I wept.

It never occurred to me that there was something wrong with this.  Yet, looking back, I can’t imagine how she could do that to a child.  She knew she was hurting me.  She wanted to hurt me.  I was always irritated there.  I had urinary tract infections all the time.  I would hold my bladder as long as I possibly could.  I would sit on my heel, bearing down as hard as I could to hold back the urge.  My mother hated it.  She said I was trying to control the only thing I could – she was right.  She sent me to therapy when I was in second grade.  Because I lied.  I was a liar and I needed help.  She set me up so no one would ever believe it if I told what she did to me.  I hated going to therapy.  She told me how expensive it was.  I was determined not to say a word to that shrink.  Not one.  And I didn’t.  I don’t know how many sessions we had, but I remember every single time I sat there on the big window seat at the card table, and we played Crazy Eights.  And I didn’t say one word.  I was so smug.  She could make me go, but she couldn’t make me talk.  Except once.  I remember telling the therapist a story, I don’t remember what, but I remember crying.  I felt like it was a big deal – like I made the therapist think I’d had a breakthrough or something.  I can’t even remember if it was a man or a woman.  I just remember feeling so damn proud that I was making my mother waste her money.

I cried a lot today.  It was so strange to see how shocked my therapist was by the things I told her.  She said it was awful.  It was abuse.  No wonder I have PTSD.  I felt so deeply embarrassed to talk about it.  I’m *really* not supposed to talk about things that happen in the bathroom.  I chuckled at one point during the EMDR, thinking “Wow, that sure set me up for some sexual dysfunction!”

I’m glad I talked about it.  It is hard, but I know I need to do this to heal.  I need to understand that I am not disgusting.  I am not dirty.  I did not deserve to be hurt that way.  I keep expecting my therapist to just say “so what?”… I keep thinking she’s going to think I’m all worked up over nothing.  Then I see that she is shocked and upset – that she feels sad for what I went though and I think maybe it was real.  I mean, I know it was real, but I feel like my reaction is so out of proportion.  I feel like I’m just a big whiner and there’s really nothing to cry about.  (I’ll give you something to cry about!!!)

I felt so disconnected today.  When I smelled the soap I felt it in my gut.  Like something was punching me from the inside.  I felt like me head wasn’t attached to my body anymore.  We did some exercises to ground me again.  It helped.  I went to the grocery store.  I was hungry and I bought tons of snacks.  Things I was never allowed to have.  I got the expensive granola from the bulk food section, and the name brand crackers.  I bought Devil Dogs and Honey Buns.  I bought pasta salad from the deli and Spaghettio’s with sliced franks.

I stopped at my father’s on the way home to see if the boys could spend the weekend with him.  He told me he had gotten a letter from my mother, and he wanted me to see it and see his reply.  She never communicates with him.  For years he would break out in hives just talking about her.  They came to the hospital for my discharge planning last summer together.  She laughed when she told the team how dramatic I’ve always been.  “Kate didn’t just punish her dolls, she BEAT them!!”

Huh.  Ya think?

She begins the letter:

I write and enclose Katherine’s latest diatribe for your review.

She goes on to talk about my reckless spending and how she has offered to pay all my bills if I will only provide her with the invoices directly.  How I can’t be trusted with money.  How she won’t throw good money after bad.  She can’t help it if I don’t care about myself and if I’m a compulsive eater.  She’s worried that if I continue like this the boys will have marks.

She knows nothing about me.  Nothing.  It was kind of a relief to read the letter – proof of how out of touch with reality she is.  She lies to make herself look good – she makes it sound like she would pay for everything I need – even my car repairs if she could pay the vendor directly.  She wants to be able to communicate with the kids and wants my dad to act as intermediary.

My dad let me read his response.  He told her he though my emails to her sound pretty reasonable and are an accurate representation of what my life is like these days.  He says what I didn’t say is how much progress I’ve made.  He thinks I’ve come a long way in my treatment.  He talks about what a good job I do with the boys.  He says what great kids they are and how he doesn’t know how I keep up with all their activities with so much going on.  He said he can’t believe I do what I manage with my small  budget.  He tells her I don’t spend money recklessly, I just don’t have enough to spend.  He thinks I’m trustworthy and doesn’t understand why she thinks controlling my spending will help.  He says he’s proud of me and she should cut me some slack.

I cried some more.  He was worried about me cutting her off from the kids.  I told him about the treatments and some of the things that have come up.  I told him I just can’t deal with all that and try to maintain a relationship with her.  I said the only reason i could possibly come up with for maintaining contact is financial – for the kids.  But I don’t want to be beholden to her.  I don’t want  them to be either.  So, maybe they won’t go to summer camp, they’ll survive.  I can’t let her use them to play gramma to.

My dad said she’d be hurt not to see them.  I said, Dad.  She doesn’t care about them.  She just wants to win.  She just wants to win this fight.  He thinks I might be right.  I’m not letting her win.

I’m so tired tonight.  So very very very tired.  But some of my tears are sweet because I know my dad believes in me.  I know he knows she is crazy.  I know he believes me.  He thinks I’m a good mom.  And that matters.

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any more than I want to be my diagnoses.  This journey is so wild – like a country road in frost heave season, I’m cruising along when I suddenly hit a bump that sends me flying in the air, coffee spilling and barely maintaining control of my course.  This is why I applied for disability.  I knew I needed time to heal – time that I could focus on my treatment and deal with the hard work of getting better.  Nevermind just how bad things had gotten and how incapable I was of holding a job…  But here I am.  This is my time to heal and get treatment and really work on finding a way to get back to a life where I can provide for my children and give back to society.  I have to believe that that day will come.

The sun is out.  This time of year is usually productive and relatively asymptomatic for me, so what better time to dive in and address the toughest issues in therapy?  Because I’m scared.

I’m 38 years old and I’m still scared of the people who abused me.  I’m scared to talk about what happened to me.  I’m scared that they might find out I’ve told.  I’m scared they will try to discredit me.  I’m even afraid I might not be telling the truth.  I battle this constant campaign in my mind, reminding me that I’m dramatic, I’m a liar, I can’t be trusted, I just want attention, I just want to hurt them, I just can’t admit that it was really my fault.  I made them do bad things to me.  I deserved what happened because I am a bad person.  I’m a bad girl.  I only got what was coming to me.

How do I fight that?  I close my eyes and doubt what I’ve just seen.  I have to open my eyes again to make sure the sky is still blue.

I have a hard time trusting my feelings.  I have a hard time trusting who I am.  I read back a few weeks and wonder who was that girl who couldn’t get out of her own tracks?  I don’t even feel like the same person.  But how close is it?  Is it inevitable that I’ll be back in bed?  Will it be today, tomorrow, next week?  Will I be able to wake up again?

I am suddenly terrified that I made this blog public to my friends and family.  What if they are reading it.  Will they believe me?  Will they talk about this?  Will this cause problems for others in my family?   I’m in a panic.  I want to cover my tracks.  I don’t want to go out.  I don’t want to answer my phone.  What have I done?

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No one wants to smell like garlic – in America, “garlic eaters” is a long-standing insult with implications of poverty, lack of sophistication and people who are not *normal*.  But I love garlic.  I eat garlic all the time.  I don’t think it reflects on my social standing, financial status or education.  I just like garlic.  I’m typing away with fingers that carry the lingering smell of garlic having prepared spaghetti sauce to simmer.  The smell is wafting through the house with echoes of comfort and warmth – not judgment and shame.

As a side note – I went to the grocery store the other day, armed with my mother’s gift card.  I decided to indulge myself.  I bought a set of bamboo cooking spoons and spatulas to replace those that the dog has managed to find and chew up, I picked up some expensive moisturizer, brand-name Q-tips, and a very special indulgence… a $12.99 garlic press.  It is magnificent.  It has heavy red-rubber gripped handles on a shiny steel body.  Best of all, on the reverse side, there is a red plastic prickly pad that reminds me of those funny building blocks I had when I was a kid.  You flip the press backwards, and the little prongs fit neatly into all the holes to push out any remaining garlic!  For readers who don’t use a garlic press – there is little more annoying than trying to gouge dried garlic out of those little holes to clean it…  So I have a fancy-schmancy new garlic press, and I love it!

But I still have smelly garlic fingers.  Should I be ashamed?  Does this make me a “garlic eater”?  What if I said I was mentally ill?  Should I be ashamed of that.  What if I said I was a victim of child abuse?  or worse, a victim of incest.

Yep.  That’s not one you want to put on a badge and wear proudly.  I was able to “come-out” about my mental illness.  I decided to challenge the stigma and deny the shame.  Let my friends carry the discomfort if they couldn’t avoid it, but I wanted to shed the heavy shell of shame I wore, hiding my situation.  While mental illness carries more than its share of stigma, there are public efforts to change that.  There has been a lot of advocacy to change the cultural views of mental illness over the years.  That can’t really be said for incest.

I cringe just writing the word.  This is the part of the PTSD that I really struggle to admit to – even to myself.  I know that I need to address it in therapy, but it absolutely terrifies me.  The feelings around child sexual abuse are SO complicated, conflicting and complex (and maybe a touch redundant 😉 that I can barely wrap my brain around them enough to think about it, never mind start talking about it in therapy.

I might encourage others to bare their scars, but I recognize that scars can be deep and strange and represent so many things.   Sometimes they say “Hey, I’m a freak!”,  sometimes they say “Don’t ask, you don’t want to know”, sometimes, they are best left covered.  For me, baring my scars says that this shame is not mine to carry.  I have mental illness, but I am not mentally ill.  I was a victim of sexual abuse – I am not a sexual abuser.  I am who I am with all my warts and scars – a complicated, confused and creative individual who loves and hurts and breathes.  Just like you *normal* folks.

I was feeling pretty sunny and optimistic this morning when I commented on Gemma’s post – but it got me thinking that scars are more complicated than I thought.

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The more I think about dealing with childhood trauma, the more the propaganda campaign grows in my mind.  I always have plenty going on in my head to argue with – constant refrains about my inadequacy, craziness or laziness, random intrusive thoughts that are vivid and violent and sexual and embarrassing, or just busy talk of random things that make it hard for me to focus.  This is different.  There is suddenly a massive coordinated, unrelenting campaign of propaganda in my mind telling me that I am a liar, that I wasn’t really hurt badly, that I exaggerate everything, that bad things never really happened, that I’m just being dramatic.  All the while extolling the virtues of those who abused me, painting them as good-hearted, kind people who never wanted to harm me.  It is exhausting.

I don’t really know how to defend myself.  My memory is so foggy and I have distanced myself so completely from some of the events that I can’t produce them on cue as proof or justification.  I keep thinking about cutting my head and the blood in the bath tub.  When I had the memory in the therapist’s office, one of the things I described afterward didn’t really happen.  I thought I remembered our tenant talking to my mother, telling her that she was over-reacting, but she couldn’t have been there, because my mother hadn’t even renovated the basement yet – there was no apartment there yet.  The propaganda campaign keeps trumpeting this as proof that I’m a liar and can’t be trusted and I’m obviously making this all up.

I have to qualify this – I might de-personalize the “propaganda” to write about it, but I am fully aware that it is my own consciousness creating these thoughts.  I know that it is me, and my thoughts are conflicted, but sometimes the conflict takes on bigger proportions.

I told my therapist yesterday that it is really critical to me to filter through these jumbled memories and put things in time and space so that I can trust what is real.  If I can’t be sure that I can trust my memory, the propaganda proves right and I am everything my mother said that I was – a liar, dramatic, a hypochondriac, etc.

It is hard.  We’re going to continue the EMDR next week, I had too much to process yesterday…  I just want so much to be well.  I want to be able to function again.  I don’t feel like it is enough to pat myself on the back for doing the dishes or shaving my legs – I want to be able to do more.

On the brighter side, I went to my 12 year old’s school curriculum fair last night.  It wasn’t easy, being shoulder to shoulder with the radiant, Abercrombie-clad, former cheerleader crew – that always brings back horrible memories of how they treated me in school…  A couple of students in his class stood up to give oral reports which they read in monotone from a shaking piece of paper without even looking up.  Then my son – the Aspie-ADD’er who is awkward and younger and a social outcast – stood to present his.  (As he stood in front of the room, two of his biggest tormentors looked at each other and whispered and laughed, catching my eye as they looked up.  I glared at them so hard I hope they wet their pants.)  He introduced himself, looking around the room and proceeded to give a full three minute presentation about students who had raised money to install a wind turbine in their high-school.  He glanced at his paper occasionally, but by and large, he shared a very knowledgeable, conversational report that was very engaging and interesting.  It was head and shoulders above the others and just made me so very proud.

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