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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"I'm allowing this to be part of my story. It's not my only story..." --Beth Stelling

This is a quote from a celebrity who was a domestic abuse victim. I'm not sure why, but when I read her story, those words felt like my own. When I look through my blogs, I realize that for many years they were about me - my past, my present, my friends and family, things I found funny or joyful. And I think I wanted anyone visiting those blogs to notice that I had many stories; abuse and rape were only a part, not the whole.

And then my life became unmanageable and I allowed PTSD to become my closest companion. My blogs became a place to vomit the symptoms and thoughts and feelings I could not control. There were no other stories to tell.

I think the people in my life, those who are a part of my daily or weekly existence, know well that PTSD is not me. I think they understand that the part of my story that is horrible and frightening is not the whole of who I am. I believe I am the one who is making it my only story.

There is a part of me that is grateful I was able to do the therapy work that moved me beyond the pain and desperation of living silently and never speaking of trauma one has experienced. But there is also a part that is embarrassed that I "allowed" the dissociation that had to be mended. I understand it was a defense mechanism required so that I could continue to live. I understand that the daily abuse put me, as a child, in a position where I could not thrive without forgetting what that child endured. I understand all that.

Still, there it that part of me that is ashamed I couldn't hold it together; a part that is embarrassed to talk of dissociation and the pain and work of integration - the part that labels me "crazy" because I did not know a better way to survive.

It's a small part of me, but one that is destroying my self-esteem and robbing me of the desire to interact with people who know about that small part. It convinces me that I am less. Other people go through difficult circumstances. Other people endure trauma. Most of them don't dissociate to the point that looking in the mirror is terrifying because they do not recognize the person looking back at them. It feels as if something is terribly wrong with me because I experienced that.

I don't experience it anymore.

That last sentence was written in a frenzied need to reassure myself and anyone who happens to read this blog that I am less crazy today than I was then. Again, I am mortified that I needed such a coping device.

I think this should not embarrass me. It does. I think I should not worry what people will think, should they find out the lengths I went to for survival and the things I had to do to become whole. I do.

The conflict surrounding this is confusing, to say the least. On the one hand, I know what it took to proceed through the integration process. I understand how difficult it was to say that the experiences that child went through were my own. The enormous amount of strength and courage required to embrace that child and make her me still leaves me breathless and exhausted.

This was a huge accomplishment. And I did it.

But there is still the lingering belief that if I was truly strong and courageous, the dissociation would never have happened at all. That belief leaves me feeling that I must protect everyone I love from me. Something is wrong with who I am. I need to limit time with them, and above all, I must not allow them to touch me. That would not be good for them.

Protect. Always the need to protect.

I purposely provoked the abuser in my life so that my younger siblings would not have to feel the emotional and physical pain, or would feel it to a lesser degree. For many years I remained silent about being raped by a cousin because I needed to protect the people I loved from feeling anything about what happened to me. Many of them had good relationships with that cousin. I feared their disbelief, but I also feared what would happen if they did believe me. It would cause them pain. I needed to protect them from that.

But mostly, throughout my life, I've been protecting people from me. From the wrong parts of me. From my responses to the things that have hurt me. I'm still doing it.

I believe this is one reason for the sadness from which I've been unable to emerge during the past year. I think I'm too tired to protect people anymore. And there is part of me that longs to stop apologizing for dissociation, for sadness, for being the person I am and having trauma as a part of my story.

Recently I've been thinking about safe people and safe places. I did not reside in a safe place as a child. When I was nine I found safety in the solitude of my backyard mountains. Prior to that, we lived in cities where that was not available to me, so I was the child who disappeared beneath my bed or inside a closet, or in the branches of a tree. I sought out places that felt safe. As a young adult, I could no longer rely on my physical safe places so, through dissociation, I left the part of me behind that needed one. When I was integrated, the need for a physical safe place reestablished itself. I have found some safe places, but none that feel impenetrably safe. It causes me distress.

I don't believe I've ever thought people were safe. Even after marrying Darrin, I wondered if he was a safe person. I think, after 20 years, I finally believe that he is. But I'm fairly certain the real reason I struggle with believing people are safe is because I don't believe I, myself, am a safe person. Because I'm unstable and crazy. Because I have PTSD. Because I was dissociated and integrated, and real people don't really do that.

So my tentative plan is to return to therapy. Therapist has not agreed to counsel me through this next portion of my journey because he is unsure that he has the expertise to guide me. But he has agreed to meet with me, listen to my goals, help me draft a plan, and refer me, if necessary.

Almost a decade ago I was diagnosed with PTSD. At the time I insisted that this would not be a lifelong disorder. I would figure out how to manage and recover from the trauma such that PTSD would be gone, or at the very least, completely unnoticeable. My diagnosing psychiatrist said that was unrealistic and pointless. It would be better to accept the disorder and take steps to learn to cope with it the rest of my life. I knew he was wrong.

And I did gain ground as I worked to heal and to rid myself of PTSD. But then life happened and that ground was almost completely lost. But as I have read and researched during the past decade, more and more experts are agreeing with me that, not only is severe PTSD avoidable in some cases, but it is looking more and more like complete recovery from trauma and resultant PTSD can be a reality.

Armed with the information and current research, I'm believing again that I don't need to cuddle with PTSD the rest of my life. And I also think it's time to figure out how to become a safe person, unembarrassed by the survival techniques employed by me throughout my life. And one day I want to feel that it's okay that I once spoke in third person of the child and teen who was me, because I don't do it anymore. And I want to be able to recognize that the process I went through to become whole was admirable - maybe even a little bit heroic. I want to be able to speak of it without excuse or apology.

Mostly, though, I want to figure out how to believe that the people who love me most don't condemn me for my need to survive, regardless of the path I needed to take to do so. And I want to be able to believe that they're proud of me for taking the steps necessary for me to reclaim that part of me I discarded. I want to be able to believe they're really glad that I chose to live, that I'm alive today, and that I have many more stories yet to be told.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I didn't have a lot of time this semester, so rather than dealing with PTSD, I ignored it. Which means I lived on low-level anxiety and panic for about 90 days. It's a bad idea and I know it. But it's also something I've done all my life. I'm a performer.

Performers learn that we'll be in stressful situations, but if you concentrate only on the thing that must be done now, the stage fright and performance anxiety can be successfully ignored until after the performance is over. A successful performer learns to channel the anxiety into controlled energy which is consumed throughout the performance, but that doesn't always happen. So between that training and my life experiences, I'm a pro at putting off dealing with emotions and stress, regardless of whether or not that's healthy. And sometimes it's necessary.

So now that my teaching is on hiatus, I'm allowing the procrastinated stuff to manifest itself. It's worse than I anticipated. Panic attacks are strong enough to cause chest pains, shaking, and vomiting. I'm using all the breathing and calming techniques I know, but they don't seem to be helping. So I just wait. Usually after about fifteen minutes the worst is over and I can function again. Along with the panic attacks are PTSD symptoms. Because of those I alternate between suspicion, anger, numbness, and hyper-awareness when it comes to people. I seem to be unable to feel affectionate at all.

I suppose that beneath all of this I am afraid. It's difficult to see an end when you're in the middle of everything. I'm afraid I won't be strong enough to make it through the panic and distress - that at some point I'll break and I don't know what that means.

I'm afraid that Darrin won't get a job and I'll have to work 60 hour (or more) weekly for the rest of my life. Or that he will get a job, but I won't be able to stop working anyway because I don't know how.

I'm afraid that if I don't keep being pleasant and delightful, people will leave. And I don't know why I worry about that because part of me wants them to go away so that I can figure out what is happening to me without interruption.

I'm afraid that some people are already gone. And, again, confused about that fear because I'm pretty sure that if this is the case, it's the best thing for everyone involved.

I'm afraid to talk - to sleep - to rest. I'm afraid if I don't schedule every second of every day and night, I'll have to

I don't even know how to finish that sentence. I have no idea what I'm afraid of.

All the roads leading into or away from my small town are "closed indefinitely due to weather." That hasn't happened in all the time I've lived here. But it feels metaphorical and fitting.

I had a friend once who needed help with her life for a number of reasons. And I wanted to help her. So I spent time with her, and recommended a couple of therapists, and we went for walks and talked a lot. But she never got better. And she never went to either of the therapists. And eventually, it seemed that she didn't want to get better. I didn't understand.

What I understand now is that it takes energy - lots of it - to get better. It takes courage to see a therapist. It takes both to continue afterward, and I'm running on empty. Literally.  :)

Monday, December 14, 2015

I suppose this old blog is nearing the end of its existence. That's probably as it should be. I've been emotionally attached to this place. It has been the recipient of my PTSD tantrums when my feelings have exceeded that which is socially acceptable. It's good to have a place where one can scream without harming anyone else. So my blog has served me well and allowed me a place to express those things I could not otherwise.

I closed up my blog a couple of months ago. I needed privacy for a little while. I understand that's silly, since this is not really a hub of activity. Still, closing the door was helpful for me.

Today I wish to write the thoughts that have finally made it into words during that time. The ideas are not necessarily connected - just random realizations and wonderings that have yet to find answers.

Love Language:
I've always believed my dominant one was Quality of Time. I've blogged about how I don't really believe in the love language philosophy because everyone needs all those things and the level of such need increases or decreases with circumstance and individuals. But there's definitely a credible foundation for the love language idea. So I played the game and decided that my dominant love language was Quality of Time. I need to be with someone, to talk and listen, and to know that I'm important enough to have him or her make time for me.

But it is also true that this is where I hide. I connect through Quality of Time because I am often unable to use the love language the speaks most profoundly to me. There are times when I cannot receive nor give it. My true dominant love language is touch. I think I've known this for a long time, but it's a tiny bit agonizing to know that I sabotage my ability to give and receive.

Actually, that's not true. I don't sabotage. I think the truth is that when you've been abused through the love language that speaks most loudly to you, you shut down that part. It hurts too much. And you reroute to a place that feels comfortable and acceptable, even if the impact is not as great. You learn to mistrust and fear the former love language. Each time it is given, you make up reasons why it can't be real, and you remind yourself that it is not to be trusted.

So touch has become something that causes me incredible distress. There have been times when I have allowed it - because the desire and need to receive does not go away, ever - only to be followed up with intense mental and emotional anguish. The cost rarely justifies the indulgence.

In spite of all that, I have put myself in situations where touch, on some level, must be given and received. I did that last weekend when I attended breakfast with a large number of friends. We hug. That's what friends do. So I did. I don't really have more to say about that. It takes awhile to sort through all the crap that crops up when I am hugged by that many people. Especially when I love each of them.

Then there is the added dimension of learning to trust a few people. They are the ones with whom I can have physical contact and sometimes it's okay (okay = I don't have PTSD symptoms caused by the touch for a couple of weeks following the contact). And then I almost feel normal. Almost. Because I know that with friends, touch becomes less frequent as familiarity increases. Except I don't want it to. I want it to continue. Feeling normal is amazing. So as time passes and touch decreases, I find myself understanding that their feelings of comfortable companionship are normal, and my feelings that I have become distasteful, annoying, or that talking with me is fine, but touching me is disgusting-- those feelings are probably not. That understanding only increases my anxiety about people and relationships, in general.

Being a Delightful Person
I'm fairly certain no one intends for me to retreat to the entertainer personality when they're with me. I also understand that they REALLY do not want to know what's going through my head when I'm socializing. I also do not believe that the person I become in that instance is artificial or fake. She's just surviving.

That makes it sound as if I dislike being with people which is untrue. It's just difficult for me to maintain what is authentically me in that circumstance. It's just safer to make sure whomever I'm with remains feeling that I'm happy to be with them and I want us both to enjoy our time together. Which is true. I am and I do. It's just complicated. Mostly because I don't trust people even though I want to. And when I look at all that, it's amazing that people who know me at all want to spend time with me, understanding that I'm stressed and confused and conflicted and I don't trust them.

But I love them. A lot.

Managing PTSD Requires Time, Courage, and Stamina
All things that I do not have right now, and have not had for awhile. Which means I've not been managing PTSD. Which means there's a lot going on inside me that makes my life feel nightmarish and frustrating. Which means my depression level has dipped into suicidal and stayed there longer than I ought to have allowed it. Which means I'm being stupid about this.

Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it's not really in my control. I know people who would tell me I always have a choice. In these moments, while I acknowledge that they are correct, I also acknowledge that they aren't living my life and they're stupid, too.

I Don't Do Passive Aggression
Unless I'm tired, feeling trapped, and losing the inherent ability I have to communicate like a sane person. I've been guilty of passive aggressive words and behaviors in the past month. I'm deeply ashamed of that. I'd like to say I don't usually do that, but I'm aware that I've done so before. It is, however, something I passionately avoid. I dislike (and usually ignore) it when people lash out at me with passive aggression. If I love you, I'll call you on it and suggest we find a more constructive way to talk about what's bothering you. If I don't love you, I'll probably walk away and pretend it didn't happen.

However, when I'm the culprit, I want to die a little bit. I know better. I understand that indulging in bad behavior to garner someone's attention usually backfires in very awful ways. I've been wondering why I do it all, and I've come up with the following reasons:
1. I'm tired and the thought of using the energy necessary to fill my needs makes me more exhausted.
2. I feel ignored when I try to fill whatever need is causing me distress.
3. I feel I have nothing more to lose - the relationship is waning or already gone.
4. I don't realize I've done it until after the fact.

That last one doesn't usually happen unless I'm overwhelmed to the point that I'm no longer thinking before acting. It's an occasional lapse, but one that has taken place more often lately, which makes me deeply uncomfortable. Regardless, when I realize that I'm speaking or acting passive aggressively, I feel like I'm not me. Then I don't want to talk with or be with anyone until I can control that ugly part. And I probably won't talk about it, even if asked. The thought that I might do it again makes me want to vomit. And I need to pull myself back together. That's best done in my own company. It's not a pretty sight.

This isn't part of the above topic.
Darrin is still unemployed. I was hopeful that I might get to rest a bit when the semester ended, but I can't yet. There are so many other complications going on, as well, that I often feel that I'm losing my mind. I'm not, though. And I'm dealing with the depression. Probably the suicidal feelings happen a few times during the day, but I think that will decrease at some point. I try not to be alone. I used to try to contact people to talk, but that's not a good idea. If I do that when I'm having a real need and the person is unavailable, I'm not always rational in my response to that. So I read, or go for a run. I'm looking forward to the time when those feelings will be, maybe, once a week. That will be a relief.

This week I will decorate for Christmas and do some baking. Thursday I have a lunch date with a friend. And today we have fresh snow and bright sunshine. It's beautiful.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Natural Selection

I am addressing the decision to adapt or face extinction. People do it everyday without even knowing it's happening. My awareness of it comes simply because I'm too tired to make the decision naturally and gracefully. It requires Herculean effort to adapt as I demolish the dams that keep me comfortably stagnant, and doing so brings me no joy or excitement.

There is, however, something to be said about grim determination. My daughter has told me that state of being has never applied to me. Even when my hip was grinding against the socket and I was insisting that I continue my nauseating trips to the gym for my morning run on the elliptical, she said I did so with energy and delight. Probably that's because she didn't witness the mid-run, pain-induced vomiting sessions.

However, I've been feeling ever more grim since August of last year. I was assigned to teach two classes during the 2014 fall semester which effectively sucked all the joy out of teaching - to the point that I was, with the utmost finality, telling people that I was finished. I would not teach again.

In addition, I was asked to make a formal report concerning being raped, and was required to repeat my story more than once. This experience brought me more anxiety than I have experienced thus far in my life, and caused me to discover that what I thought was completely healed was simply lightly scabbed, requiring only the tiniest friction for the bleeding to begin again.

I suppose that was the most jarring discovery. And in spite of my efforts to circumvent them, all sorts of unhealthy coping devices presented themselves to help me meander through the resulting mess. In May I discovered I had a tooth abscess. My dentist told me it had probably been there for at least a month and asked why I hadn't come in sooner. The answer was simple. I didn't feel it. Which brought about the appalling discovery that I wasn't feeling any pain at all. That was the final straw, I suppose. Two or three years prior, I had worked so hard to learn how to feel pain. The process had been frightening and miserable, but I did it. To understand that anxiety and stress could undo my work made me feel exhausted and defeated.

Of course, I was told by people who care about me that I could fix this. I knew how. I was strong. This wasn't permanent.

It made me want to punch them all. Perhaps more than once. I didn't understand my knee-jerk reaction to what I should have felt was supportive. I kept telling myself to be grateful for their confidence in me. Then I wanted to punch them all one more time.

About two weeks ago I finally understood where the feelings were coming from. I didn't want them to have confidence in my ability to fix myself. I didn't want to hear, "I know you can do this." I wanted to hear, "We'll do this together."

There's something about knowing someone will walk with you and hold you up as you work through something that requires all your concentration and effort just to move forward an inch. But Therapist was telling me I didn't need him anymore. He was a sounding board, he said, but I was doing all the work myself. I'm certain that what he meant was, "Sam, you're amazing. Look how far you've come and look at what you're doing now! Congratulations!" What I heard was, "You're on your own. Best of luck to you. Let me know how things turn out. If you remember."

I was hearing similar messages from people, including Darrin, who had previously lent me the confidence to feel I could attempt anything because if I failed, they would be there to help me pick up the pieces. Now it felt like I would disintegrate and rather than having someone giving aid as I put myself together, I would have a distant cheering section applauding as I lay helpless, urging me to get up and do something while I bled to death.

That was what I heard. There is no doubt that the intention behind their words was something completely different. And the result is that my sense of loneliness and isolation increased to the point that I felt completely immobile and incapable of changing anything about my situation.

Well-meaning people inquired as to whether I was doing better. At first I tried to express what was happening, but I didn't have the words and I was already anticipating the negative response I might receive. Eventually, I just said things were going really well. As they had promised I could feel pain again (yay), and I was rallying, blah, blah, blah. Lies, of course.

One can only do that for so long before the truth makes itself known. Two weeks ago my husband pointed out a raised bruise as large as my fist just above my knee and asked what happened. I didn't know. About the same time, Tabitha watched me remove a sheet of cookies from the oven without potholders. Alarmed, she asked if I was okay. I had no idea what she was talking about until she turned on the cold water and pulled my blistering hands beneath the stream. Then I remembered I'm supposed to use pot holders when I do that.

So today I'm admitting that the work I've done since May has been ineffectual. I remain feeling isolated. And I'm still very, very tired. My stress level has increased to the point that my blood pressure is unmanageable even with my medication, I have no health insurance to get an evaluation and change the medication, and given that we're living on one salary (mine) right now, it is not in the budget to pay for such a visit.

On top of this, I am battling untrue beliefs that feel thoroughly real. I should know that Therapist would help me at any time, but the untrue belief that I'm buying into says that he doesn't really want to work with me anymore. It's been more than a decade. Any sane person would be fixed by now. He's tired of me, of my relapses, of my inability to get better. He wants me to go away.

Similar feelings permeate all my current relationships, sapping me of the strength to work on and build those relationships, and robbing me of the joy I used to feel within those. The result, of course, is that my ability to respond with appropriate emotion, to bond, to express deep feeling - all those have become muted to the point that I'm uncertain they're even whispering anymore.

So what is left is grim determination. It allows me to continue to interact with people when my brain says I should - to answer appropriately when they speak or text or email - to "Like" or respond to a Facebook post, or post a link, article or video on someone else's timeline. I'm listening to my brain because my heart is telling me to get the hell out of Dodge.

And I'm laughing as I write this: At this juncture, I really need you to love me for my brain. It's pretty much all I have left.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

“Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.” ~Jane Austin

A couple of years ago I noticed that my support base was shrinking. This was not unexpected. Indeed, I saw it coming even before the support base was established. It was one reason I hesitated to accept help from people in the beginning. But then I thought maybe it would be good for me to learn to trust people. Therapist helped me by assigning projects that would cause me to bond with them. I never did learn to trust all the way, but there were days when I felt certain I could trust some of the people in my life. That feeling didn't ever stay, but it was nice when it was there.

When those closest to me became more intricately involved in their own lives, it became necessary for them to stop being with me as often. This was part of the plan. I fully expected that as I continued with therapy my need for support would decrease. The timing of that would, of course, coincide with my support base's need to move their attention away from me. But life rarely follows my plans.

What I didn't know was that I would have a number of hurdles that would impede my therapeutic processes. I didn't know that while I would, indeed, grow stronger, my life would become more unmanageable and stressful. So as expected, the support people grew away from me, but I needed them even more. This is no one's fault. It's just what happened.

I spoke to Therapist about this a year ago. I was feeling desperately alone and there seemed to be no one left to turn to. There was a great deal of silence when I reached out to people. Therapist asked, "Does the silence feel like abandonment?" I thought about it for a moment. "No," I said, "It feels punitive." Therapist said, "Do you think that's the intent of your support people?"

Of course it's not. Certainly, if I asked about it, everyone in my life would simply let me know they got busy or were just not able to talk to me when asked - for many different reasons. And it would all be logical and true. Which does not change the fact that it feels like I'm being punished and I don't know what I did wrong.

In my head I hear people reminding me that I'm allowed to contact them if I need to talk. I weigh that against the silence. Silence speaks louder.

Therapist asked me what my support people might say if I told them the lack of response feels punitive. I waited a moment, pretending to think. I knew what I was supposed to say. Finally, I said it, "No doubt they would feel badly that our timing didn't match. They'd try to make time for me later. They would be reassuring about caring for me."

That was kind of the end of it.

Except not really. Because I don't believe anything I said in that last part. I mean, I believe it would happen, but I also believe that the reassurance would stem from feeling awkward because I asked the forbidden question. You're not supposed to ask why people disappear. You're just supposed to accept that it's happening, stop feeling sorry for yourself, buck up and ignore the PTSD. It's not nice to be intrusive. It's not allowed to ask people where they have gone. Because if they've become scarce, there is a very good reason for it. They'll tell you all the good reasons if you overstep the bounds of propriety and actually ask.

What I hear, though, is this, "Sam, you used to be important to me (or entertaining or somewhat interesting). So we pretended to be close. You told me things about your life, and I shared things about mine. But now my life is changing and I really don't want to share with you anymore. So I'm busy. Really busy. And sometimes I think about you, but then I get busy again. You understand, right?"

I do, yes.

And it feels punitive, I suppose, because somewhere along the line I did something wrong. That's how it worked when I was growing up. If you're "good," the people in charge will be nice and care about you a little bit. And if you're not, probably they don't have time for you anymore. They're busy.

Therapist would tell me the support people in my life are not "in charge." He would say they really aren't in the business of emotional blackmail, and probably the last thing they intend is for me to feel that they're punishing me. But this is a sticking point for me. It's why I've never before cultivated close relationships. I understand that I'm broken. I know that I'm wrong. I also do not know how to stop feeling the way that I do about this situation.

And the weirdest thing is that there is a very large part of me that is really happy that they're busy being in love, and having families, and working, and living their lives. I want that for them. I support that with all my energy. But somewhere in the background is a tiny bit of Samantha who wonders why she's in time out, while at the same time understanding that she's completely wrong about that.

I'm sort of tired of being wrong. I'm really tired of feeling anything. And I have a great deal of work to do before Monday. It's good to be busy.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sometimes there are just really bad days.

Friday, September 25, 2015

"Touch me, remind me who I am.” ~Stanley Kunitz

I've been thinking a lot about love. Surprise!

I've been talking with Tabitha and Adam about love. I'm learning a number of things difficult to articulate, but still true. I don't know that I'll be able to explain, but I'm going to try. Words make things real to me.

Adam told me that he knows Darrin and I love him. We tell him often. He says we show him more often. When we were talking about this, I said I knew my parents loved me, too -- sort of like a person loves ice cream or going to a movie. They like having me around. Adam says that's different from what he feels from us. He says being loved by Darrin and me is something he feels all the time, in the background. And he feels that deeply. It's not something that comes and goes, it just is.

Tabitha says knowing she's loved and wanted by us gives her the courage to try new things. She can fail and still be safe. There will always be someone to hug her, help pick up the pieces, and brainstorm new ideas to try. She says one day she wants to go far away. She's not afraid to leave because she knows it won't make us love her less. She believes she'll feel loved even when we're not with her.

When I was 17, I left my parents. I had no car, so my mother drove me 200 miles to the place where I would live and work. I had never met my employer. I did not know who I would be sharing a bedroom with. My mom drove to my new workplace, helped me lift from the trunk my suitcase and a laundry basket holding some basic necessities for the independent 17-year-old, got back in the car, and said good-bye before driving away. I had no idea what to do next.

It never occurred to me that I hadn't been hugged. I was never hugged. There was no mention of calling home, no discussion about how I might return home, should I choose to do so, and no "I love you." Again, I was not surprised or disappointed. I had no expectation that any of those things would happen.

I picked up my suitcase in one hand, balanced the laundry basket on the opposite hip and made my way to the building entrance. Once inside, I lowered my belongings to the cement floor. I was in a sort of recreation room with a ping-pong table and a television. A couple of young adults were there. They said hello. I continued to stand quietly. After a couple of minutes, one of them came over and asked if I was a new employee. I said I was. She took my basket and placed it against the wall, indicating that I could leave my suitcase, as well. Then she told me to follow her. We located my new boss, I was shown to my new room, and I was given my new work schedule. It was 5:00 p.m. I would start at 7 a.m. the next day.

My guide and my boss left me in my new room. I sat on the bare mattress that was my bed and wondered what to do next. I hadn't eaten that day, but didn't really worry about it. I rarely ate. A set of neatly folded white sheets were at the food of the bed. I spread the clean sheets over my mattress and covered them with the quilt given to me by my grandmother before I left home. It was made of tiny, colorful squares and backed in bright red flannel. She was the only person who acknowledged that I was leaving. She had hugged me.

I think, had I been less misshapen by the different traumas in my life, I might have cried at that point. It didn't occur to me to cry in the moment. I had long since understood that affection was not really something I was allowed. I felt awkward when my grandma hugged me, and confused, too. Hugging didn't really make sense. Well, more to the point, hugging ME did not make sense. I understood that other people did that. It just wasn't something they did with me.

There is no doubt that I was horribly lonely in that moment. That was unremarkable. I was always lonely. I assumed that was just part of being alive. But I had decided I would like to be lonely in a new place rather than in the house where I grew up...and was raped...and was abused...

It was a good choice. That summer I gained a friend who didn't care that I believed I wasn't supposed to be hugged or cuddled or enjoyed. Her name was Karen. We were a team at work. After work, we were still a team. We went hiking and camping and shopping. We sang and giggled and wondered who we would be in ten years.

Within a couple of weeks there was a young man who showed interest in me. I had tried dating a boy in high school That was disastrous. But I liked this new person. He wanted to spend time with me, but he didn't insist on any kind of physical reward for his presence. If I didn't want to be touched, he complied. He told me he liked me. He also said I was very young and he was fine if I just wanted a really great friend. His name was Tom.

So we were really great friends. And we went on dates. Sometimes Karen came with us. I asked if it was awkward to be the third person. She said it might be if I was in love, but she knew I wasn't. And she was right. I wasn't. Not with Tom. But he had taken me home to meet his family and I was in love with them.

I was in love with the way his mother treated me like I was one of their family. She took me into the kitchen with her and had me help cook and take a turn doing dishes while she chatted with me and made me feel that I had lived there my entire life. I was in love with the way his father teased me, just as he teased all of his children, gently and mischievously, but always with a look in his eye that told me this was happening because I was one of them. I belonged.

Mostly, though, I was in love with his sister. Completely twitterpated. She was thrilled when I came home with her brother. She immediately claimed me as her best friend. I was told about her fiance, her college shenanigans, her favorite foods, and invited to wear anything in her closet that appealed to me-- and she was very excited to explore my wardrobe, as well. She was a little disappointed that I was smaller, but thought there were still some of her clothes that would look "darling" on me.

When I left my job and went to school, Tom's family wrote and called and invited me to come visit. And I did. Even when Tom left for his mission, I continued to visit his family. They said I was their youngest daughter/sister. Two years later I got married. Not to Tom.

At that point contact ceased. I lost my place in that family. I think they were upset with me.

I write this story because I believe those two years were a time when I had the closest thing in my life to a real family relationship. It wasn't real. That became clear when I got married. But I do think they loved me. They just didn't know what to do next. Neither did I.

But during that period, I came the closest to what Tabitha and Adam were expressing when they told me what it's like to be loved by parents and siblings. I think it's interesting that I would feel that way when there was no real tie to the family, and when I didn't marry their son, they disappeared. That's not really how family works. But before all that happened, I had moments when I was certain I was loved and cherished. It felt constant and sustaining. And then it went away.

I have sought that feeling of being loved and needed - an integral part of another person's life - in other people. While I understand that's not something they would welcome or encourage, I still find myself doing it. I want to know that I am loved and welcomed in the same way that I esteem my children. As my parents seem to be incapable of feeling that way toward me, I subconsciously find myself seeking to establish that type of relationship with someone else - anyone else.

Most of the time, as soon as I notice I'm doing it, I stop the process and back away. I remind myself that Darrin loves me unconditionally and forever, and what I'm doing is inane and pointless - not to mention the fact that if the other person becomes aware of what is happening, I'll be labeled a freak and a miscreant and there will be no more fun times for us anymore.

But there have been a couple of times in the last decade when, despite my efforts to make it stop, the attempts to bond went on without me. And, yes, the other person became aware of it. And I apologized. And I ended up stressed and aggravated with myself because no one wants an adult Samantha trying to create intimate, familial-type bonding with them. I know this. Knowing does not keep my subconscious from trying.

And in the midst of trying to block the needs and bonding attempts, I find myself desperately needing to hear from the other person that I'm still loved in spite of the weirdness that is me. On really awful days, I've even asked to hear the words from them. In those moments, I don't seem to care if it's appropriate or if they want to tell me I'm loved. I just want to hear it. And when the words have been said and I'm drowning in a mixed sea of mortification and relief, I wonder how I might be different - might be whole - if my mother had hugged me the day she left me behind when I was seventeen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sometimes I worry a little.

Minor health glitches. Last Monday I had a nosebleed. It lasted about ten minutes and stopped. Then I had another on Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday.

Thinking the weather was becoming drier, I increased my fluid intake and purchased some saline spray to counteract the problems the change in the weather was causing. And there was no nosebleed on Friday or Saturday.

But also on Wednesday I was putting in my contact lenses and felt an odd sensation inside the back of my head. It felt like something was wiggling. Immediately I felt dizzy. I tried to call Darrin, but couldn't make any noise come out. Finally, after about 20 seconds I could make a sound, but it took at least 10 more seconds before I could form a word. I sat on the toilet seat to get my bearings. Darrin came to see what was wrong, but within seconds I felt fine.

Then on Sunday, I was making dinner and, out of the corner of my eye, saw something black slide across the floor. But it made no noise. And nothing was there.

Later that day, I was reading and I fell asleep. Except I rarely nap and I wasn't sleepy. I awoke feeling like an insect was crawling on my face. But it wasn't an insect. It was blood. Lots of it. Both nostrils were bleeding this time. I ran to the sink, but even with my nose pinched shut and blocked by a tissue and my head tilted forward, I was gagging on blood flowing down the back of my throat. My mouth was full of blood. And it wouldn't stop. Finally, after 45 minutes, the blood stopped coming from my nose. About five minutes later it stopped draining down my throat.

I know. Go to a doctor. And I should have gone the ER on Sunday. But I'm not insured. Darrin and I lost our insurance in June, shortly after he was laid off. I'm working up to 18 hours daily to cover our expenses and there's nothing left for an Obamacare policy. We're still paying hospital bills from when Tabitha was suicidal. We're still paying hospital bills from my gall bladder removal in March and Darrin's appendectomy in May. Go to a doctor? Out of the question.

So on a whim I took my blood pressure on Sunday. It's usually normal to low. My numbers were 151 over 109. That's a little high. Okay, for me, that's alarmingly high.

Being Samantha, I started to do research and, sure enough, nosebleeds happen when blood pressure spikes. And I've been under a little bit of pressure lately. We've known for a long time that my blood pressure goes up when I'm feeling very stressed. Which I am. Very.

So I've been doubling my water intake, and using the saline spray. I have some blood pressure medication which was prescribed when I last had surgery (I get a little nervous about surgery which usually pushes my numbers up around 140 over 90), so I'll take that. My doctor said he'd renew the prescription whenever I felt my stress level rising, so I can continue the meds for awhile.

Today is Tuesday. No nosebleed today or on Monday. Still, my blood pressure hovers around 140 over 90 which, says my doctor, is too high. I'm giving this until next week. If the BP doesn't respond to the medication and/or the nosebleeds return, I'll make an appointment to see my doctor, insurance or not.

The truth is, I've never had a nosebleed as scary as the one that happened on Sunday. I'd like that to not happen again. Ever.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

This morning a goldfinch stopped to visit my crabapple tree as it migrated through. The tiny bird hid easily amongst the leaves, but it's difficult to remain invisible when jumping from limb to limb is more important than remaining unnoticed.

Darrin says he is going to mow the lawn today. We'll see. I'm not sad about the soft grass we have this year and if it gets a little long because the mower refuses to start, I'm okay with that.

Tabitha wants to make some sort of apple pastry today. She's listed puff pastry, and fresh and crystallized ginger high on her list of ingredients. We'll put our heads together to see if we can come up with something edible. Darrin won't like it. He has a problem with our ginger obsession.

Darrin has been walking to work with me a couple of mornings a week. This week, in the midst of bright sunshine and blue sky dotted with tiny clouds, a rainbow stretched across the western horizon. This phenomenon appeared every morning at 7:30 and remained in place for at least 30 minutes. I didn't take a picture. I didn't think about it. Sometimes it's okay to just be in the moment and enjoy what is.

My to-do list this weekend is yuck. I have a backlog of online work that's been suffering since I began teaching three weeks ago. Also piling up are assignments waiting for me to grade them and housework that needs my attention. I'm unmotivated. I'd rather watch the goldfinch and look for rainbows and walk barefoot in the grass. Still, if I wait things will only become more stressful and yucky, so I'll take care of as much as I can before Monday.

I'm not focusing on the parts that are hurting inside. I'm making certain I'm noticing the beautiful that is outside. I'm hoping one day it will seep into me and ease whatever is causing me pain. Therapist tells me to do this. As I have no plan B, it seems prudent to follow his instructions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I just want everyone to love me madly - is that asking too much?

Letting go has been a good thing, I think, and it really was a gift. I think there comes a time in everyone's life when they recognize that the work they put into relationships exceeds what is equitable. In really important relationships, it's not unusual for one partner to give more than the other for a time, but usually, as soon as he or she is able, the other partner steps back in and helps to strengthen the parts that have become weak. But those relationships are rare.

I think most people believe this:
And it's probably a truth. Just because I don't buy it doesn't mean it's false. And since pretty much the whole world believes this, there's more than a slight chance that I've been wrong and this is what friendship's all about. It's just that I've experienced the "pick up like they just spoke yesterday" friends, and I've experienced the ones that really seem to want to be present and have real conversations because they actually did speak with me yesterday. I prefer the latter.

However, I also understand that's impractical. And expecting that I can have that kind of a relationship with anyone except Darrin is stressful to everyone involved. Hence the letting go thing. 

It's actually more about expectation than practice. When one releases the expectations, paradigms shift dramatically. It's taken some preparation and some rehearsal time, but I think I've finally got this down. In fact, I may have shifted a bit too far. I've lowered my expectations to the point that when someone actually contacts me, it sometimes takes me a day to figure out how to respond. I'll work on that. 

But I'm noticing that if I don't wait for someone to talk or call or text or whatever, or to respond to my attempts at contact - if I just move on with my life and let the ball remain in their court, it's like there's nothing, really, left to do. I've done what I can. I might nudge the ball a bit, just to make sure there's no longer any interest, and then it's time to do something else. 

The truth is, I'm tired. Incredibly tired. And I'll admit to being depressed because Facebook keeps telling me there's no shame in that. And when you're tired and depressed, reaching out to others for support feels desperate and joyless. And exhausting. And so incredibly lame. Because I think some horribly embarrassing part of me keeps waiting for someone to notice, and how can they because I'm so busy making sure no one could possibly guess that I'm dying inside. 

But back to the letting go part. 

I don't wish to be misunderstood. I'm not giving up people or relationships or any of that "stuff." I'm just letting whatever happens happen. I'm waiting to see if one day I'm able to suddenly understand the meme above, and actually appreciate it without rancor or resentment or sadness. Hey! Maybe I'll actually grow up and be an adult about something in my life. That would be a step in the right direction, I think. In essence, I'd be saying, "We have lives. It's good we let each other live them. And it's good we have lunch every once in awhile so we can see who has more grey hair and wrinkles, who put on the most weight, and who is the oldest fart."

Okay, that's probably not without rancor. Two out of three, though. That's not bad.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Decade has Come and Gone.

Do you feel old now? Well, you're not. Ten years is only a drop in the bucket when you consider how many years you have left, but that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about communication.

Ten years ago, online chatting was the way to communicate. Texting happened, but lots of people were getting to know one another online. I was no exception. I made many friends, some of whom I met in person. It was great. It was also very out of character for me.

I'm not an extrovert.

Today people prefer texting. I do not. It might have something to do with the fact that I type more than 100 wpm, so chatting with people feels seamless and natural, in spite of the fact that one cannot always understand the nuance behind the words. Texting feels awkward and silly. It requires abbreviated messages that rarely convey what I wish to say. And I'm finding that many of the people I would text with don't answer very quickly. That doesn't lend itself well to conversation and when I want to talk with people, it's usually because I want to connect and converse, not leave a pithy message and then wonder if it will be answered.

I think, too, for someone with PTSD, texting is counterproductive. There are times when the intent behind online chat can be difficult for me to decipher. When it comes to texting, multiply that difficulty by about a million.

So in a decade I've become a dinosaur. I don't like to text. I'm the only person on this earth with a cell phone who prefers to actually use it as a phone or not at all. Don't get me wrong. I like getting texts. I like hearing from people I love in any venue. I just don't want to send tiny messages to each other, sandwiched in between everything else we have to do, until we eventually become bored or distracted by something else.

But no one really chats online anymore. And it's rare that people call each other either.

I find myself in a very similar situation to the one I was in just over 10 years ago. I rarely talk to people. I work long hours. In my spare time I run, or read, or practice the piano. And that's how it's been for most of my life. It's probably the way it should be.

So I'm left wondering what happened to me a decade ago when I suddenly began talking to complete strangers, and connecting with people I'd never met (and might never meet), and a day did not go by without my starting a conversation with someone, or some person finding me. I think maybe I just went a little crazy. I forgot who I was for ten years.

Or maybe I was possessed. I think that's probably it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

There is a tiny red bird in my tree.

I was told by a good friend once that I could be a good leader if...

Then he went on to talk about all the reasons I could never be a good leader, as if I had somehow indicated that was a thing I wished to become. I listened, bemused. Leadership is something to which I have never aspired. It ranks alongside politics, animal husbandry, chemical engineering, municipal sanitation work, and construction. My friend, however, seemed to believe I was being untrue to myself and letting down all those people just waiting for me to lead. All those people.

I don't really listen to anybody. Darrin will attest to this, as will anyone who has known me longer than a day. So hearing what my friend had to say about all the reasons I was failing my imaginary leadership role had little effect on my self-esteem. It did, however, as is often the case with me, set me thinking. Why do I shun leadership? Why does it not appeal?

I know people who like to see their names attached to many things. I'm the Facebook freak who removes tags and has to approve pictures and posts placed on my personal page. I don't care if I'm known for anything. I don't really do anything in the hopes that future generations will look to my example and be grateful that I lived. The last thing I want is to be a person others look to for advice, guidance, or leadership. I'm actually pretty happy not being noticed. Perhaps that's why I still blog.

"But you're a very strong woman," argues my friend. I believe he has confused stubborn and intractable with strength. I simply don't give in unless I want to. You could argue the color of the sky with me until doomsday, but if I've decided it's green, and I don't feel like capitulating, I'll simply walk away saying, "You can think it's whatever color you wish. But it's green." And I'll do that even if I know the sky is blue, simply to be unpleasant. That is not strength.

"Look at what you've overcome," Friend insists. But I don't want to. It makes me sad. It's not that I don't feel grateful or at peace because of the issues I've fought through and laid to rest. I fully acknowledge that what I've done in the past decade took more stamina that many people want to think about, and that there have been moments of utter exhaustion while I gathered myself so that I could go to work again. But it was all about me. Always. It was about being able to live one more day. It was about not being afraid that people would hurt me. It was about discovering who I am and who I used to be. And it was about acknowledging that I can't do everything and sometimes other people are responsible for the things that have hurt me. That's not courage or grit or anything remotely brave. That's survival. Every person alive today has experienced survival mode in some form.

"You have optimism and you don't let life get you down." Well, my friend, I'm unsure if that qualifies as a great leadership quality. What I am certain of is that you've never read my blog. Ever. Because losing faith and struggling to find it, wondering if I'll every be happy again, fighting the impulse to seek death over life-- that's what I'm really about. I have an innate ability to be happy. That, perhaps, is unusual. But it never saves me.

The day before my birthday I showed someone, for the first time in my life, the remaining scars that attest to the pain and sadness I battled as a teen. They're atypical, longitudinal marks; thin white lines along the length of my forearm. They're not the measured horizontal lines of a true cutter. I don't know why, after all these years, I allowed them to be acknowledged. The spectator said simply, "You were serious," and I replied, "Yes, I was."

I was serious about expressing pain I could not talk about. I was serious about wanting to die. But I was not strong enough, or courageous enough, and I did not know enough about human anatomy to make those cuts carry out my wish. And in all honesty, I do not remember carving those lines. Their surreal presence on my arm assures me that I did.

I was never meant to lead. I was meant to survive. I was meant to acknowledge that I am surrounded by love and pain and hardship and beauty. Few people would enjoy walking where I wander. But the true reason that I will never lead is that I have no cause. There are many from which I could choose. I listen to loved ones on both sides debate and cringe and writhe, and I feel their energy slide over me without going inside.

G. K, Chesterton once said, "If a rhinoceros were to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever." The quote makes me giggle a bit because, no doubt, such assurance would get Mr. Chesterton killed. I have no wish to decide who or what has authority in a restaurant or anywhere else, and clearly, having survived this long I have no wish to die. But I believe my attempt at a leadership role would be tantamount to telling a rhino, well, anything at all. He's not going to listen. No one else will either.

Having said all this, and fully understanding that the following statement has nothing whatever to do with the topic of this post, I am somewhat distressed that we can have a political candidate who not only demeans women (and everyone else - let's be honest), but uses his verbal maltreatment of others to gain the fame necessary to advance his standing in the polls. I thought we, as a people, might be evolving beyond that. It seems I was wrong. I am currently seeking to purchase an inexpensive deserted island upon which to live out the remainder of my days. It need not have internet access, telephone service, or fast food. It would be nice, however, if it had a cave. With bookshelves.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Yesterday was my birthday. This marks the tenth birthday post I have made since I began blogging. They're not all here in this blog, but many are.

My birthday is interesting. I received a card and a gift from my mother-in-law. She has never once forgotten my birthday since I have known her. I love her for this.

As expected, a couple of my five sisters remembered to send me a birthday text. Another two remembered to send Facebook greetings.

Naturally, my mother remembered this morning and called to send belated greetings and apologize for forgetting. Again. I didn't answer the phone. It's my phone, after all. I get to choose who I talk to on it.

My father won't remember. If he does, he'll think it's funny that he forgot, oblivious to the fact that I have repeatedly told him I am hurt by his reticence. A child should be remembered. I have stopped telling him. My energy is better spent elsewhere.

My brothers won't remember. They were taught long ago that, while their birthdays mean going to dinner with Mom and Dad and a small gift to celebrate their entrance into the world, mine is to be forgotten. It is not important.

I have never posted my birthday on Facebook. Those who remember to send Facebook wishes are people who notice that someone else remembered or friends who know that my birthday is not always a happy day for me. They remember or are reminded by someone else who remembers. My church lists my birthday in the newsletter shared between the women in my ward. A couple of sisters from church posted birthday greetings, as did my stepfather-in-law and my sister-in-law.

One day I will no longer keep track of these things.

Today I cried a tiny bit. Not because I'm sad my father forgot. Not because I wish I was more important to my own family. Not because I didn't do anything fun for my birthday. Because I did.

Two sweet friends were, through happy coincidence, staying with us in the two days preceding my birthday. We spent time together, played games, and shared meals. I celebrated with them, with Darrin, and with my children.

I suppose I cried because it's time. I understand that nothing will change and it's time to let go. There would be less sting, I think, if birthdays in my family were just not a big deal. That was not the case. They were. All but mine. I no longer wonder why. Why doesn't really matter anymore. I no longer try to let family members know that being forgotten hurts. I've grown beyond the painful part. I believe, at this point in my life, I would be uncomfortable and stressed if they remembered at all. My mother left a, no doubt, frenzied and self-deprecating message in the voicemail I have yet to listen to. I'm tired of the reasons why I'm forgotten. I don't really care anymore.

I actually don't believe I'm all that forgettable. I'm remarkable in many ways. Perfect strangers smile at me in stores and some even take time to chat with me. A small part of me believes that I am forgotten by my family simply because they choose to do so. It's convenient. And because I no longer make a fuss about it, they believe I have no problem with being excluded.

I no longer say that my birthday is just another day. It's not. It's my day. And this year, for my birthday, I am giving a very large gift to myself. I am letting go.

I will celebrate my birth with or without those who spawned me, but I will take my gift further.

I will no longer cling to parts of my relationships with others that produce expectations other people do not wish to fulfill - or even if they wish to, are unlikely to have any kind of follow-through.

I will no longer assume that affection is anything but that. One can have affection for another person without being tied to them. I have been guilty of assuming people in my life feel more deeply for me than they do. That is unfair to them. I need to stop.

I will allow my relationships with others to relax into whatever they will be, naturally. Therapist once told me that the only relationship that really mattered, in the end, was my relationship with Darrin. Through the years, Therapist and I discussed how other relationships fit in that construct. Always I insisted that there were other relationships equally important, and their existence was vital to health and happiness. Finally, after more than a decade, I am understanding what Therapist meant when he made that statement. And I am willing to let my insistence that he was wrong relax and morph into whatever it will.

Darrin says I have poured a great deal of energy into trying to create healthy, thriving relationships with many people. He also says that, given the brutal reality of the last decade of my life, I'm understandably tired. I'm noticing that whenever I have a paradigm shift in my beliefs, someone tells me I'm tired. Little credence is given to the possibility that I might actually have thought about this for a long time and made some logical decisions based on life experiences.

Also, speaking of Therapist, last weekend I was able to finish an assignment he gave me a few years ago. He asked me to think about why I no longer have flashbacks, and if I'm ever able to articulate the reason, to share it with any pertinent people and with him. Last month I finally figured it out. On Saturday I shared with the pertinent person. Therapist will be disappointed, no doubt. I believe he was hoping my experience would be something he could use to help other clients who suffer with PTSD and flashbacks. But the bottom line is, it was pure luck.

And now I'm going to go running.

Friday, July 31, 2015

This isn't working for me anymore. At least, not right now. I used to be able to just write here and then go live my life. I can't seem to do that. Everyone close to me seems to be in distress. I don't know how to talk about me when I need to listen to them. This week a complete stranger emailed and asked if I would talk with her as she works through her history of abuse. She says she's not asking for counsel or advice, she just wants someone to walk with her. She doesn't know that she's asking the emotionally crippled to run a marathon.

I'll talk with her. There just doesn't seem to be any other thing to do. If I say no, I'll feel worse. I feel very much like I have no more life in me, though. It's okay. I'm not going to talk about that again.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Because it's true

I've known this about myself for a long time. I've tried to articulate it to people. Some have allowed me space and made it clear they wanted me, even if it had to be on my terms. Others got tired and left, and that's good because I don't believe I've ever been comfortable with any type of intimacy regardless of how I might crave it. They needed to find someone who was not me.

Nine Ways Those Who Have Been Emotionally Abused Love Differently
by Marie Cyprien

Those who have been emotionally abused understand how much it changes you. Although the outcome of that change is different for everyone, there’s no doubt that such a traumatic experience can cause us to take a different approach to relationships:
  1. We’re very gentle. We’ll keep our distance, especially in the beginning of the relationship because we don’t want to seem overbearing. We like to give the ones we love space to breath because we understand suffocation all too well.
  2. We have guarded hearts. Our hearts have been tattered by our abusers, so they become as hard as a shield. But keep in mind that on the inside, our hearts are so soft and heavy, which is why...
  3. Opening up can be an up in the air kind of thing...because once we open our hearts, we could end up creating a flood of emotions. It’s why...
  4. We like to go slow...because we don’t want to reveal too much information that could possibly chase you away. So we take it one step at a time, becoming a little more vulnerable on the way.
  5. We put thought into the relationship...because we’ve been told how much we get it wrong so many different times that just this once, we want to get something right.
  6. We’re secretly afraid...because we can’t believe that someone as amazing as you can love us and we’re scared that it might just be a heavenly dream.
  7. We can be very affectionate. We crave that cuddling and kisses on the forehead kind of love because it sheds away the fear and insecurities.
  8. We’ll point out the toxic people in your life. We know the signs all too well and we will warn you because we don’t want you to have to go through the same pain we did.
  9. We’ll always be there...because at the end of the day, we wished someone could’ve been there for us.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Therapist suggested it might help me understand what I need if I could articulate what the feelings I'm sorting through are, exactly--and also, what they are not--in this case, being completely clear about each feeling, itself, and also the value judgments that might be placed on it.

Paramount is the feeling of sadness. When I explain this to others, I receive in return a smörgåsbord of reactions which only serve to confuse me more.

What it is:
1. There is definitely regret linked to this feeling. There was a possibility of childhood friendships maturing into adulthood. The cousins in my family were very good friends and enjoyed a closeness that was delightful and joyful. This might have continued indefinitely. David's treatment of Jeff and me, and his attempts to molest still more of his cousins, destroyed that possibility. That makes me sad.
2. I have never been able to comfortably see someone in distress without feeling a desire to ease their discomfort. This is an impulse that is no respecter of persons. It happens with strangers and family members. But it is simply that--an impulse--a response to a situation. And it makes me feel sad.

What it is not:
1. This is not me saying, "Hey! I forgive you for raping the crap out of Jeff and me! Let's be buddies!" Not even close. I don't want to cultivate a relationship of any kind. I'm happy with complete disconnect from David. And whether or not I've forgiven him does not enter into the feelings of sadness. They're separate.
2. This says nothing about my character. I am not "heroic," as one person told me. I'm not special. I did not choose this. It just happened. I'm not kind, or amazing, or any other adjective one might apply. I am also not a freak, nor am I sympathizing with my abuser. I'm sad. That's all.

Accompanying this sadness is a great deal of distress and confusion.

What it is:
1. I'm experiencing something unexpected and uninvited. Given the circumstances, I expected to feel angry or vengeful. I didn't.
2. This is not the first time I've experienced this type of confusion. It overwhelms and sometimes immobilizes me. It affects the way I interact with and feel about the people who are closest to me. My emotions are unstable and I don't ever really know how I'll react to anyone or anything. It's a little bit exhausting and I'm experiencing a high amount of depression right now.

What it is not:
1. This is not an indication that I'm losing my mind. Once previously, I did end up in the hospital on suicide watch. Again, this is overwhelming and immobilizing. That's difficult to cope with. I don't believe anyone would welcome such a state of being. Sometimes I need help. I think it's okay that I went to a place where such help could be obtained when I needed it.
2. This is not s sign of weakness. Anyone can become confused--and I'm not looking for someone to explain how I should cope right now. That's something I need to figure out. And I will.

I suppose what I need are the following:
1. Time. I need to have time to think and cry and feel confused and sad. And I need time with people. That's a tough one. I'm working a lot of hours while Darrin searches for work, so I'm not readily available. And other people work and have limited time, as well. I might not be able to have this particular need filled, but it's important. I'm not sure how I'll deal with it. Right now I'm ignoring it.

2. Reassurance. I need people to understand that I'm doing all I can to make it through this. I need them to trust me to find my own answers. I need to be told that I'm still loved, and on days like today, and yesterday, and the day before, I need to know that I'm still important; that I have worth; that someone misses me because they love to be with me.

3. Empathy. I'm guessing most people look at what I'm going through and think I'm making a very big deal out of nothing. Yes, I had to spend my grandmother's funeral in the same room with the cousin who raped me - but I didn't have to talk to him and he never approached me. It was pretty quiet, all things considered. Yes, I had some weird feelings, but that was more than a month ago. Surely I'm over that now...except I'm not. Spending time in the same place as the person who raped me was more stressful than I thought it would be. Seeing him, hearing his voice...it was sort of awful. It could have been worse. It was bad enough. And as for the feelings, it would be nice to hear people say, "That sounds awful. I'm sorry you have to go through this. It must be really hard."

Because it IS hard. And it hurts. A lot.

4. I need a hug.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I'm not complaining. I know the stuff I'm going through right now is necessary and a means to an end. I understand that it's all part of the  package that is my life. And I like my life.

Still, I'd be lying if I said it was easy. And I'm having a hard time today. Sometimes I don't really feel strong enough to look at reality, work through emotions, and be me. That's all. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, just admitting that today is a little bit yucky.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I often worry about people I care about. I worry when they're sad or stressed or just feeling out of sorts. I worry when they have something huge inside or something overwhelming outside. I worry, I think, because I want what's best for them - whatever that may be - and I wish for them to have joy.

But every once in a while I have a day like today when I think, "I wish someone was worried about me."

Then I realize that's just silly and so am I. The day will pass. Tomorrow will be better. And I'll be fine. That's how it works. There is no reason to worry at all.

Monday, July 6, 2015

I've spent a lot of time during the past ten days thinking. During the month of June I had no days off. And there were too many days to count when I worked more than 15 hours. So Thursday night I packed my bags and left home for the weekend.

I spent time with my very large, very loud family. This does not seem like it would be restful, but I scheduled quiet time when I was alone - time for regrouping and more thinking.

As expected, the reunion with family had its ups and downs. That didn't matter.

I've realized that I've come to a place where I would like to allow friendships and even closer relationships in my life. I believe I've learned that I can trust - however, whether or not I will trust is still something I will allow only sparingly. I'm not ready for anything more. But I'm also understanding that if relationships with people become less close or transparent, I'll be okay. The need for reassurance and frequent connection has eased.

Therapist will tell me that's healthy and good. I'm sure he's right.

Therapist will remind me that frequent interaction between people who do not share a household requires a great deal of work and emotional stamina on the parts of both people involved. He'll say that sometimes one or the other won't be able to contribute what's necessary. He'll talk about being patient and forgiving and coming together again when the time is right. And I'll listen and believe him because again, he's right.

Finally, after a decade, I have figured out how to ignore the impulses and feelings that are the result of living with PTSD. The ones that tell me if someone really cares and wishes to have me in their lives, they'll work just as hard as I do to make that happen. I'm no longer heeding the voices that say I'm unnecessary or disposable. And I think I'm too tired to feel the intensity of emotion that has bound me to people but made me feel the relationship was unbalanced and that I was vulnerable.

I suppose I just feel calm. For the past few weeks I've sent texts that weren't answered and phone calls that weren't returned to a number of people with whom I have a close relationship. Therapist asked me how I felt about the silence. I surprised us both when I said it didn't matter. I further surprised myself when I explained that I knew those people had things going on in their lives and we had moved beyond the point when they could take time to be playful or responsive when I communicated with them. Therapist asked why I sent the texts and made the phone calls if I knew they would not receive answers.

It's a good question. A year ago my answer would be very different from what it is today. The truth is that while the sent messages and voice mails, no doubt, seem trivial and pointless to those who received them, I was including them in the little things. To me, that's when you really love someone - when you say whatever is on your mind whenever you want to because you want to share with them. Probably they don't understand that. Probably the messages from me are intrusive and annoying.

As I said, a year ago I would feel sad, wish things were different, try to figure out how to make changes so I could fee more comfortable and less vulnerable. Today, it doesn't matter. I cannot be anyone except the person I am. Which means I might randomly communicate with someone I consider an important part of my life regardless of whether or not they respond.

Therapist's next question: And how long will you do that without reciprocation?

Another good question, and not one I'm really going to spend time on. No doubt, at some point I'll take the hint and stop being so noisy, but I'm not going to do so until I can do it without feeling resentful or hurt. The silence on the other end has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. Their lives are busy, or maybe I'm communicating at inconvenient times, or maybe they just don't want to play anymore. I'm okay with that. I've felt that way, myself, occasionally.

I came to this place once before, a very long time ago. I realized that my circumstances - the fact that I was largely ignored and clearly unwanted in my family relationships - were causing me to feel angry much of the time and always desperately sad. I didn't know how to obtain physical affection on a non-sexual level, so I avoided touch at all costs. My interactions with everyone were tainted by the knowledge that I could never invest in friendships or other relationships because I had no worth or desirability.

When I understood that I felt that way I was 17 years old. I looked in the mirror and said this, "There is nothing wrong with you. You're no uglier or prettier than any other person. You have a lot to offer. If the people in your life are too blind and stupid to notice, the best course of action is to find a place where, if love is not a possibility, you feel, at the very least, appreciated. But you can love people. You know how. So it's time to leave the place where you feel invisible and make a place for yourself somewhere else."

So I got a job a few hours from home, told my parents I was leaving, and I left. Within weeks I had made more than one wonderful friend, I was dating, and I never looked back. I lived at home briefly after my first year of college, but left again after two months. I needed to be where I could thrive.

I think I'm in that place again. I've become strong enough to weather whatever life throws at me. And while I'd rather do that weathering with support from people who care about me, if that doesn't happen (for whatever reason), I can do it myself. Being with my family these past few days has helped me understand, with clarity that has been missing from my life for quite awhile, that I'm resilient and I'll be okay.

So Therapist wonders if the texts and phone calls that received no answers were a test on my part-- not for the recipients, but for myself. I suppose they were. I was watching to see how I would respond. I was making sure that being ignored would not bring panic attacks or PTSD episodes. I needed to see exactly how strong I was. And now I know.

Therapist's question: Does this mean you no longer want to reach out to people or foster close relationships?

No. I've worked very long and very hard to build and foster relationships in my life. But I've also felt that I was being controlled by my need to have them and my intense fear that I might lose them. I'm absolutely willing to continue those relationships indefinitely, but I'm not afraid anymore. It's a good place to be. I'm loving the calm.

Friday, July 3, 2015

I spoke with Therapist on Tuesday. I didn't blog abut immediately because what he had to tell me wasn't necessarily what I wished to hear and I needed time to think about it. This is what Therapist said:

Sam, I've known you for nearly ten years now. Your reaction doesn't surprise me at all. In fact, it makes complete sense, given what I know about you. 

But it didn't make sense to me. And I wasn't sure I wanted my reaction, which confused and frustrated me, to be completely understandable to Therapist. I said (because I say it all the time-- it's my favorite question), "Why?"

You don't like to see people isolated or hurting. 

That's true. It's called empathy, I believe most people have it to some degree.

We talked about the sadness I've been feeling. I'm grieving, he said. because I recognize that the situation IS sad. David has no more support from his extended family. That's sad. He is in a marriage that is messy and unhappy. Also sad. He has a son who won't speak to him and a new grandchild he has never seen. Very, very sad.

But Therapist said that it's okay for me to be sad because I also recognize that this came about because of choices David made to harm people who should have been safe with him. I'm not trying to fix it. I'm just mourning what could have been. Our families could have shared a closeness and kinship that his actions destroyed. And he is facing that reality now. It hurts him and it's sad.

me: So what you're saying is that I just have to let this happen. Be sad. Grieve. Because it's sad, it affects me, and I just need to let the feelings happen.

Therapist: Sort of. Part of you wants to fix this. You understand that you could reach out to him and maybe ease the pain he's feeling. You've done it many times with lots of people. But you also understand that he's not a safe person and your boundaries do not allow you to be vulnerable with someone who has proven he's not safe. Part of the grief is that you recognize this is not something you can help or heal. There are a number of things that are sad for you in this situation. The grieving must take place because they are beyond your ability to change. They do not belong to you even if they affect you.

Things that affect me but do not belong to me. That's something I'm thinking about.

Also, letting grief happen which is yucky and really hurts. And I can't really talk about it because people immediately remind me that this is what happens when a person rapes kids.

Yeah. I know. But I've passed the "rapes kids" part and moved on to the "person" part. They don't understand that. I don't either. But the truth is that there's a person hurting, for whatever reason, and it's sad, and I can't help.

Why would you want to? they ask.

A very good question. Therapist says that impulse has nothing to do with my cousin and everything to so with me. It's who I am. It's an integral part of Samantha. I stayed in a home with an abusive mother and took the punishment I was afraid she would deliver to my younger siblings. Even when I had opportunity to go elsewhere, I stayed. And I didn't leave until I was certain they would be okay without me. He reminded me of the time I befriended a young girl who was abandoned by her parents and made her a part of my life-- and she calls me her sister today and tells everyone that I "saved" her. Therapist said that most of the people I love have, at one time or another, looked to me for comfort, support, or acceptance.

In my head, that's just how people interact. My story is not unique. People are. They connect with others. They help each other and fall in love. And when that process is stopped, it's sad.

Therapist says, no. He says people like me are important and that not everyone is like me and that's why I have trouble finding a listening ear. The impulse - even his own impulse - is to say, "It's about time the creep got what's coming to him." Therapist said he would not be surprised if my tears are the only ones shed because my cousin is ignored by his family and because he's sad. He said most people remember the reasons behind the current situation and are not bothered by the fact that my cousin is uncomfortable. Therapist says I am unique.

I think Therapist meant that in a kind way, but I'm left feeling that I'm a freak. Also, grieving is really hard and I don't like it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Maybe I can talk with Therapist

When I become tired, everything is not awesome. And today I'm very tired.

I have been feeling increasingly isolated during the past month. This is no one's fault but my own. I've buried myself in work, taking on task after task, because Darrin is still unemployed and last week was his last paycheck. It also marked the end of our benefits.

When I get in this state, someone can send me every single flower in the whole world and tell me I'm amazing and loved, and I will not believe it. The feeling of being ignored persists - of being an afterthought, or only worth spending time with if someone wants something from me.

I'm doing my best to ignore all that. I know it's not true. Well, when I get through all this, I'll know it's not true then. Until then, I'm trying to remind myself that I'm tired and those feelings are not representative of, nor fair to the people who care about me.

Which just makes everything worse because I don't really want to be fair right now.

Yesterday was the day when I cry about everything from the color of grass to the fact that we sometimes eat meals.

Today I awoke feeling more empty that I've felt in a very long time. And alone. So utterly alone. Which was stupid because Darrin was right there.

So I contacted Therapist. Maybe he can help me.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

We are well into the gorgeous summer days which remind me why I love it here. They're bittersweet this year as Darrin applies for jobs which will require relocation. And I'll be fine moving. In fact, I've always believed I would. Just not now.

Not now - because the timing is wrong. I'm contracted to teach next semester. Moving means Darrin will live one place and I'll stay here while I fulfill those contracts.

Not now - because in all the time I've lived here, finally, I've formed social and emotional support with people I trust. I'm sort of fragile at this point and not ready to venture into doing that again. Chances are good that I won't do it if we leave, no matter how much I want to. That sounds silly, I know, but if you have PTSD you understand completely what I just said, and if you don't, I simply sound churlish.

Not now - because I'd like my kids settled a bit more before we leave them behind. Tabitha and DJ will be fine, but Adam is still trying to regain memories of who he was before the migraine drug obliterated his persona. And he has no job right now. He can come with us, but he has a good therapist who has helped him a great deal. He's still dependent. He hates that, but it's true.

Not now - because I'm tired. I feel completely wrung out and every time I start to regain my footing, the rug is pulled from under me once again.

Things I don't need to be told because I've already said them to myself:

1. My attitude stinks. A simple change of attitude will solve all my problems.
2. This is an adventure. I like adventure. But the truth is that I like it when I choose it, not when it's forced on me.
3. A fresh start will be good for everyone.
4. Moving means I can throw away or use Darrin's collection of cardboard boxes residing in the garage where I wish I could park the car (no, I don't know why he collects them).
5. I need to have more faith. No doubt God has something planned...

But you see, I know all those things, but it's difficult to manage them when your strength is gone and your emotions are freaking out all over the place. And there are panic attacks. Let's not forget those. And nightmares.

6. I need to talk with Therapist.

It's on the agenda this week. I might actually be able to talk now. We'll see. In the meantime, the blue flax are everywhere, my roses are blooming, and my morning runs are incredibly beautiful. I hope we go somewhere with a lovely place to run.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Talking about things doesn't always make sense anymore. There was a time when it was crucial for me. Not talking led to the feeling that I was less, shameful, that if I actually spoke the things that were hurting me, I would be left alone. Talking about that helped me understand a few things:
1. I'm only one of many with similar experiences (in other words, there is nothing special about suffering silently).
2. Initially, when I am most vulnerable, there will be people who will take time to help me through the hard part. When I am stronger and need them less, they will return to the important things in their own lives.
3. Nothing that happened to me indicates shame on my part. Being defenseless is not a weakness, it's simply a part of being young and small. A person who takes advantage of one who is defenseless is shameful.
4. I am allowed to say the things that hurt. I may or may not find an audience for my words, but I am still allowed to say them.

My initial hope was that I would talk to a professional, there would be a "fix" for every problem, and all my past hurts would go away. I've spoken with people who have basically told me that was their experience. It has not been mine.

It's possible that I'm my own worst enemy. When one aspect of the trauma I experienced begins to feel better, I immediately identify and tackle the next one. Maybe I just need to stop doing that and be grateful for the progress I've made.

One of the biggest problems I have is that I function beautifully in a social situation, but I have no idea how to understand the emotional complications of close relationships. My impulse is to simply say the things that are causing me distress, or to enthusiastically crow my deep, loving feelings for anyone who is close to me. I've learned that most people don't do that, nor do they respond well to me when I do. These are the tacit rules for close relationships that I have gleaned over the past decade or two:
1. Ignore the small things. Pretend they will go away (they won't, but if you use your energy ignoring them, you can be surprised or uncomfortable when I tactlessly point them out and ask if we might do something about them).
2. You actually can tell someone you love them too many times. I'm not one of those people who becomes annoyed when it's said too often. I spent my childhood and teen years not hearing it once from my family. When I was 16 and 17, a few of my peers said it to me. Two of my teachers from church told me they loved me. That absence created a vacuum inside of me. I can never hear it enough now. Always it is welcome. Always it makes me feel beautifully happy. It is a mistake, though, to believe others will feel the same when I say it to them. They have boundaries. I'm not always good at recognizing those.
3. I should not scoff at the "Love Language" thing. It's real and it serves a purpose in close relationships. I was skeptical when it became a cool discussion item many years ago because in my head, everyone needs some form of touch, time, affirmation, service, and gifts from the people they care about. To identify a main one, in my mind, was to exclude the importance of any other needs a person might have. Shifting the focus to a main love language seemed like a bad idea. However, as I've come to understand myself better, I've realized that someone could send me a lovely gift, but if I've not spent time or talked with them recently, the gift feels meaningless. I'm just not a person who cares about "things." And unless I have time to connect frequently with someone, it's very likely that the other four love languages will have no impact, with the exception of touch which will probably freak me out and repel me.
4. I don't get to choose the way a relationship changes. Well, that's not true. Restated: I only get to choose 50% of what happens in a relationship.
5. Time and space in relationships are vital for some people. I need to respect that. I also need to understand that I probably won't know how to interact with them when they come back because I'm sort of broken. And they don't like to be told that. They want to believe that they have the freedom to come and go and nothing will change in my level of close feelings for them because that's how it works for most people. It makes people who have been close to me uncomfortable when I tell them I'm happy to see them, but I'm not really interested in frequent interaction with them anymore. I need to stop talking after the "happy to see you" part.

This is a crazy week for me emotionally. I don't know how I feel most of the time. It seems that when I decide how I feel, or what I should do next, someone surprises me. For example, on Saturday my life seemed to suddenly melt down. I couldn't stop panicking or crying or shaking. Eating was not happening. Sleep was not my friend. Life felt completely painful in every way. Therapist had told me this might happen. He suggested when it did, the I send a text to people who have been supportive of me in the past, just asking for some reassurance. Lame. I hate doing that. Saturday, though, I was sort of desperate.

So I sent the text to a few people, knowing that because it it was Saturday there would probably be no immediate response. When my phone rang a moment later I was almost too surprised to answer. I let it ring a couple of times, debating whether or not I really wanted to talk to anyone. Then I answered. And I had a really wonderful conversation with a person who allowed me to know of the things that were causing him difficulty in his life, as well as showing interest in the things that were bothering me - letting me support him as he did the same for me. That's balance. That's what is missing very much in my life right now. He gave that to me.

So now I'm sorting through stuff and trying to make sense of what's going on inside of me. I'm still too overwhelmed to really address anything, and if I'm asked questions I probably won't be able to really express the things that are painful and confusing. I tried talking with Darrin about it. Darrin is not stellar about listening without fixing or personalizing. It did not go well. So right now I feel a little bit isolated and misunderstood. When I'm done being self-centered and stupid, I'll probably stop feeling that way. Mostly, though, I need this week to be over, I need Darrin to get a job, and I need to go for a run. Right now.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"History...is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." -- James Joyce

Last time I spoke with Therapist we talked about my nightmares. He asked me what happened in those. I said I didn't know. I didn't want to know. This was my lecture from Therapist:

"We've talked about this before, Sam. There are lots of reasons nightmares occur. Sometimes there's an external cause like being too hot or too cold or eating something that causes stomach pain or distress. But most often it's because there's something we're ignoring - something our brains want us to know or do or discover. As long as you ignore the nightmares, they'll probably continue. And that means you're not sleeping well, which means you're not going to recover and gain the strength necessary to deal with your insanely complicated life. I've been honest with you - I could not go through the stress and physical things you've had in the past few years without completely losing it. I don't think most people could. I don't know how you've managed to maintain your strength and sanity though all of it.

"However, you've been telling me now for about two years that the fatigue is getting to you and that you're very tired. This means you're vulnerable, and even if you are a little bit superhuman when it comes to enduring crap, at some point you're going to reach your breaking point, and my guess is that will happen when nothing is really going on - when things have slowed down and there are no suicidally depressed children, Darrin has a job again, and no one is broken or needs surgery. That's when you'll lose it. And it will be a simple matter of not getting enough sleep, or recuperative sleep, for a very long time.

"A lot of people who deal with nightmares keep a notebook by their bedsides. They simply jot down a few sentences about the nightmares when they awake. Then, after a few days (or even longer), they look at the things they've written and piece together what it is that their subconscious is trying to tell them. I think you should try that. And I think this might be a really good thing to focus on. I'm worried about the fact that these nightmares have been bothering you for more than a year now, pretty much without breaks. That's a long time, Sam."

So last night I didn't do the thing that I haven't been telling Therapist about where I actually CHOOSE not to remember my nightmares. I know the content. I always know. But who, in their right mind, wants to look at the details of the things that caused PTSD in the first place? I think most people want to forget, and to have different facets of it paraded through their dreams every night is miserable. Choosing to forget seemed a good course of action. I've gotten so good at it that even when I awake, drenched in cold sweat (or just before that happens so I can leap out of bed and spare the sheets), I have no idea what the nightmarish details are.

But I trust Therapist most of the time. So last night I shut off the forgetting mechanism and let the nightmare be acknowledged. I awoke early this morning, nauseated and upset. I didn't jot it down on a notebook. I don't need to. I also have no idea why it's relevant or what my subconscious is trying to tell me.

I spent the night with an older version of my rapist cousin. We were in a room with other family members and some of my friends. He sat alone and seemed to be trying to come to a decision about something. Then my dream slipped through a moment of time, as dreams often do, and he was sitting on the arm of my chair, talking to me. I was filled with the love and delight that I felt as a child whenever I was with my cousins. We were friends. We played and laughed together. I had no real reason to be afraid of David. Those feelings were mixed with the loathing and anger toward the man (and he appeared as a man in my dream) who raped me, who was sitting next to me and chatting as if we were old friends.

I moved to a couch with three other people. The dream slipped again and David had squeezed in next to me. Everyone on the couch made room for him. I felt panicky. He wouldn't leave me alone. But I said nothing.

When the dream slipped again I was in an empty house. No furniture and bare light fixtures exposed torn spots in old wallpaper. I knew David was there somewhere. I was upstairs. I couldn't hear him.

It would seem I'm still afraid of that man. But really, I'm not. The truth is, I don't believe he will ever approach me again. And should he decide to, I'm very good at telling people not to bother me. I would have no qualms letting him know that I have no desire to spend time with him at all. And should he press the issue, I don't believe I would have a problem defending myself.

I think the nightmares I've been having aren't about David at all, really. I think they're more PTSD related. As I contemplate the dreams, the feelings I have about him are annoying, confusing, and upsetting, but I think the really upsetting part is that I feel abandoned. My family is present in the dream, as are my closest friends. No one says anything when David approaches and follows me. They make room for him as he invades my space on the couch, and in the end I am alone in an empty, abandoned house, with my rapist cousin.

Do I really need people to protect me still? Does it bother me that I feel I fight this alone? Why can't I own this? I don't need anyone to help me. I've done the physical work necessary to keep me safe. I've done the mental and emotional work to move beyond the state I was in 10 years ago in regards to this. I've come to terms with the fact that I am not really a priority in anyone's life but my own. I understand all this and I'm okay with it.

So why am I still having nightmares? And maybe I'm misinterpreting all of it. Maybe there's something I'm missing?