Haunted

Blog tinkering continues, but apparently I will have some warning before I need to stop updating the blog. This is a good thing. I find myself having the compulsion to write now that the blog seemed temporarily off-limits.

The headlines of late are all about the sexual misconduct and predatory practices of powerful, influential men on the less powerful in the entertainment food chain. Many of the currently reported transgressions are in the distant past, and the criminal behaviors an open secret among those who toil in the industry.

As an adult, I wonder why this behavior was tolerated and hidden for so long. Many of those speaking up now are powerful figures in their own right, and yet they waited until someone else opened the door before speaking their truth and telling their stories. While I understand their fear and anxiety, the real threat of not being believed or supported or losing opportunities to pursue their art and livelihood, I am so angry and so ashamed on their behalf. Part of me doesn’t want to, but for the most part – I believe them.

I was sexually abused as a child, something I have touched upon in the past. It was far worse than what many of these adult women experienced, but degree of crime does not make me more a victim. Being young – events I can recall started around age 3 or 4 and ended when I was 12 – gives me somewhat of a pass (in my own judgment) for not speaking up and speaking out. I also know how it wrecked me to be 30, tell my mother in the safety of a therapist’s office, and have her flat out say not only does she not believe me, she tells my therapist that I am lying “to get attention.”

It was an emotionally killing blow and crippled me.

From that standpoint, I can understand the reluctance to speak out in the moment. I know what kind of risks are involved and losing what seems so important and vital in the moment is too high a price.

My abuser is a long dead – he died when I was 23. But to this day he has effectively silenced me. I cannot speak out loud about what cruelty and evil he introduced into my life, how the twisted, dark, bleak places that still exist and persist in my mind. I understand all too well how disconnected and abnormal I am about emotions, that what most people speak about when it comes to “love” is like they are speaking in a foreign tongue I cannot comprehend. This does not make me a terrible, horrible, or even marginally bad person; it makes me handicapped when compared to what most in my culture and world would perceive as emotionally normal. I strive to be kind, thoughtful, considerate, even if I am incapable of caring and loving in the ways most people desire to be cared for and loved. I do my best. I use my judgment and perception to figure out what I perhaps should feel in a situation. I am one who thinks about what feelings should feel like, and thinking about feeling and actually feeling are very different things.

At the end of the day, trying harder allows me to label and fill containers in my emptiness and separate the good stuff from the self-directed revulsion and hatred I cannot seem to completely erase. Therapy taught me a lot about coping and surviving, even if it could not cure what killed me as a kid.

So in this culture of political correctness and conviction for character-related crimes with little or no proof, I want to believe these accusers speaking out now. On general moral principle, I very much want to believe them. I want to believe that no one accuses others of such heinousness just to get attention or to take the victim role out for a spin.

But it’s hard for me to equate the criminality of touching a knee or unwelcome invitations with my experiences. I was 5 the first time I had a grown man ejaculate in my mouth. I was 8 when my virginity was stolen. I was 10 when a penis was forced into my anus. A lot of layers of awful leading up to each of those milestone events, a lot of other awful events I will forever wish I could forget.

And I was 30 before I spoke a word about it to anyone I knew outside of individual or group therapy with other childhood sexual abuse survivors. And my mother killed me all over again by accusing me of lying about it.

When I was 15 a classmate grabbed my ass every single school day for weeks. It got to the point where I would be on edge and almost hysterical walking one stretch of hallway to my locker. Does the way he groped me – lightly at first, as if it were an accidental brush of his hand to more deliberately, when it became apparently that he could get away with it – does that matter? I was wreck. For a couple of hours daily, I was a wreck dreading and trying to avoid leaving a class and having him somehow always end up behind me.

My friends tried to watch out for me, tried to put themselves between him and me, and to their credit, they believed me even if it seemed incredible that this quiet braniac was being inappropriate. This was the 70s and there were not classes and workshops and seminars on what constitutes inappropriate touching. When I finally broke down about it walking this stretch of hallway and he did his new standard butt grab, he had the gall to approach me directly, in front of my friends, and ask me is there was anything wrong? His expression was the perfect mask of inscrutable concern and curiosity, and all I could do was stammer and turn red with shame.

Who’s the crazy one now?

He never did it again after that exchange. Or he never did it to me again. In time I began to have doubts, and perversely, I wanted him to not judge me so harshly. I was nice to him, kind to him, tried to be extra decent and friendly when we had to work projects together. But I awkward and distanced from him, and it made me feel badly … about me.

I feel a sense of ruefulness now, but it’s my view that high school is hard on everyone to varying degrees and in various ways. Just another rite of passage I’m glad to have so far back in my own rearview.

Yet … all my life I have been haunted by remorse for not speaking up, telling my truth when it could have made a difference. Are there other victims out there I could have helped or spared by speaking up sooner?

As an adult, I can rationally understand the limitations of my understanding. I was a kid, a child, and was not especially close to my parents or sibling or anyone else I trusted enough to get past my shame. For my high school experience, I can imagine him as some horny teenager without any outlets for releasing that energy, and I was a safe target – a nice girl, smart but not in the academic elite circles where he dwelled, not pretty, not popular, just quiet and part of the great unwashed masses of high school.

In work, I do not allow people in power to abuse me, not anymore. I have left jobs because my superiors were cruel and/or demeaning to me, and I have spoken about the experiences honestly in exit interviews. As I have grown professionally, I have learned there are people I can speak my mind with and those who see my pushback as a challenge to double-down and find my breaking point, all within the limits of the law, of course. It’s part of why I will generally avoid a larger corporate environment; the deck is stacked against someone who is not a superstar performer in the revenue-generating ranks.

I don’t know what to think of the stories pouring out about famous, powerful people. Except I am ready to believe the worst about them, even if I am not quite ready to believe each and every one of their accusers.

 

Exceptional

I have been quieter than usual the last few days. A lot going on in my mind, and more challenge than usual to gather and capture all my thoughts and emotions to put them in order to write. This post, I’m not sure there is order in my chaos, a sure sign of a me trying to capture a lot of big concepts and events and synthesize them down into something that makes sense for all of you. Of late I have been dwelling in the land of sexual abuse, likely triggered and fed by the latest Hollywood scandal. I feel lighter now that I’ve sorted through and downloaded my thoughts. But I always feel obligated to put this type of disclaimer that this is not a typical light-and-fluffy sort of post. 

Are you exceptional at anything? Playing jacks? Skipping rope? World peace? The idea is dominating my thoughts the last couple of days, so much so it’s been hard to sit down and focus on writing out the why of it all much less a training recap.

I had an appointment with TM on Monday as we are winding down this year’s tune-up. Losing friend J extended the process, because while I look and act okay, the cracks are still pretty fragile just beneath the surface. But it wasn’t grief that has my mind in slow-mo idea crunching; it is the idea of exceptionalism.

Vast majority of my life thus far, I have chased and relentlessly pursued average. My childhood traumas made me feel extraordinarily separate and alone, so I craved to be just like everyone else. Safe. Sane. Unmolested.

Yet my whole life, I have had it pounded into me that I am not like anyone else. Those pushing that idea of my not being like everyone else has not had a good or positive connotation. If I blend with a crowd it is because I choose to comport myself into some facade of normal and keep my thoughts to myself. I rarely ever belong, even now as a middle age adult, and through the days and years of my life I have learned to accept it and build a good life and niche. I have no complaints; I only see pathways to enhancement and improvement. Acceptance of my lot does not mitigate my curiosity and interest in the world around me. I cannot change what happened to child me – I learned that a long time ago – but I also learned to survive and thrive in spite of it. How often does that happen? In my experience, not often enough. I have watched the self-destruction of too many other peers in my childhood sexual abuse experience history and efforts to heal and overcome to think my successful transition into middle aged adulthood is a typical occurrence and outcome.

But I am wildly uncomfortable with the thought of exceptionalism, even good, positive, complimentary exceptionalism. To hear TM say that to me – TM who has never lied to me in all these years – felt like a death sentence. Or a lifetime of future discomfort sentence.

My discomfort lies primarily with deeply rooted fear and anxiety. To be different, exceptional, makes me a target. I’m the outlier gazelle in the sights of the predators. Difference is I am a grown-up now. I have a voice. I understand right and wrong, and I am far from powerless. Every time I think of my childhood, I have to pep-talk myself off the ledge of old, crippling fear.

Some scars still ache.

The full context of how this came about: I asked TM if he had insight to why I am successful this time with my diet and exercise consistency when I have tried and failed in times prior. His response was that I am someone who is never going to be satisfied with the simple answers to the complicated problems. I am always seeking to know more and to understand why. It’s true I enjoy knowing how things work. I am a knowledge junkie, a collector of information. In our years of working together, it all comes down to understanding why. Why this happened to me. Why did he choose me. Why didn’t I do more to make it stop. Why, why, why. There are no answers that satisfy me or that could ever quell the raging anger I have learned to restrain and contain and keep in context. But the search continues and seems unlikely to end until my final breath.

I have had to learn to live with that as well.

For a long time I imagined my latent desire to understand the essential why of evil doings to be the central strength and failing in my whole life. It’s made me try harder to be a decent human being; my fear turning into a kind of evil spawn colors most significant decisions of my life to date.

But TM points out that my need to know and understand things was part of what kept me from giving in to the despair that brought others to their knees. Or worse. It is not enough to be smarter than the average bear; it takes a lot more courage (I hate that term) and determination to survive without crutches (drugs, alcohol, poor moral choices, poor life choices, etc.). My personality type also contributes to my success in this endeavor.

For a knowledge junky seeking to understand just about everything that comes into my orbit, I am rather blindly ignorant in my own self-awareness. Frequently I think it is a handicap that comes from the old injury, and self-protection is reasonable. Looking too closely at how I think, who I am as a person requires critical self-examination of all aspects of my life. I’m incapable of that, or I am on my own. Hence the therapy and annual tune-ups.

TM and I had previously discussed my Myers-Briggs and the consistent INTJ results. I have been dismissive of that, feeling the confidence and other favorable traits were so not applicable to insecure and mundane me. TM disagrees and used the example of compliments. He can tell me how much trimmer and fitter I look (as he did on Monday when I showed up in his office wearing gym capris and t-shirt). Because I do not think that about myself to the point that someone I admire and respect as enormously as TM would take notice, I dismiss his comment and opinion as him being nice. Except TM does not say anything he does not mean; in his line of work, he is very deliberate in word choice, tone, and delivery of every utterance. What he thinks may fail to impact me in the moment (because I disagree with his comment) despite my genuine admiration and respect, our conversations linger long after we part from our meetings. I do have my own strong feelings and opinions on many subjects even if they are not fully expressed. In this case and others like it, I offer gracious thanks for kind and flattering words – I have learned at least that much – and either change the subject or blabber incoherently about nothing. Point is, he can tell I am discounting his words, because they conflict with my own ideas. This is me reinforcing my confidence in my more correct point of view.

Put that way, I feel both happy at my confidence (in my own lack of confidence) and horrified that I might come across as so blatantly contrary. But people who like me still like me, so there’s some comfort that at least I’m not obnoxious about it.

The whole 20 minute discussion at the end of our meeting was like turning on my thought grinder the last couple of days. I have been busy and productive in other aspects of my life, but part of it has been fueled by my X-ray examination of this from every single angle and processing what it all means or could potentially mean. Part of me feared I have learned nothing in the many years of off-and-on therapy I have been through with TM (and others), but that knee-jerk was quickly dismissed as negative girl shenanigans trying to hijack.

Truth is I’m mostly glad we can still have a conversation that alarms and elates me. There is so much more still left to know about myself, and I have not become stagnant and boring and hanging around awaiting a slow mental and emotional decline. Developing any sort of self-awareness – I guess it’s not instant pudding either, where you add milk, stir, refrigerate 30 minutes, and voila! Dessert. Like most complexities in life it takes time and patience (hate that term, too) in order to develop any sort of understanding and mastery.

I do like the puzzles life presents to me to solve. Even those outside my sphere of experience or ability to solve, I like that they exist and someone else will work at them and create intriguing solutions.

I learn from my experiences and missteps. In all facets of my life.

This morning I was doing 1-legged Romanian deadlifts with a cable weight machine, and I cannot even describe how tediously difficult I still find them. But I am better with them now than I was 6 months ago, and hopefully 6 months from now I will be a step up from where I dwell right now. Going through them, trying, Trying, TRYING to not weeble-wobble sideways, I understand the mechanics better now. I know what “slow and controlled” means in relation to this movement, and now I really know how slow and controlled is supposed to look and to feel. Knowing does not mean body is capable of doing it. Understanding the way it is supposed to work does not mean mind ceases sending out doubt impulses that impair concentration, though. Despite all the other ways I may do this balancing act, the cable changes it just enough to make challenging in a different way.

When I had few other ways of doing 1-legged RDLs, it seemed so much harder. But now I have dumbbells, TRX, and landmine – possibly others that I have forgotten. All look and feel just a little different. With that kind of comparison and contrast, the cable version is not so bad. Or rather, my effort with them is not so bad. In fact, my effort with them is very good and my ability is improving. Because of my interest in how my body works. And my faith and trust that I will improve. So many times I doubt myself and my capability to learn.

This is what enormous progress from 2+ years of consistent effort and study looks like for me.

My trainer is fabulous and very good at his job. He’s also scary smart, which was the outstanding quality and key takeaway from our very first meeting. While still fully in the thrall of my own brand of gym crazy, I recognized and respected his intelligence and compassion. Yeah, it took a few months for me to gain traction on what that meant to and for me, but I got there.

I rarely feel especially smart. I feel curious; I feel interested. I feel capable of learning, yet not especially bright. Because of that, smart people are almost addictive. I love that they know things, are bright in ways I lack, and are able to share their knowledge and capture my interest in different things as I try to develop understanding and make it all make sense. The puzzles they solve so effortlessly and present are good mood food for me, because there is a particular brand of energy that tends to draw me in and get my thinking pumping. Unless they are assholes. If they’re assholes, no amount of scary smart is worth my time.

With my better health quest, I’ve made huge strides in reshaping my shape and improving the quality of my overall health. TM made me recognize and understand that it’s my making the better choices for help and guidance that have kept me focused and allowed me to develop the mindset to keep going long after my typical (up until now) expiration date with exercise and healthy eating. My personality demands certain qualities in my coaching, and if I try to deny that particular quirk I will end up unhappy with my poor results.

TM reminds me of this every time we meet. Not saying it in words, but by his example in working with me to guide my thinking and teach me new tools to manage my life during the other 166 or 167 hours per week I’m not sitting in his office. Every year we moving into the next chunk of undiscovered country of all-about-me.

Thing with therapy – something often complained about by others – the all-about-me discoveries may never end. Some years I feel very self-indulgent in our tune-up sessions. Others, I have real stressors or issues I want to address head-on and resolve for a better, less nut-ball crazy life. This year, I wondered if there were perhaps there are other qualities of my personality now demanding recognition and attention? Although deeply sad and grieving the death of friend J, I am not in crisis. I am not endangering myself, my marriage, any of my closest relationships, or my livelihood. If anything, I am shedding other deadwood and unhealthy relationships that impact my ability to pursue what is most important and/or modifying my impulses and capabilities that might impede personal growth.

Learning new skills, acquiring new tools to live a better, more interesting and fulfilling life – all good. But the struggle is real. And no matter how much or how frequently I may feel myself completely ridiculous in how difficult it seems, the struggle is still real and tough for me to process and reconcile past, present, imagined future. Sometimes.

It truly is the “sometimes” in this equation that grows smaller every year.

I cannot deny or change the broken pieces, emotional shrapnel, big ugly scars from terrible injuries sustained as a kid inside my heart and my head. Look at any of the scars on my body and I feel confident I could tell you when, where, and how I acquired them. The ones on the inside – I am mostly incapable of speaking about them in detail to anyone. So many years of silence and withdrawal have made those events harden like granite in their mind vault compartments. But therapy has provided me tools and workarounds that let me move about freely through my life in spite of the mental and emotional limp-inducing load I carry.

Healing could be a misunderstood term. It’s not that I stop caring about or feeling the pain from past hurts; I seriously doubt I or anyone else will ever forget major traumas. But perhaps healing is the choice to set it aside to the point that these grievous injuries no longer rule or have direct impact on our present or threaten our future.

Very recently, I read something that described therapy as a temporary measure that does not fix you, but provides tools to fix yourself. Not sure I agree with that either, because I will never be fixed or made whole. However, I know TM and other professionals through the years have taught me skills to cope and to let go as much as I could to be functional and productive, to have a good life. The piece was thoughtful and made me feel like I were having a whole body root canal without anesthesia. As unpleasant and painful as that sounds, it frequently happens when someone says something imminently sensible and intelligent. The context of which she was writing (cheating in a primary relationship) is completely unrelated to me and my issues; perhaps there is a solution and tools for someone to fix themselves in that context. But reality for me is that my dragon is unslayable, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be quarantined and its dark power harnessed for good or at least better purposes.

Maybe in this way, I’m exceptional. Framed in that context, my thought grinder winds down and quiets for awhile.

Right where I need to be

Blogging. It seems the process takes on life of its own. There is so much to write about, yet so little of any substance. Or so goes my judgment and justification for why I’m not getting more posts written and published.

I have been pondering blogging a fair amount in the month of September. Not in terms of ceasing to blog, or chastising myself for not posting more frequently. No, this was more an observation of the ebb and flow of life. Work of late has been picking up – new clients, new projects, new chunks of time that might have been utilized writing being devoted to income generating projects instead. Or being sick. Or sleeping. Or any number of other tasks and priorities.

Each of us have our own individual reasons for writing and publishing about our lives, ideas, thoughts in a public forum. For me there is a catharsis and empowerment in blogging. No doubt in my mind that it has been a contributing factor in my evolving confidence and maturity to date.

An old friend emailed me last week an apology of sorts. This friend was extremely judgmental about my better health quest when I first began, asking intrusive questions about my weight loss and making derisive statements about the size of my upper arms. It was hurtful, yet the pattern of our lives that I would mildly object, tell her to knock it off, have a minor disagreement that would blow over. Lather, rinse, repeat over various topics through the years. The last time, though, I was working hard at my exercise, getting on and then staying on the consistency training plan. Her words offended me, triggered feel badly about me emotions, and I suddenly woke up and realized I do not need any help with my own negative self-image. It was terrifying to end a multi-decade long friendship, but I had to protect myself. TM (my long-time, long-suffering therapist) helped me through the logistical details, and it was a Very Big Deal for me to tell her that I needed to distance myself from her and her attitude and we should no longer communicate. She did not take it well, and it was like high school all over again with her “poor me” crying among our mutual friends. I was not being mean. Taking care of myself to the best of my ability is a unique job and primarily, ultimately my primary responsibility to myself.

It cost me a lot in terms of friendship and social interactions. While hard initially, I also understand people and that our individual needs do change along with the circumstances of our lives. But when I look back and examine the wins and losses, I see it merely as trimming of deadwood from my life. There are folks I kind of miss at certain times of year, yet I can also see there is nothing to apologize for in my behavior toward them. I did not say “you’re a horrid person and need to be banned.” Nope. Not my style. I was clear and direct: “You do not respect me or my choices. I think our friendship has run its course. I wish you well.” Or something equally benign.

She thought that was harsh. She felt I was being mean, yet telling me to fire my trainer because I was not losing weight under his tutelage was not out of line. Either way, we parted way, and in the last 2 years when our paths have crossed I was banished to her vision of freezing Hell. Oh well; I am apparently immune to social frostbite. It divided our friends, many on the other side of the line with her. The few I do still communicate with are honest about how difficult and uncomfortable it can be to be around someone as serious as I have become about overhauling my diet and my exercise habits; it points out to them the flaws in their own lifestyle choices. I understand that, and no, while in my own blogs I may have the zeal of the born again, I do not routinely flaunt it or criticize their own choices that differ from my own. However, my already thin patience for the whining and excuses is also lessened as well. All I ask, and sometimes it is too much, apparently – be responsible and own your choices; stop making or seeking sympathy and understanding when you continually make excuses your own inaction.

So I do work on that.

I want everyone to be happy, and I am sympathetic when life does not work out as we hope and desire. However, if you are repeatedly self-sabotaging and shooting yourself in the foot, common sense says put down the loaded gun or at very least remove the bullets before pulling the trigger. Yep, folks who do get irritated with me for my practicality admit that it is primarily because I am disrupting their pity party with reality. They still like me enough to forgive me for being a voice of reason.

So the email from my original frenemy was a bit of a surprise. The way it was worded, the way it sought to “share” responsibility for our falling out (yet still refused to accept her role in it), I had zero inclination to respond in anything akin to a positive way. There is enough of a legacy codependent within me that felt poorly about that choice, so I reached out to TM for help and support that I was doing the right thing by deflecting her outreach.

In the meantime, there was some additional information from other mutual friends. Frenemy has uterine cancer and is facing surgery and other cancer treatment. I am sympathetic, yet I feel little inclination to reach out and be part of the support team for her. Part of my lifelong habit is to feel guilty for my lacking more generosity toward her. But I got my own stuff brewing and whatever caring energy I have available needs to be directed toward me right now.

And I have no reason to feel guilty about taking care of myself. I have learned through the years that putting my oxygen mask on first is always far more beneficial than trying to take care of others while I am wounded and in need of care myself.

The timing of this could not have been worse, yet I wonder – is there ever a perfect time to have someone you have known most of your life be diagnosed with serious illness? Or is there ever a good time to realize you’ve been kind of a fuck up – are are so ridiculously fucked up overall – in allowing someone to treat you poorly and then return with whatever expectation that their illness is going to matter so much that you stop dead in your tracks and abandon all sorts of leaps and bounds forward?

I am in an emotionally weakened state right now and rebuilding my defenses and acceptance skills. Sometimes picking at the childhood wounds causes fresh pain and unexpected bleeding that cannot be staunched with the first aid skills I have adopted through the years. Good thing my village of experts includes a mental health specialist who seems to have infinite patience waiting for my next breakdown.

After an hour together yesterday and half a box of kleenex, I am still muddled yet so determined to be stronger and not let my past interfere anymore with my forward moving present. I hate hating to deal with this old shit, because it pierces the facade that I am so boringly average. And I get up, go to the gym, move whatever weightier weights I can to and fro. It’s good for body, but it is soothing balm to my soul.

Good, bad, ugly – life is messy. It takes some time to learn the necessary skills and gain the experience to put it all in order. I need teachers and guides. I’m grateful that I have grown up enough to know how to seek out help.

At the end of it all, it simply reminds me: I am right where I need to be. And it is going to be okay.

Musings from a darker side

This post is from a darker and murkier place where I seldom venture much less blog about, and the content may be upsetting and triggering for some who read. Not sure how long it will stay posted, but consider this a warning label for any other survivors who may happen upon it.

I have been seeing my therapist, TM, again on a fairly routine basis. Part of it was just an annual tune-up, because I value his professional expertise in guiding me through the emotional lumpies in my life. When friend J died so unexpectedly, I needed some hand-holding in coping with my grief.

For me, grief is a box that should stay sealed. Forever. It brings out all sorts of infinite emotions I am incapable of coping with in the period it occurs. Which is why TM and I have our annual routine. The box labeled childhood is always leaking something that must be cleaned up and put away in more orderly fashion.

Being human is a messy business. Being human and me is not better or worse than anyone else. Our experiences are unique and there is no basis for comparison. I don’t even want to admit how many years and how much therapy of various stripes it took me to accept that reality.

Yet this is part of why I am back in TM’s office a couple of times each month, discussing acceptance and my perception of reality. For the most part, my view of reality is like a clear pane of glass and the only distortion is what I manifest onto the view from my personal biases and experience. The view is not different for any stranger standing next to, yet our interpretation of what is or is not occurring could be very different.

My better health efforts are starting to show on the outsides as well as on the inside. Yay me, right? For the most part, yes. The rest of it – it’s complicated.

Self-image and self-esteem are things I have battled and struggled and labored feverishly over my entire life. Those who are important to my own worldview, their opinions mean a great deal to me. I value their esteem, and I work hard to earn and retain it. The rest of the population, sure it’s more pleasant if we can get along and interact in a civil and polite manner, but I could honestly care little about what they really think or feel about me. From a public relations perspective and as it may benefit me or my goals and objectives, the effort I put forth to maintain good rapport and friendly interactions varies. But since I am generally a decent, thoughtful person, it costs me little to nothing to be nice to others.

My own sense of self is warped. In my own view, I am an invisibly average sort of person, going through and living my life among the rest of the beings in the world and doing nothing particularly exceptional or worthy of much praise or correction. I have a good work ethic; I try hard to meet or exceed expectations attached to the responsibilities and requirements. In the work I’m doing right now, what my clients think about me personally matters more because I work directly for them, and accounting is not so complex that they could not find someone else as competent. However, my niche market seems to be more in the personal touch I bring to the work. I routinely remember and track significant family members’ birthdays, anniversaries, children’s events and have had success with suggestions for gifts for all occasions. While I myself dislike (and therefore suck) at party planning, I can put together something if called upon to do so. I have attended enough wing-dings in the past that I have a sense of what happens at corporate parties and retreats and can seek out appropriate resources if needed. Thing is, these are small details that may matter to a client and not a big deal for me to make note of and track.

But that’s work. It’s imperfect yet far easier for me to accept a compliment for a job well done than it is to have someone say nice things for and about my efforts in the gym or to overhaul my diet.

A standard disclaimer for me is that I am not model pretty, because it’s true – I am not the stuff even gracefully aging conventionally pretty women are made of. I also tend to discount the importance of physical attractiveness, gauging this as only that I have good personal hygiene and be well groomed when going to work or into most sorts of public forums.

Herein lies the big issue that has me back in TM’s office: I’m reshaping my shape into something more conventionally nice. Good even. I mean, I look okay in my gym leggings and capris. I can wear a racerback tank top and not be self-consciously freaking out on the inside. I actually have some muscle peeking out after too many years of fat slabs over my whole body.

People notice my effort. They say kind and complimentary things, or they say things that sound kind and complimentary with an overlay of snark so it comes out sounding like the opposite. I try very hard not to discount or pooh-pooh it. I am working at upgrading my gracious acceptance.

Mostly, I do not want anyone to ever know that it freaks me out and frightens me when they say nice things. Because it’s not ever that I want them to stop, or be afraid of complimenting my hard work and effort in this regard. If that were the case I’d be wearing baggy sweats and oversized t-shirts down to my knees. And I never want anyone to judge me as so very vain that I brush off their kindness as “I know, and I deserve all your praise and admiration.” Because that’s not me either. I am horrified at the idea anyone would ever perceive me that way.

The fear and the ensuing anxiety is real, though. And even though I know it’s completely irrational, I cannot make it stop.

Hence my back to therapy. My only consolation for being this type of nutball is that there are worse reasons to be in therapy.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I am a sexual abuse survivor. From the time I was 3 until about 12, I was regularly molested, then raped, then sodomized. I was a chunky kid because of it. I would rebel against washing my hair or even taking a bath because of it. I felt ugly then because of the abuse. The fear and self-loathing, the inability to control anything that happened to me or my body – it was real and impacts my life decades later. Those impacts are all but impossible to erase, and the best I can do is mitigate their influence and my reactions to triggers.

So, here I am – back in TM’s office talking about it. I am not going to stop trying to reshape my eating habits so I make better, healthier food choices, nor am I going to stop going to the gym and working as hard as I work to become stronger and burn away the excess fat from my frame. These are really good, really positive steps up, steps forward for me, and I do not want honest efforts that I should be proud of to be tainted by fear of physical improvement and anyone taking note and complimenting me on my efforts.

While I frequently wish myself into a mental and emotional foot-stomping tantrum about not wanting have to have these fights with myself, it’s not something I can change. I comfort myself that my scars are part and parcel of who I am in the here and now. And despite everything, I’m not too bad.

The war for my healthiest sense of self continues, one battle at a time. But I’m winning.

Better choices today

Immediately after bleeding my angry rage post yesterday, I was off for a visit with TM (my therapist, for newer readers unaware of my tribe of experts). Even in the midst of my own crazy, I understand when the walls have closed and boxed me in and how I need help getting out of a funk. It was a hard conversation, especially through the blur of angry, raging tears and having to continually blow my nose. As is typically the case of talking stuff over with TM, it was also productive.

The downside is there is still more work to be done in this area. No matter how “done” I feel with the whole series of chapters in my life, it seems there is always an unread page or 10 to go back and thoroughly read, review, digest, turn. Perhaps this is life for everyone. Happily there are huge swathes of the population who have more normal and mentally/emotionally healthy families of origin and cannot comprehend the legacy of my type of crazed and complicated coping mechanisms. I seem to have to tug and unravel something else every, another thread every few years these days.

I am choosing to believe that it says a lot about my evolving maturity that I can report  such things without feeling the old humiliation that my issues are somehow my fault, that I am not handling it more successfully without having to publicly admit my shortcomings and air my dirty laundry. If anything, I am more motivated to sort this shit out and put it away in a neat and orderly manner, kind of Kon Marie tidying of my horrific childhood events. And no matter how much I try to woman up and tell myself it was not as bad as many others endured and survived, it was pretty bad. There is no competition or comparison on who suffered the most when it comes to childhood sexual abuse and assault. To be healthy and the best me I can be means I have to dial direct and deal with it; no avoidance, no raging against the unfairness, no tantrums about not wanting to do it. My choices of action or inaction have their own types of consequences, both are painful and difficult in their own way. From long experience, though, action is more like the sting of ripping off the supersticky bandaid versus delaying the inevitable and peeling it slowly while the wounds fester underneath.

Ewww – so gross to think about.

Today is a better day already. I went to bed early and slept a deep, mostly dreamless sleep and woke up refreshed. The only “nightmare” I had was that it was actually Monday and I had overslept and was going to be late for meeting trainer J at the gym. Except it’s Saturday, not Monday. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my sleeping hours, I am going to be okay.

I was completely on fire and in-focus in my gym practice today. Had some time to chat with J and other members, and while others might have found the extended rest distracting, for me it just made my focus feel sharper and more on-point. TM had an interesting observation yesterday. When I phoned for the appointment on Thursday, my voice mail stated that I really hoped to get in this week because I was having an issue that was disrupting my focus and distracting me in the gym, making me feel like poser member, and thoughts of giving up were starting to creep in while I was already struggling to get through a List. All true. It was not just the recurring rage and anger and pain that dragged me back to his office; it was the fact that it was interfering with my exercise routine. I have worked too hard and come too far in my better health pursuits to be derailed now by old wounds, and I am determined to stay on track with the training no matter what. TM just found is ironic that all the years he encouraged me to get more exercise and I could would not do it, only now to be calling for an urgent care appointment because my head is trying to disrupt my gym time.

Progress has never been described more accurately.

TM and I agreed that a couple more “tune up” appointments are in order. Life is in a state of flux this month with the job changes and recruiting new clients, settling back in with former clients returning, plus accepting more work from existing clients. As far as life issues go, these are good problems to have and I feel very, very fortunate. However, I would be lying if I said there is not some struggle with adjusting to self-regulating my work schedule and mostly being on my own every day. M is around, of course, but with regard to coworkers and that interpersonal interaction, it’s an adjustment. I miss my crew. I miss my role within the firm and working together toward a common goal. While I still feel like a vital component in my clients’ business goals and objectives, it is very different from being a hands-on part of each day after day.

Again, I am very appreciative to have work that continues to support us and keep us moving forward on our financial goals. There is no shame in admitting it is takes some effort to get used to this new normal.

I’m also grateful for this space, where I can download and offload my ugly insides without fear or anxiety of harsh judgment. My intense craving and need to feel safe is a ruling impulse in my life, and if there were a hierarchy of vices and poor choices (thanks trainer J for putting that image in my head), blogging as an exercise in reclaiming power over my own thoughts and emotions is a lot better than self-harm in so many other ways.  Food remains a trigger for me in this state, and thankfully we have purged most of the junky choices I might select and it is far easier to resist the allure of the nearest convenience store. Dill pickles (my latest food obsession) are mild on that harmful scale, as is a peanut butter sandwich I had for dinner last night. At least there were roasted veggies on the plate as well.

Choice

I am in a very dark and dreary sort of headspace and it makes focusing on anything other than the immediate more challenging than not. I wonder if this is a character weakness in that I feel incapable of simply sucking it up or if there are some areas of life where we have extremely limited choices in our behaviors and reactions?

Earlier this week I was going through the last boxes of documents, photographs, and albums that came from my mom’s house. It’s mostly depressing, soul-crushing sort of work, because not only do I have no idea who a lot of these people are/were, I have been forced to relive dozens (yes, plural) of albums from my sister’s life and times. If we had been closer and I did not feel that old stab of resentment that comes from being the younger, less favored daughter, the process would not be so dreadful. Making it worse – I have no relationship with my nephews and no idea how to reach either to see if they desire this stuff. I am decent enough to feel some guilt about tossing out these boxes of photos and books, but not quite generous enough to continue to store crap I will be happy never having to think about again.

But in the midst of all these my sister’s life and times memorialized in pictures, I found an envelope where I am actually in some of the photographs at various ages. Unfortunately, and this is where my wondering about “choice” comes into play, of the 17 photos, the man who molested and sexually abused me as a child is pictured with me in all of them. At birthday parties. At backyard bar-b-ques. At holiday dinners.

I remember the events and the occasions and it makes me want to barf.

It not only made me feel ill when I looked at them the first time, it also started me on the nightmare treadmill once again. But since finding them, I obsessively looked at and examined them frontward, backward, sideways at every available opportunity, always in search of clues to the why of it all, the endless, inexplicable question – why me? Was I such a naive, stupid, fearful, dumb, ignorant, or worse child that made victimization easy? Years passed – 8 years – and I never said a word, my parents never thought anything amiss. I had choices, even then.

I can spin this in a bazillion different ways and never come to a satisfactory conclusion. I live with the choices made for me and forgive my childhood self for being young and scared.

Finally last night I put those pictures through the shredder to force myself to stop. Then I burned the shredded photographs and drowned the ashes in water before dumping the whole mess – baking pan and all – into the trash. Then this morning I fished it out of the trash and threw it into a gym trash can at the far edge of the parking lot. And all day long I have been wondering if the gym trash can has been emptied and when the garbage collector comes and takes it away.

I feel unclean. I feel as if I have now tainted the club’s parking lot and I need to find somewhere else to leave my car. I feel ridiculous in my overreaction. While I know these feelings are all transitory, temporary, and a method to distract me from my crazy, it sure as Hell feels real to me to be this level of crazy.

The worst part is it has made me feel so much less. In my head I have become the incredible shrinking woman, minimized and marginalized as victim of circumstance. For all my foundational believe in free will being a guiding principle in how to live my life, I am helpless and hopeless when it comes to this shit. I don’t really want to talk about it even this much, yet I cannot stop the endless loop now projecting in my head no matter what I happen to be doing as a productive human being.

So I am pondering choice. Am I really this helpless, this hopeless? Knowing it will pass, eventually, makes little difference in hurrying it along. I have spent so much of my life battling back and fighting to be all I can be, only to be brought down and left writhing in mental and emotional agony over a small envelope of photographs.

I like to think my mom forgot about them, that they have been sitting in this box of stuff in a storage closet for the last 25 years. But it takes me back to being in my therapist’s office, stating my truth about the childhood horror show, and having her flat out deny it ever happened. Had she shot me dead that day I doubt it would have hurt so much. But it is what it is, and I’m left with my bewilderment over her own childhood that brought forth such a coldly cruel person to her own child.

That’s another unpleasant thing to ponder, another unanswered question to speculate about or to set aside and choose to not let it matter to me any longer.

I do not seem to be making good choices right now. But I tell myself it’s okay, that tomorrow will be better, that the powerlessness will fade and my ability to be the decider or at least a better decider within my own life will return. I know this, and I will strive to be kind to and patient with myself until my strength returns.

At which time, I will choose to put the past away with hopeful resolve that it will not return and catch me unarmed and off-guard again.

I will choose me, the woman I became despite poor circumstances. And I’ll believe it when I remind myself it’s good to be me.

When I have the strength to exercise my choices once more.

Baggage

April has been exhausting. Work is busy, hectic, crazy. Personal life is busy as well. But this is normal. This is typical. But it’s the stuff in storage that is steering me in a funk-like state that is bordering depression.

When my mom died a few years ago, I could not shed her house and all the stuff she stuffed into it quickly enough. But in every life there is a large bunch of personal family stuff that has to be dealt with on an individual basis. There was a pile of old photos and albums and miscellaneous items.

All that has been in storage. Except now it’s not. It’s been mostly dealt with – donated or thrown away. My photos, photos of my kids, a few of my sister and nephews I kept, the rest are of folks I don’t know or my sister – boxes and boxes of albums documenting my sister’s life – and since I no longer have relationships with either of them, I made the self-protective decision to throw what seems zillions of photos away.

There are a few mementos I kept – a couple of favorite drinking glasses from when I was a kid, a remaining serving dish from my parents’ original set – but the other stuff I was so paralyzed over in the months after my mother died was surprisingly easy to released to their next home. For the new owners of those items, it will not have the same stigma or history of negative, angry emotions attached.

And for the first time, I feel truly free.

Yet, for everything attached to my family of origin, there is a faint strain of guilt as well. The terrifying rage and anger I still feel has been mostly diffused – growing up, physically distancing yourself to match the emotional safeguards in place – tends to do that for us. Self-protection is not to be underestimated.

Hard as I try to be a good community member where I dwell, I am very conscious of where I have failed, either by choice or circumstance, or some combination of both. Part of my mind are broken enough to make normal then and normal now coexist peacefully as polar opposites. The closed-off part of me where feelings don’t work classically normal is like walking with a limp after serious injury and best case scenario of healing, and recognizing that in and of itself is a huge step forward.

Being open about my history is not an easy thing, but now, my family of origin is gone and I have been untethered from all that influence and the angry, reflexive negativity attached and now with the disposal of the last boxes of stuff that remind me of all my real (or perceived and told to me) shortcomings,

This range of emotions I feel – it’s not anything I would wish upon anyone else. It is rooted in a kind of dark, abusive, confusing place that breeds self-loathing and negativity  that touches and taints any and all attempts to lead a normal life. I am good at compartmentalizing; I am even better at avoiding unpleasant feelings and emotions. As time has passed, as the professional help to improve and overcome took hold, I have gotten better about managing my affairs and at faking it until making it with the general day-to-day business of living.

I will feel better tomorrow, Monday, whenever M goes to the dump and empties the truck  load of crap that we have finally gotten around to discarding. Maybe sleep patterns will return to normal. Maybe I will return to the place where my peace resides.

I take no real pleasure in the feelings I feel in this moment, because they are too close to the bad, hateful shit that churns up with thinking about any of it. Shedding the last of the mementos releases me to continue my life in whatever healthier, happier, peaceful ways I can find.

Cutting the final links in a weighty chain is … enriching. Building on that is the better path.