Keep On Keeping On

“Someone once asked me how I hold my head up so high after all I’ve been through.  I said, it’s because no matter what I am a survivor – NOT A VICTIM.”

There are many traits about myself that I am not crazy about.  I am exactly five feet tall – no more, no less.  I have the shortest legs of anyone I know.  I cannot run to save my life, literally.  My heart physically fails me many times.  I have physical scars and bruises that aren’t that attractive.  My posture is atrocious.  My mouth gets me into trouble more than I’d care to share.  My upper body strength is shameful.  But all of these pale in comparison to this undeniable, unfathomable fact: I am a childhood trauma victim.

For the longest time I thought this label – this yoke around my neck – was nothing more than a delineation between me and other kids growing up.  Heck, I didn’t even think that for years.  I honestly believed that my life was a variant of normal – that all the girls experienced what I did; this was how Daddys showed their daughters love, and I was so very special and so very loved.

In my teen years, I didn’t want to be different, special in any way.  I wanted to be loved the right way, by the right guy…but at that point I was simply powerless to stop the momentum that had existed for so long.  So instead I made a decision:  I wasn’t special; I wasn’t different; and I certainly wasn’t a victim.

Once everything was exposed, and the ugliness began – the circles of blame and hurt feelings and raw emotions and bitterness – I sealed off that section of myself; blow-torched the edges and didn’t look back.  And it was settled…there was no damage, there was no problem, and there was no discussion necessary, period.  But I was so very wrong, for just because I had issued forgiveness for my Father, I had never ever forgiven myself, and it never once occurred to me that I was in far more need than he would ever be.

Since I had sealed off that portion of my life, I had never truly walked through how that experience changed me, formed me into the adult I became.  I entered a marriage still broken but functioning, in complete denial that the events of my trauma would ever touch another relationship.  In the early years of our marriage, my husband did make a valiant attempt to reach me, but he never possessed that capacity to fix what I had no cognitive knowledge was so vastly distorted – no one man could have taken on that task without my support and professional assistance – of this I am now keenly aware.

Also, because I had not examined how I was impacted by my trauma, my choices of relationships continued to be impacted, as our marriage stumbled and ultimately faltered, from a combination of both of our shortcomings.  I sincerely believe it took this event – the destruction of my marriage – to bring me to my knees, emotionally, spiritually, physically – before God and finally seek the answers within myself that had always been there, but that I had not been prepared before then to reveal.

As I’ve spoken of before, this heart work is the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it is the most critical work I will ever do – for the health of myself and those around me.  I cannot be the best me I can be without finding the cause of my pain, identified or not, and choosing to walk through that.  Simply identifying the issues, past and present, but refusing to make the necessary changes is not going to bring about the healthiest version of you.  It is in the walking it out that you find who you really are, who you were meant to be, and the you that God desired for you to become.  This is the critical piece.

I also believe I’ve discovered there is no completion to this work; it is a process we must continue daily.  Though I have come a long way in deciphering why I make the choices I make, and where some of those bad choices have taken me, there are still choices to be made – each and every day.  Though I can now recognize behaviors that seem familiar and safe and remember that those aren’t working for me any longer that takes a conscious decision each and every time, choosing the better path laid out before me.

I would still contend that I am not a victim, but rather a survivor.  In fact, I loathe the word ‘victim.’  The implication is helplessness, hopelessness, and weakness.  I am certainly none of these things.  I am strong, wise, and loved.  I have a pep in my step that has been missing probably forever.  I walk with my head up instead of looking down because of unworthiness.  I am a Princess, and I won’t be diminished by titles lobbed at me by this world.  And while I can’t grow any taller, I can lengthen my gait by keeping on this new path, this healthy path, and realizing that when I stumble, I can reflect on where I’ve come from to get me on track again.

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You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

I have this gift – it can be viewed as a blessing or much, much less, depending on your perspective.  I never forget anything.  Even the tiniest of things with no significance to some, I remember.  Yesterday was a date of some great importance.  Two years ago yesterday, my supposed ‘normal’ life was altered forever.  My 22 year marriage stopped existing as my spouse informed me it no longer did.  I wasn’t asked for my input, there was no discussion, there wasn’t even an argument – just the announcement of the end.

As I reflect on these 2 years, my initial thoughts are that it seems so very long ago.  While the words still sting like a fresh wound, I hardly remember what I felt in those first moments.  I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing – but other than my tears, I have no idea what was in my head as the longest relationship of my life was ended in 5 words.  It’s funny how I can remember September 11 like it was yesterday – where I stood, paralyzed by fear, glued to the television as the images came across, the gasps and the tears as the first Tower fell, the longing for my family to be whole and home immediately so I knew they were safe, the complete numbness as the second Tower fell, the inability to turn away from the news coverage for days afterwards.  But this inner destruction, this attack on my person, my family…happened right in front of my face…and yet the feelings and emotions were lodged so deeply inside that it seemed that they might never see the light of day.  Instinctual mode broke free and took hold, and my motions became robotic – protect my children, show no weakness, do not become broken.  Going through the motions, really…not feeling a thing.

Time is the enemy of numbness.  Just like going to the dentist, eventually the Novocain wears off, and the residual pain breaks through.  This is when the real work begins…learning to feel those feelings, meet them head on, one at a time, acknowledge their value and purpose, realize that you can survive the process and come out on the other side, stronger and wiser.  But it is just that…work…and it’s hard and painstaking, and you have to want to get through it and see what you’re made of.  For me, that meant a lot of soul-searching and a phenomenal therapist who never once judged me, told me what I felt was wrong or inappropriate, and helped to guide me through everything I was experiencing.

The biggest piece, though, was that I was ready to get healthy and whole – for me.  You can’t experience any kind of traumatic event and then walk it out for someone else.  Sure, you can try that – but the results come back hollow and meaningless – because you’re trying to walk your journey to please another, and that never, ever works.  You can’t live your life to please someone else, and you certainly can’t sift through your junk to suit their needs.

The entire 2 years haven’t been rosebuds and raindrops.  Divorce, I have found, is a very despicable word.  I never realized just how ugly people who once loved each other can become when pushed to their breaking points.  Battles over possessions, property and payments cannot be made kind.  And when children are involved, one parent has to be annihilated to make the other one more appealing – there is no simpler way to put it.  The number of times I have sat in that Family Court in the last 2 years has embarrassingly made me an expert on something I take no pride in knowing about.  And I can say this in all truthfulness – God stands outside that Courthouse, as the feeling of evil upon entering envelopes you like a heavy wool blanket each time and you know you need to be washed clean when you leave.  Love was never intended to be this way…ever.

As I’ve moved forward in my process of healing, I’ve decided that I have a small responsibility in his healing too.  Not in his process, his choices, or his actions – but solely in how I choose to treat the man I once loved.  If I continue to treat him with disdain in my heart, and yet intend to show Jesus to strangers, aren’t I being a hypocrite?  How can I show any less than the love of Jesus to him?  This is certainly not to say when he is hurtful I am just to accept it openly.  That person is gone – the one that allowed herself to be quashed for years, silenced by emotional abuse that I was embarrassed to reveal.  But I do not have to allow myself to be baited by his hurtfulness.  I am stronger now, and I am secure in who I am.  I won’t be confused about that ever again.

So what does all of this mean?  Because I am healthier, I can lead my children in a much better way.  They don’t have to be confused or afraid of what is happening in their own home.  We all are prospering – a word I wouldn’t have dreamed to use even a year ago.  Each of the kids has a path they are on, and they are making their way.  And their Mama?  For the first time in a long, long time…she’s happy and making plans to enjoy the days in front of her.  I am done looking back…my ‘new’ is ahead and it’s waiting for me to discover it.  I can’t wait!

Fatally Attracted

“The moment you feel like you have to prove your worth to someone is the moment to absolutely and utterly walk away.”

I have been manipulated by people my entire life.  To even make this statement out loud strikes at the core of what I value most about myself – my intelligence.  How could someone so smart be so stupid and allow herself to be used and abused so intimately by so many? My greatest relationships have been the most disappointing – the most manipulative.  I thought this cycle of behavior began with my marriage, but in a revelation last week, I discovered this disturbing pattern began much earlier in my life – with my father.  And this new discovery sent me into a tailspin that revealed a level of myself I had not yet seen, and one I wasn’t certain I was ready to look at up close and personal.

They say, “Hindsight is 20/20.”  How many times do we hear this statement and never really stop to think what these words mean?  My observation has been that people peering into your life from the outside – the ‘cheap seats’ as I like to call them – always have the best vantage point.  It’s just so seemingly easy for them to speak volumes into your life:  you should choose this relationship; you shouldn’t buy that house; no, don’t have children now; oh gosh, you bought that dress?  But many times I find the ‘cheap seat’ advice is guised as judgment, even by the best meaning people.  Even with a pretty spin, judgment still stings, especially when some of the words ring true.

Over time I’ve learned to listen first, reflect on the person’s heart who’s laying down their pearls of wisdom, and respond less.  Oh, it’s not been an easy lesson by any means – I will be the first to tell you.  That sting is still there – maybe just not as painful as it once was.  But when you can trust the one who speaks into your life, trust that their heart is not intentionally trying to hurt yours, the pain is short-lived and you’re left with the nuggets of truth to take away.

So this is what happened for me last week.  A painful, but heart-full exchange, truthful nuggets, and reflection.  It was in that reflection time I found my brain spiraling out of control, and I needed to put those thoughts to paper before I simply lost my mind.  That exercise – release of my thoughts and feelings on a blank paper – proved to be so powerful and freeing…I’m not sure I can completely put into words what all I accomplished with that simple act.

I have shared my childhood experience here before.  I am a steadfast believer in the fact that there are no accidents – all things happen as they are meant to.  And while we may or may not receive answers for the tragedies we experience here on this earth, they all absolutely serve a purpose.  I don’t know why I was molested as a child, and quite frankly, I don’t need to know now.  I am, however, learning over time how even though I had thought I was not impacted beyond the end of that event by what happened, that is not exactly true.

As I sat with my therapist this week, recapping what I had discovered in solo work, questioning how I could have been so foolish to allow myself to be continually manipulated, she stopped me and posed several questions to help me work through my harsh conclusion.  Who was the parent and who was the child in the relationship with my Father?  Obvious answer there.  In my marriage, why did I choose my husband?  That he lived 1000 miles away and I was looking to escape, and his family seems so welcoming and I desperately wanted to belong to someone’s family.  In my friendship with X., what did she bring to the table?  Strength when I was at my weakest and availability when my other friends were busy with their families.  So with this information, was I ‘dumb or stupid’ in making the choice to be with them when I made my original choices?  No.  I made good choices at the time.  However, I am drawn to this type of personality – a controlling, manipulative, overbearing person.  Each and every relationship I have had has revealed this trait.  And I bounce from one relationship to the next to the next.  And if I don’t identify why I make this choice each time – I will continue to make this bad choice for myself again and again.

So what we decided together is that I need to trust ME more, pay attention to the red flags that I see coming up instead of avoiding them, and take my time, allowing people to earn my trust, instead of giving it away too freely.  Wow…that seems like it would be so simple, but believe me, it is not!  Doubt is sneaky, creaping in to every little crack and crevice you have, and seriously…I have too many!  But I am wicked proud of the work I continue to do, and I am thankful for the people I have who speak into my life from their heart.  I love them more than they know…and they know who they are.