Happy Mother’s Day, Self


Dear KJ,

I know it hurts your heart. Not just every Mother’s Day, but every day you wake up. What is written on your heart is pain, left there by the woman who was supposed to be your mother. I’m not sure that pain will ever go away. I’m not sure she will ever even acknowledge how much she has hurt your heart. But that’s okay. You realize it. You know it.

I know it’s hard. I know it hurts. But you’re still standing, broken-hearted, without a mother, but still very much alive.

The things in this card are things your mother should have taught you. A hug should have never been painful; it should have been full of love and care. But you have that now. It may have taken long, but now you have people to hug you without the pain and the hurt, rather with the love and support you deserve.

I know you still feel weak and lost. You are still trying to find your way in the world. Your mother should have taught you these things, but she didn’t. She didn’t know how to be a good mom. But that’s okay. You are learning now. You are starting to trust people. It’s not at all like she told it was, You can trust. Keep trusting. You may have had a late start, but you are making your way. You’re doing it, even without her. You had to build your own foundation, with the help of others, but it’s getting so strong and solid and stable now.

You taught yourself how to be strong. You had to in order to survive. And you survived. You stood alone most of your life, when your mother should have been the one standing beside you, it was just you. But you still survived. Because you were born with a strength that could never and can never be taken away. That strength came from within you, and now you are sharing that strength with the world. You are so so strong.

You had to learn ways to survive that no child should ever have to learn. She wouldn’t let you be successful, but look at you now. You’re in graduate school with a 4.0, you’re a successful writer, and most of all you are a beautiful person inside and out. And you did that all on your own.

She did not teach you kindness, only cruelty. Yet somehow, some way, you learned how to be kind, you learned how to love. You didn’t need your mother for that. You have others there to support you now. You had (and have) yourself. So many people have been touched by your kindness. Listen to them. Remember when Sarah told you how you were so intelligent and so caring and so kind, even when you came from a place where none of those things existed? It’s the truth. You did that. Somehow you did that.

You spent your childhood having no one care about you, having no one believe in you. But you cared, and somewhere deep down, you believed. That’s why you kept going. That’s why you tried to stay alive, even when it was so much easier and so much less painful to die.

There are angels on this earth. You are one of them. I’m sorry your mother wasn’t. You deserved that angel. You deserved that mother. But even though you didn’t have it, you did it yourself. You became your own angel, your own teacher, your own believer, your own mother.

You deserve this as much as anyone else. Love yourself. Celebrate the mother inside of you that you had to be when no one else was there, when she wasn’t there. You were your own mother. You helped yourself survive, through love and care. Remember that.

Love,

KJ Continue reading

Advertisements

Happy Mother’s Day, Loretta


Dear Mom Loretta,

I wish this card was true for you. But it’s not.

Instead of taking your children to new heights, you knocked them down on the ground and left them there, suffering. Instead of giving me opportunities, you took them away from me, because you never wanted me to be any better than you.

You never gave me dreams; you gave me nightmares. Every day of my childhood was a nightmare, in living and in sleeping. My only dreams were those of being saved from you, until one day I realized those dreams would never come true. So my dreams became wishes for death…the only way out from you, my own mother.

You never gave me support, you took it away from me. You stole my life from me. Every time you beat me, burned me, raped me, tortured me. You broke me, physically and emotionally. You took away any support I had, What mother does that to her child? What kind of woman molests her own children and then goes to Church the next day? What kind of mother tells her child she is worthless, evil, nothing? That’s not a mother. That’s barely a woman, barely a human.

Your gift in life to me was never love; it was and always will be pain. Because no matter how hard I try, I can never fill the hole in my heart where my mother should be. I deserved a mother. I deserved support and love and dreams and care and life. But you stole that all from me, for 29 years I had nothing but pain and hopelessness.

I know you wish that I was dead. I know you believe I deserve those gravestones you sent me. But I don’t deserve to die. I deserve to live.

You took away nearly 30 years of my life already, you stole it all from me. And you’re still trying to take it from me. You blame me for everything, for your husband’s death, for your isolation, for your tarnished reputation. But that’s not my fault. It never was and never will be. It’s your fault, but you will never see it that way.

I’m not sure if it’s all part of your game or you’re so disillusioned that you don’t understand the gravity of what you’ve done. But I can’t change who you are. I can’t change what you’ve done to me.

You are a criminal, a rapist, an abuser, a narcissist, a sociopath. You are nothing. You are the evil and worthless one. It was never me. You just made me believe it for so long that I couldn’t see the real worth inside of me.

You may have broken me, you may have stolen my childhood and my innocence from me, but you did not steal my strength. It stayed with me, and it still does.

I am a caring, intelligent, beautiful, loving, funny, strong, amazing woman, full of worth that you will never get to see. It’s a loss for you, whether you see it or not, it’s not my problem anymore.


Clean

I had to have a stress echocardiogram yesterday. I’ve been having chest pains, and my primary doctor wanted me to see a cardiologist to rule out anything heart-related (my lung issues put me at a higher risk for certain heart conditions). My PCP is aware of my PTSD and my issues with medical stuff and warned me that it wasn’t going to be easy for me to do. She even said that I may have to be sedated to get through it. I thought she was joking. Now I don’t think she was joking at all.

When I went to my cardiology appointment a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting anything major to happen. I thought the cardiologist was going to tell me I was okay and send me on my way. I think he may have thought that, too, when he looked at my record. A 30 year-old with no high blood pressure, no diabetes, and no high cholesterol. No risks. But then he started asking me questions, and by the end of the medical interrogation, he told me I had a lot working against me. Smoking, drug use, medications, family history, and past overdoses were all fucking me over in that moment. There was enough concern to schedule more testing.

I didn’t really know what was going to happen aside from getting hooked up to wires and running on a treadmill. It didn’t seem like much, so I tried not to stress about it. I didn’t even bring it up in therapy the day before because I wasn’t expecting anything bad to happen. I thought I had it all under control.

I didn’t even make it to the first part of the test before breaking down and crying.

A nurse took me to the room and gave me a gown to change into. I knew I had to do it, but it was difficult. My layers of clothes help me feel safe, and now I had to let them go. I stood there, completely naked from the waist up, trying to wrap myself in the gown and holding it closed. But the nurse had to get in. She had to put patches on my skin so I had to uncover.

I stood there, completely vulnerable, trying to hold myself together. I felt the skin of her hands touching the skin on my chest. I wanted to tell her to stop but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I froze. Then she reached her arms around me. I felt her against my body just like I had felt my mother just years ago. And I lost it.

I felt so sick. I couldn’t say a word. I just cried. All I could think about was my mother. All those times I would stand there and let her touch me and I never said a word. I never told her to stop. I never made her stop. I must have wanted it. 

How sick am I to have let this happen. Does she think I wanted this? I wonder if she know. Does she see how disgusting I am? Does she know what I’ve done? 

I don’t even really know all that went on during the test. I was so lost in my mind that my body became automatic. I know I stopped crying after a while. I finished the test. My heart was okay. My cardiologist was happy. I remember him asking me if I was excited to have a perfectly healthy heart, and I couldn’t answer. All I wanted to do was run to the nearest bathroom to throw up. And I did.

I needed to wash the filth off. All I wanted to do was scald my skin in the hottest water. But I was afraid to go home, because I knew I wouldn’t be safe being alone with my memories. So I took the bus to clear my mind. I fiddled around on my phone. I went to the movie theater to distract myself, only to end up crying in the bathroom stall for half an hour instead.

I wandered and cried for hours until I finally ended up at home before dark. I got in the shower and cried even more. I washed myself a dozen times but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to rip off all of my skin and scrub away all of the filth hidden underneath. I felt it everywhere. I just wanted it to go away. But it wasn’t going away.

I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I needed clean. I couldn’t clean my body anymore, so I started cleaning my surroundings. I washed everything down with vinegar. I scrubbed the baseboard. I spent hours wiping every surface. I got a garbage bag and threw away everything that was dirty. Dirty clothes. Dirty shoes. Dirty knick-knacks. I needed everything to be clean. I rid myself of everything dirty because I couldn’t get rid of the dirtiest thing of all: me.

I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking. I can’t eat because my stomach feels so sick. I’ve taken four showers today and I still feel so disgusting.

I don’t think any amount of showers in the world would make me feel clean right now. I just want to feel clean.

Can nobody hear me?

I regularly make excuses for the poor behavior of others in my life, especially when their behavior directly affects me.

I excused my father’s part in my abuse because I told myself my mother made him do it (as if she held a gun to his head). I excused my coworker’s behavior a few weeks ago when he called me a bitch several times, telling myself he didn’t know any better because he was raised to treat women that way. I excuse a close person’s consistently offensive behavior, telling myself she just can’t help the way she acts.

I do this not as a way to defend these people, but to defend myself. If I didn’t excuse them, that means I would end up angry. And I don’t want to be angry.

But making excuses only works superficially, because on an intellectual level, I know that my excuses aren’t viable, that these behaviors were/are wrong, and that I really should be able to feel angry and hurt and however else I want to feel. Eventually, my feelings come to the surface, and I can only push them back down so many times before they come out full force.

Last therapy session, I couldn’t push my anger down any more. We were discussing the aftereffects of the letter, about how it made me feel sad. Then my therapist asked what else I was feeling, because it seemed like more than just sadness. Without thinking, I said “I’m angry. All of those fucking idiots, why didn’t they do anything to help?”

I immediately felt bad for what I had said, and apologized to my therapist. When she asked why I was apologizing, I told her I shouldn’t have used those bad words. I said, “it’s not their fault. They didn’t know. I wasn’t their problem. I shouldn’t be angry.”

“Why don’t you want to be angry?”

“Because if I’m angry that means I’m like her, like my mother.”

“Anger isn’t the same as abuse. What your mother did to you, she didn’t do because of anger. Anger is something that everyone feels, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re going to abuse. It’s okay to be angry.”

I sat there for a minute, still trying to push down what was trying to come out. I looked around the room, trying to think of something else to talk about.

“No, no, I can’t do it.”

“Yes you can. It’s okay to be angry. Anger makes you human.”

I repeated what my therapist told me to myself a few times. Anger doesn’t make me like her. Anger doesn’t make an abuser. Anger is okay.

And then it erupted. Through tears and clenched fists, I let it all out.

I don’t understand. I don’t understand why nobody helped me. I never wanted to go home after school, I tried to stay with the teachers but then the teachers sent a note home and said I couldn’t anymore and then I got in trouble. None of them ever asked why I didn’t want to go home. None of them asked why I wore so many layers of clothing to school, why I was always covering up. No one questioned why a six-year-old girl tried to drown herself. Children don’t just try to kill themselves out of curiosity. No one wondered why a girl would scratch off her own skin. No one questioned my injuries. How many times could a child walk into walls? I wasn’t clumsy. But nobody did anything! They just nodded their heads and moved on!

There it was. My anger. Finally free and out in the open. The anger that was rightfully mine to have. I was a child who had no other way to communicate. A child who was threatened never to tell. And I didn’t. So I tried every other way to speak without using my words.

I could see just by looking at my therapist’s face that she understood. She got it. And she was okay with my anger, and my hurt. “There were all these red flags, all these ways you tried to ask people for help…”

“And they still didn’t hear me!”

There were so many red flags in my childhood. So many. Yet no one wanted to see them. I could have set those flags on fire and waved them an inch away from their faces, and they would have just stood there and talked about the weather.

I am angry. I am angry that these people just perpetuated my hell by not intervening. I am angry that I spent my childhood thinking that it was just normal to be hurt like this, thinking that no one is hearing my cries so this all must just be normal. No one should ever believe that abuse is normal. It should have never had to be my normal.

It’s an anger I am not sure will ever go away.

I am that little girl, and that little girl is me.

When my therapist asked me last week to write a letter to my younger self, you would have thought she had just asked me to write a dissertation on behavioral neuroscience. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Actually, at that moment, I probably would have rather written that dissertation. Or stuck my head down the toilet. Or both. I didn’t want to write about feelings. I didn’t want to acknowledge any reasons for having any feelings. Blah.

But I knew I couldn’t get away with not writing it. My therapist and I have worked out an agreement so I could stay out of the hospital, and it requires that I participate fully in therapy. I waited until the night before our next session to write it, not expecting that it would turn into the letter that it did.

While I was writing it, I did get emotional. But it was a different kind of emotional. I felt genuine empathy for the child who experienced this pain. I felt the anger she felt. I felt sad for her. But there was a huge disconnect between me and this child. In my brain, we were two different people. I wasn’t yet connecting that we were one in the same.

My therapist asked if I would be comfortable sharing the letter with her in our session on Monday. At first, I was afraid. I didn’t think I did it right. I asked her if she was going to be mad if it was wrong. She explained that there wasn’t really a wrong way to do it, so I said it was okay. She asked if there was anything I needed first. Needs. What are those? For the first time, I did ask for something. I asked if she could sit next to me instead of across from me in her usual spot. It would make me feel less alone. And she obliged.

I started to read the letter. It had been the first time I read it all at once, and the first time I spoke it out loud. As I was reading it, I started to realize that this wasn’t another person. The words on this paper, these words I wrote to this little girl, those words were written for me.

I was the confused little girl who didn’t understand why mommy and daddy kept hurting her.

I was the little girl afraid of her own parents, with nowhere to hide because mommy blocked all the closets and underneath the beds.

I was the scared girl who thought everyone was just meant to hurt her.

I was the empty little girl who believed the only thing inside of her was evil.

I was the little girl who felt so alone, even when she was surrounded by people.

I was the little girl who felt invisible, who tried so desperately to get someone to help her, but no one listened, no one cared.

I was the little girl who tried to kill herself at six years old because she had lost any sense of hope of a life without pain.

I started to read the paragraph about feeling hurt. I felt the heaviness in my heart. As I read the words “I wish there was a Band-aid I could give you that could make your hurt go away”, I broke down entirely. It was like I found out someone I loved just died. I cried so hard I was blinded by my own tears. I needed comfort. I reached out to my therapist and she allowed me to hug her. She held me as I cried (and covered her in tears, drool and nasal discharge), until I calmed down enough that I could see again.

I took a few more minutes fighting through tears, trying to catch my breath so I could finish the letter. After a few failed attempts, I picked up where I left off, and finished reading. I even managed to laugh at the part where I wrote that “something was wrong with mommy and daddy and I guess they missed that memo.” Something was surely wrong with them to say the least, but I know that they shouldn’t need a memo to remind them that they were supposed to love their children.

My therapist encouraged me to keep reading the letter. She said that younger part of me needs to hear all of those things, and that I need to hear it as well.

And as I kept reading the letter, the more I realize that everything she went through was real. The more I realize that everything that happened wasn’t fair. The more I realize that something could have been done to stop the damage.

The more I read, the more I realize I am that little girl, and that little girl is me.

I’ve been such an emotional mess these past few days because of this. I saw it as a bad thing, but my therapist did not. For the first time, I am letting myself feel. After a year in therapy, I am finally feeling sad about my abuse. Apparently, that’s progress.

Letter to My Younger Self

Dear younger self,

I’m so sorry for all the feelings you’ve been having all this time. I’m sorry no one listened to you. It must have been so hard to keep it all inside. But I want you to know now that it’s okay to feel. You deserve to have feelings. Your feelings are valid, and they are yours. No one can take them from you anymore.

It’s okay to feel confused. Mommies and daddies aren’t supposed to hurt their children. There’s nothing wrong with you. There never was. Mommy and daddy told you that so they could keep hurting you. It was all lies.  I’m so sorry they confused you. You may never understand why all those times, daddy chose to hold your hand instead of pushing hers away. He was wrong. She was wrong. But you were not wrong. You were just a child.

It’s okay to feel afraid. Instead of fearing monsters, you feared mom and dad. It must have been so scary for you. You had nowhere to hide. I’m so sorry you had to live in constant fear. But you were always so strong, even when you felt afraid. You are one brave little girl.

It’s okay to feel scared. Mommy and daddy made you believe that the world was scary and full of bad people who were going to hurt you. That wasn’t the truth. That’s what mommy and daddy told you to make you stay. The real scary place was home, and the scariest people were mommy and daddy. I’m sorry you feel so scared. It’s not fair. You don’t ever have to go back home again.

I know you feel empty. Mommy and daddy made you believe that you had no purpose, that you were worthless. That must have hurt your heart so much. I’m so sorry for your pain. But the truth is, there are so many good things inside of you that mommy and daddy never wanted you to see. Now you can let those good things free.

I know you feel lonely. Mommy and daddy kept you away from everyone. You were never allowed to talk to outsiders. Mommy and daddy told you that no one would ever understand you, that no one could be trusted. But that was all lies. I’m so sorry they lied you. It hurts to be alone. But there are people here to help you now, to help you feel less lonely. You don’t have to hide anymore.

I know you feel small. All of the bigger people around you didn’t help you. They didn’t notice you were desperate to be saved. It must have hurt so much to feel invisible, to have no one see your pain. I’m so sorry no one let you know how important you were. I see you, and you’re not small. You’re a little girl with a big heart, and you matter. You always have.

It’s okay to feel angry. You can be mad at mommy and daddy. They hurt you, and you didn’t deserve to be hurt, ever. You can be mad at the other adults who didn’t listen to you. They should have helped you. You can be mad at world. You deserved to have good parents, and you didn’t get that. I am so sorry for all of the hurt they caused you. I’m so sorry for all of the anger you’ve had to keep inside. But it’s okay to be angry. You deserve to be angry. I’m angry, too.

It’s okay to feel sad. Mommy and daddy told you it wasn’t okay to cry. They told you that you had no reason to be sad. They hurt you. But they were wrong. I’m so sorry. It must be so hard to hold that hurt in your heart for so long. But it’s okay to be sad now. No one will punish you. It’s okay to cry. You won’t get hurt. You can cry for the childhood you didn’t have. You can cry for the mommy and daddy you wished you had. You can cry for all the times they hurt you. You can cry. You can be sad.

It’s okay to feel hurt. You were wronged, in so many ways you were wronged. The grownups in your life failed you. Your mommy and daddy hurt your heart as much as they did your body. You had to learn to live with the pain. You deserved to be comforted and supported and nurtured, and instead you were hurt over and over again. It wasn’t fair. I’m so sorry that you are hurting.  I wish there was a Band-Aid I could give you that could make your hurt go away. I want you to know now that mommy and daddy can’t hurt you anymore.

I know you feel hopeless. Mommy told you that you would never be away from her. You thought that she would keep hurting you forever. I’m so sorry that you were hurting so badly that you wanted to die. You were just a little girl, in so much pain. Someone saved you from drowning, but no one saved you from what led you there to begin with.  I want you to know that you are safe now. Mommy can’t hurt you. You don’t have to die anymore.

I know your heart is broken. My heart breaks for you. You are just a little girl. A beautiful, intelligent, strong, kind, amazingly courageous little girl.

I know you feel unloved. Children are supposed to be loved by their parents. But something was wrong with mommy and daddy and I guess they missed that memo. It’s not your fault they didn’t know how to love. It doesn’t mean you are unlovable. You are so loved. There are good people out there who want to love and care for you. You deserve love and care. You deserve to feel good feelings, too. You deserve so much, and I want you to know that.

Thank you for being so strong. Thank you for being you. Thank you for helping me get here. I love you.

Complex

One of the activities in yesterday’s group therapy was to create a Johari Window.

Each person chose six of the 57 adjectives listed to describe themselves, and then chose six for each other person.

It was so easy for me to choose adjectives to describe everyone in group. But when it came to choosing my own, I became frustrated. The adjectives on the list were mostly positive – too positive for my own liking. I struggled just to pick three. Intelligent. Nervous. Tense. Those words were definitely accurate for me. I could never deny my intelligence, even though I oftentimes wish I had less of it. Nervous and tense are words I associate with anxiety, and anxiety is my normal.

Well after everyone else was finished, I was still struggling to finish my own six adjectives. I quickly scanned the sheet again and choose three more: Knowledgeable, quiet, shy. I think knowledgeable pairs with intelligence. I have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things, probably more knowledge than I need. Quiet describes me sometimes, depending on the day, the amount of coffee I’ve had to drink, and how present I am. Shy, for sure. People scare me.

Then I received seven lists, each with six adjectives the others in group used to describe me. I went through the lists and wrote down each adjective in the appropriate window.


Not surprisingly, most people chose intelligent. At least I was right about something about me. I couldn’t argue with that.

Then I came across the words brave, bold, and independent. Everyone put brave. Me. Brave. Clearly they don’t know me, I said to myself. Brave would have been standing up for myself. Brave would have been fighting my mother and telling her to stop hurting me. Brave would have been hitting my father back after he beat me. Brave would have been running home at age 15, not at age 29. Bravery, no. Weakness, maybe.

Bold, I am not. Being bold is being fearless. Bold people don’t hide in the closet when someone knocks on the door. Bold people don’t get scared to check the mail, afraid a letter from home will appear. That is not being bold. Clearly these people don’t know me.

Independent, not me. I can barely decide what to eat for dinner. I can’t make my own decisions, or live my own life. I need other people to make decisions for me. I never had the ability to be independent. I spent more than 29 years in forced dependence on my mother, and now even though I am free, I feel lost without anyone here to make decisions for me.

Then I came across a word that set off a bit of internal rage. Complex. The second list I read through, and someone had circled complex. I blew it off, until the next list had complex circled as well, and then another list, and another. By then, I was just angry. At who, I am not sure. How could these people call me complex? I’m not complex. They don’t even know me.

As I sat with my own thoughts and slight inner rage, I realized the negative associations I had formed with that word. This wasn’t the first time I was told I was complex. I’ve heard it several times before, and never in a positive way. I heard it from therapists as their reasoning for not being able to help me. You’re too complex. Shit, I didn’t know therapists only worked with certain difficulty levels. I’m sorry.

Complex meant I was too complicated, too broken, too difficult to be helped. That word hurt me, multiple times. And here it was, coming up again and hurting me still.

I decided to share my difficulties with that word with the rest of the group. In response, some people explained what that word meant for them, and why they chose it. It wasn’t at all for reasons I had associated complex to be in my head. I was complex because there was more to me to get to know, more than what you see on the outside. I was complex because I was interesting. I was complex, as one of my therapists put it, because the gap between what I think and believe I can do and what I actually do is so large. I don’t believe I can do anything right, or even do much of anything at all. Yet I continually do these great things, and accomplish so much, despite the fact that it all goes against everything I believe about myself. I guess that it complex.

I guess, when I really think about it, I’m definitely not simple – the opposite of complex. Nothing in my life has ever been simple. I admit, at times, I desire simplicity. I crave ignorance. I want life to be uncomplicated. But that’s not going to happen, it didn’t then, it’s not now, and it won’t be in the future. And that’s okay.

Perhaps it’s not so horrible to be complex.

Perhaps those people in my past were just too simple to deal with my complexity.