Gray Days

I’ve been struggling to keep my chin up for the last week or so. Everything’s been harder than it should be. I just can’t shake this downheartedness.

I’ve tried to write a couple of posts, but found that my head’s in too much of a fog to get anywhere. Once I’m through this, I’ll be back. Maybe it’ll be tomorrow. I sure hope so.

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Grandpa

I loved my grandfather, and he loved me. The man adored all his grandchildren, but especially his granddaughters. Something about little girls delighted him. He used to sit on the porch-swing with my grandmother and two or three of my girl cousins and myself and say, “I’m surrounded by beautiful women.” And he’d smile at us. We’d all laugh because we weren’t even teenagers yet. Grandma would laugh too, and Grandpa would hold her hand.

Grandpa made a ceder chest for as many of his granddaughters as he could and gave it to them when they graduated from high school. Mine was the last he made, but he was too old for the work at that point, and was embarrassed by how it turned out. I never got to see it. Admittedly, I was a little hurt that I didn’t get it, but I didn’t learn til later just why that was. Because of the way politics work in my dad’s family, I’m used to being ignored and belittled by the rest of the family. I just thought that not getting a ceder chest was an extension of that. I can’t say how glad I am that my Grandpa didn’t care about that at all, that he still wanted to give me something even though it was beyond his ability at the time.

I’m still working on forgiving the uncles who cleaned out Grandpa’s shop, found that sad attempt at a chest for me, and broke it up. I wouldn’t have cared how rough the thing was. I’d have done whatever work it took to finish it, but they took that option away from me.

The grandpa I knew was not the father that my dad, aunts, and uncles grew up under. Their father was a hard, damaged man who’d grown up in the care of much older sisters who’d been told most of their lives that their daddy only really wanted a boy. When their mother died of asthma related complications, they took charge of my grandpa so their dad could keep working and, eventually, drink himself to death.

Grandpa never learned a healthy way to express love, and all the damage that had been done to him as a child, he passed on to his own children. This means that my dad’s family (consisting of fifteen children) is extremely dysfunctional. My dad is the third youngest. He was born prematurely and nearly didn’t make it, so he got a lot more attention from my grandmother, who had a special place in her heart for him, and that led to a lot of resentment from some of the older kids who still take it out on my family to this day.

Despite the way my grandfather treated his kids, he really did love them. And that’s where the hardest knots in the family’s emotional tangles come from. None of them can separate the fact that he looked out for them, clothed and fed them, made sure they all went through school, from the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse they took. Not all the kids got the same level of physical abuse.

Grandpa didn’t hit the girls. Being excused from that aspect of their family’s problems didn’t make my aunts any more normal than the other kids. They just have a different set of problems since they were indirectly complicit with the person abusing their brothers. Grandpa didn’t beat his youngest five kids, he did hit them from time to time, but not like his older boys. This is because his three oldest kids took him out behind the house and beat him up right before they moved out of the house, and told him that they’d do it again if he treated the little kids like he’d treated them.

Having grandkids really changed my grandpa. He didn’t have such a big stake in our lives that his affection got tangle up with his anxiety and protectiveness and turned into anger. He began to learn how to express his love in ways that weren’t harmful for all involved. He learned guilt for what he’d done to his own children.

For some of my aunts and uncles, that was enough to gain him a measure of forgiveness. Others haven’t been able to lay their bitterness aside even now. I worry for them. Grandpa’s not here for them to confront. What will they do with themselves?

I miss my granddad. I tremble for the effects his death is having on the extended family. I pray that God will intervene and keep the peace between us. I also pray that he helps me forgive some of my uncles for the things they’ve done as revenge against their dad that have really hurt some of us grandkids.

I’m writing about this because my dad’s family history is closely tied to my own story. How could it not be? I’m working my way up to telling it all.

Tears

Image from Wikipedia

It’s been a while since I posted anything because some things came up that kept me pretty busy recently. There’s too much for one post, so I’ll break it down into a couple of them.

I thought I was going to do a post right after Christmas reflecting on how well or badly I’d handled having so much family around me at the same time, but I never found the time to do it before I was flying out to a writers’ conference.

The first day I was there, my paternal grandfather passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. I was sitting in the hotel room I shared with another writer I know when I got the call. To my great surprise, I burst into tears when I received the news of my grandfather’s death.

I almost never cry unless I’m furiously angry.

I almost couldn’t understand what was happening to me. I didn’t shed a single tear when my grandmother died when I was in high school, though I thought the grief would burn a hole in me. But there I was, gasping and sobbing, streams of tears rolling down my face. And a voice in the back of my head was telling me to get a hold on it, as if I had no right to cry about losing my grandpa.

When I finally got it under control, I thought that would be it. I wouldn’t cry again. But I did, several times over the week while I was away. Once when one of my colleagues was talking about her own grandfather’s dementia with a tone of such disdain that it hurt my heart. And again when I got another call, telling me that the funeral was set for a couple of hours before I would be getting home from the airport. I’d figured that I was going to miss the funeral, but to miss it by a matter of hours was just too painful.

I still can’t believe that I cried. Ever since I was a little kid, about the time I was first molested, I haven’t been able to cry unless I’m angry, which used to happen a lot. Any feelings of helplessness, frustration, or fright would stir up all that anger that I could never be free of, and then I’d cry and get told to stop my “bellyaching.” Even now, at least until recently, it was that way. I hate that being angry makes me cry, and I hate crying. All my life I’ve been told that it was something I could control and that I just needed to get a handle on it.

I’m hoping that the tears I shed for my grandfather (well, for me really since I know I’ll miss him), will be a turning point for me. Maybe I can be more normal about what brings tears from now on. We’ll see, I guess.

Christmas Eve

Image from ChristmasStockImages.com

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!

It’s early morning, and I’m getting myself mentally ready to help my mother with the flood of people who will be here in a few hours for breakfast.

Welcome to some of the most difficult days of the year. I understand that a lot of survivors struggle over the holidays, like I do. Even though they’re supposed to be fun, the holidays are also stressful. And that’s for folks who had normal childhoods. I remember some pretty bad Christmases. Coping with painful associations over the holidays is also compounded by being back in contact with family, or with being alone for the holidays, both of which can be painful.

This year, I’m going into Christmas with a different attitude. I mean to reclaim the holidays for myself. I deserve to enjoy them.

Instead of trying to avoid conflicts with my family, I’m going to enforce my boundaries. I’m not going to be bullied. I’m not going to be ignored. I’m going to hold tight to the knowledge that Christmas is about giving gifts, so the fact that I will give a lot more than I receive means that I win. Lol, okay, maybe seeing it as a contest isn’t entirely healthy either. Instead of saying “win” in my head, I’ll say succeed. 😉

Since I’m easily overwhelmed by having a bunch of people around me (I’m extremely introverted, thus get my fill of people a lot faster than most do), I will make sure that there is a clean, quiet space available to me so that I can take breaks from everyone when I need to.

I’m going to enjoy the food, the cookies, and the company of the people who want me around.

I’m also going to have as many of my coping plans in place ahead of time as I can manage.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Isolation as a State of Mind

***Warning — Physical Violence, Burn Injury ***

Image from FreeFoto.com

One of the things that I remember most about my childhood is the constant sense of isolation that I lived with. Even when I didn’t remember what had been done to me, I still felt like I lived in a world separate from everyone else’s.

I didn’t make friends easily, but even when I had a friend or two, I didn’t really feel connected to them. It wasn’t until I was in college that I made a good friend with whom I feel very close.

In some ways the feeling is hard to describe. It was like part of me was a terminal (sorry for the tech-speak, I can’t figure out a better analogy), the part of a public computer that users can access for certain functions. Part of me was the server behind the terminal, always monitoring what was going on, but not really engaging in the the interactions, and constantly making sure that the terminal’s outputs were correct and that the people interacting with the terminal couldn’t access any more than what the server made available to them, and couldn’t even know that there was more to the system than the terminal.

I still get this way sometimes, like there’s a dispassionate observer in my head that doesn’t get involved in what I’m feeling or doing. Until I started remembering the sexual abuse during my childhood, I always though this separate part of me was because I write (and have since I was six), that I’d somehow trained myself to be objectively observant of all events, including ones involving me directly.

Now, I’m pretty sure that it was a result of trying to live as if I were a normal kid when I was so thoroughly damaged. I remember lots of events — birthday parties, bike crashes, arguments with my parents — in a dual way, as if I had parallel cameras going that were recording different spectrums. One side of the memory just watched, the other side participated and felt.

I don’t get that feeling like I used to, but there are things that can set it off, and then it’s hard to get back out. I can also deliberately send myself into that state, but I don’t like doing that anymore.

Whatever it is I was doing, it was definitely useful on a few occasions. One was when one of the kids in our neighborhood (I think I was seven and this kid was probably about thirteen) liked to come into our yard and bully my brothers and I. One day, he brought a piece of rebar and went after my brother, A. lets call him. A. ducked the blow just in time, and I saw myself stand up, rush over to the bigger kid, and take the rebar. It was like watching someone else do it all. I’m still not sure how I took the bar out of his hands. I shouldn’t have been strong enough to do it, but I did. And then, I could see, not feel, really, but see that I was angry. I was going to kill the boy for trying to hurt my brother. I hit him with the bar, and he fell over. I hit him again, and again, and again. I only stopped when the observer part of me told me that killing him was a bad idea, and that I’d hurt him enough that he probably wouldn’t come back (he did, and I beat him up again, but that’s another story).

Even though this divided state of mind was useful to me sometimes, it left me feeling so disconnected from everything that I didn’t feel like I ever belonged anywhere. It kept me from connecting to people too. Worst, it messed with my ability to figure out what I was feeling about things. I often dismissed my own emotions as my imagination since clearly I wasn’t feeling anything, or was I? I had the same problem with physical pain. The more severe the pain, the farther I got from it. I burned my hand on the waffle iron one morning when my dad and I were making breakfast. It hurt right away, but nothing like it did later. Yet, I still made the decision to go play baseball in the park with my brothers even though I’d have to put that hand in my catchers mitt. Enough of me wasn’t feeling the pain that I couldn’t make safe decisions about my own health. The blisters all burst, bled a seeped clear liquid. It was hard to clean the glove out, and the burns took longer to heal because of that.

I pretty much lived in that state from about six years old until I was maybe ten. After that, it would fade out and come back depending on what was going on. When I started high school, I went back into that mode of living most of the time. I hated feeling that way, and it exacerbated the depression that had started when I was twelve-ish.

Now it only turns on if I’m triggered, or I have a memory resurface that I can’t handle right away. Living is getting easier. Though, some days, I have to remind myself of that.