The Breakdown

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Breath; it is the essence of life, yet such an easy thing to take for granted. I have experienced emotional suffering so intense that it left me gasping for air. 

The deepest breaths I ever took were in pushing new life into this world, and it is that child who knocks the wind right out of me sometimes, as only a teenage daughter can.

I’ve tried my best to be the mother who protected her daughter at all costs guiding her in a way that my mother was not able to do for me. It has proven to be a task that has been sabotaged every step of the way, despite my will. Not only did I survive my abusive childhood and first marriage, but I survived a revictimization by the father of this child that grinded my heart, soul, and spirit to near dust. Allowing other people’s cruelty, ignorance, and lack of boundaries to shape my opinion of my success as a mother is exactly how I had grown up feeling about myself. It was the result of the behavior that had been modeled to me.

It is no small feat, coming back to life, learning how to move beyond desecration to a place of balance and forgiveness. If you imagine a ruler, with rage being at one end and forgiveness at the other, there are a whole lot of millimeters in between to get from one end to the other. Each one consists of all the stages of grief, and varying degrees of the “one step forward, three (or 5, or 42) steps back” thing. It’s the healing process, and it is just as painful and life-altering as the abuse was.

I am not sharing this story out of shaming or vengeance. I have forgiven every one of the people who have hurt me. In the process I have tried to hold them accountable, but how or whether or not they take responsibility for it is out of my control. Sometimes that forgiveness is an ongoing process. The only thing I realize that I can control is how I respond, including being triggered, which is the ultimate lack of control. Having CPTSD may be part of my reality, but I can choose to find the best way of dealing with it that facilitates growth instead of keeping me stuck, and remaining at the mercy of it. 

Everyone has their own story. Not everyone is able to talk about theirs. Many have repressed the memories of their trauma or are actively numbing them through addiction. My healing has come from releasing these negative emotions that were woven into my core as a result of my experiences, as if my life were nothing but a bad tattoo.  I thought it was just an ugly stain that I had no choice but to live with. I never imagined that I could use what was there to transform it into something spectacularly beautiful, something that not only I would be proud to display, but that others would be inspired by instead of recoiling at.

I used to be so devastated by grief over my perceived failure as a mom that it led to a complete mental breakdown resulting in a week long stay at an in-patient crisis stabilization center. More than that, I had allowed years of brutish, insensitive, controlling behavior strip me of believing I could ever escape this cycle of abuse, and I couldn’t bear the thought of my own precious child growing up to find herself in the same situation. The pressure had reached its boiling point until one day it exploded. FB_IMG_1554078181185

The week leading up to it, I felt my stress level reaching its peak. I could no longer order my thoughts without a sense of impending doom so heavy that every minute I was awake felt like I was fighting a fire-breathing dragon, moving at a snail’s pace to escape and narrowly escaping it’s flames. If I was not sleeping, I was shaking in terror and wailing in fear. I pleaded for help. I let everyone know that I was not okay. I was supposed to work the day it all came to a head, but I had worked the day before and knew that I was incapable of  maintaining composure so I found someone to replace me and apologized to my client for having a family emergency.

My heart broke that I was incapable of keeping my child from witnessing me literally losing my mind, which served to intensify my suffering to the point that I said I was afraid I might hurt myself if I was not taken to the ER immediately. My plea went ignored and I don’t know how I survived the night without jumping out of my window. I don’t remember where my daughter was. Her Dad and I were separated and involved with other people, but still sharing the house, and I know that he did not want his plans ruined by my mental health crisis and likely took our child to stay the night at his girlfriend’s where she had a playmate.

I woke up the next morning, crazed and lashing out at the people who loved me and were trying to help. I felt as if they had abandoned me in my darkest hour, and at this point their assistance seemed too little, too late. In my recollection of what followed it’s as if some wiser, stronger part of myself or some angelic force took control. I packed a bag with clothes, pajamas, and essentials, including a blank journal, and walked, about 3 miles, to the hospital. I had not eaten or had any water in days. I was crying,  my face contorted with grief. I felt extremely weak and vulnerable. A large portion of my journey stretched through a part of town I should never have walked through, even in a healthy state, but even though there was a man attempting to get me in his car, I kept my eyes down and marched on with a supernatural strength and determination. That bag on my back was not light. I don’t remember how I crossed busy roads or avoided drawing any further attention to myself in this bedraggled state except to say that somewhere, deep inside, I knew it was all happening for a reason. I felt dead, but I somehow managed to get myself where I needed to be without the help of anyone else. I collapsed in a heap the moment I stepped through the hospital doors.

I found myself in the clean, empty space I so desperately longed for, that I needed in order to heal. A room with 4 white walls and two beds. I was lucky to have the room to myself for 2 of the 6 days I was there. I wrote in my journal feverishly, every available moment I had, but for taking the time to read an empowering memoir. It was during that time that I knew my own memoir was presenting itself to me. It took a breakdown for me to have a writing breakthrough.  20190331_193749

I always have at least 3 or 4 blank journals at any given time, but I believe the one I had chosen was pre-destined by a random sense of urgency that took place one evening while out taking a friend to run errands with my boyfriend. I was suddenly overcome by a need to run into TJMaxx to get something I said that I needed. Knowing that there is no such thing as a quick trip to my favorite store, there was hesitation as to the validity of this supposed necessity. After all, when asked what it was that I was in such desperate need of (with ten minutes until closing time), my response was  “I don’t know yet”. I ran in, went straight to the journals, and picked up one that said, Wherever YOU go, Go with ALL your HEART, written on the cover. That was the thing I needed. I didn’t know why, at the time, I just trusted my gut. 20190331_192440

Whenever I know, without questioning something, because it is a feeling that resonates deeply within me, that is my gift of intuition. I have had it as far back as I can remember. It began with the awareness at a very young age, of seeing the pain I was experiencing in childhood multiply and hold me back until mid-life, at which time I would learn to utilize my many talents.

I am, as I’ve said before, a late bloomer. To go along with that analogy I speak metaphorically. In order for a plant to bloom and thrive, there are conditions that have to be met. The soil must be rich in nutrients, and it needs sunshine and rain. Ground that is not fertile soil will not yield any gain. People are very similar. Repeating the same pattern of dysfunction that continues to  oppress them, because that is the behavior that was modeled to them since early childhood, strangles the ability for them to grow. It has taken me half a century to understand that I am worthy of success, joy, peace, and love. It has taken me all that time to truly grasp what love is supposed to feel like. I am with someone who found an old seed and saw the potential in nurturing it. I would never have been reunited with him if I hadn’t first been able to see that in myself. 

I have fought very hard to be where I am, against great odds. I have had my mental health struggles exploited and thrown in my face as a means of holding me down. I have never been able to understand why people do such hurtful things, but innately I know that those people are damaged or hurting themselves. I am looking back at all of my experiences and I finally see what an incredibly strong, BADASS woman I am because of them!  I never lost hope in love. I never gave up wanting to overcome my fear that bad people and negative circumstances would always find me easy prey.  It is with that same fierce determination that I will continue  moving forward, knowing that the road will rise to meet my every step. I will continue to draw amazing, uplifting, and healing people, especially men of integrity, into my life.   

I can breathe more deeply than I feel like I ever have before. Asthma, smathsma. And I have the app evidence to prove it. ( My oxygen is at 100%! Never seen that!) Screenshot_20190331-191955_Samsung Health

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the things we take for granted. Just BREATHE.

A Doll and Pony Show

 

When I was a little girl I was very passionate about two things; horses and dolls. I dreamed of riding the neighbor’s pony, Brownie, all by myself  through the thicket that lead to the path that would lead to a magical place deep in the woods, called Charles Island (or Childs Island). In that dream I would take my favorite doll out of my runaway bag, and find the perfect rock to perch on where I could watch Brownie foraging the landscape, which was new and exciting territory for a pony kept in a triangular stall, who had grown quite grumpy with age.

It was there that I held my dearest, and most tenderly swaddled doll, rocking her back and forth, telling her all of my secrets. Mine were not the secrets of a five year old child, but I was lost somewhere in that five year old child, and talking to my doll connected me to a vision that would quell my sadness and give me a reason to hope.

One day, you will understand, I would tell her.

My daughter was with me while I was yet a child. I have always known that she would come, never doubting. Even when it was down to the wire, I knew she would make her way to me from “God’s pocket” or wherever her soul dwelled before my womb.

Though she came to be at a tumultuous time in my life, having stirred up a well of deep fear around bringing a daughter into this world, her presence gave me a sense of purpose and a sublime peace, even in the face of my Anxiety. I was given signs of comfort and encouragement along the way.

Naturally worried about giving birth at the cut-off age of 36, and being told of all the potential complications, I learned at my first Obgyn visit that the baby’s due date was my father’s birthday. I lost my father when I was two. I never had another worry after hearing that.

We had decided on the names Sophia and Bella, knowing we would have a girl. I was working at a department store at the time and my coworkers convinced me that this trick with a necklace held over my belly would definitively determine the sex of my baby, so curiously, I obliged. Much to my surprise, the necklaces back and forth movement, as opposed to circling, was indication that I was actually having a BOY! A BOY? How could I have a boy named Sophia? So I began frantically coming up with a back up boy name, which was awful because with the due date being my Dad’s birthday, and me feeling very strongly Italian, the only choice I had was Alfred. Or Fred. Or Freddie. It all felt so very wrong. I knew I would love little Freddie, (ew, sorry Dad) but where was this little girl I’d been talking to and longing for all my life? Did she change her mind? I wouldn’t blame her. I set my mind to having a boy. I felt guilty for being disappointed. It was a challenging week that coincided with my being served a fried egg that was still jiggly and raw in the white part, which was the most horrific sight that had me so ill, I thought I might succumb. The “e” word was not spoken of from that day on.

That afternoon I came home from work and could not wait to get out of my skirt that was binding at my expanding waistline. I had borrowed some larger clothes from a friend who had managed to survive a fashionable pregnancy. Now this is gonna sound nuts, but it is the absolute truth. When I took the skirt off, I looked at the label, and it said SOPHIEBELLA! I cried tears of joy while I danced around the kitchen in my stockings. That night we decided to name our daughter with both names put together. Sophiabella. Ahhhh. That was her! My next Dr appointment had my due date changed to Oct 30th, about a week earlier than we originally thought. Fine by me, I thought. I knew that all would be well.

I talked to my baby all the time, much like when I was a little girl. I would sing and read to her. But one day, while sitting at the library downtown, those secrets rose up in me like bile and I began to panic. I visualized myself sitting on that rock, holding my doll, watching the pony, and told my child the most important thing for her to remember, which was this:

I may get sad sometimes, and you might not understand why, but always know that I am a fighter and everything will be fine. I will ALWAYS protect you. ALWAYS.

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I remember exactly where I was sitting and the memory is so clear. I put those ugly secrets back in the box and prayed daily that I would be the mother my child needed me to be, and for her life to be so much different than mine. Safe, secure, nurtured, protected, loved, happy… Unencumbered.

The night before she was born I had a dream/vision of a pair of huge glowing hands showing me the most beautiful little baby I have ever seen, in an otherworldly bright, warm and loving light.

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Because God is silly, The Flintstones were playing on the TV while I was in hard labor with my epidural wearing off. It just so happened to be the episode where Wilma’s mother is coming to stay because Pebbles was about to be born. Wilma and I gave birth at 3:20am on October 18th, 2002.  When I was handed my huge yet tiny 10 lb baby for the first time, my jaw dropped in awe. I recognized her right away. Then she stood firm on those strong new legs and looked me square in the eye, and I knew that this was definitely not her first time at the rodeo.

 

I am reflective today, looking back over our sixteen years together. There is an old Jewish fable about the angel, Layla, who tells you all the secrets of the world and your ancestors, while you are in the womb. When you are born, she puts her finger above your lip, just below your nose, and whispers softly, “Ssssshhhhhh”. She locks this knowledge away and leaves behind an imprint.

I wonder if I could have just locked my secrets away, so that they would not have made such a painful imprint on my child. Despite my most heartfelt intentions and love so immense that it defies logic and explanation, it seems the very thing I swore I would protect her from turns out to be me. She is so angry that I suffer with mental health issues. She is merciless in displaying her rage that she has had to see me broken and weak. I know that this rage is really fear. And I am unable to parent her, despite climbing every mountain and looking under every rock for help. I tried and failed at setting boundaries with a father who has consistently released her from ever having consequences, who in fact reinforces negative, entitled, disrespectful behavior by giving her anything she wants. Every effort to give her the tools she needs to be a happy, successful contributing human in this world is wasted and has left me feeling defeated. If I’m really honest, I will say I feel re-victimized and that makes me fire-breathing mad.

My entire life has been a fight to release myself from oppression. While I have now made my pony dream a reality, my sweetest doll, my own baby dear seems to exist in a separate reality to which there seems to be no door. fb_img_1546538945269

The Solace of Sleep

When the bed covers feel like lead covers
and the solace of sleep soothes enough
to quiet the relentless courtship of fear (and death)
and unquenchable sorrow
until the cycle starts again
tomorrow-
This is my “in-between”
And it is a lonely place
Though my isolation is self-imposed
A rose doesn’t need other roses to grow, but it can’t survive without the nourishment of water and light.

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The Day I Rested My Boots By The Fire

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It was a cold day that had started out sunny. I knew there was a 100% chance of rain later, but nothing could take away my joyful anticipation. A group of riders were meeting at the farm to grab our horses, get tacked up by 10am, and have an off-site excursion to a friend’s place, Timberline Ranch, several miles away.

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She and her husband had just finished clearing trails in their woods, and we were all happy to christen them, especially since it was hunting season and our usual acreage was off limits.

Riding my favorite horse along the quiet country road, seeing all the farms and fields, had me feeling a sense of nostalgia that was tied to a childhood dream. The entire ride became a prayer of gratitude for experiencing these moments and the joyful contentment I felt.

We were greeted at our destination by a cozy fire and hot coffee. We all dismounted and took a break before hitting the trails, then settling in for lunch. I got some coffee and went to sit by the fire, putting my boots up, and taking in the sights and sounds; cattle mooing next door, the crackling fire, horses and people talking. I was transported back to a golden memory of a day, so simple yet profound.

My daughter was 2 months old and I was getting ready for my first job since giving birth, my first day away from her after eight long and painful weeks of trying to get her to latch on. Despite the overwhelming challenge, I was committed to successful nursing. I have never endured more physical and emotional pain in such a short, yet endless-seeming concentration of time. By the time I took this job, however, we had triumphed and I was well into the breastfeeding zone, mastering pumping and storage in preparation for this day. I felt like I deserved some kind of pioneer-woman, mothering, hardship medal!

It was on this grey, rainy November morning that I got that reward. We were cozily nestled in the glider for her morning feeding. The house was still but for the sound of rain as I watched it fall. It was like a symphony to my ears along the with the precious, sated coos of my baby, finally being nourished by the body that had carried the hope of her arrival since I was a child nurturing my first doll. Her tiny little hands were opening and closing on my chest like a kitten making dough, occasionally resting to play with a button on my blouse. High on a mother’s love and the rush of Oxytocin as my milk let down, I felt a sense of bliss as time stopped and the only existence was the two of us, in this moment. It felt like heaven and I never wanted it to end.

I’m reminded of another day when Bella was about seven and we had gone for a long walk. We stopped to rest on the sidewalk a bit and she climbed in my lap, gave me a big kiss, and said, “Mommy, this is the BEST DAY ever!” I was able to capture that treasured moment with my phone.

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As I sat by the fire drinking my coffee with my feet up, looking around at this group of people whose friendship I treasure, I felt a wave of that same bliss wash over me. Mentally, I fell to my knees in gratitude, holding back tears of joy, tears that are now freely flowing as I write. I wanted to remain frozen in this moment, in this entire day. What makes these memories/feelings so sublime is the way that God is able to turn off my body’s score card that 98% of the time has me “waiting for the other shoe to drop” so to speak. That’s the voice of fear that comes from the child who is trapped behind the door at the bottom of the well, for in her experience there is no ability to see beyond what she has known; the inevitability of lasting peace.

This day in all of it’s simplicity was a turning point within me, for I invited that sad little girl who was peeking out from behind my horse, gazing longingly at me, wanting so much to come out of that shadow, to come and join me. All she had ever wanted in life was now before her and I am finally able to make her know that she is safe. Now that once broken child in me will live forever in this moment of bliss and if there is any shoe dropping, it will be because I am kicking them off after another full day of living in gratitude that I am able to experience riches that no amount of money can buy.

Truly, greater is the reward of contentment when repetitive discord has one falsely believe that they are not entitled to it. It’s been a long, hard road, but I am finally there.

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It’s Like This

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Are you stuck having “one of those days” ? I’m talking you feel splayed out, face down, overwhelmed, every single day?

Let me ask you another question… Have you felt hopeless and paralyzed for so long that you cannot even remember the last time you were at peace with your life and the choices you make?

Oh HolymarymotherofGod, I have been there! I’ve been there so many times that it’s like punching an alternative time clock into a separate, familiar existence; a place where colors dull, and fear causes your surroundings to become somehow misshapen. Here it is summated in a Bible verse; Proverbs 26:11

Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats their folly.

It truly is as unpleasant and ponderous as that. I’m by no means judging here, but speaking from my own experience where I recently had the opportunity to, well… survive another one of these episodes and examine it. It’s ever so dramatically yet appropriately termed “the dark night of the soul”. It’s dark alright. It ranges from shades of gray to pitch blackness. It’s an awful place that I resent returning to and resigning myself to accept as a regular part of my life.

Like most people who suffer with Depression, I have falsely adorned myself with lugubria as a cloak, shutting myself down in order to protect myself, while shielding others from having to stand beside me in the rain. It makes perfect sense when I am in the thick of it. It’s likely one of those coping mechanisms born out of a deep need to feel secure. Deep it runs, which is why I refer to it as being at the bottom of the well.

Is it inevitable that I will return to that place? If that is my folly, I got a bum wrap! Although I suppose self-medicating with sex, drugs, and alcohol yield the same end results. (it just is much more fun in that setting…. until it isn’t) I don’t yet know if I can say that I will never return. I can say that I woke up one day and decided I’d had enough, that I desired the joy that I know longs to bust loose in me more than remaining stuck on the misery merry-go-round.

I don’t know if my Depression and Anxiety would be as bad as it is were it not for my childhood trauma. Abuse leaves a person with deep invisible wounds that bleed in conjunction with the process of accepting the unacceptable and embracing the healing. It’s like bloodletting. But how long do I have to do that and am I able to decide when it will stop affecting my quality of life?

I look at the word “healing” and know that it is a verb. I think that one action that needs to be taken is making peace with the darkness. It will always be there, but the degree to which it enslaves me becomes a choice once I acknowledge it. I will break it down using logic, a most useful tool.

It’s like this-

Can the darkness continue to exist if I ignore it? Yes, because it was written into the fabric of my life. Just because I ignore something doesn’t make it go away. (not that I haven’t given it my best shot, and not that I haven’t tried to pretend it’s not as ugly as it really is.) Has it killed me? Almost, a few times, but no. I’m still here, which means I have successfully coexisted with it, regardless of the struggle, my entire life.

To make peace or to acknowledge it is not at all the same as accepting defeat. It is a more spiritual reckoning of sorts where I lay down my weapon and understand fully that without the terror of darkness, I would not know how redeeming and glorious the light is. The work that needs to be done within me takes place in the day, where things are brought to light. It is the night, (darkness) that ushers in the dawn. It serves a most valuable purpose. I am tired of rehashing the pain from the memories that linger in the night. I am ready to see them clearly now, which means that they are residual energy from the past that no longer have the power to hurt me.

I tilt my hat to the darkness as a  formidable foe, but more so as a venerable teacher. After all, to the victor belong the spoils, and I am ALL about claiming the victory.

Not So Swell at The Bottom of The Well

e6d38ec8-28da-43ed-87ad-f6da7dbd2149_20180711141941691_20180711143823503_20180711145135428Depression is often like shadow boxing; it creeps up on me, and lingers just out of site, but I know there is a menacing presence from which I must defend myself. This is a shadow that can manifest on the cloudiest of days while disappearing altogether when it’s sunny. It plays tricks like that, making me question my sanity. I go about my day with the usual gratitude and acknowledgement of the many blessings in my life, wracking my brain to find the root of this discomfort, yet my search is fruitless and I find myself paralyzed. I am in a “which came first?” scenario of whether or not my *CPTSD has triggered my Depression and Anxiety, or my Depression and Anxiety has triggered my CPTSD. I hate it all. It is overwhelmingly invasive and it greatly interferes with my usually sunny disposition. There is nothing I love more than loving life and knowing that my presence makes this world a better place in some small way. I would never choose to battle this disease the way it has unfortunately chosen me, but I have to because the alternative is unthinkable. I am a stronger, wiser, more articulate and creative person because I have to find ways to out- wit my opponent, and my opponent’s ally- stigma. Some people deal with their mental illness by undermining those around them to make themselves feel better or more in-control, wearing a facade of self assurance that covers up an insecurity so deep that they would sabotage any person they perceive as a threat to this illusion they have created. I choose to walk in truth and integrity, which makes me a mirror with legs. I am sincere because it is the only way I know to be true to my heart, and because anything other than that just feeds the destructive nature of my disease. Sadness is not weakness, but strength laid bare.

 

*CPTSD