Red Light District…

I’ve never thought of myself as a promiscuous person. I didn’t have a lot of sexual relationships as a teen or young adult…or relationships at all, for that matter. I had a boyfriend throughout most of high school. We had sex for the first time when we were 17 years old…in the winter of our junior year. I remember it very clearly. He had been trying to for months and I kept avoiding it or wiggling my way out of the situation using any excuse I could to not engage. But I lost the battle one afternoon. It just happened so fast and it was over before I could process or protest. He had to leave for basketball practice and as he drove away I saw him give a fist pump to himself. I felt humiliated. I was a prize to him, an accomplishment. I will never forget seeing that.

I went home to an empty house. I walked straight to my parents room and laid on my Dad’s side of their bed and sobbed in his pillow. I don’t know why I went there and not my own room. I felt dirty and cheap. I wanted to die for what I had allowed to happen. It wasn’t at all what I wanted for myself and I was frustrated I didn’t somehow stop him. I wanted to be better than this. I wanted to be different than the other girls in my class, or my older sister, who had a reputation for sleeping around with pretty much anyone.

The only other sexual relationship I had was with my now husband when we were in college. It was a similar situation. I vowed never to allow myself to do that again, to not have sex before marriage, but one night I found myself in a hotel room with him once again being caught up in a pressured situation and failing at my commitment to myself. Again, the feelings of humiliation and shame surfaced the next day. I was so disappointed in my weakness, my failure to speak up for myself.

My therapist asked me today how many sexual relationships I had had before marriage. He went on to say that that was pretty typical…for people to have one or two partners before marriage…but…it sounds like for me, after revealing some things I’ve been seeing from my past, that it’s been a lot more. Something has happened to me since he said that. I know it was not malicious in any respect, but it has had a profound impact on me as I have processed this part of my time with him today. As soon as I started driving away and thinking about his words a feeling of shame and disgust came over me. I felt so dirty and cheap. I felt like a hypocrite. I felt like a liar. I felt like a whore.

If the things I have been talking about with him have actually happened, he’s right. There have been many, many more sexual encounters. Encounters with my father, my sisters, shadows of men that raped me one after another on multiple occasions all throughout my childhood. My desires and efforts to be pure as a teenager were fruitless. I was already used so many times it wouldn’t have mattered. And now I feel no different than my husband and what he’s done to me with the dozens of women he has pursued. I feel like a cheater now. I feel like I’ve deceived him. I feel like I’m not any different than any other woman who offers up her services to countless men who walk the sidewalk strips and choose their indulgence through windows along the dark streets of night.

I don’t want this to be my story. The guilt I’ve felt for the one high school boyfriend before marriage was already something that has weighed so heavily on me. I hated that I did that and continued that relationship with him. And I hate that I did it again with my husband, even though we ended up married. It’s something I still get frustrated with myself about all these years later. That desire to have something special for your spouse at marriage that no one else has shared or experienced was obliterated in that and all those other moments. It’s one of the reasons I stay in my marriage now sometimes. I wonder…who would want me after this? I have nothing left. It’s hard for me to imagine someone wanting to share a life with me after all this exposure.  Somehow, I feel like I’m no longer trustworthy or worth anyone’s time or affection.

This reminds me of something else my therapist said several weeks ago. We were talking about my current desire to leave my husband and the consequences and challenges I would face if I choose to leave. I don’t remember the full context of what exactly we were discussing at that point but he briefly mentioned remarriage and said “…I don’t know why you would want to…” I immediately internalized that and began questioning “Why not? Does he think I’m too damaged? Am I no longer marriage material? Do I not deserve it? Is it not safe to ever want to know what real love might feel like? Would no one want me?”

After today, I’m wondering even more now. Who the heck am I?? I feel low. Very low. I feel like I somehow brought this all on myself. I’ve made all the bad choices and let all these bad things take place. I allowed my body to be used. I didn’t stop anyone. I just let it happen. I still do with my husband. My life is so tainted now. I don’t even know how to process that. I don’t even know how to think about myself. I feel like a prostitute. The exact type of woman my husband would pursue other than me. He doesn’t know what my mind is revealing to me from my past. I’ve told him nothing. What would he think of me if he knew? Would he like me better? Would I finally be more appealing to him? Or would he look at me in disgust or discontent? He’s a very jealous man…he holds me to very different standard than he does himself. I hold myself to different standard…and yet I allowed myself to not adhere to it.

I learned today another part of who I thought I was is not actually who I am. I have no idea who this person…me…is. If I accept what I see in my head, I have a new reality, I’ve had more sexual partners than I know, I’ve been touched and tortured and used. I’ve been passed around and enjoyed, just like some lady of the night.

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Push And Pull…

I’m in a great place of struggle right now. Trauma memories are flooding and they overwhelm me. I don’t understand them and I need someone to talk to…on a daily…hourly…minute to minute basis…not just the three hours a week I have with my therapist. I can’t get it all out even in that amount of time. I shut down. My brain goes wild but my lips become paralyzed. I’m unable to speak what needs to be let out…so many secrets. So much shame. So much guilt. So much regret. So much humiliation. So much hurt. I backs up inside of me.  Some has come out but a lot of it is stuck. I’m afraid to say it out loud. I’m not safe.

My marriage is in trouble. That’s not really a secret. Well, actually it is. No one in my real world life knows of the things my husband has done to me, and with others, except my therapist and a few women in my bible study, who are only somewhat aware and likely now think we have “worked it out” since I’ve stopped talking it about it. I’ve hidden it back away. My husband probably thinks the same thing, since I don’t really fight him much anymore. I don’t really know what he thinks, though. We don’t ever talk about it either. How do you work out the fact that someone betrayed you and rejected you and humiliated you so deeply? How do you?? I don’t know how. So I guess it’s been put away to be ignored. Swept under the rug. The pull I feel to just let it go and go back to what used to be with him is so strong. But when I get close I push him back away, refusing at the last minute to allow him access to my heart…he will never hurt me again. But I need someone to talk to. But I can’t talk to him…there’s no safety with him.

I don’t trust him. I can’t. I try to sometimes. I want to tell him everything that is happening in my head. Everything I have remembered from my past, everything that haunts me, everything that I know for sure happened to me. I want to show him my writings. I want to show him the pictures I have drawn of the images of abuse in my head. I want to every single day. He’s supposed to be the one I can tell. I need his support. I need his love. Yet, I cannot even get myself to love him anymore…and honestly, I refuse to accept any attempt of love on his part…genuine, or not. It’s too dangerous. He’s completely unsafe. I am afraid of him and how he will react…or not react, which makes me feel crazy. He sees me crying sometimes and asks what’s wrong. When I can’t answer he just walks away or changes the subject or leaves me alone. He doesn’t sit it in it with me. He doesn’t wait for me to get the words out. He has no compassion or empathy for me. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t understand and he doesn’t try to. I am a burden to him. He doesn’t have time for me or this process I am in. It’s too uncomfortable for him because it forces him to look at himself and his role in it all.

Sometimes I don’t know if what I am feeling is triggered from childhood trauma or the trauma experienced in my marriage. I sometimes can’t separate it out from each other. That makes me feel crazy, overreactive, and out of control.  It’s all so messed up. I’m messed up. Used. Abused. Traumatized. Worthless. This has been my entire life. Chaotic. Terrifying. Overwhelming. I need to get out. I want to get out. But I don’t know how. I don’t even know what to move towards. I don’t trust my judgement to make good choices. I have no idea where to go or who to trust. The pull to go is strong. I dream about it. I’m doing things to prepare for it. But when I try to put a picture in my head of what it could all look like I shrink into a crumpled up child who’s curled up in a corner afraid to look and see, to hope for better than this. I turn my head and close my eyes and push the images away. I negotiate with myself that life is not so bad. I don’t want to hurt my children and wreck our family. At least I know what I’m in the middle of. At least I know this. I know how to survive this.

But I’m dying. But I can’t go. I don’t know how.

Enough…

I am not good enough.

I am not beautiful enough.

I am not smart enough.

I am not healthy enough.

I am not calm enough.

I am not sexy enough.

I am not skinny enough.

I am not brave enough.

I am not intentional enough.

I am not educated enough.

I am not engaging enough.

I am not happy enough.

I am not conforming enough.

I am not liberal enough.

I am not social enough.

I am not fun enough.

I am not wise enough.

I am not old enough.

I am not respectful enough.

I am not playful enough.

I am not helpful enough.

I am not experienced enough.

I am not kind enough.

I am not generous enough.

I am not compliant enough.

I am not steady enough.

I am not obedient enough.

I am not relaxed enough.

I am not quiet enough.

I am not bold enough.

I am not skilled enough.

I am not loving enough.

I am not important enough.

My voice isn’t enough.

I am never enough…

My “not enoughs.” I have lived with these shadows over me all of my life. One person, after another, placed these umbrellas of darkness over me, one by one, and I’ve believed them all. I’ve made decisions about my future and the paths I would and wouldn’t take in my life based on these “not enoughs.” This is the place where I have sat…and still sometimes sit.

I received an email from my sister this past week. It was horrible. It was mean. It was frustrating. I was told I’m the reason for all our family conflict. I opened up a Pandora’s Box and called out the abuse of my past for what it was. My parents have rallied the whole family together to rise up against me and shut me out. I’m an outcast. Standing isolated and alone. I’ve tainted the picture of perfection they try to maintain. I’ve crushed and ruined their lives.

I’ve received several emails like hers from my parents over the last year. I’ve been called a liar, a fake Christian, controlling, crazy, a terrorist, insane, ugly, troubled, that I’m not liked and don’t like them, I should be ashamed of myself, a seeker of a drama, horrific, a perfectionist living in a bubble of perfectionism, that I have no compassion or empathy, I’m hurtful, I don’t care….and on and on…

What do I do with this? How do I even respond? Should I even attempt to defend myself again?? Would they even listen to anything I have and want to say? Does it even matter? Why do I care???

I care because of my “enoughs.” I care because I don’t want to be those things anymore. I’m tired of others dictating who I am and am not. When do I get a say? When do I get to define myself? Who even gave them permission to speak over my life and dictate its direction?

These “enoughs” can not be my truths. They cannot be who I am. They’re someone else’s opinions I’ve held onto as my truths. I didn’t know any different. Not anymore. I want to be enough.

The Battle…

I have a tug of war happening inside of my head…inside my entire being, actually. One part of me sees and feels myself in horrible, horrific, tortuous, exploitative situations. Another part of me screams, “This DID NOT happen…you are making this up…this did NOT happen!” I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go from here.

I was sitting with my therapist last week and for the second session in a row he presented the “facts” that I have laid in front of him about some of my past in an attempt to help me verbalize that I have been abused. I can’t do it. I can’t say the words. I can’t accept it as real. It doesn’t feel right. I can’t connect with the things I see in my head. They don’t feel real. It just feels wrong. Nothing feels good about it or accepting it as my truth. All this time I have been trying to prove it’s wrong…but it never. goes. away. ever.

He asked me directly again if I had been sexually abused as a child. I sat quietly for a while and then answered that I had been thinking about what the definition was for sexual abuse. If I could connect that to memories that I KNOW are true, then I could give him the answer “yes” that I knew he was hoping to hear me say. I said that “yes” out loud. I was, technically.

My parents openly had sex in our home when my siblings and I were children. We heard them and saw them all the time…sometimes they did it in the same room as us when they assumed we were asleep and would not wake up, but we did. There were Playboy magazines throughout the house for our little eyes to find. My Dad watched pornography on HBO and Cinemax while we sat behind the couch or played quietly in the next room, pretending we had no idea what he was watching.

When I was around 9 yrs. old, my older sister convinced me to engage in sexual activity with her. She would have been 13 or 14 yrs. old at the time. She made me sit on top of her. She unbuttoned her shirt and exposed her breasts to me where she then instructed me to touch her and kiss her in ways I did not want to do, but I did anyways, because, I don’t know…I just did.

These things all fall into the definition of sexual abuse. I know they happened. I connected immediately to these memories when they resurfaced two years ago. Some of the memories I have always remembered periodically throughout my life. So yes, I was sexually abused. My therapist just looked at me though, clearly not satisfied with my rationale. So he changed his question to something like this…

“Have you been sexually exploited and used by your Father and other men?”

 I don’t know. I can’t say yes. It doesn’t feel right…I don’t know if it actually happened…and I froze and went silent, filled with excruciating anxiety and fear and guilt and torment. I cannot say yes. I cannot talk.

He reminded me of the stories that I have told him, the physical reactions I expressed when I told them, and all the evidence we have that this in fact is not something I could just “make up.” I argued. The voices in my head were loud and clear. You are lying. You are just looking for attention. Do not speak. You are wrong. This did not happen. They will find you. They WILL find you. They will kill you. Leave right now. No don’t…they’re probably waiting for you right outside that door. You are not safe. You are wrong. You are being overdramatic. STOP.

 And then he triggered me. He repeatedly said the nickname my Dad used to call me when I was little during his rebuttals against the voices in my head, and for some reason in that moment it sent me to a place I had not been to yet in excruciatingly vivid detail. I was a little girl sound asleep in my bed, maybe 5 years old. I was awakened by my father whispering that nickname into my ear as he put his hand on my leg, and moved it up my thigh under my nightgown. I remember the nightgown very clearly. It was a Christmas gift from my grandparents. It was white flannel with puffy gathered sleeves, with a ruffle around the neck and the bottom hem. There were stripes of pink flowers and lace around the neckline. My hair was short. I remember looking at the wallpaper where it met the white ceiling…it was floral on the wall behind my head and a pink gingham check pattern on the other wall along the side of my bed. I stared at the angle in the ceiling as my Dad’s head went down between my legs…

My therapist is getting pretty good at reading me, or I’m losing my ability to mask what’s going on inside of me. It’s hard to hide from him lately. He must have seen something shift in me because he stopped talking and asked what I was thinking about. I couldn’t talk. I kept asking myself, “If this isn’t true, then why are you thinking about this? Why do you remember so much about what you were wearing and the patterns on the wall? Everything is so clear. Where did this come from? It all just appeared…” I wanted with every fiber of my being to tell him what was going on in my head but my tongue was tied. I could not speak. So I stuffed it away and tried to pull myself together.

That incident has stuck with me for almost a week now. Even when I saw him again yesterday, I could not get it out. I wanted to tell him everything about it. I planned on telling him about it, but I froze as soon as I tried. I don’t know what I’m fighting against. I’m terrified though. I’m terrified I’m being watched and followed. I’ve had a few very uncomfortable run in’s with strange people over the last several months that have left me reeling. I have had symbols and triggers of my past show up in places I had considered safe that have left me feeling like everyone in my life is part of the tribe, the cult, the whatever it was I was used in, in my childhood. Are they trying to access me to keep me silent? Is their control so powerful that all they have to do is leave a random vase of flowers for me to see somewhere to shut me back down and keep me quiet?

This all sounds so ridiculous and outrageous to me, every last bit of it. But I can’t shut it down. The fear is so real and the images won’t go away. It’s burned into my brain. And there’s so much more that I haven’t even verbalized because I don’t even know how to put words to it all. I don’t know what it is. It’s like a horror movie. It doesn’t make sense. I can’t make sense of it or reconcile myself to any of it. It follows me everywhere.

What if I’m wrong? What if I’m crazy? What if I claim this as my truth, my reality, and I go through the rest of my life living a lie, exploiting God for His “healing power” on the other side of this for my own gain? Then I am a liar, slamming the character of my Father and Mother who have always told me how much they have sacrificed for me. How is that honoring them? The guilt I feel for this is so heavy and crushing. Would I be feeling this guilt if it were true? What if the guilt and the fear and the unsettled state of my being is God telling me, “NO, this is not your reality!” And honestly, I don’t think anyone would ever believe me if I spoke the things I see out loud. I have no credibility. They have all the power. They will hurt me even more if this becomes exposed. Why won’t God rescue me from this? Why won’t He give me the answers and the certainty I need?

I don’t know what to do. I’m trapped. I’m backed into a corner. I’m afraid to keep going. My head is spinning and I’m tired of the push and pull and I don’t feel safe. I feel empty and drained. I feel unsure and afraid. I feel numb and confused. And the tug of war, the battle inside…it continues.

Used Again…

I’m in a daze today. I can’t focus. I can’t eat. I was raped by my husband again last night. This is becoming a regular occurrence. It’s sneaky on his part. He preys upon me when he knows I’m emotionally weak. At least I think he does. Maybe he doesn’t. I don’t know. Maybe I’m over exaggerating the circumstances. I can’t think clearly.

I came home from a therapy appointment last night completely overwhelmed and exhausted. It was my second 3 hour session this week. We are talking through abuse memories that I have had. It’s hard and it’s scary. I don’t know what to do with them all. I’m afraid they will find out I have talked to him about my past. I’m afraid they will come after me. Or my children. Or even him. I know they are watching me. I’ve never been able to escape. They find ways to warn me not to screw up, not to talk. They will hurt me again. This makes me want to quit therapy every time I go. I leave in a complete state of panic every time. What if they are waiting for me in the parking lot? My heart pounds as I scan my surroundings before walking out the door. I wonder sometimes if my therapist is one of them. I want to think no, that he’s not, that I’m safe with him, but I don’t know. I always wonder.

I wanted to go to sleep. I wanted to completely shut down and let the night go away. I was hoping for rest and no dreams. I was falling asleep. But my husband was not. He kept touching me and kissing me and I froze. Everything I talked about earlier in the evening…being tied down, held back from running away, raped, tortured. Every image flooded back in. I went into compliance mode. I acquiesced. I couldn’t talk the words that were screaming in my head…for him to leave me alone. For him to understand that this isn’t a good time. He knew where I was. He knew I had a hard appointment. He asked me when I got home. I told him so he knew. Why? Why was he doing this? Doesn’t he know?? HE KNOWS. I’ve told him before about how this happens to me. I asked him to be more aware. To back off. Please. He said he would. He didn’t. Again.

I let him have his way. I couldn’t fight it. I checked out and did what I needed to for him to be satisfied. He entered my body while I cringed and tears began to fall down my face. Maybe he didn’t notice, it was dark. I turned my head away from him so I couldn’t see his face anymore. He breathed heavily in my ear and I drifted away into the darkness of my mind. I didn’t kiss him back. I didn’t talk back. I didn’t move. I was gone. He knew I was. He kept asking if I was ok. I couldn’t answer. He didn’t stop. It was finally over. I just laid there, exhausted and confused. I’ve felt this before. I barely heard him talking to me…

“Did you leave me? Come back…” 

Now he notices I am not ok. But it’s too late. I wish he would see me. I wish he cared enough to do what was right. I wish he would leave me alone. I can’t do this one more time. I’m all used up. I’m damaged and broken. I’m empty. Disgusting. I feel so alone.

Maybe I’m just tired and overreacting. Maybe I led him to believe I wanted this somehow. Maybe I shouldn’t complain and be grateful he provides for me. It’s the least I can do. I am his wife after all. Maybe this is all I’m good for.

Running Away…

I’ve remembered something from when I was a little girl. In my memory I’m standing very still in the woods. My father is standing next to me with his strong, thick hand wrapped around the back of my neck. The canopy of the trees cover us and in the distance I see a girl. She is lifeless, hanging from a tree. Her arms and legs dangle and her neck has fallen to the side causing her long, wavy dark hair to fall over her face. This image is burned into my brain. It never changes, it visits me frequently. There are also men standing around in the woods in the distance. She was all alone. No one was looking at her. No one was helping her. I don’t understand why no one was helping her. The grip of my father’s hand tightens around my neck and I feel an incredible amount of confusion inside of me. I also remember running. Running like crazy through the woods. I don’t know if the two memories are connected or not. I ran so furiously my heart was beating so hard I could feel it in my ears. Sheer panic. Footsteps thunder behind me as I try to get away from something. Someone. Yelling and commotion, like a stampede, closing in behind me as my little body tries to escape. I was out of control and I crashed down to the ground. Everything goes black.

I ran away two weeks ago. I am overwhelmed, scared, panicked, desperate…to get away from the stampede of emotions that engulf me. My heart pounds through my ears. Sleep evades me. I feel sick. I am sick. My body is distressed. My heart is stressed. I’m exhausted and devoid of any life. My emotions and feelings terrify me. I don’t understand how to feel and not be afraid. Afraid of being hurt, assaulted, beaten, thrown, dragged, tortured…ignored.

So here I sit, stunned, two thousand miles away from my reality, trying to understand what’s happened to me. Why? Why me? WHY?? What now? Who am I? Where do I even belong? Does anyone even care?

There are people here who have rallied around me. They’ve scooped me up and said “Let us help you. You matter. We’re proud of you.” They’ve asked me to talk and they’ve listened to the tiniest fraction of my story and they have cried, cried, and said “This is too much. You have dealt with too much.” They don’t even know. But I don’t cry with them. I sit there and wonder why they do.

It feels so awkward and foreign to experience what I am. I feel guilt when anything I say upsets someone. I shut down. I can’t accept their emotion or sadness for me. I don’t understand it. This is my normal. I live in fear every single day. I’m constantly scouring my horizon for danger and disruption. It seems as though my job is to only please others. My body to be used. My emotions to be criticized and discarded and silenced, buried deep where they can no longer be accessed. They mean nothing. I mean nothing. Tossed aside until I’m useful again. This is my normal. This is the way it’s always been. No arguments. No protesting. No resistance by me. To be loved was to accept the way it is and to live is to not deviate from the routine. So I push away the kindness and try not to make a mistake and trust…it seems very, very dangerous…and I continue to run away, looking for peace and solitude. And I wonder. I wonder how far I will have to go to be able to stop running.

Something…

I’m feeling something. I’ve been feeling something for many days. I don’t know what it is. I’ve thought about it and I can’t figure it out. I’m antsy and restless, agitated. I’m in a daze. Everything around me is fuzzy and unclear. I feel like I am in pieces. Thoughts and images are scattered everywhere. I’m fragmented. Numb. I say those words and they feel like the right descriptions, yet, I don’t exactly know what they mean or what they are describing. I’m just…I don’t know…

I sat with my therapist last night for the first time in 10 days. It was a weirdly excruciating ten days for me. I don’t know why. I was thinking a lot. I fought hard the feelings of dependency that have been creeping in. I told myself over and over that I’m fine, I can manage the overwhelm I was feeling, and figure it out. He’s my guide, not my lifeline. I can’t depend on or need him outside of my scheduled sessions. I try very hard to just be and sit in whatever I am experiencing until I can process with him again. But this time, I couldn’t. It was too long of a space in between. Too much happened. I had remembered too much and felt too many things and despite my awareness that this was happening and all the steps I took in the meantime to prevent complete overwhelm and shut down, I froze. Right there. With him.

It started out fine. I was able to talk about some things that were weighing on me but then he moved on and said something I don’t even remember and I switched. Complete shutdown. And the rest of the session I sat there listening to him talk to me about how this is real and I’m not making it up or lying, but unable to talk back or ague my side. Physically incapable. Too many emotions or thoughts, feeling unsafe maybe, I don’t even know, sent me into a frozen state. And there I sat for the rest of the session. My mind was so full it was empty. It all cancelled the other out. So many emotions equalled no emotion at all. I left feeling like an epic failure because I couldn’t pull out of it and afraid to ever go back because I never want to experience that or have it happen again. I failed on so many levels for myself and for him. I wasted his time. I wasted my money. I wasted an opportunity for me to move towards something…understanding, healing, decompression, just the opportunity to TALK…

Our time was up and I realized he had tried for an additional 30 minutes to pull me out of this. I was praying that God would just interrupt, show up for me just this once, please, and make him end the session, because I couldn’t. But instead I heard my therapist say “I’m not budging. I want to hear what you have to say. What are you thinking?” Thanks, God. I was feeling so tired and flustered and out of control. I wanted to talk. I wanted to say every thought rolling through my brain but I couldn’t find the words. And eventually they were so muddled together I couldn’t even find the thoughts anymore. I finally mustered I had nothing to say and then again that I was tired and then again that I had to go, at which point he finally said “OK.”

I went to my car and drove away, stunned and angry and relieved and sad and flustered and numb all at once. I stayed away from home until after 1am. I just sat and thought about the evening. I tried to figure out what is happening with me. I tried to understand. I sat in complete dark and silence for a very long time hoping something would come to me. I wanted to scream and cry and run away and even just die but nothing would come out. I was feeling that something again.

I now realize I’ve felt this before. This something. It eventually turned into a feeling of impending doom. I knew there was something bigger lurking inside of me about to come out…and it did. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to cope. I’m stuck in that land between. That world where I want it out and to know, but at the same time, please just go away and let me be! I don’t know how to pack things away anymore. I’ve lost that skill. I can grasp it for a little while and have normal hours…sometimes days…where I feel ok and under control. But it’s persistent and it comes back and taps my shoulder. I shudder, my eyes afraid to look. Are the ghosts of my past lurking back there? There’s something waiting to be seen. I feel it…I feel…something.

Trying To Hang On…

Trauma is weird. Repressed memories are even weirder. Nothing makes sense when you live in that world. And when you are attempting to move on with life and forget anything and everything and just try for the love of God to be normal, (or maybe sometimes, like me, stoop to convincing yourself nothing you think, feel, dream, or see is real and you are just drama obsessed and overreactive) it just gets weirder. Your body is in control at this point. You have no control. You can’t deny what’s happening to you, but you can’t seem to understand it either. And when you have been through abuse and trauma, you NEED to feel like and have some sort of control. This is where safety lies for you. Am I right? Somebody please tell me I’m right.

For months, maybe for over a year now, I don’t know, I’ve been seeing myself as a young girl of varying ages in horrible, horrific, abusive situations. It’s a blip here and a glimpse there. I have no complete story to any of it yet but the physical effects I feel with these visions are incredibly intense. Did you notice what I did there? I said visions instead of memories. I have no desire to claim any of this as real. But I think I’m to a point that if I don’t I might be stuck in this place of horror forever. I’m not there though. I can’t claim or accept this as my life so I waver back and forth between two realities. One that I used to have (bad), and one that seems to be (even worse).

I’ve researched my brains out about trauma and the effects of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I try to find anything that goes against what I’m experiencing to prove to myself and my therapist that I’m just a bat-shit crazy, mentally ill, hopeless attention seeker, and liar. After all, that’s what I was always told I was growing up. I’m trying relentlessly to live by this identity. If this were all my fault, I could handle it. I would be responsible. As always, there is just something wrong with me. This is familiar and very weirdly safe. I can handle this. Breathe, fix it, stop it, whatever…and move on.

What I can’t seem to get a grip on or handle is the idea that there might actually be something really wrong with me. So wrong that it causes others to hurt me, punish me, exploit me, and degrade me because I’m so awful and unworthy of anything better. This is a different type of “there’s something wrong with me.” What I described above is self defined. What is happening here with abuse is validating that definition into reality. What I don’t understand is how another human being can be so cruel and heartless. I don’t understand how God could be so cruel and heartless that He would allow one of His own created beings to behave in such a way. If God is love and humans were created in His image, then logically, this becomes my view of God, and love, if I’ve never experienced anything differently. But instinctively, I know this doesn’t fit either. Because I am not those things. I want to believe I was created in the image of love. But why couldn’t everyone have been?? Or were they, and I wasn’t? Everything feels so twisted and confusing and incomprehensible. I can’t reconcile any of it. So I twist it more and make it my own fault and failure to be whatever I was supposed to be, because that, I can swallow and make sense of because it’s what I’ve always known.

With regards to trauma and repressed memories, I have read often that there can be an unrelated traumatic event that happens in the victim’s current place in life that triggers or awakens the brain to other traumas hidden inside of them. I guess this could be the case for me. My husband has been chronically unfaithful to me, our marriage, and our children. It is something I have always accepted and hoped, after the last discovery and round of counseling, was over with and behind us. I fell into a deep state of trust, safety, and naivety and was blind to what was really going on. This is another effect of trauma. When you deal with traumatic events, you can dissociate to cope with them. When you dissociate when triggered, or chronically, to cope with pain and emotions, you become vulnerable to further abuse in the future because you are living in a different state of mind and different world. I can look at my life and it makes sense to me that this was me if I accept what I am experiencing. When I discovered again to a much deeper and twisted and offensive level the activity my husband was up to, I crumbled. My world fell apart, and not long after, it fell apart even more with the emergence of these visions (memories?) of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that came at the hands of my father, mother, sister, a neighbor and others that I have not been able to identify yet…they are still shadows in my mind. If this is real, I’ve become incredibly desensitized to abuse. It’s normal. It’s my life. Even today. It’s all I’ve known. I don’t know what to do with this.

I have very few memories of my childhood (another effect of abuse). Entire chunks and ages gone. Nothing is there. And the things I do remember vividly with confidence often involve physical abuse, fights, weird drunken parties or sexual behavior my parents and other family members had and some family trips. I’m beginning to realize I was pretty isolated. I had very few friends. I was shy, quiet, and unsure. I asked some relatives for pictures of me when I was growing up. When they sent them to me I was shocked when I looked at them. I had no idea who that little girl was. None. I even questioned if it was really me. I didn’t recognize her. At all. My kids can look at pictures and see themselves instantly. I couldn’t do that in some that I received. It was by process of elimination that they were me. That bothers me so much. There is a little girl who lived some time ago who didn’t even know herself and still doesn’t.

It’s scary and disorienting to think this could be who I am and was. Everything I thought I knew about myself is turned upside down. I’m a stranger to myself. I question everything. I have so much fear now. I don’t trust my own judgement of people, their character, and if they are safe. I worry about my children. I’m very skeptical and am easily triggered into varying states of panic and anxiety for no apparent reason at all. I don’t want this life. It feels like a prison. I want to escape it but I don’t know how. And in a weird way I’m afraid to move forward into freedom from this because it is completely unknown to me. Unknown is a trigger and is incredibly stressful. It always has been for me, but now, I see scary things in the unknown parts of my mind. I don’t trust the unknown. It feels like a trap.

My health has significantly suffered this past year. I’ve discovered and had treatments for severe anemia. I’ve seen specialists at the Mayo Clinic and have had countless tests to try to figure out what’s wrong. I was finally stabilized about 4 months ago, only to find out yesterday that I’m right back in the “you could die if this doesn’t get under control” danger zone and severely anemic again. I feel like I’m constantly going through a cycle of putting fires out in my life. One thing happens, I stabilize it, something else happens, I stabilize it. Something else happens and I freak out from the pressure, and think only of the dark places I can go. Then I pull myself back out only to find myself back in that place of distress once again. I wonder if God will ever look at me in pity and say enough is enough and make everything stop, but He hasn’t and I begin to wonder again if it’s really all true…I’m damaged, unworthy, not even good enough for God to rescue and save and use in some way.  I feel so incredibly defeated.

I want to get out of this, though. I want a new reality so badly. One I’m in charge of for once. One that is filled with comfort, stability, safety, joy, sound sleep, health, kindness, love, and trust. I’m so desperate for peace. It feels impossible most days. It feels like a fantasy. I feel like I don’t deserve it. I feel like no one feels like I’m worth the effort to love me or help me get there. I’m determined. I fight. I like to prove everyone wrong, even myself sometimes. I’ve lost that part of me somewhere in this. I’m none of those things anymore. I feel like a failure, worthless, and weak because I can’t just “buck up” and move on. My husband even told me that if he had to pick something I was addicted to, it would be my past. But I’m not. I want nothing to do with it. I constantly try to walk away from it but at every turn I make in a different direction there it is waiting for me.

I feel very alone in this journey. Someone help me hang on, please. Someone tell me this gets better somewhere. Someone tell me they understand any of this and can relate. Someone tell me they’ve experienced anything like this. That they didn’t believe their “memories” either but accepted them and are still OK. Someone please tell me they created a new reality for themselves and they believe God really is good. I need hope. I need something, anything, to hang on to.

Leaving A Legacy…

I’ve been sharing a little with my therapist about my feelings of wanting to end my life. I’ve been feeling this way for months. We argue about it, he tries to switch my thinking and paint a darker picture of what the end result of this would look like rather than what I will face in moving forward with my life. His points are valid, and though I try, not really arguable, so I shut down and stop talking because I don’t know how to explain what I need to say. I love my children. I would hate to hurt them and abandon them. It would be messy. On a logical level, I get that. But for some reason, that doesn’t motivate me as much to want to stay anymore. Sometimes, the thought of me leaving them seems more attractive to them (from my perspective) than being here in the state that I’m in right now.

The last time we talked about this he asked me what I wanted my legacy to be. He probably asked me this to distract me from my negative thoughts. It didn’t work. I immediately started thinking of what I perceive my legacy currently to be, and that just became greater justification to act upon my current state of mind…to get out, and end it all. The pressure building up inside of me is so intense. I can’t figure out what it is. Or how to release it. It’s becoming unbearable. It’s the heaviest of weights. I feel trapped with no way out. It’s getting darker and scarier and more and more confusing. I think I’ve actually really lost my mind. I haven’t ever felt this before. I feel like I have no control and no where to go to escape the torture I feel. I’m completely frozen yet completely on fire all at the same time. I’m afraid of myself and who I’m becoming.

My therapist talks a lot about dissociation when he tries to explain why I feel or remember things the way I do when I can’t find any understanding of it on my own. I still don’t grasp the concept of this or how it works so I’ve been reading a lot about trauma to try and find answers to help me understand myself better. I was reading the other day and came across some things that resonated with me. One author was discussing the impact of our inner critical voice and stated that it causes us to contemplate suicide. She also states that the critical voice is also hope-phobic. It doesn’t want us to hope because disappointment is so excruciatingly painful and it’s very good at predicting the worst possible outcome. She goes on to say that having no hope, the critical voice doesn’t want change. It doesn’t believe change is possible. I feel that sometimes. Another author I was reading touched on suicidal tendencies as well. She states, in reference to past childhood abuse and resulting dissociation, “Fight and flight driven aspects of the self that are suicidal or self-harming developed as a way of increasing the child’s sense of having some control (“If it gets too bad, I can die—I can leave—I can go to sleep and never wake up”) and may continue to have strong self-destructive impulses in the context of loss or vulnerability.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past couple days and I wondered if this feeling of wanting to escape, to end my life, is not necessarily because I can’t endure or cope with the “whatever it is I’m experiencing feeling” as much as it is a symptom of what I have experienced. In a way, that perspective shifted my thoughts around my desires. They’re there because something happened to me. It was a way I tried to cope and have control when I physically didn’t and I’m using this strategy again now as an adult as I relive some of what happened to me as a child. I felt a small twinge of freedom from the stronghold this desire to end my life has had on me. Maybe this quote about another woman I read about experiencing something similar can explain better what I’m trying to say. “…As she began to label the panic symptoms as “memories” and refrained from either “believing” them or exploring them (just noting that they were not a reflection of her present), she found that she was less overwhelmed by them and more able to reassure her traumatized child parts (and thus, herself) that “it’s not happening now—you are just remembering how afraid you were…” (source). 

So as I translate this information into my own experience, I’ve begun to wonder if these suicidal thoughts are actually “memories” of past distress as I sift through the ones that are continually surfacing from the depths of my mind. Even if they’re not, and I am truly feeling all hope is lost for me, which I genuinely feel sometimes, it releases some of the pressure somehow and frees me from the desire to act on these thoughts to a certain extent. I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone else, but it clicked with me on some level.

I’ve been in a very low emotional state for some time now with a very strong “flight” desire burning within me. With this new thought process digesting, I realized I need to take whatever steps I can to prevent myself from unknowingly trying to reenact these suicide attempts I made as a child while dealing with my seemingly very traumatic past and the emotions and thoughts that are coming with that process. I don’t really trust myself right now. I think it’s because I don’t have a conscious awareness of ever feeling this low or lost or confused. Without explanation, I asked my husband to remove all the medications from their normal places in our home and put them away somewhere. He did it without asking questions and I appreciated that so much. I think he’s smart enough to understand why but he didn’t make me tell him.

When I was 12 years old, and my parents were out at the bar, I sat on the floor at 2am in my bedroom closet and methodically swallowed over 100 aspirin. I was horrifically sick and violently vomited for days and my parents did not take me to the hospital or my primary doctor. They left me alone at home during the day while they continued on with their lives and went to work. I don’t remember what I was feeling or thinking, but it must not have been good as I went on to repeat the process again only a couple weeks later. Again, my parents neglected to care for me and this time around even barked at me for vomiting in my bed and cracked jokes that I was “still sick.” They never knew why I was and I never told them or tried swallowing pills again.

When I think about what I want my legacy to be, what I leave behind for my children to treasure and what others would remember me for, it doesn’t look at all like my parents do to me now. My inner critical voice speaks loudly to me that I am a failure in so many ways. Because of the neglect and abuse in my past, and the emotions (or complete lack of them) that I experience, I too have neglected my children unknowingly on some levels. As I realize more and more why I live the way I do, as a reaction to my past, I feel more and more damaged and inadequate. Compound this with the feelings of abandonment by my husband and his lack of love and faithfulness, it makes for an impossible situation to feel anything but inadequate and like a failure sometimes. But on a different level, I have this information now, and I can use it to change for the better in ways I didn’t know I needed to change before. I don’t know if I can articulate yet what I would like my legacy to be when the end comes and that’s all that’s left of me here on earth, but I hope that my children and others would see me as authentic and bold and brave and learn that one way to honor God is to continually strive to be real, balanced, healthy, and the best we can be. I genuinely want to keep fighting to see what God might have in store for me. I want my children to see my faith and watch how God can work bad situations out for our good. I believe He can.

It’s hard sometimes to cling to that hope offered from God. I don’t always do it or find comfort in my faith or His promises in my circumstances, obviously. I’m easily overwhelmed and anxious and scared and skeptical that God actually cares at all about me. It’s hard for me to trust. And I think God requires full trust in Him. I haven’t learned how to do that yet. But I can’t leave that journey of discovery behind if I cut myself off from fighting and trying. So I guess I’m still trying to fight for control and my freedom, just in a different way than my mind has been trying to convince me to do. I hope I can stabilize in this place for awhile and as I get overwhelmed with doubt or become distressed, because I know I will, I can remember that maybe the feelings aren’t real in my current moment, but are a memory from my past and old ways of coping and surviving. And I hope I can also remember that if I made it through then, I can do it again now.

It’s No Big Deal…

Just into the second year of my marriage, I found a charge on a credit card bill for an escort service during a time when my husband was traveling for work. I was devastated. We had a newborn. I went home and cried to my mom. She told me “oh…guys do things like that…don’t get worked up.” I told my father, he scoffed, called him a “dumb shit,” and looked back at the television. My mother told me to go back home and keep the peace. I told my mother-in-law…and I received the same message…it’s just what guys do. Really? I felt so alone and confused. I never told anyone again. I questioned every emotion I had surrounding the incident and buried them deep down inside of me with all the others not knowing how to cope with the pain and loneliness I was feeling. This was the beginning of a whole new nightmare inside of my already secret life.

I did what my mother told me to do. I went home. I did let my husband know I wasn’t happy about it, but I let it go, just like she instructed me to. We moved on. No harm done. A little mistake. An error in judgement. I had just had a baby. I obviously wasn’t what he needed or desired. I’ll fix it. I can be better. That’s all it could’ve been. Right?

Not really. He was just warming up.

As the years went on, the discoveries continued. A strip club visit here, another one there. Online chats with other women. Pornography on hotel bills and magazines hiding in his computer bag. Sex became less frequent. Then it became scary. One night he raped me. I was trapped underneath the weight of his body, may face buried in his chest, I was unable to get out. I told him to stop, I couldn’t breathe. But he didn’t. He was angry. He was in a different world. I did not know the man on top of me. When it was over I remember sitting alone in our bed crying harder than I ever had before. I remember thinking to myself that the intensity of my tears felt very foreign and weird. What was wrong with me? When he came back out of the bathroom I said to him “What was that?” His response, “Ya..that was bad.” and he got into bed and fell asleep. I must have stuffed this away too, because it took another 10 years to remember it happened.

I kicked him out a short time later when I learned he was still messing around. He lived on his own for six months. We went to counseling. He joined a sex addiction group. He went to therapy. I went to therapy. We had 5 children by this time. I told no one what was going on in my life. Despite the fact my family all lived within 10 minutes of us, I managed to keep this all a secret. After all, it’s what guys do. Who was going to help me? He said he was sorry. I told him he could come back home. I thought I was being the bigger person by being forgiving and loving and sympathetic to his “disease.” We carried on in peace. Things settled down and I trusted him again. For awhile.

The memory of the rape (and one other) was triggered by yet another discovery 8 years later. A text conversation I saw on his phone, which then led to the discovery of many, many more text conversations, and the discovery of coffee dates, hotel room charges during times he wasn’t traveling, meet ups in the parks during the day while he was supposedly working, an Ashley Madison account, among other dating site subscriptions. And these were all proceeded by the discovery of thousands and THOUSANDS of dollars spent on massage parlor escapades over the course of many, many years. Dozens, probably hundreds, of women. Too many to count or remember the details.

I left. I packed my bags and took off for three weeks leaving the kids behind with him. I told him I needed space to figure out my next steps and that he needed to figure out his own. I couldn’t live this way any more. I don’t know why I had endured this chaos for 19 years. I thought I had to. I was told to. I didn’t know how to fight for myself. I’d been trained from a very young age that I wasn’t supposed to fight back. I just didn’t know that brainwashing was what I was operating on all these years.

After some explosive episodes over the phone, and through texts, he begged me to come home. He told me he was sorry. That he had told me everything. He handed over access to the bank account and I took control of all the money. He promised to go to therapy. He had an epiphany at church one Sunday and decided to get baptized that afternoon. He had seen the light. He was sorry and he was willing to do the work to make this right. He wanted our family in tact. All my prayers were answered. I went back home. Foolishly.

Something was off. I knew it was. I could sense it, just as I had sensed before all the other discoveries. I wanted to believe this was finally over. I wanted to save my family. I was terrified of what divorce would look like. I didn’t want to hurt my children or disrupt their lives any more than I already had. I was trying to figure out what my role was in all of this breakdown. Was I too controlling? Too high maintenance? Not attractive or skinny enough? I was desperate to take the blame and fix it all.

I don’t know why all the other incidences didn’t seem like they were serious. Maybe because he insisted that he had actually never had intercourse with these women. They just “messed around.” He had always saved that for me. That was untouchable. At least that was what he said. I don’t know why I believed him. I don’t know if I did actually believe him. I still don’t. But I accepted it. I clung to it. But it suddenly became serious when I realized one of his employees kept coming up out of nowhere. A lot. They were just good friends. Right. I knew better by now. I set boundaries. He bucked them. I couldn’t control it. He had been having an affair with her all along. While I was away…when he was baptized and washed clean by the Lord…he intermingled her children casually with ours.

He was sneaky. He told me he was going for a “prayer walk” one night last summer while I was waiting for him in bed. He was gone for a long time. I tried texting and checking his location but his phone was shut off. We were talking in bed after he returned and I asked if I could see his Apple watch. I started scrolling through it. He forgot to delete the texts off his watch before he came to bed. I saw everything. He was walking with her. In our neighborhood. Talking about their future and their next steps. I was stunned. I didn’t even know what I was feeling. Was it rage? It was bigger than anger. I grabbed his phone and found the contact info for this woman’s husband. I called him, despite the fact that it was 2am, and informed him our spouses were having an affair. He informed me he already knew and this was the second affair his wife had had in their office. I hung up and stared in shock at my husband as he stared back in shock at me. He couldn’t believe my behavior. He had the nerve to tell me I was the one who was out of control.

But as the story goes. We danced again. I stuffed feelings and froze in time. I told him I wasn’t giving up on him. We went to therapy. He went through the motions. I believed he was truly done and wanted to change and save our family. We had made fools of ourselves in front of our children at times and we wanted to rectify that. Or so I thought.  He continued his affair, but he eventually got caught at work. Amazingly neither of them lost their jobs. Probably because he was an executive. I was humiliated. I’m still humiliated. But I haven’t left him. It’s been another year. I don’t know how. I feel trapped.

I’m scared. I’m lonely. I’m frustrated. I’m so hurt. I’m damaged goods. Who would want me after all of this? I’m 41 yrs old. I have six children now. I don’t even trust myself to make a good judgements on other people’s character. I expect the worst in every situation. I’ve been used my whole life and it’s all I know. I don’t even know what “real” love is or what it looks like. I hear my mother’s voice in my head telling me how great my life is. I have loving, supportive parents who have made great sacrifices for me all my life. I have a husband who makes good money and a big beautiful home. I don’t have to work and I can stay at home to care for our children…I should be thankful…after all, it’s just what guys do.