b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: pain

half-sister, my sister

29 years later
we meet in person after all of this time
I remembered you, a faded memory of adoration
then we found each other online
and you recounted your tales of pain
now finally we’re together
once again you recount your story of woe
you suffered, you suffered, but you survived
we share the same cruel father
our torture presumably the same
this devastation is your signpost
upon which you hang your identity
it’s familiar because I once did the same
‘Look at me, world, see what I overcame’
a badge of courage and strength
giant chips on my shoulders as warnings
to set the stage for all relationships
you want me right there with you
marching and holding the bloody flag
I am conflicted because you are a dream
a mythological creature I hoped to see someday
I don’t know what I thought I’d find
But I want our connection to be more than the past
I don’t want to keep reliving the pain
comparing scars triumphantly
I feel discomfort, unease
a part of me pulling away
I have spent so much time dismantling the past
I healed, recreated, renamed, rebuilt
I want to focus on now and moving forward
into health and happiness and ease
I don’t want to walk backwards
the road to the light was…uphill
I like it better here, I can breath again
I don’t know if you would join me
the intensity you live doesn’t say

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Sisters

So much damage, for so many years, to both sides. Knives cutting and cutting. Never backing down. Never surrendering for a moment. Both egos completely dedicated to winning. But we were really both losing. It was easy to judge. My ego loved feeling justified anger, justified superiority. All of it masking a desperate need for closeness and love, while ensuring anything but. Years of cold war went by. Mom liked to leak information to both sides, double agent, hoping for an opening, for possible reunification. Summarily rejected over and over. Ego likes to twist the state secrets into judgement induced superiority. But there’s an emptiness. And a shame. A dark, dirty, embarrassing guilt that flows under it all. And always that longing. Longing to finish each other’s sentences, to laugh at inside jokes that only we know, to hold each other close and give and receive comfort from someone else that really does understand completely, because she was there when no one else was. We saw the horrors together. We escaped together. Each of us so strong, pulling in our own directions. Trying to pull the other one with us, but it wasn’t working, it forced us further apart.

Finally, an opportunity to try again. To hopefully put past pain aside and try to find each other’s hands to hold. To hopefully reach out and be received with love. To reunite. To recombine. To join forces. I think we have always been connected, despite distance and silence. Even apart we were moved by the same music. Our paths meet again, now parallel, healing.

My sister / My daughter – Part 1 of a series

Dear Sister,

I am so, so, so, so sorry. There are no words that can possibly ever come close to describe how sorry I am. Our mom says we were monsters. I was a monster. I expertly studied and executed what our father demonstrated. When it came time to engage, the lever that controls all emotion was pulled down to the off position. I was calculating, cruel and efficient. I analyzed your weak spots and sliced with precision. I was good at it. I enjoyed it, the skill and expertise. I did not think about the consequences. I acted, concluded, then went back to whatever I was working on before. I was actually surprised, and somewhat annoyed, by how long it took you to “get back to normal.” I had no idea what I was doing to you. I didn’t actually understand you. I never bothered to try. I only knew my boundaries, and operated with those in every situation. It took years of confusion, of making people uncomfortable, and of offending people, before it suddenly dawned on me that other people have different boundaries.

But that’s not what this writing piece is about. This is about two girls trying to establish order after the tyrant was exiled. Two strong and stubborn leaders fighting for dominance and control. Two rulers angry over the non-compliance of the other. We were children (she 10, me 12) taking on adult roles, using the tools our parents taught us. And those tools were violent and sadistic.

This is about accepting responsibility for my actions. This is about guilt, and figuring out how to release it. I was awful. But I was a child.

This is about reframing. I have happily looked down on my sister as an example of all the things I have overcome and decided not to be – victim, martyr, high on justified anger and anxiety, drama seeking, pathetic. But it’s not that simple. She is a strong, capable human being who is using different tools to survive. And truthfully, at this point, after over 5 years of little to no contact, she’s a stranger. Think about how much I’ve changed in the last 5 years, I am a completely different person. She is too. It has been so easy to make her the bad guy. It’s so easy to make people the bad guys. And so much more complicated to see them as they really are, complex creatures worthy of love and respect.

flood

You think you’re done with something. No sign of it for ages. And then all of a sudden, it comes burbling up, spilling over, a flood. I’m running out of time. I may already be out of time. But there are no do-overs. Doing it again doesn’t make the past not exist. So much pain. So much pain there wasn’t room for love. And now the love is so overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning. I can’t breathe. And I can’t let go. I won’t. It’s all I have. It may be painful, but it’s mine. I try to go back into it, relive it but this time change it. Hold her tiny body against me, feel her breathing, and this time I try to enjoy it, adore it. I miss it. I missed it. I missed out on it. I ache for the connection. A connection like that I may never get to try at again. A lost opportunity. Lost to pain and chaos that was my reality. Yes, I know, focus on the now. Connect with her now. I do. Thankfully I can. Much of the time. But it’s not the same. She will never be an infant again. Each day she grows more independent of me, further away. And what could have been is lost. And this well of grief floods me again, and again. I accept it. I know I am mourning still. I bring the past back into sharp clarity. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want it to fade away. Because at least this way I can still go back and hold my baby, and love her, this time.

What is your birth position in your family? Does it impact your mental health? Why?

So, as the story goes, when my little sister was born I tried to climb into her crib to kill her. I was one month shy of 2 years old. Of course I have no memory of this. But it was enthusiastically rolled out at social events by my mom. I can always count on her for embarrassing stories. Is that who we become when we get old? Just a collection of stories?

I was always faster and stronger and smarter growing up. I felt good about that. But it wouldn’t be a competition if there wasn’t more than one person. And competition definitely took place. Scholastic success was always easy for me. I don’t remember if she struggled. I was articulate and enunciated perfectly, she smeared her words. I was always taller. Even now, when we’re both adults, I’m 3 1/2 inches taller. And I loved it. She won in other areas, she hit puberty first. And she loved to rub that in my face. Boy we were mean to each other. She would claim to have a better voice, a soprano to my second alto. I have better nails, she was a nail biter for so long that her nails are wide and squat. I was proud of that. We both talk incredibly fast. In fact, if you don’t know us well, you’d be hard pressed to determine which of us was talking to you over the phone. We actually tricked a friend once, on purpose. She was prettier, but I was smarter. And did I mention I’m taller.

I don’t have many memories of our early years. But when I’ve babysat young sisters close in age and I watch the way the older one treats the younger one, I feel shame. Something inside me tells me I did that. And even though it’s clearly human nature, I still feel guilt. We tormented each other, but I was perhaps a little better at it. She was definitely more sensitive, the wounds I inflicted years ago are still festering. That’s her choice, she loves to hold onto pain and wave it around like a flag of glory. I won’t take responsibility for her pain. And she hates me for that.

It’s been over 4 years since we stopped talking. 2 weeks after my daughter was born. Our “on again” lapse was tenuous at best. Basically a reconciliation about a year earlier for my wedding, heavily driven by my mom’s desire to live in an alternate reality where we’re a tight-knit loving family.

Well thanks to my dad’s death, and my sister’s need for a new drama/stressful project, plus her poverty/debt/greed, we’re back in communication. The estate lawyer, and more importantly, my husband, said to “walk away” from dealing with the mysterious trustee, who my sister now says should never have gotten any of his money. She’s on a mission, filing criminal charges. Let her have her crusade. I’d never be able to talk her out of it. No one could. She keeps texting me, updates and steps she’s taking, but also how stressed and anxious she is. Oh woe is her, look how she’s suffering. When my mom called me up to tell me what my sister was going to do, she was all riled up. I had to talk her off the ledge, I said to her, “he’s dead, why do you want to dig him back up?” I mean really, why waste another second on him. Let him fade away till even his memory is vague. Indifference is what he deserves. He’s gone, he no longer exists, it’s glorious. Why bring him back?? One of today’s texts from my sister says, “Hate that it came to this. That even after death he makes me sick.” Oh what a victim she is! How about instead you take responsibility for the choices you are making. Up to and including how you think and feel about what’s going on. Not everything needs to be a nuclear meltdown.

But maybe she needs that. I remember when I needed intensity all the time. It made me feel alive. I invited all sorts of brilliant but toxic/destructive people into my life. I enjoyed them thoroughly. The stings didn’t warn me to run, they were familiar and comfortable and understandable, and they produced endorphins. Yes, I got high off of cruelty, both giving and receiving. Somehow I justified it, believed I had it all under control. Do I miss it? Only theoretically. I don’t have the time or energy for drama anymore. What little energy I can scrape together is for myself, and my family (husband and daughter).

I feel like I haven’t really answered the question. Yes, birth order matters. I was looked up to (literally), copied, followed around. And it made me proud (and sometimes pridefully annoyed). And when my sister finally found her own power, was she embarrassed of the esteem she had had of me, and was she resentful of my position. I’m sure of it. Into our young adult years I was our mom’s favorite. I’m sure she knew it. And my damaged mom, overflowing with guilt for decisions she’s made and our resulting childhood, clings now to the only daughter that will throw her crumbs. Hint, that’s not me.

It’s complicated, but also simple. We all just want to feel important. We want to be listened to. Why couldn’t we be kind to each other – our parents didn’t model that behavior. Even after years and years of therapy, it took my auto-immune disease to humble me, and my teaching experience to learn to understand and love all kinds of personalities, and then, most importantly, my husband’s sweetness and honesty, to melt my ice fortress.

And now, it’s my daughter’s temper and impatience and stubbornness that is teaching me just how hard it is to break old behavior patterns. But that story is for another post…

Gratitude

Everyone is doing it on Facebook, so I’ll do it here.

I am most of all grateful for my husband. He’s not perfect, but no one is. But he is in it for the long haul. He took his wedding vows seriously, he is committed. And with that perspective, he will do whatever it takes to keep our family unit safe and healthy and running. Even when I can’t. And, when I can’t, he doesn’t judge. He simply keeps on keeping on. He hangs in there, even when I’m swinging all over the place. He holds steady. He is calm. The calm of a mountain. Immobile, unshakable. (At least, on the surface.) He is sweet and adorable and kind and generous. Our 5th wedding anniversary is coming up, and I still have a huge crush on him. Something about the combination of strength and shyness is wildly attractive to me.

My daughter. Oh how you test me. Like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, constantly looking for a weak spot in the fence. You mirror me, so I see both my positive and negative qualities reflected back in my face. You’re an eye opener all right. So stubborn and so persistent and such a drama queen (er, princess). Oh how you are able to hurt me. Oh how you are able to crush my heart. But then just a moment later be sweet and adorable, and utterly unaware of the consequences of what you do or say. Because really, my reactions say more about my own demons and ghosts. You are the ultimate test, lessons after lessons, forcing me to prove my life philosophies are practical. I am exhausted by you, but also obsessed with you. Your eyelashes. The fuzz on your arms and legs and cheeks. Those cheeks. Your chubby fingers, delicately posing as any princess would. Your breathing, your heartbeat. Through you I have wielded the knife of judgment against myself – having had lots of practice using it on my mother. I have cut myself violently. And through you I have laid that sword down. I have hugged you and rocked you and loved you, and in doing so have comforted my inner child. So much healing through you. I want to run away, and I want to scoop you up and put you back inside me. What a crazy mix of emotions this parenting thing is.

My friends. Oh my friends. You are my family. You have seen me so ugly. And you have seen my successes. And everything in between. And still you stay. I was sure you’d run screaming, many times. But here you still are. And you love me. Warts and stench and all. How or why, I don’t know. But I do know I am beyond grateful that you exist. That you have always stood by me. That I know you will always stand by me. That you will cry with me and laugh with me. And that you love me, as is, just the way I am.

Rage.

I am so angry. Fire pours out of my eyes and mouth and I roar so loud glass breaks for miles around. My anger burns hotter than the core of the planet and spreads farther than the known universe. It is all consuming. I hate it. I reject it. I judge it. I suppress it. And in return, it gets bigger and hotter and more painful. Anger. It was my father’s tool to inflict fear and pain, so much pain. Pain of the flesh yes, but much worse was pain of the mind. Ripping away your sense of security, of self. Humiliation. Horror. No exit. No escape. My anger is my father living inside me. When I scream at my daughter, it is his voice that comes out. I will not hit her, I will not. But oh how I want to. And that, right there, is disgusting, and fills me with self-loathing. Because she is so young and so innocent and so oblivious. She can’t know the depths of the anger she triggers with her attitude and screaming and hitting, yes, hitting. I want to yell at her, “don’t you understand how lucky you are to not get hit!” But she doesn’t understand, and that’s a good thing, and that’s the whole point of this second version of my child-parent experience. She pushes and pushes and pushes. She uses tones of voice she can’t possibly understand yet that are condescending and mean. She mirrors me, when I start yelling, she starts yelling over me. And I can feel my anger, rising up behind my eyes, to a level of total irrationality. And so I pull the shut off valve. Everything shuts down. I am emotionless. I do not care about anything anymore, including her. It’s safer this way. I am done. Done trying to communicate with her. Done arguing. Done being around her. I am shut down. I am still. And I flee. Gotta get away. Don’t want her to find an override button somewhere and reactivate my anger. Run!

But last night I didn’t run. I went back into her room and held her and rocked her. And as I comforted her and loved her, I was comforting and loving my inner child too. “You are loved, you are loved, you are loved,” I silently told her. We rocked and rocked. We both needed this. We desperately needed to feel close.

If you could go back and change anything in your life before your illness, what would you do?

Everything begins somewhere, and if I try to travel back to before my illness, I have to go back to conception. My father was an angry, sadistic bastard. But without him, I would not exist. So it doesn’t work to eliminate him.

So what then.

My first major depression was a result of the traumatic birth of my daughter. I wish I had had my doula with me. She could have calmed me and allowed me to consider my options, rather than just accepting the doctor’s decree that I wasn’t leaving. That I had to have a successful version and be induced, or a c-section. That no matter what the baby was coming out today, and not in a week or so like we expected. If I had had more time to come to terms with having a c-section, maybe it wouldn’t have felt so violent. But would I have changed my mind about the version? That version set the cascade of interventions, for without it, we wouldn’t have gone straight into the OR. Without it, they wouldn’t have given me terbutaline, which caused my a-fib. Perhaps I need to go back just a littler farther. I would like to change my baby’s positioning. I would have liked her to not be breech. To be head down the way she was supposed to, so I could have had a natural birth, like I was planning all along. So I could have felt labor and came out triumphant on the other side. So I could have had her placed right on my chest squalling and I could have held her, skin to skin, right away, and claimed her as mine, instead of going to the ICU overnight, alone in my grief and trauma. So I could have felt like a “normal” mother, delivering the way our bodies are supposed to, healing after and walking right away, instead of laying in a hospital bed bathed in sweat, tears, pain, anger and shame.

But would that have fixed it all? I may have had severe PPD anyway. I may have felt distant from the tiny screaming creature, or resentful of her existence, anyway. I may have tumbled down that hole no matter what. There’s just no way of knowing. So I find this kind of question useless, though I chose to write on it anyway. The past can not be changed. I am still mourning this story, and its what-ifs. I look forward to one day being able to accept it and let it go.

What subconscious issues do you need to surface and address in 2013?

I’m sure there are a ton. But rather than upset the apple cart, I’m going to try one at a time.

Closeness with my daughter – something is blocking my ability to feel close and comfortable with my daughter. I have brief moments where is has occurred, when I wasn’t paying attention. But striving for non-thought isn’t going to work. My daughter triggers neural pathways (as my therapist would say) related to my mom. Those I have addressed here and there. But even worse, she reminds me of my sister. I have lost count how many times I have almost called her my sister’s name. It might seem harmless to you, but that’s because you don’t know my sister. Ever the martyr and victim, wielding justified anger against the world, drama magnet, cruel, nothing is ever her fault. We have had a hate-love-hate relationship. She is poison. She is unsafe. She is nothing like my daughter. And yet, time and time again, it’s her name that leaps to my mind. I think it has to be the big sister dynamic resurfacing, that must have started when my sister was my daughter’s age. Because I do forget sometimes that I’m her mother. After she was “born” (extracted) she didn’t feel like the baby I had carried in my body for the better part of a year. She was a stranger. I didn’t want her. She was one more thing interrupting my extreme physical and mental anguish. It wasn’t until she was 2, I was sitting there rocking her, and suddenly occurred to me that this was the same baby I had manufactured inside me, sung to, talked to. I felt overwhelmed with joy at the reunion. “It was you all along!” And yet there was still remains a distance. There is definitely the inability for me to connect with my mom. And here I am recreating it. What am I afraid of? Closeness has always meant pain growing up. Always. I’m afraid of pain. Of her hurting me with my love. A little distance allowed me freedom to shut off my emotions. But then, there I go, recreating the mother-daughter lack of connection. I don’t want that! This ongoing push pull struggle is in itself painful. I want to chose love. I want to choose closeness. Even if that means pain. Because pain is normal part of life. And closeness and love is food to my soul. So little by little I will creep forward towards my daughter. Little by little I will open the door to my heart. Wish me luck.

Dear Mom, I hate you.

Where do I even begin. Your choice of husband, so you could escape your family. He beat his daughter and you thought, “he’ll never hurt my children.” You were wrong. He tortured you for 17 1/2 years, 12 of mine, and then finally you decided to leave. At least you did that. Then you decided it was your “turn to be selfish.” We were still just children. And you rotated men through our home. (Um, awkward!) At the time I lived in denial. He (dad) was the bad guy, that made you the good guy. How was I supposed to know what was normal. You dated your boss – a gross piece of ****- who gave you sexually transmitted diseases he got from other women. How exactly is that a show of self-respect? To stay with someone like that?? And when he hit my sister that one Thanksgiving, and we begged you to leave him, you said, “and start over with nothing? No way!” You devastated us. Chose that ***hole over us, your own flesh and blood?! I was not sad when he died. But I was sad about how distraught you were. No one should have someone die literally on top of them. I can’t imagine how that felt. But it’s a good thing he’s gone. He would never have married you. He would never have been faithful. I understand there’s more cultural leniency elsewhere. But you showed me that sex was more important than self-esteem. And for that you should feel ashamed. But do you? I doubt it. You feel like since my sister and I turned out ok, than the choices you made were fine. But the damage you have caused, and continue to cause, is all the proof I need to keep you away from my family. That’s right, if I were still single, I would probably still expose myself to your toxicity. But there’s no way I want your immoral, unethical, manipulative, neglectful, and feigned innocent degradation anywhere near my child. You disgust me. People love you. But I know you. You are a dancing shell, I don’t even know what you have on the inside. Is there anything of substance? You are so irresponsible, so nonplussed about crossing boundaries and leaving tracks of mud all over my face and heart. You act like you don’t really notice or know the consequences of your behavior. I don’t know what’s worse, if you don’t really know, or if you do. All I wanted was to be close. And oh how I tried, again and again. And I always felt like you and I were on different planets, even when for a moment you’d say something that had to do with me. Then a second later, I could tell, you were actually millions of miles away, and what you were really talking about was yourself. You hadn’t heard a thing I said at all. Or if you had, you summarily dismissed any value. Again. Hope. I kept (keep?) hoping you’ll listen to me. But time and time again, my hope was crushed. I’m “grown up” now, do I keep trying? Do I give up on you? I want my mom!!! But the truth is I never had you, I will never have you, not as the mother I always wanted. You are, and will always be, broken. It breaks me to try and connect, to someone impossible to connect with. It is irresponsible for me to try and hug splintered glass. I stand there bleeding, surprised (but not really). And then what, turn to my own family and need to disconnect to heal. I can’t allow that. I won’t allow that. So then what, is this it? I don’t know. All I do know is that my love for you burns me inside, blistery and violently painful. I hope one day to accept you as you are, so that I can stop hurting.