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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Getting to Know You

A few years ago I spent a great deal of time and energy integrating parts of me that I had severed during times of trauma throughout my life. When I felt that I was finished, my next assignment was to learn who I was now that I was "complete". Who is Samantha when she allows herself to claim the child, adolescent, teen, and young adult parts?

It's strange to me to remember that eight years ago I had no participatory memory of my life before I was married. I knew it existed. I understood that I lived before that. But if others spoke of shared life events, I couldn't conjure the memory from my own mind. I simply accepted that what they said was true. If I spoke of my prior life, I referred to myself in third person. It felt natural to do that. The person who lived that life felt completely disconnected from me. I felt as if I was speaking of an acquaintance or, at most, a former friend.

Now I can't even imagine talking of myself in third person. That would feel odd, even uncomfortable. I believe this is a good indication that the integration work I did was successful.

However, before I could understand who I was as an integrated person, life became unmanageable. Tabitha was suicidal and often in the hospital. I sustained a serious injury which required surgical repair. I had my appendix removed. I got pneumonia, and because I have asthma, the residual effects of that lasted a very long time. I had a serious reaction to the flu shot, which lingered for nearly nine months. It became necessary to place Tabitha in a care center. I lost a lucrative job--in short, for the past four years my life has been far too chaotic to even think about doing the necessary work to acclimate to my newly integrated self.

Tabitha is home now. My health seems to be getting better and better. My life, while still extremely busy, is much more normal when looked at on the Samantha scale.

I've been experiencing rampant panic attacks and constant anxiety for quite awhile now. It affects how I view myself and discourages me from building positive, healthy relationships with people I care about. I feel distant from loved ones and have no desire to bridge that distance.

Friday I spent some time thinking about the upsurge of my PTSD symptoms, along with all the other things that seem to be causing me distress. I can cite several plausible reasons that this is happening right now, but the truth is, I think it's time for me to figure out who I am--to get to know myself.

I need to learn to like the person I am. I need to figure out who that person is now that I'm equipped with all parts of my past. I laid the groundwork while I was doing the integration exercises. I have conversations and emails and experiences that remind me of my value both to me and to others. Some of the people who participated in those exercises have left my life, not under the best of circumstances, but when the words were written or said, they were sincere and I intend to use them, understanding that while they are no longer valid today, that does not decrease the validity of the intent when they were communicated to me.

I had planned to ask for some help from people who are present in my life right now, but people are busy. It's been difficult to talk about this when I have spoken with loved ones, for many reasons. And I've been unable to contact some that I would choose to talk with. Perhaps it's for the best. I want people to live and be involved in their own lives. My life, and this attempt to understand who I am, is probably not really pertinent to anyone else. I had planned a gradual tapering from hearing from the voices of loved ones in the beginning, and being accompanied as I attempted this, to ending with allowing myself to walk alone as I figured out what it means to be me. Perhaps, as I often do, I will simply jump to the end. Solitude is something I often crave--and now I am presented with the opportunity to enjoy it.

I see Therapist only on an as-needed basis now. My last visit with him was in August of last year. I have called him when necessary, or chatted with him online, but I believe this exercise will be completed without him. It feels like an all or nothing assignment--either I do it with people, or I do it on my own.

Darrin, with whom I have discussed this at length, is concerned that I'm choosing to work on this by myself because of my deeply ingrained belief that people are not dependable and also, completely disinterested in me. In his mind, it is a necessity to involve people I love because he believes that not doing so will place me in an emotional state where I once again feel that I don't need anyone. He believes that involving others as I work to understand myself, will cause me to understand that integrating my life with others is important, even essential, to my emotional and mental health.

I understand where Darrin is coming from. I also feel that I don't have unlimited stamina right now. I assured him that I had attempted to contact people. Also, Brozy, if you read this, you should probably know that when you visited a few weeks ago, I gathered much of what I would need from you then, and if I decide to use help from others, that will be utilized. I probably should have asked permission. Forgive me? (but probably you don't need to worry about it, as yours is the only source I've gathered, it's not looking like it will be joined by others, and I need more sample data from different sources if this is going to be helpful)

I think if I do this, much of the localized anxiety will ease. I believe the source of that anxiety is the actual daily living with the knowledge of what each dissociated part of me represents, and now that they're all part of me, I need to look at the big picture and understand what it means. This has become a circular thought process for me, so I think before I begin repeating myself in this blog post, I'll just stop talking.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sometimes "crazy" is the only truth life has to offer.

My energy level is finally returning to normal--which means I have too much. It means I'm thinking constantly, and researching, and asking myself questions that have no answers. It means that to keep all those questions at bay, and to make sure I can't dwell on anything too long, I've taken on four new students and another online job.

Therapist will tell me I need to not take anymore students and I should ponder only having one online job, especially since the class load I'm teaching fall semester is about three times as heavy as what I normally teach. I'm not going to tell him that I also agreed to accompany four competitions and festivals in the next four weeks, which means learning music and rehearsing with more than 100 students. He'll just roll his eyes at me and ask if I really think it's a good idea, which is irrelevant. I've committed. And it will be over by mid-May.

I've been thinking about my mother for the past few months.

I've changed my mind about many things, but not about everything. I maintain that most of what was said and done to me by her should never have happened. But it did and it belongs to us both. My mom's brain is deteriorating. At this point, she makes her own past and in her mind, it's very real. Currently, according to my mother, I was a sweet, congenial little girl who rarely was in trouble. The person she has conjured as her Samantha child never existed. I was stubborn and willful and under the best parenting, I would still have spent a great deal of my young life in time out. I have never been congenial or sweet.

My mother has created a past in which I lived a charmed life, we played together, and rarely disagreed. When I first became aware that she was living in this delusion, I was angry. I'm not anymore.

I cannot imagine how she felt as an abuser. She grew up in a home where she experienced what it was like to be abused physically, and dominated completely by her father. She was not allowed to think for herself or express an opinion. Her dreams and aspirations, if spoken aloud, were demeaned and criticized. My mother knew how it felt to be a victim. It is speculated that the brain damage that now spreads dark, dead spots through her mind was caused in her childhood--a  result of the physical blows she felt from her drunken father.

My mom was the youngest of three. She wanted to have children--lots of them--and she did. But she had no idea how to be a parent. Her mother was absent, working to provide a steady income because her alcoholic husband had difficulty holding jobs. Her father was drunk most of the time. There was no real example of good parenting in my mother's childhood.

I remember, as a very small child, watching my mother, silently weeping as she sat in a rocking chair, holding one of my infant siblings. It was after an episode when I had been severely punished for using one of her potted plants as an anchor for a blanket tent. The ceramic pot had fallen and broken, spreading dirt and plant parts across our hardwood floor. I felt terrible about breaking the plant and it's holder. I wanted to apologize. I wanted my mom to stop crying.

I remember touching her shoulder and saying I was very sorry. At first she didn't acknowledge me at all. I apologized again. Still nothing. I said, "Mommy, I love you. I'm so sorry." Finally, an answer: I heard her whisper fiercely, "Go away."

So I did. I ran to my room, flung myself across my bed, and hated her with every ounce of my six-year-old self.

I used to believe she was still angry with me in that moment--the tears springing from the loss of a stupid plant. In my adulthood, I arrogantly judged her, calling her a terrible parent, vowing I would never value an object over my own children. I don't believe, anymore, that she was angry with me. I believe I have misjudged her.

I believe, now, that my mother was often overwhelmed with her own monstrousness. I think the tears shed in that moment were expressing the pain of her own childhood, coupled with her inability to control her angry impulses, culminating in her abuse of her own children. I believe she was aware that she was perpetuating a cycle that had robbed her of self-esteem and hurt her deeply, and I think that knowledge caused her incredible pain. Though I was willing to attempt making peace with her (and perhaps she wished she could meet me halfway), knowing she was acting in the abhorrent ways her father did, and without the aid of alcohol, kept her from making peace not only with me, but with herself. My expressed love could not be accepted--how could I love someone such as her?

My mother lived with untreated clinical depression. Her neurologist believes that the injury to her brain happened when she was very young and her ability to control her emotions and actions began to deteriorate when she was a teen. By the time I was six, her emotional stability was nonexistent.

I wonder, now, how much responsibility she can claim for the actions that harmed me. Her erratic behavior and extreme punishments, her inability to connect emotionally with me, and the mental and emotional abuse that were part of my everyday life--how much of that was beyond her control? My mother was cognizant that what she was doing was wrong; she has told me so. She has also said that she didn't know how to stop herself. I believe her.

And so I allow her the luxury of making up a new past; one in which there was no abuse and I was obedient and sweet, and she was loving and firmly kind. For a long time, I made a fantasy life of my own, and I completely understand the need to do that. It's a coping device that allows us to keep living. The difference is that I have recovered from my past and I no longer need the fantasy, but my mom will continue to build her fabricated past for the rest of her life. It will become her reality and I will not contradict nor compel her to face the truth.

I suppose I believe that she has suffered long enough. We both have. It's time for me to touch her shoulder and ask for forgiveness once again. Because while it is true that she bears the burden of causing me pain, I have borne anger and resentment toward her for actions I no longer believe were within her power to control or suppress. My mother has a good heart. She wanted more for me than that which she received in her childhood home.

So in my attempt to reconcile the real past with her new one, I will acknowledge that there was good in my life because of my mother. She believed I could do anything--and so did I. She made certain I received musical training when we could ill-afford the cost--and that training has led me to my vocation. She read to me, sang with me, taught me to clean and cook and sew and take care of myself. In short, my life, in spite of the abuse, was better than hers, and that was what she wanted.

So I will say to her once again, "I love you, Mom. Please forgive me," and she will, even though she'll have no idea why. And though she may never ask again (for she has asked me repeatedly in the past decade), I will forgive her, too. Because I understand that her tears were not for a broken potted plant, but for herself--broken in spirit and mind--for her inability to love naturally and her uncontrollable impulses that brought violence and fear instead.

Therapist once told me that I would know that I had made it "through to the other side" of my resentment and anger when I could feel empathy for my mother. I didn't believe him when he said it, but I think I'm finally there. It's a good place to be.