And conversation was had by all

Two weeks ago I woke up to a cacophony of angry and upset voices. All my alters were talking at once. It was a Monday morning and my boys had left the Friday before to spend the week with their dad. I usually take Saturdays as a rest day but I was so busy with getting taxes done for me, my ex and my mom that I worked through the weekend. I had made promises to give my littles time doing things they like to do but had not kept them. I guess I should have expected some anger and resentment but it took me by surprise. I’m very much still learning to live with all these people inside of me and it often feels easier to pretend they are not real and go about my business as if it were just me in my body.

They had my attention and I chose to give them an opportunity to speak in a somewhat organized way so I opened a blank document and let them all type. I’m posting the conversation in an effort to be transparent with myself and own that these people have just as much a right to express themselves as I do. I’m honestly quite proud of them for talking to me instead of sending me into a panicked or dissociative state. I see it as progress.

Mina: Stop fucking around and just fucking type the question.

Me: Why are y’all ganging up on me?

13 yr old A: You said three days in a row that we could start the TAZ puzzle. There’s always an excuse. The taxes have to get done. You HAVE to do the work for mom.

Max: You’re spending a lot of time binge watching. Binge watching and coloring. You’re getting your time but the rest of us are left standing behind a curtain where you mostly don’t see us.

Little A: Yeh. You haven’t even been tucking in the stuffies like you were. That’s a pretty easy thing to do and it doesn’t take much time.

Mina: You think you’re going to get out of all this trauma bullshit but you’re never going to be like people who weren’t raped when they were kids.

Me: Ruby?

Ruby: I feel like it’s my fault you’re doing this. I came up/out with so many feelings and new memories and you were there but when 13 yr old A finally decided it was safe and she came out, you shut everything down tight.

Me: I probably did. I hadn’t thought about it really.

Me: Ruby, it’s most certainly not your fault. You’ve been through so much, more than the rest of us, really. You remembered the abuse (kind of?) and then went through hell with a psychopath. My oldest kiddo just came in and said “they’re holding you accountable. That’s good.” I think it’s the right thing for y’all to do. I just felt jumped.

Lisa: I bet you did. But you deserved it. I don’t like not being listened to.

Max: It’s true. You haven’t been listening. And you fell back into your habit of blocking out the things you don’t want to see and feel. You’re good at it.

Me: I have to be. That’s a coping skill too.

Everybody wanting to speak.

Ruby: You’re using CBD, even yoga, to chill out your feelings instead of processing them. We have the power to force you to feel things and make you very uncomfortable.

Max: But we didn’t do that this morning, did we? We were simply trying to talk to you and you weren’t accepting responsibility so some of us escalated things a bit. Not that I condone the way you were being spoken to. Threatening to overwhelm you was inappropriate.

Me: What am I suppose to do? I really do have to do all this stuff and I know it’s overwhelming right now but it will get better.

Little A: Choosing to do stuff for mom before us is not ok. You’re even doing it to yourself. You wanted to sew yesterday and you didn’t even get to the machine.

Me: The stuff with mom is complicated. Yes, I feel like I should help her AND I need the money. I’m supporting 5 people half the time and 3 the other half. I’m trying to set boundaries around it but right now, she needs a lot of help. I really do think things will get better in a few months.

Max: You could choose to give up some of your time to us. When the boys aren’t here, you spend from 4:30am till 8am just watching your stories. Would you be willing to give up some of that?

Me: I can try. Yes, I’ll try. It’s going to be a big shift for me. I’ve been doing that for 3 years. And maybe we should set aside a few minutes a day for airing out stuff. I avoid listening because I’m trying to feel like things are less chaotic than they are.

Mina: That’s good. We’re going to hold you to it. And you will make time for that puzzle today. 13yr old A hasn’t been given the space the rest of us get. And she’s been waiting a long time. 34 years.

Mina: You said you were going to be open to the truth. You fucking tattooed it on your arm. You’re a fucking hypocrite if you don’t actually follow through. The truth is, we are a mess of feelings and fucked up thinking. You’re not doing the work if you aren’t acknowledging that.

Me: OK. I promise to give 13 yr old A time with the puzzle today. It’s going to be a rainy day. Sounds like a cozy thing to do. I’m also going to talk to Sarah about all of this later. Y’all can be there for the conversation and jump in.

All the things undone and all that I am actually doing

I need to write but I also really, really, really want to sew today. So I’m going to keep this short.

I’m behind in every aspect of my life. And, yes, I’m disabled AND still have active C-PTSD, but (AND) I feel like I should be able to get caught up and be on top of everything. I can feel my head getting fuzzy as I write this. A sign that I’m expressing something that comes from a cognitive distortion. It’s not hard for me to identify it as a need to be perfect to protect myself from shame, blame and harm.

Up until things started to truly fall apart a few years ago, I ran myself ragged staying on top of every little thing. I worked two jobs while going to school for my undergrad in psychology. Then I was a new first-time mom while working on my graduate degree. I was also married to an alcoholic who rarely came home before 5am and did very little to help around the house. After I got my masters degree I left that husband, moved across the country with my 2 year old and very little money. Somehow I kept it all together.

Then I met my most recent partner (now ex-husband) and we started a life together in which I worked, cared for my first child, and did most of the housework and cooking. Over the next few years we had two children and my health began to decline. I was put on bedrest multiple times. During my pregnancies, once with acute hepatitis, and once with hyponatremia and hypochloremia. And all the while I was having uncontrolled seizures, as well as increasing anxiety, depression and the occasional mild psychosis. Looking back, it’s so easy to see what a ginormous mess I was.

I was 46 when my latest breakdown happened. After I’d been in therapy with my current therapist for a while, I slowly began to realize that I had to let go of my overachieving perfectionism. Maybe I developed it because I thought if I were a good girl, the best girl, then my dad wouldn’t come to me at night and hurt me. Maybe my mother would be proud of me and believe I was safe, and then my dirty secret would be safe and she wouldn’t be in harms way from my father’s threat. Certainly, being so accomplished gave me something to be proud of and to believe in. But it also served as a buffer between what I wanted my life to be like and the truth, which was that I was terribly, awfully fucked up by the multiple abuses I’d experienced during the first 22 years of my life.

So I let go over and over again and then some more. And here I am, my house a mess, laundry overflowing, the dog’s yard uncleaned, junk on my front porch, bills unpaid and a pile of mandalas I’ve colored while ignoring all the things I “should” have been doing.

I can hear inner judgment about all those undone things.

And yet, it is work untangling all the lies, shame, pain and secrets that exist within when you were abused as a child. While those chores and life tasks were left undone, I’ve been working my ass off processing and coming to know my alters and making room for them in my life. And though I’m certainly not an all star mother right now, I do still have 3 kids that I feed, shelter, nurture and guide. Those are no easy tasks.

This post is a bit chaotic. Certainly not one of my more eloquent ones. I just needed to write down and acknowledge my feelings about all the things hanging over my head. And all the things I am doing that aren’t necessarily so easily seen.

The long winter’s night

(Art credit: Keeping Hope Alive by Phatpuppyart-studios on Deviantart here)

I’ve kept to myself for months now. The pandemic has made that easier. Once every few weeks, a friend from town comes for a socially distanced visit on my back patio. We have to choose the day carefully so it’s warm enough for us to sit outside and chat comfortably for an hour or two. I hear from my childhood friend occasionally and my friend with trauma and I connect when one of us needs support. My eldest and their partner are here all the time but we are content to have brief chats and then go about our separate lives in the same house. I don’t know how long it’s been since I left social media. Six months, maybe?

My younger kids come to stay every other week and those weeks are the hardest. I love them, appreciate the time we have together, and I struggle because their presence is triggering and it’s hard work to stay truly present with them.

In the beginning of the pandemic, being so isolated was challenging; I tried to find meaningful things to do with my time but found I had little energy or focus for those tasks. The stress of the pandemic, coupled with my own state of mind, make it extremely challenging for me to accomplish most projects and sometimes even chores. At some point a few months ago, I stopped trying to accomplish anything other than surviving each day and do just the chores that keep us alive and healthy.

I wake up each day an hour or so before sunrise. The darkness and the quiet give my nervous system time to set a calm baseline for the day to come. And I love to watch the light change. There’s a moment during the gloaming time when color comes back to the world. From my window, I can see it happen while I’m sitting in my bed. One minute, everything outside seems swathed in shades of dark blue and grey. The next, the rocks on the mountains spark a hint of orange that softly glows. If I happen to catch that moment as it happens, I put on some warm clothes and go outside.

Did you know that the birds don’t just start singing at some point during sunrise? The smaller birds will click and chuck for a time before singing. This morning I went outside just in time to hear those first small sounds beginning. It’s been about twenty minutes and they are just starting their songs. The always silent trees, also seem to wake up when the light returns. I see their thin top branches reaching for the first rays of light as it set them softly afire with a warm golden color.

The winter sunrise mirrors my own process in high speed. I am the rocks on the mountains, the whispering birds and the bare-limbed trees in the dawn of my own becoming. The warmth of my own embodiment, a product of this last year’s work, is slowly awakening my inner world and I am beginning to see myself as a landscape with the potential to eventually fill out with oxygen giving leaves, frolicking animals and life sustaining fruits and flowers.

As I write this, the mountains are now aflame with a deep pink and I hear the sounds of the crows and jays calling to one another in their secret languages.

I have needed, still need, the time and space to dwell in my inner land of darkness. Intentionally allowing myself to live in my own long winter’s night is an achingly slow process; I cannot yet see my inner world, except in the glimpses I catch in glimmers and the now less frequent triggers. I imagine most of myself as still sleeping the vast unconsciousness of hibernation. Perhaps some aspects of myself thrive in this darkness because they can more easily move about unseen. But I know most of me needs the warmth and discernment that comes with light.

Perhaps the me I am familiar with as myself is the fox or owl who thrives while most others sleep. Some brave and small part of my greater whole has taken it in stride to be the sentinel who keeps watch through the long night; they pass the time by recalling stories, sharpening tools, protecting the village from roving animals and armed raiders and occasionally laughing at the darkness because they know it will not last forever. I have stood watch through a night that has lasted years. I know I have nodded off at times, only to awaken to find fences that were torn down by wild winds or pillagers. I feel exhausted from this long watch and dawn gives me hope that I will eventually have my day in the sun.

Perhaps starting a yoga diary…

written November 13, 2020

Day 21 of Yoga with Adriene’s True practice.

Theme: Finesse. In Adriene’s words “It’s all about how you move.”

Today I came to the mat with less grumpiness than the previous two days. More a sense of not feeling super excited or engaged. But, as I have every day for the last month, I got on the mat and began following Adriene’s instructions, with some curiosity about how she would incorporate finesse.

Lots of thoughts and some desire to pull back and not engage. Maybe just go through the motions. Doing a wide legged knee bend, I really felt the pull on my muscles and I wondered if I was strong enough to hold it. Lifting up with one arm and bringing it overhead for a side stretch. Adriene asked “how can you bring more finesse to your movement?” For me, it was noticing my tattoos and feeling a sense of connection. That motivated me to bring more intention to the subtly of the sweeping movement. I noticed that when I focused on that, I was less concerned with the tug and discomfort in my quads.

Yesterday, I asked a friend who’s a long time meditation practitioner about my experience of the mat being the thing that never changes in my practice. A sort of foundation for what I bring with me to the mat each day and in each moment. I described how I showed up feeling grumpy and couldn’t fully let it go and how I felt disappointed and also curious about that. He said this is very normal; people often feel a sense of ‘doing it wrong’ when they don’t have the experience of a big glowing connection. And I feel that. I am aware that’s part of what I’m working with on and off the mat. I had a couple of good weeks on and off the mat and I was so proud of myself. When I began to have a lot of uncomfortable feelings, I got frustrated with myself. I have this expectation that I should feel good and connected when I’m on the mat, not ambivalent. My friend mentioned a Shambalah teaching about peaceful abiding. As far as I understand it, it’s the notion that we try to let go of our ideas about what successful mindfulness looks like. Instead, trying to find some peace with whatever arises or doesn’t arise. I want to explore this more.

“If you’re not angry, you’re either a stone or you’re too sick to be angry.” -Dr. Angelou

Thismorning, I went down a rabbit hole on YouTube and ended up watching a show that pairs very different cultural icons for the purpose of a meeting of minds and hearts. I watched an elderly Dr. Maya Angelou spend an afternoon with comedian Dave Chappelle. (you can be inspired by this meeting here) From the moment it began, I could feel the heat of emotion flush my face and that strange, burning sensation that happens just before you cry truly heartfelt tears. I admire both of these ‘icons’ and being a witness to such authentic conversation (their respect for one another was obvious) touched places that are right now raw and tender for me.

At one point, Dave asked Dr. Angelou how she dealt with having so many of her friends assassinated in the ’60s; wasn’t she angry? Her response:
If you’re not angry, you’re either a stone or…you’re too sick to be angry. You should be angry. You should be angry. You use it. You never stop talking it.

I felt so validated, I had to pause the video as she was in the midst of saying it. I shy away from the righteous anger I feel about so many things, both personal and cultural. And I have certainly been too sick at times to be angry. I won’t even try to separate the physical from the mental sicknesses because I know now they are too intertwined to be teased apart. And here’s this wise, powerful woman, who experienced rape as a child saying straight up about trespasses: You should be angry. You should be angry. Use it. Never stop talking it.

Knowing what I do about Dr. Angelou, I assume that when she says to use your anger, she means to harness it for personal and cultural change. I’ve never been secretive about my trauma but I feel myself moving towards a place of greater vulnerability with it. Can I find a way to harness my rage at my father and the society that allows these things to happen so that I can be one of many driving forces towards change? The first twenty years of my life were given to surviving. the second twenty something have been dedicated to personal healing. Perhaps I’m moving towards channeling my experience to have a new purpose, one which lifts up others who are struggling and feeling the isolation that so often accompanies being a survivor.

Dave Chappelle uses his money and platform to acknowledge and alleviate suffering (if you think he’s just a raunchy comedian, google his altruism) and Dr. Angelou so openly shares her own experiences, thoughts and feelings, that anyone can feel she’s speaking or writing directly to them. Some of that was born of traumatic moments and feelings of anger, but ultimately it comes from a place of love. I am so touched by that and I want to take what I’ve been through and what I’ve learned and use my love to lift up others.

Symbols in ink on skin

I spent yesterday in a weird slump I couldn’t account for. I tried multiple things to bring myself a sense of joy or at least acceptance but I ended up falling asleep last night feeling down. It’s my habit to wake before dawn so I can enjoy the quiet and stillness of those early hours and especially so I can connect with the moon and the stars and watch the gradual shift from night to day. Just now, as I was doing that, I remembered that today is the day I’m getting a tattoo to honor all the work I’ve done as a survivor and in particular, the past year and a half. Apparently, I’m having a lot of feelings about it.

Getting ink on the the skin of my forearm means I will forever wear the symbols of my strength and journey in a place where all the world can see it. Just as I confronted my father about his abuse and its effects in the recent letter I wrote him, getting this tattoo is, in part, about confronting greater society with the epidemic of violence and abuse that is still too often a taboo subject to broach. And I feel similar to the way I felt after I sent the letter to my father; I can feel my nervous system amping up in response to the act of refusing to keep the secret so many people don’t want to see, because if they see it, they’ll feel guilty about not doing more to help end the cycles of abuse too many people grow up in. And perhaps my experience of being down yesterday was the frightened child part of me feeling the weight of that secret that was thrust upon her with threats of consequences that would destroy what little life she had left. I had doubts, I thought about cancelling the appointment, saying it was too expensive. But I think underneath those thoughts, were the fears that I didn’t deserve to give myself the empowering experience of looking down at my own forearm and seeing the extreme extents I’ve gone to in order to survive and heal.

I haven’t come this far to turn away from honoring what I’ve experienced and how brilliantly, if often messily, I’ve existed in the midst of so much pain and a nervous system generally incapable of resting in states of safety. Certainly I’m not going to let the very structures of shame and doubt that my abusers helped create inside of me be what stops me from celebrating my successes on this journey. I have not shied away from doing the work, not even when the notion of doing a particular aspect of it elicited a feeling that doing so would destroy me. Some part of me always had faith that I could withstand being destroyed and eventually come to a place in which I was no longer in a constant state of disregulation or depression.

Now that I have the power to notice when I’m in a disregulated state and can use skills to shift that, I am indeed ready to acknowledge the journey I’m on and celebrate the work I’ve done to get to this place of mostly being able to hold my own in my life and the world. Right now I’m feeling my belly flutter and I’m sweating even while sitting in a chilly room. I’m aware of the thoughts, doubts and feelings as they arise. I have made a playlist to listen to while on my way to and from the tattoo artist’s shop and I’m going to go and do some empowering yoga before taking a shower and getting ready for this next big step on the very hard road I’ve traveled.