1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 2: The Lies

I am hopeless. I will never be safe. It’s my fault I’m sick. I abandoned my family. No one will love me. No one will believe me. I was just confused. She had to rape me to save me. I am just like her. I will never get better. I am ruined. My father died because I left. I am an abuser. I deserve a gravestone.

These are the lies I believed as truth — some believed for years, others believed for decades.

I found the heaviest, blackest stones, and wrote a former belief on each one. I carried them with me to the beach this morning. I walked right up to where the ocean meets the sand. I picked one stone at a time, read it to myself, and then tossed it as far as I could into the sea. They are all there now, somewhere buried in the sand beneath the waters. They are no longer weighing on me.

I am hopeless.

I spent most of my life this way. My childhood. My adolescence. My 20s. I didn’t expect to live very long. I didn’t expect to ever get out alive. But I am still here, alive, and free. There are still times that I lose hope, but I am not hopeless. Even as I struggle in nearly every way, I keep trying to rise above. I have not given up.

I will never be safe.

It’s a hard belief to shake when you have spent most of your life without a safe place. Home was a battleground, a prison, a hell — it was never a safe place to be. Yet she taught us that it was the outside world that was dangerous.

Every aspect of my life was controlled by her. Even when I was outside of the house, I still was under her control. She was everywhere. She knew everything. There was no escaping her, until I finally did. And even then, I struggled with the fear of her coming to get me, the fear of her finding me.

I still have that fear, and it’s a valid one. There’s no doubt in my mind that she knows where I am. But I can’t live my life always in fear. I can be vigilant, and I can be proactive. The fear of her won’t go away, even in her death. But I can still embrace the small moments when I am surrounded with supports, in a secure place. It’s in those moments that I am safe.

It’s my fault I’m sick.

I put a lot of the blame for my medical issues on myself. The truth is, it’s not really my fault. Dysautonomia just happens. Ehlers Danlos is hereditary. My lung problems existed long before I started smoking, from living in a home that was environmentally unsafe. It’s not my fault. And neither is my PTSD or my DID. None of this is my fault.

I abandoned my family.

I did not abandon my family. They abandoned me a very long time ago. There was no love, no nurturing, no support provided by my mother. My father was absent emotionally. My brother was lost in his trauma early on. I never had the connection to them. Aside from DNA, they were never my family.

I ran away from my abuser; I did not abandon my family.

No one will love me.

She would tell me that so many times, especially when I was a teenager. She treated me like I was the ugliest person, constantly pointing out any flaw she could find, and making stuff up when she couldn’t. For a while, I believed she was right. I couldn’t connect with anyone, but that’s because I never learned how, and never had the right people to connect with. Now I do. Now I have people who genuinely care about me.

No one will believe me.

I spent my whole childhood believing that lie. I spent my teenage years believing it, too. And then in adulthood, when I finally came out and tried to tell people what happened, they didn’t believe me. I thought it was just like she said, that no one would understand, that no one would believe me. It turns out she was wrong. People were just blinded by their own stereotypes. They didn’t want to believe. Trust me, I didn’t want to, either. But people know the truth now. People understand because they’ve lived the same pain, too.

I was just confused.

Years ago, a social worker told me that my mother wasn’t abusing me, that she loved me and was just showing that in the best way she knew how, that I was just confusing it for abuse. It made me second-guess myself. So many moments I had to step back and ask myself if I just misunderstood what was going on. How could a mother hurt her own child? It’s inconceivable. But it’s reality. There’s no confusion about that.

She had to rape me to save me.

There could never be anything wrong with someone who would justify raping them. There was nothing ever wrong with me. It was just a lie. She wasn’t helping me. She was hurting me. She didn’t save me from anything. I needed saving from her.

I am just like her.

I know enough about sociopathy to know that there is somewhat of a genetic link. That sat in the back of my mind for a while. I thought that maybe my emotions weren’t mine — after all, I was never allowed to have them for all those years. I had to learn about them from watching videos. Maybe I just learned to copy them. Maybe I have no empathy.

But I have real emotions. Sometimes they suck, but I have them. And I have empathy. Maybe a little too much at times. I’m not a sociopath. I’m nothing like her.

I will never get better.

After 17 years of off-and-on therapy, I start to wonder if I will ever get better. Then I am quickly reminded that for most of those years, I was still living with my mother, still being abused. No amount of intervention or therapy would have helped until I was out of that situation. So, I can’t really count those years as much of anything in terms of trying to get better, because at that time, I was just struggling to survive.

It’s difficult, especially in the last 15 months (10 of which were spent in intensive outpatient therapy), to see myself getting better. Other people are able to get over their traumas and move on. Yet I’m here, fresh out of IOP, still having emotional breakdowns and flashbacks and thoughts about dying.

My therapist reminds me I’ve been through “a lot of fucking trauma”. It’s going to take time. A lot of time. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I am ruined.

I used to think I gave off a vibe where people just knew — maybe they could tell by looking at me, or the way I walked, or something that let them know that I am ruined. I felt like others could sense my shame more than I could. I thought they could tell that I was dirty and worthless because of what she did to me.

But there’s no vibe, no invisible stamp on my forehead that tells others I’m somehow ruined. I’ve got damage, but I’m not ruined. I can be repaired.

My father died because I left.

My father did not die because of me, as much as my mother would like to throw that blame on me. He wasn’t heartbroken when I left; he couldn’t wait to sell all the stuff I left behind. He didn’t care I left.

My father had multiple heart attacks, strokes, and blood infections. He had a plethora of medical problems for over a decade. That’s what killed him.

I am an abuser.

I’ve written a few times over this past year about how I have been working on overcoming my fear of children, which stems back to incidents in childhood that had me believe that I was an abuser. I am not an abuser. I am not a predator. I am no longer afraid of being near children. I don’t freeze or panic when I am near them, because I know that I would never hurt them.

I deserve a gravestone.

My mother thinks I deserve a gravestone. She always said I would never get away from her. She always threatened that if I told anyone, I would get hurt. I’ve gone against her rules in the biggest ways. She’s used to being in control, and she’s not anymore.

I don’t deserve to die because I ran away. I don’t deserve a gravestone because I told the truth. I took control of my life. I did what I had to.

These are the lies I let float away.

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 1

It’s been one thousand days since I ran away, one thousand days since I found my freedom. And yes, as silly as it may be, I still count the days. It helps me on those days when I feel like giving up. It helps me see just how far I’ve come.

I hesitated even acknowledging today for what it was. For the last couple of months, I went back and forth on what to do. On one hand, acknowledging these milestones has helped me. It gives me something to look forward to. It also gives me a day to recognize things that I don’t take the time to really think about.

But there is also a tremendous amount of fear. When I celebrated my 500 days of freedom back in November 2016, I felt at peace with quite a few things I had been struggling with. I celebrated myself. I had a stone ceremony at the beach. I got rid of the false beliefs that were holding me down, acknowledged the things I came to learn since running away, and gave back the guilt and shame that were not mine to keep. It was a huge accomplishment for me. I felt okay.

And then days later, that all changed. I received something in the mail that I will never forget. I recognized the writing on the outside of the envelope — it was my mother’s handwriting. Inside was a poster with options to choose a gravestone. No note, just the poster with the gravestones. But I didn’t need a note from her to know what it all meant. My mother wanted me to die — that gravestone was the stone she believed I deserved.

The veiled death threats, combined with a letter she wrote and sent to me through an old friend, were enough to create an emotional clusterfuck in me. Any inkling of safety I thought I had was no longer. She knew where I lived, and I knew what she was capable of. It changed everything.

I knew her anger, or whatever it was, was clearly exacerbated by the celebration I had for my 500 days of freedom. It took a long time for me to recover from what she did, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still not over it.

So as it got closer to the 1,000 day mark, I wondered if it was worth it to acknowledge and celebrate it, fearing that what happened last time would in some way happen again. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t going to celebrate it at all. I just didn’t think I could emotionally handle any bullshit.

Then I realized that I was letting my mother win. I was missing out on an opportunity to better myself because of a fear she instilled in me, a fear that will be there regardless of what I do or don’t do. She doesn’t have that control over me anywhere. She can’t.

I worked through all the what-ifs with my therapist last week, setting up what we would do in case anything did happen. By then I was confident that I could have this day, that I deserved this day.

I went to the beach this morning, just as I had 500 days ago. There is a lot of meaning there. Not only is it where I ran away to, but it’s also where I tried to end my life when I was six years old, the first time I attempted suicide.

Now it’s the place where I drown the beliefs that no longer serve me, the lies my mother made me believe for way too long.

Don’t take this the wrong way

I’ve been managing my impulse to isolate quite well, considering my circumstances. I try to get out of the house every day, even if it’s just to walk the dog. Some days, I just can’t do much. I’ll take a walk down the block, and I’ll just know from the dizziness in my head and the pain in my chest that I can’t do anything but rest. There are times when I push myself too much, and I always end up regretting it. But I still get out there the next day.

I could have stayed home on Easter. I could have stayed in bed all day or smoked through a pack of cigarettes in the backyard, which is what I usually do when I’m alone on days like that. But I decided to go. After all, my case worker says I should work on being more social.

It started out okay. There were a lot more people there than I thought there was going to be, most unknown to me. I stayed calm, and migrated toward people I was familiar with. I had my knee brace on over my pants (because it’s impossible to wear a full-length knee brace under anything that’s not oversized sweatpants). A friend of the family asked what happened. I told her I had torn my ACL, and wore out all of the cartilage on my knee. I stayed positive about it, though, telling her how I was still getting out and walking around as much as I could. She shared some (very) distantly related story about how her knee hurt her 40 years ago.

And then she said those words, the words that never, ever end well.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

She then proceeded to tell me how my weight was likely the cause of my problems, and how I need to watch myself, and when I feel the urge to take those “third helpings” of food I just need to stop.

As soon as I caught the gist of what she was saying, I had so much shit going on in my head that I couldn’t listen to her anymore. I just sat there quietly, holding back the tears. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I was just hoping she’d stop. But she didn’t.

When the food was finally served, I stayed in my seat. All I could think about was how fat I was. My friend was encouraging me to get some food, telling me what they had. “You should eat a salad.” Before I could even respond, my friend told her that I didn’t eat that. She then went on to make another suggestion, and by that point, I had enough. I knew I was going to emotionally explode, so I got up and went outside.

I smoked a few cigarettes, let out some tears, and calmed myself down enough to go back inside. I thought I would be okay, but I wasn’t. The sight and smell of the food made me nauseated. The memories replaying in my head made me sick to my stomach. I wanted to run, but all I could do was walk away. I wandered the neighborhood, smoking my last cigarettes, crying, and blasting my music as loud as it would go so I could drown out the voices in my head.

I eventually found my way back, numbed out from all emotion. But I still couldn’t eat. I felt like anything I put in my mouth would be judged by people, would be judged by her. It felt like I was under control again. Instead of you can’t eat this, you don’t deserve it, it was now you can’t eat this, you don’t need it.

I get it. I’m not a thin girl. I never was. But why do people feel the need to tell me what food I should or shouldn’t need, and what I should be eating? I’m on a high sodium diet, recommended by not one, not two, but three cardiologists. I also have to consume a considerable amount of protein to keep my creatinine levels normal. I eat a lot of vegetables — they are my “safe” food, the food I can always eat no matter what, and they help increase my vitamin levels, which have been dangerously low in the past.

I may be fat, but I struggle with an eating disorder. And no, it’s not binge-eating disorder. I’ve been doing well in recovery for the last several months. I’ve been eating two to three meals a day. I haven’t purged. I haven’t obsessed over counting every calorie and weighing myself every morning. I haven’t had to fight at any meals because I haven’t refused to eat. Although a combination of my knee injury and my heart medication has led to a substantial increase in weight over the last few months, I wasn’t letting it get to me.

But now the devil is back on my shoulder. My ED brain woke up from its peaceful nap and is now wreaking havoc. I’m struggling to eat. I’ve started counting every calorie. I let myself get this way, and now I need to fix it. I need to not be fat — a goal which logically, I know is unachievable, but emotionally, I believe is the cure for what ails me.

Don’t take this the wrong way…it’s amazing how just a few words can really fuck up your recovery.

I still don’t know — what other way was I supposed to take that?

Writing about PTSD

I haven’t had much energy to write as many posts as I want to. I want to be able to get out all the shit that’s been in my head. There’s a lot going on, and a lot that will be going on in the next few weeks, as I reach 1,000 days of freedom in April.

A few weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to writer for the APTSDA, the American PTSD Association. While I still write about DID for HealthyPlace, writing about PTSD is different, and I figure it is an opportunity to reach a different group of people.

My first piece published yesterday. It can be found on aptsda.org, or directly through this link: The Flashbacks You Can’t See.

It’s not much. I write so much that sometimes I’m not really sure what to write about, and I get tied up in the thought that maybe my experiences aren’t the “right” ones. Yet the more I write, the more I read from others that they have experienced the same.

I will update with more soon. Hopefully.

Ruined

Research shows that people who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood are four times more likely to work in prostitution than people who have not.

It doesn’t surprise me at all. Because it’s happened to me.

I’ve done things I really shouldn’t have. I didn’t end up on street corners putting myself in danger, but I definitely put myself in situations in which I did things I didn’t need to. Yet it wasn’t just about the money.

People constantly judge, asking how someone could degrade themselves like that. But I was already degraded. I was already ruined. And it wasn’t my choice.

It’s inexplicable just how damaging it is when your first sexual experiences were with your own mother. I had sex before I even knew what sex was. I felt shame before I even knew what shame was.

My mother created a never-ending cycle, a lose-lose situation that I could never, ever win. I was programmed not to say no; saying no got you punished. Yet saying yes meant I was a whore. Any time my mother believed I was being remotely sexual (and I really wasn’t — what seven year-old is), I had to be cleansed of my sins. After a while, I started to wonder what was wrong with me, why the evil hadn’t left me. I’d been burned so many times, I learned not to feel.

It just got worse as I got older. There were constant accusations. I couldn’t stay after school to work on group projects because my mother believed I was having sex. She accused me of posting nude pictures online; I never did. She’d pull these crazy ideas from I don’t know where. Even when I was an adult, she’d accuse me of being in relationships with people at work. She accused me of having sex with my (female) boss; she was just my friend. She’d also accuse me of having sex with several coworkers. When I would stay late at work (to avoid going home), she claimed I was at work having sex. She continually reminded me how much of a sinner I was and what a whore I was.

None of what my mother claimed was ever true. And I knew that, on some level. But I became conditioned to believe that I was a whore. That something inside me made me this way. There was a defect in me that everyone could see but me. After all, normal, pure kids don’t do these things with their own mother. Maybe I made her do it. She always said she was trying to help me, but maybe I was just too damaged from that start.

I never had the chance to form my sexual identity. I grew to fear sex. Unless it involved my mother, it was somehow wrong. Yet in an intellectual way, I knew that if it involved my mother, it WAS wrong. There was no right way. It was all wrong. It was all bad.

Once I was a teenager and really understood sex and sexual identity, I realized that my body, my sense of self, was already ruined. While others my age talked about losing their virginity, I had already lost mine, more than ten years prior, to my own mother. It was never my body; she stole it from me. It was hers. All of it. All of me. It was hers.

The fear of telling someone no overruled my life for years, even after I managed to run away. While my body was no longer being damaged by her, I let it be damaged by others. I was already ruined; there wasn’t much more anyone could do to me to make me hate myself any more than I already did. All those years she called me a whore, it stuck with me. It was like a prophecy that needed to be fulfilled.

Before I left IOP over a month ago, I made a promise to someone very important to me that I wouldn’t engage in that type of shit anymore. I promised I wouldn’t put myself in any kind of situation that would cause that weakness in me. And I haven’t. It was easy to do, a lot easier than I thought it would be. One less thing to worry about.

Except I didn’t account for all the possibilities. I managed to avoid¬† not-so-healthy people who had been involved in my life before, but I forgot about the not-so-healthy people who I couldn’t avoid — the strangers, the acquaintances, the come-and-goers.

I was sitting on the bus the other day, on my way home from a doctor’s appointment. I was emotionally drained. There was man on the seat across from me; I’d seen him many times before, but never really engaged much aside from hello. This time, he started telling other passengers that I was his fiance. I told him to shut up, but he didn’t. He just kept saying it. When the bus emptied out a little, his comments got worse. He told me what I could do to him, and all the things he could do to me. I just frozen. As much as I should have told him to fuck off, I couldn’t say anything.

I could feel the nausea kicking in almost instantaneously. I showered as soon as I got home, trying to scrub away the feeling of being dirty. But as much as I washed, I didn’t feel any better. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head. This was my fault. I was a whore. He must have sensed it in me. That’s why he said those things and made those gestures. Somehow he just knew.

I was afraid. Afraid my mother would find out. Afraid I would be punished. I believed his actions were my fault, just like my mother taught me — look what you made me do.¬†

It was always something I did, something I was, something I said. It was never anyone else, and never her. But that was her falsity, not the reality.

One day I want to be able to decipher between the two. One day, I want to tell her, look what you did to me. Look how you ruined me.

Replace

Some nights, when I find myself unable to sleep, I look up old classmates on Facebook. Most of them appear stable. They have successful careers. Many are married with several children. They’re doing things that 30-something year-olds should be doing.

It brings up feelings in me — but not feelings of envy, feelings of grief. I know there are some things I will never be able to have, some things I will never be able to be or to experience.

I didn’t get to have a childhood. I didn’t get to experience the freedom of the teenage years. I spent 29 years of my life in hell. And when I finally got out, I didn’t get to experience the life that I thought I would.

It’s not just the psychological shit. Trauma doesn’t go away just because the environment changes. I knew that would follow me wherever I went. But I wasn’t expecting all of the physical damage to hit me so fast.

I’ve spent the last month hobbling around on crutches. I’ve been in pain for a while. But when you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you learn to shake pain off and deal with it. That’s the safe way, right?

Except it wasn’t. By the time I ended up in the ER last month, my knee was already severely damaged. I had worn all of the cartilage away, to the point where bone was rubbing against bone every time my knee bent, causing pieces of my knee cap to chip away. They recommend a knee replacement. Another surgery.

People don’t understand why I won’t just get the surgery. What’s the big deal? It’s not about the surgery. It’s about everything. Every part of my body is damaged. I have problems that people my age don’t have. People my age aren’t hobbling around on crutches, getting body parts exchanged with metal substitutes. They aren’t sitting in support groups, surrounded by people 40 years older than they are.

Trauma changes people. Not just their minds, but their bodies, too. My emphysema — that isn’t just a fluke. It’s from living in a toxic environment. My heart problem, the dysfunction of my brain and my autonomic nervous system — that isn’t just bad luck. That’s from my brain having to constantly be in overdrive. The poorly healed fractures, the joint problems — that isn’t just the bad genetics of EDS. It’s the result of constant trauma to the body.

Constant reminders of what I went through, courtesy of my body. Constant reminders that I will never be a normal 30-something, just as I had never been a normal child, teenager, or 20-something. Loss after loss after loss.

I deal with the pain. No one really asks about it, so I don’t talk about it. Except for my therapist. He asks me every time we meet. And I brush it off. I tell him I’m used to the pain. Because in my head, I keep telling myself at least I’m not at home, at least I’m not being actively broken. Be grateful for that. In my head, pain is normal. In my head, pain is deserved.

If only they could fix my broken heart like they could fix my spine. Glue the broken pieces back together, then screw in some brackets to hold it in place. Good as new. No darkness any more.

If only they could fix my damaged mind like they could fix my knee. Take out all the broken pieces. Suck out all the bad memories. Take out the whole damn thing. Just replace it with something new, something stronger, something that can’t be damaged.

I’d give anything to erase what’s happened to me, to replace all of the damage that’s been done with parts that cannot be broken. Replace the memories with happy thoughts of what life could have been. Replace the pain with strength. But that’s a hope that can never be fulfilled.

Guilt Dreams

For the past few weeks, I’ve been having the same dream.

I’m not even sure what to call it — a bad dream or a nightmare. It’s not something I’d like to remember. It’s not something I want to keep thinking about. But the fact that it keeps seeping into my sleep consciousness is frustrating to me. It’s easy to push things out of my mind when I’m awake. But when I’m asleep, I have no control of what comes through, and no ability to push it away.

The beginning is always the same. I’m in a car. My father is driving. My mother is in the passenger seat. We’re driving through some neighborhood I can’t recognize. There are lots of bare trees. Small houses. Everything is quiet. It’s not the nighttime, but the sky is gray.

No one speaks. My father keeps driving. After a few blocks, he turns a corner and stops in front of a house. My mother gets out of the car. I watch as she steps up to the front door and walks right in. The light in the house is on. I can see a few small beds in what I would have otherwise assumed was the living room. Two children run up to my mother, and she grabs one and lifts her up.

I turn and ask my father what’s going on. He tells me this is where she works now; she takes care of the children. My father continues to drive, repeating the same line over and over again. I want to scream, but I’m frozen.

I always wake up at that point, experiencing the same panic as I imagine I would be experiencing in the dream. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get angry. Most times, I lay in bed physically frozen as my mind races between the dream and my reality.

It’s something I thought I would be over by now. The guilt for leaving. Not just leaving, but leaving my mother behind. Leaving her to hurt other children. Leaving without saying a word about what she had done to me and others.

I didn’t press charges. I didn’t call the cops. I didn’t have her put in jail. I let her remain free. Free to hurt others. Free to get away with all she had done.

In the dream, I could have spoken up, but I didn’t. I could have told my father to stop the car, to turn back and save those children before it was too late, but I didn’t. I froze. I said nothing. I did nothing.

The guilt hangs over me. I don’t recognize it all the time, but it’s there. I feel like I can’t move forward with the knowledge (and lack thereof) of what I’ve left behind. I can’t save anyone from her. I chose to be selfish and save myself.

Last week, my therapist asked me what it would take to make me feel accomplished. I told him my expectations were entirely unrealistic. I didn’t tell him what they were — my grandiose goal of making sure no child is ever abused by their mother. That can never happen, and surely not by anything in my power.

Today, my therapist asked a similar question, but this time he focused on what would make me feel complete or purposeful. It was in that moment that I realized it wasn’t about my impossible expectations; that’s not what was bothering me at all. I started to cry, but I couldn’t find the words to tell him what was in my head. I couldn’t tell him how badly I beat myself up over leaving my brother behind. I couldn’t tell him I was too weak to stand up against her. I couldn’t tell him about the guilt that was eating away at me for years.

I couldn’t tell him that I would never feel complete until I knew my mother could not hurt another person ever again.

All I could do was cry.

And the guilt stays with me, even in my dreams.