To the nice man with a cane to whom I gave a dirty look at Kinko’s

I’m sorry; I know it came off as a dirty look. But I was really scared of you on a primal level. You triggered a memory in me. In my peripheral vision I saw a man carrying a stick down low, walking a little too close into my personal space. I was startled. You see, once when I was 16, I was falsely accused of something by an elder in my church. I told the truth and said it wasn’t true. The elder’s wife ordered that my hair be cut off as punishment. My hair was past my elbows and I loved it. It was grabbed and cut off by my father, truly one of the longest and scariest nights of my life. A 16 year old life that had already had many long and scary nights. When your family hurts you, who is left to comfort you?

The elders decided I was also “dead” to the church until I confessed. I was ordered to stand against a wall every week day from 8-5 while my mom was at work in the church office, They put me in view of her desk. She would pointedly not stare at me while she cried and worked. I could feel her telling to give in, I tried to beam psychic messages to her saying I was innocent. 80 hours I stood, not all in a row, but it’s a lot. Just who were they trying to punish? Kids from the church cleaned up after school, they vacuumed around me like I was a lamp. Nobody spoke to me for two weeks, naked without the long hair I’d had my entire life. Every once in a while the pastor of my church would sneak up behind me while holding a PVC Pipe down really low so it was out of my peripheral vision and he would strike me multiple times on the butt and thighs. At least I existed while he was hitting me; I was visible until the sting died down.

I didn’t confess, Jesus doesn’t like it when we lie. Those two weeks started the worst year of my life. It got a little easier, it’s exhausting to keep up that level of creativity in punishment. In the end, I won.

So I’m sorry. I wonder what pain makes you walk with a cane. I wanted to tell you why I flinched it had nothing to do with you, but then it would be weird to have a girl give you a dirty look and then tell you a trauma. It was hard enough to shed a few tears while pointedly not staring at you. I think I also freaked out the cashier.

Best of luck,

One of this planet’s many walking wounded.

Compassion: Part 2

I’ve mentioned A&M before in my boots post.  They have one of the most beautiful marriages I’ve ever seen.  And they treasure and delight in each other more than a decade later (and they’re smokin hot).  One of the best things that M ever said to me is, “You’ve got to cradle each other with your words, keep each other safe.” That blew my mind.

I used to be addicted to sarcasm, before I heard M say this to me.  And, sure… I had my sarcastic relapses here and there, I really tried to change.  I feel that sarcasm keeps you on edge.  Keeps you from ever really being able to let your guard down around the ones you love, sarcasm reinforces emotional walls.   You can come close, but not too close.  Sure, it can be “funny” and it was hard to imagine my personality without my cutting wit, sharpened and ready to slice, dice and julienne you at a moments notices.

But I also found that in those silences, where I’m not thinking about what I’m going to say.  That life gets better.  I get to hear who you really are, what you really need, and what is going on with you.  I get to politely disengage from the barbs and find a softer way.  I used to run a networking chapter of all women business owners, and I took a lot of M’s wisdom to that podium.  I taught that it is better to be soft, to trust and to cradle each other with our words.  I feel that helped make me successful, and I feel it helped me really connect and make some good happen in the world.

Thanks, M.  In a sentence you changed my life for the better and I love you.

I can has boundaries?

I have been limiting some consumption lately and that brings up issues for me, and since I’ve got this Internet, I may as well share…

So, Internet I’ve been thinking about this stuff… boundaries.  I spoke to L, and she’s one of my dearest friends.  Because I have some issues around eating, drinking, talking, sex, smoking.  I enjoy a lot of the benefits and positive aspects of those things…  I think a good blog post would be to outline the pros and cons of each of these for me.  But not now, because that would be a distraction and this is my blog, not yours so quit being bossy.

OK, so right… L.  I was bemoaning something to her as I always do.  I think it was something about impulse control.  There are several ways that I drink.  Happy, light, social drinking and then there’s a glass of wine drinking, and then there’s woman on a mission I don’t want to feel what I am feeling any more drinking.  This last drinking concerns me and causes me pain.  So, I was hung over in Orangevale, and I looked at L and asked why I do this.  She gave me that, oh sweet baby look, that makes me want to curl up in her lap and have her pet my head.

“You have impulse control problems.  It’s because of your cult.  When you were raised, you had to fast once a week.  So, even if you were hungry as a little kid it didn’t matter.  You were told when to be hungry, and had to eat until you cleared your plate.  It makes sense that you have no sense of portion control and that you use food to comfort or punish yourself.  It makes sense that you developed sneaky behavior around food, since your food was so heavily moderated that you had to get what you could get when you could get it how you could get it.”

I said I guess that makes sense.  But that’s food, what about the crap that comes out of my mouth and the drinking and smoking and everything else.  I have a lot of fun, but there are certain parts of it that just aren’t healthy…

Then a pure light shone from L’s halo and she said unto me (maybe I’m getting a little dramatic here), “It’s the same thing.  A lot of times you say things to get a reaction, and sometimes you don’t stop until you do.  A lot of times, you drink a lot and don’t stop until someone notices and says something.  A lot of times, you smoke cigarettes and dare people (silently) to confront you. You weren’t allowed to think your own thoughts or make your own choices.  And even when you spoke up for what was right for you, you were frequently beaten down for it.  So to survive you made other people’s truths and stories about you, your truths and your stories about you.  I think a part of your path now is to win and fail and bruise your shins and totally fuck up, to find your own boundaries and your own comfort level.  I think that food, booze, smoking and all of that is just a symptom of your bigger task right now, which is to find where your emotional boundaries are.  What do you need to do to keep you safe, happy and healthy in the world?”

I love L.

And I’ve thought a lot about it.  Because in a lot of ways I have chosen people in my life who have really black and white thinking, and some with black and black thinking.  I have chosen the ass-kickers and the shit-talkers because they will say something to keep me in line.  Because as L says, I grew up inside out and wasn’t allowed mental or emotional boundaries.

And that in my life, I have made people near and dear to me into my parents again, into my pastor again.  People that should have been my lovers, my business partners, my friends have been cornered by my behavior until they have to speak up.  I am so tired of that, and my new relationship is pretty terrifying for me.  He’s compassionate, he knows I’m in flux and he gives me space to do what I have to do as I figure out where I stand.  Because a lot of times you figure out what a boundary is by stepping the hell over it and looking back and saying “ouch, maybe I should have stopped back there…”

My friend D told me that I was the most dynamic and competent fucked up person she’s ever met.  I responded back, I guess I am just the Strutting Wounded.  But I think that we all really are.  And this is what growing up and overcoming is really about.  I don’t want to blame, I just want to heal and also find others like me who know what I am talking about.

Compassion: Part 1

Growing up as I did, surrounded by religious fundamentalism and extreme, chronic physical abuse, I felt as though every physical or emotional ailment I had was because of a mental or moral failing. What I mean is that when I was sick I was told it was because of hidden sin, and if I looked deep enough in me I would find what needed to be confessed. This worked and really stimulated the hyper-vigilance aspect of the PTSD that I now suffer from.

This symptom of my physical abuse has manifested in my adult life, I see all of the results of how I grew up. And I feel that I should be able to get over it, that if I can only be morally or mentally stronger then I can find my way through the effects of my abuse. But the more I try to muscle through, the more I am unable to get past it.

What is terrifying to me, is that the thing that seems to be working is compassion. Compassion is scary, I feel that if I am kind to myself and allow myself to seek and accept the healing that I need that I am giving into it. I have been trying to muscle through the pain for so long, and now I find that my struggle is in letting go and seeing it for what it is. It is a perfectly normal reaction to a situation that was abnormal, abusive and unhealthy. I can’t force myself to get over it. What I can do is accept that in this time in my life I have the time to heal. And that I need to take it.

Last week, I had an example of this. I was fine, I was doing ok. And then I heard yelling and the banging of someone’s hand on a desk. It terrified me, and I suffered auditory flashbacks (also a symptom of PTSD) and all of a sudden I was a little girl again and there was a very large oak rod about to swing into me. I spent the next 72 hours with insomnia, flashbacks, panic attacks, nausea and I almost fainted again.

Yes, I was a victim of abuse for a very long time. Yes, I am a survivor. But my path now is to walk through those stories and those pains so that I can heal on a deeper level and work through the PTSD that can debilitate me at any time. And for me so far the key to that is a huge helping of compassion.

I am doing a lot of this work on my blog, because I know that I am far from alone in my past, my pain and my path toward healing. I feel like abuse is a cycle and that there is an expectation of shame and silence that hushes sufferers. I feel that abuse is a much bigger and more common problem that we talk about and silence about it just encourages the cycle. And so I am starting to speak out about my past and my recovery. I don’t want pity, I want healing. And I want to hear from you how you have healed.

Especially other PTSD sufferers.

Deep Thoughts

I have never seen a person grow or change in a constructive direction when motivated by guilt, shame and/or hate.

-William Goldberg

What if everything we did was motivated out of self-love and compassion for ourselves?