Acceptance

My mother was a living dichotomy.  She always lived in black and white, with no shades of grey or soft edges.  As I explore more about our relationship and her death in therapy, I see the effects of that dichotomy on my present life.  I loved my mother dearly and am very glad to have been able to help her.  That’s always been clear to me.  Lately, though, I’m also feeling a bit of anger towards her in terms of my role as parent for her.  Bit of a reversal.

Arguments with my mother never seemed to have true starts and stops.  Rather, they began very suddenly, hit a peak at some point, and died down.  I never knew when the same problem with start again, though.  She chastised me for crying, called me hard-hearted for being stoic, and mocked any sign of fear.  The day after such an argument, though, she was very verbally repentant.  In fact, I never knew how to respond to her feelings.  If she apologised and I accepted, it meant that I thought she was wrong and would always hold that against her.  If I said nothing, it meant that her apology was not accepted and that I hated her.  She would threaten suicide, talk horribly about herself and cause herself serious physical  harm, all because– if she was to be believed– I made her feel bad for having treated me badly.  The therapist told me my mother and I had an unhealthy dependence on each other; she started to take responsibility for her actions, but I did not allow her to.  I was always so confused.

Move forward a bit over a decade, and my mother takes her life in response to the thought that I would move away and leave her on her own.  The task falls on me, now, to break the pattern and get rid of the hold my mother has on my life.  This is really quite difficult, as it involves admitting the problems with my mother’s perspective and accepting that perhaps she was wrong about me.  This also means accepting that my perspective of her has been a bit skewed.  Not wrong, per say, as I always admitted she did some awful things.  I have not, however, looked at those things in terms of myself.  The therapist says I need to stop looking at what happened in terms of how it affected my mother and how I could have helped her.  Instead, she wants me to look at how incidents affected *me* then and how they affect me still.  Frightening prospect.

Driving home today, I was thinking about the emotions that surrounded my mother’s death.  In the midst of it all, that dichotomy still existed.  I was gutted by the loss, but a part of me recognised the feeling of liberation.  This is something I’ve felt guilty about for the past nine years.  Today, however, I learnt that it is simply a fact.  I’d give anything to have my mother back.  She is dead, however.  She isn’t coming back.  Full stop.  According to the therapist, recognising the possibility of freedom from the pattern my mother and I built is a step in regaining control and accepting the place– both positive and negative– my mother has in my life today.

Sarah McLachlan says it best in her song ‘Plenty‘:

I used to think my life was often empty

A lonely space to fill

You hurt me more than I ever would have imagined

You made my world stand still

And in that stillness, there was a freedom

I’d never felt before

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Raw

That’s exactly what this post is going to be.  Please take care if you’re not up for a graphic discussion of bulimia.  This is going to be one.

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Last night, I made plans.  I knew I’d have the house alone all day and spent a great deal of time planning what foods to take in based on how easy they would be to bring back up.  This morning, as I sat in my typical spot in the bathroom, a thought occurred to me: I don’t want to do this anymore.  Physically, the problems were evident.  There was blood in the toilet from irritation of my throat.  My stomach felt like someone had set fire to it on the inside.  My heart was beating so hard that you could literally see the pulse of  it through my shirt.  I was freezing and confused as the room dimmed and my consciousness slipped.  When I awoke, I was still in that bathroom and happy I wasn’t covered in my own bodily fluids.  My first thought?  Guilt that I’d got the last of the food I’d eaten out of my body but had been unable to get out the cup of cereal I had for breakfast.  Guilt that there was still food in my stomach no matter how hard I’d tried to get it up.  This wasn’t after a binge– I’d had roughly 200 calories.  Just the thought of *any* food in my stomach made me feel guilty, though.

I found out recently that some people aspire to have eating disorders.  They see it as a quick fix for weight loss.  What they don’t see or don’t think of, at least, is this side of it.  The vomit in the hair, blood in the toilet, stomach acid eating your insides part of it.  These girls (and some guys) look at the societal concept of ‘glamour’ and ‘beauty,’ and they are willing to do anything they have to do to get that body.  I hope, if nothing else, that my posts will help people see the dark reality of bulimia.  Nothing is worth this.

I hope, as well, that people can consider alternative causes.  I don’t want to look like a glamour girl or be twiggy thin.  I just want my outside to mask any sense of chaos on the inside.  My past brings with it loads of reasons to feel disgusting, and, in an ironic way, bulimia is my attempt to purge out the disgustingness.  It’s my attempt to make my outside body look ‘normal’ so people don’t question the state of the inside.

It’s a way to purge memories, as well.  Whilst we were still underground, I never knew when or if food would come.  When I was fed, sometimes it felt like a binge.  I was told I looked like a pig and shown other kids who were not getting fed because I *was* being fed that day.  Those children had to watch my group eat, and I knew the kind of hunger they were feeling.  What I didn’t realise is that our roles reversed; sometimes those children were fed when I was starved.  The fact is, neither group of children could hurt or help the other group.  The lasting impression is a feeling that I don’t deserve to eat, which leads to the restricting, which leads to ravenous hunger, which leads to the binge, guilt for eating so much, and purge as reparation.  Eating disorders are not always about looking beautiful.

I’m still not sure what the next step will be from here or whether I’ll be able to keep things under control.  The psychiatrist is quite right in pointing out the high rate of recidivism among bulimics.  For now, though, I at least have the *desire* to stop, and that is overriding (somewhat) the fear of gaining weight.  I’ll take all of this to my therapist next week and see where we go from here.

Memories

I’ve been thinking quite alot about my mother lately.  We’ve just passed her birthday, and, for some reason, I’ve missed her more this year.  It might well be because of losing the baby.  I would love for my parents to have met their granddaughter, and with her death, I just wanted my mother there to tell me what to do next.  That pain has led, I’m guessing, to the sharper pain I’ve felt this year about my mother.  My brother-of-choice says I raised her and she raised me.  There’s no better way to put it.  We were allies and enemies, friends and strangers.  She was violently abusive when I was a child, but I loved her completely.  I still do.  Just not in a way that can be expressed to her.

My best friend and I were talking about good memories Friday night.  Those little memories of fun things you do with your family when you’re a child.  Those memories are precious; when we fixate on the negative stuff, thinking about even a small happy memory can rescue us from the past, at least in my experience.  My best memory is very simple.  It’s from a time before my sister was born and before my parents divorced.  I was probably about aged four.

My brother had gone to school that morning, and I’m guessing my father was at work.  It was just my mother and me.  She was in the kitchen, and I was playing in another room.  She called me in, lifted me up on to the kitchen counter and pointed out a little brown bunny in our back yard.  I asked if we could have it for keeps, and she explained that it was our bunny to watch from the window.  A very simple memory, but very special to me.  At that one time, we connected as mother and child.

There were, I know, other memories like that in my childhood.  Still, something about that memory has stuck with me.  I can still hear the excitement in her voice and feel her arms around me.  At that one moment, I felt safe.  It didn’t hurt, as well, that I got to tell my brother about it.  He was in school and having great adventures without me, you know.  But this was my moment to share with my mother and no one else.  I treasure it more than any possession I’ll ever own.

That memory got me thinking about something very odd– I am the only person alive who remembers it.  In fact, I’m the only person alive who holds any of the memories from my childhood, good and bad.  That makes the memories feel like rare pearls.  I feel like I need to be the one who chronicles our family history.  The one thing I’ve told my therapist time and again is that I feel the need to write out my story.  Now I know why.  It isn’t just my story.  It’s the story of my parents and siblings, as well.  It’s the story they can’t tell.  If I don’t remember it and chronicle it in some way, those stories will remain unwritten.  And they are far too precious to be tucked away in the dusty corners of one person’s mind.

Over the years, I’ve ‘introduced’ my relatives to the special people in my life as best I can.  My brother-of-choice and I knew each other via email whilst my sister was still alive, but he never got to meet her.  Still, I think it’s safe to say he feels very close to her.  They seem to have an understanding, even though they never met.  Only two people in my life now have actually met my sister, and they are 5000 miles away.  My best friend did meet both of my parents, but there’s so much about them he didn’t know.  They died just three years after he and I met.  No one in my life now ever met my brother.

So, I feel like the Great Chronicler.  The one person who can keep their memories from fading in to oblivion.  It is a responsibility that, until Friday night, I never knew I had taken on.  I hold the memories of these people– good and bad– in my mind.  They can’t express themselves, and I can’t truly introduce them to anyone in my life.  I *can,* however, tell their stories and keep their memories alive.  I just have to figure out how to do that.

Distractions

The last time I was hurt by the Really Bad People, one thing that distracted me was the thought that my best friend is coming with me next summer to see my FOC.  He hasn’t been there in three years, so I had to make it through.  That was a relatively constant chorus in my mind.  I had to make it through that afternoon so my best friend and I could go to the FOC’s house, visit with them, and see things in the city that neither of us has seen before.  This was part of the plan, so I had to make it through. I sang along with Del Amtri in my head, thinking perhaps I could see Justin Currie in concert again if I lived.  I thought of all the things I wanted to do and bargained with myself- ‘Just get through this, and you’ll be able to do those things.’

Over the years, I’ve used strategies like that.  I’ve sang to myself, composed little poems in my head, and done just about anything to take away from what was going on at the time.  I’m really tired of doing that and really unsure, in the position I’m in at the moment, how to get out of it.  I’m not playing the victim.  I am *not* doing that.  I’m just struggling with finances and things like that, only my struggle involves this lovely little group to contend with, as well.  As long as they need me and I’m in a position to be under their thumbs, they remain the ever-present spectral in my life, as they have for my whole life.  Nothing there has changed.

Hopefully, I’ll someday be able to say I’m free of these people, but I don’t see it happening in this lifetime…

Surprises

Grief and anger are the two prevailing states of my mind these days, so pardon the endless ranting posts.  This one focuses on abuse, with some specifics thrown in.  Please be safe while reading.  My standard trigger warning applies.

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I hate it when surprise triggers pop up.  This morning, I was doing the simple task of making my bed.  It’s something I do most days, so I had no reason to think it would cause problems.  However, a friend of mine recently gave me a blue blanket that was, at one time, an electric blanket.  The electric part of it no longer works, and the wiring was removed.  I realised I was feeling a bit nauseous, but that’s fairly typical these days.  Then, the memories came.

Electricity is the friend of many cult trainers.  Children are forced to wear shock collars, electric fences are used to hold people in pens, electromagnetic stuff is used to monitor vital signs during particularly violent training sessions.  For me, electric cord was frequently used as a restraint.  I’m not talking about actual charged electric cord.  I am, however, talking about restraints to hold me to the lovely stone sacrifice tables.

Obviously, I was not sacrificed.  Early in my training, though, I had to watch quite a few sacrifices of animals and humans of various ages.  Some were incredibly brutal, and the sights and sounds stay with me.  There’s nothing like looking in the eyes of a sacrificial victim who is begging you– the only person not actually participating– to save them.  It makes me want to vomit to even think about it.

And that’s where the anger comes in.  Making a bed should *not* be something that concerns me.  These people warped my mind to the point that even a simple task held a surprise trigger.  I get angry when everyday activities become so upsetting to me.  This is progress to some extent, I suppose.  Until very recently, those memories would have immediately sparked guilt.  Now, the anger came first.  The guilt is still there every bit as strong as ever, but it came on the heels of the anger.

I’m an excellent stoic, so people rarely see my emotional reactions to triggers.  This was no different.  It’s made me take time out of my day to sit and write for a bit, but that’s not a problem.  I’m not missing any deadlines.  I’m fortunate to be among the few who can remain functional, probably out of necessity more than strength, when dealing with triggers like this.  Some SRA survivors make it out only to take their lives.  Many have to cope with limited functionality.  I deal with triggers rather often, but I find myself able to function most of the time.  For that, I am grateful.  My heart goes out to the families and individuals who have to cope with losses of loved ones who are still physically alive.

Flashbacks

Still having frequent flashbacks.  I think, in part, that this is because I’m feeling like there’s no one to talk with regarding the trauma.  By that, I mean there’s no one who I feel can listen to the details.  My former therapist had heard a great deal of the ‘regular’ abuse stuff, and quite a bit of the SRA stuff, as well.  Now I’m feeling kind of left alone with the details.  That’s not at all to say that I feel lonely or like no one cares; my FOC will be right there for me any time.  I’m just thinking about discussions with therapists.  I love my FOC too much to talk about the details of my past.  In terms of therapy, though, talking about details seems essential.

It’s probably macabre, morbid, or any other word like that, but I truly do feel a *need* to tell someone the whole bit.  SRA memories, regular childhood trauma memories, all of it.  I’ve thought about writing it out a time or two and even started that once.  Writing is more like talking to myself, though, and I know the details.  I need one other person to know so that I don’t feel like the weight of it all rests completely with me.  The whole world seems a bit mad at the moment.  I’m really hoping the past and present stop colliding soon.

PTSD

Since things have calmed down regarding the recent therapy debacle, I apparently decided to entertain myself by letting PTSD symptoms run rampant.  Today has been a running flashback.  I think I’ve spent more time in the past than the present.  The psychological symptoms are obvious, but the physical symptoms get in the way, too.  I get ‘tummy troubles’ as a dear friend calls them.  My muscles ache from being so tense.  I get migraines. My energy level flits about like leaves in the wind.  All of those lovely physical warnings that something is wrong.

A very simple thing the former therapist taught me is to ground myself by sitting straight in my chair and keeping both feet in constant contact with the ground.  When she first mentioned that, I thought she’d gone off her face.  It really does help, though.  The standard looking at a calendar to see the date can be helpful, but if it is near one of the SRA days, it can be tremendously harmful.  I’m careful with that one.

Above all, I’ve found that being outside helps.  I tend to avoid driving unless I’m sure I can keep my focus.  Still, feeling sun, rain, or wind on my skin makes me feel alive.  Again, SRA dictates the sort of places that help.  I can’t do open spaces like fields or car parks.  I need to be walking about in a residential area, surrounded by houses and people who are as alive as me.  It makes me feel a part of this world, so far away from the underground cult world.

I need to keep in my mind that the past is, in fact, over.  The memories and scars survive, but the events are over.  I also need to stop myself worrying about what’s to come.  It bothers me to think that the future could mirror the past in any way.  So here I sit on this August evening, trying to settle in to the present and remind myself of the wonderful people in my life who form the blanket of safety that now surrounds me.

Allies

Driving back from my best friend’s house this morning, I had an Elton John CD playing.  The song ‘Daniel’ came on, and it made me a bit sad.  I don’t write about my brother often, but he really was a great person and I do miss him.  He was my ally whilst we were still underground.  He was three years older than me, and I never had to take the caretaker role with him.  We helped each other.

His life took such a different course than the cult had planned.  Being the only son of my father, he was being trained to take that high leadership role.  One of the trainers got a bit too rough in the process, though, and my brother suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him unable to function.  After that, my father took him to the US.  He learnt again how to walk, how to use utensils, and how to function much like other children his age.  He was 10 at the time of the injury.

As children, we tried to protect each other.  One would hide the other, taking physical punishment in place of the other.  We devised our own little games to keep occupied so that our minds had at least some sense of fun in the midst of that hell.  We were quite close, and we both felt that the other was all we had.  Our father was at the head of my brother’s training, of course, and our mother really wasn’t allowed to act as parent to us at that time.  We stuck together, though, and got through as best we could.

My brother died in a car accident in April of 2001, three months before his 23rd birthday.  He had become a liability for the cult, and they cut his brakes.  I often wonder what he remembered about the cult as he grew up.  I know he was aware of them and that he understood one of our father’s ‘coworkers’ had been involved in his ‘accident.’  I know he was curious as to why he couldn’t visit our sister and me.   I’m sure he really couldn’t comprehend the whole story.  He was an all around nice person with a sweet spirit and a genuine concern for others.  The injury left him with mild mental retardation.  However, he finished high school, got a job, and was planning to move out on his own.

So today, driving down the road with the wind blowing strongly in my face, I thought about my brother with both sadness and a smile.  The old pain of his loss pricked me a bit, which is unusual.  Out of all the people I’ve lost, I’ve never truly felt that my brother was gone from me.  I’ve always felt like he’s still an ally.  Just walking beside me in a way I can’t quite interact with directly.

I’m sure we could have worked well together and made such a formidable team.  We always did, somehow.  And I’ve always been aware that, even though he couldn’t express what happened to him, he always understood cult training better than I did.  He was, afterall, marked for the role I ended up taking.

I miss my brother dearly.  We were the greatest of allies in the absolute worst of times, and if he can see me now, I hope he’s proud of the work I’ve done in getting away from the cult.  It’s work we were meant to do together.

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Daniel my brother, you are older than me.

Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won’t heal?

Your eyes have died

But you see more than I

Daniel, you’re a star in the face of the sky


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Daniel is travelling tonight on a plane.

I can see the red tail lights, heading for Spain

Oh, and I can see Daniel waving goodbye.

God it looks like Daniel,

Must be the clouds in my eyes.

The Jim Croce Sessions

Wednesday was my first memory work session with my therapist, and it went much better than I expected.  No one freaked out during the session or even after.  The therapist didn’t flinch when I mentioned generational satanism, and she listened to my description of an animal sacrifice without showing any outward signs of horror, other than one point where her eyes looked something I can’t quite put into words.  Sad, maybe.  I wasn’t just bringing up that terrible of a subject to test her endurance or my own– it’s just a memory that has been playing through my mind constantly.  I’ve learnt that writing about even the session, as I’m doing at the moment, pops back the emotions.

Saying the memory aloud was interesting.  The therapist asked me to describe it in absolute detail, down to the clothes everyone was wearing.  She interrupted me several times, telling me I was skipping pieces that she had no frame of reference for.  I keep forgetting that what I think was a just so-so bad time is absolute horror to most people.  We got through the memory, though, the therapist and I.  We established that my coping mechanism of simply going dead started when I was about 5 years old.  Going home after my cat had been sacrificed, I felt nothing.  No sadness, no anger, no fear.  Absolutely nothing.  I felt dead.  20+ years later, I still do that when emotional stress gets too high.

The session was on Wednesday night.  Thursday and Friday I still felt a bit shaken.  Saturday, though, I woke up feeling good.  I wasn’t physically tired, and I felt mentally peaceful.  I don’t remember the last time I felt like that.

I will say, though, that we have alot of work left to do.  The memory has been spoken aloud, but it’s not resolved.  I kept my composure throughout the entire session, even when I felt like dissolving into absolute sobs.  Expressing emotions has never been my strong suit.  As most SRA survivors can attest, you literally have the emotions beaten out of you.  My mother didn’t help in that regard, either.  Even when we were not around the cult, my mother would absolutely berate us (my sister and I) for crying or showing fear.  Sometimes she would even get physically violent.  I went roughly ten years without crying, and only a very severe emotional trauma brought it on.  It’s still not something I do easily, even when the need is pressing.  Resolving the emotions should be just lovely.

And now for the title of this post– I said I’d call these the Jim Croce sessions because listening to his music relaxed me on my drive home from therapy and through the rest of the week.  I’ll probably keep the Greatest Hits CD in my car for a while.  His song ‘Operator‘ expresses quite well the mixed results I got on Wednesday–

Isn’t that the way the say it goes

Let’s forget all that

And give me the number if you can find it

So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show

I’ve overcome the blow

I’ve learned to take it well

I only wish my words could just convince myself

That it just wasn’t real

But that’s not the way it feels…

Survivors

That’s what they call those of us who’ve lived through childhood trauma.  I do not feel like a survivor today.  I feel like somebody un-surviving.  For the past few weeks, it’s been like I’m living in a flashback.  Bad memories keep popping up, and I can’t seem to push them back anymore.  These aren’t new memories.  They’re just the Stuff from my past that I’ve chosen to keep distanced.  Lately, though, they’ve decided to become much closer.

My therapist and I have decided to start doing memory work.  I’m working nearly full time and taking classes full time, so why not add another difficult task?  Since I’m already doing very poorly in one class this semester, perhaps I’m thinking I should just make doing much worse even easier.  Irony, you know.  The thing of it is, I don’t think I have a choice in the matter of memory work.  The memories are so fresh and vivid that they’re going to bother me anyway.  Therapy seems to be a good shot at remaining at least semi-sane.

A dear friend of mine who is a fellow trauma survivor told me she fell apart at a certain point in her life because she could.  She’d found stability in a home and relationship, so the pressure wasn’t as bad.  I think that’s the ideal way of letting trauma break, or at least the most ideal it can be.  I’m trying to figure out how to take apart and put together the puzzle pieces at the same time.  That’s something the therapist and I are going to discuss up front– I need to form strategies to keep therapy stuff in therapy and carry on with Real Life outside of it.  The problem is, my memories keep taking over whether or not I want them to.

My best friend and I went out for ice cream last night.  It took me a few minutes to even decide if I *could* buy ice cream for us without being selfish and horrible.  At the shop, I saw a woman push her child down.  That started a great deal of memories, and I was shaken for a while.  On the drive back to my best friend’s house, another memory hit.  I felt like I’d been taken back to that time, and the memory surrounded me.  That is not a good idea when driving.  Fortunately, I reached out and held my best friend’s hand until the memory calmed enough that I could focus on the present time.

It’s very simple, people.  Don’t beat your children.