Family

Looking through the window, you would think you were watching a family.  Two people are playing video games.  A baby is walking about with toys, showing his cars to everyone who will look.  Folks are gathered around the table, still strewn with dishes.  All of the people are related by blood or marriage.  Family.

Then there’s me.  The lone person in the room who isn’t actually attached to anyone.  This is the Thanksgiving celebration of my best friend’s father and family.  To some extent, I feel out of place.  A Pagan vegan amongst diehard Christian carnivores.  I used to think of myself as easy to throw away.  No divorce needed.  No separating the family in to factions.  They could just point me toward the door and send me on my way.  Little by little over this past nearly two decades, I am changing.

This year is different.  This year, I am trying to connect.  I’m trying to drop my well-honed guard long enough to let these people in.  And I am bloody terrified.  Immersing myself as part of the family feels dangerous.  The more people you love, the greater chance you have of being hurt.  The greater the chance for betrayal and pain.  Is it worth it just to be part of a family?  I’m still trying to answer that question, but I’m leaning toward ‘yes’ these days.

We have plans for most weekends in December.  Family plans, and it’s just assumed I’ll be there.  These people don’t consider that I won’t be part of family situations anymore.  It’s so odd.  I have no biological family, but I seem to have acquired a great deal of family somewhere along the way.  I sit surrounded by these people, terrified that they’ll see whatever it is in me that those who hurt me saw.  And then my best friend’s father nearly crushes me in a warm hug, telling me he loves me.  Part of me loosens a bit inside.  Part of me enjoys that.  Who would have thought a girl with no family coming from a history of SRA and garden variety abuse would find herself surrounded by the love of a family someday?

So t his is my struggle this holiday season.  I want to be present in the celebrations, rather than so mentally-guarded that I miss out on things.  I want to talk with people, even when I feel they’ll just judge me anyway.  I want to function as part of the family, comfortable in the knowledge that that’s how they see me.  I want to take this chance for once and hope things don’t come crashing down.  My past says this will end in heartache and loss.  My current mindset dares to hope it won’t.  Here’s to trust!

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Even Now

My best friend and I, as I have mentioned before on this blog, text every night.  Between 8:00-10:00-ish, we talk about our days and anything else that happens to come up.  It’s a great time, even when the subject matter is dark, because we are together.

Tuesday night was different.  Tuesday night found me unsure of his feelings toward me and terrified that I’d done something to push him away.  He wasn’t joking around about anything.  He wasn’t laughing, so to speak, via text.  He was simply answering me in terse phrases.  I was scared.

I asked if he was ok, and he answered in the affirmative.  A few texts later, I told him I felt like I was texting an acquaintance.  He said he didn’t know what to tell me.  Through the rest of the conversation, he had to assure me time and again that he was fine with me and fine himself.  I’m sure it tested his patience, but he stayed right with me.  I love him for that and many reasons.

This conversation makes me angry, now that time has passed.  Within the confines of the cult, I learnt that no one would like me other than my ‘family,’ those responsible for my training.  I was taught that the people who profess to love you would leave any time they wanted.  I avoided getting close to anyone, because I knew they’d leave anyway.  And it was always me.  I wasn’t good enough, strong enough, fast enough.  Or I was too good and punished for showing up the others.  Whatever the reason, love brought pain.

Now, many years later, I find myself falling in to that trap of not trusting people.  Trust is so hard.  For a while, it was impossible.  I met my best friend in January 2001.  Almost 17 years later, I had such a hard time trusting him that, in one conversation, I assumed he was ready to end our friendship.  This is SRA.  The systemised method of breaking down your natural sense of trust and rebuilding it with a sense of suspicion toward anyone you were not programmed to love.

I often wonder what happens next.  Will my lack of trust run off my FOC sometime?  Will I ever be able to relax enough to accept that they truly do accept me?  SRA is so damaging on so many levels.  Even now, some 17 years after escaping, I bear the scars, and I am devastated to know these scars affect the ones I love the most.

Routine

Here in America, my home of late, we’re preparing for Thanksgiving.  I have loads to be thankful for.  My FOC, my cats, my good health.  All of that.  For a girl who grew up in a cult and nearly died escaping it, having a good life at all is miraculous.  Yet here I sit, typing away, confident in the knowledge that I am loved and wanted by a wonderful group of people (and wonderful cats).  Yes, I am thankful.

I am not, however, thankful for bipolar disorder.  It will be the unwelcome guest this holiday week.  I’ll miss my nightly chat with my best friend Tuesday and Thursday due to his family obligations.  My work schedule is different.  My adopted grandmother of sorts and I will spend a day cooking together (great, but still out of the ordinary).  And all the while, I’ll have to monitor my mood for shifts caused by the lack of routine.

If you have bipolar disorder, you know this dance.  Your mood is stable.  Friends and family arrive.  Your anxiety rises.  Partway through the new terrain that is this holiday week, your anxiety peaks just in time for everyone else to settle in.  Your thoughts start racing from the anxiety, and pretty soon you start to feel the deliciously dangerous tug of mania.  This is what a significant change in routine can do to me.

Self care is so important during these times.  If I feel my thoughts start to race, I just go to my room and write or breathe or meditate.  Whatever it takes.  I check in with my best friend via text just to say goodnight.  Even if we can’t actually chat, that brief connection makes a major difference.  I force myself to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.  That part of my routine remains intact.  I used to think of this sort of care as selfish.  Now, I see it as necessary.  Without taking care of myself, I have nothing to give to others.

So this is my takeaway for all of you out there dealing with mental health issues this week: take care of yourself.  Your family, whether biological or just in the heart, wants to spend time with you.  Don’t let your disorder take your place.

Bittersweet

If I had to pick a single adjective to describe my life, ‘bittersweet’ would be the one.  There have been so many losses over my life that it seems every memory is tinged with sadness at times.  The happy memories of those I’ve lost are always there, but the sting of their absence is, as well.  And so it is with this holiday season.

My best friend’s brother died very suddenly in early August of this year.  Having been part of their family for almost seventeen years, I feel this loss acutely.  We’re all working through in our own way, sometimes even with each other.  When we’re together, though,  there is an absent presence.  We gathered a few weeks ago to spend time with each other, and it was clear someone was missing.  My best friend and I, along with his two surviving brothers, sister-in-law, parents and nephew all came together for games and a meal.  It was a wonderful afternoon full of love and laughter.  And unspoken loss.  Bittersweet.

Death has a way of bringing everyone together before splitting them in to separate groups when the public mourning is done.  Last year, my best friend’s grandmother died.  It’s been quite a time for his family.  This year, they won’t all be together for Christmas.  With the matriarch missing, the siblings have decided to gather with their own families of children and grandchildren.  No more big family Christmases to be had, now the centre point is gone.  Everyone will be with their separate families, and there will be love among all, still.  They just won’t be together as they have been in the past.  Again, bittersweet.

The thing we have to remember about the word ‘bittersweet,’ though, is that it is a compound word.  Separately, the words are opposites.  Brought together, they are two sides of the same coin.  You can’t have sweet without bitter, simply because the sweet of any relationship will end.  Whether by lack of compatibility or by the separation of death, the sweetness ends.  The trick is to enjoy the sweetness so much that, when the time of bitterness comes, its sting won’t be so bad.

The Beauty in It All

As I took a stroll on this beautiful Autumn morning, a peculiar thought occurred to me– the beauty of Autumn is in death.  What we see as beautiful colours is actually the death of the leaves.  Beauty in death.  Who would have thought that possible?

This got me thinking of my sister’s death, which is a thought that’s never far away.  My therapist tried to help me see a sense of hope in her death.  She chose her time to go out, and she went out on a high note.  Those were my therapist’s words.  They only served to make *me* suicidal, though.  If suicide is about going out on a high note, why don’t we all do it?  Why don’t we all just choose our time?  Those were my thoughts from the therapist’s perspective.

The answer I discovered took me by surprise.  Suicide isn’t the  answer, even though it seems so right sometimes, because we can’t actually guess when our high note occurs.  My sister died four days after her twelfth birthday, four days after a celebration that was all about her.  I can’t help but wonder what she had ahead of her, though.  I’d like to think there would have been many more high notes.  Enough to keep her here, at least.

There is a certain beauty in death.  The kind of death that is a long, slow and peaceful decline toward our next journey.  I saw this last year when my best friend’s grandmother died.  The family gathered together to take the last steps of this life with the matriarch who linked them all.  It was so sad to watch her pass, but it was beautiful to see her family come together to support each other and share this pain.

There is no beauty in suicide.  There is violence and endless questions and years of longing.  I say this both as a survivor and someone who has attempted herself.  I can’t promise I’ll never be suicidal again, but I can promise that I’ll always look to my family-of-choice and all the high notes they bring to pull myself back out again.  The beauty of life is that, no matter how dark it gets sometimes, you never know when a high note is just around the corner.

What Have We Learnt?

We’re nearing the end of 2017, and the beauty of a grey Autumn day with colourful leaves everywhere set my mind to this blog, which really isn’t much of a blog anymore.  School is done, work is work, and my personal life remains relatively the same as always.  There really isn’t much to say these days.  But, as we are nearing the end of the year, I thought I’d  look back at some positives and negatives.

Politically, the world is a mess.  America has an idiotic prepubescent bully in the White House who would do better to be replaced by one of my cats.  The UK has a deluded Prime Minister who thinks she can keep the UK in the single market after Brexit.  These are our leaders, folks.

I don’t even have to remind everyone of the terrible shootings plaguing America right now.  And according to the ‘President,’ mental illness is to blame.  As someone with a mental illness and no desire to kill anyone, I take offence to that.  I own my disorder, and I work hard to keep myself stable.  I am probably the least violent person you’ll ever meet.  Yet in the eyes of the man who runs the most powerful nation in the Western world, I am the problem.

Times like these, we have to look to the positives in our lives.  I don’t get on with my housemates, but the centre of my existence lies outside my home, buried safely within my family-of-choice.  These people never fail to amaze me with their patience and love.  They deserve the best, but somehow they’ve ended up with me.  Then there are my cats.  Wonderful little beings who enrich my life every day.  Whenever I hear of yet another terrible world event, I just snuggle one of them, and things fade a bit.  It’s hard to be anything other than happy with a cat in your arms.

As this year winds down, I look to a comfortable ending and a bright beginning.  In fact, I wish that for many things.

Hopeful

Today, I feel some hope.  This is as surprising to me as it probably will be to you, dear readers.  I’m cautious in my hope, though.  My brother-of-choice pointed out that I seem to have ‘time warped,’ and he is absolutely right.  This helps my perspective.  I can see the old tapes for what they are:  the thoughts that were meant to hold me down.  My living situation complicates things, but it doesn’t make life impossible.  I need to remember that.

Tomorrow is my job interview for the part-time position that I *really* want to get.  I tried not to get my hopes up, but they are.  To some extent, this is a good thing.  I didn’t think I’d feel hope again any time soon.  Hope I shall, though, that this job works out, that life outside of my house happens again, and that reconnecting with myself is an attainable goal.

Lessons Learnt

I was arguing with a housemate this morning and thought of the lessons learnt by children of abuse.  In response to the housemate’s anger, I immediately started putting myself down and raising him as the superior person.  His anger cooled as I made myself lower and lower, and my shame rose.  Just like old times, eh?

As children of abuse, we learn the rule that secrecy is of utmost importance.  In fact, secrecy is needed for survival.  Without the sacred secrecy of our dysfunctional families, the world as a whole will fall apart.  Keeping the secret becomes a physical ache.  But keep it we do.  Why?  Because they told us to.  And because by the time we find out how different our lives are from those in ‘normal’ families, we are too ashamed to admit what’s going on in ours.

We learn to feel what we are told to feel.  Mum is sad today, so I’m sad too.  Why?  Because she will only tolerate sadness when she feels that way.  Any other emotion is wrong and is an affront against her.  We learn to hide how we truly feel.  Eventually, we learn to stop feeling any way at all unless we’re told to do so.

We learn that, no matter what, it’s our fault.  We may not remember what we did or when or how.  It might even seem impossible that we did *anything.*  But we know we did.  And if we forget that, our abusers are quick to remind us.  We take it to heart, and it becomes another secret.  We spend our lives terrified that others will see what our abusers saw, and they will hurt us, too.  We learn that everyone will desert us in the end.

*Un*learning all of that takes a lifetime.  I’m not sure it’s ever entirely possible.  We *can,* however, discover ourselves.  It took years, but I can now state my emotions clearly.  Sometimes I can even do it without fear.  I have a favourite colour that was not chosen for me.  I have my own likes and dislikes, and even if I worry about being ridiculed, I’ve been known to share them from time to time.  I have grown as a person through the love and patience of my family-of-choice.  They’ve taught me other lessons.  I still doubt their truth sometimes, and the child of abuse within me argues against them.  But I know deep down that they love me, even if I don’t feel worthy and can’t imagine how they could.

We learn lessons as children of abuse that are meant to break us.  The hard work comes in learning lessons as survivors that help us fly.

Here

I came home unexpectedly today.  A few nights ago, I woke up unexpectedly in hospital after having taken what I thought was a fatal overdose.  The combination of a lengthy depressive episode and a bad living situation that I can’t escape got to be too much for me, and I attempted to end my life.  Yet now I’m here, typing a blog post I never thought I’d write on a day I never thought I’d see.

Even though the attempt didn’t work, I hurt a great deal of people.  Most of all, I hurt my FOC.  These are the people who taught me family and who expect me to be there for them.  I let them down, and I’ll have to live with that.  How do you apologise enough?  How do you win back the trust of those who never deserved to be put in this situation?  How do you learn to live with the guilt?  I’m wrestling with these questions now.  Nothing I can do will make up for what I put people through, but I’ll do my best.

There’s also therapy– loads of it.  I’m having daily sessions, at least by phone, and working hard at setting things right.  It will take a while; I’m not completely happy to be here yet.  I can, however, say that I’m not a danger to myself.  My therapist told me to hold on to the feeling of pain brought on by putting my FOC through this, and that is a great motivator for staying alive.  In the past, it’s always been enough to see me through.  This time, however, my current situation won out.  My FOC do *not* deserve this.

I’m not sure how to move forward from here.  Slowly, of course, but the path is unclear.  I’ve given my word to two of the most important people in my FOC for the first time, and I keep my word.  Suicide is no longer an option.  In a strange sense, that leaves me feeling helpless.  What can I do if things get to be too much again? That question might well go unanswered for a bit.  Much therapy yet to come.

So I’m here.  And I’m working on it.  For now, that’s all I can do.

A Tribute

For some reason, I have  been missing my mother terribly over the past few days.  Grief for all of my lost loved ones comes and goes, of course, but it’s been a decade since my mother died and it feels new now.  I know it will pass.  Just quite painful in the meantime.

My mother was an enigma.  Due to her multiplicity, she could be sweet and loving or dangerous and angry and everything in between.  I played many roles for her.  At times, *I* was the parent to her younger alters.  At other times, I was a friend to teens or older alters.  Rarely did she seem like my mother, and rarely did the person who claimed to be my mother spend a significant amount of time out.  For as far back as I could remember, our relationship hadn’t been the typical mother-daughter paradigm.

She brought some amazing things to my life.  It’s through my mother that I met the first person who became part of my FOC and taught me what family was about.  She taught me patience and how to be accepting of others’ difficult circumstances.  She taught me respect.  In those ways, she shaped who I am.

She also scarred me physically and mentally to the point that my therapy sessions sometimes remind me of Freudian satires.  Through those injuries, though, I have learnt strength and endurance.  I’ve learnt to guard myself, even to an unhealthy extent, but self-protection isn’t always bad.  I try to draw strength from the dangers she sometimes posed.

My mother died in mid-Spring, just when everything was in full bloom.  Winter is here, now, but I think about the promise of Spring and the promise of her life at that point.  She was finally coming to the place where she might have had a chance to heal, but she decided to end her life instead.  I will never understand that decision, even as I work to accept it.

There are so many things I miss about her and so many questions I have for her.  I miss her both as a child misses her mother and as an adult who misses her friend.  Her life ended much too soon.