Guard down, guard up

Sometimes, I let my guard down.

Then, I am quickly reminded of why I shouldn’t.

It’s a complicated thing. The fear of trusting anyone, yet the seemingly innate pull to open up to someone. The desire to be alone, yet the need to be in contact with others. The want for a family, even when family has continually been nothing but toxic.

I made a mistake. I should have seen it coming; looking back, I don’t know why I even put myself in that position. But it’s that seemingly continuous push and pull of two opposing wants that seem to lead to these mistakes.

It was the right timing. I was vulnerable. I had just left to go across the county. I left everything and everyone behind. I was disconnected, not only physically, but emotionally as well. And I wanted so much to reconnect to something or to someone.

And I did. I got a friend request on Facebook from a distant cousin — my mother’s niece. Years ago, I would have immediately deleted it. In fact, I may have even had her and others blocked. But over time, I let my guard down. I let my fear dissipate. But, given the circumstances, I felt okay enough to accept her request. After all, I was nowhere near her or my mother physically. After all, this was someone who hadn’t seen me since I was 14 years old. After all, this was someone who my mother avoided having any physical contact with, someone who my mother spoke ill of (along with her sister and others in her own family). So how much of a danger could it have been? I added her.

I soon learned that was a bad decision. In response to my last blog, she posted several comments, all of which focused on how I was loved and cared for, how I chose to leave the home where I was loved and cared for, how my mother loved her children and wouldn’t ever molest them…you get the gist. I did, too, because I heard it before. Almost word-for-word, in fact. Because they were my mother’s words, her defensive speech. We’ve all heard it before.

I was trying not to engage, but I eventually gave in and defended the truth. I reminded her that she was barely in our lives, how the last time she saw me was when I was 14, and that she really couldn’t have had any realistic idea of what was going on. I told her that I could connect her with people who witnessed the reality first hand — not just of the physical environment we lived in, but of my mother’s inappropriate words and actions. I suggested she be open to hearing both sides, as it seemed she was taking my mother’s word for truth without taking any initiative to find out what existed outside of my mother’s words.

But my words to her didn’t get very far, because when I woke up the next morning, her comments were deleted and so was she.

I had a tiny bit of hope that a friendship could have existed before all of this happened, that I could be connected to a part of my family, even if it was just in this small way.

I’m not that hurt over it. I got over it quickly. I think what stuck out to me the most was just how gullible people could be, how easily they could drink my mother’s Kool-aid and believe everything she says just because she says it. I’m fortunate enough that many people didn’t fall for her lies. I just wish that more of those people were family.

I find the timing interesting. Adding me as a friend a week before my freedom anniversary. Waiting until that very moment to let it out. I highly doubt it was all just a coincidence. But it doesn’t even matter. My lesson has been learned.

In her last comment, my cousin talked about how my mother was sick and suffering.

Good. I’m not going to lie. Good.

And that’s even if she is really sick, because I really don’t think anyone is close enough to her to truly know.

But, I will not feel bad about my anger or my grief. She is in her 60s. She got to live. I am 32 and can barely make it a month without a stay in the hospital, dealing with health issues that people my age (or anyone really) shouldn’t have to deal with. I’m not going to feel bad for being angry at her. I’m not going to feel bad for hating her. And I’m not going to feel bad for not caring about her, because she sure as hell never cared about me.

Do You Trust Me?

I just wanted to fly under the radar. I didn’t want to bother anyone. I didn’t want to cause any problems.

When you have next to nothing, you tend to hold on to whatever you do have with whatever strength you have. For me, I wanted to hold on to having a place to sleep every night. I wanted to hold on to being able to stay at the shelter.

So I did everything I was supposed to. I made my bed every morning. I did my chores. I was nice to the other residents. I couldn’t afford to lose my spot. I thought the shelter was going to be a safe place. But that’s not what it turned out to be.

I didn’t realize what was happening. I’ve only read about it briefly in ethics books when I was doing my graduate work in counseling, how social workers and counselors would engage in inappropriate relationships with their clients. I’ve only seen it in a few TV shows and movies. I never witnessed it in real life. And then it happened to me.

It started out with conversations. He knew about my trauma history — I had to reveal it upon my intake at the shelter. Shortly after, he started asking questions. I didn’t mind answering; I thought he was just asking out of curiosity. But then the questions turned into asking for details. He wanted me to tell him exactly how my mother hurt me, down to every detail.

Then it turned to questions about sex. My discomfort increased. I didn’t want to answer. I hesitated, but all he kept saying was “Do you trust me?” He said he needed to know all of this stuff so he could help other clients. That if I answered his questions, I’d be helping them, too. And isn’t that what I wanted to do?

I was confused. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t want to upset him, or get him angry enough that he would turn around and kick me out of the shelter. So I obliged. I answered his questions, hoping that eventually he would get all of the answers he needed.

“Do you think you could ever have sex with me?”

It was then I realized this was going somewhere further than just questions. I felt sick to my stomach. I was trapped. Physically and emotionally trapped. What do I do? I hesitated as much as I could. I tried to make jokes to stray away from the conversation. But he wasn’t budging. All he kept saying was “Do you trust me?”

He told me he could help me be normal. Like he could fix the 29 years of abuse I went through. He was so insistent. I couldn’t say no. All he would say was “Why don’t you trust me?”

Everything always came to trust. I didn’t understand. I didn’t trust him. How could I? I felt like I was right back to being a kid again. It was so confusing. If I said no, it would get me in trouble. I can never say no.

I felt disgusted. I kept what happened to myself because I was so afraid of someone thinking it was my fault. Maybe I did something. Maybe it was something I said. Maybe it was something I did. I didn’t understand.

I spent my days at the shelter on edge. I never knew if he was going to come in my room at night, like he said I could. I never knew what I would have to do next in order to keep him happy. I was miserable. But I was so used to it, I thought that maybe this was just how everyone was.

I debated for weeks about telling someone. I wasn’t concerned about me; I was concerned that he might have done it to other women. If I didn’t tell, I’d be responsible for any women he hurt in the future. No matter what I did, it was going to be my fault. I feared I wasn’t going to be believed. But I was smart. I started recording what was happening on my phone, because part of me knew I needed something to stop him.

I had a panic attack one night when I was on my way out of my room; there was another resident walking through the hallway in his underwear, and I panicked because I thought it was him coming into my room for me. I couldn’t explain why I was crying. I couldn’t explain why it upset me so much. All I could get out of my mouth was you don’t know what happens here sometimes.

And that was enough. It initiated a conversation the next day. I hesitated, fearing that somehow I would get in trouble. But they told me I wasn’t going to get in trouble. They said if something not right is going on, they needed to know. Through tears, I told them what was happening. I couldn’t get everything out. I was overcome with shame, believing they thought that this was all of my fault. After all, something must be wrong with me since this keeps happening.

He is gone now. But I will soon be, too.

All I am left with is shame and confusion, and an even greater inability to trust.

Do you trust me?

I trust no one now.

Without Notice

This time of the year is probably the hardest for me.

I’ve written before about the significance of April 25th. It is the most difficult trauma anniversary for me.

It’s been ten years now, and yet the pain still remains as if it happened yesterday.

It’s a different kind of hurt. A worse kind of hurt.

Of all the things my mother did to me, all the pain she caused, none of it hurt more than what she did (and didn’t do) that day.

I almost died. To this day, I still don’t know why I didn’t. But she knew what happened. She knew I overdosed. And she did nothing. She didn’t take me to the hospital. She didn’t call 911. All she could say was how could you do this to me? And then she went back to her normal daily life, as I sat alone, suffering in the worst way, physically and mentally.

I’ve racked my brain trying to understand what happened that day. I’ve tried for years to understand how anyone, especially a mother, could leave her child to suffer. There is no understanding it. She didn’t care if I died, because that meant the truth would die with me.

It still hurts. It still makes me cry. I still feel the pain in my heart, the hopelessness. A part of me still wishes that I died that day. It would have saved me from seven more years of abuse. It would have saved me from living the same pain over and over again.

I am still grieving. I think I will always grieve that day.

I hadn’t handled it well in the past. But I was going to do better this year.

I told my therapist in the beginning of this month that the end of April was going to be a difficult time for me. I didn’t go into the details right then, but I let him know I was going to need a lot of support. I told him then because I knew as the date got closer, I would isolate and shut down.

Then last week, the night before my therapy appointment, my therapist text me to let me know he would not be returning to the practice. I knew he was planning on taking a within the next couple of months, but this wasn’t a temporary leave. This was a permanent one. Without notice.

I couldn’t believe it. I had already made a mental list of everything I needed to talk about that next day, and here I was, left with no therapist, heading into the most difficult few months of the year. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.

I scrambled to find someone, but there was no one I worked with previously that was available. It was difficult to find ANYONE who was available. It was hard enough finding this last therapist. Many places around here have waiting lists, and because I don’t have any money to pay out-of-pocket, I have no choice but to work with therapists who take insurance. And those are the ones with waiting lists miles long.

I thought about the next couple of months. Even once I manage getting through April 25th, I still have Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day has always been difficult for me, for obvious reasons. Last year was probably one of the worst in terms of how I coped with it (because I didn’t cope with it). This year will be even more difficult, because I won’t just be grieving for what my mother did to me, but also grieving for the loss of my own motherhood. Things are more complicated this time around. The loss is more complex.

As much as I would like to say that I can handle things on my own, that I can cope with my losses without being drowned by them, I know that’s not the truth. I can’t do it on my own. I need help. I need support.

Even though my life is shit right now, I have 47 cents in my bank account, I’m failing school this semester, and my health has been horrible, there is a part of me that doesn’t yet want to throw in the towel. That’s why I made the decision to reach back out for help.

I called the PHP I was in a few months ago. I felt ashamed. I had spent so much time in the program that I shouldn’t still be this fucked up. I shouldn’t need this much help. Clearly something is wrong with me. But then I remembered the psychiatrist tell me it’s okay to come back if I need it. And I think I do. I don’t have many other options at this point.

My intake is tomorrow, and I don’t know how to feel.

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 5: Hopes

I decided to end with something a little different from what I had done before. I had acknowledged my past and my present, so I thought it was important that I also acknowledge what I hope for in my future.

I chose sand dollars to represent my future hopes. Sand dollars are hard to come by, but when you find one, they are said to bring you good luck. Some traditions also say sand dollars symbolize peace.

I chose six sand dollars, and wrote one hope I have one each one.

To become psychologically, physically, and financially stable.

It’s been a struggle to achieve stability in any aspect. Psychologically, I’m not the best. I spend way too much of my life in therapeutic settings. I can’t take most medications, and the ones I can take don’t seem to work. They’re always telling me it’s going to take a lot of time to get better; it’s going to take a lot of time to undo 29 years of programming. Those who know my story tell me I’m doing great considering what I’ve experienced. I could have died. I guess they are right.

Physically, I know I’m never going to be 100%. My health issues are not curable. Some will get progressively worse over time. I just want to be able to feel better, to gain whatever control I can have, if that’s even possible, over my illnesses. I want to be able to stand up and walk without people being afraid I’m going to drop.

I want to be able to live with more than $1 in my bank account. I want to be able to go out without having to sell something to pay for the bus. I don’t want to be a burden on others, even if they tell me I’m not. Whether it’s financial assistance or some kind of work, I just want to be more secure and stable.

To get justice for myself and others.

I still feel responsible for leaving people behind, for leaving my mother behind so she could hurt others. I know it’s not my fault, that her actions are not my responsibility. But I long for justice. I want my mother to be punished for what she has done, for all the crimes she has committed. I want that for me, and for the other people she has hurt. I know it’s difficult to go through a trial. I know a lot of therapists don’t recommend re-traumatizing yourself for the sake of justice. But I hope one day, I can be strong enough to go through it. And if I can’t, that I can find some other way to get even just a semblance of justice.

To know my purpose in life.

I never had a chance in my first 29 years to learn who I was, to gain any sense of what my purpose was in life. Even after I ran away, I spent so much time focusing on therapy and work that I really didn’t spend enough time trying to find myself. I thought my purpose was to be a therapist and help others like me, but after the incident with my grad school that led to my removal, I lost that sense of purpose.

Perhaps it’s not about how far I can get in my education. Perhaps I don’t even need a degree to do what I was meant to do. Maybe I am meant to be a writer. Maybe I am meant to speak out about abusers like my mother.

My therapist always asks me if I’ve built a skyscraper yet. He said in one of our first sessions that I am the type of person who has the intelligence and the drive to do amazing things; he said one day, I’m going to have my own skyscraper. I have no desire to do that, but I understand what he’s saying to me. I can do things. I just have to figure out where to start.

To help others like me.

I’ve already started to do this, I think. I put myself out there when I started writing professionally, and I’ve had so many people reach out and tell me how much my writing and my honesty has helped them. I know I haven’t done much with PAFPAC lately. It’s been difficult to manage everything I am doing by myself, tired and sick. I want to do more one day, but I need to work on myself first.

To know what it’s like to live without wanting to die.

I’ve been wanting to die since I was six years old. Not a day goes by that I don’t think, even for a moment, that dying would be so much easier than living. I’m chronically suicidal to the point that it’s become normal to me. The thoughts come up at any time; some triggered by events or trauma anniversaries, but some don’t even have a reason to be there.

It’s exhausting. It’s like I’ve been fighting a battle that will never end. I just want to live without those thoughts. I don’t want to have to worry about waiting for the urges to get stronger, because I know from experience they will get stronger. I want to live a day without the weight of that on my mind. Just one day.

To accept that I’ll never know or understand why.

I think this is the most difficult hope for me, and yet the most necessary. I’ve spent years trying to figure out why my mother did what she did. I’ve read every book on sociopaths and narcissists. I’ve studied psychology and neuroscience. I’ve shared with others who have had similar experiences and I still can’t come up with a reason why. I need something to blame; for some reason, blaming her hasn’t been enough. It’s keeping me stuck.

I’ll never be able to understand why I have this life. I’ll never understand why I had to endure things that no child, no person should ever have to endure. I’ll never be able to rationalize the pain and hurt I feel every day of my life. Sometimes, there aren’t reasons. Sometimes, we will never know why. I will never know why. And that’s okay.

I will be okay.

Don’t go looking for the reasons
Don’t go asking Jesus why
We’re not meant to know the answers
They belong to the by and by

–Chris Stapleton, Broken Halos

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.

Facade of a Family

I’ve sat at my computer several times this past week, planning to write what was on my mind. Yet every time I tried to write, I couldn’t do it. The emotions were too overwhelming and I ended up in tears.

I couldn’t really understand why. I’ve written quite a bit about emotionally laden things, and I’ve always been able to write through the pain. But this was different. This pain left me silenced in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

It’s my fault, though, at least in part. I have been holding on to something I should have let go of years ago. I knew it wasn’t good for me. I knew that it would only continue to cause me pain. But I held on, because I didn’t want to lose that piece of something that was part of my identity: my family.

I could never quite understand it, how anyone could stand back and allow someone to be hurt over and over again. I wanted to believe that no one else knew, I wanted to believe that we were so good at hiding the pain that no one else could see it. It was much easier to believe that than to believe that other people knew and chose to do nothing. Those beliefs allowed me to hold on to the very tiny bit of self-worth I had left.

That is, until that false reality was ripped away from me, and I found out people really did know what was going on. Some people knew for years. YEARS. Yet no one ever said a thing. No one ever helped. Didn’t want to cross any lines. It wasn’t my place.

That pain is inexplicable. At that point I believed I was worthless. I wasn’t worth being helped. I wasn’t worth being protected. I wasn’t worth being saved. If I was, someone would have said something, someone would have put an end to my pain. All I wanted to do was matter enough to someone, I wanted to be loved and cared for by someone. Instead I was left with nothing but a facade of a family.

I still played along. I still kept up my end of the facade, hoping that one day  they would change, hoping that one day I would be worthy enough to be saved. But time has only shown me how much I still don’t matter. Time has only shown me how much I don’t belong.

There must be something wrong with me. There’s no other explanation. How could someone stand there and ask me to protect their child from my mother, when they knew full well I could not even protect myself? You know how that made me feel? Worthless. It was okay as long as I was the one being abused, as long my mother didn’t hurt anyone that mattered. They were the ones that needed protection, protection I obviously wasn’t worthy of.

But I still held on to hope. Maybe one day I will be worth saving. Maybe one day I will be a part of the family. That never happened. Even in my darkest times, when I was in and out of hospitals, I had no one to turn to. The social workers begged me to ask family for help; there was little the system could do to help me. When I finally got the strength to give them the okay, it was only met with rejection — the same rejection I had experienced for years.

There is only so much a person can take. I think I reached that point a long time ago. Yet I still held on. I still hoped that one day, things would change and I would have some semblance of a family bond. I kept forgiving. I kept making excuses for things I’m not really sure could ever be excused. All because I wanted to experience this sense of belonging, this notion of worth, this concept of being part of a family.

I realized this past week that I can no longer hold on to that hope. It is wearing away at me. I want something that has never been, and never will be. It hurts my heart to be ignored. It hurts my heart to know that friends and neighbors will always be more important, more worthy than me. I can’t change that. I can’t make myself part of a family that has continuously shown they do not want me.

And that’s hard to acknowledge, because I’ve wanted for so long to just be part of my own family.  Instead, I am the reject, and nothing I can do will ever change that.

I made a choice this weekend. I could have reached out. I could have made another desperate attempt to be included. But I feared that the pain of another rejection would be much harder than just not knowing. I made the choice not to put myself through that any more. I made the choice to put myself first, instead of my ‘family’.

It didn’t take the pain away. My heart is still broken. I still cry. I still feel lost. But I am no longer lonely.  

There is nothing wrong with me. I am only the reject of my biology, of the people who carry my last name. I have been accepted, cared for, and protected by strangers who became friends, and who have become more of a family than any biological family has ever been.

My only mistake has been caring too much and too deeply for something that was never there — a facade of a family.