Highs and Lows

During self-imposed exile to the basement, I watched a couple of movies that I’d wanted to see for a while but just hadn’t put forth the time and expense to go to the theater. The first was Baby Driver, which is one that I will watch over and over, running the first 20 minutes on repeat. I recommend that whatever you’re watching right now, ditch it and see this movie. You’re welcome.

The second is Call Me By Your Name, and I have issues.

In Italy in 1983, the age difference of the two young men was completely legal… but it sent shockwaves of anxiety through me because it just didn’t seem ethical. It wasn’t the age difference that bothered me. Seven years isn’t noticeable at all when one partner is 30 and the other is 37. It was the timing. The younger of the two men was 17. The older, 24.

Keeping in mind that I have no leg to stand on when it comes to talking about ethics, the movie tapped into some of my deepest and most memorable scars. If you’re post-college, no matter what the age of consent may be, I’m still not sure you have the right to mess with a teenager’s feelings, much less have a short summer fling with them and leave them in tears… then call back a few years later only to say “I’m getting married… is that okay with you?”

If I had known that’s what the movie was about, I wouldn’t have watched it in the first place. I’m trying to get those pieces of scar tissue stronger than they’ve ever been. Therefore, I would never intentionally trigger myself back into that place, because it’s dark and twisty there.

The thing I’m so much better about now than I have been in previous years is snapping myself out of it. I have learned tips and tricks for changing my own mood, and I use them. The axiom is true that hurt people hurt people, so even though I am not entirely rid of pain, it’s at least manageable. What I Know for Sure™ is that I never want to be in a position where I’m speaking from a place of pain to people that don’t deserve it. I’ll never be able to get mad at the one who does, so my work to do is making a thunderstorm back off to rain, then sprinkles, then partly cloudy. I don’t think that anyone whose been hurt in a similar manner to me would say that we ever get to sunshine, because even with all the coping mechanisms in the world, there are still triggers that make moving pictures dance across our minds as if no time has passed at all. Then, the moment passes, and all is right again.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it’s an indication that I need to change course mentally when I feel it physically. A knee-jerk reaction to a trigger is generally a headache or feeling like I’m going to vomit. It’s so attractive.

The thing that is altogether different now is that I recognize what is happening rather than wondering what it could possibly be. A major part of being angry and, in turn, stuffing it down into my socks is that I couldn’t articulate what was going on.

It was legal. But it wasn’t ethical.

I had issues.

Seventeen Cents, Part II

Here is Part I. It is not necessary to read it to understand this entry, but recommended.


Fires cause emotional distress as well as physical damage. They threaten life and property and are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and terrifying. Children often are affected by what they see during and after a fire, whether or not they are physically injured. The best predictor of postfire distress in children appears to be how frightening the experience of the fire was and the extent of the loss.

-National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Ever since I saw the three gravestones of the children who were burned up in a house fire at my mom’s cemetery, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what happened in the aftermath of our own. I don’t remember what the symbols on the other graves were (Tigger? Marie from Aristocats?), but one stuck out. It was a GIANT R2-D2. While it is certainly what the child would have wanted (and I take nothing away from that fact), it is a punch in the gut to walk past, because you instantly know you are not walking past the grave of an old adult who died of natural causes. For instance, no one who dies at 98 is going to have people gathering around the casket at the visitation saying, dear God… they took her too soon. R2-D2 gravestones subvert the natural order of things, for me presenting with stomach-churning, bile-inducing nausea. Those graves tapped into every scar they could find that was still covered in the lightest of scabs.

I was 12, and my sister was seven; it was late enough on the calendar that we were only five years apart instead of six. As is often the case, Lindsay’s reaction was delayed, because we’d spent the first few nights at our mother’s parents’ house, a short while in a borrowed lake house, and then settled into our own home… at which point the bishop told us to move. There was not really enough time to settle before another enormous change happened, and though it was difficult for me, I met Diane the first Sunday in my new church, and the world was never the same after that. I was too busy to bother with the house fire anymore.

It wasn’t all her- it was discovering a part of me I didn’t know was there… only inklings and worry that I was an abnormal psych case waiting to happen, not knowing that it was healthy and just plain average to have same-sex attractions. It’s even sort of average to have the bipolar depression, anxiety, and ADHD combo meal (I think that’s a number 11, if you’re ordering). One in four people get depression at some point in their lives, but it isn’t all the same. For some, it’s situational. For others, it’s not. But the fact that so many people might not be in the same boat with me, but certainly navigating the same waters makes feeling normal despite not feeling normal comforting & safe.

I can honestly say without reservation that something has been wrong since childhood- nothing I’ve been through has changed the fact that I’ve had a chemical imbalance far longer than I’ve been taking medication for it, and it took years to find the right protocol because no one suspected I was on the bipolar spectrum until college, when I went back to University of Houston in 2006. Therefore, upping seratonin didn’t do a whole lot for me. It wasn’t until I was put on a mood stabilizer that I knew what it felt like to live without depression at all.

The hardest part was hearing my doctor tell me that he thought I was bipolar, because the images it brought to mind were nothing close to my reality. As I told Dana on the phone, “I don’t want to be Sally Field from ER!” Bipolar disorder, like Autism, is a sliding scale of challenges, and I’m on the end where my lows are so low that my highs are barely noticeable, but there. When I’m on a high, I act virtually the same, I just can’t sleep. There’s a line drawn in the sand between what I deal with every day and the complete sensory overload flipout I had three years ago, because it wasn’t due to being bipolar. It was completely psychological, not psychiatric. A med change helped, but I was vomiting up old trauma that I’d boxed up and put away, and when it was unearthed from deep within, I could not even. Psychotherapy and medication have to go hand in hand for true relief, and unfortunately for me, I didn’t think there was anything psychologically wrong with me right up until I found my emotional baggage hold. There was a pilot case for the fire, a hanging bag for internalized homophobia/emotional abuse, and a Samsonite 29 inch spinner for pent-up rage about just damn everything. I spill fun secrets. Ugly ones were eating me alive.

Now that I have made significant changes to my life, starting over in a new city without any triggers, eating good things, and nearly cutting alcohol out of my diet because it makes my medication work better, I am back to the same boring, average person I was before. Still working the combo meal, but blessedly stable. I would have become a teetotaler if that’s what my doctor said would work, but he said that every once in a while, it was okay. Especially when I was working in a pub, I’d have a drink every night after work, using the free “shift drink” to try everything in the bar at least once. It didn’t undo me, by any means, but I am going for maximum efficacy. Plus, over time I have noticed that since my tolerance is in the toilet, it takes one drink for my brain to feel a little fuzzy, and as a writer, that makes me (more) crazy. I spend most of the time after drinking a cocktail wondering when it’s going to wear off. It’s just not relaxing to me unless I’m being social.

Wondering is useless, but I do it. I wonder who I would have been without emotional trauma, because that was the shitty icing on the burnt cake. I wonder what my life would have been like had I only been through a house fire, and that was the beginning and the end of childhood emotional malady. I had enough family support that I rebounded quickly from it, but then fell headlong into another disaster. Or perhaps it was one continuous disaster without a break, and I just felt like I was over one before the other started because frankly, the second disaster was exciting. You never know when a relationship is going to turn out to be a train wreck, because everyone‘s nice in the beginning.

If there’s a good thing to letting it all out, it’s that the healing process can begin in earnest. In my wandering/wondering state, I project that without so much emotional burden, I would have been a doctor by now (of divinity or psychology, maybe higher mathematics [If you don’t know me, let me ASSURE you “higher mathematics” was a hilarious joke.]). But the bright side is that I only just turned 40. Lots and lots of people achieve doctoral degrees way after that…… Hope and time are on my side…. mostly because as Elizabeth Gilbert so eloquently said, I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting sick of their own bullshit. I’m still not done blaming my emotional trauma for where my life has taken weird twists and turns, but I would had I been a responsible adult when it happened. It’s different when you’re an adult, because you have no one to blame for poor life choices except yourself, because you actively choose them.

I’m not over the ways emotional abuse changed me that I’d never have chosen on my own. I’m not over how long I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get it together, not realizing that tissue is stronger after it is scarred and took a much bigger knife to find the original wound. As Jonathan Kellerman says in The Murderer’s Daughter, and I’m paraphrasing, The Haunted need a surgeon, not a barber. Now that time has passed, though, and the poison is out, I’m on my own… which doesn’t render the previous sentences about not being done invalid. These things are both true, both equally valid. There’s a reason it’s called recovery, and there is only healing, never a cure.

So, tl;dr…. I saved up all the feels until I couldn’t anymore and exploded. I’m okay now. The end.

Lindsay had a much rougher time than me after we moved, because she did not have systemic euphoria to turn her head. She did not want to go to school. I do not remember this happening before we left Naples, only after we moved to Houston, because again, I think it was too much change, too fast. In the Methodist Church, everyone moves on the same day so no church is left pastorless (under normal circumstances). It was summer, so we were all together for a few months before Lindsay’s PTSD surfaced. Not going to school was her way of trying to control whether our new house burned down or not. I attribute this to a truly dick move on the part of one of the firemen, who didn’t look around when he started speaking and said that the fire started over Lindsay’s room, and if she’d been sleeping in it, she’d be dead. That one phrase repeated in Lindsay’s mind over and over and over to the point of paralysis, until second grade seemed impossible to contemplate. If she wasn’t home, she was helpless should anything happen…. interesting because not being home kept her from danger in the first place.

I can’t remember whether my parents talked to a psychologist or to her teachers, but someone came up with the idea that there should be a routine each and every day. My dad started out by walking her into class and staying for a little bit until she got settled. He gave her a “slap bracelet,” all the rage then, so that she’d know he was always with her.

Editor’s Note: My God. My God! Dan. Argo. Lindsay. Slap bracelet. Click.

Additionally, before he left her classroom, and later, before she got out of the car, he said the same words Every. Single. Day. Lindsay would say them with him:

Lucky Day…..
Gonna Getta E Today
Like I Say….

Wave to me!

An E was for excellence, I believe in conduct. Lindsay has what would be called “leadership skills” now, but then rendered her to a table with three other people also named The Bossy Girls. Perhaps feeling so out of control during the fire made her want more control over her environment later. Conjecture, but probably an educated guess.

It’s interesting how Lindsay’s trauma turned her outward, making her able to achieve incredible things at a very young age. Now that she’s a lobbyist (the good kind- things like helping people with cancer and getting money for state-run programs), I want to take a picture of her in the Willard Hotel and get it framed for my room.

The reason it’s so very interesting to me is that my trauma turned me inward, unable to stop the rumination until the puzzle was solved. Once I was out of high school and early college, focused on the college courses that piqued my interest rather than the have-tos, learning turned me on, made my internal flame burn white. But all of the rest of my available time was dedicated to this mystery. Even in the face of enormous interest, I’d find a way to let my mind wander away from it, especially when textbook passages got dry.

I am only now beginning to compartmentalize, marking cases resolved. I want to be a bossy girl, too.

Sometimes

Sometimes I wish my mother hadn’t died. The reason I say only sometimes instead of all the time is that there isn’t a damn thing I could have done to save her, and there’s not a damn thing I could do to bring her back. Therefore, thinking that every day is just a way to drive myself crazy, and if the past is any indication, it’s not that far a trip. The flight attendants don’t even have enough time to bring out the drink cart.

I’m still waiting for what Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant call post-traumatic growth. It’s possible that it’s happening already, but because I talk to myself every day, I don’t see the changes that come over a year. I can look back at past blog entries to get an idea, but it’s not the same. If I look back by reading, it’s almost as if what went on happened to someone else. It’s been the best way I know how to forgive myself… having the deep knowing that I would forgive this foreign person much more easily than I’d forgive me. It’s how I’ve gotten through every bad thing that’s happened over the last four years. It’s become clear to me that I can’t atone for every wrong, but I can pray and change my behavior accordingly so that I don’t make the same mistakes again. At the very least, I can move on to make new ones. Perhaps that is the post-traumatic growth I’ve been looking for in the first place. I am learning to give up on perfection and become satisfied with excellence…. because perfectionist anxiety is crippling.

For instance, I wanted to be the perfect wife and friend. I ended up behaving so badly that I didn’t even recognize myself. My moral compass became smashed glass and metal on the floor, and I had to learn how to fix it on my own, without any YouTube videos, Google searches, or even card catalogs. Though therapy is helping me cope, no one gets better only focusing on themselves and their goals for one hour a week. It has been backbreaking, mind-bending work to get back to the person I was before I started vomiting up the emotions surrounding emotional abuse that as a teenager, I didn’t recognize or even have words to explain…. with the added bonus of being sent to therapy and, not wanting to get anyone in trouble, danced around every issue; I talked for an hour without saying anything. Therapy as a teenager was something I was asked to do; it was not anything I would have chosen on my own.

That being said, I had to take a battery of multiple choice tests that revealed just how broken and screwed up I was, because I couldn’t figure out how to outsmart those. So, my therapist knew exactly how worthless I felt, exactly how low my self-esteem really was, and exactly how much I needed them. And yet, you can’t help a little old lady across the street if she doesn’t want to go.

However, those emotions couldn’t stay locked down forever… and it only took 23 years. Finally talking scraped off every scab, and cut down into fully-formed scars. I didn’t so much get over anything as stuff it down and pretend it never happened. I didn’t know it at the time, but moving to Portland was just an opportunity for it to be proven to me over and over that really, nothing happened, and I was crazy to think so… to the point where I would swear on a stack of Bibles that it was gospel truth… because why would anyone who claimed to love me so much cover up truth like that? I exhibited every symptom of trauma. I was coached on what to say. I was told that my past was just this big bag of shit I’d been carrying around forever, and I needed to just let it go…. but as anyone who has lived through emotional trauma knows, it’s impossible until you find the problem… that not letting go is not a function of not wanting it to happen.

It’s a function of reliving what happened over and over and over and over ad nauseam because you can’t figure out whether what you think happened or not. Confusion wracks your brain because gaslighting causes you to doubt your own version of events, your truth. Your intuition battles your programming, as if you are living with a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. It’s just one rumination after another…. this big bag of shit you carry around forever and just need to let it go…. but it’s the emotional equivalent of telling someone with depression to snap out of it. Well, Jesus H. Christ. I wish I’d thought of that.

In a way, though, I did snap out of it. The atomic bomb has dropped, but I am still working through the repercussions. I liken it to a local band that’s been together for 15 years being called an overnight success. In my case, though, it’s the reverse. There was a snap of recognition, and then a therapist who told me it would take five or ten years to really feel well…. and even then, it would be a lifetime of choosing healthy patterns in order not to fall back on old, damaged ones. All of my relationships have fallen prey to them in varying degrees, which is why it has been essential for me to create brand new relationships with the new context I’ve been given; my past is not a factor and I cannot be reminded of it from people who didn’t know me before…. when I was completely in the throes of grief, rage, and poor impulse control.

Poor impulse control is a function of ADHD, but compounds exponentially with trauma, because especially when fear presents as rage, you cannot give yourself enough time to weigh consequences and form measured responses. The phrase even keel is not even in your vocabulary in those moments. Cortisol and sin races through your brain because you do not have the ability to second guess. I’ve talked to too many people who have gone through this scenario to know that I’m not special. In terms of fight or flight, trauma-related rage doesn’t even present flight as an option. In those moments, you’re just a loose cannon unfocused on a target, often choosing……………. poorly. You can’t even tell yourself to calm the fuck down, and God help anyone who decides to say it to you.

But most of that rage boils down to one thing; I have to push you away because I am not worthy of your time or energy because I have the capability to destroy you with my pain, even when you say you can take it and there’s no way I can mess you up. This is because in almost every case, you can’t get angry with the person who deserves it. They disappear and leave you to sit in your own tangled knot, because surely they’re not responsible.

While it is true that adults often abuse each other, the most insidious type of abuse is emotional between an adult and a child, because the child automatically believes that whatever is happening is their fault, because the adult is in a position of absolute power and control. Moreover, if no physical/sexual abuse happens, there is no clear message that anything wrong happened at all. I would never say that it is worse than raping or hitting a child. I would only say that it is more muddled and confusing because there is no line in the sand to go back as an adult and say you are definitely sure someone stepped over it. Many, many, many children have had their childhoods taken away earlier in much more horrible ways, and my heart bleeds out for them. But there is also no such thing as competitive suffering.

It’s not the same boat, but it’s the same ocean.

Emotional and physical abuse present with the same symptoms, much like addiction. Symptoms of addiction are the same whether it’s to drugs, alcohol, gambling/spending, food, or sex. I would compare addiction to food and sex to emotional abuse, because it’s harder to figure out addictions to things you need to live a healthy life vs. things you can do without. You need the right amount of food and sex in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Looking at the pyramid, I haven’t seen the right amount of cocaine yet.

If I extrapolate that into emotional abuse, I crave connection without abusing or enabling, codependency or projection.

In terms of how wishing my mother hadn’t died when she did works into all this is that she’ll never get to see me as a truly happy adult…. thriving instead of barely surviving for years on end…. or worse, just flat-out lying about how I was feeling in order to Suit Up.™ At the very least, I was able to take off the mask for three years, but there should have been so many more. In terms of recovery, three years is the blink of an eye.

Which is exactly how fast I lost her.

Crater

Every so often, I can hear the earth thud when my words drop, and I just stare at the crater that they’ve left. This was confirmed for me when Argo wrote to me (a relatively long time ago) that she could hear the sonic boom from my last post. Those are the entries that frighten me the most, the ones where even my better angels fear to tread. There are days when I battle nausea just to get the words out, because I know I have to put them on paper, damn the consequences… because if I don’t, I will continue to be the same person I always was, not remembering how I felt in the moment because there is no record of it.

I have said many times, Fanagans, that this blog is not for you. It is for me, and you are invited.

You see my imperfections as extremely loud and incredibly close as I do, but there is something else I must explain. My writing life lags behind my actual life. I have trouble describing an experience as it is happening. I need clarity from the passage of time to even bring words to emotions. Falling in love with Argo’s words while I was still married to Dana is absolutely the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life. I accept that I was the cause, and saying “happened to me” is a misnomer. I am only talking about the consequences here, and not the pawns I moved. Dana was my best friend. How could I betray her like that? And yet, I did. I own it. It was a mistake. A big one, the fallout is massive as I pick up the pieces and try to arrange them into a different mosaic.

Moving to Silver Spring is the best thing I could have done, because my friends live in either DC or on the Virginia side. I am an hour away from any one of them, forced to sit in my silence as I recover from the mess I’ve made.

Every day looks the same now. I send out resumes for big jobs and little ones, because even working at Safeway requires an online application. Usually, if the job is for a store, I will go and meet the manager before I submit the application so that he/she will remember my name when the online app comes across. However, I have not gotten many bites. I am extraordinarily overqualified on paper to bag groceries, but how do you explain to the manager that’s exactly what you want? To be lost in repetition, because that’s really all you can handle right now, and you’ll be good at it, because muscle memory will take over rather than having to get lost in my head.

I would do anything not to get lost in my head for eight full hours a day.

I take my Kindle everywhere I go, because public transportation takes a long time, no matter where you’re going. Right now, I am lost in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, the Voyager novel specifically. I wish I could say that I get lost in the story, but there are too many parallels for me to ignore my own life as I read. I do not want to spoil anything for people who are just now getting into the series thanks to the TV show (Starz), but my take on it is that once I got past the betrayal of one love for another in Outlander, there’s another one later on in the series that smacks of home, too.

Home.

What a foreign concept now.

In my head, home is still with Dana on some days, because it was so stable. We had a passionate relationship for many years, right up until it wasn’t. We broke up the minute we got to Houston, because she betrayed me. Flat out. I won’t say why, but I will say that the fissure it caused was enough that when we got back together, I forgave her, but I didn’t forget. Our relationship limped along under its own weight because I wanted to heal and move on from the damage that was done, but I couldn’t. It was too much, too fast… and I would like to believe that she knew it. I would like to believe that betrayal was her way of saying “I want out,” but not telling me directly. I was angry… so angry that I told her to leave- go back to Virginia if she wanted. She had enough of her own resources to do whatever she wanted, and I do not know how or why we worked it out, because it happened so fast. It will take years to untangle that knot in my head.

Truth be told, we were exhausted. Both of us in our own way. I’d been through a tempest in the realization that I’d been emotionally abused as a teenager and still wasn’t over it. It slayed me. I talked about it over and over and over while ignoring that it was isolating her. I was folding into myself, and the only one I would let in was Argo. I told her straight out that I was writing to her because I thought Dana had already been given her fair share, and a fresh set of eyes/ears on the problem was necessary. I was leaning on Argo because Dana was beginning to tell me with her actions that I was too much to handle, and later said those words out loud.

I reeled at those words, because in terms of “too much to handle,” I have not cornered the market. Dana and I are equal in terms of the emotional problems we have, but I will talk about them. Dana will not, even to me, and in a relationship, that is everything. Everything. She wanted to break up because she was happy in her bubble, and I was exploding mine.

And please keep in mind two things- I am not writing about Dana’s reality. I am writing about my reaction to her. Her story is not mine to tell, I can only tell you what I was feeling. She told me a couple of weeks ago to stop writing lies about her on my blog. I told her that if she thought I was writing lies to get her own blog. This is not her place to vent.

It is mine.

Her perceptions are never going to line up with mine. Never. That’s why we broke up. We weren’t seeing eye to eye on anything, and instead of opening up to each other, we destroyed the relationship instead. I look at the way Jaime and Claire interact in Outlander, and know that I am ready to have someone that will bare their soul to me without reservation. I am not interested in a relationship with someone who cannot reflect on themselves. I am also not interested in being in relationship with someone who views me as scary, which was Dana’s excuse for all the reasons she kept things from me.

The reality is that yes, I am scary sometimes, because I can almost guarantee that in letters and conversations I can go deeper than you. I have a dark passenger, Dexter-like in its intensity and execution. Not many people can handle it, and I am tired of interacting with those people.

It’s not that I won’t. I am just tired. Exhausted, even.

People who are not in touch with themselves force me to hide a lot of who I am, because I know that they aren’t ready or willing to hear me where I am… to love me for all my drive and passion and not make me force it down.

In terms of deep friendship and romance, Dana and Argo were both the wrong choice at the wrong time. I say it was the wrong time, because perhaps later in life this will not be so; they both walk with thick armor, intense but not emotionally so. Their upbringing was the classic WASP stuff and deny. To talk about issues rather than pretend they don’t exist is as foreign to them as language immersion in Klingon.

The difference between Dana and Argo is that when I began writing, I struck a chord with Argo. I do not know what went through Dana’s head, because she didn’t really talk about it until we were leaving each other behind. I cannot speak to it. With Argo, she latched on to my words and told me so. That they gave her strength because I could be open in a way that she could not. It was an enormous compliment, just enormous. Those compliments carried me through the darkest time in my life so far, because it wasn’t just that one.

I have said before that she is not a God person. When I told her I was starting a church, she said she thought it was awesome and that she didn’t believe in God, but she did believe in me.

When she hurt, I prayed, and she said she thought of me as her “pinch hitter.”

My self-esteem grew, and so did the fissure with Dana… not because of my feelings for Argo as much as not knowing how to relate to the person I was becoming. In retrospect, I think I knew Dana was pulling away, and even though it wasn’t right, I leaned toward Argo to heal from it.

Because even though Argo wasn’t a lesbian and wasn’t in love with me, she loved my words… and I loved her for it. At that time in my life, it wasn’t so much needing external validation. I wasn’t looking to her for that. She was the one that kept up the attaboys when I was willing to throw down on this web site. As I led, she followed. As I told her, “your words are balm.” Lip balm. She was the Dr Pepper Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker of Stories That Are All True.

And as I wore this lip balm, my words got stronger. I revealed a lot about myself that I couldn’t talk about out loud, but somehow had no problem releasing quietly over the Internet and letting people react on their own. I learned that this was how I needed to get through life. I needed to work on my own shit and let people have their reactions away from me, because their reactions were not mine to own.

My actions were mine to own.

I have learned so much about who I am by reading this web site in retrospect, giving myself time to heal from the “sonic boom” and reading with compassion for the person that I was… because then I have enough separation from the damage that I’ve caused to read as if these stories happened to someone else. As a perfectionist, I would never berate someone else the way I thrash myself in my own mind.

There are no words that would adequately express my sorrow over the way I’ve treated my family and my friends, but I hope these words will help. Behind my enormous ego, I am just a fourteen year old girl, development arrested and trying to cover for it. So if you’ve ever thought my actions were childish, you’re right. I am just now learning how to adult.

If you have been abused in your life, sexually or otherwise, that statement may resonate with you. In the hundreds of abuse survivors I’ve physically met and talked to over the Internet, it seems as if we are all arrested at the age we were when the abuse occurred, and if we’re older than that, we’re all covering for it. We’re all learning how to adult far past the age when it should have occurred naturally… not because we are malicious, but because we are unprepared.

There have been times in my life that I have lied pathologically to escape punishment to avoid further emotional abuse… not to hurt anyone, but to put up a shield between me and the rest of the world… emotionally holding my arm over my face and saying “please don’t hurt me anymore.” Nothing should ever be able to penetrate my cave, because it is not safe out there… or at least, that has been my reaction to everything until now. It took lowering the boom on myself to really see what was wrong.

Because if you can’t see it, it’s not there.

It’s in the crater, the one you can choose to explore if you are brave enough to hike downward, not knowing where the strength lies in pulling yourself back up. The thing is, though, as you work through your own issues, you discover your own worth, and that is the earth that fills in the hole under you so all of the sudden, you are back on level ground.

Amen.

Get Real

My friend Sash gave me a huge compliment when I was going for a job interview in Portland. She said, “just be Leslie, and let the world fall in love.” Of course I cried. Are you kidding me? Now I’m just in the process of finding out what that means to me. I’ve been such a tool lately that it’s trying to find balance in the middle of the storm I created, so that it fades back into Portland spitting. There’s never going to be a time in my life where there’s no rain, but there’s a way to handle it and a way to let it handle you. I want to cross over. I have given my power away so many times that I don’t even know where it is. I see inklings, especially now that people are starting to recognize me as a writer.

It’s an interesting gig, being a writer. There are no rules except complete isolation, and I mean that in the best way possible. You become an observer in the quiet, because the interruption in the silence ruins sentences that cannot be reconstructed in the same way. It’s another excellent reason to be single, because I know that isolation is necessary and that bothers girlfriends. A lot. I have said many times that the perfect girlfriend for me lives at least ten miles away, and I mean it. I don’t think that Dana and I will ever reconnect as a married couple, but I do know this for sure. We would have been so much more successful when she moved out, because I got a taste of it when I moved into my own bedroom. It allowed me to feel autonomous and married at the same time. So, future significant other, please have a big house. I’m thinking at least four bedrooms with a maid, because bitch please. I know myself. If we have five bedrooms, I want her to live with us and follow me around with a dust buster and a trash bag. I am a Virgo, and I want things perfect and precise. I am ADHD, which means that I cannot live up to my own standards. What do you do in that case? What all people do in these cases. Hire an undocumented worker.

I want to be a person that offers sanctuary to those less fortunate, whether it has two legs or four. Undocumented workers need jobs. Children need love because, for whatever reason, they’ve been given up by their biological parents. Abandoned pets need homes. There is never going to be a shortage of need, and there seems to be a shortage in kindness. I am not judging, I am just reflecting on the fact that there are people waiting for white babies and letting minority children starve. There are people who have no problem with the homeless because they don’t see them, anyway. There are dogs and cats that stay in shelters because their personalities are great, but they just don’t have “the look.”

I am not one of those people who’s interested in adopting 15 children and 73 dogs. I’m just one of those people that will love the ones I am capable of saving. I know there’s a dog in my future, because I love my adopted ones now. Daisy belongs to Samantha, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t glued to me when I’m around. We love to walk and talk, and I tell her all my problems, because like God, she doesn’t talk back in words. It’s helpful. I’ve told her the story of my life so far, and she still walks with me. That’s grace and mercy all rolled into one. She just listens without judging and licks my face when tears well up.

I seem to cry a lot. That’s because my emotions run so deep that I cannot help but show them. It’s the blessing and the curse of being in touch with your feelings. The blessing part is feeling everything deeply and knowing what you think about it. The curse is wearing your heart on your sleeve in public. When my dad brought me a Springboks jersey from South Africa, he told the story of getting to meet Desmond Tutu, and I fell apart at the seams. My heart just swelled, which came out in tears and lots of snot.

Sometimes I hate it when I………… emote. It’s embarrassing, really. But at the same time, I have been so closed off for so long that I think it’s natural to overdo it until you find a balance. It will come with time, but it’s not like a manic swing. It’s just that I don’t hide myself anymore. I don’t try to keep myself from feeling things. I don’t stuff and deny anymore, which is more than I can say for my past.

It helps me when I am on the street. Really, it does. You would think it would be a barrier between homeless people and me, because you’d think every story drives the tears and the snot and the whatnots and whathaveyous. But no. Actually, it helps me meet them where they are. It helps me to listen without judgment as to how they got where they are and why they’re having trouble pulling themselves back to safety. Mostly, I believe it is mental illness. With mental illness, it’s hard to hold down a job. I know because it’s happened to me. If I didn’t have loving parents and friends, I would have ended up homeless long ago, because they pull me back into my body, back into my godspace so that I can center myself enough to face another day. People with social anxiety do not do well at work. They just don’t. They cover their fear and anxiety to the point that no one can figure out what’s wrong, but something is. They do know that much.

I had no idea how much my childhood trauma played into the adult that I am until I went to the hospital for psych issues. That’s because what I thought was just anxiety was every symptom on the trauma checklist. My reactions were finely tuned over time, so that no one could guess how much pain I was really feeling. It was stuffed down deep into my core, and I could not handle it anymore. I had to come clean, and when I did, the best thing happened. People LISTENED. They understood me in a way that they’d never had the chance before, because I wouldn’t talk.

Argo was so sweet when she said to keep talking, because I could save the next girl if I did. I hope that’s true, because I would like nothing more. It took me so long to realize who I actually was instead of who I thought I needed to be in the world to survive. Survival led me to dark places in my mind that I never want to revisit. Instead, I talk to my ghosts as they slowly fly back into the ether.

I should really write an age-appropriate version of “The Cost of Shame,” because emotional abuse is so hard to find that young girls might not even realize it’s happening. Whenever I doubt the fact that I was emotionally abused, I turn back to my eighth grade history teacher, who saw it happening. It was so clear to her, and so defiantly murky to me. I never would have given her up, even if there had been massive destruction to me, because I thought our relationship was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me.

I didn’t know it wasn’t until I got real with myself and others. It was then I realized THAT was the best thing that ever happened to me instead.