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

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.....