The Things I Can’t Protect My Kids From

This morning my younger kids saw something I never wanted them to see. I’m proud of the way they responded but heartbroken that they were called upon to show up for something so intense. I had a breakdown. A big one. It started with dissociation, quickly turned into massive shaking and then went into a full blown episode.

Let me back up a bit. For the last few days I’ve been having trouble holding myself together. I’ve been valiantly fighting my depression but other things have been coming up. I’ve been thinking a lot about how hard it is for me to be close to my husband. I love him so much, I’m attracted to him, I love the way my body and heart feel when we’re intimate but something’s stopping me from reaching out to him. Over the weekend I told him I’d been thinking about this (a big step for me) and his response was sweet and understanding, though I imagine he’s frustrated. I told him I was going to try some herbs and exercises that might increase my sex drive and I’ve already started down this path.

Maybe it was a coincidence but a few days ago I started having more and more dissociative episodes, along with moments where my brain just stops and I’m sort of frozen for a few seconds or minutes. I attributed it to the intense winds we were having because this has happened before during times when the barometric pressure is all over the place. I knew going to the grocery store on my own was risky but I felt pretty confident about my ability to manage anything that might arise and I really wanted my kids and husband to enjoy their time having a Doctor Who marathon without my husband having to make an unscheduled trip to the store. So I went and it was a complete bust. I started at the produce section and was choosing apples when I suddenly thought “I don’t know how to choose apples”. Then I looked around and I felt intensely alone in the midst of all the people and lights and colors and I just disappeared. Then, as is often the case, I panicked. I picked up my bags and left the store, abandoning my cart along with an english cucumber and two apples.

I was shaking, shivering really, by the time I got outside and called my husband. In that moment of panic I told him I thought I might need to go back into therapy. I don’t want to. I really, really don’t want to but I think I need to. I did manage to go back in and finish the shopping, only because my husband stayed on the phone with me the whole time.

Back to this morning. When I felt the episode coming on, all I could think about was how I didn’t want my boys to see me like that. I tried to hold it back, stop it before it got out of control but that rarely works and it certainly didn’t this morning. My youngest saw me struggling and without a word gave me a big, long hug. My older boy got up to help me fill a glass of ice water. Nothing was helping, not the hugs, the cold rag on the back of my neck or my attempts to will it to stop. I was holding my head, pulling on my hair and pacing but I knew what I had to do. I needed to put my head in the sink and spray cold water over my scalp and neck. But I didn’t want my boys to see me do it. I was aware enough to recognize their presence and worry and I kept thinking that they shouldn’t have to see me suffering like that. That if they saw it they would know on a deeper level that I’d experienced things so horrible that 40 years later I was still suffering. I wanted to protect them from that but I couldn’t.

I finally sprayed my head with cold water and felt all the feelings I’d been holding back come rushing into my awareness and vibrating out of my body. I stood there, head over the sink and ice cold water running through my hair and down my sides, and I sobbed. I sobbed for myself, everything I’ve been through and all the work I still have to do, and I sobbed for my boys who, as witnesses to this pain, must suddenly know of horrors they could not have imagined before. When I finally collapsed onto the floor they quietly came closer and sat on either side of me. My youngest called our dog in and she licked the tears from my face while I continued to cry, more quietly now but unable to stop. They stayed with me until I settled down and was able to look around the room and feel my body stabilize. Then they went back to their seats at the kitchen table, finished their breakfasts and waited for me to be able to take them to school.

I asked them later if the experience had been scary for them and they said “a little” but didn’t ask any questions. They seemed to accept my reassurance that I was ok and wandered off to their room where they quietly read until I was ready to take them to school.

The thing is, now I’m really angry. I’m already angry with my dad for perpetrating abuse that has impacted every area of my life, my entire life. For years I’ve been angry that my kids have to live with a mother who is not always emotionally available. What must they think now? I know they have questions about my childhood. They know my father was a bad man and certainly that’s enough information considering their ages. What they saw this morning was raw trauma pouring out of me. They witnessed my pain, the pain that I try so hard to keep from them. I can only hope that the love and safety we’ve given them counterbalances the knowledge that there are people in the world who hurt others so badly that the suffering can be endless.


Dreams of Vampires

Early this morning I woke several times in between dreams of vampires coming in hordes to feed and dismember. I was terrified not by the violence but by my allegiance to the creatures. I felt such deep shame and guilt that I had committed to the vampires rather than their victims. In that strange state between sleep and waking, I thought that when I did get up I would have to either hide my allegiance or apologize for it.

To say I’m confused and concerned by these dreams, thoughts, and feelings would be an understatement. If someone else came to me with this experience, I would ask them the following questions:

What is it in your life that the vampires are feeding on?

What parasitic or violent inner force have you given allegiance to?

Is there some part of your inner or outer life which is being terrorized by some other aspect of yourself?

Is it possible that what your ego perceives as evil is actually a necessary force, or at least a force born out of something else which has been repressed?

I’m going to circumambulate here and hope I come back round to where this started.

My depression has been getting worse again and I’m losing ground. Slowly, thankfully, but ground is being lost. Where I felt more confident and secure a few weeks ago, now I feel myself slipping into negative thinking patterns, fear and feelings of hopelessness. The fact that I wrote a post about giving up speaks volumes. I haven’t reached out to any of my friends to connect socially and get support. I’m isolating. I’m so tired at 8pm every night that I spend only a few minutes tucking my boys in and then go straight to bed. Once or twice I’ve gone to bed before they did. I’m feeling shame and guilt around not connecting with my husband and it’s the kind of shame that shuts me down. I feel like crying at random times throughout the day.

I am taking today to acknowledge and assess the slippery slope I’m on. I need to find a healthy balance between acceptance and action. I need to face the sadness, shame, and urge to give up even though the thought of it makes me want to turn around and find a rock to hide under until Spring arrives.

All of that being said, I recognize that it’s not just the change of season and the lessening sunlight that’s behind this depression. My greatest fear is that all the work I’ve done was useless and I’m right back where I was before the trauma therapy. Somehow I know I’m not. My instinct tells me this is part of the process of change that began with the trauma therapy. It’s just a much longer and slower process than I’d hoped it would be. I’m in transition; my nervous system has settled down and I have access to new skills AND I haven’t fully integrated the work yet. I also think that I’m doing the best I can with this transition and I want to feel secure in that knowledge so my shame doesn’t become overwhelming and get in the way of the work I have to do now.

Thinking I’m not going to come back round to where I started but I want to leave this with a few words about liminal space. The word liminal comes from the Latin limen meaning threshold. I think I’m experiencing liminal space right now. I’m occupying the space between life experienced as trauma and whatever comes after that. It’s a hard place to be in because I’ve done so much painful and deep work yet I’m not currently reaping all of the benefits of that work. I don’t know what life will be like in a month or a year or ten years. Will I continue to struggle with my mental health? Will my relationship with my husband continue to have very tenuous moments where we’re disconnected because I’m still damaged from the trauma? Will I ever be able to fully embrace life from a feeling of safety and agency? Will I ever experience consistent sleep patterns without terrifying nightmares? Will I find my path and purpose in life and embrace them? I feel like a two year old waiting impatiently and stomping my foot with excitement and feelings of wanting what I want right fucking now.

In her book, Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women, (I wrote about it here) Sylvia Brinton Perera writes of this state:

Often when the moment of return comes, we do not even know it. We may simply feel befuddled and dizzy like an infant, new before life. And so Inanna is revived. She is “sprinkled” with the food and water of life. There is an anointing or libation of the oral, good stuff, a granting of value and validation in sprinkled doses. For just as initiates are often fed as if they were infants, so Inanna, the reborn initiate to the dark goddess, is sprinkled and returns to life slowly. The food and water represent new libido to replenish that lost in her sacrifice. They restore the soul’s balance and permit Inanna to live again in the upper world.

In analysis we see this feeding in the necessity to offer validation over and over to the untrusting analysand in small, immunizing doses, until she or he can bear the experience of acceptance. It means guarding against haste, staying with the endless affects and events of daily life in all their detail until the flow of life energies returns to the stricken soul.

I thought I was through this stage already but I think I’m still in it and I should take Perera’s advice and guard against haste and stay with all my feelings and moments of daily life.

In going back to this part of Perera’s book, I realize the vampire dream may indicate that I’m also beginning to emerge and that some of the energy I’m coming back with is, in a sense, demonic. According to Perera, that doesn’t mean evil. Part of coming back means returning with aspects of myself which have been denied for most of my life. The vampires in my dream remind me of the demonic forces which return with Inanna. Within those untamed forces is the energy to stand my ground, demand respect, set boundaries, and be myself even when that means erupting with intense feeling. Maybe they are the allies I need to face and live with strength in this very fucked up world. There are certainly people and groups in the world that need to be taken down by hordes of demonic, blood sucking beings. When I write that I can feel my rage that my children are threatened because they are Jewish, that a black man was shot by police last night even though he was apprehending an armed man, that thousands of immigrants and their children are being separated and jailed in the country my pawpaw fought to keep free for everyone.

Because I’m in a liminal state, the old me exists along with the emerging me. The old me feels remorse for wanting to embody my individual integrity. The old me feels guilt for allying myself with powerful energy that could make others uncomfortable. I’m still feeling torn between hiding my allegiance to this energy and allowing it to seep into my life and help strengthen and wisen me. Maybe some of my current depression is being caused by my determination to repress the power I’m returning with.

I also think that I will only fully return once I own and integrate that power, vampires and all.

Hooray! I successfully circumambulated!



On Giving Up

I wish I could say the battle ended when trauma therapy ended. But most days are still a battle; a battle with my mental and physical health. If I stop for a moment and let things go, forget that I get easily taxed by being social or something as simple as taking an easy hike with my family, I have to fight harder the next day to put food on the table or run an errand. Life demands so many seemingly small tasks but for me there’s no such thing.

I want to give up trying to be capable. I want to give up trying harder. I want to accept that my health has left me physically weak. There might be freedom in that. I think I could live peacefully. I’m exhausted from trying so hard. What would happen if I only did what I feel that I can? Is that fair to my husband and the kids? Is it fair to myself if I don’t give up and live within the limits my body/mind set?

Most days, at least once, I have the thought that dying wouldn’t be so bad. I’ve endured a lot and overcome so much. And I’ve lived life pretty fully. I’m satisfied with how far I’ve come. Can I stop now? And by stop I mean stop feeling bad about what my limits are and accept them, maybe even grow to appreciate them. It seems like the refusal to accept is what causes suffering. Maybe giving up would open up space for something new.