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Archive for October, 2009

I spend a good part of last week doing some heavy housecleaning. I “reclaimed” our pantry (again) after hub hogged the pantry for his vending machine business for a few years. He sold the machines early last year and never cleaned his s@#$ out. I finally set aside several hours to throw out all of the junk in there, and I am thrilled to be able to use the pantry again. Hooray!

As I cleaned the pantry, I thought about how nobody ever taught me how to clean a house. My mother/abuser was mentally ill and never really cleaned our house when I was a kid. I did not know that a toilet ever needed to be scrubbed. I thought that floors only needed to be mopped once a year before out-of-town relatives came to visit. That was my existence throughout my childhood, and nobody ever told me anything differently. I finally learned how to clean a house by reading the book Housekeeping Secrets My Mother Never Taught Me. I followed this book like my own personal “Bible” and … voila … I now know how to clean a house (not that I enjoy it, but at least I can do it!).

When talking with people about the aftereffects of my childhood, we generally focus upon the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms like flashbacks, insomnia, self-injury, and binge eating. Compared to those very serious aftereffects, not knowing how to clean a house falls low on the priority list. However, never learning a basic life skill like how to clean a house is another loss that I experienced. Those losses matter, too.

I am sure that all of us could provide a long laundry list of skills that we never acquired in our childhoods. For example, I never learned that, when you are invited to a party or other type of gathering at someone’s house, it is polite to ask, “What can I bring?” I learned that from a fellow child abuse survivor after I was humiliated after showing up at a barbeque at someone’s house with nothing in tow. It was a very large gathering (easily over 20 families invited), and mine was the only family that brought along nothing. I was so upset that I swore I would decline all further invitations for the rest of my life. My pals over at Isurvive talked me through the experience and helped me to realize that I was not a horrible person for not just knowing this stuff. This was another loss that I experienced thanks to my terrible upbringing.

Thanks to our atypical childhoods, all of us have experienced losses that don’t seem to get discussed. I just want validate that those losses matter, too, and they are just as deserving of being grieved.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Last week, I shared that the television show 90210 is dealing with the reaction of child abuse survivors to learning the news that an abusive mother is terminally ill. The storyline continued this week, and I am pleased with the direction that it is taking. You can read more details about the storyline on my professional blog.

In a nutshell, the terminally ill alcoholic/drug addict/abuser has two daughters, Kelly (who is in her mid-thirties) and Silver, who is a teenager. Kelly is Silver’s guardian. Kelly’s reaction was pretty much, “That sucks for you. I am sorry that you are sick, but it doesn’t change anything.” Silver’s reaction is much more conflicted as she feels responsible to help take care of her dying mother. Kelly told the mother to leave Silver alone, and Silver reacted by moving back in with her mother.

I think that both reactions (again, one extreme or the other) is normal for a child abuse survivor. If my mother was told that she only had three months to live, I would not be sure how to react. I would feel a certain amount of pressure to see her one last time, but I would not want to do so. My sister, on the other hand, would rush to her side and nurse her through the entire ordeal.

Does that make my sister kindhearted and me an ice-cold b@#$%? I don’t think so. I think that both reactions are normal for child abuse survivors, and we have to do what we feel like we need to do. We need to listen to our inner wisdom and do what we feel is best for us in that situation, not what anyone else thinks is best.

On the show, Silver asked Kelly how she could care so little about her mother’s plight. Kelly’s response was, “I do care about mom, but I care about you more.” I think that is how I feel about myself and anyone else who chooses not to go running to support an abuser who is ill or dying. It’s not that I am a completely unfeeling person – it is that I care about my inner child more than I care about making my abuser feel better. If I must choose, I need to choose myself. I already sacrificed my childhood for my mother – I feel no compulsion to sacrifice my adulthood as well. Her terminal illness (if this ever happens to her) does not change things.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I recently had a conversation with a fellow child abuse survivor. She is dealing with some family issues with in-laws who “act inappropriately.” Most people would knock the teeth out of anyone doing these inappropriate things, but, as a child abuse survivor, this woman is conflicted. She knows that the behavior is unacceptable and protects her children, but she does not feel comfortable saying, “If you do that again, you will not see your grandchildren again for three months.” Why is that?

I don’t mean it pick on this woman because, goodness knows, I have been there myself. I took me a very long time to realize that it was okay for me to set boundaries in my life. Why is it that we have to work so hard to assert ourselves and say no to unacceptable behavior in a relationship?

My guess is that it all stems from childhood. We were not allowed to say no as children, and so the concept of saying no as an adult is foreign to us. I am glad that I am making progress in this area. I have learned how to say no and even (sometimes) revel in the “power” of saying no. I have come to realize that it is okay for people to think that I am a b**** sometimes. Those who do not want to take advantage of me rarely think this about me: It is only those who want to cross my boundaries who accuse me of this.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I started to come out of the funk. I still did not have a lot of energy, but all I needed to do was grade papers, which does not require a lot of energy.

As I was grading papers, I noticed how stiff my shoulders were. I guess they have been stiff for a long time, but I have not really been very aware of being in my own body lately. I felt a strong urge to do yoga (which I have not done in a long time), so I dropped what I was doing and did yoga in my room, followed by meditation. I cannot say that anything earth-shattering happened, but it felt nice to stretch out my muscles.

I also went walking with a friend yesterday, which was both good for my body and my spirit. I always feel energized after spending time talking with a (positive) friend. I exercised again this morning, so I guess I am on a roll this week.

I have also been reading a book at night before I go to sleep rather than trying to get more done on the computer. I find that burning a lavender/vanilla-scented candle and listening to relaxing (New Age) music while reading in bed really helps me sleep better.

So, I am doing more things to nurture myself. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to me, but I am doing it. I keep finding that depression is always nearby, but I am choosing to let those emotions pass through me as I need to express them without getting too attached to them. At least I don’t feel depressed when I am reading, exercising, or otherwise nurturing myself. I even played the piano briefly the other day – something I have not done in a long time.

Here’s hoping I can keep this up until January.

Photo Credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I Am So Tired!

I was so incredibly tired over the weekend. I would have given anything for a nap on Saturday afternoon, but I spent the day watching other people’s children for two friends who are in crisis. I took a 1/2 tsp. of Tussionex at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night and then slept straight through for 12 hours. That is just about unheard of for me barring some sort of serious illness.

Hub tried to wake me at ~ 7:00 a.m. because the dogs were being loud. I could not wake up, nor did I want to as soon as I knew that it was the dogs, not the child, who needed tending. My son then came into my room at ~ 8:00 a.m., and I could not wake up then, either. I finally woke up at 9:30 a.m. – after a full 12 hours of sleep – and still felt groggy throughout the day.

I don’t think there is anything physically wrong with me. I think I just finally “burned out” emotionally. I have been running with my metaphorical engine on full throttle for so long that I simply cannot do it any longer.

So, instead of working hard trying to play catch up, I finished reading my book and pretty much laid around. That’s not easy to pull off when you live with a child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but I made it clear that hub and child were to L-E-A-V-E for at least an hour so I could actually sit down and watch TV (not football for hub or Sponge Bob for child).

I am rested up yet? That remains to be seen.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Right on schedule, I am struggling emotionally as we have moved into October. This is really getting on my nerves. I have been taking all sorts of measures to protect myself from “losing it” during this three-month period, but it is a real battle. For example, I am only listening to positive music and going to Reiki. Nevertheless, I keep finding myself overwhelmed with anxiety and just wanting to curl up into a ball and sleep through the next three months.

I don’t like when I get this way. In fact, I was so angry about it last night that I begged myself to “enlighten me” about what the problem is. Do I have an alter part that is triggered by this time of year? If so, let’s heal that trauma so I can check it off my list and stop feeling I-N-S-A-N-E for three months out of every year. No dice. I fell asleep without getting anywhere.

I keep trying to use my tools – deep breathing, taking time out for myself, etc. I seem to be able to pull myself out for a little while, but then the waters close in over my head again. I do better in the morning, and then by the evening, I am ready to down alcohol, food, Xanax, or anything else that will relieve the anxiety.

Can anyone else relate?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Last night’s episode of 90210 hit too close to home for me. One of the main characters, Silver (played by Jessica Stroup) has an alcoholic mother, who is a character carried over from the original series. When she is drunk or high, she is abusive and neglectful, depending upon her state of consciousness. Silver moved out of the house and in with her adult sister last season due to her mother’s behavior.

In last night’s episode, Silver’s mother begged her to come to an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting where she would be speaking. She had just earned a chip (I think a 30-day one) and gave this touching speech about taking responsibility, how much she has changed, etc. After she sat down, Silver asked to speak and said publicly, “I only came tonight to tell you once and for all to stay out of my life.” She then told her mother that she was “dead to me” when she walked out.

In the very last scene, Silver’s friend came over and said that her mother had just called her. Silver didn’t want to hear what she had to say, but the friend told her anyhow – her mother has cancer and is dying. That’s how the episode ended.

I don’t know where the show will go with this. I guess I will find out next week. It made me think about a blog entry that I wrote a while ago entitled Death of an Abuser. Does an abuser’s impending death change things? Should Silver go running to her mother’s side now that she is dying? Is Silver a “bad person” if she doesn’t?

Many people might judge Silver if this news does not make a difference, but I would understand it. I guess you cannot understand the gravity of abuse unless you have lived it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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