I don’t know what I was supposed to have been before abuse, but I don’t think it was this. In a lot of ways, I believe I am perfect as is. I also believe that the track for my life was interrupted… that at 37, I would be much more settled than I am now. I don’t have money or property or children or a steady job or degrees or any of the things that most people my age manage to achieve. I am grateful for my life experiences, but at the same time, there are a lot of people wondering these things with me. It’s the look of “why aren’t you there yet?” The short answer is, “I’m just not.” I’m never looking for the short answer.
The long answer begins with escapism, and perhaps that is also where it ends. At 13 or 14, I began to think that helping Diane achieve her goals and being her friend was more important than investing in myself. This is typical of emotionally abused people. They begin to feel incompetent even if the abuser tells them they’re not. The root of this, for me, is not trusting my own intuition. I thought Diane was making a play for me by giving me her college journal; either she wasn’t, or she changed her mind. In either case, I was wrong about something so gargantuanly huge that it told me my instincts were off. It led to not being able to trust myself with anything else. I was the co-pilot to my own life and let other people make decisions for me because then, if they turned out to be wrong, they hadn’t been my decisions in the first place. I was able to shift blame onto other people for my life choices because they weren’t. They were a series of reactions.
“Blame” is a strong word, but I don’t really have anything less potent to offer. I mean “blame” in the sense that I was reacting to other people rather than making my own decisions, but that does not mean that the decisions made for me were always negative. What I found was that when I “put my big girl panties on” and made my own decisions, I was wrong about them, too… reinforcing the pattern that I was untrustworthy and it was better to listen to my music and play with my iPhone than drive. I can fix your life in a matter of minutes. Mine? Not so much.
I have found that abuse tends to create two personality types.
The first is the person that feels they have to control everything about their environment. They cannot, even for one second, let go, even if it is to let other people take care of them.
The second is the person that feels they have no control over anything, because it has been wrested away and they get used to the feel of it.
I am definitely in the latter category. The journey of this web site is not to go from type 2 to type 1, but to try and create a balance. When I go into control freak mode, I am unable to accept criticism, unable to be open to the universe. When I let go of control completely, I feel steamrolled and unworthy.
I am so good at that steamrolled part right up until I’m not. I have a very long fuse. I am happy to co-pilot until I feel that no choices are my own, and then I lash out like a banshee on fire. Everyone else gets that “run away, run away” look on their faces because it’s a side of me they’ve never seen. I mean, I’m so affable, right?
I unleash my inner control freak to take back my power and because I have had a lot of deep-seeded rage for a long time, it often goes……….. poorly. I said yesterday that I’m now on gabapentin, which has released a lot of that rage so I don’t get rattled like that anymore. I’m looking forward to seeing how that affects me in the future. Right now, I am only concentrating on me. I do not have the ability to work on relationships because I have retreated from all of them, save the ones that aren’t too deep with my “host family.” Occasionally I will open up to James or Aaron, but for the most part, I sit in my own silence, thinking about what I’m going to do without outside influences…. possibly for the first time in my life.
All of the advice and counsel I have given other people over the years has been startlingly wise when I’ve actually applied it to me. As it turns out, I do know what I’m doing given the space to really use the tools I’ve been given. That’s because now there are no voices that say “you’re doing it wrong.” All of my relationships, whether romantic or platonic, have taken on that role for me- the “you’re doing it wrong” part, because even if they started out as equal, I would invariably slide into old patterns and give up my voice. It’s what I know. I don’t have experience in listening to others’ voices and not taking them in as more important as my own, particularly with those I feel are in authority over me… not so much with bosses, but my girlfriends become authority figures in their own right, because to keep them happy is my “job.”
I believe that Dana and I did not succeed because we both had that drive in us. We both followed without leading. We both shifted blame for life decisions onto the other one.
I did not succeed with Katharin or Kathleen because they were both the classic “I can’t lose control of anything” personalities and I was terrified of both of them. That is because their anger and judgment was swift, and I did not know how to react to it except to lie down and take it…. obviously, I was wrong. Obviously I was incapable.
With Kathleen, I developed a very unhealthy pattern called “learned helplessness.” If I did a shitty job at something, she’d come along and do it for me. This is not because I was incapable of taking care of myself. This was because she only wanted things done her way, and no matter how hard I tried, it was never right enough. So, the obvious answer was to let her do everything so I didn’t get yelled at, stomped on, or had any other type of emotional violence levied my way.
In retrospect, that pattern started to show itself with Dana, too, because when I’d clean up the kitchen, she’d come along behind me and “fix it.” she didn’t like the way I folded towels or t-shirts or pretty much anything else except cooking, so I let her do it because I hated being treated like a toddler. It wasn’t that I was incapable. I just felt like her standards were a moving target and I never quite measured up. When I stood up for myself, it invariably devolved into every mistake I’d ever made, and it wasn’t worth it to start those fights just to get some power in the relationship.
I am sure she would disagree with me, because my emotional standards were also a moving target. She felt like she couldn’t win with me, and while that wasn’t always true, it was her emotion about it, and all emotions are valid. I have heard the phrase “I can’t win with you” over my lifetime a lot… however, it has always been with people who have trouble letting go of control. I get along very well with people in which those patterns are not established, and it is amazing how quickly I can force a relationship into it. It’s like a superpower.
With Argo, it was a mutual, healthy relationship by all counts until I just became so me that I couldn’t deal. I viewed her as an authority figure because I learned early on that my emotions toward her were “you’re so much smarter than I am.” My feeling about this has changed. Her IQ is higher, but my EQ tops hers. Our relationship devolved into “you do all the thinking, I’ll do all the emoting.” It worked well for a little bit…. as those relationships are wont to do. It changed over time when ALL I did was emote.
And, come to think of it, that’s been my pattern with that personality type since I was a kid. My power didn’t lie in thinking through things, but emoting through them. Led by your heart is a nasty way to go, because when you let go of critical thinking, you let go of a part of yourself that’s probably not supposed to go. Control freaks (and I use this term lovingly) are happy to tell you what they think. People that don’t want to control anything are happy to tell you how they feel about things, but not so much with the thinking themselves. Things are the way they are. You react, instead of thinking forward.
It’s hard to create your own life when your ability to think forward is arrested, because you lose the ability to take care of yourself if the thinker disappears. I have said up until now that my perfect job is “housewife,” because in thinking that I couldn’t think, I was happy to stay home and isolate. Thinking is for other people.
Also, I think I knew innately that my real superpower came from writing things down, and what would be better than being able to isolate in my own house, with little responsibility but cleaning so that I could spend the rest of the time lost in my own emotions? The breakdown comes in where I stop taking care of the house, I stop taking care of myself, and I stop taking care of my family because being lost in my emotions invariably leads to shutting out the entire world. I start to live in one room of the house, because I feel safer there, kind of like kenneling a dog.
I am an excellent puppy.
The change started when I became responsible for this web site. It gave me drive and focus, because I had to put out content every day. When responses started rolling in, I realized that I was a better thinker than I thought I was, and it gave me even more inertia because that’s what self-esteem will get you. It seemed sudden that I began to get out of the box Dana built for me, the one that said I couldn’t take care of myself, and she rebelled against my new personality. So did I, because I did not recognize all the changes I’d made too fast. Especially with Argo, it became “necessary” to retreat into my old patterns because I was too afraid to take on being in charge of my own life… not yet, anyway. I thought I needed her advice on just about damn near everything, and as it turns out, I didn’t. I just thought I did, having had years of practice at thinking I didn’t know a damn thing.
I slowly gave up my individuation, and the equal relationship we had in the beginning turned nasty, because she didn’t want that responsibility. I put so much on her plate, without even really meaning to do so. I loved her ball-breaking bitch attitude like I loved air. She got shit HANDLED. I wanted to be like that until I felt my balls were in a vise as well.
I should speak more to that, because if she reads that line, she will not like it… and she shouldn’t.
I gave up too much power because I was gargantuanly wrong about something in our relationship (mostly the amount of love and energy she was willing to give me) and I gave up my power. When I started emoting, her reactions varied from annoyance to anger, and I started to feel like I couldn’t do anything right. I couldn’t take back my power once I’d lost it because she was not in front of my face. We were inferring each other’s personalities rather than being willing to cry it out over tea and Kleenex. I crumpled in all of this, ruminating endlessly with Dana about it until I got so angry that between Dana’s jealousy and Argo’s refusal to see me as anything but a basketcase led me to react with such anger that I said some things that I think it will take her a long time to get over, and there’s a part of me that thinks she won’t ever, they were such direct hits on her soul. In the moment, I meant to crush and destroy. Seconds later, I realized that I was so wrong that I crumpled in grief, knowing I’d caused so much pain and wishing like hell I could take it back. Tears streamed down my face at my own inadequacy at explaining myself in a way that did not include unleashing rage.
I went to the other extreme, wanting to lie in front of her naked to the core. Let her rage at my soul, too. Let her inflict the same sort of damage on me that I’d done to her, because maybe it would even the score, or at least, let her get in some good parting shots so that I wouldn’t feel so bereft at what I’d done. As a sexually abused woman, I would have let her degrade me if she’d wanted. Permanent scars to remind me every day of what I’d done. It absolutely tortures me when I think of those ugly words, because there are no do-overs, and in this case, probably no begin-agains, either.
If there were, it would be incumbent upon me to protect her heart in every way imaginable, and I would spend every breath trying. She saved me from a disastrous fate, and this is how I repaid it? In my own mind, it’s good that she went away to protect herself from me… but the still small voice in me also says that I want to make it right. I want to love her the way she should have been loved and treasured all along.
These are my lessons to learn, so that in new relationships I have an awareness of all these things. I have an amazing capacity to love, and I want to let it show…. just not without loving myself, first.
9 thoughts on “Awareness”
Do you think your “self” was molded before the abuse, and your issues are organic, or do have you been told that it’s more of PTSD concern. Because your meds are crazy – must be a combo that is being treated?
There’s a lot at play in your comment.
1) Freud and Erikson both say that your personality is developed from the time you’re six years old. It’s quite possible that some of my patterns were learned before the abuse, but at the same time, my young childhood was somewhat idyllic- no indication of abuse at all. There is no reason to believe that the patterns I developed from abuse came beforehand. I don’t remember a lot of what happened between birth and 11, being 37 now. Again, though, there’s no reason to believe I was abused.
2) My parents, my school teachers, and the adult friends I made at church were well aware of the inappropriate friendship Diane was offering me, and cornered my mother many times. One in particular, who saw something that didn’t sit right with him, and told my mother under no uncertain terms to get me away from her as fast as she possibly could. That led Diane and me to disappear under their noses and communicate anyway. By the time all of this was happening, there was nothing short of jailing me in my room and taking away my phone (a separate line from my parents, I might add) that would have stopped the relationship altogether. And even then, I managed to get to the mailbox before they did, continuing the relationship when it was clearly not sanctioned. My eighth grade history teacher will attest to this. She saw the face of emotional abuse even though I didn’t, although I didn’t know this until relatively recently. My mother confronted Diane angrily, and I was standing outside the door sweating blood. I knew my mother would try to make sure it was over, and Diane went against my parents wishes, anyway. I cannot say whether that was better or worse for me; separating us would have been devastating to both of us in the moment, but would have severed the emotional connection we both clearly felt. One of my other adult friends felt as I did- that we were kindred spirits and everyone should leave us alone. The gut feeling that I was being abused and we were possibly sleeping together did not go away for anyone. They trusted their gut instincts, and I did not. Regardless of Diane’s feelings on the matter, giving me her college journal with clear poetry about sex was wrong. I have re-lived that moment to the point where it’s been recommended that I see no therapist *but* a trauma specialist.
3) I do not agree with the insinuation that the so-called crazy meds are responsible in all of this, because even though I have a chemical imbalance, I started therapy for this relationship in eighth grade, where it was clear to my therapist that something was going on, but I wouldn’t talk about it. I didn’t want to get Diane in trouble, and I knew I would if I talked. It was the same with my eighth grade teacher. I was tight-lipped and silent, because the relationship was clearly on the downlow, and I would have died before anyone got anything out of me. There was such a marked change in my personality that even if I wasn’t being physically abused, the relationship had caused an amazing amount of damage. I still, to this day, ruminate on everything that’s happened, because the patterns set in that relationship were always secretive. No one knew about our conversations, and Diane has lied many times to cover it up, even telling her partner that she thought when I turned 18, I would just go away… while at the same time saying to me that I should come and live with her in Portland.
Say what you will Pam. But ANY abuse as a youngling shapes you and molds your adulthood. I am definitely a type 1 here. I must have control because when I was abused I didn’t have control and I was helpless. And that helped mold me. Just like it helped mold Leslie. I don’t remember ever being helpless, she was confident and open and loving. All the things I secretly wished I could be. We were best friends for many years. Then we became distant. I can tell you from a survivor’s standpoint that her behavior after is pretty typical. Especially when your personality does a 180.
Well aware of childhood abuse as I was a victim myself, so don’t really need your enlightenment. So I well understand survival, the behavior that comes following, and how it changes you forever and marks your behavior, relationships and your future. My comment about the meds was worded poorly — they seem to be (from what you’ve written), very strong in substance (and hopefully efficacy). My question is are those meds treating both the PTSD/abuse and organic issues? Separately, concurrently? More a question of scientific curiosity, really.
I don’t think that my meds treat any of my behavioral patterns. That’s up to me and my therapist. They change the chemicals in my brain so that they function normally. I have a severe seratonin deficiency, and I take a mood stabilizer so that I don’t go too high or too low in hypomania. I don’t generally do outrageous things while on a high, but I have been known to stay up for three days straight, while the rest of the month drowning in a low. The gabapentin was added for deep-seeded anxiety, and I found that it calmed my rage as well by taking away the physical responses to anger- particularly the fight or flight response (shortness of breath, etc.).
And as for enlightenment, I was just furthering the dialogue. No offense meant.
Thanks — your honesty is appreciated, and probably helpful to others too. My comment on enlightenment was regarding the previous comment, not yours.
This is what I know as fact-I was one of Leslie’s teachers when she was in 8th grade. I saw a profound change in her during the course of the year. I worried about her. I tried to get her to tell me what was wrong, to give me any hint at all of what was happening to her. I was filled with angst because I suspected abuse and I couldn’t get enough information to move forward, to justify alerting authorities. Leslie was suffering and I found myself unable to help. I have lived with a guilt about this, my inadequacies, for more than twenty years. Things that happened that year, and not before or “organic,” had a tremendous impact on her life.
Leslie, you know what my hopes for you are. As always I am holding you in my heart.
I probably would have told you, Mrs. New, if I hadn’t known there was a path back to Diane herself. As the enabler, you always protect the path. James and Penny adopted Diane as their own. I didn’t know whether you would talk to them, and they, in turn, would talk to Diane. I protected her at all cost to myself, because at that age, it was so black and white. There was no penetration, ergo, there was no abuse. I didn’t realize what was happening to my personality until years and years later. I didn’t realize a lot. Trying to turn my life around now. Moving back to DC was a start. Now I just have to keep going.
I keep going back to one of Argo’s comments- “one day, she will no longer have power over you.” That day came. I was afraid that I would lose her in terms of forgetting what we shared. Even with an abuser, you tend to have good memories, too. However, I haven’t forgotten anything. I just view it differently. The bad is terrible, but the good is treasured. I separate it out, kind of like watching Cosby in real life and watching Cosby on TV.