SECRETS

Secrets kept since childhood. A cousin who molested me. A rape at fifteen by a thirty year old man. Another rape three and a half years ago. The moments of terror blend together, sometimes. And I’ve carried this trauma by myself, for so long. I just recently started opening up to friends about it. And the support has been unequivocally amazing. My friends are amazing. My family, not so much. So much so, that when the rape at fifteen happened, and I tried to tell my mom, the minute she heard “I had a date go bad,” she gave me a look of pure disgust and turned away from me. Bodily turned from me and walked away. The kind of betrayal that runs deep. So I’ve never trusted her since. Never trusted anyone since. If the woman who birthed you and is supposed to be there for you turns her back, where is there left to go?

This week has been hard. My mom went in for surgery on Tuesday to have a complete hysterectomy as they found a cyst on what they thought was her ovary. Turns out it was a growth on her bowel. So she is in the hospital and my sister has flown in from PEI to help out around the house. My sister and I have a very strained relationship. As the baby of the family, she was pretty coddled as a child. And she never suffered at the hands of dad like I did. I was the black sheep, and she always sided with both dad and my brother. So the line was drawn, with the family on one side, and me on the other. Is it any wonder I don’t do “family” with them?

Tuesday night my dad and brother had a fight, and my brother drove off drunk. So my sister had a good cry on my shoulder. We talked about Mark, (my brother) and how he was the golden child and how much of an asshole he has become. She asked what made me start getting into feminist literature and poetry, and I told her the #metoo movement flipped a switch. When she responded with, “it did for a lot of women. They no longer felt alone,” I almost spoke up. But instead, I just nodded and said, “Yeah, it did”.

So today we’re driving to the hospital, and talking about the J Dubs, which is what my sister calls Jehovah’s Witnesses, the faith we were raised in the and the faith my parents still follow. I took a chance and told her that I struggle with my sexuality, as I’m bi. She said that really doesn’t surprise her. And then she really surprised me, “You know, no matter what, I’ll always support you.” At this point, I go out on a limb and tell her what I’ve never told a family member. I told her about my rape at fifteen. I did not tell her about the subsequent relationship that developed, or the depths of depravity he brought me to. And she just held my hand while we walked into the hospital.

So now I’m in knots wondering if I did the right thing. I hope she doesn’t tell mom. I don’t think she will. She won’t want to worry mom about anything while she’s recuperating. The only thing she asked is why I never told, and when I told her mom’s reaction, she just said, “Oh.”

Secrets are hard to bear, but the spilling of them, after so long, isn’t any easier.

SOMATIC MEMORY

The past couple of days have been really really tough. Stuck between hyper and hypo arousal constantly shifting back and forth. Moments where I’m overwhelmed by fear and can’t breathe, and then moments where the slightest sound makes me jump. Even though my mind finds no connection between the here and now and this feeling of doom, I have a full blown fear reody response. My therapist did get back to me today, (YAY!) and she said it sounds like I’m having somatic flashbacks. I should have recognized this right away. What is a somatic flashback? It’s your body remembering, not your brain. “Memory is reminding you about the state of your being all those years in childhood and adolescence when you were in danger” is how my therapist worded it in her email to me today. I lived in fear growing up. Beatings from my father were a daily, consistent thing with him. The only thing that was. And I had a real rough session this week. Last week brought up a lot of history, how no one noticed the sad little me acting out and begging for attention. And this week brought more of that to the fore. And just like I did in adolescence, I’m living a double life of sorts here at home again. My parents don’t know about my cousin molesting me. They don’t know about the abusive relationship I was in at 15. They don’t know about my sexual assault three years ago. They don’t know I’m living with PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder. They think my therapy is for my anxiety. I have to keep so much hidden, while living in the house where I grew up abused. They say you can’t heal in the environment that broke you, but I am. Granted, things are different now. I’m a grown woman with a voice. My body and being are different. It’s now 2019 and I am no longer in danger from anyone.

So I orient to the here and now. I’m in my room, the room I grew up in, focusing on what’s different. My bookcases, the books in those cases. My bed. The decorations on the wall. The flooring. The sheets on my bed. All things that are from the present. Nothing in my room remains from the past except my bear, Bettina, who has been with me since I was six months old. She has been the one constant in my life. I have been struggling with the desire to self harm this weekend. That, too, was a constant in my life for many years. It had its purpose then. But things are different now. I need to remember this with the very core of my being. All my emotional parts need to recognize that we are no longer trapped in trauma time. I have so many new coping tools and a great support network. Parts of me may be trapped in the past, but I have the strength, courage and determination to show them a better future.

MED COMPLIANCE

It’s kind of cool, at the end of the week, to look at your weekly pill box and realize that you haven’t missed a day, and it’s been a few weeks since you missed a dose. For someone like me who struggles with med complaince, this is huge. And I’m still struggling. I’ve been feeling pretty stable the last little while, so the first thing I think of is, “I can go off my meds!” Of course, my therapist,the wonderful grounding presence that she is, immediately responds with, “Maybe it’s your meds making you feel this good.” So, of course, I bring it up to my GP, who handles my meds. “I want to see you stable for a longer period of time. And back to work. Maybe once you’ve been at work for a year we can look at tapering back a bit.” Talk about feeling deflated. Stupid brain. Can’t make it’s own feel good chemicals. And I know, I know all about the comparisons to heart medicine or diabetes. The brain is just like any other organ that can, and does, malfunction. And there is nothing wrong if your brains happiness needs a boost from the wonders of modern medicine. But I have to wonder, if treated today with our vast assortment of chemical bliss, would Van Gogh have painted Starry Starry Night? Would Byron and Poe have been so eloquent and prolific if their fits of melancholy were treated with modern medicine? Would Shelley have written oh so beautifully? Byron was well aware of the connection between madness and creativity. He wrote, “We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.” Sure, there are many examples of people being medicated and having successful careers. A quick google search provided me with the names of ten poets currently living with mental illnesses. I wonder how/if they’re all medicated. My medication makes me dull, and creativity is hard. When I’m unmedicated, the words fly to the page easily, too easily I’ve been told. Those words are hard to follow, syntax becomes strange. Even given the free nature of verse, mine becomes difficult to embrace. Kay Redfield Jamison writes quite freely about her battles with bipolar disorder. She knows the dangers of not being med compliant. Yet she wrote a whole book, “Excuberance”, about the very thing lacking in my life with my meds. I tried lithium, but the amount I needed in my system to keep it at therapeutic levels was too high, and the side effects too great. So I’m on the mood stabilizer aripiprazole, to help boost the anti-depressant that I’m on. And I can’t tell which one makes feeling deeply and passionately difficult. So for the sake of my mental health, my creativity suffers. Some days I have to ask myself is it worth it. Then I look at my two boys and realize a subdued mom is better than no mom.

TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM

After suffering harrowing nightmares nightly for many years, the p-doc I saw briefly prescribed a wonderful drug called prazosin.  It’s a heart medication, an alpha-blocker, but it’s been proven to stop nightmares in some patients.  Fortunately for me, I am one of those patients.  It doesn’t stop the flashbacks; nothing will stop those.  But for the first time in years, I’m sleeping without the nightly terrors that come with closing my eyes.

Now comes the fun part.  Teaching my brain and body that it’s safe to go to sleep at night.  For years I’ve been a night owl.  My therapist isn’t so sure that it’s my natural state; she believes it’s a learned response to fear.  So how to unlearn it?  I’ve started working on my sleep hygiene.  Trying to go to bed at the same time every night.  Being more active during the day.  Meditating.  But my body still feels that same anxiety when my head hits that pillow.  Shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, that sense of impending doom.  I’ve practicing Babette Rothchild’s Keys to Trauma Recovery for months now.  It has definitely lessened the impact of the flashbacks.  But I can’t convince my body that it’s safe to sleep.

I recently had to move back home due to circumstances not within my control.  My anxiety and other mental illnesses have made it impossible for me to work and difficult to care for my children adequately.  So I’m back in the room where I spent most of my childhood, being beaten and hiding.  It’s hard to heal in the environment that made you sick, but I’m doing it.  My room is now inviolate.  My dad doesn’t enter it, he doesn’t open the door when it’s shut.  He leaves me alone when the kids are visiting their father.  There’s no more violence, or even threats of violence.  He is a gentler man now than he ever was.  And yet, and yet.  The specter of years past hangs over me like a miasma.  When he raises his voice, I become six  years old again, afraid.  I’m 45 now, and I still cringe from his touch.  He can’t sense it anymore, but I still feel it.  The awkward hugs, few and far between.  The sexual assault three years ago broke me in so many ways; exacerbated the damage done from years of abuse.  Since then, I can barely stand to be hugged by anyone other than my kids and partner.  And even that isn’t easy some days.  But you bear it, because the one thing kids need is lots of affection.  Abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, leaves scars that never really go away.

But back to sleeping, to dreaming.  Now that the nightmares no longer fill my time spent in Morpheus’ arms, I dream.  I dream of my therapist.  Of dragons.  Of transmuting myself into something other than what I am.  As if my me isn’t enough.  It never has been, why should that change now?  I’m working on the negative self talk, but my subconscious certainly has lots to say about it.  I’ve never had much luck with lucid dreaming.  When I’m asleep, I’m asleep, and no amount of wishing my way out of a dream has ever worked.  Now I no longer wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing, unsure of where I am.  I wake up perturbed, questioning what the hell is going on with my psyche.  My therapist tells me that when we dream of others, they represent aspects of ourselves.  So when I dream of dragons and squirrels, I’m living my hyper/hypo aroused parts of myself.  Squirrels are saucy little things, very vocal when unhappy, but quick to run away from confrontation.  Unless you are a red squirrel.  Then you will fight for that acorn and not back down.  But even they run from larger predators.  And dragons, well, they are the apex predator.  Everything runs from a dragon.  Even humans.  The only way to take a dragon down is from a distance.  And, unfortunately, a thrown acorn is not going to do too much to a dragon.

So am I a dragon or am I a squirrel?

SISTERHOOD

A year ago I attended a twelve week group for survivors of sexual assault. I was hesitant to go, as my experience with groups wasn’t very positive. With a lot of encouragement from my therapist and best friend, I decided to give it a shot. I am very glad I did. A year later, and I have a group of women I now consider to be my sisters. Bonded in a way I never imagined possible. A group of women I can share both my highs and my lows with, and everything in between. An amazing group of women who are supportive, loving, and quick to both laugh and cry with you.

It goes beyond our shared traumas. We are able to share the common, everyday things, the small tragedies and the big joys. And the seemingly small thing of being understood. Unless you’ve been a situation where your whole world is shattered, you never appreciate the comfort in sharing that trauma with people who have suffered in ways similar to you. We’ve all experienced different things, and suffered differently, but we all have been broken. The Japanese have an ancient art of mending broken pottery with gold, silver, or platinum. Kintsugi. They are the gold in my healing cracks.