Tag Archives: dysfunction

Mixed Messages

The world is confusing.  It is especially so for a young child.  Antennas are fully extended.  Nothing is understood.  Everything is happening quickly and it’s being assimilated, sorted, processed and classified just as swiftly.  A massive amount of information is being filed away in their vulnerable heart.  In their curious mind.  Coming to conclusions.  They are feeling their way along. Trying to avoid anything that explodes newly laid foundations.  Trying to avoid anything that is too scary or painful.  Trying to chew before swallowing.

They listen to the words adults fling back and forth around them.  The adults who are parenting them.  Who matter the most.  Those words they speak carry much weight.  Much more weight than the words of others…at least while they are young.  They listen.  Catch those words.  Ponder them.  And learn.

Yet, actions speak louder than words.  Which is why confusion descends, wrapping them in a thick, unrelenting fog.

Sometimes, the mixed messages cause so much dissonance, the child fractures.

“We love you so much!”  But in the dead of the night, the daddy sneaks quietly into her room and uses her as a living, breathing sex toy.  Or the mother slaps her and drags her by her long hair because she didn’t complete every chore on a 2-page list between the time she got off school and when her mother arrived home from work.

“We prayed for a little girl just like you!”  But her brother is the one who gets dental care, who is taken to the doctor when he is sick, who doesn’t even have to do chores.

“If only you would…lose weight, make better grades, smile, be more popular, clean the house without being asked, like the clothes I want to wear…”  “If only you had…blonde hair, a better personality, a prettier face, slimmer legs, a smaller butt…”  There are lots of “if only” messages.  If only, then we could love you, accept you, like you, be proud of you, want you.

We love you…if only.  We love you, but oh, you’re not as mature as we thought you were.  You’re not as resourceful as we thought you were.  You’re not as worthwhile, valuable, nice, pretty, smart…as we thought you were, thought you should be, wanted you to be, expected you to be, needed you to be.

We needed you to be so much more.

We love you…you were supposed to fulfill our dreams and meet our every need, make our life wonderful and make us happy.  Instead…you’re too much trouble, too much work, you’re a disappointment, you’re a failure, you’re making things harder for me, you need too much, you aren’t doing everything we want you to do, you’re not acting like we want you to act, you’re not performing up to standard, you’re not living up to our expectations…

We love you.  We hit you because you deserve it.  We abuse you because we own you. Because you owe it to us to make us happy. We reject you.  Your needs don’t matter.  We love you.  Smile, dammit!  Do what I say.  Don’t tell anyone.  Don’t look at me like that!  What do you want from me?  We love you.  Not now.  Leave me alone.  I have too many problems of my own to deal with without having to think about you.  You’re not making my life better.  Or easier.  What’s wrong with you?  You’re so fat!  Clean your plate!  I don’t care what you need.  Or what you think.  Clean the house.  Keep the secrets.  We love you.  Do you know how expensive it is to go to the doctor!  You had better be sick enough to justify all that money being spent on you!  Mow the grass.  Clean out the refrigerator.  Mop the floor.  Dust the paneling.  Clean the kitchen.  Vacuum.  Wash the windows.  Make me whole.  Make me feel good about myself and how I’m doing as a parent.  Fix my life.  Why can’t you be more like her?  You’re making us look bad.  Keep your mouth shut.  We love you.  How dare you!  You’re so disappointing.  We can’t be bothered.  Go to your room.  We love you.

The child tries.  Tries to sort through the words.  Tries to comprehend the meaning of what they are saying.  These very important people who are shaping them. Tries to make sense of their actions.  Tries to get the pieces to fit together.  Tries to find a way to make it make sense.

“Love” is nothing more than rejection hiding behind sweet words.  It is abuse, using, hitting.  It means being tolerated if you remain silent.  If you perform to standard.  Yet the standard is constantly changing for the bar is steadily moved higher when you come close to succeeding. You have to earn it, this thing called love.  And the price is high.

Being loved means being judged and found lacking.  It means having no value or worth.

It is the only way to get the mixed messages to fit into one coherent concept.  It is the only way to resolve the distortion, the startling clash between opposing perspectives.  It is the only way those opposing perspectives can exist together in the same room.  Or be spoken with the same breath.

For the other alternative, the one that CAN’T BE TRUE NO MATTER WHAT is that what they are showing you, what they are doing to you, what they are asking of you and demanding from you…isn’t actually love…at all.

The Invisible

We walk beside you.  Work with you.  Go to the same class you attend.  Watch the same shows.  Cheer for the same teams.  Drive the same roads.  But you don’t see us.  Don’t notice us.  We are the invisible.

The abused.  Trying to blend in.  To look and act “normal.” To deflect attention. To be noticed is to be scrutinized and judged.  Rejected.  Mocked.  Because no matter how hard we try to be normal, we are different.  We have seen, experienced and felt things that we weren’t designed to see or experience.  We aren’t equipped to handle the gut-ripping emotions; the overwhelming and intense pain of the soul.  Fractured, we become the walking wounded.  One of those pathetic, disturbing creatures who should surely be avoided at all costs.

We try to fit in.  We laugh when you laugh, hoping you won’t notice that it took us a split second longer to react.  The computer in our brain is always analyzing as it seeks to produce the correct response. To find the proper words.  The correct facial expression for the occasion.

If we are good actors, you will never notice us beyond a passing glance.  We won’t stand out.  We will remain invisible.

The old.  We’ve nothing to flaunt.  We can’t shake our head of shiny, thick hair in the sun to demand attention because we no longer have a lush mane.  Our shorts are longer so as to hide skin that has lost elasticity.  Our tops have sleeves to camouflage our flaccid arms.  Parts of us resemble a Sharpei.  Mid-drift tops are shunned and low necklines have long ago been abandoned.  We may still wear fashionable clothing and have a spring in our step.  But your eye will not be drawn to firm buns or toned calves because we don’t possess them.  In fact, it is likely your eye won’t be drawn to us at all.

We move through the grocery store unnoticed.  At best, we do our shopping without leaving a trace of ourselves behind.  At our worst, we are sometimes in the way.  A pest.  Quickly assessed and then disregarded.

The un-pretty.  We don’t fit the proper mold.  Our features are not perfectly symmetrical.  Our eyes may be too close together or too far apart.  They aren’t blue and our hair isn’t full and blonde.  Our legs are too short.  Our feet too big. Our smiles crooked or too generous.  Our ankles too fat.  Our thighs rub together and our stomach protrudes.  We turn heads…in the other direction.  No one smiles when they see us coming.  If they notice us at all, they look away, avert their eyes, find someone more pleasing to watch until we have passed by.  Someone who is impressive.  Who is worthy of adulation.

The abused who are also older and who don’t meet…and likely never have met…our societal standards for pretty – well, it’s a triple whammy.

Silent.  Invisible.  Here and gone without leaving a ripple behind.  We don’t even imprint on your retina.

I’m sure there are others who feel this way.  Refugees.  The poor.  Who can’t afford a cool car or trendy clothing.  The obese.  The unintelligent.  Those who never had an opportunity to go to college.  There is an army of marginalized members of society lurking in the peripheral vision of the masses.  Those who failed the test because of factors that were and that remain far beyond their control.

The invisible sea of individuals who don’t measure up.  Who are odd.  Who have no hope of acceptance because of how they look, what has been done to them and a pathetic lack of resources.

I am adrift in this sea.

I am one of the abused.  Badly abused.  Rejected.  I am older.  Old by the standards of youth.  I have never been one of the beautiful people.

Not only has the outside of me failed to measure up, no one has been able to find beauty in my soul.  Or in my heart.  No one has been able to accept me for who I am.  My warts are somehow far, far worse than those of most others.  My flaws too horrible.  So, I go through my day without acceptance.  Without touch.  Mostly without notice.  Without anyone to care or to assure me the difficulties and hurts I’ve encountered will somehow work out.  That I can and will get through them.  In reality, they probably won’t work out and I’ll only get through them if I can find the strength within me to keep walking in spite of the agony.

You don’t see me, but that slight breeze you felt on your cheek may have been the air I stirred as I walked past you.

We are the invisible.  Imperfect creatures.  Broken.  Not as successful as is expected or required.  Certainly, not as glamorous or physically pleasing.  Our deficiencies are often hard to mask.  And so, people block us from their mind and gush over the more perfect among us instead.  Worshiping youth.  And “hotness.”

It’s actually not too terrible…not be recognized as being a person or of having value.  I’m certainly left alone.  And though no one speaks to me beyond what is necessary, though they cut me off in line and seem surprised to see me standing behind them if I have the courage to speak up, for the most part, life’s transactions can be conducted in the shadows with a certain amount of efficiency.  And without too much hassle.

There was a time when I wanted someone to see me because I prayed there was someone special in the world who would love and accept me despite my flaws and brokenness.  I have learned.  Reality has replaced fantasy.  And reality is empty of most everything, though it is filled to overflowing with isolation.

Now, I am content if people don’t bump into me and knock me down.  If they don’t cut me off.  If they lower their eyes as I walk by.  I am content when no one is hurting me.  No, not content.  But grateful.  Grateful no further damage has been done.  That I have returned safely home.  Have made it through the day without additional wounds and scars.

There is something to be said for being left alone.  There are worse things than being invisible.  I am trying to find the good in it.  Or to at least ignore the bad.

I’m trying to embrace invisibility.  To hold it close, even as I have always longed to be held.

 

Two Worlds

There are two worlds.  Two worlds that exist side by side here on this planet that revolves endlessly around the sun as it hurtles through space.  A planet that is but a pinpoint of light in a deep and endless darkness.  A galaxy filled with light year after light year of eternal night.

This is where our lives play out.  On this speck of a planet surrounded by a deep airless void.

Two worlds.

One where love is.

One where love is not.

Two worlds.  They exist side-by-side.  But they’re worlds apart. Touching shoulders with each other.  As different as night is from day.  Neighbors.  But not friendly neighbors.  Distant cousins who have never met.  Who don’t want to meet.

I come from the 2nd world.  The really dark one.

In my house, on the side of the street where I grew up, there was a lot of yelling, hitting, anger, pain and rejection.  There were so many expectations, I couldn’t keep up with them.  Fix my parent’s life.  Fix my parents.  Make all A’s.  Be popular.  Be silent.  Don’t cause trouble.  Have blonde hair.  Be cute and petite.  Don’t be a bother.  Don’t ask for anything.  Don’t need.  Do the dishes.  And homework.  Keep the secrets.  The many secrets our house held.  The secrets the curtains cloaked, shielded and guarded.  Don’t tell.  Don’t call attention to yourself.  Act normal.  Do what you’re told.  Make everyone happy.  Make everyone feel better.  Make the hard stuff go away.  Solve all my mother’s problems.  Be her confidant.  Affirm her.  Take care of my little brother.  Shut up.  Smile.  Don’t ask questions.  Don’t stir anything up.

An endless list.  Nothing was ever removed from the list.  Much was added…often daily.  Much was expected without being spoken or defined.

In my world, the world where love wasn’t, acceptance was never achieved.  If I made all A’s, I should have made A+’s.  If I got all the housework done and done well, it was never good enough.  I was  always at fault and deficient.  Because I was defective.  I was a failure.  Flaws could easily be thrown in my face.  And of course, I couldn’t solve their problems, fix their lives or make them feel better.  Nor could I make the darkness go away.  Instead, the darkness swallowed me whole.  And refused to spit me out.

I was fat, ash blonde and getting darker by the minute.  I wasn’t popular or petite.  I didn’t have answers.

I saw the kids who came from and lived in the other world.  I saw them daily at school.  They were foreign to me.  I couldn’t begin to imagine all of the ways in which we were different, but we were very, very different.  They were better.  I was inferior.  I was worthless.

They laughed without restraint.  They had confidence.  A voice.  They mattered.  They were special.  Wanted.  Worth caring for.

I was not.

I did keep the secrets.  That’s one thing I did extremely well.  One area where I exceeded expectations.  The people from the other world never suspected what I endured behind the closed and locked doors of my parent’s house.

Abuse.  Constant.  Abuse.

Where there is abuse, love is absent.  And there was always abuse.  There wasn’t much, if any, love.

They told me they loved me.  Then hit me.  Slapped me.  Knocked me down.

They told me they loved me.  Then demeaned and used me.

They told me they loved me.  Then rejected me.

They told me they loved me.  Then ignored me.

They told me they loved me.  Then neglected me.

They told me they loved me.  Then my loving father sexually abused me.  Raped me.

They told me they loved me.  Then detailed all the many different ways I disappointed them.  How I let them down.

In my world, winning was no more of an option than was being loved.

Two worlds.  Worlds apart.  Vastly different.  Day and night.

My world lacked air.  Warmth.  Light.  The laughter that existed was forced, guarded, cautious.  Required.  No belly laughs.  No joy.  Not even a little sliver of happiness.

Lots of caution.  Silence.  Darkness.  Cold.  Anger.  Disappointment.  Fear.  Anguish.  No one to turn to and no safe harbor.  Danger lurked.  Lunged.  Ripped me to pieces with razor sharp claws.

There was no escape.

I endured.  Survived.

When I left home at the age of 17, I tried to leave that shadow world behind.  But growing up there had damaged me on a cellular level.  There was no leaving it.  I left the slaps, but not the rejection.  I left the sexual abuse, but not the lack of love.  I left the darkness, but the darkness grew inside of me.  It stunted me.  Left me broken and empty.

Two worlds.  I drew the low card.  The short straw.  I came from the wrong one.  I could see the other world, but I couldn’t touch it.  It is and has remained forever out of my reach.

Two worlds.

One where love is.

One where love is not.

My world is the one where love is not.

Carpenter

I am a carpenter.  It is my hobby.  My creative outlet.  How I express myself.  Building something out of nothing.  It is the way I survive.

Words are my wood.  Punctuation the nails.  They are the tools of my trade.

I take a single word and place it carefully…just so.  I make sure it is true.  Level.  That it fits perfectly.  At least to the best of my ability.  And then I add another.  And another.  Carefully fashioning them into the piece I see in my heart. Bringing my inner world to life.

Sometimes everything flows easily.  Sometimes it simply “works” as I envision and desire.  But not every time.  I probably fail in my role as a carpenter more than I succeed.  And yet I keep trying.  I keep building.  Word upon word.  Nailed together with great attention to detail.

I sand and lovingly finish each piece.  I try to create something meaningful and lasting out of the ashes of my life.  Something of beauty.  Of interest.  Something worthwhile.

Ever so slowly, my words build a window into my soul.  I give you limited access to sneak a peek through that window, knowing you probably don’t really care to see the poorly-crafted and broken down rooms of my heart.  I am, you see, not the best carpenter.  The things I see and have experienced are not necessarily pretty.  So what I create is not often pretty.  The things I have to share are not awe-inspiring.  And some are downright ugly.

I will never win any awards.

Though I long to build beautiful pictures and hope connect in spite of the ugliness of the wood I use, I don’t often succeed.   I place each word specifically to resonate and to promote a closeness I fear I can’t sustain.  In reality, I struggle to share the results of my carpentry “skills.”  It is frightening to open up.  The small windows I build are probably as close as I can come to letting someone walk through my world.  It is risky sharing my creations.  To allow others to read the words I have crafted, plank after plank, until the piece is finished, is to risk rejection and ridicule.  Sometimes, I question the sanity of my hobby.  Always I question my abilities.  I wonder why I am so driven to build and to share.  To work so diligently to bridge the chasm between us.  I keep sanding the wood, fitting the pieces together until my heart has said what it longed to say, even if I say it poorly.

I dare not place a doorway.  Too risky.  Someone might actually turn the knob and come in.  And vulnerability can be deadly.

Oh, how I wish someone would turn the knob and come in.

This house I have built and furnished, that I have so diligently created in spite of my many faults,  it is all I have to give.  Words.  Words I have tried to make smooth and acceptable, even though they tell a repulsive story.  The story of abuse, rejection, depression.  Of struggles, failings, self-hate.   Of defeat.

I have built with the material that is available to me.  I have written what I have lived.  Word upon word.  Chapter after chapter.  Telling the story of this place where I dwell, this place my hands have made with what I had to work with.

A lowly carpenter.  Sharing my story one hewn and carefully selected word at a time.  All in hopes that someone will see some beauty in my ragged creations.  Maybe even come in and sit down with me for a while.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

I loved them.  Loved them as only a little girl can love.

Especially Illya Kuryakin.  Napoleon Solo was too cocky and full of himself for me.  Too egotistical  Too suave.  He was the guy who always won.  I loved the underdog.  Kuryakin.

I spent my meager allowance to buy posters, pictures and books.  Man From U.N.C.L.E. posters, pictures and books.  Books that I read again and again.  Pictures that I looked at, soaked in and memorized.  Huge posters that I adored and hung on my wall.  The show was a happy place in my otherwise unhappy world.

Robert Vaughn.  David McCallum.  Leo G. Carroll.  Especially David McCallum.  Illya Kuryakin.

I often pretended to be an U.N.C.L.E. agent.  I had an army green messenger pouch I bought from the Army Surplus Store and I filled it with secret documents I was tasked to deliver to fellow agents in enemy territory.  I had a gun, made from a carved wooden stock with a piece of pipe for a barrel.  I carried out my missions, barely escaping T.H.R.U.S.H.

I loved Illya Kuryakin.  I loved  The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

They watched me.    I pinned their pictures to the walls of my bedroom because they made me happy.  They watched over me from there.  From the walls of my room.  They saw everything that happened in that room.  Everything.

I grew up in a small town outside a small city.   We…my dysfunctional, abusive family and I…would often go to that small city to shop and eat on the afternoon before The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would air.  I would go on one condition.  One condition only.  That we would be home in time for me to see my show.   My special show; the highlight of my week.

Back in those days, when I was 9, 10, 11, you couldn’t record a t.v. show and watch it later.  That technology didn’t exist.   If you missed it, you missed it.  I couldn’t bear to miss it.  I loved The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Loved. Them.

The black and white posters watched over me and made me feel a little safer. 

The show was the one positive thing in my life.

I liked it, mostly.  That they watched over me.  Except.

Except when.

When my father tip-toed into my room at night.  Breathing heavily. When he abused me.  Sexually abused me.  While they were watching.

I was so ashamed.  So ashamed.

I wanted to marry David McCallum.  I was disappointed when I found out he was married.  But I was 10.  I was 11.  That’s the way it is when you are a kid.  Reality is relative.  Reality can be hidden in fantasy and they can easily intertwine.  Especially when reality is too painful.  When you’re a kid.  When the truth can’t be faced.

Most recently he’s called “Ducky.”  He is so old.  As am I, though he is even older.  It was a long time ago.  A long, long time ago.  I can’t believe how long ago it was. But even now, I remember.

I still like him.  In spite of the fact he saw the ugly things; the shameful things.  He saw my father abuse me., hanging there on my wall with his open, staring eyes .  He watched it all.  All of the abuse; the sexual abuse.  He saw.  Everything.

The posters all watched, unblinking ,while it happened. The posters I bought with my allowance and hung with care.  They saw.

I was so ashamed, as time passed, I couldn’t look them in the eye.  Because I knew they knew my terrible secret.  I knew they could see.  They could see him do those sick and awful things to me.

I felt as if it was all my fault.  All my fault.  Somehow.

The shame was overwhelming.  It was so overwhelming, I escaped.  Into nothingness.  I turned over and retreated into darkness.  I faded into a place of total numbness and emptiness.  I couldn’t bear the shame.

I didn’t want them to see; my heroes.  I hated it that they saw my nakedness.  It was too much, knowing they were watching and that they could see him penetrate me.  And so, I blotted out the room and their faces.  I blotted out the universe.

I didn’t want him, my father, to do those things to me.  I begged him.  Begged him not to.  But he did them anyway.  He didn’t hear my pleas, nor did he consider the pain in my voice.  He didn’t know the posters of my heroes witnessed the abuse.  He hid in the night and thought no one knew. He thought no one was watching.

But they saw everything.

I still have good feelings about that show.  I still have a soft place in my heart for Illyan Kuryakin.  For David McCallum. 

I still feel the shame of the abuse.  The sexual abuse that destroyed my soul.  My father was the perpetrator.    And they saw.  They watched.  They knew the truth.  The Man From U.N.C.L.E. agents knew the truth.

Silent witnesses. 

They’re doing a remake of the show.

Wish I could remake my life.

And change what they saw.  Change what was.  Change what happened.

But reality can’t be changed.  It can be disguised.  But it can’t be changed.

In the end, my heroes couldn’t save me.  They could only observe in silence in the middle of the night as the one who should be protecting me raped and  abused me.  They could defeat T.H.R.U.S.H., but they couldn’t deter my father’s lust.

I wish they hadn’t seen.

But if someone had to see, I’m glad it was them.  My heroes.  Heroes who will always have a special place in my heart.  Heroes who watched a little girl being destroyed.

I like to think they wept as they watched.  I like to think they wanted to protect me.  That’s what they did.  The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  They saved the world.  They would have saved me if they could have. 

But they were only posters tacked to my wall. In the end, they were as powerless as I was.  There’s only so much posters, even posters of heroes, can do.

 

 

ED & Friends

Meet ED.   He’s a complicated guy.  A friend.  But kind of not.  He’s brought some advantages into my life that I really love.  And some fairly dark, hard things too.  In some ways, he’s been extremely helpful.  I have welcomed his arrival. But he has also (possibly) attempted to destroy me.  Maybe.  That’s ED.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  It’s a complex association.  Fairly dysfunctional.  But I’m totally into him.  Don’t want to let him go, no matter what he does to me. 

We’ve had two very intense relationships during my lifetime. 

I met him when I was in my mid-twenties. Young, but still older than most who meet him for the first time. Guess you can call me a late bloomer.  I had just learned that my new husband didn’t love or want me and I was totally crushed.  That’s when ED stepped in to fill the gap.  He introduced me to his friend, Restricting.  And to their mutual friend, Excessive Exercise. Next thing I knew, I was running 13 to 15 miles every morning, walking for an hour every night, doing another hour of general exercises, all while counting the number of croutons and cherry tomatoes I was allowed to have on my salad.  I had a 30 minute window of time in which to eat each meal.  If I couldn’t eat within the window, I didn’t get to eat.  The rules were rigid, but they were for my own good. ED assured me he had my best interests at heart.

The last time I weighed myself during that first relationship, I got down to 84 lbs., but I lost more after I stopped weighing. 

I felt so powerful with ED by my side!  If I hadn’t broken my hip running when I was in my mid-30’s, who knows what would have happened.  But that injury effectively ended my ability to fraternize with Excessive Exercise and when we parted company, it became extremely difficult to keep the weight off, even though Restricting was still in my life.   I was eating 500 calories every other day, but gaining weight.  Sadly, Restricting’s friendship alone wasn’t enough for me anymore.  The pounds accumulated in spite of our partnership and everything unraveled.  

My relationship with ED was in shambles.  I wanted him back, but didn’t know how to reach him. He moved away and left me all alone, breaking my heart nearly as badly as my husband had.

Then, after 22 years of marriage, my (now ex) husband told me he had fallen in love with another woman.  This, along with several other traumatic events (loss of job, church, dog and failed suicide attempt) brought ED back into my life.  At long last!  It was so good to see him again!  And I reestablished close contact with Restricting too.  Together, they introduced me to a new friend of theirs…Purging.   We became inseparable.

With Restricting and Purging on my team, the pounds fell off.  I was ecstatic!  Something good was finally happening in my life!  In short order, the tiny person I had long felt hiding inside of me was back. 

ED likes me thin; skinnier the better.  And I like myself that way too, so we get along famously.  But by the time I hit 90 lbs., I was encountering some physical difficulties I didn’t experience when I was younger.  This time, probably because of Purging, I would frequently find myself unable to stand up or to remain standing.  My muscles simply didn’t respond to the command of my brain.  A couple of times, when I let my dog outside to do her business, I drunkenly staggered into the yard and fell unceremoniously to the ground. I was too weak to stay upright and my muscles weren’t working.  Each time, I eventually managed to crawl back inside the house.  But I didn’t yet understand the impact of my relationship with my new friend, Purging (I later learned about his cohorts, Low Potassium and Low Sodium).  My hair fell out too.  And the muscle cramps were unbearable.  But ED and his friends were my best buddies.  You do what you have to do for your friends.  You don’t kick them to the curb just because things get a little difficult.

At some point, Restricting and Purging introduced me to Binging.  Not BIG BINGING. Binging, Jr. With Binging, Purging and Restricting by my side, by taking supplements, I was able to (mostly) make it through the day without medical intervention.  There have been a few scary ambulance rides and overnight hospital stays. But ED and his friends are sticking with me. Whether I like it or not.

And I do like it. But I don’t. It’s complicated.

I need to be as far away from overweight as I can get.  ED’s helping me with that.  I pray he doesn’t let me down…I need him.  No, ED doesn’t make my problems go away, but he does make me able to face the next day.  He gives me the ability to tolerate myself. And the ability to tolerate being alive. 

Honestly, what more can you ask for from a guy?

My Mother Gave To Me

I read an article written by a woman who talked about her relationship with her mother.  She shared that the relationship was shaky for a time.  She felt rejected by her mother for a good part of her life until she finally found a way to break through the barriers that divided them.  Their relationship wasn’t terrible or abusive – she just felt she didn’t measure up to her amazing, beautiful, special mom.  But once they connected, she was able to be proud of her.  The mother passed away a couple of years ago and was now desperately missed. She summed up by noting, every time she received a compliment about her prematurely gray hair (which was just like her mother’s), she would thank the person and tell them, “I got it from my mother.”  That statement became a symbol to her of all the positive things her mother contributed to her life and how they were still connected.  

The article caused me to contemplate the things my own mother had contributed to my life.  To examine the ways we are yet connected. To think about the things I “got” from my mother.

The first thing that came to mind? She was a mess and she was depressed, as am I.  But for very different reasons.  We are alike, but not alike.  Connected, but not connected. Similar, but not.

Let me illustrate. The end result was the same (depression), but for very different underlying reasons. 

My mother believed she should be loved and she got very angry when she wasn’t or didn’t get treated the way she thought she should be treated.  She projected blame outward, striking out at others. 

I, on the other hand, do not believe I am worthy of being loved.  I am so unsure of my personhood, I don’t believe I’m worth time, trouble, or consideration because I have too many issues.  Unlike her, I project blame inward.  My anger is aimed at myself. 

So while her depression was likely largely due to what she saw as grave mistreatment by others and from not receiving what she felt she was owed in life, mine is more of an outgrowth of self-hatred. We were both depressed, but for very different reasons. Alike, but not alike.

There are some strong physical similarities and characteristics we do share.  My eyebrows are just like hers were.  As are my thick ankles.  Then there’s the propensity to gain weight by just looking at food.  Our poor posture.  These things would mark me as her daughter.

But I realized, unlike the author of the article I read, the things that have most shaped my life are comprised more of what I didn’t get from her. And those marks are not as readily visible.

One of the things I didn’t get was love and acceptance.  Instead, I received rejection.  Along with physical and emotional abuse.  Over time, continually being told I was a major disappointment beat me down.  I was supposed to fulfill her and I failed.  I wasn’t pretty enough, cute, fun, or popular enough.  I didn’t fix her life or make her look good.  I didn’t perform the way I was expected to perform.  She undermined my value day after day, year after year.  In some ways, this was more toxic than the physical blows.  Never measuring up, her rejection, anger, and physical outbursts, along with the abuse I suffered at the hands of my father, all became part of the experiences that caused me to disbelieve I was a person.  I learned from my parents, from my mother, I was an object to be used.  I existed solely to provide what others required of me.

She taught me well.  I still struggle to believe I’m a real person who has any value.  

Another thing I didn’t get from my mother was a sense of safety or security.  I was terribly afraid, never knowing when the bottom would fall out of my world.  When I would be hit.  When she would turn into a screaming maniac.  When the violent fights would erupt.  What kind of craziness I would encounter.  What would set her off.  I had nightmares about the world coming to an end, about horribly destructive tornadoes, massive disasters, fires.  I walked on eggshells and tried to be invisible.  And while the intensity of the terror has dulled, her influence caused me to be a fearful, risk-adverse person.

I also didn’t receive nurture, protection, or support.  I was used, abused, left to fend for myself and to figure out a very complex and crazy-making environment.  I learned quickly that I wasn’t supposed to ask for or expect anything from the adults in my life.  I wasn’t supposed to need or be any trouble whatsoever.  The less disruption I caused the better.  So nurture and protection weren’t at all available.  I attempted only to survive. 

I am still trying to find ways to survive without creating ripples or requiring anything from others. 

As a child, I was always told I had “better be sick enough” to deserve expensive and inconvenient intervention and care.  I still have difficulty determining when I have crossed the line to “sick enough.”  For example, when I had pneumonia, I waited until I was so ill before I finally sought a doctor’s care, I needed to be hospitalized. And because I often didn’t get essential care as a child, I now think it’s wrong for me to even consider wanting, needing, or seeking it.  I think I’m supposed to tough it out.  Do without.  Find a way to keep going, no matter what.  Without help.

Without bothering my mother.

Ultimately, what my mother gave me by not providing what I needed was a very confusing and conflicted view of life, love, myself, and others.  So as Mother’s Day approaches, even though she has been dead for many years, I can’t help but think of her with great sadness and pain.  Not because she isn’t physically here with me now.  I’m actually thankful that phase of my life is over. But rather, I feel sadness because she is still with me in so many ways.  I don’t have her gray hair, but her handiwork is evident and painfully visible, manifest in the immeasurable damage within me that she left behind.

The Tree Remembers

There is much truth in the African proverb, “The ax forgets. The tree remembers.”

The ax forgot, if he ever acknowledged, the impact of his hands upon my body, probing forbidden places; private, sacred places that fathers should never touch on their daughters.  Not in that way.  Not with lust dripping from his penis.  Lust that caused his voice to tremble, his breath to be short and quick, his hands to move with cold deliberation, his eyes to watch greedily.  The ax forgot, if he ever recognized, what it did to that daughter when he forced his hard, swollen penis inside of her as the pain split her apart.  When he came on her, covering her with his sticky goo.  When he came in her mouth, shooting his seed down her throat, causing her to gag.  The ax forgot, if he ever considered her at all, how it destroyed her when he made her strip and dance before him or forced her into the shower with him.  The ax forgot how it hurt when he hit her. When he knocked her across the room or to the floor.  His memory only lasted as long as the marks, if that long.  The ax forgets.  But the tree remembers.  To this day, she remembers.  I remember.

The ax forgot the pain of her slaps on her daughter’s face and the humiliation of her angry cutting, degrading words.  The fear of being dragged by the hair as that mother raged and ranted.  The ax forgot how cutting her words of rejection and disappointment were to the ears of her eager child; the child who longed to please her, who wanted to be accepted and held and wanted.  The ax forgot what it meant when she averted her eyes as that same eager child was being sexually used by her husband.  When the daughter looked to her for help, but found only demands and dismissal.  The ax forgot.  But the tree remembers.  To this day, she remembers.  Yes, I remember.

The tree is forever altered.  Laid to waste.  Barely able, if able at all, to remain standing.  The tree no longer flourishes.  No longer lives.  All of its energy and lifeblood is spent attempting to heal the ghastly, horrific wounds that resulted from the ax as it hacked deep into her soul.  The tree longs to forget.  Longs to overcome.  Longs to be whole again. But the wounds of the ax have done the unspeakable.  Those injuries are unbearable, horrifying and atrocious.  The ax has forgotten.  The tree cannot forget.  Because the tree is not what it was before and it will never be what it would have been had it not been so dreadfully wounded by the vile ax.

The ax will go on to wound again and again in many abominable and staggering ways.  Over time, the scars in the bark of the tree are so many, the tree is deformed, stunted, disgusting.  The tree cannot forget because the tree cannot escape the effects of the ghastly blows.

The tree tries to survive. Gone are the dreams of thriving.  Of providing shade for the birds and shelter for the squirrels.  The broken, wretched tree is ruined.  Injured beyond repair.  The ax forgets.  But the tree, the tree cannot forget no matter how hard she tries.

So profound.  The ax  doesn’t have to live with the damage it created.  Its steps, are not hindered by the crippling blows it meted out.  All that is behind it.  It’s over.  In the past.  But the tree cannot escape the damage.  It cannot leave the destruction behind.  It has been shattered and disjointed.  It will never be what it was meant to be.  The ax doesn’t understand why the tree won’t “get over it.”  But the tree doesn’t know how.  It doesn’t have that kind of magic in its limbs.

The ax forgets.  The tree remembers.  It longs to forget.  But it can’t.  It remembers everything.  In pieces and fragments, like watching a movie, with memories fading in and out of the darkness, but it remembers. 

Oh, how the tree wishes it could forget.

No Love for the Broken

Somewhere along the way, along with being battered with the message that “abused people abuse people” and should, therefore, remain childless, I also received the message that broken people should never enter into a marriage relationship. Evidently, you aren’t supposed to get intimately close to anyone unless you are whole.  Frankly, both messages were devastating and gut-wrenching.  But I think the idea that I, as a broken person, would actually be harming another person by entering into a relationship with them, would truly be asking something unfair of them to ask that they love me, was the most gutting message I have ever had thrown at me.  And I’ve had a few doosy messages tossed my way.

I tried to swallow it.  But it was too big.

You see, I didn’t break myself.  I was broken.  Mostly by my abusive parents. So my broken state wasn’t due to my poor choices or stupidity.  It was because of what was done to me.  By the people who were supposed to love and protect me.  But who destroyed me instead.

And the last thing I ever wanted was for someone else to be hurt because of me…being me.

For a person who doesn’t want to be a burden, doesn’t want to get their “goo” on anyone because it might hurt them, the thought that just by being who I am; screwed up, hurt, wounded mess of a person, would mean I had to isolate myself to keep anyone from being touched by my awfulness, well, that’s really a horrible, staggering thought.  It means I’m the problem.  I’m an atomic bomb.  I’m napalm.  I’m every bit as horrible as I ever thought I was, plus more.  I should probably die.  Alone.

It’s a fairly appalling feeling…to feel as if you are unworthy of love because you have been badly broken.  To feel you are so defective due to the abuse you suffered and somehow managed to survive that you shouldn’t expect anyone to want or cherish you.  To realize that doing so is unfair to them.  It’s asking too much of them.  It’s unrealistic.  Unfair.  That because of who you are, to ask for or to want to be loved is actually a horrible thing to do.

It’s crushing.  Gut-wrenching.  Soul deadening.  Numbing. Paralyzing.

This is how I have lived most of my life.  In the state of desiring to be loved, wanting to be wanted, needing love and acceptance, but knowing that asking to be loved was asking too much.  Knowing it was a wrong and selfish thing to do.  Knowing that fragmented people, like me, are not only too hard to love, but we are toxic to others and shouldn’t allow ourselves to be in a relationship because it’s unhealthy for those who get too close to us.

Causing damage to another person is the one thing, the one really, really big thing, that I never, ever, ever wanted to do.  I knew how painful it was, to be stabbed in the heart.  To be ripped to shreds.   I never wanted to cause anyone else that kind of destructive pain. To learn this is what I was doing by longing to be loved and wanted was mortifying.

When I first heard this message, I was in church.  The pastor is a person I respect greatly; I respect him still, to this day, more than almost everyone else I know.  Coming from a person I trust and respect made the sting even more painful.  I couldn’t ignore what he said.  I couldn’t disregard it out of hand because of questioning his judgment or wisdom for some reason.  Just the opposite.  He was a wise and caring spiritual authority.  Someone worth listening to.  So I had to listen.

I was sitting next to my husband at the time.  We had been married about 9 years and things weren’t great.  He had informed me during our first year of marriage that he didn’t love me, which had utterly massacred me.  I felt myself die inside when he spoke those words and even though I went through the motions for years afterward, I was never the same.  I knew I wasn’t fooling anyone, although I tried to at least fool myself.  But at the time, I was still working diligently to be a good wife, doing everything I could to earn money so he wouldn’t have to while attempting to do wifely things like clean the house and occasionally cook a nice meal.  It was getting harder and harder to do the things that were expected of me.  I knew he wasn’t happy with me.  I knew he didn’t even really like me.  He snorted in disdain at most of what I said or did.  Most of what I wanted.  He made it explicitly clear that he didn’t want to listen to my problems or hear anything about what was inside of me.  Didn’t want to know my pain.  So I kept my mouth shut and didn’t talk about who I was or what I felt.  I tried not to be a bother.  I tried to not rock the boat.  I tried to be worth keeping around.  I tried.

Yes, I tried extremely hard to perform well.  Including participating in a sexual relationship.  But that was getting harder too because I was starting to feel very much like a prostitute.  A body required to perform sexual acts with a man who was essentially a stranger.  A stranger who didn’t want to know me.  Just wanted to use me for his gratification.  We were still having sex at the time I heard the message, but it wasn’t frequent or fulfilling like it had been in the beginning.  Not for either one of us.

Listening to the pastor talk about how wrong it was for a broken person to be in a relationship, I knew my husband was gloating.  He was feeling justified.  Justified for not loving me.  He was a martyr who was carrying an impossibly heavy and horrible load.  Because I was obviously unreasonable to have ever expected love from him.  I was not worthy.  My brokenness disqualified me from being cherished, cared for, wanted, accepted, or loved.  He was a hero for allowing me to stay around.

It also reinforced the message I thought I had received from God when my husband first told me he didn’t love me.  A message that said the most I could ever hope for was to be tolerated.  It was the best God could do for someone as utterly despicable as me.  It was as if God was telling him that day in church it was okeydokey that he didn’t love me and treated me like dirt.  What should I expect?  Nothing.  That’s what I should expect.  Nothing.  I was getting what I deserved.  Actually, I was getting BETTER than I deserved, because I was in SOME kind of a relationship and that was more than I ever had a right to ask for.  So I needed to keep my mouth shut and get on with it.  Be thankful for his tolerance.  Be grateful he didn’t dump me in the street.

Thirteen years later, he did.  Dump me in the street, that is.  When he fell in love with someone else.  Now, I had what I deserved. No one.

I still want to be loved.  I know it’s wrong, since I’m still a broken, wounded fiasco.  But I don’t want to be alone.  I long to share my heart, life, and mind with someone who might actually like me and want to be around me from time to time.  Someone who might want to hold my hand occasionally.  Or who might enjoy kissing me because they think I’m kind of special.

What do you do when your deepest, most intimate desires are reprehensible?

What can you do when you’re a wounded debacle who can’t seem to heal, when  you know you’re toxic and should never, ever be in a relationship with another human being, but you are SO alone and the longing to connect with someone else is SO wrenching, you can barely tolerate it?  What should you do when you are unfit to be loved because you are damaged and fragmented, but you desperately want to love and be loved?

What do you do when intelligent, accomplished people, people you trust and admire, tell you it’s wrong, unscrupulous, selfish, and horrible for you to be in a profound, committed relationship with someone, with a mate, but something deep inside of you tells you that being loved like that, deeply and wholly, is the one thing that will heal your broken soul?  What if your heart whispers that love is the only cure; the only remedy; the only answer to your dilemma?  What if this means you can’t be cured because, toxic catastrophe that you are, no one can ever love you without dreadfully damaging themselves?

You do what you must.  You stay shattered.  Isolated.  And lonely.

You heed the message.  Because you are broken, you can’t be loved.

Owned

As a child, my parents owned me.

My mother poured lemon juice over my darkening hair because she couldn’t bear to have her white-golden-haired child become a run-of-the-mill ash blonde.  She gave me pixie cuts because she loved them.  Thought they were adorable.  I hated them.  She dressed me in frilly little dresses because I was her doll. Luckily, I liked the frilly dresses too.  She told me to smile, to look pretty, to be nice, to stop bothering her, to go away, to come when called, to do the ironing, the cleaning, the vacuuming, the laundry, mowing, dusting, straightening, and window cleaning.  I was hers to command and to do with as she wanted.  I was supposed to make her life worth living, to fulfill her, to make everything good.  For her.  I was supposed to banish her depression, give her purpose, take away all difficulty, cause the negatives in her world to go away, and make her look successful.  It was my job to fix her life.  She screamed at me, slapped me, and dragged me by the hair when I didn’t live up to her expectations.  Which was frequently.

My father was a different story.  He owned me too, but in a much different, more horrible way.  He wanted me to be his companion.  His hunting companion, his bird dog, his little tomboy.  That part wasn’t too bad.  But the other companion, the sexual one, was a nightmare.  He wanted me to be the fulfillment of every deviant sexual fantasy he had ever had or that he could dream up.  He forced me to comply, overpowering me, threatening me, cajoling me, and shaming me.  Using me.  Taking my soul.  I was also supposed to fulfill him and make him feel good about himself.  To protect the family and make them look good.  My actions reflected on him and his ability as a parent.  I was supposed to make him look like a good parent.  And he slapped me, hit me, yelled at me, and knocked me across the room when I didn’t live up to expectations.  Which was frequently.

I was a major disappointment.  I could never do enough nor do anything right enough.  I couldn’t stay out of trouble.  No matter how hard I tried, I was a huge disappointment.  A failure.

When I graduated from high school and left home, I was owned by a husband.  I was supposed to be his fun hippie-chick, always up-beat and happy.  While doing the housework, cooking, and working a job outside the home, all with a smile on my face wherever we went.  I certainly wasn’t supposed to have “issues” or “baggage.”  I wasn’t supposed to be hurt or depressed or down or confused or wounded.  And since I was all of those things, I wasn’t accepted or loved.  In fact, I was rejected. He cheated on me from day one.  Three and a half years later, we finally called it quits.  I wasn’t even 20 years old at the time.  Physically, anyway.  Mentally, I was over 40.

For the first time in my life, I was on my own.  I was still young enough to have hope and, in spite of my bad experiences, I still believed in love.  I had courage. I thought I had a future and I was going to do everything in my power to make sure it was a good one.  I made friends, did crazy, irresponsible things for once, going to parties, bars, camp-outs where the dope and alcohol flowed freely.  I played.  Acted almost like a “normal” person, staying high and ignoring the problems that still haunted me.  I had almost 3 years of this.  Doing what I wanted with my free time.  Then, I met the living God and my world changed so abruptly and completely, I was undone.

I didn’t know the rules for being a Christian, but once again, I knew I was owned.  By a big, powerful, demanding God who had lots of instructions and…expectations.  My brief carefree days were over almost before they began.  Once I became a Christian, everything was all about pleasing God.  Doing the things He wanted me to do.  Being who He wanted me to be.  Saying what He wanted me to say.  Making him look good.  Sound familiar?

At first, I felt His love.  But as time passed, the demands became heavier and harder to meet.  I realized fairly quickly, I couldn’t win. Once again, just as I had with my parents and first husband, I found myself in a situation of never being able to be good enough.  I could never do enough, nor do it well enough, to please.  The whole concept of grace made no sense to me as it was far out of the realm of my experience.  It didn’t seem relevant.  Didn’t seem to apply to me.  Because even though I was saved by grace, it seemed clear the only way I was going to stay in God’s good graces was if I was able to perform.  And I wasn’t.  Not for long.

I was quite familiar with the performance requirement.  My parents had taught me well.  But the problem with performance is, when you can’t be perfect enough, there comes a point where you give up.  You stop trying because you know you’ll never achieve.  You’ll never please.  You’ll never make the grade.  So why bother?  You know you’re doomed to disappoint and to be rejected.  I felt that rejection oozing from this new owner.  This new Father.  God the Father.  Who demanded everything.  Just as my biological father had demanded everything.  And He too seemed to take what He wanted from me.  No matter the cost to my heart.

When I was 25, I married again.  A Christian man who believed we were meant to be together.  I thought he was incredible…and far too good for someone like me.  He was too cool.  Too popular.  Too cute.  Too awesome.  But he proposed and we began to plan our life together.  Now, not only did a terrifyingly powerful and demanding God own me, I became the property of this new husband.  A husband who, once again, never loved me and who demanded perfection.  He wanted a pretty little skinny wife who loved to do the things he loved to do, who was smart and would make him look good, who would be easy to be with, who would work a job and make money so he wouldn’t have to work too hard, all while cleaning the house and cooking and being a good wife, a wife who stayed in shape and didn’t bother him too much.  He wanted me to smile and be light and funny and happy.  Me.  The broken one.  The depressed.  The wounded.  The haunted.  The one who lived in darkness.  Me, filled with pain and struggling to feel my way, trying to act normal, but never quite succeeding. He wanted me to be someone other than who I was; just as everyone who had ever been important to me had wanted me to be a completely different person.  I didn’t see it coming, so I was wide open.  The rejection.  The judgment.  The disdain.  It hit hard and utterly destroyed me.

I dutifully remained his faithful wife until finally, after 22 years, he threw me to the curb when he fell in love with someone else.  As a result, I tried to take my life about 3 years after the divorce.  I was tired of trying to pick up the pieces of my soul.  I wanted to let the chips fall where they may. But I couldn’t even succeed at killing myself.

I have been owned by someone other than myself for most of my life.  I am still owned by God.  A God I fear.  A God I can’t please.  My heart is dead and I have no idea who I really am.  I’ve tried so hard to please everyone in my life by attempting with all my strength to be someone I wasn’t, someone they wanted me to be, I’ve lost track of who I am.  I don’t know who I started out to be or who I might have been or what I really hoped for in life.   I’ve tried to live up to everyone’s expectations and now, I don’t even know what I want…if I want anything.  I’ve lost my dreams.  I’ve run out of hope.  I no longer have the ability to believe in tomorrow.

Sometimes I wonder.  What if one of those people who was important to me had accepted me?  Cherished me…just the way I was?  What if, instead of rejecting me and demanding I be someone else entirely, they had supported, encouraged, loved, and helped me to find my way?  Where might I be today?  Who might I be?  I might not mind being owned if the one who owned me lifted me up instead of discarding and destroying me.

I guess we are all owned by someone.  I long for an owner who can love me without bounds.  In spite of my flaws.  Someone who can accept me and teach me how to fly.  And then fly with me.  Hand in hand.

More partner than owner.