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.

 

Peace, privacy, maintaining positive relationships

I am just barely involved with social media. I have a Facebook profile, but mostly I use it for looking at photos and things that my few online friends like and share. I am involved in a single Facebook group. And that’s it. Other than my blogs, which are hardly controversial or divisive, I am remain pretty low-profile, practically anonymous. And I prefer it that way.

A few of my work-related associates and clients wonder if we are social outcasts of a sort because we are not public participants in the social media world. Of course, they are millenials and grew up entrenched in this environment. Whereas I am an old dinosaur and very happy with my quiet life. I was also a fairly late Facebook joiner.

Their reasons for flying under the radar are exclusively professional; they do not want to be too public with details of their lives and personal opinions or open themselves to scrutiny from potential clients, employers, adversaries in business. I get that. Mine are more practical: I find Facebook and social media a complete time-sucking waste 98.8% of the time, and other 1.2% is devoted to pictures and events in my kids’ and friends’ lives and photos or topics of interest to me shared or liked by people whose thoughts and opinions I respect. Between work and the rest of my day-to-day life, I rarely have the luxury of enough time to cover all that I want to do and still get enough rest. I try hard to maximize my productivity and not be clicking through page after page after page of stuff I either barely want to think about much less care about reading.

A close friend has zero social media presence and rarely to never publishes pictures of himself and asks that others more active in such forums respect his request to stay offline as much as possible. His preferred method of communication is email; he is even a very spare texter. While far from a Luddite or technology adverse, his thought is that it is far too easy for the ignorant to feel powerful without basis or cause for their opinions and ideas and life is challenging enough without becoming involved in an online spat. If anything, he himself has been guilty forming an opinion too quickly based on a quick scan of information on current topics and having to backtrack and rethink his opinions.

All told, a pretty careful, thoughtful person.

In today’s emotion-charged public discourse, I long for the periods of my life where more measured tones were used within the context of public debate. I miss the days when newspapers and television news reports could be trusted in their reporting of facts and observations and witness accounts. Such reporting was verified independently and the writer’s personal bias and opinion was either excluded or ruthlessly edited from the published piece. Corrections, when needed, were published discreetly, but at least mistakes were admitted and corrections issued. These days? Fake news is an industry into itself. Reporters are pundits and their personal bias colors nearly everything written under their byline. In this era of social media and no-holds-barred instant access to off-the-cuff opinions and remarks, there is less thoughtful discourse and more victimization for any and all perceived wrongdoing against an individual or group or villainizing of those whose thoughts and ideas fall outside of lock-step agreement with the majority of the larger, more vocal masses. Being righteous and advancing the agenda is the only thing that matters; bulldoze opposition, silence dissent, beat anyone standing in the way into submission. The agenda is the only thing that matters.

It now seems to have become part of dialog within my own family, where we almost shout each other down and call it debate. I am disheartened by such behaviors, and when cooler heads prevail, an honest conversation about how we interact on hot-button topics needs to take place. I am not looking forward to that, yet I know it’s necessary to maintain healthy, open dialog with other adults in my family. The volatility of today’s political climate seems to either build healthy debate or aggressive erosion of relationships. The polarization is killing life as I prefer it.

M is as guilty as anyone, and while I tend to believe we are all intelligent and thoughtful people, he is far more sensitive to being discounted and disrespected than I am. M is far more entrenched in a traditionally moral, Christian perspective than I am, and while I respect his opinions, I also disagree on many fundamental issues. Yet from a values perspective, we are more alike than we are different. However, it seems easier for me to accept that the world is changing, probably too rapidly for my comfort, but the next generations think differently and are influenced in ways we were not. When demanding respect for us as individuals and well as the values and ways of life we hold dear becomes the driving issue, the conversation becomes incendiary and not at all relevant to the topic under discussion. The dug-in opinions of being absolutely correct become more important than the mutual respect and affection we share as a family.

It saddens me that the antics of the lunatic fringe on both sides of the debates are monopolizing and becoming the entire dialog about governing, and I am so disappointed it has now become a thing within my own family. I have disagreed with a lot of things our leadership has done most of my adult life, and sometimes my disagreement seems so futile. Yet I know staying completely silent, not voting, not participating and letting it roll right over me is not an option either.

I am reading, listening, trying desperately to discern what is real, what is fiction, what is primarily the shrill agenda of those with the biggest megaphones and/or the quickest to use their fists or any sort of violence to make their point. Anymore, it seems important to use care when expressing an opinion. For whatever reason that saddens me. How can we become closer as a family, as a community, as a country, if we cannot have talk openly about our differences?

We have new neighbors who think M and I are nearer to the antichrist than we are normal, rational, thinking people because of the chasm between our political beliefs. M and I have agreed that for the sake of peaceful fences, in the future we must refrain from discussing current events or politics with people that living so close to us. We own our home, as do they, and we have no desire for the next 20 or 30 years to be cold detente every time we happen to cross paths. We already have a contentious relationship with the elderly couple directly across the street, but then again, so does everyone else living nearby. None of our neighbors are our best friends and with the exception of one couple unlikely to even be on our guest list for a backyard bbq, but they are part of our geographically closest community. If we must adopt a don’t ask, don’t tell to maintain a sense of peaceful tranquility, surely we can just do that and all continue with our superficial getting along? Unless they start hosting strident rallys or protests that are disturbing to us, I think it is a small price to pay to pleasantly coexist.

It comes up today because our newest nextdoor neighbor has installed a flagpole and has a rainbow flag flying from it. When we first met them M looked up their Facebook profiles, which are locked up tight and completely private. Makes perfect sense to me – he is a financial planner and she is a school counselor. Personally I don’t care about the flagpole or the rainbow flag, but M finds it particularly annoying. It seems in tune with his general peckishness lately with the craziness of the news reports and the furor over Charlottesville. I remind him that these are not our friends, barely acquaintances; they are neighbors, nothing more. And really no worse that the Harley enthusiasts that lived a few houses down when we moved in and would host hordes of bikes for parties a few times per month. While these were yuppie bikers, the noise from the motorcycles got annoying when trying to enjoy a peaceful Sunday at home.

But more and more, I am starting to think my privacy-enjoying pal is on a better path. Maybe more restraint from even logging in and scanning the headlines would bring more serenity to my life. Perhaps then I would be more open to listening to the thoughts that come forward in my discussions and able to find a way to agree or disagree more productively.

But I know me – I’m not very capable of completely disengaging. The search for balance continues.

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.

In my book of life, another chapter concludes

Last night we had our final dinner as a firm. While I had my doubts about it when first announced, the partners wanted something special for the staff offsite to commemorate the firm that once was. There has been a wide range of emotions about the sale, but joy and elation were not within that range. Mostly it has been anger, sadness, uncertainty, ad some bitterness that the partners would sell out and abandon what is a great firm, great jobs for all of us.

I do not disagree. While intellectually knowing and understanding their position and desires to pursue some other type of life, it has been a struggle to accept and let go for me. But accepting what I cannot change has been for my own good, and I’m in the best possible shape for this parting. I am staying positive 90% of the time about it.

Thursday afternoon we had a boozey-schmoozey final lunch. It was fun – good food, lots of laughter, booze – and at 4 p.m. I was putting the last tipsy lawyer into an Uber and saying goodbye to my receptionist. He gave me a parting gift and I opened it in the car. It’s a copy of Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and he wrote the sweetest note inside for me. I didn’t cry until reading it, but it was powerful. I love that kid and expect he will do well and have a great life.

We were closed for the day on Friday at the partners’ insistence. They were moving their personal belongings from the offices and did not want the staff around to witness this final phase. I stopped by in the late afternoon to put a personal note and goodbye gift on each desk. The empty offices, the framed degrees, the photographs of the firm and staff through the years off the walls nearly broke me in half. The finality that this would be my final stop in this volume of my life and career hit hard.

But last night, last night went from semi-serious and nearly morose to something more typical of us as a group over the course of the evening. Good food, open bar, and a lot of funny and touching anecdotes from the partners about each of the staff members made for a good evening. I’d been asked to share something as well – about the state of the firm on its last days as well as anything else I cared to talk about. I was still trying to write it all down 3 minutes before we were due to leave the house.

In the end, I quoted numbers from my notes, because I’m a numbers kind of person and that is part of my role. For me personally, I spoke from the heart about what they have all meant to me, how it has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with such a scary smart group of people with such unlimited potential for greatness in careers and in lives they live. Ours is not a Hallmark movie inspirational tale – our clients are primarily big insurance companies and not some little guy seeking justice in the form of monetary damages – but being our best selves, using our intelligence and experience to do the best job we can has its own rewards.

My career has spanned longer than a few of these kids time on earth. While I have not always been a manager or a leader – I was 47 before finishing my degree – it has been many years since I have discounted or pooh-poohed my professional accomplishments in comparison to others. As a very young woman I came to understand that I could have everything I wanted in life (assuming I was willing to put forth the sweat equity to make it happen) but I could not necessarily have it all at once. I married, divorced, raised children while working progressively responsible administrative support jobs, a role that I still feel is mostly undervalued. Every job I have had, no matter how low on the food chain or how lacking in respect, has taught me something, even if it is how to not conduct myself or the ways I manage work-related relationships. I remain hopeful that this new big firm experience will benefit my (now former) associates in positive ways. To the very end I continued to encourage them to have an open mind about the possibilities and experiences awaiting them.

And I meant every single word of it.

I debate with myself the value of authenticity and sincerity in the professional realm. There is an edge of cynicism that continually tries s to expand within me yet gets tamped down at every turn. I am realistic that people are people and there is a segment in every workplace that are ruthlessly ambitious or insecure and will do whatever it takes to realize their vision of getting ahead. The work I do is not deeply personal or life-altering to my clients, but it must be done and putting forth quality effort and using my education and experience is satisfying to me. I have grown accustomed to a higher level of autonomy and control in my work, and I see going back to self-employment as the best option for maintaining that. I know how fortunate I am to have this option, to have retained enough part-time clients to ensure our basic living expenses are covered, but already a few clients I referred out 18 months ago when I went with a full-time job have gleefully returned and other firms have been contacting me about projects of various lengths. I should have no problems keeping myself busy, off the streets and out of Baskin Robbins (purely medicinal purposes, of course).

Returning to employee status – I don’t see it happening for me unless something extraordinary happens to my stable of clients. The law firm offered me an unique and challenging opportunity where I felt certain I could and would make a difference. At the end of it, when the old firm is now just a shell that we will be winding down and closing out as a corporation in the next year, I know that my presence and efforts made an impact and a difference for the partners and the staff.

It’s hard to be sad when I know this to be true.

My book of life continues to be written, only one chapter is now concluded. Fresh page, fresh start. Let the new adventure begin anew.

 

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.

In with new, out with something else

It seems I am about to get a different car yet again.

First and foremost, M and I are not frugalistas; we have zillions of ways to waste money and probably do so routinely without giving it a second thought. However, we are also very responsible with money. Big things like savings for retirement, HSA-funding, future spending goals (home and car maintenance and repairs, vacations, birthdays and other gifting events, kitchen remodel, replacement car, etc.), secondary emergency fund investment account all get funded before we start spending each month.

That said, from a purely financial point of view, it makes no sense to sell my 2013 Rav4 and purchase a brand new 2017 Camray. We take care of our cars, and my Rav has less than 35,000 miles on the odometer after 3.5 years in our household and looks pristine. It’s serviced per manufacturer’s schedule and would likely be fine for another 10 to 15 years at the rate it gets driven. Plus, I LOVE that car.

Unfortunately, it has no trunk. The windows are tinted and it is not a simple glance to see whatever I might have in my car (usually nothing but my reusable shopping bags and the plastic box I keep them corralled in when full), but every week I drive and meet with clients and have both personal and business financial documents in my possession. Recently I walked up on a guy trying to break into my car while my work box of files was in the back. I have no idea if he was actually planning to try and steal my car (it has an alarm) or if he was after its contents, but it freaked me out to the point that I now carry my box around with me to meet with other clients.

So there is that.

Add to this that M also drives and AWD SUV, a 2008 Highlander, and it is the go car for us. The Rav commutes to the office, goes to the gym, toodles around town when I go to client offices, but the rest of the time, it’s at home in the garage. M and I are going anywhere, he prefers to take the Highlander.

The Rav has again become “too nice” to take out for a spin on the weekend.

This happened with the first Rav we had, a 2007. I owned it for 4.5 years and sold it with just over 40,000 miles on the odometer because M and I became paranoid about something happening to it. M far more so, but it was infectious. I wanted something older may with a few scratches in the paint to make me feel better.

A 4Runner and a Honda Civic later, and we arrive at the present Rav4. For awhile it was the go car, then we sold M’s older (silver) CRV in favor of a newer (blue) CRV, and in it’s plushy-ness became the go car. Then the Highlander became available, and as it had belonged to my former boss, I knew its entire history and knew it had been well maintained and kept in good repair. So the blue CRV was set aside in favor of it and went off to its next owner. M loves that hulking Highlander beast, so he is set for awhile. But our time with my present Rav4 is about concluded.

Entirely possible the Camray will remain “too nice” to take anywhere, but I doubt it. This would be the ride we choose for coastal adventures where we do not go boonie-crashing down gravel fire roads just because they’re there. And it has a trunk, so I can stash my crap out of sight. I would be really upset if my car was broken into and my gym bag stolen, but I’d be frantic if I lost client documents.

In my life, I have learned that sometimes purchases make no sense on paper or financially. This is another of those occasions. However, as in all things personal finance, it is personal. Yet my inner budget professor is scratching her head trying to make sense of this decision. To her I can only say, the emotional impact of finding some strange man standing next to your car with the slimjim is not to be underestimated. My own sense of personal safety is very well developed, probably overly so, and while this will not advance us financially in any way, shape, or form, it will also not set us back in dangerous ways. So I work another 5 or 6 months before leaving the paid work force, but for me, for us, it makes emotional sense.

On another matter, I have been sorting through photographs from my mom’s house. I’ve taken dozens out of frames and sorted them into me and my kid and my sister and her family. I don’t keep in touch with my nephew, no idea how to reach him, and will keep the pictures in envelopes until I get some motivation to find him.

There is one picture of my oldest daughter, her last school picture. I have dozen of the same photograph, but mom had a wallet framed and kept it in her bedroom. I cannot remove it from the frame and have no reason to keep yet another copy. I am not sentimental; I do not need the framed photo to remember my daughter or my mother. So after 2 weeks of vacillating and trying to decide what to do, I stuck it into the trash and threw it out.

I’m not sentimental at all, yet my stomach aches and I feel out of breath (in the bad ways) thinking about disposing of it this way. It’s not my daughter or my mother. It is simply a duplicate of something I already have and don’t actually need. As for my mom, our relationship was more toxic waste than warmly fuzzy. Thinking about her does not make me happy or sentimental or misty with nostalgia. Frankly, think about mom makes me furiously, irrationally angry, feelings and emotions I would really rather purge from my system and my life.

Even now, 21 years later, I mourn the loss of my child, miss her every single day, and shed a few tears throwing away this single copy of her final school picture, even if I have a framed copy in my family room and dozens of other copies carefully preserved in storage boxes. At the same time, it is one more step in the wall that separates me from my toxic family of origin and the truer horrors of my life.

Life is not fair, and rarely does it balance evenly. But for every bad thing in my history, there is something better, richer, more rewarding.

This week, there will be something new and different, a tool that makes my life easier and work better and strengthens my sense of safety. Out with something else that at once breaks and heals my heart simultaneously.