Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free - Part 6

Well, I think I will wrap this series up in this post. You can read the other posts in this series by clicking here (they will be in reverse order, so scroll down to the bottom to get part 1, then on up).

This has proved more difficult in some areas than I expected and easier in areas I expected difficulty. Funny, that. Parts 4 & 5 was especially hard. There are some deep emotions involved with events in this period - ones I have never really acknowledged before. The emotions that were at play in me - anger, guilt for the anger, guilt for not being 'normal' and living up to my families expectations, fear, and a whole lot of just nothing - no emotion.

As I thought about it, I realized that I don't remember crying much from about the age of 14 on - until the last few years. I remember, during the time I was first in counseling - during the nightmares and the depression and the not being able to sleep, there were no tears. I remember wondering if I would ever be able to cry again. I doubted it. I seemed to be numb - cold - inside, like a vitally important part was just not there. And this is not totally gone. There are still numb periods - I will cry for a while, then just go numb inside. It is a scary place. It is a place where nothing seems to matter. I hope to be free of it someday.

It was in this state that I read the Bible through and went back to church. As I said in my last post, I believed then - and still believe - that God led me to attend this church. I think that His reasons were not apparent until I was no longer in it. I had heard about this church first when I saw a billboard they put up. I drove past it every time I went to counseling. It simply said, "Jesus saves," then gave the name of the church. The simplicity of it attracted me. The fact that it was focused on Jesus attracted me. A few years later, when my mom wanted someone to pray for her, we went there. I liked the message - but the only thing I remember (it was nearly 18 years ago) was the statement, "If something doesn't make sense (in reading the Bible) eat the meat and spit out the bones." Because of the way some scriptures had been twisted in the past to bind, this statement helped me keep my ear open to the Bible. I wish I had heeded it more closely once I actually started attending the church.

When I went into this church, I was not in a strong position, emotionally or spiritually. I believed that everyone in the building was so far above me spiritually because of 'where I'd been' and 'what I'd done,' that I was open to any 'correction' that might be given. I'm not saying that I didn't need correcting. I did. But, looking back, the bulk of the true correcting was internal - between God and me. And those correction were mostly about little adjustments in attitude and perception. I joined this church eight years ago.

A lot of what was taught was about the promises of the Bible in health and prosperity and freedom from pain. That appealed to me - a lot. The way to achieve this was through faith. And faith was the main thing, after all. The way to demonstrate to God that you had faith was by what you said and your willingness to sacrifice what you had - your willingness to step out and take risks. This is a very simplistic presentation of their teachings. To be honest, this particular flavor of doctrine is something my mom had been into for many years. 

None of this is extra-biblical. What grabbed me, because of having spent a lifetime feeling like I had no control, was that idea that the ball was in my court. What I could get depended entirely up to how much I put into it. I was so used to accepting the responsibility for how things went wrong that I didn't see the problem in this doctrine (a main one among many). I didn't see, then, that it was essentially a doctrine of works - of earning God's favor and gifts by our effort to be pure. And so, I proceeded to try to do everything they taught. Tried to do it just right. Not seeing the trap I had walked into.

By this time, we had moved into a tri-level house where sis and brother-in-law had the downstairs - den, bathroom and bedroom. Dad and I shared the rest. My sister and brother-in-law joined this church at the same time I did. I was delighted. A family thing - what I so wanted - a sense of real family. When we started going, so did my mom - naturally. As I have a tendency to do (my friend laughing calls me an extremist - in a good way), I threw myself into it - attending Sunday night and Wednesday night. The last three years I was there, I didn't miss a single service - 3 a week. Missing was unthinkable.

Within those first few months, I found my tears. I would sometimes cry through an entire service. To feel like I was accepted by God again. I hadn't attended, let alone joined, a church in more than 20 years. Interestingly enough, from the beginning, I was a little surprised at how cold the people seemed to be - especially to visitors. But I still felt that I was where I belonged, even if they didn't think so.

One of the things I desired to do was make friends. I am not good at this, but I do know that one of the fundamental points is to talk to people and be where they are - give them a chance to talk to you. This was something my mom did not want to do.

Mom had started developing rheumatoid arthritis a few years before. By the time we started going to this church, it was an issue. She didn't want to sit around and wait after church. As soon as the service was over, she was out the door. If you made her wait, she was grumpy the rest of the evening. Hanging around after church and talking became too expensive - emotionally. So much for trying to make friends. My mom's ability to embarrass me socially increased exponentially at this time.

For the first year and a half, I tried to volunteer to help where I thought I would be useful and was essentially ignored. Then I got sick. After I quit smoking (I had smoked for 19 years), my health went downhill. I quit having bad chest colds and such, but my digestion and circulation were messed up. I didn't say much - but by this time, I had quit cleaning and cooking. It was all I could to walk to and from the car. Sitting through services was a challenge. But I kept going. I didn't want to quit - again. Plus I thought I would probably die if I quit hearing the messages. I never went to the doctor, by the way. I have not had hugely great experiences with them, plus, unless I was actually dying, why bother with the expense? I never really told people what was going on with my health beyond what I had to to explain my slow pace, etc.

It was during this time that, every time I went to the restroom - whether in public or private - mom would always make the comment, "Are you okay? What took so long." Finally, one night when it was just she and I at the house, I decided to explain what was 'taking so long,' so that she would leave it alone. It worked. She never brought it up again. But the rest of that evening was pure hell. She started by telling me that she didn't want to hurt me, but maybe this was the opportunity to bring it up (yeah, right). And she started in on my weight. Over the years, especially after my accident, I had gotten very heavy. There are a lot of things that have played into this, not the least of which was the sexual abuse. I asked her to stop - that I did not want to talk about this right now. She spent 20-30 minutes not stopping - she would not let it alone. I begged. She was unrelenting. I was finally reduced to holding my head in my hands and sobbing. Then, and only then, did she get up, slowly and in a very dignified manner, with a hint of a smile on her lips, leave.

And then, in the middle of this, the pastor's wife (no less) asked me to help. It was an area that was nowhere near what I thought I was qualified for and I didn't know how my health would let me, but I said, "Okay." A young woman with some serious mental problems (Schizo-effective Disorder and BPD) had asked for help. I had no knowledge about these things. The pastor's wife, I found out later, did. But she handed this girl over to me to 'disciple.' And as I did this, my health began to improve.

For the next year, I met with her once a week for a one on one Bible study at a local restaurant. I really did not know what I was doing, but I did the best I knew. I was a little bit of a snot sometimes - a little self-righteousness would slip in. But I met with her and took her calls, sometime in the middle of the night. One night, she called at almost midnight very distraught - claiming that she had done something very bad (I won't say what). I told her to meet me at the restaurant. Then I called the pastor. I was a little hesitant to call him at that late hour, but I needed guidance. I wasn't sure if I would have to get the police involved. He told me to just take care of it - that I could handle it. He was right, but his attitude was beginning to show through and I was a little concerned. (BTW - the police did have to be called, but in the end, it was determined that she didn't do what she thought she had done.)

After a year, I reached the place that I could no longer work with this girl. I didn't understand the personality disorders and could no longer tolerate the games she would play. I still wonder how she's doing and pray that she is okay. God, help her. She ended up at another church - and was probably better off for it. 

Right about this time, the secretary had made an announcement that they could use volunteers to help in the office. I did. Soon, I was doing the bulletin and the newsletter. During this time, we were in a building project. They really started ramping it up, now. And, being in the office, I began to see how they actually treated people, especially the 'help.' I was troubled by the apparent lack of empathy for people. I also became aware of the fact that it was essentially a family business. There was no denominational affiliation - no accountability above them, and the primary staff and board were made up of mostly family. This concerned me - a little. But I was still not able to see the forest for the trees. Another marker along the way.

After a few months, I started coming in to the office more and more - helping in many areas. They treated me pretty much the way I was used to being treated. And yet, somehow, I thought if I could just do enough to help, they would appreciate me. I hadn't learned, yet. 

As I got more involved, I became less concerned about anything else. Sis and brother-in-law quit going after about  a year or so. They saw through it before I did. Mom and I, however, continued every Sunday night. There are many occasions a when my mother was rude and demanding - even threw a mini tantrum once at a New Year's Eve gathering. It was getting more and more embarrassing. An interesting dynamic was developing that I only just, right now as I typed, saw. My mother and my church were in a tug-of-war for me. Slowly, but surely, the church was winning. My mom was not happy.

Sadly, I began to pick up on and take on the attitude that if people were not going to church, they were one step removed from hell - and if they weren't going to this church, they were not getting the vital instruction they needed to succeed in life. I am sad to admit that, for a time, I bought into this. As my friend and I now say, we drank the Kool-Aide. This was the time that I began cutting things out of my life that did not fit the 'program.' I got frustrated with my family because they didn't seem to 'get it.' I fear that I began to be a bit of a self-righteous pain in the ass.

Then, my dad had a nervous break down (not because of my going to this church - he overworked himself, not for the first time). He's still recovering, sort of. Long story. Then we had to move. Then sis started not joining in the fun when mom came up - twice a week, like clockwork. So, mostly, it was just mom and I. 

Then the church did a terrible thing (please imagine great sarcasm). They dropped the Sunday night service and moved it to Friday nights. When I found out, I actually felt fear in my gut. I knew mom would be upset. She was. She still is (which is really bizarre, considering she knows, now, what that church is). This was 4 years ago. She still puts it like this: "I didn't really want to go to that church anyway. I only went because you kids were going. But after I did, I started to think of it as my church and God pulled my church out from under me." This is said with great indignation. The suggestion that she might come up on a different night to go to church was met with the 'look.'

Then I was invited to audition for and made the praise team - while the pastor was out of town. I still think he was upset about that but couldn't figure out how to deal with it without looking bad. I was back-up for one of the main people, so I only played occasionally, when he (the one I was backing up) was gone. Then I started working in the office full time - volunteer. All through this time, the harder I tried to fit in, the more I didn't seem to. I would sometimes sit in my car after service and just cry. What they were teaching wasn't working. I didn't yet see that it wasn't my fault it wasn't working.

It was around this time that the new building started going up. Three years ago, it was finished. We moved in and shortly after that, I was 'promoted' to the position of leader. In this church, leader would be the equivalent of deacon/deaconess. Shortly thereafter, the person who was to become my best friend started coming along with her husband.

Throughout my tenure as a volunteer in this church, I never felt like I was good enough. I know that part of that was the baggage I had coming in, but they basically treated me the same way my mom did. Over the next two years, as I was directly involved with the inner workings of the church, I began to see more and more that troubled me. There was a constant power struggle going on between the pastor, his wife and his mother. It was ugly. And they really didn't care much who got hurt along the way. Image was more important than substance. Someday, I hope I can tell you about the events of my last 6 months at this church. But right now, I can't for legal reasons.

Right at the time I left the church, the family sort of started self-destructing. My mother almost died - not sure to this day if it was not a deliberate self-sabotage on her part. Some of the events of this past year that have helped me move into more and more awareness - and gain the courage to break free - I will write about in future posts.

I will get into the things they taught more in individual posts, but I became aware - intimately - of some extremely ungodly behavior that was being covered up and that was leaving people wounded and lying on the side of the road - discarded. I was asked to participate in the cover-up. I could not. I walked. Some of the things that were said to me at that time I covered in my post titled Controlling With Fear. I came to realize that they were far more concerned about protecting their image than whether they hurt someone.

That was 14 months ago. Awareness broke through. Wow, what a year this has been. Just before I left the church, my best friend (one of the ones they discarded and left on the side of the road), sat down with me and let me talk. You see, she had recognized in me the pain of abuse. She was abused by her husband. She understood and she cared. Something I had been looking for all my life. And then she listened. What a gift. That began the journey toward healing. In this year, I have also connected with an aunt that I had been estranged from. We have helped each other walk further and further into the awareness of how we were abused. Why did God lead me to go to this church? This is why. If I had not, this friend and I would have never met. And neither one of us would have had the strength to do this alone. All that I went through in this church was worth it to have this friendship on the other side. It has been a bumpy ride and it is far from over. But I have come to realize a few things:
  • My mom is (probably) a malignant narcissist
  • My ex-pastor is (probably) a malignant narcissist
  • My dad abused me, too (emotionally) 
  • I need therapy to sort out the things inside that are messed up
  • I need to completely break free of my family
  • I have no further interest in religious games or anything like
  • For the first time in years, I have glimmers of hope for my future
  • The church has played a mostly abusive role in the whole of my life
  • I don't have to obey men to have a good relationship with God
  • What I have lived through actually is bad - kind of - a little bit...
  • As was so eloquently stated in a comment on one of Anna Valerious' posts, "The responsibility for my mother's soul is ultimately her own, not mine."  (Thanks, Kelly) This applies to all the people in my life.
  • I can tell my mother and/or my father and/or my sister 'no' and the world will not explode
  • Relationships are far more important than images
  • God will very rarely do things the way I think He will - or should ;-)
Am I going to make it? Yeah, I think so. I have cried more in the last 15 months than I think I have in my whole life. Some days are better than others. Some days, I am strong and ready to take on the world. Others, I am afraid to even talk to my therapist and just want to find a nice dark closet to hide in. I think that's normal, under the circumstances. I am healing. I will heal more quickly, I think, when I am no longer living with family - as my friend puts it, no longer living in the war zone. I am working on getting my own place and not living with my father anymore. I am in the process of breaking free. Finally. ;-)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free - Part 5

So, the continuing saga. If you want to follow from the beginning, you can read parts one, two, three & four.

Before I get into the next part, I want to mention something that is, I firmly believe,  the only reason I survived. Throughout my whole life, God and Jesus have always been very real to me. They have never been just stories or ideas. I have known them - as distinct persons - from my earliest memories. I came to view God the Father as a distant, angry, impatient and disappointed father. It was what I knew. But through the nights when I couldn't sleep for the nightmares or the images that would flare up in my head, Jesus was always right there. Safety in the middle of terror. And yes, my personal experience is that Satan is very real, too. I've seen him in the eyes of those who act with malice against those who have done them no wrong. I've seen him in the eyes of someone taking pleasure in the emotional pain and confusion they are causing. 

But I've seen Jesus in the eyes of someone willing to listen to stories no one wants to hear - in detail - and hold my hand and say "Fight, little girl, fight!"

This isn't about bashing God or pushing God. It is just my life as I see it, and God is a pivotal part of that life. I think you can still get something out of this, even if you don't believe in God, or believe in Him in another way. 

So, I wanted to make sure, as I detail my journey, that you understand that I am not mad at God - or against Him. I am beginning to get an inkling of the loving Father He is. I have questioned Him - often. He tells me, with a smile, "Relax, and trust Me." But I am mad at people who play church and I am mad at people who use God to promote themselves, walking on people - destroying people's lives - manipulating the Bible and the offices of the church to control people - as they go, turning people away from God - leaving wrecked lives in their wake. That I am VERY mad at.

So... I moved into my grandparents house . . . with my mother . . . in the same room . . . in the same bed. This lasted for over three years. I slipped back into survival mode. But now, unlike when I lived with her before, I was also cut off from all of my friends except when my mother and I would drive the hour or so to the town we used to live in to visit my sister. My mother and her father never got along. He was emotionally distant and sometimes, downright spiteful. Was he a narcissist, too? I haven't decided yet. But there were definite tendencies in that direction. My mother talked about him in ways that would sometimes shock me - even for her. I believe she hated him. I think some of that went back to his behavior while she was growing up, but also I think a large factor in this hatred was that she was dependent on him to survive and that totally messed with the image of herself as the suave, independent, cosmopolitan woman that doesn't need anyone - an image that was hard to maintain while living with the father she hated.

So I spent 3 years and 2 months playing buffer between my mother and my grandfather. Oh joy. I so wanted freedom, but I didn't know how to get it. I didn't understand that it would require cutting my mother off. I retreated into books, an old, familiar refuge. And I retreated into a somewhat newer refuge - my computer. I played a lot of computer games - and wrote programs that did fun, but not terribly marketable things. Sometimes, I would sit at my computer for 15 hours straight just working on a program.

During this time, the pressure to do something with my life began building. I would overhear bits of conversation between my grandparents and whoever they were talking to - they just didn't know what was wrong with me. 

In a conversation, I  mentioned in passing, to an aunt who was a writer, that I liked Star Trek: The Next Generation. She said that they accepted scripts unsolicited - paid $25,000 per script if they bought it. Hmm... I decided to give it a shot. I knew they would give greater consideration to writers with an agent, so I researched agents who were part of the Writer's Guild of America, narrowed it down to 10 by various criteria, and mailed out letters of inquiry. Only one responded. One was all I needed. He took me on and I wrote two teleplays for the show. It was exciting. I was doing something. I didn't tell anyone what I was doing until after I had a contract with my agent. 

Short version, the studio read and liked my scripts - sent them back with a letter and said that they were sorry, but the show had been canceled and they did not need any more scripts for that one. They encouraged me to write for the new show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I regret that I didn't do that. But, I didn't know that show and did not have much control over what was watched on TV - I watched very little TV during those years. So, I gave up and retreated back into my books again. 

Actually, before I had moved in with my grandparents - before my sister had moved in with me - I had started an epic fantasy novel (yeah, really:). I had (have) over 150 pages written in rough draft. I sought the advise of my published author aunt. And got religion. She essentially refused to help me unless I wrote about what she thought I should write about - Christian fiction. Fantasy was evil and she discouraged me from it on every conversation. Honestly, it was the same old thing I had gotten all my life - whatever I got excited about trying was either too hard, too risky or, in this case, just wrong. I gave up writing. In essence, the message I received was that I was just wrong in my goals - I wasn't doing it right. What was wrong with me? This message was familiar - I had heard it from little. I was not conforming to expectations. I was out of line. I deserved whatever I got.

During this interlude, my dad moved back into the state and reintroduced himself back into my life. I felt obligated to give him a chance. And I have. His tack has been to pretend like nothing bad ever happened. That's not working for me anymore.

Anyway, dad was paying rent for my sister. An opportunity arose for me to get a job. It was a crappy job. QC in a factory - swing shift - $750 a month. Not enough to live on. But, if I took the job, my sister would let me live with her - freedom - or something like. I took the job. I remember thinking that when I moved out of my grandparents house, there would not be a buffer between my mom and my grandpa. That concerned me. But I had to get out. Dad paid the rent. I worked. Sis didn't. This lasted for a year, during which mom would come up and spend 3 nights a week with us - just as her and I had been doing before I moved out. Then I got laid off - was on unemployment for 6 months. Saw no point in trying to get another job. We were living in a crumbling down hole in the ground otherwise known as a basement - underneath a business in the middle of town. This place sucked. It was infested and was literally crumbling around us. But is was better than spending the whole week with my mom.

I had reached the point where I had no motivation - saw no way to be independent and had no desire to be my sister's financial support. So, again, I gave up. Things continued in this for about 6 months. Then my sister got married. Wonderful. Really, it was wonderful. It was a full blown, big deal kind of wedding. It was beautiful. A few days before the ceremony, sis took me aside and told me that I could 'take over' the apartment. She said that her and her husband were going to get their own place (of course) and that from now on, mom was my responsibility, because she was not going to come stay with them. I didn't say anything. I thought a lot of things. But I didn't say anything. 

Being angry at my sister's behavior toward me was not something I was able to allow myself - I am still trying to sort that one out. You see, as we were growing up, I spent a lot of time taking care of her. My attitude has always been protective and tending toward wanting to defend her. 

I believe mom stayed with me through their entire 10 day honeymoon.

What happened next happened without anyone consulting me. That has been a recurring theme in my life. My dad decided to move to the town we were in and get an apartment big enough for him, me, and sis and hubby. And so, I started living with my dad. I didn't know what to expect. I still did not feel like he approved of me or that I was good enough for him. I felt guilty about his 'sacrifice.' So, I started doing the cleaning and cooking dinner for everyone. 

The up side, though? Mom couldn't come and spend the night anymore. So she started coming up two nights a week, no matter what was going on.

And, just for something to do outside the house, and because a friend was pestering me to do it, I joined a service club called the Jaycees. They did fun things to help the community and it was a chance to make some friends - belong somewhere. Awareness kept trying to poke its head out of the cellar, but I was in no condition to hear - to see. I was still just surviving.

When I was really little, my father had been a Jaycee. So, when they elected me president, I thought he would be proud. He was not. His response to the news was not congratulatory at all. He essentially asked me if I new what I was doing. Again, discouragement instead of encouragement. I got the feeling that he didn't think I was up to the challenge. And it was a challenge. But now I felt like I had something to prove. And there was an oath taking ceremony - sworn into office with the rest of the board. I took that very seriously. Probably much more seriously that was normal. ;-) 

I served 2 terms as president of this organization. It was a 30+ hour per week job. It was a volunteer position. But I had a purpose - a chance of belonging to something - of being accepted. I believe I did a good job. I worked hard. We won a lot of awards on the state level. We even won a national award. The feeling I got through this period was that my dad was just tolerating this phase and mom was humoring me. I never felt like they were proud of me. 

My sister and brother-in-law were involved, too - on the board. There was some friction - disagreement on goals and purpose. And then the politics started. Looking back, I would say that a couple of couples that joined were MNs and their spouses. Things got really ugly - nearly destroyed the organization. I was an officer on the board of this group for 5 years. Toward the end of this, I started going to a church. 

I felt like nothing I tried was good enough - right. Okay. I will go back to the start and do it God's way. That was what I thought. That's is why I wanted to go back to church. I was still in survival mode, but I was searching for answers to why I was such a mess. I thought a return to religion was just the thing. It's interesting. Just before I started going to this church, I got the urge to start reading my Bible again. Once I started, it was like a starving man - I read it from cover to cover in 5 weeks - amplified version, mind you. ;-) Knowing what I know now, I'm glad I actually knew what it said before I went into this church.

I firmly believed (still do) that God told me to go to this church. I know, considering what came later - what this church turned out to be, that maybe doesn't make sense. There is sense in it, though. The purpose just wasn't what I thought at the time. We'll get to that later. So, still in survival mode, but desperately wanting truth, off to church I went.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free - Part 4

This is the fourth part in a series. If you like, please read parts one, two and three.

So, I started counseling. I admitted that I had been molested. I use the word 'admitted' deliberately. This is how it felt. I was admitting to the thing I had done. I still felt responsible. It was still my fault. But I knew that it had messed me up and I now knew I needed help. This counselor was my life-line. She was not a good counselor, however. To begin, she never told me that is wasn't my fault. The rest I will get into in a minute, but first...

This step of trying to take back control of the train wreck that my life had become filled me with excitement. I wanted to live again. I thought about it. What could I do? My injury prevented me from working most menial jobs. I had had a job at a fast food place the month before and the pain was so intense that I actually would experience visual white-outs. I couldn't handle it. I tried for a week. I was in a band (with my mom - argh!!!), but those gigs did not pay enough to live on. Besides, being in a band with my mom was its own special kind of hell. 

So... what could I do? Ah-ha... Go back to college. I had dropped out when my dad left. I decided that I could get a degree and get a good job and get a life. Yes! 

So I went to the college and got an application. I picked up applications for financial aid. I did all this by myself without consulting or even, at first, telling anyone. Not till the wheels were firmly in motion did I tell anyone what I was up to. I understand, now, why I have always had a tendency to not want people to know what I was trying to do. What they didn't know about they couldn't tear down and devalue - sucking the momentum right out of it. 

I settled on Business Administration with a minor in Business Software Engineering. I loved working with computers. I got all the financial aid I could (something I regret, now - student loans...). I went and opened a savings account. I went and found an apartment 2 blocks from the college. The day I received the key and could begin moving in, I just went and sat in the empty apartment and almost cried. This was MY space. MINE! I could do with it what I liked. I could live freely here. And I had done it all by myself. I was 25 years old. It started well . . .

My mom offered to let me use her furniture - which was in storage. Having none and no money to get same, I gratefully accepted the offer. That first semester was wonderful. Mom came up nearly every week. But she mostly only stayed one night and it was usually on Saturday or Sunday. I had Friday nights completely to myself. The freedom to just be - with no expectations or constraints or fears.

In the middle of this, however, was the maelstrom of the fallout from looking at the molestation. I began to have nightmares. I would sometimes not sleep for 2 or 3 days. The counseling consisted mostly of her listening to me talk - when I would talk. Sometimes I would just sit in her office with my knees up and not say a word the whole session. I barely scratched the surface - just the highlights, if you will, of what actually happened. And no advise - counsel - was given on what to do to deal with the crazy things I was feeling. During this, I discovered that I was actually afraid ... someone I had gone to high school with walked by and saw me in my window. He stopped to say hi. I let him in my apartment and then I started to panic. How do I get him out of here? I was afraid of him and I still don't think it was about him...

I got good grades. I don't know how. As time progressed, I began to talk to my counselor about my dad. The things he had done. How I never felt like I was good enough for him. How a 89.9% in my accounting classes was tantamount to failure. I could have gotten an A. I should have gotten an A. This is where the wheels began to come off with that counselor. You see, I had picked her because I couldn't stand the idea of talking to someone I didn't know. So, the only name I could think of was someone that my dad had gone to college with - studied with. Someone that my dad was friends with - still. (Yes, by the way, my dad is a psychologist. Yay.)

I would like to state here that she should not have taken me as a client. She should have seen me when I called in desperation on that cold January morning . . . and referred me to someone else - set me up with someone else. She did not have the objectivity to constructively counsel me concerning the actions of my father. And she didn't. She defended him. She said that she was sure he didn't mean for me to take it that way. Blah, blah, blah. The counseling ceased to be productive from that point. But I didn't know that. I struggled with what she said about my dad. I internalized it - again. It must be my fault, because he didn't mean it. 

After 2 years of this, I finally told her that I wasn't sure if she was helping. I still felt down and had suicidal thoughts often. She pronounced me 'clinically depressed' and called my doctor and set up an appointment. My doctor put me on the brand new drug, Prozac. Problem solved. Yay.

But wait. During this period, with the nightmares, the suicidal thoughts, the anger at my older relative, my mom began coming up more and more often. Then her car broke down. Right about here, at the end of my first semester, the lawsuit I had filed over my accident was finally settled. The insurance company paid my bills and a had a little left over.

Oh yes. The lawsuit. The insurance company had refused to pay my medical bills from when I broke my back, leaving me in the position of suing or letting the bills financially annihilate me. It took almost 3 years, but the companies involved finally settled. Nothing like having a myriad of pressures coming at you to make life interesting. ;-)

Back to mom's car breaking down. I offered to by a new engine for her car and got some relatives who knew how to put it in. This was what she wanted. Another car was not what she wanted. She liked this one. (She later ragged about it constantly, but that's another tale.) While it was being worked on, I let her stay with me. Fine. Things weren't too bad... I was taking classes in accounting, computer programming (pascal, for those of you who wonder), college algebra, some basic computer courses, honors english, and (just for some fun) drama performance. I was busy with school - homework every night but Friday. 

That first week that mom stayed with me was okay. Then her car was fixed. It was time for her to go back to her parents' house. She didn't want to. She was depressed at the very idea. She laid on my couch for a week and complained that the noise of my calculator was bothering her - did I have to do my homework while she was trying to sleep? This was in my own living room! Toward the end of the third week, I finally - tentatively - suggested that if she was that depressed, maybe she should try to get counseling. It was helping me, after all. Oh, the excuses and conditions that she came up with. First, they would have to be Christian counselors, otherwise they would never understand where she was coming from. 

When I said that I would help her look for one, she got very angry. It got her off the couch though. She was angry, I think, at my suggesting that she needed help. In the middle of this 'discussion,' we went out to eat. Talk about dysfunctional. I was used to prolonged tantrums that spanned a variety of activities - life went on while we fought. In the middle of the restaurant, she pulled her 'catatonic' routine where she would just put on her most pitiable face and stare off into the distance and act like she was unaware of anything around her - like she was just going to fall over and die. Punishment for not letting her move in (she never asked, but I never offered...) and suggesting that she needed help.

But, she did leave that night. Hallelujah! Every encounter like this left me feeling confused and uneasy and deficient, even though her absence was a relief. Actually, that was another  cause for guilt. And I still didn't realize that the underlying problem in my life was this - that she was abusive. No - the word the family used was 'difficult.' She was just difficult... During this time, just as an added bit of excitement, her little brother would break in to my apartment if I wasn't home, and help himself to what ever he found. Man, people have never respected my boundaries.

I managed to finish my first year back in college - with a 3.43 GPA for that year, even. Then my sister called from dad's. She was terribly homesick. Could she come live with me? I couldn't say no. I thought it would work. I missed her - loved her - had always sort of felt responsible for her. It was a long summer in which she spent a lot of time lying on my couch watching TV. She had a couple of jobs, but they didn't last. It was a long summer for me. I got a job - financial aid didn't stretch quite through the summer. The stress was more than I could handle and I quit. Then, my sister decided to move back with dad and go to college free at the one he was working at. Okay. Another year in school. Economics, programming in COBOL, precalculus, management. And I got really sick. The doctor never did figure out what it was. It was a long fall into winter. And mom was coming up and spending 2 to 3 nights a week.

And then my dad came to visit. I had not seen him - had barely spoken to him on the phone - for 5 years. I was uneasy - scared, actually - but hopeful. Maybe he had changed... He hadn't much. He no longer yelled at me. But he decided that the way I had my living room arranged was inefficient and rearranged it. The way I had it, when the couch was folded out into a bed, you could still navigate around the living room. His arranged took care of that little problem. Very efficiently blocked the path through the living room. And I did not know how to stand up and say, "NO!" I left it in that arrangement until I moved out of that apartment. That was quite possibly one of the most awkward weekends I have ever spent.

This is when my counselor put me on Prozac and quit her job (I thought - I later found out she was fired) and moved away. I started Prozac in November.

Then, at the end of that semester, my sister calls again, in tears. She made a mistake. She can't stand living with dad. Can she come home and live with me? She promises to help with the expenses. So, she moves in and ... gets a job and ... quits job and ... sits on the couch, watching TV. This arrangement was supposed to be temporary - she gets job - gets own place. Her living with me violated my lease. She moved in the end of December...

That spring I was happy. I wasn't sick anymore. But there was the loss of freedom. I no longer had the run of my apartment. Then, in April, I couldn't afford the meds anymore, so I went off the Prozac cold turkey. This is NOT something I would recommend! During this time, I had one real friend (how much a friend, you can decide when you hear the rest of this story). When my sister moved in, I spent more and more time over at my friend's house.

Sometime around March, her husband made the most astonishing statement. They knew what was going on in my life. They knew about the counseling and the molestation. He said that he felt that he could help me in my healing if I would let him. He wanted to 'make love to me.' He wanted me to know that not all men were bad. Right. Even now, 18 years later, when I think about this, I feel sick. My immediate response was, "What the hell is wrong with you? No way!" He smiled and said that he would not give up. 

If I had been smart. If I had been stronger. If I had... blah, blah, blah. The fact is, I did not run away. I resisted. I never dreamed I would not be able to resist. Then I went off Prozac cold turkey. Then his wife (my friend?) seemed to be encouraging him in his efforts. He was honest about one thing. He did not give up. Over the course of the next 3 months, he kept at it, telling me all sorts of things that were guaranteed to soften me up. What happened next is probably the single most shameful thing I've ever done. I gave in. I believed him. I wanted to be loved. And my friend was fully aware and present for the whole thing...

Understand that I had never dated - no boyfriends - no husband. This was entirely new to me. This was the first since the molestation. And it was just as bad. This almost annihilated me. I am still ashamed of this. I was weak and I believed the lie - and I did something that went against everything I believed in. The price? The friendship (such as it was) and my integrity and very nearly my sanity. And this one I internalized and dealt with by myself. How else?

Right in the middle of this, my mom got a job in my town and asked if she could move in with us until she had enough to get her own place. Wonderful. Three of us in my 1 bedroom apartment. My momentum and drive to get through school were fading. My sister decided to go back to school, too. So, I talked to the manager of the apartments and got my sister and me moved into a 2 bedroom and let my mom take over the 1 bedroom. The attempt at freedom had failed. It was only a matter of time, now. My boundaries were eroded past the point of salvaging at that time.

My sister's financial aid didn't materialize. My zeal was gone. I ended up dropping out of college again. And we soon found ourselves in dire financial straights. My mom got very sick and had to have surgery. She lost her job. After a few months, we got evicted and my sister moved in with friends. Me? I kind of gave up. My mother and I moved in with her parents - shared a bedroom a bed. I retreated to a place I had been before. I retreated into books - into my computer. The door was closed on the cellar. I thought, again, that all that was dealt with. Two years of counseling, after all... I just stuffed it all again and put on my old mask. Fine, I'm fine... My problem was that I was just lazy, stubborn. It was all my fault. Family talked behind my back - What's wrong with her? Why doesn't she get a job?

At 27 years old, my first attempt at breaking free had failed. With the failure, awareness was shut off, as well. The train had wrecked again. I went back into survival mode. For now.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free - Part 3

This is the third installment of a series. You can read the first one here and the second one here.

I will pick the thread up as though you have read the previous posts. 

The box that I had put in the cellar of my mind still needed to be dealt with. But I did not know that - at least not consciously. I thought I had dealt with, you see. I still didn't realize I was a victim - not really - not consciously. I thought the repentance had swept it all away.

But, since I had not dealt with it, all the emotions and fears and self-loathing and pain were still locked in there. Worse than that, the little girl that all these things had happened to was locked down there with the memories. I had to because she would not be quiet about what had happened. I effectively cut her off from my conscious mind. The emotions would not stay locked up, though. They began to come out in other ways. 

When I was 16, my parents decided to go back to college. They moved to the town where the college was and let me stay with my grandparents to finish high school. I began to retreat more and more into my self. The social aspects of high school (junior high, for that matter) were not fun. Sometimes, I would put my headphones on my portable 8-track player (I know, I am severely dating myself) and go outside and lie in the snow for hours or just walk around the neighborhood, escaping into the music. No one ever noticed - or if they did, they never showed it.

My senior year, a girl I sat next to in school befriended me. We started to hang out. We started to play pranks on one of the teachers. He did not take it well and made (in my opinion) a bad call. He told me I should stay away from her because she was a bad influence on me. He didn't realize it was probably the other way around. We both got ticked off and ended up vandalizing his house (eggs, paint...). That landed us in the police station and on probation. She had become emancipated from her parents. She never told me why, but the idea started a stirring in the cellar of my mind.

I began drinking. I almost got expelled from high school 2 weeks before graduation for coming to school drunk. This severed the one friendship I had. She didn't want to risk being expelled. I had good grades, I just was beginning to go out of control. My parents talked the principal out of expulsion by pointing out that if that happened, I would be back next year. Gee, thanks guys! Through this whole thing, no one - NO ONE - except the teacher whose house I vandalized - ever asked me what was going on with me (of course, I didn't tell him). Annoyance? Yes. Shaking of the head? Yes. Genuine concern? Not that I ever saw. There wasn't even any punishment (actually, I think they grounded me for a week and wouldn't let me go to the senior party - I wasn't planning to do that, anyway). Contrast this to a year or so later when I didn't come straight home from work and didn't call them. My dad showed up at my friend's house and physically dragged me out - took me home and tried to ground me. I was 19. The sickest part of this is that I was so well trained to be afraid of them that at 19, I let him do this.

The pain and anger were building and I didn't know why. Throughout my life, any time someone I knew died, I got ZERO concern or sympathy from my family. In a previous post, I mentioned the response I got when my grandmother died. When I was in 8th grade, my homeroom teacher committed suicide. When I was a junior in high school, a friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. About 7 months after graduation, my friend in 'crime' committed suicide. This hit me hard. This kind of thing was something I had already learned to deal with on my own, though. It also got the idea of suicide up to the surface of my mind. It was something that was already there - introduced to me by a movie & some pictures when I was 3 - but now, it really began to look attractive. It was there in my mind.

The first tentative steps to being aware that I was being abused came when I was 19. I went straight into college out of high school - the same one my parents had been going to for 2 years. If you have a narcissistic parent do not, I repeat DO NOT go to college with them. Really bad idea. I thought of it as making a new start, though. In this setting, none of my friends could be 'just MY friends.' They had to be friends with my mom, too. No matter that they didn't see it that way. If they were my friends, they were her friends, too. This made for some very embarrassing situations. Since she had been going for 2 years in the same department, making friends that she didn't already know was nearly impossible. It wasn't a very big school. In addition to that, she spent that 2 years winning friends and influencing people with her typical self-absorbed behavior and, in the midst of impressing the hell out of them (note my sarcasm), she went around telling them all how wonderful, and talented, and smart I was. I didn't realize what she had been doing. No wonder they resented me  and gave me a hard time from the start. Thanks, mom.

During this time, one of the departments I had classes in was taking a class trip to London in the spring. I wanted to go and tried to raise the money, but couldn't. The chair of the department took me aside about a month before the trip and and asked me if I wanted to go. I told him I did, but I didn't have enough money. He smiled and offered to pay my way. I was ecstatic. I went home and told my parents. My dad said, "No. Absolutely not." And that was it. He did the same thing when my best friend got married. The wedding was about 400 miles away in her fiancee's home town. I had a ride and expenses and and a place to stay all lined up. "No," was all he said. 

Every car I owned, my dad insisted on putting in his name - right up until 5 years ago. I guess he decided when I hit 40, I was old enough to have a car in my own name. The first 2, he sold out from under me with no consultation or warning. They still had some of my things in them. It is an indication of how enmeshed with them I was that I even allowed this. Any protestation of this treatment was met by him with a blank look of incomprehension or indifference - I was never sure which. By now, I really didn't think my dad liked me and the feeling was mutual. I think this was a reasonable conclusion on my part. He never expressed any concern for how or what I was doing unless it was interfering with what he was doing. He was always, either ignoring me or mad at me. I didn't yet realize the subtle games my mom was playing.

Back to my mom and the 'shared' friends - if my friends would invite me out without inviting her, she would have a mini-tantrum - guilt, guilt, GUILT - trying to get me to make them invite her, too. Usually, I would just not go to prevent further embarrassment.

It was in the middle of this milieu that I actually articulated to a couple of friends that my parents were emotionally abusive. Imagine my shock when, instead of telling me I was not being fair. . . , they believed me - agreed with me. Even then, I felt guilty - like I was betraying my parents, somehow - being an ungrateful, whiny brat. The little girl in the cellar was not going to be quiet, though.

I began partying hard. At 19 going on 20, I was getting falling-down, black-out, embarrass-the-hell-out-of-myself drunk - as often as I could. I recently reconnected with an old friend from that time and she brought up an incident that I remember well - mostly - but saw differently, then. She was having a party at her house. There were a ton of people there. I was on the edge of being black-out drunk, so I don't remember saying this, but apparently, I held up the bottle I was drinking out of and declared, "Maybe I'll just kill myself with this." My friend scrambled and started hiding the remaining alcohol. I remember this part and thought they just didn't want to share. No, they were afraid that I was serious (good call) and didn't really know what else to do. Actually, it is only the grace and mercy of God that I did not succeed, on a couple of occasions.

It was about this time that my dad decided to leave. Now, I wonder what took him so long. At the time, however, I was relieved. Mom always told me that she tried to talk him out of it - that she offered to get marriage counseling - she believed they could make it work. I recently asked my dad about this. He said that he went and sat on the chair and she sat there filing her nails while he tearfully told her he couldn't take it anymore and was leaving. He said she never fought him and made no offer for counseling, etc. Just another in a long list of lies that are beginning to come to light. Before he made this decision, though, he confronted me and asked me if mom was having an affair. I was shocked at the idea - thought he was nuts. And he was way out of bounds to confront me - their daughter - about it.

He walked away and left my sister and me with her. I was 19 and my sister was 13 when he left. I never missed him (just being honest), but my sister was hit hard. He had been closer to her - done things with her. Now, my sister started going out of control, too. She had no supervision. I would go into details, but. . . well, this one thing, she was dating a 32 year old man at the age of 14. And mom allowed it. She ended up getting expelled from high school and was sent to live with dad. That was the best thing for her at the time - considering the choices. This, however, left me living with mom alone. This is when the heavy guilt tripping began. This is when she began using suicide as a threat to get sympathy. This is when I would sometimes almost run to get away from the darkness inside that house. 

A few months before my sister left, I was in an accident in which I broke my back - lots of bills, hospital stay - rehab. The night it happened, my mom was at work and decided to finish her shift before coming to the hospital. Before you think that she didn't realize what had happened, know that she was informed in detail. She unleashed a reign of terror on the hospital staff, but that's another story. ;-)

About a year after this, she lost the house - couldn't keep up the payments (why that happened is a whole other post). She moved in with her parents and I saw an opportunity to get away. A friend offered to rent me a room in the house he just bought. I jumped at it. At 24 years old, for the first time I was not living with family.

This guy had some serious mental issues of his own. Living there was an interesting adventure, to say the least. Fighting with our other roommate, etc. During this time, my mom became seriously depressed - think what it would do to a narcissist's image of themselves to have to move back in with their parents, whom they do not like (and the feeling was mutual, I have since discovered). She lived an hour's drive away and would come up often and began telling me how much she needed me - no one else understood her. That winter, my own mental state deteriorated drastically. I was not doing well. Along came Christmas, and something happened that I only recently realized (duh) was connected to what happened shortly after. 

The relative that had molested me came home for Christmas. He had moved thousands of miles away about 10 years prior to this. I had not seen him nor spoken to him since I was 15. This stirred up some anger and some fear and a lot of pain. I still didn't connect the dots. (Hey, hindsight is great - living it is another thing!) Two weeks later, I couldn't take the pain anymore and took a bottle of pills and went to bed. Again, God's mercy. He was there. In the midst of slipping into the darkness, I told Him I was sorry and He was right there with peace. I woke up 24 hours later, scared and a little disappointed.

This pushed me into getting counseling - the best friend I had at the time said, "Get some help or quit coming over. You're scaring my kids." I called and got a counselor. She wasn't great - but I saw her for 2 years. The first session, I finally spoke the words. I was molested. The box in the cellar was open - it wasn't up out of the cellar, but it was open. Awareness was surfacing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free - Part 2

This post is the second part in a series. If you haven't read the first one, you can find it here.

In my last post on this series, I talked about how, when I was growing up, the abusive environment taught me to stuff - to hide - to shut down - my emotions out of self-defense. I learned to survive. I talked about a couple of examples of things that contributed to this. There are so many other examples.

Another way that my Nmom taught me, in a subtle way, that I was not good enough was in using 'constructive' criticism to help me be better. It meant that when I was practicing the piano, she would yell down the stairs to 'flat that b' if I made the same mistake twice. Why? Because she 'couldn't STAND to hear mistakes repeated.' (My mom was a music teacher, by the way.) 

When I would try to do anything creative, e.g., write, paint, draw, compose, arrange music, she would not tell me how good it was. She would tell me that to be any good at whatever it was, would take YEARS of dedicated practice and WORK. The implication, to me, was that I was not up to it. The work I actually did, she would critique to the point that I gave up in despair of ever being good enough.

When I got into the grade where I could enter band, they let me - encouraged me. Then mom had to prove she could play any instrument I could. She would get my horn out, without asking, and play - getting lipstick all over the mouthpiece - never cleaning it off. I would ask her not to and she would blow my protest off as inconsequential - essentially, she did not think it should bother me, therefore it did not bother me and my saying it bothered me was just silliness. I still encounter this attitude when I ask her to respect my boundaries.

Throughout my childhood, I had an underlying feeling - like a constant low-grade fever - that things were not right; that this was not how it should be. But I was well trained - ingrained deeper as time went on - that whatever it was, it was within ME. Why? Because whatever was out of whack was always because of something I did. It was my fault.

I can remember, in first grade - second grade - that mom would set the alarm in my bedroom. When it went off, she would get up and reset it and make sure I was awake. Then she would go back to bed. I would make myself breakfast and get ready for school. When the alarm went off for the second time, it was time to go. After school, she would be at work and I would be home alone for a couple of hours. I was 6 years old. When I asked her about that, she got an uneasy look on her face and said that she didn't like doing that, but I was so grown up and the neighbors kept an eye out. Okay...

My seventh year was an eventful one. To begin, that was when my little sister was born. I remember after a trip to the doctor's office, mom and dad were sitting in the front seat of the car and I was in the back. We were at a drive-in getting a treat. Mom turned around a told me that I was going to have a little brother or sister. She then, of all things, asked me if that was okay with me. It was rhetorical. There was no discussing it. It was never brought up again. To be perfectly honest, at that moment in time, I really didn't care one way or the other. So, I think I shrugged and said something to the effect of, 'Okay.' She was born when I was seven, but I was actually only 6 when this little exchange took place. 

The next nine months were something else. My mom does not do pregnancy well. And she will tell you all about it if you ask. She has often (still does) talked about how hard on her it was to be pregnant and that she never really wanted children. She was, of course, glad to have us once we were here, but oh, the misery . . . 

Yeah. The misery. She was not fun to be around during the next 9 months. At the end, her water broke and she was so annoyed. She started fixing her make-up in the bathroom mirror and told me to clean up that mess. I had no idea what was going on - how would I? I remember thinking, 'Eeww! If I did that on the floor I'd get a spanking.' But I cleaned it up without a word.

All of this went on in the backdrop of going to church every Sunday and Wednesday - being very involved in the church. Being a Christian home - family. During this time, I withdrew more and more into myself. I was always a fairly quiet kid. I could play by myself for hours and be fine.

I'm going to get into something, now, that is a littler harder to write about. When I was 7 years old, an older relative (not in the immediate family or house) began sexually molesting me. This went on for 5 years. Now I had already learned that I could not talk to my parents about anything very personal. Not if I wanted to maintain any emotional sanity. I had also learned that anything that happened was my own fault. So when this started, I was confused and often didn't know what end was up. I knew it was wrong and took the whole blame on myself. I was bad. I was going to hell. I was terrified. I would spend 30 minutes crying at the altar after Sunday night services. No one ever asked me what was wrong.

It was during this period that I really began to refine my ability to separate from my emotions - to hide in the middle of the family and not be seen at all. Why did he target me? I don't know. Maybe someday, I will have the courage to ask him. Remember, I was also already preconditioned to not view myself as a victim of abuse. So, from the outset, I didn't not see this as abuse and saw it as some sort of defect in me. I don't think there are words sufficient to describe the shame, the fear, (sometimes terror), the guilt, the confusion, the anger at myself; the often desolate, bereft feeling. The just wishing I could be left alone - or die - all stuffed, hidden. Don't let anything show. I learned to pretend to be okay; to wear a mask - nothing wrong with me, I'm fine. All during this time, I continued to go to church - live 'normal' and no one ever suspected a thing.

Except a friend's mom. When this started, I began to play a little differently. There was some anger. Apparently, my friend talked to her mom about it. Her dad was a pastor. Her mom called my mom and said that she didn't want her daughter playing with me anymore because I did not play appropriately. That was the word she used. Mom told me this in a very matter-of-fact way and said that it was probably because I was such a tomboy growing up with older boy cousins. I probably played too rough. She never asked me about it. I was scared to death - thought was going to be exposed. But no. That was the end of it. Mom never brought it up again.

Once, during this period, mom got mad at me and locked me out of the house. I ran away, but got to the highway and decided that the bad I knew was better than the bad I didn't. Mom doesn't remember doing this.

I could probably write a book about the incidents (maybe I will at some point), but this is how I grew up. It wasn't all grim. There were fun times. Some of my fondest memories of childhood involved reading books to my sister and playing with her. We got along well when I wasn't 'baby-sitting' her and mom and dad were not in the near vicinity. I have pleasant memories of being with mom while she drew or did yoga - trying to do it with her. The fact that it was not all horrid is part of what makes it hard to separate out the emotions; made it hard to recognize what was going on. 

Something else happened that I have only just begun to see. The sexual abuse gave my mind a scapegoat - something to latch onto as the source, the root, the beginning and end of all my emotional problems. It didn't do this instantly - it was a process - a layer - layers - added to mask the original abuse.

After the sexual abuse stopped, when I was 12, my mind did its damnedest to completely bury it - and all the other with it. And it very nearly succeeded. For the better part of 6 years, I don't remember consciously thinking about it. It's not so much that I forgot about it. It's more like this. I put it in a box labeled, 'DO NOT OPEN,' shoved it in the dark corner in the cellar of my mind, repented of it and tried to pretend it never happened.

Why the repent part? Well, like I said, I was trained that the bad stuff was my fault. I was born into/raised in a Pentecostal-charismatic home and church. I knew all about heaven and hell, sin and repentance, etc., etc. When I was 7, I dreamt that I went to hell. I still remember it. I am not saying that all pentecostal or charismatic churches are bad. Although I have recently discovered that this church has some serious problems, I don't believe they all do or did. But I do think there are some perspectives that could do with some tweaking. :-)

But with the stuff going on at home and the things  that were preached, I knew I was toast. I knew God probably hated me. I have only recently begun to see that God does not just tolerate me because He has to. He has been there all along. If He were not, I would not have survived. I think the most important thing I have learned regarding church is to chuck the religion and focus on the relationship.

So, by the time I was 14, I had repented, buried the memories and thrown myself into my church. I was even elected president of our youth group. I'm not sure my parents even noticed that, now that I think about it. The things that went on at home continued as far as mom and dad. In fact, things were gradually deteriorating. I tried not to see this. You see, my parents were pillars in the church. Dad was a deacon and a board member. Mom was a Sunday school teacher and a pianist. 

I have wondered why no one at the churches we went to ever noticed. Those I have talked to recently have been shocked that we were not the happy little home we appeared to be. I think that often, people are predisposed not to see any but the most blatant and obvious evil, especially if it is in their midst. There was, I think, a bigger factor. Just after my 10th birthday, we moved to our fifth town. We moved a lot within towns, too. But that didn't affect which church we went to. In each town where we lived more than a year or so, dad became a deacon and mom played the piano. We were not at any given church that long in my early years.

We were in that fifth church (where I was youth president) for 6 years - a record. When I hit 14, we had been there 4 years and things seemed to be going better for me. The cellar seemed to be well closed. Then there was a nasty church split and we were in the middle of it, dad being on the board and all. That was when I started getting angry. It seemed safe to let some anger out at this. At 16, I walked away from church, as did my family.

This caused that cellar door to crack open - just a little; the beginning of the first inklings of awareness. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free - Part 1

Survival. That is the first thing you do when you are in an abusive environment. You learn to survive. That lasts until you are in a place where it is emotionally safe for you to become aware of the truth. This can happen in stages. It has for me (still is, actually - new realizations fairly regularly). After awareness comes the stage of breaking free. All three stages are hard. They overlap and are not clear cut and neatly manageable. They vary as much as we vary. Everyone's journey into freedom is unique. And yet, they all share similar feelings - markers along the way.

There are many abusive types of environments: the workplace, the church, the home - parents or spouses. They all share common elements, though, and it is this which gives us strength - the hearing  - the commonality of our experience - knowing that what we are feeling/seeing/experiencing is not just us. It is normal for the extreme situation we are in. There are others who have walked - are walking - where we are walking and have walked. There is strength in knowing that. There is strength - there is hope - in hearing others' stories - in comparing notes.

So I began writing a post to that end - to share my experiences. It quickly became clear that this would be an enormous post. Every time I started to talk about where I am, it needed to have the context of where I've been. To save confusion, it seemed best to just go back to the beginning and go from there. So... I will break it into a series of posts. 

Make no mistake. Waking up and breaking free are not easy. Contrary to pop psychology that tells us that we are responsible for allowing ourselves to be abused - so all we have to is quit allowing it - it's not that simple. This attitude has made it into the church counseling offices and government welfare agencies and even the local coffee shop. Kathy Krajco, at 'What Makes Narcissists Tick,' has written an excellent article on this issue. I also touched on it in my recent post on blame-shifting. In sharing my experience, I will talk about the abuse I have experienced in the home (parents/family) and in the church - and incidental encounters along the way. 

Obviously, the first step in breaking free is realizing that you are being abused. To someone who has never been there (or who has not yet faced it in their own life) this may sound like a ridiculous statement. Logic would seem to say that if you are being abused you would know it! How could you not? Well, there are a lot of factors that play into that. It is complicated. But believe me, especially in the realm of emotional abuse, you can be abused and not realize that's what it is. In my experience, you can even be physically abused growing up and not recognize it as that because of what you were told about it while you were growing up. I'll get into that later. Plus, the mind is incredibly adept at 'filtering out' information we cannot deal with - information that would emotionally annihilate us. This brings us to survival and this brings us to where it started - in the home.

When I was growing up, we would hear of stories on TV, or mom would read about them in the paper, where someone beat their children or starved them or locked them in the basement, and mom would talk to me about how terrible that was - how she couldn't understand how a parent could treat their child that way. I was taught what abuse was in this way. I remember feeling that even though things weren't great all the time, at least my parents didn't abuse me. I did not think I was abused because my parents told me that I was not abused. Children believe their parents. 

What did my parents do that was abuse? As I think about my childhood, I think about my dad and it is mostly that he was not engaged with the family. He would come home from work and watch TV until it was time to go to bed. About 95% of the interaction I remember having with him was him yelling at me over something I either didn't mean to do, or didn't even know I shouldn't do. 

An example of this happened when I was 4 years old. I asked if I could have some ice cream. Mom said. 'Sure, if you can get it yourself. Just make sure you put the ice cream back so it doesn't melt.' I thought, 'Cool. I can do this.' I went to the freezer. (We had the kind of refrigerator that had a freezer on the top and the refrigerator on the bottom. I think they were all like that in those days.) I got the ice cream out of the 'fridge and got a bowl and spoon and got myself some ice cream. I think I even cleaned up the little bit of a mess I made. The I made sure, because of mom's emphasis, to put the ice cream back. I remember being proud of myself because I did it all by myself. The problem was, I didn't understand the difference between the freezer and the 'fridge. You guessed it. I put it back in the 'fridge, not the freezer.

Fast forward a couple of hours. Dad decides he wants some ice cream. He goes to get some and, of course, it isn't in the freezer. He asks and mom said that I had gotten some earlier. He asks me where the ice cream is and I get nervous. I know I put it back and I tell him that I put it back. He says that it isn't there. Then he opens the 'fridge and finds it. He gets very angry and says, 'I can't believe you put it in the 'fridge. What a stupid thing to do.' He rants for a few minutes. He's very angry and I am devastated. First, because he is mad and I didn't know I did anything wrong and second, because my daddy wanted some ice cream and couldn't have any because I was too stupid to put it in the freezer. Even now, when I think about this and other incidents, the little girl in me is still saying, 'I'm sorry, daddy. I didn't mean to.'

There were many incidents like this with dad - his disproportionate response to the situation. He still does that, but we'll get to that later. 

With mom,  it was just how and what she taught. She taught me that she was the authority and to respect her views on the Bible and theology. She was always reading her Bible. She was the voice of God in my life and that has been a particularly hard issue to break free of. Her main method of disciple was whipping with a belt. The whipping came after the angry look. Whipping with a belt was part of my potty training. By the time I was 6 or 7, the look, accompanied by the snapping of the belt was enough to make me get in line.

Then there was the psychological part of it. With dad, it was just the fact that he was never there for me - never expressed concern about how I was or even seemed to notice me except when he was mad. In recent conversation with him, he never even noticed the things mom did to my sister and me. With mom, it was a concerted campaign of control. My favorite TV shows were 'silly' or 'stupid.' I don't remember her ever calling me names, but she would mock what I liked to the point that I knew that I must be stupid to like it. It's funny. On one level, I knew this wasn't true. Yet, because my mom said it, from the time I can remember (which goes back to 1 year old), those statements would override my logic. When you are little, you parents know everything and what they say is solid fact. Besides, when you are a child, you want - need - the approval and acceptance of your parents. It's amazing what a child will believe - do - to try and earn this when it isn't freely given.

Because she said that what they did was not abuse by defining what was abuse, I didn't know that I was being abused. My parents didn't abuse me because they said they didn't abuse me. Wonderful.

So, what did I do with all the emotional pain? I stuffed it as best I could. As I grew, I learned that any show of emotion would be ridiculed mercilessly - punished. When I was 8 years old, my grandmother died suddenly. She and I were fairly close. (Although, by the time I was 8, I was not really close to anyone.) A couple of months after she died, I was lying in bed and started thinking about her. I began to miss her and started crying. My mom came in and asked me why I was crying. I told her that I missed grandma. She frowned and said, 'Well, get over it,' and left the room. I was stunned. I learned not to show my emotions. I did my best not to let them see me cry; not to let them see me angry; not to let them see my pain; not to let them see me - the real me. 

I learned to survive.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Am I Angry?

Someone posted my blog address on another site. (Thanks, by the way.) 

On that blog thread, someone, after reading my post, said I sounded like I was angry. At first, I was concerned - am I coming across angry? I have to admit that it bothered me. After sleeping on it, though, I realized something. Of course I am angry. That is the whole point. I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't angry. 

My initial response highlights the aftermath of abuse. Anger was one of those 'bad' emotions, both at home and in the church. The indoctrination along these lines leads to the belief that anger is, in and of itself, a sin. I have (until now) always apologized for getting angry - stuffed the anger. Bleah.

So, yes, I am angry. Sometimes, I am even outraged. And that is a good thing. Why? Because it means I am doing something about it . . . and it means that I am learning that it is okay to be angry.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Blame-Shifting or "I'm sorry you made me hurt you"

Blame-shifting is a classic technique of the abuser. It is used in the home, in the church, in the therapists office and even in government agencies (as I found out first hand today - but I'll get to that in a minute). It has even made its way into pop psychology and people who do not take the time to think things through and (heaven forbid) empathize, have swallowed it - hook, line and sinker. Anna Valerious, Kathy Krajco and Gale Warnings have all written on this or related topics. Personal opinion? Most people who have taken this idea up have done so because it absolves them of having to take the responsibility of looking evil in the eye and dealing with. If the victim is provoking the abuse, then the abuser is not evil. Ta-da - problem solved. BLEAH!

So, what is it? I will start with how it works in the home. Essentially, the target of abuse is abused in some way - yelled at, for instance. Then, when the target begins to cry or complains that the yelling is wrong, the abuser tells them that it is the target's fault for making them yell. Boom - the target has been abused, then told the abuse is their fault, deepening the abuse. 

Some examples that come to mind from my own experience are: once, my little sister walked behind me while I was lying on the floor watching TV. As she passed, she kicked me in the small of my back. This hurt - a lot. I complained to my mother. Response? "I warned you that if you tormented her when she was little, she would pay you back when she grew up." First, my sister and I have talked about this. I never tormented her when we were growing up. That was a calculated remark on my mother's part. Second, this remark, made often, taught my sister that it was okay to kick or disrespect me and get into my things because mom said I had it coming. (My sister has grown out of that, thank God.) Another example was once when I was about 11, I asked my mother if I could make myself a bowl of ice cream. She said no in a very irritated way. I asked why and she slapped my mouth. Even now, when asked about it, she says, "Well, you must have been mouthing off for me to have to resort to that." Do you see what happened? In both cases, being kicked and being slapped were my fault - blame-shifting. 

The same idea applies when the abuser is a spouse. "It's your fault I hit you - yelled at you - belittled you - scared the crap out of you. You provoked me." Provoked how? For suggesting that they might be wrong, for heaven's sake...

This is how it works in an abusive church. You are taught how wonderful life can be if you do things the prescribed way (that is, their way). If you follow their instructions correctly, everything will be just great. Now, what do they do with people that have real problems - problems like a husband that is beating the crap out of them or their children or cheating on his wife? They blame-shift. If you were doing things right, these things wouldn't be happening to you. Some examples: if you would just submit to your husband more, he would not feel the need to beat you into submission. If you just pray more God will fix it. Here are some actual quotes from the pulpit of the church I was a part of:

"Hurting people hurt people." 
"Depression is a sin. If you're depressed, repent and get over it."
"If you say to yourself every day, 'My husband loves me. My husband loves me,' and really believe it, it will be true."

Let's look at each of these. First the one about submitting more and he won't beat you. HOW MUCH MORE SUBMITTED CAN YOU GET THAN LETTING HIM BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF YOU??!! It is criminal to send someone with fractured bones and bruises back to an abuser with the counsel that the abuse is their fault. That could get someone killed - not to mention giving the abuser a free pass to abuse whenever they want. It is also criminal to send a woman who is so emotionally beaten down that she doesn't even know she deserves better back to that, adding to her wonderful self-image that the fault for her abuse is hers. 

The next one - just pray more and God will fix it. Again, you're not doing it right - you're not praying enough - not praying in the right attitude not blah, blah, blah. Therefore, what can you expect until you get yourself in line. Again, criminal. 

Now for the phrase, "Hurting people hurt people." Our pastor said this from the pulpit often. He is an abuser - in the church and at home and . . . I actually saw this statement on a billboard yesterday. Grrr! This demeans the victim by excusing the abuser. It also demeans every person who, though abused and hurt, never resorted to using abuse. Besides, not all abusers where abused. Being abused is NOT AN EXCUSE!

Okay - next. Depression is a sin. Repent and get over it. Words fail me. That is the kind of statement that could send someone suffering from depression over the edge to suicide. Grr! again.

And the lovely one, "Tell yourself that your husbands love you and it will come true." This is like some kind of superstitious magic something that I can't even . . . aaahhh! So, your husband says, "I hate you. You disgust me," and you're supposed to smile and say to yourself, "my husband loves me." He punches you in the face and you're supposed to say, "my husband loves me." This is called D-E-L-U-S-I-O-N-A-L. This kind of advice can actually drive someone into a form of insanity - thinking black is white - good is evil.

The way this is used in the psychological community has been well covered by the blogs mentioned at the beginning of this post and I won't re-invent the wheel on that one - just recommend reading them yourself.

Now to the experience I had today. To set it up, I came out of an abusive church where I was a leader about 14 months ago. I was abused growing up by both of my parent - mostly emotionally, but occasional physical. My mother is - I believe - a malignant narcissist and my father just criticized and yelled and blah, blah, blah. I was also, growing up, sexually abused by an older cousin. I have been in therapy for about 4 months and have been working hard to get myself out of the hole I have spent my life in. Next step - getting a job and getting independent from family. So - off to Vocational Rehabilitation I go. This is a state agency whose purpose is to help people with disabilities (mental as well as physical) get the training and assistance they need to get and keep a job - a good one that makes enough for them to live on. Believe me, those who have been emotionally or physically abused are disabled. It is not a permanent disability if they get help and get out of the situation, but part of getting out of the situation includes being able to work and support yourself. So, voc rehab, here I come.

Now, I was a little nervous going in. I am gun-shy about talking to strangers about my problems. Those in my church were NOT helpful and treated me like I was trying to catch a disease and might already be contagious. So I follow the counselor into her office and the first thing she does is look at my application and say, "It says here that your disability is depression?" 

I nod. 

"Well," she says, "we are not here to provide medicine or counseling." 

Well, duh. But I am already in a defensive mode and this confuses me because my therapist said to come here for help in getting a job. I wasn't there for medicine or counseling - except job counseling. Then came questions about why I was depressed. Abuse. A ton of questions about the abuse. 

Then she looked at me with a look that dripped with condescension and said, "Grown-up adult women get out in the world and take care of themselves." 

I felt like I had been punched. By this time, I was already crying and shaking. And she implies that the abuse at home must not be too bad or I would get out. Bingo - shift the blame for the abuse to the victim. As she processed my paperwork, she continued to make comments along this line. Finally, she asked me how old my dad was . . . was he retired . . . yes . . . what did he do. Uh-oh. After all this - nearly an hour's worth, we discovered that she used to work with my dad - thought the world of him. She then suggested that his behavior was a "generational thing." WHAT?!?! Since when does someone's age give them a free pass to be abusive? Now, she is suddenly kindness itself - although I think, for a minute that I may end up trying to comfort her, she is so distraught over the fact that my dad would do that.

Mind you, I didn't realize this was what was going on at the time or I would have said something (I hope). I was in a state of confusion and fear - the kind abuse creates in it's victims. Like I said, I was crying through most of the interview and shaking through part of it. It was several hours later, after thinking about it, that I realized what had happened. I am glad I told her that this (her knowing my dad) created a conflict I was uncomfortable with and asked to be assigned another counselor.

When dealing with the victims of abuse IT IS NEVER OKAY TO TELL THEM THAT THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ABUSE. Don't shift the blame for abuse onto the one being abused. It is like telling a mugging victim that they are to blame for being mugged. It's like telling the family of a murder victim that the victim was to blame for their own death. It is wrong. It excuses evil. Period.