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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

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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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To my best friend’s children, I am “Auntie”.  After taking the boys to the playground several times a few weeks ago, apparently I’ve been associated with that place.  Now, when anyone says “Auntie” at my friend’s house, her two year old looks up, eyes wide and hopeful and exclaims “paygwound!”  He is presently parading around my living room with a Nerf sword as long as he is tall and I am remembering just how much more energy toddlers require.  I remember calling my friend when my boys were small.  I’d call her in the morning and she’d still be asleep.  She’d smile and laugh and tell me “someday your kids will be big enough to get their own breakfast and you can sleep in again!”  Now I’m the one with older kids and she has a second round of little ones waking her up at the ass-crack of dawn.

Strangely, though, I miss my kids needing me more.  There was never any question about being bored or not knowing what to do.  Each moment required me to do something.  I had to keep the house clean for their safety, I had to prepare endless meals, snacks and drinks, I was constantly doing laundry or changing someone and if they were sleeping, there was a long list of things I had to accomplish before they woke.  Now I sit, lost in my thoughts and confusion.  Wasting the day clicking and reading and plaing games on the computer – sometimes curled up with a book.  They occupy themselves and I only prepare meals once or twice a day.  I need to be busier.  I just don’t know what to do.

Lately I’ve been craving extremes.  I want to feel something big.  I’ve worked overtime the past few weeks to suppress the intensity of feeling released by the EMDR.  I’ve been angry about my fears with therapy possibly ending and overwhelmed about finances and car repairs.  I can’t let myself be really angry, though.  There was something that felt so dangerous and vulnerable about how I cried that day that terrified me.  My therapists office has shifted into the category of places where Bad Things Happen.  I’ve been irritable and sullen.  My body is sore and tired all the time.  I’m being pretty productive, but almost on auto-pilot.  I feel like somethings gotta give.  I’m going to explode or implode.  I feel like I just need to keep it together until my little one goes to camp and his brother goes to his grandfather’s, then maybe I can let my hair down.  Maybe I can find some way to let loose.  I don’ know.  I feel reckless and dangerous.  I feel tired and scared.  I feel lost and confused.  But I keep on keepin on.  I’ve got to put on a bra and take the kids to the beach.

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I feel like I’m on the verge of something dangerous.  I’m so conflicted about the possibility of my therapy ending that a huge part of me just wants to throw in the towel now.  My therapist said she wouldn’t leave me in the lurch – she said she’d take me on as a pro-bono client if we couldn’t get approved for additional sessions.  I am grateful for that, but I still feel so much uncertainty about it.  Maybe I’m just scared because things got tough and this is an easy out?  I am scared.  I’m scared to continue, I’m scared to stop, I’m scared to move.

I saw an old friend last night.  We were best friends in high school and I haven’t seen him in nearly ten years.  The last time I saw him was in the weeks surrounding the death of my foster mother (who was also a very dear friend and mother-figure to him).  We keep in touch on facebook, but it is all very superficial.  I feel like he is someone who really knows me.  Someone who knew me before I became all the different characters I’ve played in my life.  Someone who knows the person I”d like to rediscover.

We met at the bar, because his visit was short and he was under a lot of pressure to visit too many people, so he just said to everyone – meet me at the bar Wednesday night if you want to see me.  I was agonizing about whether to go or not.  I loathe social interactions in general, and showing up at the local bar felt like a LOT of pressure for me.  I worried that there would be people there I don’t get along with – people I used to know who never really liked me and vice versa…  I drank a beer before I left home and put on some eyeliner and mascara for armor and steeled myself for the worst.  I couldn’t bring myself to pull in the parking lot.  I drove past and parked at the drugstore for a few minutes while I made up my mind to go back.  Eventually, I did.  I’m glad I did.  The first ones there were his aunt and cousins and a friend from high school that I didn’t hate.  I knew most of them from childhood, so it was more comfortable than I had feared.  His mom and more cousins came in and I was buffered by people that felt like family, so it was ok.  His Ma was asking who one girl was and I replied “you know her, one of the twins with the dad who was principal and smacked the kids around?”   Oops.  I have a pretty big voice.  Everyone shushed me, and if the girl overheard, she had the grace not to acknowledge it.  It was a pretty big deal back in the day – he ended up being prosecuted for it years later but when we were in school it was the norm.

My gaffe wasn’t quite as bad as his cousin K’s… my friend, K and I went out to smoke a cigarette and ran into one of their distant cousins that he didn’t immediately recognize.  He was in his twenties, very gaunt, pretty grungy and missing most of his teeth.  They went through the obligatory “oh, you’re so-and-so’s boy” and figured it out before too long.  Then K pipes up “what happened to your teeth?”  In these parts, there are a lot of skinny young people with no teeth… methamphetamine abuse is rampant.  Alternately, you see people who have suddenly gained 80lbs… those are the ones who are on methadone for the prescription opiate abuse that was lately replaced with meth as the drug of choice.  My friend was mortified.  I just laughed… I mean, hey, it is their family… if you can’t be up front with your own kin, then what?

I drank two more beers and was feeling pretty good.  We told embarrassing stories from yesteryear and had some laughs.  My friend asked me to come hang out as his motel room for a while, confessing that I was the one he really wanted to see anyway.  It was strange.  I always used to be the one with my shit together – he was the basket case.  He was always drinking or smoking too much, getting his heart broken and crashing his car.  I was always the one picking up the pieces and making things right.  Now he has a steady job, gets along well with his family and has a great house and two dogs and two cats.  He couldn’t understand how things had gotten so bad for me.   We had no secrets back then, so he has always known about the abuse, but the way we talked about it then, it was normal.  It was just par for the course that shitty things had happened to us.  He said that looking back he could see I used to have disproportionate reactions to things – it all makes more sense to him now with the understanding of PTSD.  He used to get such a kick out of my exaggerated startle response and laughed his ass off surprising me and making me shriek.

What puzzled him is that I looked so normal.  He said that just looking at me he would never know that anything was wrong.  I think that is pretty significant – I mean, I’ve worked a lifetime to behave as if every thing is okay… I’m a pro at it.  He couldn’t understand that the evening going “well” for me meant that I spent it sitting on my hands with my heart pounding out of my chest.  That I agonized over every word that came out of my mouth and beat myself up, second-guessing every turn of phrase.  He couldn’t see how my stomach lurched whenever I caught anyone’s eye or how I panicked when someone spoke to me – so consumed with fear of responding appropriately that I barely caught everything they said.

And that’s when things are going *WELL*.  I didn’t run screaming from the room.  I didn’t burst out sobbing.  I didn’t scream at anyone or let slip any of the colorful adjectives I was using to describe them in my mind.  I didn’t vomit, fart or shit myself, so the evening was a success.

Today I’m paying the price.  Three beers, three cigarettes and staying out until 11 might as well have been a three day bender…  I had to get up early and get my son to his first driver’s ed class and take the truck to the garage.  The good news is that the repair was $150 less than expected.  The bad news is that the tires are worn down to the wires, it needs an alignment, most of the undercarriage looks like flaky pastry because the rust is so bad, the brakes are shot, the brake lines are rusted, the vacuum hose is broken, the oxygen sensor wire has been chewed by a mouse and there is a hole in the floor big enough to pass a hand through…  Oh, and it probably won’t pass inspection.

**BAD WORD**

So, I’m panicked and overwhelmed and nervous and agitated and hung over and tired and angry and frustrated and confused and annoyed and just plain wiped out.  And I don’t know what to do.

I should be grateful that my mechanic is a sweet, honest man (and my ex) who genuinely cares about my safety and well-being.  I should be happy that the old heap is all paid for and even runs at all.  I should be thrilled that he made my son’s day by offering to sell him a 1984 VW for $100.  I am actually excited about the idea of him having the old car to work on and rebuild.  It will be a great learning experience for him and the car is old and simple enough for him to do the work himself.  He’ll be that much more inclined to take care of it and feel good about it if he does it himself.  I am less excited about the colossal task of cleaning out the garage to make room for the car…

I think things will be okay.  I think I’ll get it figured out.  I think I need a good night’s sleep.

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It was cold and gray today.  I pulled on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a faded old flannel plaid shirt.  I pulled my black Chuck’s out from under the bed and felt a little more like myself when I slipped them on.  I might look a little silly, pushing forty at almost 300 lbs in my All-Stars, but it feels like me.  I spend most of my days in pretty anonymous clothing, the same stretchy comfy clothes that every other plus size Walmart shopper in America wears.  Today I was inspired – just a little.  And it felt good.

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Which is the best reason not to mow your lawn.  However, your neighbors may not agree.  My lawn is currently sporting a look similar to the spiky haircut I gave my Barbie in second grade… I didn’t watch my twelve year old mow it, but I suspect he didn’t follow a pattern, but just aimed for the spots that looked tallest and didn’t notice how much he missed.  He got high praise for his efforts, and I enjoy a quiet smile when I look out the window.  His brother, of course, thinks this is emblematic of how easy his little brother’s life is and how he Never Has To Do Anything… At sixteen, he is meticulous in his mowing, but he had his bad haircut moments too 🙂

I’m still reeling.  I’ve been busy with kids this weekend which is good.  I spent time with my friends 2 and 8 year olds, riding bikes down to the beach and playing at the playground.  My body aches with all the physical activity, but it is a pleasant soreness.  I just keep looking at the kids and thinking how small and innocent they are and that is how it should be.  I’m so hurt and sad that my innocence was taken from me.  Looking back, I see that my mother really laid the ground work for it.  With her scrubbing me and telling me I stunk, it was clear from my earliest memories that *down there* is a place where bad things happen.  The abuse by those boys served to confirm it.  Girl parts are dirty, smelly places where bad things happen.

Words are not coming easily today.  I need to get dressed and get to therapy.  The sky is gray and it looks like rain, so I didn’t leave early to spend some time walking on the waterfront as I usually do.  I’ve been catching up on blogs and drinking too much coffee, trying to sort out what I want to deal with in today’s session.  I think we need to take some time to process the last EMDR session before doing another one.  I’m really struggling with the voices that say I’ve made it all up and that none of this really happened.  That just doesn’t jive with the power of that wave of emotion that came over me in my last session.  I just saw the image of C’s strange wrinkly boy part and the sadness welled up like a wave and filled me like I’ve never experienced.  When I connect the emotion with the event, it seems so strange how disconnected I’ve been for so long.  When I recognize how young I was and how wrong those things were, I feel so strange having written it all off as something that just happens or something that all kids do.  Granted, kids of the same age will play doctor and so forth, but these boys were between 4 and 8 years older than me.  They were teenagers with men’s bodies – they had no business using a child the way they did.  It continued for a while – that summer at least – with my brother and his friend.  I thought for so long that it was my fault for wanting to play with the big kids.  I never really understood that I was a victim.

I wonder sometimes if I should just let the grass grow.  I don’t spend any time out there.  I only mow it for the neighbors – well, for the people who drive by, my neighbors are all dead since I live next to a cemetery.  I’ve been cutting myself off all these years to try to be appropriate, to not offend, to fit in.  I’ve stifled thoughts and memories in order to be a good girl.  What if I stopped cutting myself off?  What if I let all this out and deal with it?  If I let the grass grow tall and strong in my heart, will it kill off the weeds?  Am I strong enough to find out?

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Yesterday was tough.  I was pretty overwhelmed with fear and panic about starting to deal with the breadth of my childhood trauma in this blog and in therapy.  I have to remember that some of my emotional reactions are stuck in second grade.  I managed to make it to therapy today and we continued the EMDR after we spoke a bit about my fears.  I recognize that it is not an easy process and the panic is part of it.  I’ve worked so hard to compartmentalize the abuse for so long and have been so successful at it that my brain is working overtime to stuff everything back in the moment it gets dragged out.

Today’s session was strange.  I was really stuck in my head on thoughts that I was doing it wrong.  The instant I thought of something I would react with a negative – that doesn’t mean anything, that’s stupid, you’re just making stuff up… it was rough.  I did have a very strong image of a woman.  I’m pretty sure it is someone I’ve known, but I couldn’t place a name, only a very tender, wise face and long, light, wavy hair.  The colors around her were familiar.  I was seeing a big square divided diagonally into black and white, then one corner started shining red.  The red light filled the image, then became an angelic figure, then a Georgia O’Keefe-esque flower which quickly shifted to a moment when I was giving birth to my younger son.

There was a moment in childbirth when I was utterly exhausted and overwhelmed.  I genuinely felt like I couldn’t continue the labor.  I begged the doctor to make it stop.  I felt so utterly and completely helpless.  I was certain that I could not go on, yet there was no possibility of doing anything other than going on.   I couldn’t stop.  There were forces beyond my control dictating what was happening.  I could sooner order a volcano to stop erupting than stop giving birth at that moment.  Apparently, this moment is known as transition and happens to every woman – it doesn’t last long.

I also had memories of the playground at the Bancroft School I attended in Kindergarten and first grade.  Then I was sitting in a window in second grade, watching the playground and looking at green beans growing in styrofoam cups on the windowsill.  Then I thought of ice cream.  Then I was bombarded with bloody images.  An old lady bleeding from the neck, the homeless man who had fallen in the street that I helped once, the lady who fell on the bridge and split open her face…  I dropped the little paddles and opened my eyes and said I thought we should stop.

We took some time to process.  My therapist thinks I’m really strong.  She said I have plenty of experiences which could result in a PTSD reaction, even without considering the abuse.  I felt so strange afterward.  I had this huge lightness in my belly, like something needed to come up and out.  Not nausea, just a fullness.  I took a walk and stopped on the way home for an ice cream cone.  Chocolate/vanilla twist with chocolate jimmies – I think the rainbow ones taste like soap.

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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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