30 September 2004

Qualities of Resilience

Just to cheer myself up, here are the qualities psychologists have found which enable children to survive serious, long-term abuse with some measure of wholeness.

the ability to develop relationships

I'm profoundly grateful to have received these gifts.

Just the Facts: A Timeline

"You white people are so strange. We think it is very primitive for a child to have only two parents." ~Australian aboriginal elder

"One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity." ~ Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) French philosopher & physician-missionary to Africa

I've decided to try once again to set down an autobiographical timeline. I've tried to do this before, but I haven't been able to withstand the pain. I'm always afraid people think I'm crazy or just making it all up when they learn of my childhood experiences. I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and major depression, but I've never been delusional. You can't make this shit up; it's too bizarre.

The timeline.
I was born in 1953 in a city in the deep south. In 1956, we moved to a different state. The
first episode of violence I can remember was my dad's attempt to set my mom on fire. I can't recall the timeline for all subsequent violence against my mom.

In 1961, I began elementary school. My father was having an affair with a woman and he took me along when he went to her house so that he could lie to my mom about where he was. I was expected to go along with the lie. Eventually, he stopped lying and started fucking her at our house. He beat her up pretty regularly, too. I think that went on for a couple of years, maybe. Then I think she got pregnant and my family drove her to some place in another city. Probably a home for unwed mothers. I never saw her again.

In the second grade, we moved to a different house. At some point my dad's ex-wife came to live there and my mom moved into a little apartment located on the same property. I had to continue to live with my father. It broke my heart.

His ex-wife used to try to get me to do things, like let her give me a bath. That pissed me off. I spent as much time as possible with my mom. My father had some real issues with jealousy; I was keenly aware of that. I think maybe he asked me (or maybe I just volunteered) that some guy had been over. He beat her up really badly in front of me. She left rather abruptly and my mom moved back in. I never saw her again, either.

This is about all of the timeline I can manage today. It's very emotionally difficult, because when I remember, I relive. It's hard to really identify when one's personal history begins. Obviously, there was a specific time and place when I was born, but I'm not certain if one can just start there and expect to make sense of personal history. My parents lived through things that created deep and irreparable damage. Some of that damage no doubt was inflicted because of the woundedness of their parents.

Maybe the events that define our lives will always be a mystery, because of the impossibility of gaining reliable information about their roots. In addition to that problem, there's also the nature/nurture question. I know for a fact that my father's family has some serious mental illnesses which are generally considered to be genetically-linked. On the other hand, to say they received inadequate nurturing would be a profound understatement. I don't know of any mental illnesses present at an early age in my mother's family. She did have some traumatic events early in her life, though she would not define them as such.

I suppose I will speak to some of those issues as I explore my life. For some reason, I believe if I can just create this timeline, it will be healing for me. That remains to be seen.

28 September 2004

Perfectionism and Diligence

"Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do which must be done, whether you like it or not. Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance, self-control, diligence, strength of will, content, and a hundred other virtues which the idle never know."~ Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) English clergyman & writer (let me just add, hell yes!)

I've been feeling like I have cotton stuffed inside my head. Taking care of hubby when he's sick is a major undertaking in itself, leaving me fatigued and more than a little impatient. I hadn't slept well the night before (that would be Sunday) becauseIi was having my little flashback/panic attack.

I started out the day yesterday feeling worn out, but god forbid that I should miss my regularly scheduled work out day. I argued with myself about it for a while--should it be a demanding, high-energy workout or could I just make do with my new bellydance tape? I finally went with the bellydance tape and tried not to give myself a hard time about slacking. Unfortunately, the workout didn't energize me. Other than that, I can't really say why I'm feeling sluggish and stupid today. I guess that's just the way it goes sometimes.

My therapist, psychiatrist, family and co-workers would take great exception to the word "slacking." They tell me I never give myself a break; I've been trying to come to terms with that thought, but I have to admit it's not easy. My therapist says that sometimes people who have been left to raise themselves demand far too much from themselves. Sounds right to me, but I'm just not sure I believe it fits for me.

I also get accused of being a perfectionist, to which I generally respond, "No one can ever do anything perfectly, certainly not I." I'm told that being a perfectionist just means that I try to do my very best at every thing I do. What's wrong with that? Isn't that what we should all do? It's my firm belief that self-esteem grows from that desire. Effort is the key, not execution. I may fuck things up, in big ways or small, but as long as I've done my best, I can feel good about myself. I forgive myself for fucking up, sometimes I'm even amused by it, but that doesn't mean I didn't try to do better.

Trying to mediate between what I see as two extremes (me: slacker; everyone else: too demanding) makes me crazy. I end up spending way too much time trying to find ways to lighten up without actually have to lighten up. Finally, I pick one or the other and spend the rest of the day quieting my inner voice telling me I should have done more/less. I've got way too many problems to devote that much time to every task. I have tried to change my ways by cutting off the critical voices in my head when I need rest--emotional, physical or intellectual. If I'm having a particularly difficult time figuring out what to do, I try to step outside myself and respond as I would for someone other than me. If a friend told me she was too tired to do laundry in the evening, I would most definitely tell her that rest is important and laundry can be done tomorrow. So far, this works better than any other tactic.

Now, since my head feels like it's stuffed with cotton and the day is getting late, I would tell my friend that she should stop looking for an organic way to end this entry and just stop typing, for god's sake. that's what I'm going to do.

27 September 2004


It occurred to me last week that the seven year anniversary of my father's suicide is coming up in October. I wasn't really sure if it was the seventh or eighth, but I checked with my mother. She advised me it was 1997. I guess that's why I've had some flashbacks over the past several days.

Last night, my husband was late returning home from a recording session. I kept telling myself that he was definitely okay; he had my cell phone to call for help if needed. I tried breathing techniques to calm down, but they didn't work, either. Then, out of the blue, I remembered that feeling I was having. When I was a little girl, my father was both actively psychotic and was self-medicating with alcohol. Not a good combination. He always became very violent when he drank. He was supposed to be home around 5:00 p.m. every day, but when he wasn't, you could pretty much count on the fact he was out drinking. I remember, as every hour passed by and he still wasn't home, I got more and more afraid. There are many old movies and television programs that I still can't watch because they trigger flashbacks.

I remember sitting on the living room floor once when i was maybe 9 or 10 and i was watching the Twilight Zone. It was a television program that came on around nine-ish, I think. I kept watching and trying not to seem afraid, but I had my eye on the time constantly. I was not only afraid of the bodily harm that would most assuredly come to me and/or my mom, I was also afraid that someone might have killed him. Even now I can remember with startling physical clarity the icy feeling in my stomach and the almost unbearable anxiety. I don't specifically recall just what horrors were visited upon us that particular night. After a while, incidents of horrific violence and sadism are difficult to place in time. They happened so often it was sort of routine--if one can call torture routine. There's also the problem of dissociation. When things became too unbearable, I would lose all feeling and numb out. There are huge chunks of my life that are inaccessible to me. I'm just as happy not knowing, though.

Anyway, it was this flashback that I endured last night while I was waiting for my husband to get home. I hate it that these emotions and memories superimpose themselves over a life I've taken so much care to make safe. No one hits me anymore. No one yells at me anymore. Nor does anyone hit or yell at anyone I love. And yet...the past is alive, in a way. Those images of violence and the overwhelming emotions that accompanied them still haunt me. They always will.

Middle Ground

"The modern sympathy with invalids is morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be encouraged in others."~ Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish writer, & playwright

I was supposed to take the rest of the week off, but now I'm not sure if that's going to happen. Hubby came home last night from the recording session with a stomach upset. Here's the deal. My husband (like many men, I think) completely collapses anytime he isn't feeling well. He hangs around in bed, watching television and groaning periodically (no, I'm not kidding).

On the other hand, I am very stoic. I never thought of myself that way until my psychiatrist and my therapist pointed it out to me. I had a serious bout of IBS that raged on for three solid years. I got up and went to work virtually every day. I continued to function no matter how sick I was. I empathize with my husband, but I also just want him to get up off the sofa and stop moaning. I really have no desire to spend my vacation time listening to him moan, so I'm reluctant to take the week off, even though I really need a break.

You know, it seems to me that we (meaning both of us) should be able to find that middle ground between taking to bed for a couple of weeks when you feel bad and acting as if everything is absolutely fine even though you've been sick for three fucking years. Ah, the middle ground...astoundingly difficult to find and even harder to stay there.

I'm resuming my rigorous workout schedule this week, after my standard one-week hiatus. I'm always a little ambivalent about it. I'm really tired today, so I'm not all that enthusiastic. On the other hand, if i don't resume my workout I'll feel worse in the long run. I've been trying to figure out which video tapes to use for this six-week stint. Last cycle i focused on Pilates and bellydance. Unfortunately, bellydance, though great for abs and hips, doesn't really get my heart rate up to the required level. I have a new Pilates tape that's very fast-paced, so I may try that out this evening. As for strength training, I'm tempted to stick with the Pilates mat work exercises. My only hesitation is that one's body stops working when you do the same things over and over. I know this is just fascinating, but it's very important to me. By the way, have I mentioned lately that my butt is in fantastic condition? (Do note that i'm laughing at myself as I type this.)

I watched Holes this weekend with my mother. One thing you can count on with Disney is they're not going to put in any explicit sexual scenes that are going to embarrass me to watch it with my mom. I made the huge mistake of going to see Bad Santa with her this past Christmas. I knew it wasn't a children's movie, but I had no idea there would be blow jobs and other sexual activities. Holes started out slowly and it was difficult to sustain my interest, but it got better as the movie progressed. Enough trivia.

Fuzzy Blankets and PTSD

This weekend, appropos of nothing really, I remembered that the person who assaulted me had one of those vellux blankets (those soft, fuzzy, lightweight blankets). Suddenly I remembered that I've only recently been able to sleep with one because of the memories of that night. It's amazing that I could have forgotten that.

when I told Gabrielle that she was the first person I've ever told about the experience, she told me to expect some emotional fall-out. She said it's a little like opening Pandora's box. The funny thing is, aside from the blanket memory, most of my ptsd difficulties this weekend were actually related to my father. But more of that later....