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.

 

Challenges

A lot of the blogs I read casually have these 30 days challenges. No spend, low spend, no sugar, lower carbs, eat more protein, saving more, paying down more debt, etc. The theory seems to be that since the challenge lasts for only a short period of time it should help raise awareness and pave way for adjusting existing habits or adopting new ones.

I mostly agree with the theory … for everyone else.

For me, either I am trying to alter something in my life or lifestyle or I am not; I tend to be pretty boring and black and white in that manner. If I were to participate in such a challenge, I would feel a real sense of failure the first time I fell off the challenge wagon. RD suggests I eat more protein so I am trying to do that in whatever modest, incremental steps to make it happen, become a habit, and stick with it. This is not a 30 day challenge for me, and doing so for 30 days would feel pointless in my bigger picture. However, J has been exploring vegan eating for a few weeks now and finds he likes a lot of it, but it’s not his intention to become a militant, save-the-animals plant eater exclusively forever. M is on a high mileage quest to position himself to be in much better shape for spring and summer trail running, but I seriously doubt he will be pursuing 15-mile runs daily for the duration. Those are my best examples of unofficial 30 day-like challenges.

I was thinking about this process during practice this morning, as I was going through 30 reps of various stretchy band exercises for 3 sets. At the time I was counting and wondering if timing was better than counting, or if trying to complete 30 seconds was somehow worse than counting to 30 reps. A challenge lasting 30 days seems like both an eternity and not much time at all, unless you are the one undertaking the challenge. It’s not my way, though, so I find it perplexing.

This challenge craze of late has had me wondering why, because it does not really work for me. Then again, goal setting does not work out all that well for me either, which is not to say I cannot see it’s benefits. My psychology setting goals is like asking for angst, meltdowns, tears, and funks. No thank you; my husband anyone else who spends any amount of time with me thanks you for not allowing me to set goals.

Skipping out on glute bridges this morning – shucky DARN on that! – I recognize that I enjoy need absolutely must have this level of flexibility and forgiveness in that I can decide that intensive immersion does not need to mean ever single stinking day … this week, anyway. Becoming better at them is the objective, but I am not going to put myself on a schedule to make it happen. Sometime this year is about as close as I get to goals.

I console myself I am doing okay without gazelle-intense focus on one aspect of something. It made the next go-round with the stretchies bearable, then home to my usual breakfast and packing my typical lunch.

I am truly a creature of evolving habits.

Different kind of challenge at work today, in a staff meeting about the state of the firm and what we are looking forward to in the next quarter. A lot more work. An injured paralegal weighing her options about returning to the workforce. Perhaps another new hire, which is always stressful for everyone. Despite needing the extra hands and help, the dynamic is pretty special in our firm, and I hope whoever they choose adds to that rather than stresses it or removes the good vibe quality.

Working with well educated professionals can be like walking through landmine if the personality mix cannot be balanced. Here there are plenty of egos to be considered when it comes to work, but in an office full of young up-and-comers with workaholic tendencies the partners have done an excellent job of targeting strengths and strengthening weaknesses. At the same time, they stress respect and yet an open communication environment, the likes of which I have rarely seen deployed so successfully. I genuinely like the entire staff here, which makes this a very nice place for me to land, put down some roots, and grow. I just don’t want them to hire a poorer fit that will upset my happy place.

And I’m borrowing trouble looking at it from that perspective. But once you have experience with the negative, nearly toxic work environment, you definitely never want to return to those kinds of trenches.

All of which is kind of a round about way of my returning to the conversation with TM yesterday. About progression, success, failure, how we define ourselves.

Feeling a if I am a relatively black-and-white thinker, I have always thought myself farther on the failing/failure side of life in so many areas. I did not complete college until nearly 50, yet I had and performed well in jobs that these days demand at least a 4-year degree. I’m relatively bright, though, and I found that much of what I actually formalized in college I already knew either through work experience, listening, reading/studying on my own. As a parent I succeeded in shepherding my kids into a successful adulthood, in that they are both now engaged in life’s pursuits as independent adults. M, their father, extended family all left their fingerprints on their upbringing and success.

I have been immersed in a life consisting of a lot of “shoulds” that truly have little to do with the life I lead. Staying away from social media as much as I have has been the best choice for my own nervous system, blogging from my own safe place, driving my own conversation and concerns, and NOT being drawn into discussions that only add anxiety and stress to my base level anxiety and stress. Blogging often feels weird to me, if I think about other people reading my blog, because talking endlessly about my own thinking is similar to the imaginary dog in my brain chasing its imaginary tail round and round.

But this is my little corner and my own blog. I get to chat about whatever I wish, no matter how awkward or awful it may sound in my own head or on the screen as the words appear.

Which is one of the other things TM and I discussed yesterday.

TM reads my blog. It’s not private, and there is nothing that I write here about anyone that I have not or would not say to them directly. But it’s weird sitting across from someone you discuss your bigger issues and stuff with and know he’s been following along with the minutia of your day-to-day life. I disclosed it to him in our first meeting this year, though, and invited him to peek in whenever he wished.

Anyway … he made the offhand comment that he enjoys reading it, which immediately makes me wonder what he else he is thinking, followed immediately by realizing how paranoid that sounds.

TM is good with and for me. He has helped me unravel gordian knots in my life that I never wanted to acknowledge existed, much less unravel and smooth them out as much as possible. This year’s project is difficult for different reasons. Training, eating, health issues – I want to be successful in these pursuits. I do not want to self-sabotage or set myself up for self-destruction because deep down inside I ultimately feel unworthy or undeserving of success.

While I have not addressed it here, some of the work we do relates to the kid I was, before forcibly removed from the my happy-go-lucky skipping along to being a normal little girl. I have little memory of what she was like, but I have been told she was happy, chatty, curious, and crazy for dogs. Maybe she had a better chance for a better life, had she not been led away from the path of growing up a normal kid.

The little girl was led away and not allowed to just be a little kid, and I have had a really tough time for a lot of years. But the big question TM posed to me posed to me before we parted last night – would I honestly say I have regrets about the life I have now? Unmolested me, what sort of choices might I have made and how could that have impacted the life I am leading right now?

Maybe I have done a few things right along the way. Maybe my damage and rage and pain was primarily internalized and not directed outwardly at the world at large?

And perhaps healing a little more and truly accepting that I earn my good fortune and successes require that I let go of more of the rage that remains. I did not deserve to be led astray, and I was far too young to have any say in the matter. But it happened and there is nothing I can do to change the past.

As an adult I understand that, from an intellectual point of view. The little girl that I was once … it is really hard to make that part of me understand that I don’t have to keep paying for being just a powerless kid.

I keep trying to make me understand, and looking across the fabric of my whole life, I am succeeding. I am apparently very good at trying. And when it really matters to me or I feel the alternatives are too costly, I can and do stick with it.

Being happy, being healthy, walking with an emotional limp, but upright and walking forward all the same … without hesitation, I know I deserve at least that much. And every single day, I earn the good things in my life and deserve to live and to enjoy my life.