Replace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guilt Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I could do was cry.

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

865

I still remember the day. November 21, 2016. The day I celebrated 500 days of freedom. The day I planned to celebrate my successes. The day I went to the beach to release the stones I had lost into the ocean. The day I carried with me the stones of all I had gained. Stones I still have to this day, laid out right by my desk, reminding me of my new truths.

It was also the day I let go of the stones it was time to give away. Guilt. Shame. Fault. Blame. They were no longer weighing me down. I was free from them. I was free from my trauma. I was free from my mother.

I remember how I felt that day. Like I accomplished something. Like I had started a new life. Like I had finally realized what it felt like to be free. I felt a sense of happiness amidst the grief. I finally knew what it was like to feel safe, I knew what it was like not to worry. It took 500 days for me to get there, but I got there none the less.

But those feelings were soon ripped away from me, because November 21, 2016 wasn’t just my 500th day of freedom. It was also the day my mother found me.

Just days after I celebrated my new-found freedom and safety, I received her first letter in the mail. A business envelope with no return address. A catalog sheet of gravestones, ready for my choosing. They were the stones my mother believed I deserved. The ultimate punishment for going against her.

I ran away. I escaped prison. And I told my story. Because I knew upon my leaving, that people were still in danger. Telling was the only way to help them. And it did help. Some people were able to see through her manipulation and get out before it was too late. But others are still being hurt by her. And in many ways, I am still being hurt by her.

She took away my freedom. She took away my sense of safety. With each piece of mail she sent, she took it all away from me. That accomplishment I felt, that glimpse of happiness I got to experience, it all faded away.

My life was no longer one of freedom, no longer one of safety. Even in distance, my mother was no longer so far away. She made her presence known. She took away all of the things I worked so hard for since running away, with just a few pages of words, with just a sheet of gravestones.

Why? Why couldn’t she let me experience that freedom just a little bit longer? Why couldn’t she just let me feel safe? Why did she have to take that all away from me?

I haven’t been the same since then. As much as I’ve moved around, I am still afraid of being found. As much as I try to be invisible, I can still be traced. As much as I try to live my life, I am still in fear of her. Is she watching me from afar? Is she behind me? Is she waiting outside my door? Are her words sitting in my mailbox? Is she sitting there, reading my thoughts? Is she planning to hurt me? Will she be picking my gravestone?

I haven’t felt safe since then. I’m not sure I ever will. Because I know as long as she is here on earth, I am in danger. It’s something I cannot change. I chose to be on my own while leaving her to hurt others. I chose to run away instead of putting her in jail. I chose to hide instead of bringing her to justice. I chose this life, and I set myself up for these consequences.

I should have known better, but I was drawn away by the illusion of a free life. A life I now know cannot exist.

I just want to feel safe.

Abort

So many times in my life, I’ve told myself “that’s not going to be me”, as if I were somehow immune to the effects of my decisions and experiences.

But every time, life catches up to me and kicks me right in the ass. Perhaps it’s karma. Perhaps it’s just the result of being human. As much as I try to hide it, as much as I try to manage it all on my own, to suffer in silence, it wears on me.

I wrote this status Tuesday morning, the day after I made one of the hardest decisions of my life.

I keep doing this to myself. I keep telling myself that somehow, it’s going to be different for me. And it never is.

I make bad decisions. I don’t think of the consequences. I used and told myself I’d never be an addict. I drank and told myself I’d never be an alcoholic. I smoked and told myself I’d never be sick. And yet I am all of those things.

I get involved with people I shouldn’t. I do things I don’t really want to do, but I don’t know any different. I don’t know how to say no. I’m not sure I’m allowed to.  So I do it and convince myself that nothing bad will come out of it.

Until something did.

I tried to ignore it. I hoped that somehow, I would wake up one day and everything would be back to normal. But that wasn’t happening. And I didn’t know what to do.

I wanted to die. The sadness, the hopelessness, and the shame were damaging me from the inside out. I wanted someone to know, I wanted someone to help me, but I couldn’t find the words to say what I had done. All I could say was I don’t want to live anymore.

I hid my reality for weeks. I battled with myself, trying to stay alive when part of me just wanted to give up. I wanted someone to tell me it was going to be okay, yet I was so afraid of telling the truth. But it became too much to hide. The weight gain. The nausea. The emotional clusterfuck I had become.

I sat down with the nurse at PHP. I told her there was something I needed to tell her. I handed her my heart medication, which I had been hoarding. But that wasn’t all that I was hiding, and the nurse knew that. I tried to hold it in, but she kept pushing. Then I finally uttered the truth I tried so hard to deny — I’m pregnant.

I couldn’t look her in the face because I was so ashamed. I wanted to run away. I wanted to take back the truth. You can never unsay what’s been said. It took everything in me just to mutter those two words to her. I sat there begging her not to tell anyone. But part of me knew that she had to tell my therapist. And she did.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. Anger. Disappointment. Frustration. Judgment. I sat there shaking, afraid of what my therapist was going to say. But she wasn’t mad. She wasn’t disappointed. She wasn’t even surprised. I think she already knew.

I thought telling someone would make things better, but I was still a mess. And I was running out of time. I didn’t tell anyone how far along I was. I knew I had to make a decision.

I knew logically I could never have this baby. I have COPD. I have a heart condition. My body can barely handle taking care of me. I can barely handle taking care of me. I have no money, no job, and no sense of how to be a parent. I smoked. I drank. I starved myself. I took medications that shouldn’t be taken while pregnant. I did all the wrong things in the worst ways.

But this baby would have been my chance at having a real family. Someone who shares my blood, my genes, and my biology. The connection I have been missing since I ran away. A reason to live. And yet the fear of being a mother, of being my mother, is strong enough that it overrides any benefits of having a child.

I didn’t expect it to be so hard. I wasn’t attached. I knew it was for the better. Yet hours before my appointment, I broke down. I started to doubt my decision. I started to doubt everything. Why am I crying? My therapist sat me down and told me it was okay to cry. She told me it was okay to feel however I was feeling. The decision was mine to make.

So I went through with it. No one outside of therapy knew what was going on. I went home and pretended like everything was okay. I did laundry. I cooked dinner. I baked dozens of cookies. I went to therapy. I acted like it was a regular day. And yet, at the same time, I was losing my baby.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried more than I have this past week. And I can’t understand it. They say it’s grieving. But how can I grieve something I caused the loss of? How can I grieve someone I never met? How can I grieve what I knew I could never have?

All I can think is how I’ve done what my mother should have done to me. I spared a child a life of misery and pain. I saved her in a way I wish I would’ve been saved.

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.

Art

I haven’t been able to write much. There’s a lot going on, both inside and outside of myself. I’m hoping to write soon.

But as I continue working to get words on my screen that make sense, I thought I’d share some artwork (though I’m not sure it qualifies as art) that I’ve done in my time at PHP.

I’m not an artistic person. Sitting in an art class makes me want to flee. But it’s not an option when you’re in group. You have to do something.

The first time I was in art, the therapist asked us to create something surrounding the words “I am”. While most people went right to drawing images, my mind went to writing words. But every word that was popping into my head was negative. It wasn’t that those words were untrue — they were my reality for a very long time. But they weren’t anymore. I didn’t want to ignore those parts of me. They still made up who I was. But I am more than that now. So for each truth of my past, I wrote the reality of my present. The totality of who I am.

That was one art class down. Only dozens more to go. So I decided to do a collage. At first, I chose to do one because it would take up a lot of time. I could spend several (collective) hours just flipping through magazines, killing time so I wouldn’t have to do anything artsy. And that’s exactly what I did. I flipped through at least a dozen magazines, cutting out whatever stood out to me. Words, phrases, pictures. Before I knew it, I had a whole baggie full of magazine clippings.

As I went through what I had cut out, I realized that every thing I chose had a purpose. Words that described me. Phrases that inspired me. Pictures that I liked. This collage is me. Every piece has a meaning. Each section is a story. Past. Present. Future. It’s me.

I may not have been able to write much these last few months. But these are my words; just in a different form.

To know what safe is

I don’t wanna be afraid
I don’t wanna run away
I don’t wanna be here fading
It’s more that I can take
I’m never gonna be the same
I threw it all away
I don’t wanna be here fading
Just let go

This song played today (Red – Let Go). And even though I’ve heard it dozens of times before, today it stuck with me in a way it hadn’t before.

I am in fear. Every day of my life, I am scared. And it’s frustrating, because I believed that once I got away, I would be safe. But I don’t feel safe.

I don’t think it matters where I live. I’ll still be afraid. Even though I have been in the safest place I have ever been in my life, I’m still just existing here, waiting for her to find me again. My heart still drops any time I get a handwritten letter in the mail. I still get anxious any time someone new follows my blog, wondering if it’s really her. Because why would she stop? She’s already done it before. She’ll do it all again and more.

I told myself I would lead a hidden life when I got out, but I didn’t. I wasn’t cautious enough. I took a job that put my name out there. Anyone who googles my name will find a plethora of work I’ve done and articles I’ve written. I’m not a nobody. I’m not hidden. I am exposed. And that scares me. If I had just stayed silent, if I had just blended in with society instead of writing and speaking out, maybe I would feel safe. Maybe.

I haven’t been writing like I used to. I haven’t published an article in over a month.  All I can think about is her reading it and finding her way back to me. All I can think about is her reading it and knowing how much she has ruined me.

I haven’t been able to sleep. I’m often awake for two or three days at a time. Severe insomnia, they say. I’ve tried everything short of a self-induced coma. But I don’t think it’s anything Medical keeping me awake. I can’t go to sleep, because I’m afraid. I keep having the same bad dream with her in it. I’m standing in line at the grocery store and there she is, in the line next to me. And I freeze. That’s as far as I get before I wake up shaking.

I don’t want to sleep, because I’m afraid to know what happens next. I don’t want to sleep, because I don’t want her to find me in my dreams. I don’t want to sleep, because I don’t want to relive her terror in my nightmares.

I can’t tell the difference between the past and the present. I know she’s not here with me, but I feel like she is. I spend my days in fear of punishment that will never come, because she’s not even here to hurt me. I hide under my bed some nights in fear that she will come into my room, yet I’m in a house that she doesn’t, has not, and will never live in. I tell myself I can’t do things, because I’m still living in a time when she makes all the rules and I need to oblige.

I am living my life in fear, wondering when I will have to run again. Wondering what threat will come next. Wondering where my mother is, because as long as she is alive, I will always be in danger.

My therapist asked me today what I thought feeling safe was like. I couldn’t answer. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it. I’ve only known varying degrees of unsafety. 

I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of running. I am tired of this kind of life. A life ruled by fear. A life with me fading. A life being ruined by a woman who doesn’t deserve to have that power.

I just want to know what safe is.