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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Grand Re-Opening

I'm back. I'm not back because I miss this place and can't do without it, but because I'm finishing what I started a decade ago. I've realized that much of what I need to process and write needs to be placed here where it won't be accidentally found by people in my life who won't understand or might feel hurt by what I write.

My mother, for instance. Much of my healing requires me to look honestly at the things she did to me when I was in her care. I may have to express how I feel about that time and about her actions. I've come a very long way, and she, too, has made major changes in her treatment of me. But I still have to process what happened. It was damaging and harmful and it's time for me to finish working through the residue of those experiences. However, my mother has dementia. She remembers the things she did, but does not know how to deal with criticism. She berates herself endlessly and feels deep guilt. My purpose is not to cause her pain, but to ease my own in healthy ways. Because I need a place to write freely without concern about who will read my words, I have come here.

As I do this work, I'll not only be processing emotions from my past, but also trying to work through some of the relationship difficulties I've encountered as I've tried to form healthy connections with people throughout the past decade. I'll be acknowledging things I don't understand, and talking about failed attempts to learn the type of trust that allows those relationships to feel comfortable and comforting rather than stressful and frightening. Admitting those failures does not mean I'll stop trying. Probably I'll go to my grave still trying to figure out how to love someone and not be afraid. That's better, I think, than not loving.

Probably I'll be analyzing the quality of my love for others. Someday I would like people to feel that it's a gift-- something wonderful and worthwhile. That's how it feels to me when others love me. I need to figure out what it is about my love that makes it less important and unnecessary, and then I need to decide if I can make changes so that being loved by me is a more positive, building experience. Also, lest I am misunderstood, I am talking about Philia, not Eros. All of this, of course, has it's roots in attachment issues I've carried with me for most of my life and is deeply affected by whatever PTSD symptoms are occurring at any given time.

Finally, I'll be working through those PTSD symptoms. I am no longer able to function while just allowing the symptoms to happen and waiting until they are gone. Last October I found myself in a very dark place for a number of reasons.

1. My hip injury of three years ago and its subsequent surgeries and replacement had hampered my ability to use physical exercise as part of my PTSD management program. While I was still exercising and remaining active, that, of itself, was causing me more pain than I can think about. By October of last year, I was retraining, learning to run again, and enjoying freedom from pain. But the three years leading to that had taken their toll. It would take more than just running again to remove me from the dark place I was in.

2. My cousin, Jeff, had asked me in September to go with him to make a report to authorities about what our cousin, David, had done to us. This required a series of interviews during which I was required to talk about the experiences with David that led, ultimately, to his raping of me. I thought I was ready for that. I think, in some ways, I was. I think it was a positive step. But the timing of that step came when I was already in a great deal of stress over my teaching job (two classes: one with 150 students and one with 40, as well as a number of Murphy's Law occurrences in conjunction with those classes), still recovering from hip surgery, and dealing with reality that Darrin's job security had become unstable as news that the company he worked for had finally been charged by a couple of Federal agencies for tax fraud and other dishonest/illegal business practices.

3. My stress level had increased to the point that it was unmanageable. I was having panic attacks throughout the day-- some that immobilized me and left me feeling ill. Nightmares kept me from sleeping well. The classes I was teaching continued to be fraught with problems. The stress at Darrin's job escalated as the college he where he worked was sold, and uncertainty about his job increased as student enrollment decreased.

By November I was feeling mildly suicidal. This has happened before. I know the drill. I contacted a few of the people who had agreed to be support for me when those moments happened. Within a week, I realized that they had made that agreement with me years ago. Since then all their lives had changed drastically. They needed to concentrate on spouses, jobs, children, pregnancy, paying bills-- in short, they needed to be support people for themselves. It was unfair of me to ask additional support when their emotional resources were already stretched beyond what was reasonable.

That dark place became darker by January. I had hoped, with the end of the semester, that I would bounce back. Instead, I found myself feeling ill all the time. Eating caused me distress. Sleep was still problematic. I found myself waking each morning and wondering if it was all right to die that day. I spent some time with Therapist, allowing him to remind me of the things that I needed to do to return to a healthy mental and emotional state. The problem was, I was too ill and too tired to do them.

In February it was determined that my gall bladder was contributing to the feelings of illness I was having constantly. In March it was removed. I began feeling better in April, but still couldn't shake the death desire that seemed to haunt me daily. Then there were surgery complications from my gall bladder removal. My body decided it hated the dissolvable stitches residing in my abdomen. I was in so much pain that I ended up in the emergency room for treatment. My doctor told me that anything they did to try to alleviate the situation would actually make it worse - it's not like they could remove the stitches. That would require more surgery and longer healing. I was given strong pain medication and assured things would get better in a couple of weeks.

Two days later one of my incisions opened, and I began leaking fluid and blood. The upside of this was that my pain became significantly less. The downside was that, again, the only thing to do was to wait for my body to heal itself and watch for signs of infection. For three weeks I lived with that. What the surgeon didn't tell me was that the effort expended by my body to heal the wound would leave me completely exhausted. Also, Darrin was laid off. The mornings I arose wishing for death that day went from a few times weekly, to every single morning. I was distressed because of the physical problems I was experiencing, worried about Darrin finding new employment, and suicidal. On top of that, new PTSD symptoms which left me exhausted and feeling defenseless were manifesting themselves. I was in trouble.

Two weeks ago the incision healed. I was no longer leaking. Within two days my energy level had returned to nearly normal. On Friday I had my first run in years where it felt effortless and beautiful. And last week I realized I have finally regained some emotional stamina. No doubt it was gathering while I was concentrating on healing physically. Throughout the week I made some life decisions that had been put on hold.
1. I am going to finish what I started therapeutically.
2. I am going to learn some new strategies to manage my PTSD symptoms and implement them.
3. I am going to find ways to diminish or eliminate those symptoms entirely.
4. I am going to figure out how to lift myself out of the desire for death.
5. I am going to learn how to manage the emotional distress surrounding my relationships with others.
6. I am going to go back to school.

I'm expecting all those things will take another decade or two to finish. At that point, I'll just be old and no one will care anymore, but at least I know what I'll be doing for the rest of my life. :)

So this will become my therapy blog. I'll be logging my research, my strategies, and the results of my attempts to get better.

I'm also writing all this here because I need to track the suicidal feelings. I haven't established a live accountability network yet. I don't really know how to do that. Darrin's a little bit overwhelmed by trying to find a job, and I'm not excited about making new friends and then saying, "Oh, by the way, I have thoughts about needing to die, and some days I really want that to happen. So would you mind checking in with me every few days just to make sure I'm okay?" Yeah, that's not happening. But I'll work on it.

Friday, May 22, 2015

I'm putting this here because this is where it belongs.

Let's talk about Josh Duggar. And while we're at it, let's say a little bit about pedophiles, sexual abuse, and other topical delights.

First: While I do not in any way condone what Josh Duggar did, let's be real--it's not uncommon. It happens all the time. The only time we seem to care is when there seems to be a scapegoat we dislike who is the culprit. At that point all hell breaks loose, the media has a heyday, and everyone who feels slighted by the person takes potshots on social media. I've done it myself, no doubt, even if I don't remember when.

Second: I know this will sound weird, but I don't believe all sexual crimes are the same. I think there's a big difference between being fondled inappropriately by someone and being raped. Having been a victim of both, I'm only speaking from my own experience, but given that experience, I have to say there was a vast difference between the two actions and also my reaction to and the longlasting effects of both.

I've seen Mr. Duggar called a bigot and a hypocrite. Given his beliefs and some statements he has made about the LGBT community, those could be an accurate assessment of his words and actions. I don't necessarily disagree with them. Anyone who insinuates that someone from the LGBT community is a danger to children simply because they have a different sexual orientation or are transgender loses all credibility in my opinion. That's just a stupid assumption about a lot of people. Saying those types of things publicly is damaging and inaccurate.

I've also seen Mr. Duggar called a pedophile.

Let's talk about pedophiles. Years ago, for a therapy assignment, I did a great deal of research on the topic--more, probably, than Therapist wanted me to. And it was good for me. I learned that there are many men and women in this world who are sexually attracted to children. That was news. I also learned that some of those people do not wish to harm children by acting out sexually with them, that their lives are lonely and a bit tortured, that they feel incredible shame and depression about who they are. They see no possibility for a "normal" life, nor do they believe they will ever find a spouse or have a family. Having a family means having children which could be problematic for them.

On the other hand, there are pedophiles who believe that having sex with children is healthy; that parents should entrust their children to the pedophiles who will have loving physical relationships with them because that's the way it should be. If you guess that I disagree with this, you would be correct.

Those are just two representations of the pedophile community. There are, no doubt, just as in any segment of people, many different degrees and various levels of feelings of pedophilia. Of course, some will act on the feelings while others may not. But the point I'm trying to make is this: there is not a box that will fit every person in that community.

Moving to Mr. Duggar: I don't know that he IS a pedophile. From what I've read, the feelings of attraction to children do not go away. From my research I would have to say that pedophiles who act on the feelings end up escalating-- continuing to molest children, and they don't do it one time and stop. If, in fact, this was a one-time event in Mr. Duggar's life, I would have to say he doesn't qualify as a pedophile, but instead joins that group of children who are born into large, ultra-conservative families where sex is a bad word.

When families don't normalize discussion of all body parts, including genitalia and breasts, and questions about sexuality and sexual relationships are not welcomed, a weirdness about bodies and sex begins to develop. Children who cannot comfortably discuss such things with their parents and each other are more likely to yield to the desire to experiment, and they'll use the most vulnerable, accessible subjects to satisfy their curiosity. I target large families because many times younger children are left in the care of older ones, thus providing opportunity. Will all curious children take advantage of this situation? No, of course not, but some will. Usually this experimentation takes place between the ages of 9 and 14, and involves fondling the body parts of the younger child. It rarely goes beyond that. If it escalates further, then something more than curiosity is involved.

Josh Duggar's incidents reportedly occurred when he was 14-15 years old. That's somewhat older than is usual in reference to the above paragraph, but he also lived in unusual circumstances. I'm not an avid fan of his family's reality show, and I don't know him personally, but I'm guessing that frank discussions about sex didn't really happen in the family, regardless of the parents' obvious desire for copulation. Sex talk doesn't seem to be a topic in the series. It's possible that he repressed his impulses as long as he could and then hormones kicked in and he sort of exploded in a need to touch breasts and genitalia. But unless the behavior continued and is still going on today (and I have no idea one way or another), it's probably unfair to name Josh Duggar as a pedophile. And until more is known about his current sexual activities, it's probably unfair to call him a sexual deviant.

What am I saying? I'm saying that it might be a good idea to change the way we talk to our kids about sex. It's a good idea to talk about ALL their body parts from the time that they are learning to speak. Let them be as excited about having body parts that are protected and kept covered as they are about having hands and eyes and knees. I'm not suggesting that we change the words of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," but rather, that we address the fact that those parts exist and teach our kids how to keep those parts healthy, clean, and protected.

When it comes to talking about sexual interaction, instead of teaching the DON'T DOs, how about we just talk about it with no moral or religious agenda prompting our words? And not just about the physical act of making a baby, but about the feelings of attraction--why they happen, how they're helpful and appropriate, and what to do if you feel that way about someone and they don't feel it back. Kids have crushes on each other as early as Kindergarten. If they're not taught how to navigate their emotions, or what to call them, or why they have them, those can develop into feelings of shame or guilt which can cause them to later yield to an impulse that will hurt another child.

The society of fear that exists in largely conservative environments-- the one that says that if we give our kids information they'll want to experiment with it, is pointless. Clearly, they wish to experiment anyway. Lack of information just assures that those experiments will be conducted on those who have no means of protection or defense against them. Providing information means we can also teach our children to protect other kids. We can talk about when it's appropriate to approach another person sexually and when it's not. And if they need to see body parts, we can choose to show them realistic representations of the human anatomy, or they can wait until we're not looking and seek out the things that online pornography will teach them. The choice is ours.

What's to be done about Mr. Duggar? That's not up to me. But I think I'll not be throwing any stones. He's part of a huge group of adults who made similar mistakes when they were adolescents and teens. I know some people with past mistakes that haunt them, and I love those people. I wish things were different for them. But I also believe that Mr. Duggar will be better now that everyone knows. No more hiding and hoping the truth won't be revealed. Maybe he'll get become wiser. Maybe he'll educate himself about sex and real life and LGBT people who are everywhere and who make his life better even if he doesn't know it. Maybe he'll stop being afraid and talk to his own kids so they won't feel a need to repeat his actions on their own siblings and friends. Maybe.

We live in a weird world.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day

This blog is finished.

But every once in awhile I need to write something that can't go in the blog I now use-- the one under my real name.

I used to hate Mother's Day. I think that's a common sentiment for many mothers. But my reasons for hating it were not because I felt guilt for not being the perfect mom. I've always known I wouldn't be-- I'm okay with that. My kids are alive and reasonably healthy. They think for themselves. They're creative and interesting. I don't need to be a perfect mother for them to learn to thrive as adults. I don't hate the day because my family has never pampered me or showered me with gifts. That's just silly. There have definitely been Mother's Days when I've guilted someone into loading the dishwasher. I think it's okay to play the Mother's Day card occasionally. Sometimes it's someone else's turn to do the dishes.

I can definitely do without the sentimental church sermons about saintly mothers who sacrificed everything for their kids. In my opinion, saintly mothers are unhealthy, and they pass along a message to their daughters that women come last. Parent couples who make sacrifices for their kids are fine. That happens. Sometimes a growing child needs pants that reach their ankles more than a grown-up needs a new shirt. However, a woman who ignores her own needs constantly is going to end up emotionally messy. I don't need that.

I don't hate the group gifts given in church-- the nasty chocolate or the flower that dies before it makes it home. The gesture is sweet and appreciated-- but also unnecessary. I'm uncertain why there needs to be a gift for moms taken from the ward budget, unless it's to apologize for the impromptu men's choir singing the same hymn as the opening song. That definitely needs recompense-- and no-- contrary to the remarks of the first counselor following that hymn, the Tabernacle Choir is not feeling anything close to competition with you.

I hated Mother's Day because all my life I hated feeling compelled to do something for my mother, who spurned every heartfelt offering I gave before I was old enough to hate her. Once I learned that hatred, Mother's Day cards and gifts became something I gave because it was socially acceptable, but heartfelt did not enter into it. I was resentful as I signed the card to the person who not only inspired my eating disorder, but who cheered me on as I starved myself. I wanted to vomit as I selected flowers for the person who screamed demeaning, hateful words at me daily until I left home at 17 years of age. I felt trapped as I made dinner to honor the person I deemed the worst mother in the world...

And then one day I stopped. I told my parents and siblings I wanted Mother's Day at home with my own family. I would no longer be making the dinner for the family Mother's Day celebration. I didn't buy a gift. Instead, I limited myself to finding the most generic card at Walmart, and I gave myself a budget of $3 or less. And sometimes I waited until Monday to deliver the card. I was done honoring the person who messed up my life.

Three years ago, I noticed the resentment waning. I think it was good for me to take a break, to admit that I was angry and hurt. I think it was healthy for me to stop channeling energy into doing what I thought I was supposed to do, and instead do only what I felt I could. That gave me time to heal, to think, and to observe.

My mom has been caring for her mother for nearly a decade now. My grandmother is a shell of the person she used to be. Two weeks ago she suffered a minor heart attack. I watched my mom as she sorted through distress, panic, and despair. I sat with her at the hospital and brought her dinner when she didn't feel able to leave my grandmother. I talked with her when she was desperate for conversation. I understood that while caring for my grandma has been a tremendous burden for my mom, it's also been the center of her life for 10 years. Some might view my grandmother's death as a blessed release not only for her, but also for my mom. My mother, however, sees it as a drastic change for which she is not prepared. And her brain has deteriorated to the point that it seems she might never be prepared.

Grandma came home from the hospital on Thursday. My parents wheeled her into church today in her chair, and I made room for her to sit next to me. I listened as she sang the opening and sacrament hymns in her old lady voice. And then I laughed silently and delightedly as she added her voice to the men's impromptu hymn, making that less-than-beautiful musical number absolutely amazing. When will I ever again hear my grandma sing "Love at Home," backed up by a men's choir of 75+ members?

After church I told my mom I would be bringing her dinner. My dad objected, reminding me that my body is still trying to heal a wound in my stomach. I ignored him. He objected more insistently. I said, "We'll be making dinner today, Dad. We're making a bit extra and we're bringing it to your house to eat it. You can join us if you'd like." My mom thanked me and added, "I'm really tired. I appreciate this."

Mom and Grandma loved dinner. And they loved their cards. Mom hugged and kissed all of us (weird-- that's not her norm, but her brain is going and we never know what she'll  do anymore).

Tonight I feel compelled to write this. My mother made some really, really awful parenting mistakes. Two of her daughters nearly took their own lives because of those mistakes. I will never say she was a great mom-- she wasn't. In spite of that, she did some good things, too. I think my mom wanted to be better than she was. She was hampered by a horribly abusive, alcoholic father who delivered the blows that now cause her brain to slowly die. She lived daily with depression and felt shamed and guilty because she had no help as she waded through the darkness of each day.

But as I watch her care for my grandma, I remember that my mother took care of me when I was sick. She fought for me to be promoted to grade 8 when my own depression caused my attendance and grades to drop drastically in my first year of junior high. She came to every performance I played in-- and there were many. I am a musician, after all. In her own way, perhaps in the only way she knew, she did what she could in spite of her own mental and emotional distress.

There are days when I become caught up in the misery of my childhood. I feel sorry for myself. I wish better things for the child who was me. But I can no longer do so without wishing for a sweeter, less violent, more loving childhood for the little girl who was my mother. I cannot weep for myself without adding tears for her. And as I watch the tenderness she gives to my grandma, and I see my mother's need for tenderness, as well, I believe that I have the power to stop blaming-- to stop withholding love-- to allow the past to be what it is and create a present and future free of resentment and anger.

Every person's story is three-dimensional, and as my life intertwines with my mother's, who is to say where one victim ends and the other begins? At some point I must admit that we have both done our best in the life circumstances we were dealt. Sometimes our best was pretty awful. That's inevitable. But I believe my childhood was better than my mom's, and my children's were better than mine. Progress takes time.

It IS progress, though. I know this because this year Mother's Day brought no angst or frustration. I enjoyed the flowers and fun gifts from my husband and kids. I felt no need to incite guilt in the other adult residents of my home as I spent the morning loading the dishwasher and cleaning the kitchen. And for the first time in many years, I spent time with my mom because I wanted to. I provided service because she needed it and I love her, which proves that even the oldest, most stubborn dogs really can learn new tricks.

And now, once again, I'm hanging the "Closed" sign on this blog. Feel free to visit me at my other one where I don't talk about this kind of stuff, but I still talk about the things of life that alternately delight and frustrate me. Or don't. I've heard that blogging is dead. :)