The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hello Again....

.....kind of.

Well, for the last couple of months I have been busy working on my house. It has been a great deal of hard work, and fun!

Every now and again, I receive a comment/question on one of my prior posts. Thank you!!! I am always happy to respond, reminding myself that I am still connected to the abuse/estrangement survivor community.

I keep thinking I should hop on and write a post, but never seem to get around to it. Up until a couple of months ago, I posted extensively on the various issues I encountered on my healing journey. Whenever someone writes to me with a question, or, to share their experience, I find that I can direct them to a post I've already written on the topic.

My family and I have been reconciled for over three years now and although I still have a great deal of empathy for the abuse recovery and/or estrangement experience, it is no longer a part of my everyday life. Therefore, I really don't have anything new to post.

As a survivor, I'm sure new issues will come up from time to time, and when they do, I will share my experience. Until then, feel free to peruse my older posts and/or to contact me. I'm always happy to lend my support.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Go Swimming with a Survivor!

When I first became estranged from my mother, I felt like I was drowning in an ocean of pain.

Suffering from the cumulative effects of abuse and estrangement, I fervently wished my mother would drive up in a boat, and rescue me from the ocean. She didn't.

But, the truth is - nobody could "rescue" me. I had to rescue myself. Authentic recovery meant doing the hard work, and swimming the distance to shore. But, what did happen was remarkable. One by one, people jumped into the ocean and began to swim with me. As I fought the tide:
  • They helped keep me safe.
  • They kept me company.
  • They gave me validation, and encouragement.
  • They shared my experience.
  • Some already understood my struggle; others were interested in understanding, but either way-
  • In essence, they said, "I know this is a huge struggle, and I'm not going to leave you alone. I'm going to swim with you.
I'll be forever grateful!

So, I continue to swim - for myself - and for other survivors.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mid-Life Crisis: Abuse and Transformation

As a younger adult, whenever I heard the term "Mid-Life Crisis," I conjured up stereotypical images of middle aged men foolishly trying to reclaim their youth with fast cars and young, gorgeous women.

However, according to Wikipedia there are many causes of - and reactions to - Mid-Life Turmoil:

A midlife crisis could be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over:

  • work or career
  • spousal relationships
  • maturation of children
  • aging or death of parents
  • physical changes associated with aging

Midlife crises seem to affect men and women differently. Researchers[6] have proposed that the triggers for mid-life crisis differ between men and women, with male mid-life crisis more likely to be caused by work issues.

I'd add to the Wikipedia list - Abuse Recovery.

According to Wikipedia, one of the characteristics of a Mid-Life Crisis, is "a deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished."

The "computer girl" part of me has been diligent about achieving goals, especially goals associated with business. But, there is one goal that often eludes abuse survivors - "the pursuit of happiness" or should I say emotional freedom.

Currently, I'm having what I would call a "Mid-Life Experience." Although at times it does feel like a "crisis," it also has qualities that feel like a hopeful "transformation."

Many of my recent posts have touched on this transformation: Have To vs Want To, Survival Tactics - Peeling Away the Layers, Letting Go and the Passages of our Lives.

Much of my adulthood I struggled with my abuse recovery. When I finally reached the point that my abuse no longer felt present, I rejoiced. I am grateful that I no longer have nightmares, suffer from dissociation, PTSD, or feel "triggered," by old memories.

Now that I am free from the pain of childhood "events," I am experiencing the disappointment of mourning the residual effects of recovery: Recovery has many layers. Just as I finished mourning the loss of my childhood, I find that I'm doing major grief work over the loss of much of my adulthood.

I'm mourning all of the time lost performing necessary recovery work. I'm mourning:
  • That I started out ill equipped to navigate as an adult
  • That I was dealing with recovery while so many of my peers were enjoying life
  • All of the years I was trying to figure out what constitutes a healthy relationship
  • All of the years I spent trying to learn boundaries, self-parenting, how to respond to betrayal, etc.
  • All of the years I hadn't yet healed enough to safe-guard my own well-being
  • That I modeled poor relationship skills to my children
  • That I wasn't able to provide my children an "intact" family
  • All of the years that I let "computer girl" rule my life and overachieve
Mourning doesn't mean that I'm beating myself up. On the contrary, I take pride in the staggering amount of work I have performed. But rather, I'm grieving for the necessary losses I've incurred.

For me, major grief work has always signaled a new era. For example, I'm mourning all of the time I "overachieved," because I now feel "enlightened" by no longer overachieving. I'm grieving all of the years I lost by working too much. If I was still willing to "overachieve" my psyche wouldn't be ready to mourn. Likewise, if I still had boundary issues, I'd still be spending my time trying to learn to exercise clear, respectful boundaries. Now that I do exercise boundaries, I'm mourning all of the years I allowed myself to get hurt by not safe-guarding my own well-being, etc. All of these changes felt very empowering at first, but now I'm mourning all of the time I lost before I learned the skills I have now.

Past experience tells me that honoring the depth of my pain opens the door to new possibilities.

Hence - "Mid-Life Transformation" - mourning the old and moving on to the new.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Did That Just Happen?

I can't count the number of times I found myself on the receiving end of some sort of physical or emotional violence only to have my mother (or other family members) "pretend" nothing happened.

As a child, I sometimes questioned my sanity: Did that just happen?

As a young adult, the "pretending" made me angry.

As both a child and a young adult, I used to walk on eggshells around my mother. I never knew when she would unleash a rampage: cursing, yelling, belittling, blaming, etc. Then, the next time I'd see her she'd greet me with a big smile and the words, "Hi honey!" like nothing ever happened. It was crazy-making stuff!

I know I'm not alone in this experience. A common complaint I hear from other adult abuse survivors who are trying to maintain or re-establish contact with a family member is that of contending with a tirade over the phone, by e-mail, or in person only to have their family member act as if nothing happened the next time around.

While it is true that "pretending" can be rooted in some sort of sociopathy (no conscious), I don't think that is always the case. I believe that many abusers have a conscious but don't regard their behavior as abusive.

I read something once that said that human beings can't bear the thought that we have done something horrible, because if we did, we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves. Our tortured conscious requires us to take some sort of action to resolve our inner turmoil. We have a couple of choices:

A) We can help the other individual by repairing the damage we've done. This also helps us by easing our conscious. However, many people don't have the strength, courage, awareness, or emotional capability to repair the damage; so, they choose plan B.

B) We can ease our conscious by convincing ourselves that what we did wasn't so bad (or was justified) and then banish it from our mind like it didn't happen.

In other words, when it comes to abuse's and someone "pretends," it didn't happen, there isn't anything we can do to "make" them acknowledge the offenses. If they can't "repair" it - they have to "ignore" it.

My mother definitely has a conscious. For years, I tried to plead to her conscious to do the "right" thing. To me, reparation seemed like an easy thing to do - acknowledge, apologize, don't do it again . It took a great deal of time for me to wrap my head around the concept that no amount of explaining or pleading would result in acknowledgment. She didn't know how to "repair" the damage (or change her behavior), so her conscious wouldn't allow her to accept that she did something horrible.

Sixteen years ago, amidst continued family violence, the less healed me wasn't able to safe-guard my own well being, or that of my children. At the time, my only choice was estrangement. For some people, persistent physical and emotional violence continues to prohibit any safe contact. However, in my case, time changed some of the dynamics in my family. And, our fourteen years apart afforded me enough healing (and validation from others), that I was able to heal my past trauma without my mothers acknowledgment of the "specifics." I also learned to keep myself out of harms way in the present by setting and maintaining clear, respectful boundaries.

Thus far, the "pretending" issue hasn't come up again, but if it does, I know there is nothing I can do except safe-guard my own well-being.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Learning to Mother Myself

Learning to self-parent has been critical for me to gain a sense of safety in the world. The more I comfort my inner-child, the more whole and empowered I feel. The topic of self-parenting has come up a great deal lately with survivors I'm in contact with so, I decided to post a portion of a chapter from Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation:


Learning to Mother Myself

Bitter are the tears of a child: Sweeten them.
Deep are the thoughts of a child: Quiet them.
Sharp is the grief of a child: Take it from him.

Soft is the heart of a child: Do not harden it.
~ Pamela Glenconner

Here in the Pacific Northwest, one of my neighbors has a palm tree showcased in the front yard of their home. The tree is small in stature with drooping pale yellow-green palms. It appears out of place among the many tall and thriving evergreens native to the region. Often, when I drive by this little tree during hostile winter conditions, I wonder how it survives, blanketed in snow and ice. The palm knows nothing of dry soil or the warm climate of its native land. It doesn’t know what it’s missing – that there are more favorable conditions available in which to flourish. Like my neighbor’s tree, I was unaware of the many loving conditions the human psyche requires in order to thrive.

The child in me sometimes still longed for a mommy. In the absence of proper nurturing, it is difficult for a daughter to separate herself from her mother. I remained tied to my mother; needing the love and approval of the one person I was designed to pattern my life after. I needed a mom to say, “I love you and I have faith in you.” I needed a mother to carry within me as a separate individual. I realized that mother had to be me.

I often read in books, and heard in therapy and from many individuals about the need to learn to “self parent.” It was one thing to learn to parent my own children, it was quite another to learn to parent me. "How do I do that?" I asked repeatedly.

Nobody could give me a good answer. Finally, someone said to me, "There is no good answer, because the key to what you lacked from your mother as a child is locked within you; there is no universal template that fits for everyone."

Until successfully learning to self-parent, I remained bitter about the concept of internalizing my own mother. Becoming my own mother seemed like a poor substitute for someone cheated out of the real thing.

Like other motherless daughters, I longed for a mother to replace the love I missed. I thought only motherless people had to internalize a mother. I didn’t realize that all adult children have an internal parent. Having an internal parent is what constitutes adulthood.

No parent can do a perfect job; therefore, every individual needs to learn to parent certain aspects of themselves. The difference for me was, whereas most people have much of their internal parent placed within them by the loving actions of their own parent, I needed to internalize a parent largely on my own.

It is difficult to identify exactly what one missed from a parent. How does one know what they have never experienced? A confusing aspect to self-parenting for me was that many of the qualities my mother deprived me of I gave to my own children without understanding I needed them as well. Many emotional “basics” did not seem obvious – like receiving physical comfort. Although my children were the recipients of my hugs, I didn’t realize that because the child-me hadn’t received physical comfort, my inner child hadn’t internalized physical safety.

Hearing about a study made on prisoners who were never touched during incarceration unless they were touched violently made me realize that for the bulk of my childhood, this was also true for me. The little girl in me only knew violent touch! I needed to learn how to comfort myself.

Long into adulthood, recalling stories of family violence evoked powerful tremors in me. The muscles in my limbs quivered uncontrollably and no amount of effort could suppress the flood of shaking. I remembered the first time in childhood my body shivered like a frightened animal, while anticipating the beating about to come my way. I should have had a parent to run to for a safe place to fall - for comfort and for protection. After each beating, I dealt with my injuries in isolation and on my own – without any soothing. I wasn’t taught, nor did I learn to self-soothe. My “body memory” re-enacted these tremors any time I summoned recollections in my young life when I was at the mercy of those who tormented me.

As an adult, whenever my limbs shook uncontrollably, I began the ritual of wrapping my arms around myself and rocking in a rocking chair, providing myself with the physical comfort that I never experienced as a child.

The temptation was certainly present to have someone help comfort me; however, I knew that would defeat the purpose of this exercise. Ultimately, the “power” of a mother’s love – the mother I was learning to internalize for myself– ended my shaking.

On many such occasions I visualized in my mind’s eye the child me – the hurting, frightened, alone, and damaged me. These occasions caused feelings of sadness and compassion for the little girl of long ago – feelings that although deeply mournful, were also compassionate, reassuring, and healing. I’d speak to the “child me” who longed for love and protection. “Talk to me, sweetie. I am here.”

This brought me to emotional self-soothing. When a child is terrified, their pain can easily spin out of control. A caring parent teaches the child to modulate their pain by comforting them with love and assurance. In the safety of loving arms, a child learns to reign in their emotions. Through example, this mechanism becomes internalized in the child and they eventually learn to soothe themselves. Emotional self-soothing is another quality I lacked as a child and needed to learn to internalize for myself.

I also needed to internalize self-compassion. My mother taught me to place the needs of others first, rather than to have compassion for myself. I learned as a child that my pain was no big deal and that I should be considerate of other people’s pain, but not of my own. While it is important to be considerate of others, consideration should not come at the expense of our own well-being.

Because as an abused child my perceptions were often blatantly denied, I needed to learn to stand firmly in my own reality, without permission from anyone else.

Although I argued that it wasn’t “right” to burn my tender hands, or rub Rob’s nose in spilled milk on the floor, or to otherwise beat and betray us, everyone I knew told me that my perceptions were wrong. Therefore, I constantly sought validation, trying to develop a frame of reference from others as to what was “right” and what was “wrong.” What we learn as children follows us into adulthood. Even as an adult, those I turned to told me that there was nothing “wrong” with the way Mom, Lou and Smokey treated Brandon, nor was there anything “wrong” with the constant presence of Lou’s firearms around my own children. Consequently, I had difficulty as an adult identifying what was and was not acceptable behavior. If I felt betrayed, and the “offender” defended himself or herself, although I argued that it wasn’t “right” to betray me, deep down I questioned whether something was wrong with me and I worried that it was indeed okay to betray me. I desperately searched for validation that I had a right to the way I felt.

Un-doing a life long mechanism is very difficult to do. Needing permission to “feel” was so deeply ingrained in me, that even if I accidentally smashed my thumb with a hammer, I needed consent to accept my pain. In other words, if I was with someone who said, “Oh, it’s no big deal,” I’d either try to “power” through the pain, or I’d argue that the injury was indeed painful, focusing on the other person’s perceptions of my experience rather than my own.

My pleas for permission to feel physical and emotional pain had left me stuck in one place. Without validation, I failed to resolve my pain and move forward. It seemed impossible to believe that my experiences and perceptions were valid when faced with denied perceptions. A strong internal parent was necessary to assure my inner child that I had a right to my hurt, anger, sadness, and fear, without arguing for that right.

During therapy, I literally needed to be taught self-compassion, self-soothing, and the validity of my perceptions in the same way a young child is taught. My therapist explained how to seek out people to receive validating and empathic responses until I could internalize them for myself, even in the face of denied perceptions.

Until people taught me what it felt like to be self-compassionate, I didn’t know that a wide range of emotions existed for me. I needed to “unlearn” the way I learned to ignore my agony. Then I needed to re-learn a healthy method of expressing my sadness. It was very important for me to learn to cry for myself and to share those tears with others, which is no easy feat. Seeking empathic people required trust, and trust didn’t come easily for me.

Trust is such a basic relationship necessity that if we can’t trust a parent to love and protect us- whom can we trust? When we have been betrayed in our most basic human relationship- and that trust is never restored – how can we learn to trust ourselves enough to trust others? I learned to trust in baby steps – sitting with my emotions and letting my feelings guide me. I needed to feel the pain of misplaced trust in order to protect myself and seek out those with whom I could trust with my feelings. If we listen closely, pain is a useful resource for protecting ourselves.


One of the most difficult aspects of motherlessness is the sense of aloneness.

I keep my father’s picture next to my bed. Sometimes, before lying down at night, I look into his eyes and remember how much he loved me. I carry my father’s voice in me – the voice of the one who looked at me with adoring eyes and asked me child-like questions, the father who loved and protected me, who nurtured, hugged, and comforted me when I cried.

I thought about the love that I give my daughters and imagined myself loved in the same fashion.

I watched the way other mothers loved their children and imagined loving myself in the same way.

I thought about those in my life who do love me – my children, friends, and my partner.

I called upon my spirituality to internalize abundant love.

God provided me with healing tears to wash away my heartache. He sent people who were willing to bear witness to my pain. God blessed me with daughters of my own so that I could experience a loving mother-daughter bond.

Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I wrapped myself in a blanket and imagined God’s unconditional love surrounding me like giant hands tenderly holding me, loving me and keeping me safe.

Slowly but surely, I worked through a list of emotional deficiencies that needed filling. This was a long, frustrating, and complicated process.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

I'm a day late out of the starting blocks; nonetheless, mile191 is the host of this months carnival!

The July theme is Freedom to Heal, offering many hopeful posts to aid in the journey!

Check it out!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Facebook and Estrangement

I often hear from people who have had a bad expeirence when they have either tried to contact, or have been contacted by an estranged family member through facebook, and then they wrestle with what to do.

The advent of many social networking sites has created a dilemma for many estranged, partially estranged, and newly reconciled family members. A common senario:

While perusing facebook, you stumble upon your estranged parent, child, or sibling. Your heart begins to race and your emotions stir like the waves of an ocean being whipped by conflicting winds. What to do? Curiosity get the better of you. Do I send a friends request? Or, not?


You receive a notification that your estranged parent, child, or sibling has sent you a friends request. After the initial shock, your mind goes into overdrive. You may be very wary and not open to reconciliation. Contact through a social networking site causes you to feel intruded upon, stalked, angry, or fearful. The simple solution is to deny the request.

At best, you may find yourself in an awkward position. Even if you are open to reconciliation, granting unrestricted access to your personal life hardly seems wise.

I know people who have begrudgingly granted the request, only to find it necessary to later "block" the family member.

Therein lies the dilemma, if you are open to attempting reconciliation, how do you safe-guard this boundary, deny the request, but still convey an openness to explore a new relationship?

Reconciliation is best attempted in baby-steps; allowing for exercising appropriate boundaries while re-building trust and redefining the relationship and level of contact. The chances for success are greater when proceeding slowly. It is very difficult to pull back when we move too fast.

As tempting as it may seem, in my humble opinion, social networking sites are not the appropriate venue to connect with estranged, or newly reconciled family members. This also appears to be the consensus with many of my counterparts.

Establishing contact through a social networking site is risky business that often results in a lose-lose situation. The person who attempts contact often feels hurt, angry, and rejected, while the one who is contacted can view the intrusion as a boundary violation.

Fortunately, my family members re-established contact privately and to this day we are not social networking "friends." This enabled me to safe-guard my boundaries and explore our relationships at my own pace. If one of my family members had sent me a "friends" request to re-establish contact, I would have felt comfortable exercising a boundary in this area by saying, "I am interested in re-establishing contact through e-mail, and by telephone; however, facebook is not a comfortable arena for me to work at rebuilding a relationship with you."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hear Me!

...was my childhood plea. Help me! Listen to whats happening!

I cried out to my mother and my brothers...Hear me!..., but they told me to shut up!

I cried out to my relatives....Hear me!..., but they turned away.

I cried out to neighbors and friends...Hear me!..., but they closed their eyes and ears to the abuse.

I cried out to my childhood therapist...Hear me!..., but she didn't listen.

I cried out to God and to the Universe...Hear me!..., but if God indeed replied, I couldn't hear Him over the roar of my own internal misery.

I didn't have a voice; therefore, it felt like I had no value.

Long into adulthood, I cried out - "Hear me!"...until somebody heard.

I "hear" it all the time; people want to be heard about the trauma in their lives. Validation dissolves our isolation and moves us forward to the life we deserve!

I believe that our deepest childhood wounds are the last to be healed; mine was not being heard.

In the past 15 years I have received a great deal of validation for my childhood abuse. In that respect I feel fully heard. Yet, in some respects the old wound remains. For instance, in an intimate relationship, if we have a disagreement and I don't feel heard, my old childhood wound "hooks" me in a primal sort of desperation to be heard and I lose perspective.

This relates to my prior post (Being Right - Being Wrong - Being Confident). I want to be right about needing to being heard! After all, it makes sense; I should be heard.

What I'm learning now is that there is a difference in the right/wrong scenario between blame and responsibility. Blame is about the past. Responsibility is about the present.

I think it is appropriate to "blame" the adults in my life for my childhood abuse and not being heard. As a minor, I had no say in the matter. But, once I became an adult, I became responsible for my life, my choices, and my relationships, no matter how ill-equipped I started out my life.

I'm responsible to heal my old wounds - not anyone else. Logically, this makes good sense, but when I need to be heard, good sense often flies out the window.

I'm working at self-nurturing again to heal this old wound. I'm learning to stand confidently in my truth by listening to myself and having a dialogue with my inner child - even when someone else doesn't hear me.

This is a slow, but empowering shift......

Friday, June 26, 2009

Being Right - Being Wrong - Being Confident

I've noticed a repetitive theme from self-help experts:

Would you rather be right, or happy?
Would you rather be right, or loved?

Would you rather be right, or have a relationship?

I am embarrassed to admit it, but when I have a disagreement with my partner, my knee-jerk reaction is to "win" the argument and be "right."

It appears to me that, at times, most couples seem to get caught the "right-wrong" trap. I believe that for survivors this is a particularly difficult pattern to break. I've recently identified the need to be "right" as yet another layer of "child abuse recovery" that I am trying to navigate.

I grew up in a home where blame was rampant. My step-father and my mother physically and emotionally beat me up, and blamed me for the state of our lives. They said it was my fault that they were angry; my fault that they beat me. In the right-wrong argument, I was always wrong and continued to get hurt. Yet, I persevered in the argument believing that if Mom "understood," I'd be safe and I wouldn't get hurt.

I think that on a very unconscious and "primal" level, the little girl in me still believes that "winning"an argument means that I won't get hurt again.

During my 14 year estrangement from my family, I healed enough to learn not to engage in arguments with my family members, not to fall into the "right-wrong" trap, not to try to change their perceptions, or to get them to "get it" when they didn't. I learned to "hold" their experience separate from mine and to simply say, "I'm sure that was your experience," while I took responsibility for my own life by quietly and confidently standing in my own truth without needing validation from them. To say that was a huge accomplishment for me would be an understatement.

I am able to do this by protecting my boundaries and by not being "vulnerable." This involves attaining a healthy "detachment" and a certain amount of "indifference" to negative comments.

I usually don't feel the need to be "right" in non-intimate relationships; however, in an intimate relationship, I am vulnerable and it is difficult for me not to engage.

In an intimate relationship, when I feel vulnerable and I run into a conflict, I often site facts and examples to "prove" my point, rather than taking the more powerful (and respectful) position of saying, "I don't see it that way," and standing quietly, and confidently in my own experience.

But, I'm working on it.....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Update on Estrangement Polls - Please share your thoughts

On April 6, 2009, I began two polls on family estrangement. I'm starting a new poll and I'm going to keep the old polls going as well. Thanks to everyone who has participated so far! Your input is greatly appreciated!

So far, 71 people have given 175 responses to the question:

If you chose to estrange from a family member, what were your reasons?

They didn't accept my spouse 11 (15 %)
They didn't accept my choices -26 (36%)
They didn’t accept my sexuality 4 (5%)
Boundary issues – 26 (36%)
Abuse – 40 (56%)
Addiction -10 (14%)
Mental illness – 16 (22%)
Family business dispute - 5 (7%)
Wedding stress - 1 (1%)
By-product of divorce - 4 (5%)
Stress caused by the death of a family member - 4 (5%)
It just wasn't worth the aggravation – 18 (25%)
I don't know how to solve our conflicts - 9 (12%)

The other poll:

30 people have given 73 responses to the question:

If a family member estranged from you, what were their reasons?

I don't know – 5 (16 %)
Addictions – 4 (13)
Mental Illness – 7 (23%)
Didn't know how to resolve conflict – 9 (30%)
Selfishness - 11 (36%)
In- laws - 1 (3%)
Intolerance – 6 (20%)
Couldn't let go of the past – 7 (23%)
They believed lies about me – 10 (33%)
Can't forgive a mistake – 5 (16%)
Said I was too involved in their life – 2 (6%)
Abuse – 6 (20%)

There appears to be a wide range of reasons for estrangement; yet, I've been wondering a lot about the "divide" between estrangers and estrangees and how each camp views their estrangements quite differently.

After years of communicating with people dealing with estrangements, estrangers give multiple reasons the estrangee doesn't know why the estrangement came about, or sees it differently:

a) I didn't tell them why.
b) I told my family member why, but my family member didn't "hear" the reason,
c) I told my family member why, but my family member thought it was a bad reason, or
d) I told their family member why, but my family member rejected the reason as false.

For those who wish to re-establish relationships with estranged family members, reconciliation is difficult when the reason for estrangement is not understood. Most estrangers I have communicated with have told me that if the "reason" for estrangement no longer existed, they would be open to reconciliation. The problem seems to be that each "camp" sees the reasons differently.

I would appreciate any input from readers. If you have estranged from a family member, please vote in my new poll and, if you'd like, leave a comment as to whether:

a) You never told them the reason why.
b) You told them why, but they didn't "hear" the reason.
c) You told them why, but they thought it was a bad reason.
d) You told them why, but they rejected the reason as false, or
e) Any other answer not listed here.

In my own situation, continued extreme family violence was at the root of my decision to estrange from my mother.

In the years leading up to our estrangement I told my mother multiple times that the abuse was the root of our relationship problems and she didn't hear me; however, one day, I simply walked away. I stopped calling her or visiting her and she never called me. So for her, a) I never told her, and for me, b) I told her but she didn't "hear" the reason.

When I stopped seeing my mother, my grandmother and three brothers stopped seeing me.

My grandmother told me her reason: She didn't believe our abuse was as bad as I said. She said I was incorrigible and as long as I wouldn't see my mother, she wouldn't see me. So, for me c) I thought that was a bad reason to stop seeing a granddaughter and d) I rejected her reason as false.

My oldest brother told me he thought I was mentally ill - again, d) I rejected this reason as false. I believed he didn't see me because he took the path of least resistance. Rather than confronting a huge abusive family system, he participated in scapegoating me.

Another brother never told me why he estranged from me. After we reconciled, he said it was because he thought he had to choose between Mom and me. So, for me, I'd say a) he never told me - but also took the path of least resistance.

My youngest brother told me in a letter that he stopped seeing me because I single handedly destroyed our family. d) I rejected this reason as false - again, path of least resistance.

Since I am both an estranger and an estrangee, I can see how complicated this is. As an estranger, I was frustrated my mother didn't "hear" my reasons and wasn't willing to change. As an estrangee, I was frustrated by the "false" reasons of my family members.

How does a family, let alone an "outsider" determine the legitimacy of an estrangers reasons?

In order for me to reconcile with my family, it took the estrangee (my mother) to at least acknowledge abuse as my reason - (without rehashing the past). It also took her willingness to curtail major abusive behaviors, and my willingness to accept responsibility for myself and set great boundaries with her.

As the estrangee concerning my brothers, it took a willingness on my part to understand their reasons - whether I like the reasons or agree with them or not. In other words - they did the best they could - given our family circumstances.

I needed to heal from my past abuse enough that I no longer need their support and understanding. I had to be willing to stop trying to change their perceptions, be able to maintain excellent boundaries, safe-guard my own well-being, and find new ways of behaving and coping with old family problems.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

The Silver (25th) Edition of The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse is up at Picture of Experience. The theme for the month of June is Father's and Parents.

Please check it out!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Have To vs. Want To

In my last post, I wrote about how one of my old survival tactics, "computer girl" has ruled my life. I've reassured this part of me that she can still use her organizational skills, but I'm going to rein her in and find a balance.

Last January, someone broke into my house. The thief tried to kick in the front door. Although he did damage the door, he was unable to get in. Then he destroyed the back door and gained access to my house.

Knowing someone violated my "safe place" felt very creepy to say the least, but "computer girl" jumped into action...I have to call the police...I have to call the insurance...I have to make a list of everything taken...I have to have new doors hung...I have to clean the finger printing dust...I have to replace necessary items, I have to deal with feeling unsafe, violated, and angry, along with all the other have to's in my life at work, kids, writing, appointments, social obligations, etc.

What I wanted to do, was something quite simple. I wanted to paint the doors and trim, but there is only so much time in the day and computer girl had too many "have to's" in her life; so, want to's - had to take a back seat.

Well, this weekend (five months after the break-in), I finally set aside my "have to's and did what I wanted to - I painted the doors and trim.

As I painted, I realized just how acutely I'm feeling the effects of letting "have to's" and computer girl rule my life. While feeling "acutely" is very disturbing, I also know it is a good thing. Pain is a good motivator for change.

It reminds me of the point in my abuse recovery when I finally "felt" the effects of my abuse. I spent decades seeking to be heard about my abuse and longed for validation. I was in a sort of "stuck" limbo - unable to move forward until someone validated my pain. Once someone said, "Oh my, that is horrible," I was finally able to say, "Hey yeah, that was horrible!" And I felt my abuse more acutely than ever before. It was both disturbing, and freeing, and it motivated me to "recover."

On a certain level, I've always felt the effects of computer girl ruling my life - stress, tired, overwhelmed, etc., but even after I realized that this is another survival tactic that I need to shed, computer girl has been resisting.

It isn't until now that I've slowed down and acknowledged how I feel about "over-responsibility" and "over-achieving" that I'm feeling it all acutely. "Hey yeah, that is horrible!"

Okay, I'm on board. I want to make room for "want to's."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Survival Tactics - Peeling Away the Layers

Peeling away my built-in survival tactics has been and continues to be a life-long process.

Although I didn't know it at the time, I used many survival tactics as a child. During adulthood, I became aware of numerous ways in which the "child me" ensured my continued existence: denial, dissociation, inability to feel, stepping in as the family mother, etc.

I am certain that the exact mechanisms that save our lives as children, harm us as adults. Recently, I was amazed to learn that the very rhythm of my life is part and parcel of one of my childhood survival tactics. But, I'll get to that.

Undoing life-long mechanisms is a very difficult undertaking. Awareness is the first step, but even when we become aware, it is hard to let go.

As I've peeled away each method of survival, I've thanked the child me for keeping us alive and reassured her that the adult me can "take it from here." Twenty years ago, denial was the first to go. I say that as if it happened overnight. On the contrary; I spent more than ten adult years in denial. Not denial over the facts: daily beatings, burning my 10-year old hands, thrown down the stairs, stabbed with a fork, etc., but rather, "Is that really so bad?"

As a dependent child, denial protected me from that which was too painful to bear. As an adult, denial kept me in harms way. I had to "shake myself" free from denial in order to protect myself from further abuse and to heal. Ridding myself of denial opened the door to validation, expressing my anger, and moving from victim to survivor.

Then, another hidden survival tactic revealed itself: dissociation. As an adult, dissociation not only covered up the pain of my past, it was such a intricate part of my make-up that it also masked painful situations in the present. Pain has a purpose; it warns us of impending injury and is a useful resource for protecting ourselves.

I dissociated for twenty-five years before I learned about this part of myself. Today, I can identify the day when, at ten years old, I laid the groundwork for dissociation. For some reason, I could handle my own abuse far better than helplessly watching as my brothers were beaten.

One day, months after my mother married my step father Ed, for no apparent reason, he unleashed his rage on my sweet and innocent five-year old brother Randy.

The harsh command, "Grab 'em, Randy" thundered through the kitchen. Little Randy immediately complied, bent over, and grabbed his tiny ankles. I watched with horror as the blow cracked across my baby brother's small behind. Randy jumped, screamed with pain, and grabbed his burning buttocks.

Ed turned on him with renewed fury, and informed him he had just broken the new rule of letting go of his ankles without permission.

"Just for that," Ed screamed in undisguised rage, "you'll get two more," and with that hauled off with the heavy wooden paddle, hitting him again. Little Randy flew across the kitchen and landed face first on the cold linoleum floor in a dark corner of the room, crying but still holding onto his ankles. Ed grabbed my terrified brother around the waist while Randy's hands remained locked around his ankles, set him upright, and administered the second blow.

I stood trance-like without moving a muscle, unable to help, powerless to prevent the next beating. I imagined myself safe in my room, away from the scene of the pain.

As the daily violence escalated, this dissociative groundwork morphed into "fugues" where I unknowingly disappeared to an unknown place. These "fugues" continued into adulthood whenever I experienced unbearable pain.

Once I learned about my dissociation, I spent years letting go of this old method of keeping the pain at bay.

Once I stopped dissociating, I went about the hard work of peeling away another survival tactic - not feeling. I learned to stay present with my emotions, rather than "powering" through the pain. This meant something new for me. Rather than ignoring my feelings, I sat with my anger, depression and sadness for days or months on end in order to resolve my circumstances. I was in very unfamiliar territory.

For instance, I dropped my familiar "tough guy" persona and mourned past and current losses. This change allowed me to "deal" and affect changes in my life rather than "suck up" an ever-increasing and suffocating mountain of pain.

At times it sucks to feel pain in a "normal" way. It also feels "freeing" and healthy. The past few years have brought relief to feel unencumbered by my past. All my hard work paid dividends in that I feel empowered to safeguard my own well-being.

Imagine my surprise when a new survival tactic reared its head and bit me in the ......

This survival mechanism is the part of me I call "computer girl." Of course, computer girl has her roots in my childhood. There was no one to take care of us and bring the much-needed order and cohesiveness into our lives. I learned to ignore my body, while I "powered through" and did what ever it took for my psyche to survive. After all, when your body is ravaged by abuse, it is accustomed to a normal state of physical pain and stress. So, computer girl took over and has continued to rule my life.

From the moment I wake up each day, "computer girl" boots up and races to organize my every movement, project, and all of the responsibilities I have collected along the way: I have to do this.....and that...and this...and this... work, home, family, friends, writing, recovery...This is how I can solve this problem at work....churn, churn, churn...This is how I can create this system at work..churn, churn, churn, This is how I can write this...churn, churn, churn...don't forget this appointment, that social event, resolve this...churn, churn, churn, etc.. until I go to bed.

Finally, at the brink of total exhaustion, I have to listen to my body. Am I tired? Run down? Stressed? Affecting my health? The answer to all of these questions is, "Yes!"

It's time to find a new rhythm for my life; to bring my mind and body into sync. I've had to tell computer girl - the wounded child - that she can still use her organizational skills, but she can no longer be in the drivers seat. The "adult me" is going to take control and care for us both. Computer girl is resisting.

It is a very uncomfortable process to listen to the body I've ignored all my life.

As I struggle to peel away another survival mechanism, just as before, I want instant results. But alas - change takes time.....

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Shack

Popular stories of "instant" forgiveness always concern me. The Shack, by William P. Young is no exception.

When I began reading The Shack, the author captivated me with a compelling story that began by briefly outlining a tale of family violence and estrangement. Mack, the central character, left home at the age of thirteen after spending two days tied to a tree while being beaten by his father for telling the "family secret" to a church elder.

Mack adapted to life on his own quickly, and journeyed forward by "burying" his past. As an adult, he opened his heart to create a new loving family with his wife and children - only to have an unspeakable tragedy strike again - the kidnapping and murder of his six-year old daughter.

Young eloquently captures the human spirit in Mack's questioning of how God could allow such a tragedy to befall His innocent children. He further questions if he can open his heart and trust his Heavenly Father, when his human father hurt him so deeply.

The author held my interest with the mysterious letter from Papa (God) inviting Mack back to the shack where he experienced the darkest moment of his past; the shack where he discovered confirming evidence of his daughters murder. Was this a sick joke? A trap set by the murderer? Or, a message from God?

Once inside the shack however, the story took on a "New-Age" detour that offered Band-Aid type platitudes and simplistic catch-phrases, rather than surgery for the soul.

The author does share some "pearls of wisdom" - especially in the messages of God's love for His people. Much of what he says in this regard is true; however, he dismisses any notion that God is just, fair, or has any rules, laws, or expectations; when in fact, our God of the Bible is both loving and just.

Which leads me to forgiveness: Again, the author offers some "pearls of wisdom" in that forgiveness is not about excusing, forgetting, trusting, or even necessarily reconciliation. Nonetheless, the god of The Shack sidesteps any prerequisites such as confession, repentance, restitution, and justice (Luke 17:3 - Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive).

After more than a days worth of conversations with Papa (God), Jesus, and Sarayu (The Holy Spirit) on the general principles of love, Sarayu heals Mack's human eyes so that he can see as God sees. As Mack looks out over a sea of God's children in the form of beautiful color and light, he notices one agitated light. When Sarayu reveals that light as Mack's dead father, he runs to embrace him in joyous forgiveness and reconciliation.

A few chapters later, Mack repeats this "magical" sort of forgiveness for the man who murdered his daughter even though we see no evidence of Mack working to heal his loss or deal with the injustice. Further, the murderer was never identified, caught, or tried for his crime.

Yet, within the space of a short conversation with Papa (God), Mack traveled the emotional distance from his desire for revenge to forgiveness:

Papa to Mack: "...You already know what I want, don't you?" (Kindle version, location 3573)

"Papa," he cried, "how can I ever forgive that son of a bitch who killed my Missy. If he were here today, I don't know what I would do. I know it isn't right, but I want him to hurt like he hurt me...if I can't get justice I still want revenge." (Kindle version - location 3576)

After Papa and Mack engage in a discussion on the power and necessity of forgiveness, Mack says out loud:

"I forgive you. I forgive you . I forgive you." (Kindle version - location 3629)

Then, Mack asks, "So, is it all right if I'm still angry?"
Papa was quick to respond "Absolutely!..."
(location 3634)

This sort of inauthentic forgiveness places an unrealistic burden on those who are unable to forgive by "magic." In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance." Additionally, it cheapens the journey for trauma survivors who have done the hard work to heal and possibly even forgive. (See Forgiveness and Abuse).

While it is true that forgiveness is made manifest by the love and grace of God, forgiveness requires our participation in the process. One of the dangers of encouraging premature forgiveness is that it usually doesn't last; thereby impeding genuine healing and forgiveness. Another danger is using premature forgiveness as a method of avoiding the truth, and feelings, or emotions that are too painful to "examine."

If we follow Christ's example, even Jesus expressed 27 verses of anger in Matthew 23:13-39 before going to the cross. If we hope to permanently forgive, expressing anger is an important part of the process. Additionally, it is interesting to note that Jesus did not utter the words, "I forgive you," Himself, but rather, He asked His Father who remained all powerful to forgive the unrepentant. ("Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34)

The true gift of forgiveness is in the spiritual and emotional growth we experience during an authentic healing process. God's power is truly fulfilled when the offender repents, the victim forgives, and both participate in the process. In the absence of repentance, forgiveness is not an obligation on the part of someone who has been harmed, but can take place with adequate healing.

As an abuse survivor, I for one, wouldn't trade the lessons I've learned by creating the space necessary to heal. Lessons about trusting others to validate my pain, anger, and sadness; trusting myself to safe-guard my own well-being; to respond appropriately to betrayal and injustice; to remain present with my feelings; to set boundaries; practice self-care, and take responsibility for my life. Through it all, I have experienced proof of God's love for me. All these "gifts" and more would have been lost with "false," premature, or instantaneous forgiveness, as well as undercut tangible, realistic, long-term solutions for real human suffering.

Forgiveness is not an event of immediacy. It's not a bolt of light that brightens the soul and burns the pain to ashes. Forgiveness is a slow transformational process. Hard earned life-lessons take a great deal of time and grueling work!

God doesn't promise to heal us by "magic," but rather invites us to trust that His Love and Grace will carry us through as we participate in our own healing journey.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

More on Life's Passages - Parenting

I don't think I have experienced a more joyous or frightening passage than moving into the season of parenting. The responsibility of raising children is not to be taken lightly.

Survivorship definitely has an affect on parenting.

A few years ago, a friend of mine confided that when she was young, she made the conscious choice never to have children. She said that she was positive she would damage her children the same way her parents had damaged her. She wanted to spare her unborn kids that agony. Now that she is past her child-bearing years, she has some sadness, but no regret.

I know another survivor who also decided not to have children. Although she loved kids, she didn't want to take the risk of harming them. After she married and became a caring teacher, many people marveled at her gift for nurturing little ones, and they encouraged her to have kids of her own. Still, her fear of parenting held her back. Ten years passed before she had healed enough to re-evaluate her position. She realized that she didn't have to be her mother. She is now thrilled to be the loving mother of two.

I didn't enter motherhood with as much foresight as these women. Young and newly married, I walked blindly into the decision to become a mother with a burning desire to create a new loving family. I sought to provide all the love and affection that goes with a happy childhood, along with the warmth and closeness that makes family life secure and content.

When I held my first-born daughter in my arms, joy soared through me and sang its very own special song of fulfillment and wonder. I looked at my daughter with awe. The baby was so tiny, so innocent and so vulnerable. Fear gripped me as I tried to fathom the vast responsibility, wise guidance and parental protection it would take to raise a healthy, whole human being.

I knew I had to make a conscious decision to learn a healthy method of parenting. I devoured parenting books, took parenting classes, surrounded myself with people whose parenting skills I respected and admired, and drew off of my earlier memories and experiences with my loving father.

Parenting is a lot of hard work. I tried to balance healthy parental guidance while I continued to navigate my own recovery. My daughters certainly illuminated my childhood losses. Each time I celebrated my children's triumphs, I felt the impact of my abuse and of my mother's emotional absence in my childhood and youth. As I celebrated with my girls all the important events and passages in their lives, I simultaneously experienced joy and sorrow. Joy at their milestones, happy to guide, advise and protect; I brimmed with pride and enthusiasm for them.. Then quietly, I mourned for myself.

Witnessing the mother-daughter relationship in others was especially sad. Watching mothers as they share life's passages - passing on love and wisdom to their daughters. This was never so apparent to me as when I witnessed the closeness of most mothers and daughters, where a mother guides her daughter through pregnancy, and shares the joy of childbirth. I mourned what should have been...what could have been...and was not.

Each day I journey further down the path of recovery, I discovered new ways in which my abuse affected my life, my relationships and my parenting.

Walking the fine line between the conscious choice I made not to be my mother and the less conscious choice not to be her polar opposite, kept me on my toes. After my children reached adulthood, I realized that I had leaned closer to "opposite" from my mother and had become overly involved in my children's lives. Fortunately, they were good about letting me know when I needed to "back off," and I did - for the most part.

What I didn't know as I was raising my children, was that just being the children of an abuse survivor would impact them. Although I watched over my children like a mother hen, my children were negatively affected by visits to my family members prior to our estrangement. The estrangement affected them as well. They witnessed me wrestling with my own childhood wounds. I unintentionally modeled for my children certain behaviors and responses in my adult relationships that resulted from my old wiring and abuse, such as reactions born out of PTSD.

Whenever I discover new ways in which my childhood abuse affects/affected my parenting, I tell my children and make a sincere effort to listen to what they have to say - even now in our adult-adult relationships.

I know I haven't done a perfect job; however, the good far outweighs the bad and I am always open to listening to my children.

Although my longing for a close mother/daughter relationship was never realized with my own mother, it is heartwarming to experience a loving mother/daughter relationship with my own children.

I love my children unconditionally and they know it. I did succeed at breaking the cycle of abuse, and I am happy to be the proud matriarch of a new family legacy.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

Marj, our carnival founder is hosting the May Edition of The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse at Survivors Can Thrive! The theme for this month's edition is:

Remembering "Veteran" Survivors

Please support the community by checking out the amazing array of posts in this months edition.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Guest Blogger

Michele Rosenthal of PARASITES OF THE MIND offers what is arguably the most comprehensive PTSD Blog on the web. She provides many informative posts, along with a wide range of PTSD Resources, a free Healing Workshop, and a weekly feature called, Survivors Speak.

I am honored that Michele invited me to be her guest blogger this week.

Thank you Michele!

My guest post on Survivors Speak is available here.


UPDATE: You can view Michele's follow-up post here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Remembering to Mourn

I've always had difficulty with mourning.

Often, when I find myself entering a new phase of healing, such as with my current life transition, I take note of the healing foundation I've already developed. I use my old ground work as a blueprint to guide me and a base on which to build from there.

It has taken a great deal of hard work to re-wire my brain, heart, and psyche in order to rid myself of my PTSD, dissociation and to change the old unhealthy internal messages, feelings and responses with new healthy internal messages feelings and responses. Although I am relieved that my abuse no longer feels present, I know that some of the effects of my abuse will linger for the rest of my life. I am after all, the culmination of all my experiences both good and bad, healed and unhealed.

In times of stress, it sometimes feels natural to go on "auto-pilot" and to fall back on old wiring and survival instincts, rather than remembering to "stay awake at the wheel" and to use my new tools. Of all the healing lessons I've learned - such as validating my pain, exercising self-care, expressing my feelings, and releasing my anger - mourning has always been the most difficult for me. Being able to mourn entails "remembering" to do what is unnatural for me; to remain "present" with my feelings (see What? I Can Feel This?).

After spending a few weeks carrying around unresolved sadness, I've been searching my healing toolbox to help me mourn the losses I'm currently feeling.

I've heard a number of times over the years about a technique that entails giving ourselves 5 minutes each day to mourn, and then to "drop it" and go about our day. I always thought that was a ridiculous notion. How can we mourn huge losses in just five minutes during a day?

For many years, I looked at this exercise as a "limiting," "get over it" sort of suggestion. That is - until I tried it and it worked! The difference is that when I tried it, I approached this exercise from a another perspective. I didn't look at it as only allowing myself 5 minutes a day, and then "dropping it," but rather committing myself to at least five minutes a day of "dedicated" mourning.

In other words, rather than carrying un-mourned sadness around with me all day, I sat down, and dedicated myself to mourning. I was amazed at how much this dedicated mourning helped to release my sadness and then I didn't carry it around all day.

Since I have difficulty mourning, I need rituals to help me mourn. The most helpful exercise for me is to tell myself, "It's time to mourn." I go into a quite room and choose music that lends itself to "touching" my sadness. Then I hold out my hand - palm up, close my eyes, and picture my heart gently cradling my loss in the palm of my hand (person, place, thing). I let the music and my feelings guide me as I cry, mourn, and honor this loss.......

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life's Passages - Transition to Adulthood -Becoming Un-Enmeshed

Last week, I wrote about "letting go" and how childhood abuse affects the later seasons of life. As I struggle to find a new rhythm at this stage in my life, I am reminded of prior passages that led to great growth. The first of course was my transition into adulthood. Boy was that a long and rocky transition! One that overlapped with other seasons as well.

I didn't understand at the time I entered adulthood that I was completely enmeshed with my mother. Or, that my enmeshment interfered with my ability to make adult choices that were not influenced by thoughts of her. For women like me, who grew up with an emotionally abusive and non-nurturing mother, healthy independence is a difficult place to achieve.

Long into adulthood, I failed to individuate from my mother. I was still a damaged child who felt responsible for her anger, blame, and hurt feelings. I couldn’t separate from my mother because, unconsciously, I kept looking for the love and approval that I never received as a child. So, I confused her needs, feelings, and opinions, with my own, rather than confidently making choices that were in my best interest.

Lucy Rose Fischer, Ph.D., in her book, Linked Lives: Adult Daughters and Their Mothers, writes: “For most daughters, it is the stability of the mothers’ attachment to them that allows them to go through the process of separation and develop a sense of independence.”

In other words, when we feel confident in the security of our home base - we are free to venture out and separate in a healthy manner. In the absence of this security, I remained negatively tied to my mother.

I had the normal "fight or flight" human survival instinct. For me, after a lifetime of fighting with my mother and remaining "stuck," I took flight. Our fourteen year estrangement gave me the space necessary to developed a new emotional foundation. Becoming un-enmeshed took years of physical separation along with hard work and complicated emotional growth - including learning to provide myself with the love and approval that I missed as a child.

During our years apart, I broke free from my enmeshment, and could see myself as a separate individual. I learned to exercise great boundaries, and to make choices that were based solely on what was best for me.

For many years, I thought that reconciling with my mother meant returning to my enmeshed (and abusive) family system. And it did, as long as I was still enmeshed.

I "let go" of the old relationship and built a new one in which there are clear, distinguishable lines of emotional separation.

Today, my own internal parent watches over me and provides all that which my mother is unable to give. For me, having a strong internal parent is what constitutes adulthood.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day again tomorrow. So, I thought I'd share an older post:

Holidays are difficult for those contending with losses (See Holiday Stress)– especially those holidays that celebrate the person at the center of our loss. The symbolism of Mother’s Day can be particularly difficult for estranged mothers and daughters.

During my twenties, I shrouded myself in denial. I tried to “buy” my mother’s love by providing her a day of false praise and tribute. In the years leading up to our estrangement, I often anticipated Mother’s Day with anger or dread. I searched the rows of Hallmark Cards trying unsuccessfully to find an authentic and respectful card that said something other than “For the best Mom ever.”

During the beginning of our estrangement, I often faced Mother’s Day with ambivalence - joyful about my role as a mother and sad about my painful losses with respect to my own mom.

The holidays do get better with time. After a few years of allowing myself the space to mourn my loss, I filled my Mother’s Days by honoring my own internal mother; by sharing a joy filled day with my daughters; by honoring the women who have made a positive difference in my life, and by advocating for other motherless daughters.

In that vein, make the space to mourn your loss and to celebrate the mother in you, who nurtures herself and/or her own children: Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

New Estrangement Support Sub-Groups

Someone recently asked me if I knew of any support groups for "estranged siblings."

Estranged Stories, a fairly new ning estrangement support group just added six sub-groups including:

Siblings of Estrangement
Parents Estranged from Daughters
Parents Estranged from Sons
Adult Children Estranged from Parents
Resolutions and Reconciliations

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Letting Go...and...The Passages of Our Lives

I've always had a hard time letting go; letting go of my denial, self-blame, the old damaging voices in my head, my fears, my family, old roles, etc.....Yet, each time I have "let go" my life became better.

My old therapist once told me that I would be "recovering" for the rest of my life. I didn't believe him. At least I didn't want too. For decades, I have been healing at a deeper and deeper level; peeling away layers and becoming more whole. As I've peeled away each layer, I've rejoiced and said, "Yay! I'm in a great place! I'm done!"

By the time I reconciled with my family, I certainly thought I was "done" healing. The evidence was good. I no longer felt "triggered" by past events, and my abuse is more of a distant memory than a "present" reality. I'm able to view life through a "new lens" and the past no longer colors my day to day life.

Yet, here I am, once again finding myself struggling with "letting go," of something old. I think I finally figured out what my therapist meant nearly twenty years ago by "recovering for the rest of my life." It doesn't mean what I thought he meant. It doesn't mean I'll have nightmares about my abuse, or suffer from flash-backs, PTSD, or dissociation for the rest of my life. I don't. But what I think it does mean is that my childhood abuse will "have an affect" on the passages of my life.

As I pass through each season of life, I see where my childhood construction has been an important element to consider. We experience many seasons in our lives; the transition into adulthood; the season of parenting children; our professional years; the passage into the "empty nest" years; our season of retirement; the twilight years, etc.

At fifty-one, I'm trying to find a new rhythm in my life. It is time to shed the hectic, frenzied schedule I have kept since I was a child. Nonetheless, once again, I find that I am having a hard time letting go of something that no longer works for me. It is important for me to realize how I "got here" in order to get somewhere else.

As a child, no one took care of me. So, I took care of every one and every thing - except myself. Without realizing it, I've followed this pattern through every passage and every area of my life. Between work, home, and family, I have taken on sole responsibility for too much. It's time to "let go."

This doesn't mean an "all or nothing" sort of thing or simply "dropping" certain responsibilities. This means doing the hard emotional work to re-organize my life in a manner that everything still gets done - but not by me.

There is great value in examining the past. It can offer insight into where I am in the present and aid in forging new growth and making changes for a better future.

I'm on the healing road again......

Book Review

Samin Khan, a Postgraduate Philosophy Lecturer, just reviewed Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation for Metapsychology Online Reviews.

I am profoundly grateful for his heartfelt and amazing review. You can view it here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Stages of Blame...

...for me at least:

1) Self-Blame
2) Blaming the Perpetrator
3) Reclaiming and Taking Responsibility for my life - Moving from Victim to Survivor

1) Self- Blame: For me, stage one lasted the longest; more than twenty years. Sometimes, I still mourn for the little girl who felt suffocated under the load of blame and shame; hopelessness and betrayal.

Ever since childhood, I internalized my mothers blame, denial and the minimization of my abuse. Other family members and bystanders contributed to my feelings of shame as well. Sometimes, self-blame manifested itself by my arguing to be heard and defensiveness. Finally, during a therapy session at the age of 35, I pondered how I would react if someone threw one of my children down a flight of cement stairs. The thought of anyone hurting one of my kids horrified me. Although it was difficult, I turned the corner from internalizing blame to accepting my mothers responsibility for my abuse.

2) Blaming the Perpetrator: This stage also lasted a long time; approximately ten years. I placed the responsibility for my childhood abuse squarely where it belonged - on my abusers.

This ten year period was a time of huge growth for me. I was freed from my denial and had the opportunity to really examine my abuse and the effect it had on my life. I expressed my anger, I mourned my losses and learned to love the little girl of long ago.

3) Reclaiming and Taking Responsibility for my life - Moving from Victim to Survivor:

Self-blame was an unfortunate by-product of abuse. Blaming the abuser was an important and necessary shift in the recovery process. Armed with the reality of the facts, I was able to set a healing foundation to safeguard my own well being. At that point in my recovery- how my psyche became damaged, wasn't as important to me as how I was going to move forward to the life I deserved. I realized that the only one who could take responsibility for my life was me!

Moving past the blame was a huge relief for me. It gave me control over my own life and felt very empowering. This doesn't mean that I have erased from my mind that my abusers are responsible for my abuse. On the contrary. It means that no longer "obsess" about the blame, but rather take responsible for my life today!

I went through a similar process with my family estrangement: Self-blame and defensiveness; blaming my family; and then taking responsibility for my own life.

What a relief. My family no longer has control over my life!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why Isn't it Okay to Be Angry?

Most everyone says it is good to express our feelings; happy, glad, sad, fear, affection, guilt, shame, grief, courage, respect, hope...and then there is the dreaded - anger!

Lately, many people have said to me, "Why does everyone tell me that I shouldn't be angry? That makes me even angrier!"

Since so many people have talked to me recently about their struggles with anger, I thought I would re-post one of the very first posts I wrote when I began blogging.

Dealing with Anger

Anger corrodes... Forgive and forget... Negativity is harmful to your health... These often-heard statements usually instill a sense of urgency that implies that we should "get over it" immediately.

For many years, I was so frightened to admit that I was angry that I tried to pretend I was not.
I continued to allow my abuse while I worked at suppressing my anger. Eventually, I felt little else but simmering resentment. Without receiving validation that I had a right to my feelings, my anger remained stuffed inside and unresolved.

Anger has its place. It took me a long time to realize that I needed to embrace my anger. Not forever, but long enough to respect a healthy sort of rage over what had happened to me. My anger provided a tool for protecting myself from further harm, and a springboard from which to heal.

Although my mom abused and betrayed me, I felt very conflicted about her. She hurt me deeply, and nevertheless I loved my mother. I loved her and I was angry with her.

People are often uncomfortable with anger and therefore advise us that it isn't good to be angry. Their well-meaning advice proved to be a great disservice to me.

It wasn't until I did receive validation from other people that I found appropriate ways to discharge my rage, protect myself, and move past my anger. I gave myself permission to be constructively angry - to use my irritation as an aid in moving forward - until the hurt no longer felt present. It is important to honor the depth of our injuries as a way of moving past the pain.

Finding methods to diffuse my resentment wasn't easy. Solitary anger exercises were not effective for me. I tried techniques such as writing an angry letter and ceremoniously burning it. Still my anger remained.

Expressing my anger in the company of trusted confidantes was very helpful. Dark humor like "bad mother" jokes helps for me as well. Participating with friends in interactive exercises gave me the sense of not being alone, and validated that I had a right to my anger. I am certain that what makes seemingly unbearable pain bearable, is the ability of another to hold our pain. They held my pain and helped me move past my rage.

There is an important distinction between - a) perpetuating anger by raging at the individuals who harmed us, and - b) discharging anger in safe environments apart from the individuals who caused the harm.

Bringing my injuries "into the light" and acknowledging my anger in the safety of supportive individuals brought me emotional freedom, and a measure of peace.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Love Ya Award

Thank you to Colleen at Surviving by Grace for giving me The LOVE YA award: “These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

If you've won it already, and I know a few of you have, even more than once! - please just accept this as a gift!
Thanks to the following for blessing us with your openness in sharing your journey:

1. Tamara at Desire to Heal who shares an unquenchable and successful desire to heal herself and support others survivors.

2. Michelle at Parasites of the Mind who is not only an amazingly supportive blogger - she is the "go to gal" for everything PTSD.

3. Marj at Survivors Can Thrive - to me, Marj is the heart and soul of the survivor blogging community, tying us all together.

4. Just Be Real who makes sure every blogger knows they are not alone!

5. Patricia at Spiritual Journey of a Lightworker who sheds a hopeful, spiritual light on recovery.

6. Mile191 - at Come into my Closet - who shares her riveting voice and "soaks up" her recovery within a wide community of survivors.

7. Faith Allen of Blooming Lotus - for her heart-felt vulnerability within a wide range of topics that question, inform and investigate all aspects of recovery.

8. Enola who gives us a clear window into suvivorship by beautifully sharing so many aspects of her life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finding a Therapist

Finding a therapist can be a frighting undertaking for adult survivors of childhood abuse.

Someone recently asked me how I found good therapists:

After a couple of bad therapeutic experiences, I learned that it was essential for me to find a therapist who specialized in recovery from severe childhood abuse/trauma.

But how?

I've used three avenues to find a professional specializing in abuse recovery:

1) Community referral - My aunt is a therapist (non trauma issues). She has been a good source to find "highly recommended" trauma recovery therapists where I live. If you know of a therapist with an excellent reputation in another area of analysis (or know someone else who does) ask if they can refer you to someone well known in the field of trauma recovery.

I have given referrals to other survivors in my area for therapists who have been helpful to me. If you know other survivors in your area, this would be a good resource.

2) Local University Psychology Department/Hospital Trauma Department referrals.
This is another successful avenue I have used.

3) Insurance Company Referrals. If you have medical insurance with "mental health" coverage, they may be able to recommend a professional who deals with trauma recovery.

Next: The Interview

I ask a list of questions pertinent to me:

1) What is your background and education?
2) What types of clients to you see?
3) Describe how you see the therapeutic relationship?
4? What are the recovery principles you adhere to and methods you use and why?
5) Are you comfortable with strong emotions, i.e..denial, anger, terror, etc...
6) How would you solve a situation if one of your own personal issues clouded your objectivity with mine?

I ask this question because once, during therapy, I told my therapist that I thought he'd lost his objectivity. He said, "You're right. We are in an area where my personal issues have clouded my judgment and frankly, I don't think I can get it back."

While I was grateful for his honesty, I was sad that I had to find another therapist. I was also afraid that if I invested a great deal of time and energy in a new therapist, I could have to start all over again from scratch.

My new counselor told me that it is not uncommon for a therapist's issues to become "tangled" up with a client during the therapeutic process - especially as we delve very deep. Therapy is an emotional journey and they are only human.

He did say however, that when this happens, it is a wonderful opportunity for the therapist to do "their own work." This could mean, one of many things:

  1. The therapist didn't know he or she was "reacting" from his or her own issues until the client pointed out that something was "amiss" and is then able to make a quick adjustment.
  2. The therapist could have an open discussion with the client and "own" their stuff.
  3. The therapist may feel this issue is substantial enough to seek individual help (apart from the client) from another therapist.
  4. Or even have a third-party therapist help "untangle" the issue between the therapist and the client (if this is a longstanding relationship that "hit a bump."

In any case, I want to know "up front" how the therapist would handle this sort of situation. To say it couldn't happen would be a red flag for me.

Next: Establishing the Relationship

1) Trust - this is a huge issue for survivors. As I said, after a couple of bad therapeutic experiences and a lifetime of family abuse and betrayal, trust was a big issue for me. When I met with my first "abuse recovery therapist," I flat out told him, "I don't trust!" He said, "That's okay, we'll build trust!" He was right.

2) As we get to know one another, I ask myself, "Am I comfortable with this person?"

3) I'm looking for someone who listens well, asks questions, suggests exercises, and offers examples of psychological theory to consider, rather than giving answers or telling me what I should do.

4) Validation. To me, a good therapist can validate my feelings, "bear witness" to my trauma, and ask thought provoking questions that invite growth.

5) A good therapist provides a safe environment to discharge anger and other strong emotions.

6) A good therapist provides a safe environment for me to talk about my experiences without fear of blame or judgment. Nor will he/she try to "rescue" me from my pain - but allow me to be "present" with my feelings in order to learn to deal with them.

7) A good therapist has good personal boundaries.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The April Edition of The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

is up at childabusesurvivor. Mike is hosting a huge edition this month with a wide array of inspiring topics!

Check it out!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

A reader recently asked me if I would share some qualities that I came to understand were "red-flags" for unhealthy relationships vs. qualities of healthy relationships.

Wow! Tough question.

For many years, it was difficult for me to discern what was and was not healthy for me. Even after considerable healing there were many times that I felt "triggered" even if the other person was behaving in a healthy manner. For example, if another person held a matriarchal role in my life, or other such circumstances that triggered old unsafe childhood feelings, I couldn't differentiate between whether my present situation was unsafe, or I was experiencing old unhealed wounds.

Conversely, sometimes someone was behaving in a manner that was injurious to me and I failed to recognize the behavior because I was still wired to treat myself the way my mother treated me. I argued and "engaged" rather than protecting myself.

Today, I believe that I am responsible to safeguard my own well-being. So, some of my red flags are about me.

I'm sure there are many relationship/friendship "red-flags," however, these are the warning signs that are most pertinent to me:

1. Boundary Issues: Do they maintain their own healthy boundaries? Do they respect boundaries in others? Do they have enmeshment issues? It has only been the last few years that I've learned to consistently maintain clear, respectful, boundaries. Everyone needs to take responsibilities for their own boundaries; yet, a red flag for me, is if I need to spend an inordinate amount of time guarding those boundaries.

2. Blaming: Someone who takes no personal responsibility for his or her own actions or problems, but rather blames me or others.

3. Unrealistic Expectations: Expects me to meet all of his or her needs, and/or tries to move the relationship along too quickly.

4. Dishonesty, Betrayal: Because I was betrayed in my most basic relationships, it took me years to realize that I actually betrayed myself when I accepted betrayal as a part of my relationships.

5. Lack of Compassion, empathy, or inability to connect with others: I have to be very careful with this one. I grew up without any compassion or empathy. As an adult, I needed to learn a healthy balance between 1) learning to provide my own self-compassion, rather than a dependence on others to solely meet this need, and 2) recognizing when someone lacks empathy, compassion, or connectedness.

6. Critical, Demeaning, or disrespectful: If I don't recognize these qualities right away, they can slowly chip away at my self-esteem.

7. Controlling, Bossy, Demanding: Big red flag!

8. Poor conflict resolution skills.

9. Poor self-esteem: Boastful; needs his or her ego fed at the expense of others and/or places his or her needs above everyone else.

10. Crazy-making, ceaseless arguments. This is two-fold for me. It is a red flag about the other person if they need to be "right"all the time (i.e. facts or circumstances). Although feelings have no right or wrong, it is also a red flag about me if I find myself engaging in ceaseless arguments looking for understanding about my feelings. It took me a long time to learn not to engage, but rather stand confidently in my own experience.

Healthy qualities would be the opposite:

1. Maintains his or her own boundaries; respects boundaries in others.
2. Accepts responsibility for his or her own problems and actions.
3. Able to meet his or her own needs as well as share in each others lives.
4. Honest and open.
5. Displays an appropriate degree of compassion, empathy, and understanding.
6. Loving, respectful, dignified, focus's on positives rather than negatives
7. Mutual problem solving
8. Good, calm, listening and communication skills
9. Good self esteem: Self-respectful, humble, and is respectful of others needs.
10. Places relationships ahead of need to be right, and/or can stand confidently in own experience.