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.

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 4: Help

I would not be where I am, 1,000 days into freedom, without help from others in my life.

I’m fortunate to have these people in my life. They have helped me in more ways than I can really even count. Whether it’s listening to me vent, helping me with medical problems, or getting me through tough days, these people have made a huge impact on me getting this far.

I wanted to recognize them, so I got three blue starfish shells. Starfish have multiple arms to help support them. They need them in order to survive. Blue starfish also have their own unique defense system that helps them survive from predators. I found it similar to how my support system helps me defend myself from people and things that hurt me.

On one, I put the names of my parts on each arm of the starfish. I couldn’t fit all of the names of my system on one starfish, so I put them in groups. I recognized K, even in her absence; I know she did a lot for me before I even knew she existed. I acknowledged Charlie and Violet, who have come to the forefront to keep us going, even when it was hard. I thanked my younger parts, many of whom hold trauma for me and for us. Without my parts, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be functioning as I have.

On another starfish, I put the names of the therapists and doctors who have been there for me as I struggled through PHP and IOP. I spent five days a week with them for ten or so of the last 15 months. They helped me find a stable place to live, and even though we hit a few bumps on the road, we got there. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own. They pushed me to make doctor’s appointments and reach out for support when I needed it. The psychiatrist worked with me through all of my medication reactions (and there were quite a few), and never seemed to give up even when I wanted to throw in the towel. The nurse was there for me through all of my medical issues; she was the first person to legitimize that what I was going through was real. She and my therapist helped me through my pregnancy and abortion, without judgment, and helped me see that I was making the right decision. My therapist sat with me and let me cry when I needed to. She told me it was okay to feel. She dealt with me when others would have given up.

I went through some of the most difficult struggles in those months, and they were there for me through it all, and helped me through the darkness when I thought I would be stuck there forever.

On the last starfish, I wrote the names of those involved most closely in my life. My therapists, both new and old. My best friend, who I’ve known for half of my life. Even though we’ve never actually met in person, she has been the voice of reason for me in a lot of situations. She also never fails to make me laugh. My friend who took me in when I was homeless, who has made sure I always have what I need, who has consistently reminded me that I am safe, and who has taught me what it’s like to experience a normal life. My online supports, who not only give me an outlet, but many were also there for me when I escaped, encouraging me not to give up and give in. The people I met through work and therapy, who have since become friends. They’ve been there for me, they’ve made me laugh and cry, and they’ve managed to deal with me quite well, as I know I can be hard to deal with sometimes.

These people are important to me, and will continue to be important to me, even if we don’t see each other. Their words and actions have impacted me in ways that will last a long time. They’ve helped me decipher the lies and discover the truth, and for that I am forever thankful.

(I did not show the names for privacy reasons)

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.

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.

Disconnection

It’s difficult. The seemingly simultaneous wish to be alone and with someone at the same time. It doesn’t make sense.

I am lonely. And that’s dangerous. Because I have a tendency to make choices that aren’t always the best.

I miss people back home. It’s been so difficult to maintain relationships with people I no longer see face-to-face. For nearly two years now, I’ve been gone. It was okay in the beginning. Friends still called, still sent texts. A couple of people even traveled to come and see me.

But it’s not like that now. No one calls anymore. No one visits. I barely get text messages, and most of the time, it’s me making the effort to message first. Sometimes I don’t even get an answer. Sometimes I get frustrated by the people who do answer, and I ask myself why I keep reaching out when it only ends in frustration and pain. But I still keep reaching out, because I don’t have anyone else.

It’s just frustrating, because I feel like it’s me that always has to put in the effort. If someone back home wants to see me, it’s expected that I be the one to go up there. I don’t even know where to start on the multiple ways that is difficult for me. It’s a huge risk for me to even be in the vicinity of my mother. Since her veiled death threats, I have never been back. I don’t know what she is capable of, and I don’t know who is still on her side.

Not to mention I don’t even drive. It takes hours just to get there. It costs money I don’t have.

But I still wanted so badly to go back. I wanted to see the people I knew as my friends for so long. I wasn’t thinking about the risks. I just wanted to go. And I was going to go. Until those closest to me reminded me that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. For one reason, safety. I can’t guarantee that someone won’t see me and immediately contact my mother to tell her I’m in the area. And for another reason, my emotional state. Just being in those familiar places is enough to induce panic, and if something did happen, I’m not sure I am in the best place to handle it. And it’s not fair to the others around me to have to deal with the aftermath that it might bring.

So I told my friend I wouldn’t be able to make it up there. I told him that collectively, we didn’t think it was a good idea. Before I even responded with an explanation, he asked if it was because of my heart. Oh, right. That. An issue that never even crossed my mind. I forget that I’m sick sometimes. It’s been okay because I rarely stray from home. Even when I am alone, I can pass out safely on the carpet and get up and go about my day. And even when I do leave the house, I am with people who know me, who literally catch me before I fall. I won’t have that there. If I passed out in that neighborhood, I’d be lucky if no one stole the shoes off my feet.

But instead of feeling better, his acknowledgement only fueled my anger. You know it’s not safe for me there. You know what my mother sent to me. And you know I’m not really healthy. And yet it’s still on me. I need to make the effort. I need to put all of the work in. I need to make the moves.

I’m tired of putting in all of the effort for people who don’t put in any effort for me. It hurts. I realize that our lives are not the same anymore. I realize that I was the one that moved away. But I had to make that choice to save myself.

I’m not asking for much. A birthday card, a Christmas card, a visit once or twice a year. Something. But I end up with nothing. Nothing but disappointment. Nothing but complete disconnection. Nothing but anger when I see the times that people are just a short drive away from me, and yet they never visit.

It’s isolating. It feels like I am the one who’s done wrong.

But I can’t give these relationships up. I can’t tell my friend I can’t go through with all of it anymore. I can’t make that last severance with my remaining family. I just can’t do it. But I am the one that suffers. I’m the one that constantly gets hurt. I am the one that still feels disconnected.

I wish I could say I can move on. In my mind, I know these relationships aren’t what they used to be. They aren’t good anymore. But my heart doesn’t get that message. My heart longs for the connection we used to have, the connection that just doesn’t exist anymore, and likely never will.

I know I can replace friendships in my new life here. I made friends at work, but now that I’m gone it’s not the same anymore. I acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation,  that it probably pushes them away more than it would in normal circumstances. It sucks, but I had to choose a place to live and a safer life over the job I loved, which also happened to be the only place where I fit in.

I’m not like other people my age. I have trouble relating to them. I’m not a parent, I’m not married, and I don’t have a career. I don’t go out. I don’t like most things. I avoid most women like the plague because I am scared of them.

I’m also a 31 year-old with the body of a senior citizen and the soul of a child. It’s hard to meet people who understand that, and who accept that is who I am and who I will be.

I know I have people here that care about me. I know I can connect with them. But it’s still not the same. I still miss those pieces of my old life. I still miss my family. Those are people who can’t be replaced.

My father was not a father.

The only picture I have of my father is the one I took from his obituary when he died last year. That’s it.

I still laugh to myself when I come across his obituary.

David B. M., 60, of Belleville, passed away Monday July 4, 2016.
Mr. M was employed by the United States Postal Service for 35 years, retiring 9 years ago.

That was the main part of his obituary, aside from the location of his memorial and who he was survived by. The most important statement that should summarize a person’s life, and his was that he happened to have a decent job as a federal employee. No he was a loving husband and father. No words of greatness or how amazing a person he was. Just that he lived, worked, and died.

And as brief and vague as his obituary was, it was the truth. He was no loving father, no doting husband. He was a man who worked and died. It’s what he did in between that will never be written in any obituary, or acknowledged by anyone.

This is the first Father’s Day that my father is not alive, but not the first he’s been absent from. He died long before his actual death. He was physically alive, but mentally and emotionally dead for a long time. And it wasn’t just because of his illness. I know he spent the last years of his life in misery. I know that he wanted to die. And I know that my mother wanted him to die, too, because his death came with a decent payment. She did not love him. He was a burden to her, a roadblock to her moving forward with whatever game she calls her life.

But I refused to treat him like she did. I did my best to take care of him regardless of my hatred towards him for all that he had done to me. And it took everything in me to not take him with me when I ran away, because I knew he would not survive long after my absence. I wanted to save him from her, even though he never saved me from her when he was strong and able.

My father didn’t die because he was so heartbroken over my absence, as my mother would like me and others to believe. He died because he had multiple heart attacks, a stroke, congestive heart failure, and a plethora of other health conditions that he was lucky enough to survive as long as he did with.

It’s so complicated, that simultaneous hatred and love for someone. It’s not the same experience I have with my mother — I only have hatred for her. But my father was different. He wasn’t like her. In many ways, he was a victim of her, just like my brother was (and still is), just like I was. And I think that’s why I felt sorry for him. I think that’s how I rationalized his treatment of me. He acted that way because of her. As if he didn’t know any better.

But that’s my child-like way of looking at him, because adult me knows he had to know better. My mother may have asked him to hold me down while she hurt me, but my father is the one that lifted his arms to hold down mine. My mother may have been yelling, but my father is the one that chose to beat me and bash my head into the kitchen wall.

My father could have chosen to walk away. He could have chosen to divorce her. He could have fought for custody. In the very least, he could have told her “this is not okay” every night she took me into the shower. But he did none of that, and that was his choice, not hers.

My love for my father is not so much love for him, but love of the idea of what I wanted him to be, of what I wanted to be to him. I wanted to be daddy’s little girl. I wanted to feel worthy of love, worthy of care, worthy of support, worthy of not being hurt all of the time just for existing. I wanted him to hug me. I wanted him to tuck me into bed at night. I wanted him to teach me things that only fathers know.

And I wanted him to save me. Because he was the only person in my life that could have saved me from my mother. He was the only person in my life who knew exactly what mommy was doing to her children every night. But he chose apathy. He chose inaction. He chose her over himself. He chose her over his children.

If heartbreak killed my father, it wasn’t heartbreak over me leaving; it was heartbreak over knowing what he did and didn’t do.

If my father had just said no, if he had just said stop, all our lives could be different right now. He could still be alive. My mother would be in prison. My brother would be free, maybe even married to a nice woman instead of married to his own mother.

And I would still have my family, a father that loved me, and a life without hurt.

Instead, I am spending Father’s Day reminded of all the ways my father was never really a father. Because real fathers don’t hurt their children. Real fathers don’t watch their children suffer. Real fathers put their children first. My grief is not in missing my father, it’s in missing what I wanted him to be.

I just wanted him to save me. Was that so much to wish for?

No answers

I call my dead father’s cell phone. He never answers, because he’s dead and the phone is disconnected. But I still keep calling. I still keep hoping he answers the phone.

I’m not sure why I keep calling. There’s just so many things I want to say to him. There’s so many questions that I want answered. But he’s dead, burned to ashes, gone away forever.

Why didn’t you stop her? Why did you help her? Why didn’t you protect us? Why did you become just like her?

He leaves me with no answers.

Sometimes I call my mother’s cell phone. She never answers, either, but she’s not dead, and the phone isn’t disconnected. It just rings and rings then goes to voicemail.

I left her a voicemail once. I told her I was sorry for being a failure, for being a bad daughter. I asked her for forgiveness.

I wanted her to answer. I wanted her to tell me she missed me. I wanted her to tell me she loved me and that it was all just a big mistake. I wanted her to tell me she was sorry, too. I wanted a mother. I wanted her to give me a reason to live, because in that moment, I had planned to kill myself, and I wanted to feel an ounce of love before I died.

I still call her, hoping one day she will answer. But I don’t call her to apologize. I call her because I want answers.

I want to know what I did wrong.  I want to know why she hurt me.

I want to know how she lives every day knowing what she did to her children, knowing what she did to others. How does it not eat her up inside? How does she get through the day feeling worthy enough to still be alive?

I want her to know how I live every day, constantly reminded of what she did to me. I want her to know that I am eaten up inside. I want her to know that most days, I still struggle to find myself worthy enough to still be alive.

I want her to know she broke me. Every time she raped me, beat me, burned me, bruised me, made me sick…she shattered me.

I want to know if she knows that. I want to know how that makes her feel. I want to know if she even feels at all.

I called her again the other day. I didn’t want to ask her anything. I didn’t want an answer.

I wanted to tell her I didn’t need her anymore. I wanted to tell her goodbye. I wanted to tell her fuck you.

Because now I know the problem was never with me. It was with her.

Sometimes, there are no answers. And sometimes, there are answers hidden within no answers.