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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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The saddest day

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This is the saddest day of my life.

It is every year.

I’ve spent the morning crying.

I do every year.

I want so much to celebrate. I want the sweet and thoughtful wishes on Facebook to be enough. I want the loving card sent by a dear friend to satisfy the ache in my heart.

But they don’t.

When can I let go of the hurt of an abusive mother? When do I get to celebrate that I survived another year – hell, I didn’t just survive this year – I knocked it out of the park! A year ago on this day I had a major breakthrough in my PTSD treatment. It was like I had been looking at everything through clouded glass and suddenly it shattered and I could see. Suddenly I was able to be present in my life. I’ve integrated myself and become more mindful. I’m experiencing joy and pain and love and healing every. single. day.

I want that to be enough to get me through this day. It isn’t enough. I’m still the little girl sitting on my stoop waiting for my birthday party when that little wretch Allison Meridith hollers across the street, “No one’s coming to your birthday party, Kate! No one likes you! You don’t have any friends!” I’m still the girl hoping that this is the year, this is the day that my mother will make some grand gesture to recognize my birthday. This is the year she will tell me I’m enough. Good enough. Smart enough. Daughter enough. This will be the year that my mother will say, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I was wrong.”

It feels so trite to be that melancholy girl whining that her mother didn’t love her enough. I feel like I have to justify it – tell people, “You don’t know. You weren’t there screaming when she scrubbed me with skeletonized deodorant soap telling me how filthy and smelly it was to be a girl. You can’t still hear the loathing dripping from her voice as she berated me up three flights of stairs and plunged my face down into the bathtub full of blood. You probably think it was my fault too.”

It was always  my fault. I hurt myself just to get attention. I broke my elbows to hurt her. I cut my leg stumbling in the dark garage to make her feel like a bad mother. It was always me. It was always me trying to hurt her. I have to let go of the idea that she will ever grasp that I was just a kid. I have to begin to believe that she will never, ever, stop blaming me. She will never just be the mother. She can’t.

But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

That doesn’t make this day any less painful. Stopping short in my sobbing – was that the phone? Is someone here? Is she trying to reach out to me and maybe I missed the chance?

I’m so fucking ready to be proud of me. I’m so ready to take credit for all I’ve accomplished in the past few years. I’ve busted my ass. I’m doing great work advocating for abused children – making a real difference in their lives, making their voice heard. I’m straightening out my finances and dealing with years of neglected issues. I’m hoping to be back at school or work soon. I’m raising terrific kids who know each and every day that they are loved.

I want so much to take credit for that. I do…. every other day of the year – I do. Today, though… today is rough. Today I weep. Today I listen for the phone to ring. Today I sob. Today I wish I was good enough for that woman to just be the mother. Just this one day.

On my birthday.

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Here I sit, cold dregs of this morning’s coffee at my side, greasy hair and oh so tired. The water is shut off at the pump and the shower faucets are disassembled and strewn along the edge of the tub. My son is home from college, and decided after three days that he was fed up with the dripping faucet that his brother can’t seem to shut off completely. The same drip I’ve been ignoring for months. Because I knew. I knew that once you start, you have to deal with it. Once you unscrew the knob, you’ll discover the problem is deeper than you thought. Once you discover the problem is deeper, you’ll realize you’re missing a part. You’ll see that the reason it is dripping is because someone fixed it wrong years ago. You’ll see that it now requires a trip to the hardware store and parts you can’t afford.

Not you. Me. *I’ll* realize it needs parts I can’t afford. I’ll need to go to the store. But I need a shower. And the water is turned off. Isn’t this where we started?

This post stopped me in my tracks – well, not that I was making tracks, sitting here in the recliner with my cold coffee, but, you know… I can’t wrap my mind around the organization it would take to create a list like this, but I like the idea. I need to find a place to start. I need to decide what the least destructive thing I can do is. Maybe not the most loving, but the least destructive…

We are all in this together

mitzhands

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I’ve been stewing for a week about the most bizarre baby shower conversation I’ve ever heard. There was the usual thoughtful advice for the expectant mom, a few hair-raising stories of difficult births, and delightful anecdotes of early parenting. But then there was the chick who hates her kid.

Let me back up. I always tell new and expectant mothers something I believe no one else will ever tell them, but should. There will come a time (even many times) when you will ache to throw your infant child out the window. It’s true. It’s awful. You’ll be so tired and overwhelmed and stressed and sad and helpless… you’ll want it to stop. But you don’t. You put the baby to bed and close the door. You run the vacuum or take a shower so you don’t have to hear the cries just for a minute. Sometimes you’ll have the strength to keep rocking, walking, patting, nursing – whatever works. Most of the time you’ll do that. But at least once, I believe every new mother will have that awful moment where she just doesn’t feel like she can do it.

I’ve had so many people thank me for those words, more who told me they wish they’d heard that sooner. It isn’t easy to talk about the ugly parts of parenting. The judgement is already crippling, so there you don’t exactly find people begging you to talk about feeling inadequate.

So, here I am telling my dear old friend that she may experience this awful moment and another woman exclaims that she has it every day – for the past decade.

Sure threw me for a loop. She went on to describe a child with multiple disabilities, on the autism spectrum with serious behavioral problems and learning delays.

Wow, that can be hard. Sounds like my kid.

Except I *love* being a mother. She *hates* it. She went on to say how awful it is being a parent, how she wishes every day that she had never had a child, how she’d give him away if she could… Maybe she was having a truly terrible time with her child. Maybe he is extraordinarily awful. I don’t know. I don’t know the boy. I barely know her. Her story sure struck a chord with me…

I was a child who believed that my mother hated me. I still am. This has been a lifetime struggle, trying to understand how I could have been such an evil, defective child that didn’t deserve my own mother’s love. I have some intellectual understanding that I am not evil. I can logically conclude that my mother is the one who is flawed or injured or disturbed to be incapable of loving her daughter – or perhaps it was a choice, she certainly had love to spare for my brother. Who knows. Bottom line is that it cut a deep wound in my soul that continues to fester and ooze even as I work every day to heal my childhood wounds.

That’s my story, not hers. But what happens to a woman that she can’t find love in her heart for her child? I keep thinking about “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” and how struck I was about the coldness of that mother and how my heart aches for what that child is fighting against.

I don’t have the answers. I have compassion for them. The children – my heart aches for how lost they must feel, how broken and confused. My heart aches with confusion for the mothers – do they get to feel the joy? Do they ever have those exquisite moments when their eyes well up with tears and pride for the amazing creatures they raise?

I had one of those this morning. My boy was home from  college and telling me he had forgotten how much he hated doing dishes – as he wiped his hands after doing the dishes. Without having been asked… It was a tiny thing, but it made me so happy to think of him becoming a man willing to take on crappy jobs simply because they need to be done.

I read an amazing post this morning over at Mad In America, http://www.madinamerica.com/2012/12/a-challenge-to-i-am-adam-lanzas-mother/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-challenge-to-i-am-adam-lanzas-mother in response to “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” She doesn’t just talk about the complicated feelings of reaction to Liza Long’s post, but the extremely complicated situation those of us who become trapped in the box of mental illness – and have escaped. I’m so very grateful for her words and validation.

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I suppose everyone is reeling, trying to wrap their brains around the massacre in Connecticut – I almost typed “Tragedy at Sandy Hook” like the neon graphic television headline. I’m sick and freaking tired of murder and mayhem having their own theme music and logos.

Everyone has identified with this horrific act – everyone who has children, knows children, was a child… what can you do? How do you process something of this magnitude with a healthy heart and brain? What if you’re already struggling to get through the day with mental illness? What if your minute to minute existence during the stress of the holidays and children’s vacation is focused on just. getting. by…

I’m furious about the attention Asperger’s is getting in the media coverage and social discussion of this act of rage and misery. I feel like Asperger’s has as much to do with it as him being male, entitled, human, American… Dammit. I’ve spent the last 14 years raising a child with Asperger’s and almost 20 years supporting the efforts of my best friend doing the same with her boy. Yes, it is extremely difficult. Yes, there is a wide range of symptoms. Yes, there were moments when both of us felt exhausted, overwhelmed and feared for our children’s future. Yes. Some days it was awful. Some days it was wonderful. Just like with any child.

I’m not an expert on child development. I *am* an expert on the development of my children… I’ve been here every step of the way. I’ve fought teachers, special ed directors and doctors to get thorough testing. I’ve been a passionate (sometimes miserable bitch) advocate for getting my boys’ needs met in school. It is no easy task.

High intelligence is a bit of a curse when it comes to mental disorders. A smart parent who did my research, I challenged professionals to have at least as much information as I was able to discover. That challenge was rarely met with enthusiasm.

Smart children with ADHD and Asperger’s are expected to just muddle through – their intelligence should give them greater insight, their capacity to process information quickly should make up for the fact that they are literally banging their head on the desk in frustration doing their homework. I can’t describe how many times I’ve slapped my own head to keep from punching a teacher or administrator who couldn’t understand that I refused to accept a child pulling his hair out to get his homework done just because he was getting A’s… Seriously. It is not acceptable. I’ve gone through weeks of fear, afraid to leave him alone because the depression and self-loathing was so acute I thought he’d take his own life. The bullying never stopped. The judgement, the hatred, the sheer meanness of children boggles the mind and breaks the heart. It very nearly broke my child.

I don’t have the answers, but I know that early intervention works. I’ve seen children with similar symptoms as toddlers turn out very, very differently. Working with children in preschool, giving them tools to understand their reactions, to be aware of how they respond to sensory input. To love them. Every day. To love them and let them know that their brain is an amazing and unique creature that allows them the gift of understanding things others may never perceive. Their brain frustrates and confuses them, but it is the same brain that allows them to master complex problems at lightning speed.

I understand that Anarchist Soccer Mom needed to identify with Adam Lanza’s Mom. I appreciate what she wrote about her fear and helplessness. I know just how insane her days can be. I’m also deeply saddened at how distant and cold her descriptions are – how the situation has pushed her to harden her heart.

I know one thing. We need to be patient with one another. I need everyone to be patient with me. This shit is crazy and hard and hurtful and stressful and scary. It’s been a long freaking weekend. May there be more sanity forthcoming this week.

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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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It is so far beyond fucked up when you find yourself talking to an abuser – someone who tortured your mind and body – and find yourself remembering why you loved him to begin with. What chaos and turmoil twists my strained brain right now. He hurt me so much. He changed the entire course of my life with his actions. He hurt my body and made me hate it so much more than I ever had. His smell rises up off an innocent lover and makes me loathe and fear him through no fault of his own. And yet his voice, his kindness, his unexpected understanding sends me reeling and spinning and gasping for air. It isn’t the pain, the fear, the terror, the tears. It is the working together, the dancing on the lawn, the singing “leather and lace,” the building things together, with eachother, for each other… He used to make me laugh and laugh and laugh. He used to make me cry. He was so cruel. Heartless. Cold. Drunk. Angry. Terrifying. And yet I loved him. He doesn’t understand why I would avoid his calls. He doesn’t understand the fear.

 

The fear is remembering that I loved him.

The terror is that I could love him still.

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