Versions of the Girl: Versions of Me

I came home from a night of shots and confusion. Everything was blurry and in slow motion. Down deep, I wasn’t this superficial “party” girl. I was the book-loving, word-loving girl.

Mom always valued the superficial. It was important how I appeared to others. If I looked okay. If I “didn’t act up.”

In the two years I dropped out of college, I was educated by the school of hard knocks. My self-esteem was in the toilet. The depression hit such a point that I’d lie in bed with my dog who crapped on the bed. I recall staring lifelessly at the dog poop and thinking I just have nothing. I can’t move. I’m stuck to this day bed.

The sounds of a large Hispanic family who lived upstairs floated through the cardboard thin ceiling. I didn’t know the language, but I was raised with the sound of raised voices, angry voices. I soon learned at twenty-two that anger was a universal sound, transcending time and space, language. The fight ended with a loud thud, a shaking ceiling, and a women crying.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was angry. Rather than scream, shout, bang on walls, I lifelessly lay in bed and examined the small window, the non-descript white ceiling. The anger was poisoning me. Eating me from the inside out.

Years later when I felt that familiar pull into the darkness where I might just curl up and die this time, I’d reflect on how much of my young adulthood was spent in bed, slowly dying, not living. These are years I can never get back.

I thought I was over this, but clearly I’m not. It emerges organically as I free write. I don’t think I ever gave that girl any thought. The girl who grew so tired and found herself staring at dog poop. Ironically, she was the extension of the girl who tried to be perfect, please her mother, do something great so people would notice she was good. Notice she was worth something, something besides a big nothing. The girl was exhausted by the end of her freshman year of college.

I recall a few of my favorite professors arching an eyebrow asking what happened. Why wasn’t I-the girl-writing for the Newspaper anymore? I admired my professors so much. It was embarrassing.

By the end of freshman year, my GPA fell from a 4.0 to a 3.7 and I thought I was a failure. I honest to God thought this was rational.

Copyright bdl 2015

Voice in my Head

It is difficult to keep mom’s voice out of my head. My little Maltese nuzzles her body between my feet. Mom’s voice whispers as I sit on my recliner, fingers poised on the computer, the click click click of the clock. I compulsively write a sentence, become disgusted at its imperfection and hit the backspace key.

Her voice speaks louder, more insistent. Not good enough. Make it better. This voice hurts my mind, my writing, my future. I thought the voice had subsided to an infrequent whisper. Lately, it has grown louder, angrier, more abusive as I try to assert myself and let myself become who I’m supposed to be.

I was never taught to cook or do much of anything for myself. She did everything for me even though I was independent-minded and wanted to do things for myself, my way not hers. A few days ago, I made broccoli alfredo for dinner. As I pour milk out of the measuring cup into a sauce pan, my hand shakes. I lay the cup down and accidentally bump the cheese grater into the sink. I jump. I try to breath. As I sit down at the kitchen table I feel hot. I felt her in the kitchen with me, telling me I wasn’t doing it the correct way. The loudest whisper I heard was “Don’t you dare go messin.”

It took time to gather myself and go back to making my dinner. You can survive on your own, I tell myself. You know how to take care of yourself. In the background she whispers no you can’t.

I spoke to Auntie on the phone tonight and she said I was using mom’s voice to further abuse myself.

She gave me a new mantra. “You are talented. You can write.”

I’m going to try this even though when she said it I felt embarrassed of myself for no logical reason. I’m programmed from childhood to feel like I have no right to feel good about myself. When someone infers that there is something to feel good about I’m anxious to accept it as truth.

The emotional abuse twisted my self-image and mangled my self-esteem. Little by little, I’m attempting to fight her voice. I’m substituting Auntie’s mantra. “You are talented. You can write.”

Teenage Voice Unleashed

Several journals cover the bottom shelf of my office bookcase. This shelf is hidden behind a double door.

In the past I hid my books on trauma and abuse. I’ve decided that I need to stop doing this.

I was especially ashamed of a book called “Toxic Parents.” It was so true yet hard to read. I want to look at it again, but I don’t. One day soon I’ll look at it. In many ways, I’ve hid myself behind those two little wooden doors for the better part of a decade.

A few years ago, I decided to pull some of my old Journals out. In the past, I’d take out one, start reading my teenage voice, and slam the book closed in embarrassment. How immature I’d think. Often, in disgust, my mother muttered, “OH immature.” I refused to hear myself, instead attacking myself with my mother’s voice still muttering in my head. This time I told her voice to shut up and listened to my teenager self with compassion and respect.

After posting Journaling; Evidence. Patterns. Truth. I thought more and more about the significance of journaling in my life.
In a sense many of the papers I wrote in school hinted at the abuse. It’s a blurry memory, yet there exists glimmers of complete honesty in those assignments.

As a teenager I sat with my back against the bed, facing the wall less than a foot away. Heavy heart. Tears drip down my chin and onto the open journal. Writing, pushing my pen into the paper with all my force, quicker and quicker until I couldn’t decipher what I wrote. I wanted to tell someone, but I didn’t think I could. After she beat me and/or tore me apart emotionally, I’d sit in my protective corner and write, fearing the door would open soon…

She always went after my journal.

I was afraid to write in it at times
because

she might see it.

As I hit publish on a post, I have pangs of guilt and fright to think she may one day see I’ve written what I have for the world to see. I’ve altered peoples’ names in the story and will most likely write under a pen name. Part of me doesn’t want to hide behind a pen name, but part of me does.

I lose track of hours and days as I turn each page and listen to my teenage voice. The evidence in the voice creates a pattern of truth. It is a truth at first hard to hear. After I read all of them and type telling entries, I lay them on the bottom shelf.

I’m much further along in my recovery now and no longer cringe when I see these journals. I’m no longer ashamed to hear my adolescent voice. I will share her voice with you.

On the second entry it shows how much I lived in my books. The characters became actual people to me. The characters and their lives allowed me to connect even if through fantasy. At that point in my development I wasn’t able to connect with other kids and I’d never really connected with anyone in real life besides my grandpa. He hadn’t been dead for quite a year when these journal entries were written.

My Journal at 15

November 26, 1995

Dear Diary

This probably seems ridiculous that I’m writing in you again but oh well. My mother is driving me nuts it seems like she feels everything she does to me can be hid behind a door with fake smiles and pretending. Wrong, I’ve told Tracy everything, and she has heard it through other people. I despise my mother the way she is. I can’t wait to get out of here.
C-Ya

Side Note-Tracy was a neighbor who lived across the street from me.

Nov 27, 1995

Dear Diary,

I have finally convinced myself that I am too wrapped up in fantasy. I’ve been reading a series of books by V.C. Andrews. I just finished reading now and I sat there and cried over the last four pages of that book. It was almost as if I had gotten to know them characters personally. Towards the end life seems to repeat itself and Cathy’s Christopher Doll is killed on the highway just as their father had been. Catherine Doll wrote the saddest death note after killing herself in the attic with all the paper flowers. After reading this book, Dear god I just don’t understand what life is worth when all you end up doing is dying and living cold in a grave. It seems like my years of flying and my time is getting easier. I am so afraid my life is going to be meaningless and there’s going to be no one to share it with. I am so afraid the last chapter of life is just around the corner. I am so afraid.
PS. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Journaling; Evidence. Patterns. Truth.

As I was reading through old files, I stumbled across this blurb I started, but abandoned. I often don’t recall what I’ve written under a particular file. Many of my files start out as journal entries.

Even in high school, I learned to read my journals for patterns in my life. Oftentimes, my words were the truth and there was no denying it. The evidence was there. It kept me sane. Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I’d sporadically try to write in a journal, but quickly abandon it. I just didn’t want to create such evidence. It seemed overwhelming to face and I had grown tired.

After a decade, I couldn’t hold everything crammed inside and allowed myself to write more and more starting with the first episode in California.

March Journal Entry

Two women with similar features. Short nose. Round cheeks. One looks around my age; the other around my mom’s age. They step out of the hot Yoga class as I wait to enter the next class. They chatter about how hard the class is. They smile. I can see the raw, unfiltered love and intimacy between the two. Abruptly, I look at the floor for a minute and then raise my eyes, intently studying Jenni’s painting until I forget the women are there. It hurts just to step outside my door lately.

Patterns

The abuse hurt physically, emotionally, mentally yet the aftershocks in adulthood are in so many ways the hardest part of healing. As a woman you go through relationship difficulties, career uncertainties, financial stress… In those moments, I really needed a mother. When I see other women connecting and bonding with their mothers, interacting like two adult women the familiar pang of jealousy fills my heart until it feels broken.

I’ve been told that I’m a “strong woman” and “seem fine.” On the surface yes, but down deep I silently wish I didn’t have to be so strong. You see though, if I didn’t stay strong I’d die. There were no nurturing arms to encircle me. No kind, encouraging words that I’d be fine.

I learned to numb myself and go through life with as little feeling as possible.
On a subconscious level, I must have understood that if I allowed myself to feel, I’d drown.

I never learned to self-soothe so I substituted mother pangs with alcohol or whatever was in reach. Over time, I’ve improved and can stay afloat if I show my human side even if through words alone. Yet, I still have days. I go through spells where it is difficult to let myself feel. Lately, I’m teetering on the edge of numbness, but I keep fighting to avoid the numbness, the feeling that nothing is real.

When I numb myself it can make expressing me, even in the written word difficult and at times almost impossible. Since February my fingers haven’t wanted to touch the keys even though my mind screams to let my hands free my mind.

I’m telling myself I must sit down and write so I can release what is preventing my growth. February saved writing files-two sentences, a small paragraph, with a page or more of blank space in between.

I’m transitioning into the next phase of my life and I must keep healing for it to happen…For me writing is much of the healing…I’ll keep writing my truth even if the truth isn’t always what I want to accept because in acceptance truth makes it real.

Nature

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference

Over the past month, I repeat this pray under my breath while driving, on the yoga mat, in public when someone is rude for no discernable reason, when my heart is heavy, when all I want to do is say enough life. I’ve had enough.

I’ve been absent on my blog on and off for quite some time now. Spring is here. I’m out digging in the dirt, planting new seeds, watching the “grandma” tree opening up small buds. They are not all the way open yet. It is as if they are hesitant, not sure what the weather will bring. If they open will it frost? Will a tornado rip the tree out by its roots; recklessly pull freshly sprouted white flowers into its windy grasp? Will there be sun to warm the buds, give them life? Will there be ample rain?

Like the hesitant buds, I let nature take hold and allow my flowers to slowly appear. Nature gives us no straight answers. We just know that we must let go and let what will be unfold. There is a scary unpredictability in giving up the control we forever cling to keep us safe.

As an abused child, I learned as most survivors have that we have no control. In adulthood, we grasp for control in every situation, trying to compensate yet we miss the mark because deep down we still feel powerless. In our mind’s eye we tell ourselves we can control things around us, keep people and the ups and downs in life safely managed to spare our hearts.

Yet, we must live and in living there is pain.

I repeat this prayer as a mantra to remind myself I have power to change myself, heal myself. I have power to share my experience and give a face to the trauma which often leads to the mental illness many quietly struggle with.

Like the “grandma” tree I cannot, however, control everything. Some things must be surrendered to a higher power-God, the universe-however it appears to each of us. It is in the wisdom between the two extremes where we must find true peace. So for now I’m surrendering, holding onto hope that nature will be kind.

The Grandma Tree Explained

The “grandma tree” is a Bartlet Pear which grandma gave me when I first moved into our newly built house. The lot had been stripped of its topsoil; the backyard was sandy dirt, heavy rocks. My dad, husband, and brother tilled the backyard and removed as many rocks as possible before putting down grass seed.

The three worked together to dig a hole in the stubborn compact dirt, one large enough to accommodate the new tree. The tree was planted. The tree is eleven years old. Dad is seventy; no longer does he have specs of dark hair left. It is all gray. My brother is a soldier somewhere in the Middle East. My husband is away working much of every month. Grandma will have passed a year in May.

It is close to June when I last fell apart. This year I’m not falling apart as easily. I’m stronger, my roots are firmly attached to the earth, yet wind still pulls at my limbs, threatening to destroy the growth.

I sit under the “grandma tree” often and reflect on how life has changed with each passing year. I sit under it when I want to remember the Spring when grandma sat in the kitchen with me and looked out the window as the three beloved men in my life planted tree roots.

Copyright 2015 bdlheart

The Lady in the Foyer

Drunkenly, I stumble through the door of an aging Las Vegas casino. I stand next to my husband, touching his back with the tip of my fingers as he asks the receptionist about player cards. Like many things and people in Las Vegas, the receptionist doesn’t seem quite real. A plastic smile stretches across her face, yet doesn’t show in her eyes or in her robot-like welcome.

It is sometime in 2009. I’m still lost in a world of escape. I never want the party to stop. I’m chasing the next buzz, the next boundary to push, seeing how far I can push the edges until my life rips at the seams.

I stare wide-eyed into the casino. The characters of Las Vegas strike me as entertaining. Sometimes their behavior is incredibly outrageous and I elbow my husband and point at the person. We laugh. The really dark side of the “characters” of Las Vegas is the desperate drunks, the little old women sitting alone feeding hungry machines, worn-down prostitutes hovering at the edge of Freemont Street, homeless people living in tunnels beneath the Strip. This side is not funny. It leaves me sad. Scared that these are the depths at which one can fall.

In the foyer a lady sits in a chair. A heavy comforter is wrapped around narrow shoulders. She glances at people through the weary eyes of a much older woman, betraying her thirty-something face. What I notice when I first look at her is the movement of her hands, anxiously squeezing a stress ball. It is as though I’m being sucked into a vortex. I see me in the lady. I see people I’ve worked with in the lady. I see my husband in the lady. I can feel her anxiety inside my body. It scares me to the depths of my soul, yet I cannot peel my eyes away. My jovial drunken mood is saturated by the heaviness.

“Let’s go honey.” My husband says, interrupting my thinking, this unspoken connection I feel with the lady squeezing the ball. I walk beside him, but cannot help but peek over my shoulder at the lady. Her face is sunken. Skin is rough with the gritty streets of Las Vegas. The streets tourists don’t see. Eyes scream tired. Body perhaps screaming for a fix, a drink.

A group of loud young partiers walk through the doors and brush past the lady as if she were an apparition, a figment of one’s imagination. She continues to squeeze. The sweet spicy smell of aftershave lingers in the air as the group of twenty-something men pass us. The loud clanks and electric buzz of slot machines fill the air.

Aged cocktail waitresses ask, “Cocktail?”

We play a few machines and decide to hop down the street to the next casino. We become turned around, overwhelmed by the sameness of the machines. I notice the exit sign.

Something in me breathes a sigh of relief when I spot the lady in the same chair squeezing the same ball. As I push open the heavy glass door, cool desert air mixes with smells of alcohol and fried food.

“Where to next honey?” My husband asks.

I try to push the image of the lady in the foyer out of my mind and return to the drunken jovial mood of an hour ago. I smile at my husband, take his hand rough from years of electric wiring, and walk underneath the flashing light show on the canopy running above Freemont Street. I hope she is safe wherever she is now…

Doesn’t Play Well With Others

I’ve always felt like I’m lingering on the outside of things, as if I’m more the observer than the participant.

Somewhere along the path of childhood, I decided the other kids had a secret language, one I could not understand. They were included in a club in which I had no place.

I was at Sacred Heart in first grade when my mom brought me an elaborate packed lunch. She was angry because she found me hiding in the coat closet. Early that morning she told me not to get near the other kids’ “dirty” coats because they had lice. Coats were all around me. For whatever reason, I simply did not care about lice.

I liked hiding among the coats in the closet. It was dark. No one could see me. No one could laugh at me. No one could bother me.

I listened to excited kid voices muffled by heavy winter coats. I vaguely recall the other first graders in my class. I don’t remember interacting with them.

I was a stubborn child. Teachers often called me “independent.” I didn’t understand the easy laughter of these children, the way they naturally played amongst themselves.
I’d try to blend in with them, but they’d ignore me. I’d get mad. Other little girls were especially mysterious because the contact I did have with children was limited to the boys I played with in our neighborhood. My only school friend was Danny who lived down the street. We were often in trouble together in school. We liked to break the rules.

The few female children in my neighborhood were not allowed to play with me. I was a bad influence. I did not have the self-esteem or the social skills to interact.

I understood adult anger far easier than I understood how to play well with others.

Rescue Fantasy and Auntie

Inside most survivors there is a deep hole that so desperately wants to be filled, mothered.  I put that need on auntie.   It was unreal and no doubt part of a rescue fantasy.

I’ve been trying to talk to her for some days but she wouldn’t pick up or interact much with me.  I felt the distance and it hurt.  She has PTSD too and just text me saying she chose not to become too engaged and to keep a healthy distance to protect herself so she can function and pay bills.

I get it but the hurt kid in me is hurt again.

She is being very clinical with me again speaking to me from behind her therapist mask texting me clinical information about what is happening to me right now such as having anticipatory catastrophic anxiety about my dad not making it out of surgery on his spine.  I want a human voice that shares some of my genetics to just tell me everything  will be ok and I’m here for you.   I understand you.

I so badly want support from her, but she cannot give it to me like I want. This week, I tried to reach out to one other female family member but she didn’t want to get too close either.

The hardened yet vulnerable kid inside me lays under the covers and cries and wonders what is so wrong with me that my family can’t be there for me?  The healthy part of me knows I’m a trigger for her in a sense.

My abandonment wound is getting the scab pulled off and bleeding again profusely.

You MUST Be With Normal People

Heartdrops.  Raindrops

Heartdrops. Raindrops

I was twenty-one when I encountered my first adult experience in the care of “mental health professionals.” I felt no humanity. I felt judged. I felt young, child-like again. Buck teeth. Embarrassed of myself. Angry as hell. All of this anger came out in the way I judged those around me who were struggling with severe mental illness.

If I could say one thing to my twenty-year-old self, I would say child you have a long, rough road ahead. Age and accumulated wisdom changed the confused, judgmental young girl into a woman who knows what it’s like to be the one being judged. When I wrote this I was lost inside my head, lost in a dark hallway. It was like when I stumbled through the darkness of my childhood home, terrified of the shadows, sensing my mother lurking in corners, waiting to hit me. Lost in my teenage self. In this post I believe my voice matches that of my twenty-year-old self as close as memory will allow…

The man seemed like an ass, right down to his too-smart black glasses and mono-toned voice. “Well, you have Borderline Personality Disorder,” the psychiatrist said. His tone sterile and cold; someone who can’t wait to clock out of work in the next five minutes.
Ok, and? God that damn lady down the hall is crying again! Ironically, I can’t stop focusing on just how nuts this lady is as she sits at the community pay phone wailing her old eyes out. Oh boy, here comes the lady (I think she is detoxing) who likes to complain about her roommate touching her items and then clings frantically to her boyfriend each time he leaves her. Pathetic, I silently think.

Mr. Happy in the sterile white coat snaps me back to reality. “Here is a book about your disorder. Your assignment is to stay in your room and read it. You re on lockdown.”

2015-02-08 13.55.55

I’m sad, really I am, but I can’t say why. All I know is that I’m so empty inside that I would not be full if I devoured another human being whole. Maybe Mr. Happy recognized this and thought it would be best to leave me to my own devices. Besides, as I would later find out, “Borderlines” are notoriously impossible people to cure, and a general pain in the ass for the mental health system. I don’t want to be a pain in the ass nor do I mean to be one. It just happens, just like taking a shower and brushing your teeth does for most people. These “normal” people see me and run screaming in the other direction.

“When you leave this hospital, DO NOT make friends with any of the other patients here. You must surround yourself with normal people. That is the only way you will improve,” the lovely intake counselor tells me stoically as she asks me the same damn questions the last ten people did.

Ironically, this counselor was misinformed. I’m not a “borderline.” I have PTSD. The mental health system was and continues to be a tangled mess of misunderstanding between staff and patient. Also, I’ve found it helps to connect with other survivors. We’re a group of like-minded people here in the blogosphere who give one another hope, and are empowered through the magic of words and art to express our hurt and advocate for change and understanding.