Okay, I know this is a blog about later recovery from sexual abuse, and specifically waiting for my abuser to die so I can dance on his grave, so what am I doing talking about polyamory?
Well, part of being a child sexual assault survivor, particularly once the flashbacks have died down a lot, is learning how to have an adult healthy sexuality. Like many survivors, I have apparently picked a partner who is not going to make any sexual demands on me. Now earlier in my healing, this would have been great, ideal even. All the affection, love and support with none of the having to deal with trying to satisfy a partner (and remotely possibly even myself) without triggering a whack of flashbacks. Perfect.
However, now that I’ve done all the hard work of reclaiming my own sexuality and sexual desire, I’d really like to enjoy the fruits of my labours. I have a lot to catch up on from all those years.
So why don’t I just divorce my wife and find someone who actually wants to make love with me?
Well, as a result of the abuse and neglect, I’m also what you’d call ‘insecurely attached’. This means it takes a long time to create a close mutual personal bond with someone else and as a result, these are priceless. I’ve been with my wife for over a decade. She loves me, she gets me. She’s almost the only family I have left. I want to keep her. She wants to keep me, and she wants it so much that my basically monogamous wife is willing to indulge what I admit has been a long time fantasy, having an ethical additional relationship with another woman.
My material life too, would be a lot simpler if I didn’t have to divorce my wife. We have a house neither of us could afford alone, and a lot of family connections on her side of the family. I help connect her to her family, and on a lot of levels, we work as a couple.
Is this non-mainstream choice another evidence of me being an abuse survivor? How the heck would I know? I had a really offensive commenter last year who said that I was gay because I’d been abused, and wrote a response on sexual orientation and sexual abuse that said that survivors often have difficulty figuring out what we want sexually, as a result of being forcibly divorced from our bodies and sexual autonomy at such a young age.
This, as they say, is not my first rodeo. I’ve been trying to connect with my true self, first my body sensations, my personal autonomy, my creativity and my right livelihood, my entire life. One of the benefits of having to work to connect with what is authentic and deconstruct the layers of slime put over myself by my abuser and upbringing, is that I get to dig a little deeper than most people, and to value my authentic reality more for having had to work for it.
I can say, honestly, that I’m not a jealous person. If my wife wanted to take a lover who treated her well and made her happy, I’d be happy for her. Of course, if she did take a lover, some of our other problems might be solved, as she’d have her sex drive back. I can also say, honestly, that I’m very Pagan/Wiccan in my sexual ethics, which means I support all loving, pleasurable sexual expression that doesn’t hurt anyone. I have strong reservations about BDSM, but I’m not going to oppose the practice, just stay away from it personally.
The BDSM thing is actually getting in the way quite a bit, strangely enough. It seems that most of the gay and bi polyamorists in my area, or at least the visible ones, are quite into what they call ‘kink’, which usually means BDSM. Sigh! Once again, I’m kind of unusual, apparently. I may be involuntarily celibate for a good long while longer.
I had a conversation once with a woman I was friends with, who considered herself a sadist top in the sack. She was also, I knew, a child sexual abuse survivor. I asked her how she could participate in sex that recreated some of the activities and dynamics of the abuse. She said that by participating in them again on her own terms, she got to process them and get control of them. I still don’t think that’s a good idea, but that was her take on it. I think that acting out the abuse for pleasure gives some very dodgy messages to one’s inner child condoning the abuse. I also have said before and will say again that at the very least, we have a responsibility to ourselves to be our own abused child’s best allies. However, that’s my personal take on it, your mileage may vary and be equally valid.
So am I duplicating some aspect of the abuse here? Is my partner a stand in for my neglectful mother? Am I a stand in for my ‘philandering’ father? I can certainly see the mother end of thing, and that’s worth pursuing. However, I can’t see me trying, at this late date, to justify or condone any parts of my psychopathic father’s behavour to myself, seeing how I’m pretty sure I’ve worked out all residual needs to please daddy or pretend to myself that he actually loved me. I know from experience what bargaining to avoid accepting truth smells like.
Speaking of which, I’m more concerned that I’m bargaining with the inevitable end of my marriage by saying that if I just find a complementary second partner, I can keep what I have with my wife, by expanding it. A lot of people cheat on their partners in this situation, and that ends the marriage, or doesn’t. Some men have both a wife and a mistress for long periods. Obviously other people experience this kind of dilemma, but I am not willing to sacrifice my integrity or sneak around. I’m not going to cheat, and if my wife decides that me having another partner is intolerable to her, then we’ll have to break up.
And what about breaking up? Could we be friends and share the house if we got divorced? I think this time is a trial run for that too. It could go either way, really.
I’m having a hard time figuring out whether to tell anyone about our reasons for opening the relationship, seeing how my wife is clearly not at heart a polyamorist. It makes me look bad, like I’m the big slut who needs other lovers, even though I’m doing it really as a result of her inability to have sex with me. If I can’t provide that second bit of information, I’m going to look like I’m if not cheating on her, at least taking advantage of her.
To that I guess I have to thicken my skin. Guard your honour and let your reputation take care of itself.
Am I deliberately hurting her? I know we have discussed this and she’s in favour of our current plan, but we both know and have discussed that she may feel differently when it’s more than theoretical. In her heart of hearts, I’m sure she sometimes wishes I’d just give up and go back to how things were.
It was her decision to live and at times sleep separately in our house, even knowing that it might be a deal breaker for me, and to be clear that she has no sex drive. She thought that maybe having her own space would help her get it back, but so far that’s not happening.
It was my decision to stop waiting for her sex drive to come back, even though it might be a deal breaker for her.
I think both choices are the right ones and ultimately lead us to our correct path. If it turns out to be a slower, gentler breakup instead of a new life together, then so be it. As long as we continue to behave honourably to one another, I’ll be able to accept whatever happens.
Well, things have settled down a bit. We’ve moved into separate levels of the house now, and set up our own kitchens and bedrooms. We’re still sleeping in the same bedroom sometimes, but sometimes alone too.
I’m still grieving my wife’s decision to stop having sex with me, or her lost of libido or whatever. I can’t say that I’m feeling that graceful about it, but at least I’m not taking it out on her. She’s feeling much better having her space to herself, apparently having control over her living space really feels good to her, and I’m too messy for her. She refers to it as her OCD. She may actually have OCD, or perhaps a light case of Aspergers. She’s got a very high need to have everything stay where and how she put it, and feels comfortable with a lot of routine. All this is not a surprise, but she seems happier.
I’ve told her that come January, unless something changes for us as a sexual couple, the relationship will have to be open to me having other sexual partners (at least one, since now I don’t have any). It’s possible that having her own space will help her release whatever resentments might be getting in the way with being sexual with me, but I’m not holding my breath any longer. That’s why the three month delay. She’s agreed that I can’t be expected to be celibate for the second half of my life just because she’s no longer interested in sex, and doesn’t expect that to change. She’s willing as long as I am discreet and don’t sleep with anyone at our home, since she doesn’t want to hear me having sex with someone else. That seems fair to me. I’m kind of looking forward to it in a way.
It’s not all bad. I like having things my own way in my own space, and not being hassled if I don’t do my dishes right away or leave a drawer open or something. I’ve only told one friend, and we’re keeping it quiet for now. We’re not officially separated or anything. I can see us living together for awhile, perhaps long term, once things settle into a new pattern. It’s not like anything really has changed, except I’m not hitting on her or hopeful for affection and attention. She’s a bit more affectionate, knowing that I’m not going to press for sex, so it’s basically working out. We’ll see how that shifts once I start dating.
I’ve started to learn more about the polyamory scene in my province. Polyamory (other than the creepy sexist old geezer with young women kind) is where you have a sexual or romantic relationship with more than one person concurrently. It’s different from just sleeping around casually, in that you have ongoing relationships. We’ll see how it works out. I’m thinking I’ll try and connect with a nice woman who has a similar arrangement with her wife or husband, or someone who lives out of town.
Last night my wife held me while I cried for a long time. She curled around me, spoon-style, and held me solidly. I cried for the loss of her holding me in just this way, when I wake with a nightmare or flashback, or just need to grieve.
We talked this morning again, easier in the pitch darkness of our bed (my room isn’t ready yet, so we slept together last night). I told her I still have her back and I understand why she needs to live separately, and we talked a bit about opening the marriage so that I can have romantic and sexual relationships with others. One of our biggest issues is that her sex drive disappeared completely with menopause a few years ago. She’s tried various things, including natural hormones, to fix it, with little success. We are now facing the fact that it’s probably not coming back and that I can’t be expected to give up sex for the rest of my life.
It’s our 5th wedding anniversary today, and I’m feeling sad. This morning I thought of all the people who attended our wedding, which was structured as a relationship and family blessing and was very beautiful. I know there is a tradition that the people who attend your wedding agree to be there to support your marriage. This morning, I pictured myself asking them to hold us in their prayers, not to stay together or apart in a certain way, but to continue to bless us in behaving with love and honour to one another, and for everything to work out in the best possible way. We’re lesbians, we’re already different, we don’t have to do it like anyone else does. We can be loyal to one another and hopefully keep many of the things that are good (our connection to her family, our support to one another) while letting go of what has died.
If you are inclined to, I hope you will send us both some blessing that this transformation works out in the best possible way.
I came back home from my pilgrimage today. I have to say to all you Pagans out there – you’ll understand if you do real magic – you really have to be careful what you ask the Goddess for, as she often responds swiftly and decisively.
There was this one temple, underground, called the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum that we visited. It’s very difficult to get an appointment to visit, and we had special permission to visit without all the usual tourist interpretation, so we could be there reverently and sing within the underground chambers, which have beautiful accoustics, and were likely designed to resonate sound. The temple is thought to have been used as an oracle ( a place to see spiritual guidance) and a place where the bones and spirits of the dead were entrusted by their loved ones for rebirth. There are a number of womb shaped chambers where bones were put, and the walls were painted in spiral designs in red ochre, which was commonly used to suggest mentrual blood. This image of the Goddess, called the Sleeping Lady, was found in a place of honour in the temple, and is thought to represent the Goddess of death and rebirth.
Only 10 people an hour are permitted to visit the temple, so we went down in several small groups. I was in the second group. The first group was down in the temple and I was waiting upstairs, in a darkened theatre where they show a film about the temple. I decided to sit and meditate for the 45 or so minutes while I waited my turn. This theatre was built on top of the temple, so I was right above it.
The meditation was powerful and mystical. I connected with the spirit of the place. It may have been a Goddess. The place was happy we were visiting reverently, in the proper manner, and was yearning to be entrusted again with the dead. It felt right for me to offer the dead parts of myself, and the cold I had at the time, to the temple Goddess or guardian. I felt cords of energy pull dead parts of myself from my body, and the sickness, and willingly let them go. I also released my father, and was assured that he could be safely held there.
When we went down into the temple, it felt safe and holy, not like a crypt but like a womb or a sacred place. We each sang something into the space – I ended up singing a verse from a song for the dead that I sing. I sang it in respect and reverence to the spirits of hundreds or thousands of peaceful dead people who had been entombed there. The culture that built this temple has been studied and no evidence of war or conflict was found – no weapons, fortifications, war wounds on the bones found, no imagery of war.
My cold was healed, I kept a scratchy voice for the next couple of days, but it had broken and was gone. A few days later, I sang that same song while one of the women released the ashes of her recently dead husband into the mediterranean sea. A day or two after that, I spontaneously danced a sword dance in one of the other temples we visited at dawn. It made me wonder if some part of me was recognizing he’d died. I haven’t heard anything but wouldn’t be surprised if my father/abuser has died or dies soon.
Now I’m home. I arrived yesterday but slept most of the day after I returned. My greeting from my wife was friendly but neutral rather than joyful. This morning she told me why. She’d realized while I was gone that it was a relief to live without our struggling with one another. We decided, amicably, to live separately in the same house for awhile. We may go to couples therapy, or we may not. We spent most of today preparing a spare bedroom for me to sleep in, as I’m going to take the top floor of the house, and her the bottom. I go back to work in a few days so we’re going to spend that time separating the space. Tomorrow is our 5th wedding anniversary. We’re not telling anyone yet, except a couple of close friends, besides, what to tell them.
I have more to write about this but that’s all for today. I did a lot of praying about my relationship during my trip, and received a strong message to let go of what is gone and allow myself to grieve, after which I would know what to do. I’m very sad, but am trying to continue to let go what needs to die and be reborn. I asked for this, after all.
Unlike my other posts, this isn’t written for survivors, but for their partners. Okay, I lied, it’s really written for survivors to give to their partners, and has both answers to frequently asked questions and some helpful tips. I’m mixing up the pronouns here, because a lot of this applies to both women and men, but some of it will apply mainly to partners of women sexual assault survivors.
I’ve strugged for 20 years to explain adequately to my partners how it is to be a child sexual assault survivor and what this means in a relationship. First off, it was because I didn’t know. I spent a long time figuring out how to identify what I was feeling and needing, and how to take care of my own self, and in the interim I gave a lot of mixed messages. Example: “I’m strong and independent but secretly want you to rescue me, but know that’s not a good idea, so when I feel needy I’m going to hide.”
If you love someone who was sexually assaulted as a child and don’t have related experience yourself, it’s going to be hard to get into their head and vice versa. Being abused makes it hard to have some of the illusions regular people have about the world, and this creates a kind of culture shock between survivors and non survivors.
Because of this, it’s really easy for even well-meaning non-survivors to have reactions and attitudes about survivors that are just not helpful. I had one boyfriend who told me, on seeing a cute picture of me as a child that “you were so cute that must be why your father loved you so much” Don’t say anything like this, he was an idiot and I dumped him. Two years of listening to me grieve and report my father to the police for rape and he says a dumb thing like that? Yikes. Some of my partners would kind of ‘go blank’ when I’d talk about anything abuse related because they didn’t want to ‘get me worked up’. Also not the best response.
My wife has had over ten years to get to know me, and she gets me as well as anyone ever has. Part of it is that she loves me and is a stellar human being, but the other part is I’ve gotten a lot more healed and better at explaining what I need and negotiating for it. I hope to share some of that with you to help you avoid some of the pain and misunderstandings my partners and I have experienced.
Here’s some common questions partners have.
1) Can’t my partner just stop focussing on what happened and get over it?
Post traumatic memories, flashbacks and all the other strange and emotional things that survivors do can’t be ‘forgotten’ or resolved with any quick fixes. Give up on that right now. Here’s something to read that hopefully will explain what it’s like to have PTSD and why that’s not possible. By trying to block your partner from getting into his or her feelings about the abuse, you’re just slowing down the process of working it through.
2) I find my partner’s emotional upheaval overwhelming and I can’t seem to fix it. How long is this going to go on?
About five years for the most intense part of healing, if she or he is in good quality therapy with a qualified therapist on a regular basis and not numbing out with substances. Then another five years or so where she or he will have bouts of intense focus on abuse healing followed by times when things are normal. After that the bouts of focus will happen from time to time, but not as often, usually triggered by a major life event like having a child, experiencing something traumatic as an adult, or the death of an abuser.
If your partner was abused by multiple people, in multiple interpersonal contexts, the healing will be slower and longer. For example, I was abused by my father, severely, but so far as I remember, by no one else. As a result, my friendships, relationships with strangers and colleagues, and general social relationships are relatively abuse-toxin free. I have a bit of an issue with older men who want to have authority over me, because that mirrors a father-daughter dynamic in some ways, but can tolerate it in contexts where it is necessary if I consent to it. If I had been abused by a relative, and a teacher and a boyfriend and a stranger, the result of that would be that there would be very few interpersonal situations that weren’t fraught with triggers. This is much harder and slower to recover from, even if the abuse in all of those contexts, overall was not as invasive, because so many types of relationships have been rendered unsafe until they are healed, and are a source of triggers.
Five to ten years sounds like a lot of time, I know, but the good news is that it is very likely that things will improve steadily and rapidly throughout this time for your partner. She or he may not ‘fix’ all the things you find most distressing first, but if she’s in effective therapy and feels safe there will be lots of movement. It’s kind of exciting, really. Your partner is most likely going to continue to grow and heal for the rest of their life. Why not do the same?
It also bears saying that your role is not to be the one who fixes your partner. Yes, you may be a safe haven she or he goes to, the person who is there to hold her when she has night fears, or spot when he has gone numb. This is invaluable, but your partner will also need both a good therapist and other survivors to talk to, even if she thinks you are the only one she can trust. You can do a lot just by being grounded yourself and present, but you’re too close to the action, so to speak, to be her only resource. This ideally will help with the overwhelm, because you can do what is manageable – be present, non-judgemental and love her/him. She or he survived horrors. Your survivor partner is a lot stronger than they look at times. If you are not sure what to say, this may also be helpful.
3) Am I ever going to have sex with my wife or husband again?
Survivors often need to take a break from sex. This is for any one of several reasons. The main one is when a survivor is having intrusive flashbacks (emotion, sight, sound or touch memory fragments) that, unfortunately can be set off by intimacy or sexual touch. They don’t have much control over this yet, and part of healing childhood sexual abuse is learning to process these memory fragments so they stop intruding. It takes awhile to learn this control, to be able to pull oneself into the present day. Some of it is practice, but mostly it’s work done in therapy to hook the memory fragments to one another so they can be put to rest.
When she or he is doing deep work on the abuse, those memory fragments can be close to the surface and harder to dismiss for a while. This means that even if your relationship started with a sex life that seemed to work, she may go through periods of time where she can no longer have sex with you or do certain kinds of sexual activities with you. If she or he has been numbing out emotionally in order to have sex with you without triggering memory fragments (as many survivors do before they start healing) and then learns to stop doing that (which is an essential part of healing) things are going to be really raw for awhile. It will take time to learn the skills to adjust to this new way of being. This could entail drawing back from sex for a bit until she or he has a handle on the intrusive memories again from the new numb-free perspective.
Other reasons for a sexual slowdown are that your partner may have a hard time feeling physical sensations, and be physically numb. It’s hard to enjoy sex or have an orgasm when you don’t feel the pleasure. Often she or he will be numb specifically in the parts of the body most often seen as sexual, because that’s where she or he was injured. These injuries may be physical ones (as in my case) or emotional ones. Having sex without pulling oneself back into the present and feeling safe (as your partner may have done before she or he started actively healing) just makes things worse.
You can expect to have a dry spell of a couple of years at some point with your partner, longer if she or he is not in therapy. I’m sorry. Think of it as if she has a broken pelvis and needs for it to heal thoroughly before getting back in the saddle.
4) What do I do if my partner has a flashback during sex?
First of all, learn to notice when this is happening and check in. Your partner might stop moving or participating, look ‘spacey’ or get quiet. It’s a really good idea to notice this as soon as possible and check in with her or him.
If you don’t get a firm ‘go ahead’ from your partner, stop what you’re doing and back off but stay available. Remind him or her where and when they are, and who they are with. For example, “Susan, it’s okay, you’re safe now. You’re here in our apartment with me. I’m right here. That bad stuff is all over now.” A general term like “that bad stuff is over” is a good idea rather than say “I’m not your grandfather” because you don’t actually know what she’s reacting to. It may have nothing to do with the abuser or abuse you know about, for example. She doesn’t need the additional triggering of being reminded of specifics, particularly if she has multiple abusers or trauma incidents. However, you can always ask what would be comforting for her (when she’s not triggered) for you to say.
If you check in with your partner early enough into a flashback, sometime your partner will be able to stop it before it gets going too far and continue, but most often this is a game over situation, sexually, but not as far as intimacy is concerned. Try and be really really graceful about it, as your partner is particularly vulnerable at these moments. Somebody put their sexual needs before hers in a really traumatic way, so you need to be nothing like the abuser. Handling this gracefully and building trustwill help prevent further flashbacks while having sex with you. If your partner can figure out what triggered the abuse memory fragment, then you two can modify what you’re doing to avoid triggering it again. She might then bring that trigger up in therapy, and by processing it there, calm it down.
Making love with a survivor who is fighting to get her sexual self back might look like taking a break in the middle for her to calm down, have a cry and reassure herself she’s safe, maybe tell you what she experienced, and then going back to making love. This can be a very intimate way to make love if you’re open to it. You may find that by being open to her vulnerability, it makes you feel safe to express your own, or that you enjoy being the one who gives her safe haven, and sees the fierce beauty of her courage.
5) How do I help my partner to keep me separate from the abuser in her or his mind?
Physical differences between you and your lovemaking environment and the situations where your partner was abused are very important. I cannot stress this enough. It makes a huge difference.
The place where you make love should smell and feel different from where she was abused. It should have radically different lighting, colours, sounds. If your partners abuser had a mustache, shave yours off. If drinking was involved in the abuse, never come to bed with alcohol on your breath. If she had to be quiet during the abuse, making a lot of noise might help keep her present. It will make your life together a lot easier. You and I and your partner know you are not her abuser, but her mind will be playing tricks on her, and the less it has to latch on to, the better.
6) How do we have the best sex possible with my survivor partner?
Make a written ‘safe sex’ list and stick to it. In this context safe means ‘no or low abuse triggers’. The survivor can make a list of things that are sure fire abuse triggers and things you can do that have no abuse gunk attached to them. These will be unique to each survivor. Group the list by level of safety. Green light items are things that never trigger flashbacks. Red light things will pretty much always trigger flashbacks. Yellow light things might be possible from time to time but the survivor should initiate them.
If there is a sexual act or practice on the red light list that you really really like, give up all hope of ever doing this thing with your survivor partner. She or he might give in and do it, but it will do serious harm to your relationship if she does, and will set you back a lot. You can make a green, yellow, red light list for yourself too. Put on it things you really like (green), things you aren’t that into but will do to please your partner or things you like less than the green things but still like (yellow), and things you pretty much never want to do (red). If some of your red light things match with your partner’s that’s great, neither of you have to do that thing again. Find all the mutual green light things you can and do them often, or things that are on your survivor partners green list and on your green or yellow list.
Be open to including in your lists activities and experiences that are sensual but not normally thought of as sexual. These will often be relatively trigger free and, especially when there is a dry spell going on, can help a lot to keep you connected physically and build body associations of pleasure and safety between you that can ground you in your lovemaking.
One last thing, respect your partners need for control. She or he might have only one way that works successfully to make love right now, and which needs to be a certain way in order to come off without flashbacks or tears. Respect that this is the reality now and go with it. I’m not going to promise anything, but chances are that if you stick to the green things and go easy on the yellow ones, some of the yellow will gradually become green and maybe even some of the red will become yellow. However, that will never happen if you rush, pressure or guilt your partner into it.
7) My partner is so spacey and forgetful. I don’t think she cares about my needs.
Okay, spacey and forgetful is a symptom of PTSD – it’s called dissociation. Your partner can no more stop being spacey at will than a person with their leg in a cast can tap dance. It will get better as they heal, but is not under conscious control. It’s not about you. Some things my spouse and I have done to handle my inevitable spaciness is to develop a system of reminders. If she needs me to do something, she sends me an email and I put it into my calendar at work where I will be nagged to do it. We have a nag board where requests can be written down, because I will forget or not hear sometimes when she talks to me. I also now put my purse and keys in one specific place all the time (takes awhile to learn to do this consistently) so I can find it.
8 ) What’s good about loving a childhood sexual assault survivor?
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Your survivor partner is a veteran and deserves the respect of one. As she or he becomes more healed, she or he will have a great capacity to hear and understand the pain and passion of others, and as she heals, an almost super-human bullshit detector. My wife values my compassion, and my willingness to do the hard things when they are necessary. Survivors make great activists, advisors and leaders. When the going gets tough, you want a healed survivor at your back.
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
I want to know if you can
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.
As a pagan, I don’t celebrate the birth of a god/saint/martyr from another religion as such. However I grew up celebrating Christmas, and all of my family does. It is a time of year when we all pretend for a few days, and gift giving, albeit with strings attached is a big part of that.
This will be my third Christmas, I think, since I called my mother on her crap and she once again refused to rise to the occasion.
Last year my wife and I decided not to give gifts, but to donate to charity instead. This went over great with her family, but not at all well with mine. My family does not share my earth-loving materialism eschewing values. If you love someone you will spend more than you can afford on a gift you have carefully sleuthed out and think they will like.
I think part of it is that I don’t want their stinking gifts. And part of it is that I don’t want to put that kind of energy into a gift for people I’m mad at. Gifts were always bribes, to stay quiet, to comply. I can only give gifts to people I’m sure that is not the scene with, and even then, with difficulty. I don’t exactly know what my issue with giving gifts is, only that it makes me very uncomfortable and I dissociate around the concept. I can literally ‘forget’ to buy Christmas gifts, even with all the incessant sacharine hype for two months leading up to the day.
It’s funny, my mom has a bit of a gift thing too. She gives extravagant, luxury gifts, but can’t be counted on for what you actually need when you actually need it. The gifts are thoughtful, usually perfectly chosen, but off the mark. She would be quite happy buying me something gorgeous for Christmas, but she won’t return my letter and tell me what the layout of the basement in the first house we lived in was, or put in writing that she believes my father abused me.
Iwant the gift of courage from the people who love me. I want the gift of caring and loyalty and commitment. Keep your stinking ipods to yourselves.
My father once built me a doll castle. It was five feet tall, made of wood, with turrets, and six rooms. It had a bathtub with a working jacuzzi in it. The kitchen floor had miniaturized linoleum on it. The clothes closet had minature hangers in it. I can’t for the life of me imagine why he would have made me such a thing, or what it cost me. Maybe it was just an interesting challenge for him to create, or maybe it was grooming. I don’t know.
My mother once bought me a beautiful pink silk dress I couldn’t wear becasue I had no shoes, nylons or underwear that worked with it. And she didn’t buy me those things. Eventually I sorted out getting them for myself. It would have been less dramatic as a gift, but I would have rather had socks and underwear and a few t-shirts at the time, even though the dress was wonderful, I couldn’t wear it anywear I went. It was like I was some sort of doll to dress up.
My older brother freaks out when I buy him, or especially his kids, gifts. They’re never good enough and he rather impolitely tells me so. I’m not sure what his deal is, and he’s never told me.
I really rather wish we’d been raised Jewish. I hear that Chanukka gifts are small and few, and it’s not as big a deal. I wishI could play the witch card and just say I don’t participate in Christmas since it’s not my holiday, but no-one would buy that, and I don’t think it would even be the truth.
I always manage to get some sort of gift for my wife. She is always gracious about it, and even though she’s hard to shop for, she knows that and forgives me if I don’t get her something perfect. I like making her happy. It’s not really a gift if there’s all this baggage to it, anyhow, it’s an obligation.
I think too, I’m so fricking furious with my mom and older brother that I don’t want to be fake and give them gifts. If I could get by with bath beads or gourmet coffee or something I could do it, but they want the real deal, a gift chosen just for them with a lot of effort in it. I just don’t want to give them that. They don’t deserve it. I guess that’s the reason then. I don’t buy gifts for people who I am mad at. I don’t put out emotionally for people who aren’t loyal to me. It’s a boundary.
[Note: Since I first wrote this, this piece has gotten a lot of attention for being a really good way to explain to people in your life what it’s like to have PTSD and Complex PTSD in particular and why there aren’t any quick fixes. I hope it’s helpful for you and your loved ones.]
I’m writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) and the following excerpt is what I wrote today on it.
The novel this year is about sociopaths, a people making sense of a past including child abuse, disconnection with nature and people trying to do the right thing in the face of it. I don’t know exactly what shape the pieces will take yet. I didn’t know last year at this stage iether really, but I suspect it will be more complicated this year. Last year was a simple time-travelling love story.
Imagine you are a mother driving home from a family function with your nine year old daughter in the passenger seat. You have had one or two drinks but it was awhile ago and you decided you were okay to drive.
The night is rainy and you get into a serious car accident. You are thrown forward in your seat and injure your body where the steering wheel strikes you. Your daughter is killed. You are helpless, pinned inside the car, unable to reach her as she dies before your eyes, convulsing, screaming, blood coming from eyes and ears.
The experience is so overwhelming, emotionally that your brain can’t process it, can’t store it in the usual way. The information flows in to fast and too intensely to be properly filed in one place, all together. The sensation of the steering wheel and the pain in your abdomen gets put in one place, completely separated from the visual memory of your daughters face as she struggled and died. That memory is separate as well from the contempt in the voice of the rescue worker who asked if you had been drinking. That memory is separate from the lights of the semi high beams in your eyes which blinded you for a moment, contributing to the accident. The pain from your chest. The emotional pain of watching your daughter die. Your daughter’s last words.
Those snippets of memory, and hundreds of others from that night are stored in little boxes in your mind, with no connection to the other pieces. They don’t form a whole memory at all, and you have no ability to put them in the correct order or link them to one another. It is too painful and overwhelming when you try, so you don’t.
You receive medical attention but everyone drifts away from you after that and you move to a new place where no-one knows. You vaguely remember that your daughter died in a car accident, but don’t remember details. People think you are lucky not to remember any of it, and are relieved you have nothing to tell them. Knowing it happened at all is bad enough for them, and the uncomfortable look on their faces soon teaches you to not even go that far with them. You can’t tell anyone about what you do remember, because it feels like it was your fault. After awhile you seem to forget it happened at all.
Then one day you are riding the bus and someone pushes you hard, in your abdomen. Suddenly the memory fragment of the crushing sensation in your chest is triggered, which in turn has a connection to the box holding the emotional pain that you don’t know is from watching your daughter die. They both ‘fire’ in your mind simultaneously.
You feel the pain in your chest as if it was happening now, along with a loss so great and horrifying that you panic. There is no other information to explain what this is about. You freeze, ashamed, and people are well meaning but think you are crazy, or think you need a doctor. You think you are crazy too.
Later on, this type of thing happens again and again. Lights in your eyes trigger some part of the memory, or a particular phrase, or seeing a simulated car crash on tv, or seeing someone who looks like your daughter did, seeing a rescue worker in uniform, or being around your family members at the holidays, who carefully do not talk about what happened.
You feel anxious and fearful a lot of the time, but couldn’t say exactly why.
If you are lucky, you will be able to stand the sensation during the gift of memory that is a flashback long enough to put the pieces together a little and don’t try to numb it very often with drugs, or alcohol, food or work. You do remember that your daughter died, and you think that maybe this has something to do with it.
You find a therapist and tell her what you remember consciously, which isn’t much. Your daughter died. You were driving. The rest is a blank. One day you have a session after a particularly intense flashback. While telling her about it, in the safety of a non-judgmental relationship, you have another flashback that fits with the first and make the connection with what you already know. You realize that the lights in your eyes you’ve been having nightmares about are the headlights of the truck you saw that night. The next time you have a nightmare about them, you tell yourself this and it calms you down. The better you get at doing this, the less often you have these nightmares, and you gradually find you can look at headlights at night without feeling much panic. Eventually they are sometimes just headlights, unless you are having a particularly stirred up day.
One day, with a lot of support from your therapist, you get the courage to ask after the accident reports. You travel back to the town you lived, practicing deep breathing to keep from having panic attacks when you see familiar landmarks. The day you go to the station and get access to the report, you are terrified. Some of what is written is not exactly as you remember it, it is told from a different perspective. It reads like it happened to another person. When you read in the police station archives, that it said you’d indicated you’d had a drink at the party prior to driving, you become unable to read further and freeze. You run into the bathroom, find a stall and break into deep sobs in the police office. You hope no-one comes in and hears you, or worse, asks what is wrong.
However, the report helps because it gives you a framework to attach the snippets of sensation and memory that intrude into your consciousness or have been invited during therapy sessions. You find that they all fit at some place in the story, and you begin to have compassion for the woman who experienced this tragedy, that woman who doesn’t quite feel like yourself.
Now imagine that the situation is not a car accident, witnessed and documented by police, so you can check the validity of your memory fragments. Imagine that an incident equally horrifying or worse was perpetrated on you by a loved and trusted person while you were a child under their control. Imagine that there was no medical attention, even though you were seriously injured, and no one to help or tell. Imagine that it wasn’t a single traumatic incident’s worth of sensation fragments to piece together, but fifty, spread out over a decade or more. Imagine that as a result of the first couple of incidents, you had walked around in a self-protective haze for most of your childhood. Imagine that as a result, your brain didn’t bother to store the kind of information that provides context and meaning for these later traumas, but only the sensations of pain or horror. You are missing a large number of key pieces of several of the memories, meaning that without outside validation, you will likely never be able to explain or integrate them fully for yourself, make them whole and stop them from intruding into your life.
Imagine that your family members refuse to talk to you about what they remember of what happened, because it is too painful for them, or because they don’t want you to remember what happened, they blame you or they don’t want you to remember their part in condoning it. Imagine that they tell you that you are lying, making it all up, that you are crazy, either directly or indirectly. Or imagine that instead they say they believe you that this person hurt you, but don’t think it was a big deal and still spend christmas every year with the family member who hurt you. They expect you to do the same.
If you are lucky, you will divorce your family, get good therapy, and find some friends with similar experiences who understand and normalize what happened. If you are lucky you will have a spouse who becomes trained to hold you and calm you at night when you have nightmares, or if you have flashbacks during lovemaking, does not take it personally and learns not to touch you in ways that trigger the minefield of memory fragments. With luck and time, you connect the puzzle pieces you can, and develop what explanation you can for those you cannot connect. You learn, in the midst of the panic, to tell yourself, “this is abuse stuff” and that you are safe now, and most of the time that helps enough. If you are lucky and face it as square on, for as long as you can, then the memory fragments intrude less and less, and eventually they stop. You make peace with the mysteries you can’t solve, and protect yourself from further harm effectively.
If you are lucky, you will have some people in your life who never say these things, or you will soon have no friends at all. You learn not to tell most people things they can’t understand, which means that sometimes your behaviour is unexplainable.
Without being able to share the facts, it becomes impossible to explain in a compelling enough way to strangers, that unless they want to hold your hand, remind you to breathe, listen to you tell them the disjointed snippets of what you remember about being trapped and tortured in a small box, and comfort you afterward, all of which would actually healing, you simply cannot ride in an elevator today.
Some days you can do it with no more than some attention to deep relaxing breathing, and focusing on the elevator musak and the knowledge that you are safe and an adult. Doing this often enough will make things permanently better, but takes a lot of internal fortitude each time. However, you know from experience that if you do succumb to pressure and ride in the damn elevator (or whatever) when you’re not ready, you will pay by going numb for days, and spend days on high emotional alert and nights of nightmares. Because they don’t or won’t understand why you have needs they don’t, people find you rigid and odd. They have no idea how courageous you are.
I’m regretting the bar of chocolate I ate at the movie, whose caffeine might be what is keeping me awake. Mydog is ecstatic to be on my lap rather than in her bed beside our bed, but is interfering with my typing, as seems to be the Goddess given role of all small furry pets.
She occasionally gives me a little body language “what, are you still typing rather than petting me?” What can I be thinking?
What I’m obsessing about tonight is my hurt feelings about some volunteer work I’ve been doing. The women-run organization I’ve been donating some computer work to has rather high-handedly decided to hire a man (one of the women’s sons) to do the job I’ve been doing for free. I’m sure it’s personal, as the work itself I’ve done has been high calibre, prompt and efficient.I’ve ruffled some feminine oligarch’s feathers and have been replaced. The funny thing is that this organization prides itself on making decisions by consensus, and I know the woman I report to was not in favour of replacing me, which means she was outvoted by someone, a thing that is against the orthodoxy of consensus.
It is my unfortunate habit of pointing out just this type of thing that has made me unpopular. One of my favourite authors, Lois McMaster-Bujold, has a character who says something to the effect that the difference between honour and reputation is that your honour is what you know to be true about yourself, and your reputation is what others think, and to guard your honour and let your reputation take care of itself, honour is far more important. You need to be able to live with yourself, above all.
Unless I have one or more alter personalities I don’t know about (which I suppose is scarily possible, given how little I know about my childhood), I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. I am a bit too willing to point out elephants in the middle of respectable living rooms, and a bit too inclined to be blunt. Having been raised with only brothers, and a survivor of extreme abuse to boot, I’m not particularly polished in my women among women communication skills, to say the least. I tend to say what I mean, and expect others to do the same.
Anyhow, my feelings are hurt. Very hurt. I want to prove to them that they are wrong and I am right, and yet I understand that that is impossible.
My dog has once again gotten up, looked over at my overly bright screen and given me a look. Would I puh-leeze stop making typing noises and turn that light out?
My wife went to see the doctor today, who kept her waiting for an hour and then was dismissive to her. She did, however, write her a prescription for the two hormones that my research said would help her sleep, stop having hot flashes and make her peach more resilient. My brave wife talked about her lesbian sexual issues affecting her relationship with her straight, impatient, rushed doctor, and despite being brushed off, managed to get some of her needs met. She is in fact sleeping in the other room, which means that the progesterone is working as advertised.
In Canada, doctors don’t really have to care whether you are happy with how they treat you. Somebody really really needs to do a patient satisfaction survey. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather be sick in Canada than say the US, unless I was independently wealthy, but the bean counters that tell doctors how much time they can bill for a doctors’ visit are woefully misguided about how long it takes to do a competent job. Lesbians, in particular, don’t go to doctors often, and so when we do go, it’s because we have something chronic that we can’t fix on our own, or serious and acute. Iether way, fifteen rushed, impatient minutes aren’t going to do it, particularly when it’s something sensitive and hard to talk about. I told my wife how proud I am of her bravery and gave her lots of love.
I really hope this helps. Our marriage needs her to be able to be physically affectionate with me again, to be able to cuddle without a sweaty hot flash, and to sleep well enough that she’s not achey and constantly cranky. I’m too young to stop having sex, and I’d rather break up that consign myself to a lifetime of celibacy.
I have to remember that I have people who love me, and that my honour is more important than my reputation.
I am proud of managing to eat and drink healthier. I’m drinking a lot more water than before, and eating smaller portions, slower, for the most part. I haven’t lost any weight, but I’m pleased at the better habits. I’ve also been doing more chores, something that is only fair. I’ve been listening to a hypnosis recording about the positive diet and exercise habits,and am pleased at how it is sinking in. I listened to it tonight, hoping the voice would lull me, but no dice.
Honour before reputation! I trust and believe in myself and that’s what’s important, I tell myself. However, it is frustrating to have such terrible skills or something with women’s groups. Seeing how I’m a lesbian, it’s a bit inconvenient. It seems to also be mostly cliquey older women I run afoul of. I can think of three times this has happened in my life particularly. I’ve developed a real distrust of baby boomer women in groups – they seem to often circle the wagons and cut me from the herd, instinctively.
I didn’t get the memo, and I spent most of the time I would have learned all this doubtlessly useful social strategy keeping myself from getting raped or starved too often. I am smart and successful, and I hate being pitied or condescended to, so I don’t show my vulnerabilities often. This means that people probably think I’m thicker skinned, a lot thicker skinned, than I in fact am.
My wife had a good insight about the endless meetings this group has. I can hold it together for an hour or two of meetings, without saying something overly blunt or trying to hurry things along and get stuff done, but after that all bets are off. This group had collective meetings of 10 hours long, with meal breaks, but still. I’m too sensitive, emotionally and psychically, to hold it together and not say something blunt, when awash in all kinds of social ambiguity and murkiness for so long. I don’t really even understand what I’m doing, only that alpha women in groups really don’t like me. I was going to say women over about 60 years of age, but that’s not always so, it’s more like women who feel entitled to dominate by virtue of some status deriving from something other than role, competence or service, like age, or length of time with the organization or position in some invisible (to me) ruling oligarchy. I just don’t recognize those types of statuses, and don’t really want to. People often tell me, after we’ve become friends, that at first they found me intimidating. These women are usually women I have come to respect, or who seem older or more knowledgeable, so I’m usually surprised to hear it, although I’ve gotten used to it. I think my persona is a lot more amazonian than how I feel inside.
Blah blah blah. I’m sorry to be navel gazing to this degree at almost two in the morning, but I really am sore and stiff from being distrusted and shunned by yet another group of women. It’s not like I don’t have lots of friends, I do, it’s just this group of women in power thing that seems to trip me up. I have come to think of it as them being threatened, and trying to exclude me or put me ‘in my place’ but honestly I’m at a loss here. I’m sure there are some sort of mommy issues attached, I certainly don’t respect or defer to my mother, and for good reason.
I chose this picture, called Baxter and the Birds, because that’s how I feel sometime, like I’m a pretty straightforward dog, unable to speak the language of birds. Or perhaps I’m a cat in a pack of dogs, or a dog in a pride of cats. Baxter is having fun, which I sometimes do hanging out with groups of women, but it does capture the different species thing. If I didn’t know I was a woman, I’d swear I was a man. My wife says I’m like a man sometimes. I don’t really get the trans thing, not that I don’t think people don’t have a right to self-identify, but because, honestly if someone plunked me down in a man’s body, I’d get on with being a man. I’d probably feel no more out of place than I do now, and except for the systemic sexism and the fact that I was raped by a man for the first time at the age of five, I’m quite happy being a woman.
This picture is of someone’s real wedding canopy, it’s called Magical White Wedding by Ronsho, from Flickr.
Our wedding was magical. It was a blessing of us and of our families. It would be so hard to separate out again, to lose touch with her family, who have become my family in a way mine haven’t been. I can’t help but feel that the Goddess wanted us to be together for a reason. It might be that it was a time limited thing and we’ll be separate now.
I”ve been thinking about how it would work to stay in our house in separate suites, to kind of stay roommates and life-allies if we break up. It’s probably naive, although I have lived with exes after breakups before and it didn’t turn out so bad, actually. One ex girlfriend got together with another woman and we all lived together for years. It didn’t bother me a bit (well, I spent more time than usual out of the house for the first couple of weeks but not too bad) and I was glad to see her happy. The other woman was my friend too, so that helped. I don’t know if my wife could pull that off. It’s probably just the ‘bargaining’ stage of grief – we can hold on to the things that are still good in our relationship, and be free too.
I love her. She’s my family. She’s my grounding, the source of a lot of my feeling of safety in the world. I would survive if we split up and perhaps grow in ways that I need to, but it would be sad. Perhaps I need to learn to feel safe on my own now, perhaps I am ready. Perhaps I need to do things I can’t do in this partnership. I don’t know. I don’t want to lose my home, iether by needing to sell it or by buying her out and having to have roommates to pay the mortgage. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to lose what intimacy I have with her.
May the Goddess guide me. May everything work out in the best possible way.
I’m feeling a bit stuck for what to write. It’s like I’ve got no-one to talk to. All my friends are also at least partly friends with my wife, and the stuff I have brewing inside me is about the details, the nitty gritty of our relationship – our sex life, monogamy, and desperate hopes we can find a way to work it out.
Contrasting this is the sense that I’m gradually making my life better, that there is no part of this that the Goddess doesn’t embrace. I’m writing more on my book, reading more, singing more.
So I’m trying something new, I’m going to pick the photo that goes with this ‘story’ before I write it and see what my subconscious wanted to say when it was drawn to this picture.
The picture is of a yellow flower, in the foreground with a beautiful background, standing alone, above the others, with a bee on it. It’s like I’m out in the air, not surrounded by support and community, but all alone in a quest for my true life, my right life, that seems like a walk all alone. It feels intense, colourful, and lonely. I feel beautiful and soulful and lonely.
My wife and I have been sleeping apart, but have a more emotionally intimate connection when we are together, which is I think in part because of something I’m doing. I was reading this relationship book (I’ve been reading a lot of those lately) and it suggested ‘getting into the puddle’ of experience with your partner. Making a conscious attempt to attune with how she is doing without trying to change it. So if she’s wrapped up in something and I feel ignored, I can sit next to her and have empathy for what she’s getting out of it. Or if she’s tired or upset , I can synch up with her and connect. I don’t feel as alone, and she connects with me without feeling like I’m demanding she does so. It’s kind of hard to describe. When I do it, I feel more connected to her, and she seems to connect with me more. So I feel less alone. She’s not a big talker, so trying to initiate a conversation didn’t do much to make us feel intimate, but this kind of energetic intimacy seems to open a door.
I’m feeling kind of okay with us splitting up, provided we stay connected in some way. I know of couples who stay partners and family in some senses, even after they are no longer a couple. I know she’s thinking about our relationship, and is finally motivated to get her hormones sorted out, I’m just not sure if we can turn things around. We have a deal and the first step is her trying to get her hormones sorted. I’ve gotten used to the idea of creating my life from scratch again, and I’m kind of looking forward to it. I’m not sure if I want to be stuck in another, slightly better version of the stagnation we’ve had, but at the same time I don’t want to give up the moments.
I haven’t been writing because I’ve got a lot going on but most of it is not particularly survivory, and is private in that it involves more than just me.
I’m still doing the music, still struggling with continuing to rehearse, but I’m taking weekly voice lessons. I got the number of a piano teacher who I’ll follow up with when I can handle the extra.
I’m starting a pagan choir in my town, and have 5 people signed up, which is good to start with. It’s going to be more of a chorus than a choir.
My current drama is mostly about my relationship which will either end in the next few months or it won’t. We’ve been together for a decade, are legally married and have things like joint property and such that would get complicated if we split, but we’ve both accepted that the way it is can’t continue. Right now it’s in the air whether we’ll sort it out and come out better than before, or we’ll end it, or we’ll have an open relationship. Whichever way it works out the plan is to keep living together, which sounds crazy I know, but if you know the specifics of us and our living situation, could actually work. My wife is my family, my home, my security, my ally and I’m not keen to lose that, even if we’re not working in other ways.
Don’t panic, it’s not MY family, it’s my wife’s. However, in the wake of my mother’s stalker-like note, I’m a bit twitchy about family. I normally like my wife’s family, they’re religious (in that gay-hating, women oppressing way, not the good way) but we stay away from that and they don’t tell us we’re going to hell or anything. They’re actually quite nice people, and there is a small but friendly non-religious contingent as well so it’s not too bad for a couple of lesbians all in all.
However this year is a milestone birthday for my wife’s mom, and everyone will be there I’m guessing, including one set of relatives I got my therapist to call social services about. I’m afraid of seeing them and probably discovering they’re still abusing and neglecting my neices and nephews and nothing has been done. Although, the Goddess works in mysterious ways, perhaps I’ll find out their kids have been removed to foster homes and they’re too ashamed to show up. One can hope. The only good thing is that their kids getting older and are leaving home, but they’re so badly injured psychologically. There are reports from other relatives that the kids steal from family when they visit, which is a sign of neglect to me, and also absorbing the values of their sociopath father. They’re skinny, needy and haunted when I seen them. I wonder if I was like that. It’s a bit triggering to say the least. I suppose I should be a good survivor aunt and take notes to pass on to social services, and try and find out where they’re living now, but my inner child wants to stay the hell away from all of them. I actually think I ‘passed’ for normal quite a bit better than they do (I’ve been told I had a kind of quiet dignity, and a flair for the dramatic at times), which makes me really fear for what is happening to them.
It’s also getting close to my visit to my aunts and uncles out east. I leave next week. I”m looking forward to the trip, but frankly this is all a bit too much family at once for me. I’ve been working and packing non-stop to get ready for all this, so I’ve been overwhelmed. I’m one of those highly sensitive people who gets overwhelmed if I do too much or have too much stimulation because I process it all so deeply. It makes me a good writer, and gives me a rich inner life, which I wouldn’t give up for the world, but it also makes me exhausted by interpersonal conflict. I work for myself, alone most of the time, for that reason. When I see people I’m happy to see them, and I’m not a total hermit, but I like my space.
The wife and I will be staying at a hotel rather than with relatives, which should hopefully help, and we’re bringing our dog, which I anticipate will need a lot of long walks during the day.
I can’t sleep so I’m writingthis in the middle of the night on my mini-laptop in bed. What a modern gal I am. My wife is sleeping next to me, and I”m hoping the dim light of the screen doesn’t wake her.
I’m thinking about taking a break from my therapist. It just doesn’t feel lik I’m making any real life positive changes as a result of therapy any more. If anything I’ m a bit more ashamed,a bit more depressed than has been typical, and I can’t seem to shake it. \I feel like I need to do some present day life housecleaning to feel better, to get on the physical level and her approach isn’t really that style.
I need to get this feeling of general dissatisfaction, confusion and shame about my job sorted. \I’ve taken on too much and am just not ableto do the stellar job for all my clients that I once was.
I feel overworked, anda bit burnt out. My father is still not dead, stinking Father’s day is looming (I don’t know exactly when it is, but the media is putting on more positive stories about fathers and someone tried to sell me a robot controlled helicopter today at the mall for father’s day.I didn’t tell him my father is an evil bastard and the only way I’d buy him a helicopter is if it could be reliably expected to hasten his death.
My marriage is a bit better than usual lately, and I’ve seen some of my friends more. I’m thinking I could get a nice long aromatherapy massage every two weeks for the same money as seeing my therapist and probably more benefit to my mood.
It’s not that I don’t like her or that she’s doing a bad job or anything like that, it’s just that I don’t feel like I’m getting anything done,or that seeing her right now is improving my mood or life. She’s become like a friend I complain to, and that’s not cutting it.
I need a mom, nurturing or life skills instruction. I need a small business coach or a priestess to bless me. I need to feel that it is all going to work out okay. I need to know it, with help to create a rational plan I can reasonably believe will do the job in a reasonable time span. I need hope. I need someone to tell me what vitamins to take and what exercise to do to make me feel better, who isn’t flaky or expecting me to take their advice on faith with no evidence.
I have no mother or father or big brother to believe in. I have no family but my wife and she seems fragile and overburdened herself half the time. She loves me. Today was her day off and she popped into my office to bring me snacks andvitamins and juice smoothies at intervals,did my filing and looked after the dog so I could concentrate. She’s a good person and gives me practicalsupport that I find nurturing and helpful because she loves me. does she talk abou tfeelings with me? not so much, but she doesn what she can.
The great divide is between the physical and the emotional, or perhaps both of those and the spiritual. It should all be one seamless whole, but it feels unbalanced.I need to be in my body more, I think that will help with the shame. What do I feel shame abuot? Really I’m not sure. The loss of my older brother and mother, realistically, finally, is something I’m still grieving. Their rejection seems like a rejection of some child part of me, like my inner child just can’tfigure out why my adored older brother, the safe one, the hero, treats me like I’m craxy and bad, and my own mother won’t do me the courtesy of responding to a letter I sent more than a year ago.
the great divide is between holding on to my reality, the true reality where there is actually nothing inherently wrong with me and their reactions are their own gunk and nothign to do with me at all, and the fear that somehow they are right, or perhaps just me bargaining with the loss. If I accept their premise that it really is me that is wrong, that I need to just shut up about the abuse and behave as if it never happened, then I don’t have to accept that I’ve lost them both. However, since they really do believe that, I really have lost them both. Perhaps I need somesort of grief ritual for more than my father. Perhaps it is not just him I’m burying.Like most of the survivors I know, I have finally lost my family of origin.
I was talking to an old friend of mine who I ran into yesterday. He was saying how his family had basically disowned him for being gay, but that his mom had told him years ago, that as you get older it’s your friends that matter more than your family, that your friends become your family. Perhaps this is true.
I’m a pretty intense person. Apparently us creative types, and highly sensistive people often are. I like the richness of my inner life, the depth and the interconnection of symbol and spirit that I feel and wouldn’t give it up. It’s what helps me write,what makes me care about my job, and have compassion for other people. It’s what makes me who I am. But being true to myself can sure make me lonely too, realising that very few people see the world as I do.
Last night I watched a show called ‘the listener’ where the hero is this paramedic with the ability to listen to people’s thoughts. Often this leads to him helping people. The episode I watched, he hears/sees in the brain of a street kid about a young girl being held captive in a steel box and begging to be released. The girl looks a lot like I did as a young girl, same hair and everything.
I wasn’t particularly scared during the episode, my wife was there, and it worked out well in the end, with the girl being released and the guy who captured her committing suicide by cop. However, you know that she’s been assaulted by this guy all this time, and she’s just frantic to get out of that box. I had that suspense feeling, waiting for her to be rescued (I was pretty sure she would be, it’s that kind of show, thankfully.) which normally I try to avoid. I’ve been trying to learn to tolerate and invite anxiety lately (I read something fairly convincing that avoidance reinforces the anxiety and by ‘welcoming’ anxiety, I could dial it down), and it was manageable and once I started watching it I had to keep watching till she was all right.
Anyhow, so at 5 this morning (I normally wake around 9, so that’s early for me) I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. Maybe it was the green tea I had last night too, but regardless, here I am, wide awake. For once my wife is asleep (she has menopause sleeping problems), so I couldn’t really get comforted by her without waking her, and I wasn’t distressed enough to feel okay about doing that.
And I get to thinking about my mom and how I should probably confront her about the scars on my vulva/vagina, and hear her explanation about how she didn’t know her 5 year old girl had torn her perineum. Or hire a lawyer to coerce my father into confessing or sue him. Now that I’ve got my aunt as witness that he tried to assault her too, it kind of makes sense.
Wait a minute.
My aunt is quite a bit younger than my mom. Like 8 years or so. My mom married my dad when she was 21 and the assault happened when they were still living in Winnipeg, which was when my older brother was very little. My aunt could have been as young as 14 when he ‘got fresh’ with her. I think of my aunt as an adult, but she wasn’t then. I need to ask her. It’s amazing I didn’t think of that before. More validation. I wonder if my grandfather knew. My mom said once that he’d have killed my dad/abuser if he’d known about the rapes.
If I sue my dad and my aunt was as young as I think she was, she could witness for me. I bet my other aunt that he insulted would too.
I skipped last week at the boxing gym, and am going to try and go this week. This morning I feel like it would feel good to hit something. Now that I’ve given my self permission not to hit ‘Bob‘ or do the ‘lay on your back and kick your attacker in the small of the back’ exercises it should be better. I also found a ‘sea band’ that presses an acupressure point to suppress nausea. Last time I almost threw up after exercising. My friend who also works out at the gym says she sometimes gets nauseous too and she’s in way better shape than I am. It’s kind of crazy really, that we pay money to do this stuff.
Tonight I’m going to the first rehearsal of a choir a friend is in. It’s supposed to be a nice choir, so I’ll see. I’m not a choir person exactly any more, but I thought it would be social and help me get my voice going a bit.
My wife is doing a bit better. She’s on hormones for the menopause thing, and has been more attentive. We’ve been doing a lot better this week, and yesterday was particularly good. I keep forgetting my promise not to nag her about her health, but after my therapist reminded me, I’ve been able to stay off her about it for about a week. I made a promise I’d leave her to do her health stuff without nagging until March, and I’m going to keep it. In March, if things are still rocky between us, I’ll push hard for couples therapy, but perhaps we won’t need it by then. One can hope.
You know, I was looking at my categories, and realize that I don’t talk about spirituality and sexual abuse much any more. Faith has always been my main antidote for fear and anxiety. I was talking to a friend yesterday about spells. She’s feeling hopeless about her love life and I suggested a love spell. I was explaining how spells work. When casting a spell properly, you focus on the one essential thing about what you need to happen. It’s like a lever. You have to apply the small amount of energy to a specific point to change the course of something. Or it’s like sailing a boat, you need to take into account the winds and water of reality, and even if they’re blowing against you, if you set your wind and tiller right you can still go where you want if you are clear and firm about it.
I had a student once who got frustrated with me because she had wanted me to teach her how to cast prosperity spells. She said she kept trying and it wasn’t working. When I tried to tell her what was wrong, she wouldn’t listen. She wanted exactly what she wanted in lots of detail, against considerable real world obstacles. This was the equivalent of trying to steer your boat into a headwind. She wasn’t willing to tack. I said, focus on the one small thing that is the core of what you want. You don’t really want a million dollars, you want to feel safe. Or you don’t want a tall, brown- haired woman who speaks another language and owns her own house, you want someone perfect for you. By leaving open all the variables that don’t really matter and letting go of the need to control how it happens, you can get what you need. It’s like the rolling stones song.
So if I approach the situation with my father that way, what is the core of it? What do I really want to happen?
I want my experience to have meaning – I want what happened to me to be part of the Goddess’ plan for making the world a better place.
That’s not quite it.
I want to be happy.
I want justice.
I want to reclaim my power from him. (This one is closer to core, I think)
I want to not be afraid of him any more. (this is also close)
I want social support. I want allies. (so I am safe from betrayal by his collaborators)
I want to walk tall in my own space.
I want the body feeling of being strong and assertive and unafraid more of the time. I want to stop being controlled by PTSD anxiety.(this is also more like it)
I want to push back against the abusers, to feel my strength there and make them afraid.(this too)
I want a public sex offenders registry in Canada so parents can vett the people who have access to their children. I want the justice system to lock anyone they can’t cure up for life. (this would satisfy my meaning making)
[possible triggers, ongoing domestic violence – not toward or from me]
A good friend of mine’s husband threatened to kill her a couple of weeks ago. She called the cops who hauled him off in handcuffs. They put a two month no contact order on him, which unfortunately expired yesterday, when she refused to give a statement and press charges, because she thought the two months would be long enough to get started on the divorce stuff, and didn’t realize it was contingent on her pressing charges. He was to be coming over tonight, to ‘talk’ to her and pick up the car. She was going to call us after he left. It’s 11 pm. She hasn’t called.
We were over there earlier today and I gave her my cell phone because the last time he threatened to kill her he’d said that if she tried to call the police she’d be dead before they arrived. He’d tried to unplug the phone from the wall to prevent her.
My mother took a very long time to leave my dad, and near the end, as she was working up the guts to leave, she’d tell me she was leaving and then wouldn’t do it. In the end, I finally couldn’t take the stress of waiting and being disappointed, waiting and being disappointed, and asked her to call me when she had left. She ended up writing me several months later, after she’d been out for about two months. My cutting her off seemed to form some sort of catalyst for her.
I’m afraid of allowing myself to be pulled into that kind of pattern again, where I drop everything to help a woman who thinks that she can handle it. Handling it is getting the hell out with your kids, immediately, not trying to do it gracefully, or bargain with the situation, but just to get out of his control.
My father is not someone to have in one’s life even a tiny bit, and this guy is a piece of work too. I officiated at their wedding. My friend told us her fiancee had threatened the life of their tenant, and the police had been called. Me and another friend told her we thought that made her then fiance unmarriageable. We were apparently right. He did some ‘anger management’ course and she went ahead with the wedding.
I don’t blame her. I know enough about her childhood to know that people develop a sense that things are normal that really aren’t. I get it. I just don’t know how to support her. I have therapy tomorrow, so hopefully I can sort out how to be helpful, but still have boundaries. I sense quite a bit of mommy work tomorrow.
I was early for my therapy appointment today, and was sitting in the waiting room browsing magazines. I opened up a Buddhist one, Shambala Sun. The first article was about Buddhist jargon stuff that I never get and frankly find annoying. I studied philosophy so I’m quite comfortable with arguments that for example try to prove that a tree doesn’t exist, but this was not making any sense to me at all. This is why I am not a Buddhist. I agree that everything is interconnected, but I have no need or desire to get off the wheel of life. I’m happy to be connected in the here and now.
End of Buddhism rant. Sorry to any Buddhists out there. I’m clearly not getting it, I know, but if I was meant to get it it would make intuitive sense to me, and it just doesn’t. I don’t get Christianity either, so it’s fine.
What I did like and what brought me to tears was a piece by Thich Nhat Hahn which was on about how being present with anything you’re doing or feeling makes it holy, or puts you in a holy space. He said something that I did agree with and made intuitive sense to me, that ritual done without the priest(ess) being fully present and mindful had no meaning. Sitting there in the office taking a moment to bring mind and body together in the present moment, so hard for us survivors, brought tears to the surface. I didn’t even know the story behind the tears, but only that they were there.
I had to put my dog down last week. My wife and I were on a trip and our dog has an existing hip injury that would have been difficult and costly to repair. He’s a nervous, active, wilful dog (or was one anyhow) and was flailing around making it worse in the car. Even if we had repaired the injury and dragged our difficult doggie through a year of rehab, his other hip would probably have gone and then he’d have died of old age. So we cut the journey a bit short for him, and us. I feel less guilty now than I did. His death was not the calm one I’d envisioned – he was never a calm or easy dog. We’d had him since he was less than a week old and had never been able to train him out of his behaviour problems, which included aggression toward other dogs and sometimes kids. He whined constantly whenever he didn’t get what he wanted, which was most of the time, and which meant constant accompaniment on car trips. If we’d been able to find dog care, we wouldn’t have brought him, but couldn’t find any. He never actually bit anyone, but we had to watch him closely. My wife and I feel guilty being relieved he’s gone. Our remaining dog is happy to have the extra attention.
I miss him most at night. In my rough neighbourhood, he’d often bark if something was going on on the street, and although he had a lot of false alarms (cat’s in the yard are not the danger to me they seem to him), I could count on him to notice if someone was lurking around the house. My wife doesn’t seem to hear these things. My other dog is pretty good as alerting me to trouble too, but I haven’t lived with her for nine years like the dog we put down. I still feel him sometimes, and can feel the hair on his chest as I reach a hand to stroke it. I think if he is confused, wherever he is after death, it is my job as his alpha to provide a safe place to go to if he needs it. He can haunt me as long as he likes. I’ve been present with my guilt, my grief and my relief, and now with just missing him. The storm is passing.
Today in therapy I talked about the possibility I might need to end my marriage. It’s a big deal. I’m the first gay person in my extended family and my wife’s to get married ever. it’s like being the first inter-racial couple in a family. It would suck on so many levels to have it end in divorce a mere three years after people stood up for us and blessed us. My wife and I are very different on so many levels, and the glue we once had that made it work anyways has worn thin. We’ve gotten into power struggles where I try and change her and she resists, and it’s not working. The only way to win a power struggle is to give up, like letting go of the rope in tug of war, and that’s what I’m trying to do. My therapist has suggested I write down a list of what needs to change so I can look back in March and see whether anything changed once I stopped nagging. I’m also to make a list of ways I can feel safe that are independent of her.
I have a book called “Too good to leave. Too bad to stay.” that I’ve been looking at. It’s not bad. The author, Mira Kirshembaum, takes the position that deciding if a relationship is worth staying in is not a weighing scale with the good balanced against the bad, it’s a diagnosis of whether the relationship has the factors that make it possible to be satisfying or not. She asks questions, starting with the obvious “has your partner hit you more than once” (no), which signal a “sure thing, do not pass go, this relationship is never going to be worth having” to more subtle things. She says things like ” most people who answer yes to this question do not regret having left the relationship”, rather than putting a value judgement on it. I read the first chapter or so and then stopped. So far we’ve of course passed the obvious tests, but in the more subtle stuff, there’s no clear indication this relationship is a keeper just yet.
I’m not going to talk about my marriage a lot, so as to respect my wife’s privacy, but it’s definitely something running through my thoughts and feelings right now. Everything we do seems bittersweet, and sometimes I slip into denial and wonder what I’m going on about, my marriage is fine. Perhaps all I need to do is be present with it through this all.