b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: shame

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.

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Autism

Last Friday I subbed for the first time in a classroom for severely autistic kids. I want to say I was filled with compassion and felt like the work was meaningful, but mostly I just felt traumatized by the experience. These are children that will never be normal, that will always need help from others, that are far far far from anything resembling ‘normal.’ I felt for the parents that are filled with ambivalence for a child they both love and see as a burden. My heart was heavy. The day dragged, every little thing they did is an uphill challenge. Every single thing they did is painfully slow and difficult. It was exhausting to be around. I pitied them, found them to be pathetic, and felt ugly for feeling that way. I felt ashamed that I didn’t find the work meaningful and fun like the other women working in the classroom. I spent the weekend tormented by the experience and my thoughts and feelings.

Then I went back.

In the last 3 days I have spent in there I have been able to see these kids as more than their external behaviors. I have seen humor and subtly, frustration and anger. When they refer to autism as a spectrum, they are literally describing how unique each of the children are. Yes there are similarities, however each of the children presented a unique combination of interests, levels of interaction, intelligence and behaviors. Once I was no longer shocked by the strange sounds and movements they make and do, they became fascinating to me.

I need to understand to connect. And initially it was all so foreign, loud, strange, intrusive, that I just couldn’t process it. But it’s amazing how the strangest things can become normalized just by being exposed to it for a while. And just like that the noises they made, the arm waving and flapping, the rocking and body ticks, all faded into the background scenery, and I was able to really see them, who they are on the inside. The intelligence trapped inside a body that won’t cooperate. I also judged the program that is designed to have them restrict themselves in order to make the socially ‘normal’ feel more comfortable. I don’t have a background in any of this. And my experience amounts to a book I read (partially written by a severely autistic girl), some articles, and exactly 4 days in a classroom. But I have to wonder if all the things we were making them do was really for their benefit, or ours.

I started to really care about them, feel sad when they were sad, and feel joy when they experienced it. I started to bond, and then it ended – such is the experience of a substitute. And next week I go back to a classroom full of ‘normal’ kids. The teacher asked if I wanted to come back next time my school is on break. I’m actually considering it. I prefer to help students academically. I love watching them ‘get it.’ I feel joy when I help them understand. I know that’s my calling, my bliss, what feeds my light. And yet, this hidden world was a fascinating break from the daily grind, the rushing to and from minutia, the annoyances at mundane discomforts we take for granted. It has clarified and strengthened my gratitude for existence. I am taking them back into the rest of my life, carrying them in my heart, incorporating them into the full human experience of the world around me.

I knew that children like this existed, I just didn’t think about it in depth. I didn’t want to imagine the day by day and minute by minute struggles. I didn’t want to care. When I have seen them out in the community, I have felt uncomfortable and pity. But not anymore. I will never reduce them again. My eyes are open.

 

 

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.

What are you hiding?

I peel. I peel off the skin on my cuticles. I peel off the skin around the sides of my fingers. I find an uneven spot and dig in and pull strips of skin away. Sometimes it’s little pieces at a time. Sometimes it’s a big chunk of skin. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t peel. Over the years my fingertips have lost more and more sensitivity. Most of the time it doesn’t bleed. But when it does, it’s time to stop, those are my rules. I peel when I’m stressed. I peel when I’m bored. I peel when I’m watching tv, when I’m taking a shower, when I’m in the car driving. Sometimes it’s intentional. I’m inspecting my fingers to find spots that need to be peeled. Most of the time I don’t even realize I started doing it until it starts hurting. I get in a trance. Fingers feeling a long other fingers searching for uneven surfaces. My fingers are on autopilot, alien ants working industriously with no apparent leader. I peel to try and create smoothness, which is the exact opposite result I always get. I peel to escape the present. The tactile experience is soothing, comforting. So is the pain. It’s never too painful, it’s just the right amount of soreness, a welcome sensation to focus on, to disappear from the now. Once I start, I can’t stop until I’m done. But what is done when there is always more uneven spots that need to be peeled. I find a place in my mind that is good enough, and force myself to focus on something else. I need to stop. But I don’t want to. I don’t know how to stop. I won’t let myself stop. I’ve never told any of my doctors about it. Intentionally not peeling creates an intense level of anxiety and the inability to focus on anything else. I’m not ready to stop. But I have to, I must. My child is peeling too. She learned it from me. The guilt I feel is crushing. I tell her to stop. What a hypocrite I am. But I also tell her to stop me if I’m doing it. I do my best not to do it in front of her. I’ve made that a new rule, and I’m struggling to follow it. Even just writing about this makes the urge so strong. Here I go again.

have a mother’s day

I am deeply ambivalent about today’s hallmark holiday. Even with this beautiful girl sitting in front of me so full of life and love, I am flipping through the list of ways I have hurt her or failed her. Thank goodness she’s so resilient. But mostly, thank goodness I’m not my mom. She showed me over and over that I was worthless and undeserving of respect. She chose everyone and everything over me. She took my childish worship for granted. She whines that she loves me, she misses me, but her “love” is limited and unhealthy. And it hurts. Sure, you miss me now, now that you’re old and lonely. Her neediness makes me angry. What about when I needed you. Yes you feel guilt for so many of your choices. But I remember your face when you first made those decisions. Completely unapologetic, proud even. Ugh, stop, I don’t want to waste my time dredging up the ugliness again. I forgave you long ago, not that you’re off the hook, but that I chose to not carry around my resentment anymore. I set it down, and decided to accept you just as you are, limited, selfish, OCD, and not welcome in my life except when I feel like I can handle your immaturity and disconnectedness. And I decided to look at my current life with relief and gratitude. This is Motherhood 2.0 – my turn. I get to create a new mother/daughter relationship. In this version, the mother is present for her daughter, listens to her, treats her like a complete human being and shows her she believes in her. This time when the mother makes mistakes, she admits them and apologizes for them, and doesn’t make excuses and doesn’t laugh about the pain she’s caused. This time the daughter is able to ask for her needs and get them met. This time the daughter knows how much she’s loved both in actions and words, over and over. And this time the daughter has a very loving and supportive and fun and safe father who would never harm her, never torture her, not in a zillion years. I am so lucky and so grateful for my family. We are imperfect. But we are good people. Sometimes I forget that I’m part of the good. Sometimes it’s helpful for me to look back at the bad, and see how much I am not that, not by a long shot. Then I can go through my list of successes instead – and realize that I am a part of making my child’s life good.

what brings me peace and balance

This is my third time falling. One might say I’ve gotten good at this. And my third time picking up the pieces and putting myself back together again. This time my recovery is faster. I’m still not sleeping, but I’m not drowning in despair. The anxiety is debilitating and crushing, but it’s not constant – just early mornings, and late afternoons to evenings. I know what I’m doing this time. I’m proficient at recovery. I have my bag of tools that I know work and I can rely on.

For my worst case scenarios, when all other tools fail, I give myself permission to use ativan. I used to tell myself that I can’t/shouldn’t, and trying to hold it together by eliminating that option was a nightmare. Knowing I can, if I need to, makes it easier to hold on without it. But before it gets that bad, I have some other options. I have my meditations. When I start I’m agitated, but over the 15-20 minutes I become still, as if floating. A perfect escape-the-world snack. A brief respite that refills my mental tank just a little bit. If I need to, I will listen to meditations back to back. They work.

Walking. Even when I’m dragging and every step is a monumental effort. Even when my anxiety is high and every minute is filled with panic. Even when I’m feeling devastated and I cry the whole way. By the time I’m done my leg muscles are humming and the endorphins have lifted me out of my mind. My body feels stronger. I sit on my front steps, I watch the tree branches sway, I breath the cool air, and I feel a sense of peace. It may not last. But in that moment I memorize all the sensations. I will put this memory in my pocket and carry it with me.

Journaling. When my brain is full, swirling with thoughts that attack like birds, and I can’t quiet it and I can’t escape, I run to my bedroom and shut the door and I pull out my journal. Then I purge. I vomit up every nasty, horrible thought I have no matter how humiliating. I smear the pages with my words and my tears. No restraint. And when it’s all out and I finally feel emptied, a calm comes over me. And I am able to sort and sift through the situation, and understand it. And once I understand the why, I am able to counter the negative thoughts with realistic and positive solutions. I can see more clearly. I can see my value and my strengths and I can come up with a plan. And once I have a plan I feel stabilized and confident again. And I am ready to open the door and return to my life, my family, and my responsibilities again.

white knuckling

I’m holding it together. But only just.

The words are back – the liars. They’re telling me, I’m telling me, that I’m a failure as a parent. I’m so mean to my little girl. That voice, I cut her open with contempt. All she wants is a mother’s love. I’m her mother. But I forget. Just do what you’re supposed to do. What I want you to. Obey. But she’s 5. She’s supposed to be her own person. And I crush her. She bounces back. But what damage have I done. What scar tissue am I generating under that beautiful, soft skin.

How        do        I        stop.

Please let this be hormones – this depth of this suffering crying guilt.

Does this mean I’ve failed. That I need to go back onto antidepressants.

I’m so tired. The mantra of my life.

Door slams shut inside. Feel nothing feel nothing feel nothing. Maybe if I hold really still, this will go away.

 

the most accurate description I’ve ever heard

illogical

I think I’m depressed. At the start of the 3 day weekend I had that white tight anxiety in my chest. I visited a dear friend, and the time with her mellowed me out, eased the growing constriction. But here it is again. And with it is despair. The feeling that I am unloved and unwanted. Though I know that isn’t true. This weight makes it hard to breath. I did well watching 2 girls yesterday, they focused all their attention on each other. Surprisingly easy. Now that’s something I could have been scared of. But no, the opening of 3 days with no plans brought fear and dread. The emptiness of time to fill. That’s what used to depress a friend of mine, anytime she was alone. But I am not alone. And yet in an island of imbalance, out of sync with everyone else. No one else notices, so that’s good. Or is it. If no one knows, then no one can see my shame, and no one can help me. So what’s stopping me from trying to connect. If I feel disconnected and that’s causing misery, then the solution is to connect. Except that I’m all out of sorts. I feel wrong. I don’t want that seen. Judged. I want to hide. Wait this out. It has to go away eventually. I’m so tired. It always goes back to that. The dance of fatigue and anxiety, whirling twirling around together, nails digging into each other’s skin. And these tears. So many tears. What, why? What do I feel so sad?? No one has died. I have all that I need. But the well is over-flowing again, and my grief is pouring out everywhere. And yes, I am ashamed of it. Of how illogical it is. And of how self-absorbing it is, isolating me as I wallow.

Time to go back. Get things done. Be productive. Tuck this back in.

Agitate

Add ingredients. Shake vigorously. Pray you never have to feel what it’s like from the inside of the cup.

Carrying very heavy books. Arms getting tired. Muscles crying, “just set them down.” How do you do that with your life.

There is such a disconnect between the people that make and sell our medications and the people who take them. And SHAME on you, shrink, for upping a dose on a medication with no way to come off gently. There’s just high dose and higher. Both extended release, so you can’t cut them up. Until the benzo’s hit my system just now, I was sure I was back in the hell from 4 years ago. Only I had merely dropped down to the lower dose. And I also get to enjoy the remnants and shards and wounds other meds I have weaned off before you. They never leave you without damaging you on the way out as well. Total mental and physical distress. Nausea, lower intestinal pain, migraine, all sounds amplified and echoing, all movements no matter how small causing vertigo and sharp, stabbing and disorienting mind pain. And exhaustion. Crushing. Absolute. My body begging me to stop moving and close my eyes and never move again. Even as I write this. Take me away from all this. Make it stop. I can’t cope. I can’t hold on anymore. I give up. I give in. Put me back on the meds. Drug me up.