Sometimes I use phrases I would never use otherwise—stuff my mom says. “Heavens to Betsy,” “for crying in the mustard,” and “dollars to donuts.” Granted, sometimes I interject a four-letter word into the phrases, but I keep them with me anyway. In my arsenal, or what Stephen King has called “the pool where we all go down to drink,” I think we adopt these sayings as we get older to fortify ourselves with home, as we wander further and further from it with time.
When I reveal a foible or character flaw in myself, something small, like, "Gee, if I knew you were coming to fix my sink, Maintenance Man, I would’ve taken that clump of hair out of the sink," or something big like, “I haven’t been to school in 2 weeks because I could get out of bed but didn’t want to because I was depressed and the depression won,” people want to relate. It’s normal. So they reach, a grasp not unlike “You know what they say about a bird in hand.” They say, “Hey, I can’t blame you. It’s like that sometimes.”
“I’ve been in funks myself. Just don’t let it get to you, man.”
“I’ve had times when I can’t sleep and uh, spend a lot of money, too.”
“My friend has depression” (this usually coupled with an awkward nod or pursing of the lips).
“That’s why God invented pot.”
“Yeah, I know what it’s like to feel that way sometimes.”
The last one is at the heart of the reach. Picture Adam reaching out to touch the fingers of God in that Sistine Chapel mural. There are chemicals between the fingers, maybe all the good intentions and hope and kindness in the world. But sometimes the fingers don’t make contact, sometimes the connection is lost. Sometimes I purposely draw my hand away.
Why would I do this? I mean, someone who has angry pale keloids on her arms and doesn’t bother to cover them up anymore must have enough problems making connections, right? Sure. But not for the reasons you might suspect; I’m actually fairly personable and friendly. The reasons for pulling back are fluid and (seemingly) bottomless, but the major one is this: You don’t know me. And the logical secondary conclusion: You don’t want to know me. Sometimes even the final nail in the coffin: I don’t even want to know me.
These beliefs carry any number of emotions at one time: anger, distrust, ambivalence, hopelessness. Emotions carried closely with beliefs are good; they’re like DNA that allows us to trace the beliefs back to their roots. An ingrained belief, though, one that was seemingly there from the beginning like a 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith—it’s like a rock. A rock with nothing in it, no microorganisms, no fossils. A rock that sits in your chest with a mantra. Why would anyone else love you if your own parents didn’t? You were a loser in High School, who will love you now? Who will see through the scars on my arms/ all these meds I have to take to be okay/ HIV in my veins/ extra weight on my belly/ the fact that I’m not good at anything? It’s like white noise, blaring and incessant and first but then the brain assimilates it, and our ears grow accustomed to it. We suspend our outrage and disbelief that such a thing could be said to us. Then we take up saying it ourselves.
Stephen King said more about the pool from which we all drink:
“…Every time you call someone a good egg or a bad apple you're drinking from the pool or catching tadpoles at its edge; that every time you send a child off to war and danger of death because you love the flag and have taught the child to love it, too, you are swimming in that pool... out deep, where the big ones with the hungry teeth also swim."
In therapy, I chip away at the boulder that tells me it’s not worth fighting anymore because it will always be like this. It’s a big fucking rock. At home, I speak aloud in my apartment when the rock starts to hum its refrain. “Don’t talk to me that way,” I say, startling my pet bunny but feeling better and sane-er. Talking to myself = sanity, who would’ve thunk it?
The Pool is beautiful. Maybe it’s part of what Carl Jung would call the collective unconscious: dreaming the same dreams regardless of continent or language or culture, the trapdoor to all things beautiful, to the treasures in our hearts [Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Mother Night: Myths, Stories, and Teachings for Learning to See in the Dark, 2010]. As with many wonderful things, it is a force. It is a neutral power, given legs and mouth by those who wield it. So too, we must remember that the things we draw from the pool are from the pool—not inherent, but borrowed. Sometimes what looked like a gem is only a pebble scrounged from the shore, a chunk of magnificent golden ore is just boulder telling us to rip back our hands and give the Reachers a suspicious stink-eye.
The belief that I can do anything turns into “You aren’t shit unless you do everything.” The compliments about our progress make us put ourselves down when we have a bad day. The lives we see others project on Facebook make us feel unhappy and lame in comparison.
The song in my heart becomes the hum of a rock.
Being a parent when you're sick. It sucks when you've got a cold and you still have to get up and do the morning routine. Fever, cough, whatever. Sometimes, if you're really sick, you'll tell the troops that they will have to get themselves ready and present for inspection. Sometimes, the sickness clings on for a few days. Then, the whole routine is off kilter. But, in the end, unless the physical sickness is something serious, the illness runs its course and you're done!
Being a parent when you're depressed. You wake up in a terrible mood. But, you try your best for your kids. You get them up and do the whole thing by rote. But the longer you're depressed, you begin to slip. It's only natural. A depressed human is hardly at their peak performance. You end up missing on some important points of hygiene, behavior or homework, whatever. You feel terrible that you're kids have to see you that way, that you can't seem to get a hand on your own emotional rudder. The kids know something's wrong, but you just keep up appearances. The fact that you know that your disposition is becoming a big problem makes you feel even worse. You feel like you're failing, drowning, trying to find any branch to help keep your head above water. The thought begins to dawn on you that perhaps, just maybe, they'd be better off with their mom. After all, you don't think too much of your own worth, so it's not hard to begin thinking that this is another area where you fall short, that you're doing more harm than good.
Your behavior begins to get worse. The very things and people that can help snap you out of a depression are the very things and people that the behavior drives away. You can't help it, its been a constant with you to always drive away any one or any thing that truly brings joy. You become defensive, trying desperately to cling to the martyr's plinth, to remain above blame for just a while longer. You try to say that it was because of this situation or that event, but you falter with the histrionics. After all, it's becoming stale. It's apparent that it's because you are failing, not as a person, but failing to claim responsibility for your own life and destiny.
You have given up so many times on so many things that it's unnaturally natural to simply collapse like a warm jelly in the face of any obstacles. This giving up has taken it's toll on your psyche. You feel powerless because of failing to exercise your power to choose. The small victories that would have built you up became the many small half-hearted attempts that went nowhere, tearing you down one brick at a time. The good times have gone, relegated to the past that will never live again. Everything you truly did value is gone, not because of others, but because of you. You and your failure to just get the help you need.
The fear of what? Being well? You realize that rock-bottom is just a few feet, hell, inches, away. Is that what it has taken? Rock bottom? You have lost your way in the shadows of your own sick mind. Your heart screams out for a reprieve. "JUST LET ME LOVE SOMETHING!" it cries. Your mind, like a sick bully with his favorite target, says, "SHUT THE FUCK UP! NOBODY LOVES YOU!" Your heart aches with the blow, but its resilient. You still feel love when you see your ex. You remember laying blame on her for your problems. You feel sick and ashamed that you would indulge in such damned blindness. Sadness, and heartache, and love, with just one glance. Reminders of a failure that you instigated. Your heart begged to be free to love and share, but your sick mind prevented all that. Ego stood firmly in the doorway.
They say that there are no trials that we are given that are too much for our powers. You begin to doubt this notion. After all, you carry your own deadliest enemy within. This enemy knows all of your weaknesses and strengths both, exploits them liberally, and always to your detriment. How, Dear God, do we defeat that kind of enemy?
You learn about cognitive distortions, the roots of PTSD, depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, all of it. You figure out that your mind has become conditioned to the state that you now enjoy daily. The bleak truth is that most practitioners consider individuals like you to be difficult and sometimes untreatable. Your heart screams the truth that your mind has always denied. Just let me love. Let me love people and life. Your heart begs to be allowed to love you.
First of all, I don't know if I'm just a crybaby, or what. I have everything I could ever want: good grades, a roof over my head, a perfect family, Internet, electronics, etc. But, there is something missing.
It is not fun.
I used to be a jolly little girl until the age of about 7-8. Before that, I loved life. I thought the world was a beautiful place. I had a temper and was sensitive, yes, but there is something about being so young, and so happy. But then, I entered 2nd or 3rd grade. It was not fun. My temper and sensitivity were at their peak, and that was followed by social problems. They got worse and worse. I didn't know what to do.
For a while, it was just gossiping. I felt I was being treated unfairly, but I wasn't being bullied. At least not then, but it was still horrible. Every once in a while, I'd receive a stupid remark like, "You're a brat," or "Crybaby!" but it wasn't really bullying.
Then, a bit into 4th grade, it got worse. I was bullied. It felt horrible. This other girl in my class, let's call her Rose, hated me for who knows why. All she wanted was drama. She would say inappropriate and disgusting things during lunch that made me want to puke, and she made fun of me. She'd laugh with her friends about how when I punch I "look like a dying old lady," and stuff like that. It hurt inside, and I tried to keep it in. I really did.
Then it got worse. I found out through a good friend that people were saying horrible things about me, behind my back. We were talking to each other, opening up. That's when she told me. I found out someone hated me because I had braces. BRACES! SERIOUSLY! That didn't help my situation.
I'm in 4th grade currently, 10 years old. I go on the internet to cheer myself up, but it doesn't work. Rose hates me. She distracted me during a game we were playing, so I was out. She also kept whispering my name and talking to me and another kid sitting near us during class, when I was having trouble on a worksheet. Then, she accused ME of distracting HER! She was the one distracting ME! I said, "No! I haven't said a word!" And she became angry with me.
As she continued yelling at me, memories flashed back to me. Back in Kindergarten, we were out at recess, and I was all alone, in the sand box. I was having fun. A group of girls who I thought were my friends, lead by one of my best friends approached. I was just minding my own business, being jolly. Suddenly, five voices were screaming into my ear the "___ and ___ sitting a tree" rhyme, with a boy I was friends with. I ran away from them, but they followed me. I cried for the rest of the recess as the voices pounded in my ear.
With that memory, I want to ask. Am I just being a wimp? Am I just greedy? I need answers. My self-esteem is low.
You know how when you are on a road trip you pass signs saying what city is ahead? And in your mind you go, "Oh, I'm nearing Detroit or I'm in the Dallas area." So somehow at some level you *know* where you are, but let's face it, all freeways look pretty much the same. So you don't really know what being in Detroit or Dallas or where ever means.
But if you need to stop - take a break from driving, fill up your tank - or the car's - you pull off on an exit and you start to get a feel for where you really are. Maybe it's the sports teams logos, or the architecture, or the people. But there's something, and you suddenly get a flash of what it means to be in that city. Maybe you don't fully internalize it, but there is a moment of insight, an "aha" of ... "I'm really here now."
So what does any of this have to do with abuse? Let me set some context.
I am white, male, well-educated, good job. Reasonable health, tall and relatively strong. People who know me might find me serious, but generally positive and up-beat. I have good friends and wonderful kids. From the outside, everything looks pretty good. But it's what's inside that matters.
I realized in the last year or so that I was being abused. Not physically, but emotionally. I knew it logically. I could finally see the road signs. And I acted. Maybe not fast enough, but I finally separated from my abuser about six months ago.
Since then, I've been adapting to a new life style. I've being taking control of my life and even gotten a promotion (of sorts) at work. Really thrown myself into the journey. The knowledge of what I had been through was still there, but it was just a fact.
Lately, however, my gas tank has been getting low. So I pulled off the road. I took Friday off work and ended up sleeping much of the day. Then I heard from my abuser again. And the pain came flooding back.
I was embarrassed. I should be stronger than that. Why was I letting her continue to hurt me? I vented to a trusted friend.
They made a very simple statement that shook me to my core: "You are an abuse victim."
There it was. I am a victim of abuse. It's going to take a long time to "get better". And even when I'm passed the worst of it, I'm not going to be the same person I was before.
Those simple words brought me to tears. Tears of relief. It was okay that it still hurt. It was okay that I needed a break. I need to heal and maybe, just a little, in that moment, I was able to heal some more.
I didn't get to work yesterday. I went to the hospital instead. At the insistence of my fiance, I called in sick and we headed out. This was after three days of hearts pounding, palm-sweating, barely able to focus anxiety. We pulled off the road for gas and breakfast, only to have the car completely break down. We weren't going any further that way. Our replacement car is over a week late, the current broken down junker has been a death trap for a while now. Needless to say, this turn of events did little to improve my stress level. I did my breathing exercises and fought a losing battle to stay calm. We called a cab, we got to the hospital. Very friendly people. Smiling nurses, nodding sympathetically to my plight. Always the same questions "any idea as to what set you off? Do you have any triggers? Are you at risk of self harm?" and "who's this with you? Do you want him to stay?"
No, no, and hell no. My Fiance, yes.
The thing is, nothing has gone wrong. Work is awesome. My recent trip with my mother was fantastic. I met my fiance's mother, a narcissistic woman I'd been dreading encountering. It was a pleasant visit, far better than expected. There's just the background negativity that isn't going anywhere, that for some reason, some unknown reason, was louder and more demanding than it has been since I was in the midst of abuse. Stuff that makes me feel that I'm not good enough, my life is going to fall apart, it's my fault my step father got away with so much, that he has uncontested custody of my little sisters. Sisters I miss so badly, and want to have as bridesmaids at my wedding. Sisters I may never see again. Just the same old shitty baggage, that isn't going anywhere. I wish I knew how to just let go. The doctor gave me some pills. They put me to sleep, and for a while the background stuff is gone. It's not perfect, but it helps me focus on the pretty A+ foreground I'm making myself.
For now, it'll do.
Until I can let go of the shitty past and current yet distant circumstances beyond my control, it'll have to do.
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