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.

Wonder Woman delusions

I got about 4 hours of sleep overnight, and that was with the sleeping aid and M mixing up some kava for me at midnight.

As bleary-eyed as I was, I straggled into the gym for practice. It was unimpressive. Not quite the disaster I want to characterize it as, but it was very unenthusiastic and abbreviated. My head was not on it and my focus was terribly off, and while my heart definitely wanted to be into it we failed miserably. So I did a minimal minimum and bailed. Not much guilt or regret when I got home, mostly just a desire to fall asleep and stay there for an extended period.

So I napped, and that hour has made a huge difference in my day. Sleep is the great equalizer for me. The world had color again when I woke up. Two cups of strong coffee after that, I am actually functioning almost normally once more.The beauty of a very flexible part-time job and self-employed working from home is that I can typically make up my own schedule as I go along as long as I let someone know that it has changed when I am expected to be somewhere at a certain time. When I feel like crap, like this morning, I was able to rearrange my schedule for a later arrival time without penalty.

I will definitely live to enjoy another day. But I am chiding myself for my delusions of a good practice on so little rest, therefore tired, and distracted because of lack of sleep and yesterday’s police station adventures. I still cannot get that woman’s haunted features out of my head. The contrast between her obvious fear and anxiety and the leering, grotesque faces both Very Bad Men exhibited during the line-up process is seared into my memory. The first upsets and makes me feel guilty, the second makes me afraid, the combination of both makes me very, very angry.

I hope their pathetic, sorry lives end in prison; they deserve far worse. Being vengeful feels very unbecoming, but I am beyond caring. That poor woman, and I have just the barest details and idea of what happened to her, what might have happened to me. The knowing and now the seeing inspires this blinding rage blended with paralyzing fear. I hate it. I hate how it makes me feel in the present. Even worse, I hate the memories and physical sensations it stirs up so strongly. Mostly I hate that the Very Bad Incident erodes and steals my peace.

But today I will solider onward. Training tomorrow, lots of days left in the week to practice. I will not feel guilty about this morning. I may have to tell myself that another 20 times today to make it happen, but I will not feel guilty about a lighter than typical practice. Maybe I need a chalkboard so I can writing it down 50 to 500 times until it sticks.

I was going to return to the gym tonight and make up for my misguided, sleepwalking tour this morning, but my crew wants to go out tonight after work. So I am caving under social pressure, and I think it is a better use of my time and energy. Because from where I am sitting right now being out with them is preferable to a practice tonight and then turning around to meet J at 7 tomorrow morning. I would much rather take the day to climb back up into my happier space than be mournful tomorrow.

Maybe I can persuade them to try the kava bar? It’s worth a shot, anyway. Either way, I think kava does more for me than the prescription sleeping aid. M left some in the refrigerator for me, so even if my associates are not up to try it tonight I have some waiting. It is pretty effective in relaxing me enough to let go of whatever thoughts are racing round and round inside my head.


The price of peace

I was chatting with a friend earlier who is having a tough time with counseling. In my experiences there comes a point when the therapist starts getting a little tougher, the questions harder, and the shit starts getting REAL. My pal is at that point, and she has my complete and total sympathy. At the same time, I urge her to not run away (change therapists) or quit because it’s hard. Peace of mind can take a lot of blood, sweat, and billions of gallons are tears. At the end of it all, the price of peace is worth it.

But in the here and now, it’s really hard to watch someone I love suffer.

She is feeling sick to her stomach and crying. She is angry and has already considered looking for a new therapist. In our conversation tonight I had to be the one to say it likely gets worse before it gets better, and to change therapists now would just be postponing and prolonging the inevitable. My friend says she must be near rock bottom, that she is exhausted and feels defeated, and she only wants peace. I sympathize and I hurt with her, but I also know that I must be honest in my assessment and based on my own personal experiences that she is starting to sink yet nowhere near rock bottom. In my experience, rock bottom is being terrified of returning to the therapists office, knowing full well that the painful injuries buried so deeply are going to have their layers of bandages ripped off and something akin to rubbing alcohol poured directly onto to them for a long, slow, never ending burn. When she is so scared of going back and feeling all those things that are going to come out and up and hurt so hard and so bad, then I believe she is approaching her emotional bottom.

When I was first in therapy as an adult, getting to the root of my issues was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was a new mother, had this wonderful, amazing baby at home that was so innocent and happy to see me every single minute I was with her. And she frightened me so much I was driven to seek out a therapist to help me cope.

The first few months were like the honeymoon phase -getting to know me, learning about my days and life and relationships. Then the probing started and the surgical precision of slicing away at the walls and safeguards I had built around my secrets. When I finally verbalized it, I thought the worst was over, that I would soon, finally be free.

I was so wrong on so many levels. I laugh at my naive assumption of release and redemption by simply admitting with the magic words.

Eventually I would be mostly free. But between that start and the day I finally felt relieved and functional at a more normal level, I had been through a kind of hell that still brings  nightmares if I have a particularly stressful day. Talking about my abuser and the things he had done to me was akin to having a root canal without benefit of anesthesia during the procedure or pain relievers afterward. To have to go back to that office week after week and relive it and feel it and process it … no one should ever have to suffer that way. It was like being raped repeatedly all over again, only this time is was a trap of my own self-protective making.

I think back on those years – because it took a couple of years for me to start exhuming the crap that was poisoning and crippling me – and I both cringe and feel enormous relief. It was the hardest work I have ever done, and I still feel like the weakest willed person on the planet for not coping better. I have to remind myself when I start that scorching negative thought process that this is not a competition, to see who can heal the best, the fastest, be labeled the most courageous in slaying her dragons.

My life now is better because of I did that work. I never judge if someone is not ready, if they must walk away from the tough stuff and put it back on the shelf for now. But I hope they pick it up again sometime, when they are feeling braver and more supported and ready to face their demons. I believe anyone who suffers from mental illness or has been affected by emotional trauma understands how impossible and how hopeless it feels at first and many times through the process of treatment and recovery. But you get up and get back on and try again until it feels right.

I know I cannot do this hard and painful work for anyone but myself, and the price of peace is high for many of us. We stumble, fall down, even wallow and whine. I was luck to always find the strength to get back up.

This is so not what I expected to be talking about tonight. Most of the day my head was composing the light and fluffy reporting on the food prep and associated shopping in our household. Then a short discussion with M in the car, a much longer discussion with my friend, and voila … here I am in a land so far removed.

The good news is there will likely be a lot more food prep posts coming. Hopefully without another kitchen accident and blood to share. With M and his adventures in cooking, there is rarely a dull moment around here.