YOLO

I’ve wanted a tattoo for a quite a few years. Every time I planned to get one, I ended up not following through because I couldn’t settle on what to get. I wanted a Phoenix, because if it’s significance in rising from the ashes. But it would have to be a reasonably sized tattoo, and I wasn’t sure I could handle something that intricate on my first go.

I thought about getting a butterfly. Once again, for its significance and relation to growth. But butterfly tattoos had gained popularity, and I didn’t want the meaning to get lost in the hype. But I always wanted something to symbolize my freedom.

Then when I got sick, I was told tattoos were a no go. Too much risk of infection, I assume. So I didn’t think about it for awhile, until the other day. I filled out a short get-to-know-you thing out of boredom. One of the questions asked about tattoos, and I wrote no. When my friend saw it, she said we should go and get my tattoo. Admittedly, we were both overly tired and I was not in the best frame of mind. But when I thought about it the next day, I really wanted to do it.

I’ve had to avoid so many things in my life. Can’t get vaccines anymore because my body isn’t strong enough to fight them. Can’t eat high-risk foods, like raw vegetables, because any contamination can make me sick. Can’t be around anyone who may be sick.

But what’s the point if I still get sick anyway? I can’t live in a bubble. I can’t avoid everything that will hurt me. So why deprive myself of something I wanted just because it might make me sick?

Just a day before, I had gone to a buffet — Golden Corral to be exact. They don’t have those where I’m from, so I was a little excited when I saw one here. Buffets are not good for me — not only because of the higher risk of contamination, but because most of the foods there aren’t good for my GI Isaura. But I said fuck it, I want to go. And we did. And I suffered for it, as I expected. But even through the discomfort and pain, there was a sense of joy in doing something I wanted.

So I took another risk. Today, I got my first tattoo. It wasn’t anything ornate or fancy. I didn’t want to take too much of a risk.

I couldn’t think of a more meaningful tattoo. The date I ran away, and birds of freedom. It’s a constant reminder for me, in those times when I do want to give up, to remember how far I’ve come from where I was.

Six Months of Stability

Last Friday marked six months of stability for me.

I use the term stability loosely, because in quite a few ways, I am anything but stable. My health is kind of a mess. My eating disorder has hit some pretty low lows. My emotions waver from non-existent to overwhelming. I’ve been spending 30 to 40 hours a week in intensive group therapy. I am not exactly the picture of stability here, and I know that.

But stability is much more than that. For me, stability started the day I found a safe place to live.

I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought that when I ran away from home and moved down here, that was stability. But I mistook freedom as stability when it really wasn’t. It was a change in environment, an improvement in many aspects, but it wasn’t stability. I tried so hard to move forward by going to therapy twice a week, yet I was still struggling. I was stuck because I was spending all of my energy trying to manage the stress in my environment that I had nothing left to put towards managing myself.

It took a long time (and a bit of outside influence) for me to realize that the way I was living wasn’t healthy or stable. So I worked (with help from others) to change that. I changed my environment. Things started looking up; not great, but getting there.

But that didn’t last, because after a month, I ended up broke and homeless. Well, this is great. Now I am the most unstable I have ever been. I was about to give up. But then, a friend stepped up and offered me a place to live. And that’s when the real change started. Because it was way more than just a place to live.

These past six months have been some of the hardest, yet some of the best months of my life. For the first time, I am living somewhere stable. I don’t have to hide in my bedroom. I don’t have to sleep outside. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to eat because there is always food available (whether or not I am willing to eat it is another story, but…progress). I don’t have to worry about getting yelled at, or put down, or hurt. I can make mistakes and still be cared for because care isn’t conditional here.

I’m not used to this life. I’ve never had anyone there to tell me I need to eat, that I need to take my medication because I’m getting sick, that I need to go to the doctor, that I need to go to treatment. It’s a completely different dynamic. Before, I could just self-destruct and it wouldn’t matter because no one would notice, no one would care. That’s just not the case any more. I don’t just affect me; I affect others.

There’s been so much change over these last six months. Even though my health has declined a bit, I’ve managed to cope with it somewhat well. There are still (many) times when I need a push to take my medication or to make a doctor’s appointment, but I do it (eventually). I experienced the loss of the first dog I came to love last weekend and I’ve been able to grieve his death with spiraling out of control. That was a first for me. I also had support, and I was able to support others. Another first.

Even in the hardest times, I’ve managed to find happiness in the smallest things. Playing with the dogs. Going out to dinner with the family. Shopping at Walmart on a Saturday. Watching TV with a friend. Playing cards with the kids. Baking cookies and making dinner for the people I care about. These are the things I try to remind myself of when I want to give up. The brief glimmers of something better. The somethings I was never able to do, let alone enjoy before.

I take pride in the small accomplishments. Making it through the Costco parking lot without freezing from fear. Sitting through dinner at a restaurant without having an anxiety attack. Shopping in the grocery store without running away before I’m done. Eating a meal in its entirety. Going to a party without getting drunk. Trying new foods. Going to places I’ve never been before. Little things that no one really celebrates because it’s normal for them. But it has never been normal for me.

Yea, I’m a mess. I can’t work. I survive off medication. I spend most of my days in therapy.

But I’m not the same mess I was before. I have safety and stability. I have food on the table. I have people who listen to me and help me. I have reasons to not give up.

I guess I’m a little more organized chaos and a little less clusterfuck.

I am

I went to a session today on self-compassion.

It was actually my idea. It was supposed to be an orientation group for new people, but no one was going and the other groups were getting full. So the lead therapist asked what group topic people wanted to cover instead, and for some reason, I blurted out self-compassion.

I say “for some reason” because I’ve been avoiding self-compassion groups when they’ve been offered. I hate self-compassion. I understand it on an intellectual level, but in practice it feels like one of the hardest things in the world, something I’d rather not (and don’t) bother with.

I don’t know why I said it. Perhaps it was the pain medication kicking in. Perhaps it’s because I wanted to learn how to be compassionate towards myself as I’m learning once again how to navigate the world on crutches. Or maybe another part of me knew it was needed. Regardless of the reason, I said it, and everyone was in agreement.

It was a good group. We each picked out a random card from some kind of motivational collection and shared it with the group. I happened to pick the card with the quote:

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

Well, shit. Isn’t that applicable to me in so many ways? I spend my days making people smile and laugh. I devote part of my life to supporting others with DID, as well as those who have survived female-perpetrated abuse. I bring the sunshine to others how ever I can; I think I always have. Yet I live in darkness. I give all I can to everyone else, but I keep the support, the goodness, the sunshine from myself. I never really thought about much before until then. Where is my sunshine? Where is my light? It has to be somewhere.
Then there was a writing activity. I usually enjoy writing, but I had a feeling writing about something connected to self-compassion was going to be too much for me. I hesitated, even huffed and puffed once I heard we were writing something (which was ironic, considering I had suggested weeks before to have more writing activities in groups).
We were directed to write an “I am” poem. I had never written one before. It is meant to follow a specific structure, but the therapist said we didn’t have to follow it exactly. The paper had 18 lines, each beginning with I (something) followed by blank space to fill in. I thought the suggested structure was a bit much, so I strayed away from following the guidelines and went with how I felt, still keeping the first two words, but continuing with my own inclinations.
We sat in silence writing out our own poems. Once everyone was finished, we had the option to share. A few people shared theirs, and I sat there looking over my poem, judging what I had written. My writing was dark. Maybe too dark. Did I do this right? I hesitated sharing, as I had done weeks before. But I took a breath and started to  read.
I read the first line out loud and everyone laughed. I thought to myself laugh now, because it gets bad quickly. I waited for the laughter to settle down and I continued to read. I shook a bit, but I didn’t stop. I made it through to the end, looked up and across the room to see one of the women crying. I wanted to apologize, but I caught myself first. I didn’t need to be sorry for someone else’s emotional reaction. I learned that here.
I covered my face with the paper to hide my own tears. I pushed the emotions back down. I wanted to speak but my words were stuck somewhere in the abyss of my mind. All I could get out was “I’m good, I’m okay.” I was spent. Emotionally, physically, and psychologically. It’s very easy for me to write, but not nearly as easy to speak my words out loud. It’s still new to me, still hard to do. But I did it.
I am moderately intelligent and mildly conscious.
I wonder what it’s like to not live in fear.
I hear my mother’s voice inside my head.
I see darkness wherever I go.
I want to know how to experience joy.
I am afraid of life.
I pretend to be happier than I really am.
I feel anxious all the time.
I touch my pen to write my thoughts on paper.
I worry about what the future will bring.
I cry when no one sees.
I am unsure of the world around me.
I understand that I cannot be perfect.
I say that I’m okay when I’m really not.
I dream of a different life of freedom.
I try to be better than what she wanted me to be.
I hope I can change the world some day.
I am trying to be me.

She stole the night from me.

I wonder what it must be like to crawl into bed at night and just fall asleep.

I could never do that. Not as a child, and not now as an adult. I crawl into bed and lay there for hours, tired, exhausted, yet unable to sleep.

I check the closets. I lock the door. I wrap myself up in my layers and I crawl in bed and wait.

Some days, I wait for sleep. I try to quiet the increasingly loud noise in my head. I think about a million things I don’t even need to think about. After a few hours, I finally fall asleep.

On other, more difficult days, I wait my mother. I lay still in my bed and wait for her to come through my bedroom door, just like I waited for her when I was back home.

So many nights of my childhood were spent laying in bed and waiting. Not waiting for sleep. Not waiting for dreams. Not waiting for the tooth fairy. I was waiting for my mother. I was waiting for her to come in and tear me apart. I was waiting for the pain to be over so I could just go to sleep.

I learned to expect it. I stopped asking questions. I stopped fighting back. I stopped wondering why. I couldn’t do it any more. I knew it wasn’t going to change. So I gave up. And I gave in.

Sometimes, I would stare at the ceiling. I’d talk to Superman, hoping he would hear my thoughts, and asked him to come and save me. I waited for him to fly in through the window, but he never did find me.

Sometimes, I would think about being in a different family. I imagined being adopted. I dreamed I was sitting in a cage at the shelter, waiting for a new family to pick me up and love me, but no new family ever came.

Sometimes, I watched my spirit float away from me, and I followed her. We would sit on the big branch of the tree right outside my window, waiting for the hurt to end so I could come back to me.

It would always end.. If there was one thing I could count on, it was that the pain was only temporary. She’d leave, and I’d come back. I could finally go to sleep, because I knew she wasn’t going to hurt me again. I found solace in that, in knowing that when it was over, it was over.

I wanted a normal night. I wanted someone to read me a story. I wanted someone to check for monsters underneath my bed, and tell me everything was safe. I wanted someone to tuck me in and tell me they loved me. I got none of that. There were no bedtime stories. There was no love or safety. And there were never any monsters under my bed, because the monster was standing right beside it.

Anxiety. Fear. Dread. It all became my nighttime normal. And even though she stopped as I got older, the fear anxiety, fear, and dread never left. They continued to be my nighttime normal. I continued to spend every night waiting for my mother to come back. And I am still spending my nights waiting for her to come back.

I try to remember that she is not here. I know the doors are locked, I know we are miles and miles away from her. She is not coming for us. She can’t hurt us anymore.

But sometimes I forget all that. Sometimes I can’t remember. I am still anticipating something that hasn’t happened for 20 years, but my mind doesn’t always know that.Sometimes it feels like something is missing; I feel like I need her to come in and get it over with just so I can sleep.

I find comfort in familiarity, and all of those nights that my mother hurt me became my familiar. Any deviation from the pattern only creates more panic, and that was true in my childhood and still true in my adulthood.

I feel frustrated, because I don’t know how else to convince myself that my mother cannot hurt me any more. I don’t know how to believe that it doesn’t have to be this way.

I feel sad, because adult me knows that no child should have had to endure the things my mother did to me. Bed is supposed to calming and relaxing, not a place of panic.

I feel ashamed, because some nights, the only way I can fall asleep is to hurt myself in the very same way she hurt me. And then I feel disgusted.

I feel angry, because I want to be able to crawl in bed and night and go to sleep, and have good dreams. I don’t want the fear. I don’t want the panic and anxiety. I just want comfort and peace, and the ability to sleep without a struggle.

My mother stole the night from me. I want it back.

Endless fear

When the doorbell rings, normal people stop what they’re doing, see who’s there, and answer the door.

When the doorbell rings, I stop what I’m doing. My heart races, so much that I can hear it beating in my ears. I can’t breathe. I don’t want to breathe, because I’m afraid if I do, they will know I am here. Five different scenarios run through my head, and none of them are good (or even rational). I always end up hiding in the closet or the bathroom, waiting for the worst to happen.

One incident is enough to drain me for the rest of the day. By the time I’ve calmed down (minutes, sometimes hours later), I have no energy left to do anything but sleep.

But yesterday, the doorbell rang (and was followed by several knocks on the door) not once, not twice, but six times.

I was a wreck. The first two times it happened, I was downstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. I was able to calm myself down after ten or so minutes. Then when it happened a third time, the panic was overwhelming. It was too much. I didn’t feel safe. I locked every lock and closed every window, then went upstairs to my room and locked my door.

Then it happened a fourth time. My mind went into overdrive. My mother found me. She knows I’m here. It’s the only thing that made sense. Who else would be ringing the bell and knocking so consistently? Not the mailman. Not a solicitor. It was someone who wanted me to open that door. It’s her.

By the time the bell rang a sixth time, I had barricaded my door with so much crap that no one would be able to push their way in. But I still didn’t feel safe. I knew where I was. I knew I was in my bedroom. I knew the doors were locked and I was blocked in. But I still felt in danger. I was scared of my mother. My mother, who doesn’t even know where I live.

I was still on edge even after the ringing and knocking stopped. Every single noise made me jump. Every car passing outside. Every creak of the floor. Every step the cat took downstairs. Every sound was magnified and I couldn’t make it stop.

My body was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I spent hours fighting battles inside, trying to stay in the safe reality while my mind was tied to the dangerous past. After several hours, I gave up. I took just enough medicine to knock me out, because I knew that was the only way I was going to make it through.

Now as I’m sitting here, a day later, I’m wondering when it will stop. When will I not have to hide? When will I feel safe? When will I not be afraid of my mother? When will I not live in constant fear?

Is any of that even possible?

People don’t understand the fear I carry with me every day. You’re free now. Yea, I’m physically free. Mentally, I am still in prison. I am still a scared child. I am still in danger. Your mother won’t hurt you anymore, you got away. Exactly. I got away. I was never supposed to be able to leave her. I committed the ultimate sin, and now I am perpetually waiting for my punishment.

I’m tired. I’m tired of hiding every time there’s a knock at the door, because I’m afraid she will come in and get me. I’m tired of wearing four shirts and three pairs of underwear every day because I’m afraid she will come and hurt me. I’m tired of sleeping with a knife under my pillow every night because I’m afraid she will come and kill me.

I’m tired of living my life in fear, because it’s not the life I want to live.

Failed dreams and a graduation

I technically graduated college in December of 2015, in the middle of the academic year. There was no celebration. I got my degree and award in the mail and that was that; I didn’t think much of it. In many ways, I still felt unworthy. I felt like I didn’t truly earn it.

At that time, I had no intentions of attending the graduation ceremony that would be held in the Fall. It wasn’t local, it was nearly a year after I finished, and I’d have to go alone, because I had no family. The whole thing seemed like more of a burden than anything.

It also wasn’t how I dreamed I would graduate.

Growing up, my academic prowess was the only good thing I had. I was intelligent, and it was consistently recognized. While in high school, I had dreams of going to an Ivy League school. I dreamed I was going to graduate as valedictorian. I dreamed of finally being free.

Going to college was supposed to be my ticket out. I applied to colleges all over the country. I got accepted into some of the best schools. I had full scholarships. Any reasonable parents would have been thrilled at their child’s achievements, and thankful that scholarships would relieve the financial burden.

But my parents weren’t reasonable. They took my achievement as an insult, that in some way the acceptances and awards made me think I was better than them. I never said or acted like I was, but that didn’t matter. Nothing I ever did was good to them, even when it was good to everyone else.

My college dreams fizzled away.

My mother started hiding my acceptance letters. I found a collection of them after I had graduated from HS, mysteriously “lost” in a convenient, hidden away pile. Every letter was an acceptance. Every school I applied to was ready to welcome me. Yet I ended up at a school I never wanted to be in.

I was disillusioned to think that my parents would ever let me go away to college. I couldn’t even leave the house. I didn’t have any choices. My mother decided my college career for me. I had to go to a local university, one that I could still be within my parents’ control. My father drove me to class, and picked me up as soon as I was done. I didn’t have any freedom, but I should have known that was going to be the case. I was foolish to think otherwise.

Even though I hated that school, I made the most out of it. I excelled once again. In my second year there, I was already receiving honors. I was top-ranked. My picture was in the papers. I was on track to be valedictorian. A part of my dream started to come back. I can still be something.

And then I lost that dream again. I forfeited my scholarship and gave up my academic achievements when I dropped out of school with a 4.0 GPA. My father was sick, and it was selfish of me to think of my education when my family was struggling. It was just another failed dream.

Whenever I thought about this recent graduation, all I could think about were those failed dreams. I should have been graduating at 22. I should have been up on stage, making my valedictorian speech. I should have been surrounded by family and friends who were just as proud of me as I was of myself.

Instead, I’m graduating at 30 years old. I won’t be making any speeches, and there won’t be any family in the audience cheering for me. I am alone. Why would I want to celebrate that?

But part of me did want to celebrate. Part of me knew all it took for me to get my degree.

Through it all, I finished with a 3.9 GPA. And when I say all, I mean it: several long-term hospital visits for pneumonia, a surgery, and four psychiatric inpatient hospitalizations. I had no breaks. I couldn’t take any sick leave. I had to get it done. I wrote my thesis in the midst of my escape to freedom. Through the chaos, I still did it.

I earned that degree just like I earned my freedom.

But I didn’t want to celebrate alone. I had no family. My new friends were too new. My old acquanitances were distant. I didn’t think it was possible, so I gave up my plans. Then, just weeks before, I decided I needed to do something positive for me, and this was my chance. I (hesitantly) asked my best friend from my old life if he would like to go, and to my surprise, he said he would. So I spent the last two or three weeks scrambling to get everything together.

This Saturday, my friend and I traveled to my graduation ceremony. It was overwhelming at first. Within minutes of entering the arena, I started to panic. There were hundreds of people around. I was in a new place, and the noise was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think. I had to calm myself. I tried to find a spot away from all of the people. I wanted to put on my headphones and drown everyone and everything out, but I couldn’t. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. It took everything in me not to have a meltdown right then and there.

But I got through it. I put on my cap and gown, and my honor cords, and walked out to the arena. I tried to look down at the floor instead of up at all of the people. It was the only way I could stay calm. I thought about what name I should use. Do I use my old name, or my new name? I hate my old name, but it’s still my legal name and the name I went to school with. I can’t just go up and give an alias.¬†

I debated with myself for an hour. I finally got up on stage, walked up to the microphone, and announced both of my names. It felt right that way, recognizing both who I was and who I am becoming. I shook a few hands and made my exit off of the stage. It was done.

I sat and waited for the other graduates to finish, not really feeling anything at all.¬†Then the president of the university made his final speech. He took time out to acknowledge and thank students’ families for helping the students get to where they were today. I watched the audience as mothers and fathers stood up to be applauded. Then spouses, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, etc.

In that moment, I realized I had no family out there for me. Not just at graduation, but in the years leading up to that very day. My family didn’t help me get an education; they took it away from me. My family didn’t push me to succeed; they wished for my failure. Everything I did was on my own. I never had support.

I started crying because I realized what I had lost. I thought about all the shit I went through getting to this point. I thought about all the slaps to the face, all of the put-downs and the insults my mother threw at me just because I was trying to be a better human being. I remembered how my mother used to always tell me, “You think you’re better than me? You think you’re smarter than me because you went to college? You’re nothing.”

Her voice replayed in my head just as if she were there, sitting in the chair next to me. I stopped crying. I wanted to yell, but I knew well enough that my mother wasn’t actually there to hear me. Her voice wasn’t going away; it was like a broken record repeating the same part over and over. I couldn’t take it any more. I wasn’t going to let her ruin the moment.

As I stood up to take the final walk down the aisle, I closed my eyes and answered my mother’s voice back, in a way I could never answer her back before. I am better than you. I am a better person. I am a better human being.

I always was.