Category Archives: family relationships

Conversational Narcissism

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I finally have a word for it.

Conversational Narcissism.

This word defines a phenomena that I’ve experienced in my husband’s family pretty much 100% of the time I’ve known them, dominating each and every conversation I’ve had with them.  Something that I’ve come home with, shaking my head, trying to figure out why these holidays, vacations and gatherings seem so hollow and confusing.

I’ve been angry, dismayed, disappointed at the endless spinning of conversation designed around anything and everything THEM.  For years, I sat dutifully as my in-laws laughed and told tales of their vacations, their careers, their homes, the decor in each of these homes, details of friends I’d never met as well as stories of their children, their jobs, where they live.  While I thought I was being polite to my elders by listening albeit feigning interest often, it began to occur to me that they knew NOTHING about me.  It hit me hard one day when one of the in-laws or one of my sisters-in-law (can’t remember which), were listing all the professions represented in the family as a sort of parlor game.  The list comprised of a doctor, several teachers, an engineer, a technical theatre designer, a business owner.  One of the sisters said it sure would be great to have a nurse in the family to round out this list.

I was dumbfounded….I probably even shook my head in disbelief…. I’m sitting right there as a nurse with 20+ years in the field and they didn’t even know that? It would be less embarrassing to say that I’d only been in their family for several weeks or months….and I cringe when I say this, that I’d been married to my husband for over 5 years.  How did they not know anything about me or more importantly, how did they never stop talking about themselves long enough to ask?

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Needless to say, I seized the opportunity to enlighten them that they did indeed have a nurse in the family, my background and education. I continued and went on to tell them about my daughter, their new granddaughter and niece, and all of her interests and accomplishments.  But it left the most bizarre taste in my mouth because I’d never, ever met a family that operated like this.  After this awkward informational session, I figured  we had struck new territory, that they indeed had a bit of background now and from then on we’d have healthier, more give-and-take kind of conversations.

I was so wrong.  The dynamics of this family were so well entrenched that nothing changed.  There were no probing questions or interested inquiries.  I continued to find myself listening as a bystander becoming more invisible through each of their never ceasing conversations of self.  His parents would continue to invite us over for a “visit” which meant come over and sit and listen to us talk about ourselves.  Even during tragic moments, suicide of a grandson’s friend, my own heart attack and hospitalization, or the mental breakdown of a cousin, would ANY subject besides themselves be approached.  The invalidation that I and my daughter felt was so palpable that we stopped going to functions and holidays because even though our bodies were there, we simply didn’t exist to this family.

Fast forward to today.

When I found this article featured in Oprah‘s magazine entitled, “The Mistake I Made with my Grieving Friend” by Celeste Headlee, I literally yelled WOW.

I finally have a word for this disrespectful and disproportional soapbox that I witnessed. Conversational Narcissism.

In this article, the author admittedly realizes that she is using the “shift” to make a conversation about her during a moment when her friend is grief stricken by the loss of her father.

Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency to insert oneself into a conversation as “conversational narcissism.” It’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. It is often subtle and unconscious. Derber writes that conversational narcissism “is the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America. It occurs in informal conversations among friends, family and co-workers. The profusion of popular literature about listening and the etiquette of managing those who talk constantly about themselves suggests its pervasiveness in everyday life.” Derber describes two kinds of responses in conversations: a shift response and a support response. The first shifts attention back to yourself, and the second supports the other person’s comment.

 

Here’s what it looks like taken from actual conversations with my husband’s family.

Shift Response:

Laurel: Did you hear that your grandson Ben lost a friend to suicide?

In Laws:  No, I didn’t.  A lady from church just lost her grandson recently in a car accident, it was awful. She’s having a really hard time.

Support Response: 

Laurel:  Did you hear that your grandson Ben lost a friend to suicide?

In Laws:  No, I didn’t!  What happened?  Have you spoken with Ben or his friend’s family?  We need to reach out to him and give him some support during this rough time.

Shift Response: 

Laurel: I’m unable to attend Thanksgiving this year because I just got out of the hospital and don’t feel well enough.

In Laws:  Okay, I’ll just ask my daughters to bring the food that you would have normally brought. We always have so much food at our gatherings.

Support Response:  

Laurel: I’m unable to attend Thanksgiving this year because I just got out of the hospital and don’t feel well enough.

In Laws:  I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were in the hospital again.  We’d love to have you come and don’t worry about bringing food.  If you can’t make it, I’d love to send some food over to you later.  How are you feeling?

You get the idea.

The excitement that I feel when meeting a new person or even getting to know more about an old friend is based on the healthiest of a give and take conversation.  I love to talk but I also love to listen.  And ask questions and probe into the depths of a person’s stories and soul.  You know, meat and potatoes stuff. I can’t imagine it any other way. I want a dialogue, not a monologue.

But for the “conversational narcissist”, the goal is to get their needs met, not to get to know a person.  It is an ego feeding maneuver which is entirely one sided and executed to keep the attention on them.

For myself and my daughter, we simply had enough of these experiences and now are a no-show to family functions which interestingly, aren’t even really noticed.  As long as enough of the audience shows up, this family can conduct their usual lopsided interplays and never be the wiser to the fact that we’ve ditched them. Actually, they still haven’t stopped talking about themselves long enough to notice.

 

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an unexpected moment of peace…..

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Photo credit: An’ Marie at callmeanmarie.com

Peace and joy are elusive to survivors.

We have to learn and re-learn these types of experiences, cultivating the beautiful aspects of life as if we were students in school grasping a new skill.  I’ve usually been able to be kind of a joy parasite (not to be confused with a joy sucker) who gravitates toward frollicking animals, playful children or any group or individual who is just laughing unabashedly.  I watched and learned what this beautiful emotion was and then set out to mimic it.  These situations always felt right and kind to my heart although in direct conflict with my upbringing.  Kindness and love weren’t taught or shown but pathology and self destruction was handed out freely and often.

Survivors as a general rule haven’t learned how to play well or experience peace.  If we did learn to play, what we were probably experiencing was destruction in action disguised as play;  i.e. out of control drinking/drug/food/anger (fill in your favorite addiction or crazy shit here), driving recklessly, giving ourselves hearts and bodies to men that were undeserving of that sacred gift.  So many behaviors were masked as “a good time” that it took decades for me to truly figure it out.

During my high school years, I usually found myself gravitating toward healthier families.  I certainly can’t take credit for this action for it wasn’t conscious.  But I’ve come to believe that living things; plants, animals, people will gravitate toward health and love and I base that belief on some serious reflection upon my past behaviors.  I wanted a better life and in many ways, set out to get one even as a child.

One family I attached to had two parents, 6 children who were blissfully crowded into a tiny house with a tiny kitchen.  Many families grew up in this fashion in my day, no one owned a McMansion or rarely had a bedroom to themselves.  It was customary to share a room and even a bed with a sibling.  And this was the way it was at C. J.’s  house.  She, myself and several other friends grew up in that tiny house; from junior high girls, into high school girls, to brides, then mothers and now grandmothers.  We’ve buried parents, sent sons to war, survived cheating husbands and celebrated our re-marriages. We’ve lost touch and reconnected many times, rarely without missing a beat.  They are my ya-ya’s, my sisters.

I had the good fortune to spend a weekend with C.J.  It’s always an easy kind of experience to spend time with friend from long ago, who knows your stories and your quirks.  We’ve transcended needing to explain things as we just know each other that well.

It was the usual agenda; yard sales, thrift stores, food, playing with the dogs and cats, naps, late night talks with the girls.  Yeah, girls….56 year old girls. All the good things in life.  My last afternoon was marked by C. J. hosting a dinner (and she’s a fabulous cook by the way) for me before I left for home. Her modest farm home was full just as her childhood home was and served as a playground to many activities that day. After an afternoon of swimming with the grandkids, I plopped myself (temporarily of course) on the living room couch where I soon found myself snuggled in and stretched out.

I can’t exactly describe what happened but whatever “it” was, I’ve managed to hold onto “it” for weeks, even sharing the feeling with other friends. Sitting on the over stuffed couch, I found myself sinking in deeply, letting my tension float away and began to absorb the energy of this household. The sheer comfort of the environment gave way to me lying down putting a throw pillow over my face.  I became so relaxed and peaceful that I couldn’t resist  the temptation to surrender.  During the most blissful two hour nap I’ve had in a long time,  I floated in and out of the commotion of the grandkids playing and eventually crying, the miffed off weiner dog’s continuous bark to get back into the house, doors slamming, the phone ringing, the parental and grand-parental units shushing the kids to be quiet as to not wake me and the most delicious smells of garlic and anchovy coming from the kitchen.  It was a sensory delight.  And it was heaven.

The more that the everyday, normal family life noise increased the more peaceful I became.  A thought came to me as I grinned under my throw pillow; this must be what its like to be a part of a family.  It was okay for me to relax, to feel peace, that loved ones surrounded me, even cooked food to nourish me after my nap.  I recalled a long forgotten dream as a child to belong to a nice family.  And that simple gesture on C. J. ‘s part became a truly, magical afternoon for me.

I left for home that evening, after my nap and dinner, accompanied by my yard sale treasures and fresh tomatoes from their garden.  My most treasured gift was the lightness and peace that I felt.

During the 2 hour drive home, I think my heart actually smiled.

An Marie 1ecc9394106646b69ed2a35e726cecc5

Photo credit: An’ Marie

To view other works by this artist, visit www.callmeanmarie.com


Barbarie and her Miracle Child

baby grasping fingerThis post is all about a woman who is a personal heroine of mine.  I had the good fortune to meet her through Margaret Paul’s healing site, Inner Bonding where we’ve come to know each other, exchanging conversation and stories over the years.  What I’ve come to respect about Barbarie is that she has taken a life full of horrible adversity and challenged that in every way possible.  There simply isn’t a hurdle that she’s failed to overcome and what strikes me most is what a gentle and kind soul she is today.  Most would have succumbed to this life and become bitter.  I hope you all are moved as I was by her story and am proud to know her as a friend, a survivor, soldier and mother.  This is her story of her and her Miracle Child, Courtney when she spoke to her congregation at the urging of her pastor.  I’d like to introduce you to my friend Barbarie.

My Miracle Child

Courtney Who Survived Against All Odds

Good Morning – Pastor Jen approached me and asked if I would give a short testimony of God’s resurrection power. So I am delighted to be able to share with you the incredible miracle of the birth of my daughter, Courtney Marie.

In the Fall of 1992 I was an Active Duty Soldier in the United States Army returning from Operation Desert Storm to my duty station in Germany.  Upon my return to post; I received relocation orders to Ft Bragg, NC.  It had been a very long and lonely two years in Germany and I was ecstatic to be returning stateside.     

One evening, just as our overseas tour was drawing to a close, a few of my fellow soldiers and I went out to the club to celebrate the end of a successful tour in Germany.  At the end of our evening, as I was taking a shortcut back to the barracks; I was violently confronted by four uniformed men.   Without warning, I found myself being gagged, my head covered with a pillowcase and dragged into a very dark alley.  Once I was subdued in the alleyway; I was viciously gang-raped by all four men.  It happened so quickly and without warning that I scarcely had time to think or react.

When it was over; I returned to my room, shaken and terrified to my core.  I was convinced that if I reported the rape I would be dishonorably discharged.  Being a soldier was my life and it was the only life I knew.  I told no one what had happened that night and I did everything within my power to block out the memory of the attack so that I could go on being a Soldier.

I left Germany and reported to my new Unit at Ft Bragg.  I went on with my life as a soldier.  It reported for Physical Training – running six miles a day and completed 15 mile ruck sack marches.  I qualified at the rifle range and I reported for duty every morning at 8 am.  I worked with radar, ran drills as a member of the missile crew and endured training in the NBC gas chamber. I was an active duty soldier in constant readiness condition to deploy at the drop of a dime.

Being a soldier was literally my lifeline.  I had no family support and I certainly did not have any positive parental role models or happy family memories.  I had been orphaned, abused and refused entry back into my family as a child and then made a ward of the state. I had no one that I could turn to; I had nothing but the Army. I had absolutely NO desire to be a parent and have children of my own.

I had joined the Army to following in my Father’s footsteps. Though he had passed away when I was three years old; he was only person with whom I had a soul and spirit connection and I clutched onto that memory with both my hands. It was that one and only thread of connection and hope that gave my life’s journey meaning and purpose.  

It was the one thing that kept me going and I felt that I was in danger of losing it. 

I managed to deny, hide and block any conscious thought of being pregnant until I was in my sixth month.  I even fell 12 feet off of a Radar Tower, breaking my wrist and requiring full body X-rays and surgery, and the baby was never identified or noticed. 

It was about that time when I started to feel movement within me that scared me.  Even though I felt the movement I still denied the possibility of a pregnancy.  I know that sounds impossible to believe but I did not have morning sickness nor did I show any symptoms of being pregnant even with the demanding physical training and physical exertion each and every day. 

It was about the middle of the eight month when I began hurt so bad that I was doubled over in horrible, horrible pain.  This lasted for several days and over a weekend.  I said to myself, after buying Tylenol and some anti-acid over the counter medications, that if the pain does not subside or go away by Monday morning I will go to sick call.

Sure enough that Monday morning after reporting to sick call and a urinalysis, the Dr. came back and said “Mama you going to have a baby and you going to have it today!”  Go to the hospital and report in on the 9th floor to Labor and Delivery. 

Courtney Marie (though she was yet unnamed) was born 8 hours later that day.  I had no preparations made for a child, no clothing, no diapers and no name.  I had not wanted to believe that it was going to happen.

But there she was.  She was real and she was here and I HAD GIVEN BIRTH … WOW. 

The social workers and other workers asked over and over what I was going to do with the child.  My unconscious mind already knew and spoke to me through spirit that there was absolutely NO WAY I could or would give this child up. 

Due to complications during the birthing process – meconium aspiration – she was whisked away immediately to NICU – I barely saw her for 30 seconds.  4 hours later they had to life flight her to Duke University Medical Center because the military hospital did not have the means to care for this critical newborn.  

Courtney spent the first 7 weeks on life support (ECMO) with a 15% chance of survival.  She only weighed 4.8 pounds, but she had a head full of curly brown hair.   After I was discharged from the hospital three days later; I was finally able to see her for the first time.  Courtney was so small and so frail that all she could do was hold my little pinky.  She was hooked up to so many wires and medical equipment that I nearly fainted when I saw her for the first time.

I spent those first 7 weeks with Courtney 24/7 in the hospital.  In the midst of feeding, learning to diaper and dress and bathe her; I told God that I did not understand all this.  But I vowed that I would do everything within my power to keep Courtney and raise her.  I told him that he would have to provide all the means necessary for me to be a loving committed parent and that he would need to ensure that all our needs would be met because I had no one else to help us.

When Courtney was 18 months old, I found out that she would have permanent nerve damage and a hearing impairment due to the complications at birth.  So added to the trial of being a single parent was the challenge of having a 98% deaf child.

The journey was extremely challenging for us.  After the first year of a compassionate reassignment to stay at Ft Bragg due to Courtney’s medical needs; I had to return to work.  This meant a new duty assignment that brought us here to Ft Lewis.  I was deployed twice for 6 months while Courtney was under the age of 5 and had to take several leaps of faith while leaving Courtney with a family (strangers) or very new Friends when I was deployed for a six month tour in Saudi Arabia. 

I share all this to share how GREAT our GOD IS. What a blessing it is to speak it out and share God’s Redemptive Resurrection Blessings.  God had a different plan for my life; One that I could have never imagined.  God created a child within me that is a precious part of me that can never be taken away nor devalued.  God created and brought forth Courtney Marie White against all the odds.  God sustained me and brought me through tragedy and heartache so that I could be her mother.  To Him be the Glory Forever. 

Amen. 

  

 


“In a gentle way, you can shake the world”

glowing heartThis evening I read Mahatma Ghandi’s quote shared by one of the groups that I follow online, Sacred Circle Retreats.  The quote is simply this, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.  Simple. Effective. True.

Also, this particular evening, I’m sitting with feelings of guilt and remorse, which are unbelievably heavy by the way, about hurting someone very dear to me.  My daughter, my baby.  Its an old feeling that you don’t know existed until one develops a conscious and realizes that we have the capacity to harm as much as we do to heal.  I figure that around mid-childhood sounds about right, where we know that being unkind doesn’t feel good and we set out to be better next time.

I know as a parent I certainly strive for that goal of doing better next time.  And although this issue comes up in other relationships of wife, nurse, community person, its the role of mother that I find it the hardest to tolerate errors in my humanness.  Is it because we created this being and feel so damned responsible for everything that happens to them?  Every piece of food must be pure and organic, every morsel of information needs to be nurturing and informational, each experience should enhance their beings and bring them closer to enlightenment?  Sure, why not?

Except that for someone like me, that kind of thinking is a recipe for destruction.  I could take the concept of child rearing, among others,  to its absolute extreme and be off the charts in my desire to be not just good but perfect. With a capital P.  PERFECT.

Its an illustration and symptom of a person with emotion regulation issues that we don’t tend to do anything on middle ground.  We are out there at the fringes.  This obviously requires close monitoring and loving care especially during stressful times.  A time when I’ve hurt someone and have the tendency to lose myself in guilt.  Being sensitive sucks during times like this.

As I read the quote, knowing that Ghandi meant something entirely different, I stick on the words “gently” and realize for the millionth time that we must tread lightly on each other and the world.  Slowly, I reel myself in and promise an awareness to be gentle in any way that I impact her world.  I remind myself AGAIN how words and actions can wound and I charge myself guilty of being flawed and human.  Please let me use this blog post as my confessional tonight as I purge some emotion. I can’t get this off of me fast enough.

I find that its a perfect time to practice the DBT skills I’ve learned over the years to offer myself compassion as well as the person I’ve harmed.   Today this issue is manageable whereas it wouldn’t have been before.  So maybe I have learned something along the way and perhaps I really am honoring my notion of doing better the next time.

At least I know that self forgiveness instead of self flagellation feels a whole lot better….and gentler.


I’m the dissenter….

Recently I read a conversation on Facebook where a friend was crying out in pain due to her family shunning her.  Her pleas were confused, angry, sad. By her standards,  she’d been loyal and loving in her gestures toward her family over the years but they had chosen to ostracize her for reasons that they wouldn’t share with her. This challenged many feelings inside her.  She questioned her reasons for staying true to herself, thinking maybe she should have been softer with them, perhaps even more enabling.  Many times she’d reached out attempting to find a common ground with them, something to build a new foundation upon, to no avail. But the bottom line of her pain was that she missed them.  Terribly.  Her emotional loss visits her often.  And I felt her pain even from where I was sitting 1000 miles away.

If you change out the players and setting, you have my exact family situation.  Since my friend and I feel many of the same feelings towards ourselves and our families is probably why we’ve stayed close.   It’s also why this post struck so deeply.

As hard as I try to maintain contact with my family, they just aren’t motivated to return my gestures.  As I’ve grown and learned more about myself, I’ve been able to temper my anger toward our abusive upbringing that we all were subject to.  I, above anyone else, know the deep wounds etched in our young psyches.  I guess I always figured that this fact would make me safe to them.  I understood. I got it.  I was one of them.  Yet somehow, sitting in one of my many therapist’s offices over the years, I convinced myself that if I healed, worked hard, found the solutions for us and held up the light of illumination that they would somehow follow me along that hallowed and healing path.  My fractured reasoning combined with a dogged and desperate approach to enforce my fractured reasoning would result in many, many failed attempts and lots of heartache.

For a while, I was just plain pissed.  After all, I was one of them, how could they turn their backs on me?  I had gone through divorce from an abusive partner, poverty that left me selling my possessions including my car, a child to care for and a tender spirit that had given so much that she’d lost herself completely.  They turned their heads, they wanted nothing to do with me.  When the anger began to wain, the depression ensued, medications were taken, anxiety filled my days with my child.

This was a painful, painful time and the healing took the form of one minute after another, one hour, then one day.  My trust eventually extended to several women friends who gradually over time replaced my family of origin.  We created our own family gatherings, raised our children and moved on piece by piece.  But this was hard, hard work.  And dammit…I didn’t want a replacement for my sisters, nieces and cousins, I wanted THEM.  They were the ones that my heart stayed attached to, they were the ones whose blood my body recognized simply by standing close by or thinking of them.  What I realized is that there aren’t enough curse words, things to be broken or tears to be shed that will make another person return to you if they don’t want to or simply can’t.  And it was in this last phrase that I finally took another step toward healing.

My family can’t be around me.  They just can’t.  And they don’t.

I don’t exactly know why or do I have any explanations as to my conclusion but have had many possibilities given to me by loving friends, sponsors and therapists.  One thought is that I am the one person in the family that left.  I am the dissenter.  Like the little girl in the photograph, she’s the one who is standing up, preparing to separate herself from the circle.

In their eyes, I chose to honor myself, putting my individual needs over the group’s needs, get the hell out making sure that my life and my daughter’s life would never reflect that stagnant, cesspool upbringing that I had.  I had left the cult and the cult like thinking that defined us. Following this line of thinking, my family then shunned me as a religious community might shun those who no longer follow the thinking of the group.  So maybe, we were really just simply a sociological~philosophical~anthropological~spiritual textbook example? That’s the cunundrum, its all of these truths but  it. is. not. simple.  Have I overthought and personalized a situation that perhaps historically has happened throughout time?  Believing I was not unique actually made me feel a bit better.

I search for reasons behind the fact that they can’t be around me.  My friend and Inner Bonding facilitator, simply states that they are too wounded.  Their inner child feels too wounded to be able to give any love back to me at this point and maybe never.  But what does that mean for me?  That I never know them again?  That years go by and people die and new babies are born and the children get married and I’m never, ever a part of this?  I was wounded too but found a way to free myself, why can’t they step up and do the same?  We could lift each other up instead of giving up and staying so stuck, perpetuating the same cycles over and over.  They have the same ability that I did to throw off the blinders and go out into the world and experience other ways of life outside the cult commune.  Wow, look who just showed up!  The angry cheerleader strikes again!  I want to inspire them with my chosen set of values, yet when they don’t respond, I’m pissed.  Hmmm…..

Actually, I’m hurt and sad.  I miss them and I want them whole and happy.  I want to see their children and have them know my daughter.  Then, I’d like to throw in a family reunion where we all have T-shirts printed the same, with a rainbow overhead, while we frolic the day away proclaiming our undying familial love for each other.  Insert my family as interesting, well read, politically moderate and non-racist individuals who love themselves and perform altruistic work for a living preferably with an environmental flair.  And you can see where this goes….off into fantasy land. But since this is reality and the previous scenario is not going to happen, I learn there is absolutely nothing to do about it.  Except to pray for their peace.  And well, there is that acceptance part.

Using my best  DBT (Dialectal Behavior Therapy) skills, I stay as centered as I can and allow the feelings to wash over me.  My mantra being that I must accept myself and my family for who they are and what they can give.  Just accept….with compassion….the place where we are at this given moment.  Send them love.  Send me love.  Breathe.

My niece responds via text  “damn, I miss you”.  She has read the quarterly upbeat newsletter type thing that I do.  Actually she confesses that she received it a week before but looked at it with dread for days before opening and reading it.  That puzzles me but I let it go.  My newsletter is similar to what families send out around the holidays, updating family and friends that they don’t see in person throughout the year.  I’ve chosen this method of communication by default.  Since we don’t have family reunions or holidays together or even Facebook connections, it is my safest, best and most creative way to stay in touch.  The subjects are benign and safe.  This issue was about the dogs in our lives.

Here’s the other thoughts that I try to release from my heart….How can you miss someone and let that be the overriding feeling?  As in, I miss you so much but will do absolutely nothing about it.  I will simply choose to sit here and miss you and deny myself the experience of trying to work things out or even let myself think that I deserve a chance at happiness?  I’m going to tell you just enough to let you know I still think of you,  making the move to reach out and give you a quick, elusive, snippet of love and then yank it back so fast that you won’t even really know it was there.  An illusion, a wisp, a fantasy that can be denied.

I mailed out 12 of my newsletters to my family a month ago and to date, I’ve received one text of  “damn, i miss you”.

Breathe.  Breathe.  Give yourself love and compassion and then extend it to them.

Related articles:

6 Steps of Inner Bonding

Dr. Margaret Paul,  Do you chase when someone withdraws?


“the boy” drunk dials me….

“the boy” called me today which he does periodically.  The younger generation call it drunk dialing but I know this pattern from a historical perspective and know he just needs to make contact with a person from that time who understands him.

Certain phone calls I rarely answer but his I do every time.  This was the first time that he was stumbling, almost incoherent drunk and to top it off, he was driving.  After extracting the information that he was minutes from home, I kept the conversation light until he reassured me that was in his driveway, out of the car and inside his house.

“When are you coming home?”, he slurs into the phone.

His voice was an immediate shock of familiarity even though its been a year since I’ve heard from him.  His pleading words took my breath away.  I didn’t expect him to call let alone ask me this tough question.  He misses me, he says.  He doesn’t want anything, just to visit with me.  Even now as a full grown man, his deepest wishes are to have companionship, connection, family.  Our sober conversations where his feelings are sufficiently stuffed down, wouldn’t have revealed his pain. But today, his emotions unleashed and fueled by alcohol, they came tumbling out.

My heart is immediately beating with his. The rhythm synchronistic and strong.  We are small children again marking time as the cycle of physical, emotional and sexual abuse alters us forever.  It changes who we might have been and steals all opportunity for joy in our future.  We are branded, he and I, with trauma.  Deep, imprinting, searing scars.

I tell him that I’ve been taking care of myself and that I miss him too.  I hear relief in his voice at my words that I’m doing good.  He wants to know that I’m okay and that I can always call him for any #%&!ing thing I need.  His voice is urgent as if he’d been thinking those thoughts all afternoon at the tavern and had to purge them quickly.  His courage coming from cheap rum and cokes.

As children we were there for each other.  We were handed a situation that no child should ever have to deal with.   5-yr olds should never have to know how to defend against raging, drunken, ignorant adults wielding their pathology on them, but this is, in fact, is what we had to do.  We became expert ninja fighters at a very tender age.  In fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fighting.  The sensation of burning slaps, welts and impact upon our small bodies is a feeling that has always been present.  Back to back, we would stand, flailing hopelessly against people 10 times our size.  But we always, always tried.  Defending each other was the only dignity we had in that cruel world we grew up in.  An earlier post tells a more complete story. https://rescuinglittlel.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/boy-torture/

I tell him that soon, I promise, I will come visit him.  I do not ever use the word home as it is not.  My home is where my beautiful husband and daughter live with our dogs, our garden, our family here.  But I know what he means, he’s asking me when am I coming back there to help him defend against the demons that are in his head.  The ones that huge amounts of alcohol consumed in the middle of the day can’t even come close to drowning out.  He wants to know if there is any peace beyond the crazy, futile gyrations that he takes himself on.  He wants to know, what Van Gogh perhaps imagined when he created the series of paintings near the end of his life.

Van Gogh’s image “Worn Out”

Vincent Van Gogh, himself,  wrote in Van Gogh: The Life. VanGoghBiography.com

I was trying to say this in this print — but I can’t say it as beautifully, as strikingly as reality, of which this is only a dim reflection seen in a dark mirror — that it seems to me that one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the existence of ‘something on high’ in which Millet believed, namely in the existence of a God and an eternity, is the unutterably moving quality that there can be in the expression of an old man like that, without his being aware of it perhaps, as he sits so quietly in the corner of his hearth. At the same time something precious, something noble, that can’t be meant for the worms. … This is far from all theology — simply the fact that the poorest woodcutter, heath farmer or miner can have moments of emotion and mood that give him a sense of an eternal home that he is close to.”

This is what “the boy” wants to know in his moments of emotion and mood.  Where is his eternal home?

And reaches for the closest anchor he can think of.    Me.


Little L comes out of the virtual world….

There are many milestones to this writing~healing journey that I embarked upon almost 5 years ago.

The first being that my body had to remember.  It gave me the challenging gift of  tangible form to my mental illness carried around for my entire 45 years.  At the time I might have been very reluctant to admit that this was a good thing but in retrospect, it was the essential plunge that one has to take to rise up as someone different.  These transitions have come to many of us played out in different ways but with the same theme of rebirth.

After weathering the body memories and night terrors where the stories began to unfurl, I began writing.  It seemed high time to take this swirling mess from my psyche and put them into another tangible form…words.  Decades of rage poured out of me in scratchy, erratic phrases.  I cried and raged with my paper and pen, determined to purge myself of its hold on me.  I found an image of what I thought this child looked like and began to make her real.  Not that she wasn’t real all along, but she’d been buried and oppressed in an effort to go through life until she crashed so hard, taking my body with her and demanding that I finally pay attention and put her first.

So I did.

I began putting these writings into a blog that I secretly and lovingly created for her.  It was a place that I could actually go to, turn on the computer and look at her words and manifestations.  It became intoxicating.  The freedom of releasing this pain is one that only a survivor of trauma of any form can understand.  Being let out of prison.  Feeling safety in one’s home and skin. The sweet joy of letting go, little by little, word by word.

Soon after this, I had the divine blessing of finding a forum set up by a woman artist, Terri at Bone Sigh Arts, who had the incredible perceptive foresight to provide a place for women, survivors and otherwise, to place their thoughts.  An inclusive haven, without judgement for those of us who are the smallest and the most timid, to peek out and see if the world was really a place that we could trust.  A place that wanted to see us as we really were: fragile, sensitive, creative, wounded.  I lurked, I read their posts, I watched as they supported others in their healing.  And when I finally came out, it was here that a group of incredible women gathered around me and loved me so unconditionally that I finally found the nerve to push the “publish” button on my blog.  After praying, smudging and turning it over to God and a higher power, I screamed and hit the button.  Frozen for several days, not going near the computer or the blog for fear that I might have made a horrible mistake, that I would be found out and ostracized from my newfound circle of friends for being…..me.

Well, we all know that didn’t happen.

Instead and of course, I was flooded with well wishes and support, praise for my courage and for my writing.

Go figure.

But that was enough for me to forge ahead.

So I’ve been happily blogging for a year now.  I’ve met dozens upon dozens of incredible virtual friends who have lovingly supported me as I dip in and out of depression and mental illness.  I can readily admit that now. Its who I am and have accepted and even revered myself for the warrioress that I am to have thrived in spite of horrendous circumstances. Some of these women share many of my characteristics and talents, others have very different gifts to offer, all are treasured friends.  And yes, I do call them friends even though we’ve never met.  We have, however, shared many challenges of joy and sorrow over the last year and what we lack in physical face to face contact, we make up with in genuine concern for each other, our families, our communities.  Holding hands with each other, we watch the full moon together from all parts of the world, share our gardens and grieve the loss of our beloved ones.

Although quite content with this arrangement, I was given a unique opportunity to meet a fellow writer, survivor and hopefully, a new friend in real person.  Several weeks ago, a trusted friend gave me a book written by a male survivor of horrific child abuse.  She stated simply and knowingly that this book would be similar to the one that I would write.  She’s always believed in me like that.  I devoured his story, the pain and the triumph, in one afternoon and began the process of locating his website and facebook information.  Within days, we were friends and this weekend, I attending his book signing.  How incredible that this man brought to me actually lives in my neck of the woods.

Keith Hoerner, author of “Missing the Mark: A Target Child Speaks” signed my copy and became my first real live human writer~survivor friend.  I’ve officially gotten to the next level of creating the person I want to be. We connected and recognized each other immediately like dogs to their pack.  I hope that we have many sessions over coffee, discussing writing for healing, trauma recovery and all associated topics.  I look forward to that.  And I hope that his book makes its way into the hands of anyone that has experienced childhood abuse of any form.

I feel absolutely giddy….and am wondering what’s next?


shining Father’s shoes

This is going to be one of those stories that makes me queasy to put down on paper.

I already have a tightness in my stomach and my head is starting to swim.  I don’t feel eloquent and words are not flowing from me.   I  feel little, vulnerable, and so desperate. But I need to write about this and force myself to go forward with it because to truly release the hold that trauma and shame have on one’s soul, you must drag it into the light no matter how difficult that is.  It must be removed from the rat’s maze in one’s head, doomed to run the same rutted path.  Once its out, you can look at it, dissect it, let your loved ones look squarely at your worst fears and help reassure you.  Otherwise it stays inside and festers into illness of your body and soul.

Somewhere as a little girl of 5 or 6, I got the idea that men liked having their shoes shined.  I’m thinking that during the 40 and 50’s that may have been true when men dressed more formally and wore dress shoes as daily attire.  I’m sure it was considered a treat to sit at one of those stations and have someone spiff up their shoes a bit and most people’s houses I knew had a tin of shoe polish and a shining cloth as part of their household items.  I must have seen these items lying around or saw a scene in a movie of men having their shoes shined and internalized this thought.

This is where my thinking goes astray.

Why on earth, would I consider myself to be so subordinate and subservient to put myself in a position that I would kneel in an attendant position in front of my father, voluntarily lower myself to an inferior status, is a question that I haven’t completely answered yet.  I  know that I would practice on shoes that he wasn’t wearing, rubbing vigorously as if on a time schedule, practicing my efficiency. I don’t remembering him ever asking me to shine his shoes, I just wanted to. I’m guessing I thought it would gain me some approval from my ever distant father, the father whose only attention came at night, in secret, in the dark.  

I wanted to do anything, including prostitute myself to gain his affection and admiration.  This I know for sure, my motivation was his approval.  I would wait for him to come home, having rehearsed and practiced my craft and convince him to sit on the upper part of the picnic table while putting his feet on the seating area.  It was there that I would kneel in front of him, apply the polish and pop the buffing cloth showing my expertise until he would smile at my skills.  Even at those moments when  had his approval, I found it still wasn’t enough and proceeded to spend my lifetime trying to fill that leaking sieve of a psyche that would spill its contents as fast as it would come to me.

Adding insult to injury, my family, so very cruel with words, reinforced my shame by reminding me that I was a deplorable, pathetic girl who couldn’t get enough attention.  “you are a spoiled rotten child who always has to be the center of attention”  echo in my mind. Those types of scenarios set the stage for a lifetime driven to fill the emptiness by doing anything to gain approval from my father and subsequently other men throughout my life.  Shining shoes was just the beginning.

My daddy taught me to be comfortable kneeling down in front of him, being servant-like in my approach to him, letting me humiliate myself with so little regard for my dignitiy.  Weren’t you the one who should have instilled a sense of myself instead of teaching me to be your dirty little slave child?  You had already stripped me of the innocence  of my body and now you were closing in my soul.  Damn you.  I hate you so much right now.

I see that beautiful little girl with her rag and polish, waiting for you to come home so she could endear herself to you by lowering and subordinating herself and all the while you were perfectly, fucking fine with it?  How come I can look at her and see her beauty and you can’t? 

Thank God for my anger because it is my fury that sets her free.  Here’s where she and I rewrite the story.  I tell her to get up and I hold her tight, whisking her away to a place where she is honored and cherished and not depersonalized.  I set her down in a soft place to heal and teach her ways to find her beauty.

You never thought I would grow up to be intelligent and courageous about all of this dysfunction, did you?  You never thought that I could outsmart and outwit you by escaping far into my brain only to thaw out later.  You had not idea of my strength as I tackled all the screwed up thinking given to me by you. BUT I DID.  Guess what? You are dead and I’m over here finding and claiming my power.  Little by little, memory by memory, I am blotting you out, I’m blotting out all of the men you let near me, I’m reprogramming my brain, one tiny detail at a time until soon, I will have a completely new way of seeing myself and the terror I grew up with.

So yeah, I knelt before you, like you were some savior or God to me.  I did that.  I was a child that didn’t know any better and relied on a monster for a father for some shred of attention..

But that was then and this is today, I’ve long gotten her out of that cesspool of existence.  

Kiss my ass and shine your own fucking shoes.


i hurt for the women…

Try as I may to steer away from politics, it reached up and grabbed me by the throat this weekend.

It isn’t the political arena itself that disturbs me.  That can be a fabulous forum for learning about others, working for change, finding common ground and truly being a crusader to help those who can’t speak for themselves among many other purposes.  Politics enlighten us to others’ opinions and passions and when used for a higher good can be a liberating venture.

But when the media and political arenas are methodically and maliciously used to hurt, to inflict purposeful pain, to divide people from their place of connectedness with their fellow person/themselves/God, to destroy and mock for the sole purpose of making money or some vile sort of entertainment, that’s where I hop off the bus. 

This weekend I’ve chosen many courses of action related to the “war on women”.

It has been particularly challenging for me not to lose myself when this type of negativity presents itself.  Friday night was spent in a long distance phone conversation while my friend sobbed.  She, like myself and many others, felt that heaviness of pain thrust upon us by a man who succumbs regularly to the urge and addiction to hurt.  I watched another women attempt to be heard while comments and name calling  were flying around on Facebook and while I don’t know for sure, I think she was trying to alleviate her confusion in the spirit of communion. And I’ve raged in my own way.  Mostly I’ve reached out virtually to women I know in an attempt to “hold hands” with them as we sort through this together.  It is a time when I need my tribe the most; to help me find the beauty and purpose that grounds me.

I do hurt for the women; their families, their partners and children.  Wider than that, I hurt for their communities as the ripple of negativity plunges us under.  We hear the word “slut” and it becomes more than just a bit on TV, it becomes personal.  I think I actually felt a universal “wince” as those brutal words were played and replayed.

But true to the survivors that we are, we bob back to the surface, gasping for air, begin to clear our heads and process what has just happened.

And today, we are back.  Still holding hands with each other for support, we slowly start moving again.  We go to our gardens and look for the first sign of growth; some are reading to their children, others are silently praying for a more loving world while others are shouting it out.  Our bodies go back to our jobs but our hearts still hear the faint reverberations of hate.

We sit and hold this pain until its evident that it has passed through us instead of sticking in our hearts.  We again accept the challenge of how to love back in spite of the hurt.


Are you isolating yourself?

Silhouette of a woman in a cave looking at her...

I get this question a lot.

Probably because I spend a great deal of time alone, in some people’s minds too much. Its not that I want to be isolated, I just find that I am.  In fact, I’ve become an expert on non-isolation techniques, as in, I have figured out how to participate in life beyond my physical and emotional disabilities.

I love being with people. I always have. I see the same traits in my daughter, she loves being around her friends and gravitates toward busy jobs brimming with people.  The best job I ever had was at a women’s clinic where there was this awesome nest of women, all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and beliefs….it was heaven.

Then, came the losses to an already compromised emotional soul, each taking their chunk of me until I resemble a slice of swiss cheese.  The holes are huge and deep and gaping and oozing and I work every day at keeping myself from seeping out all over the place.

Isolation comes when one’s body breaks down, keeping you from your work, livelihood and friends where one begins to fade into the distance. The old adage…out of sight, out of mind is true.

Isolation comes when your family can’t look at who you are anymore, your emotional disease gives them plenty of reason to hate you and not come around, after all, being in pain isn’t pretty no matter how hard you try to gloss it over.

Isolation comes to visit again when faced with your child rejecting who you seem to be and not seeing who you really are.  On most days, I can still pray for her and our broken relationship while reframing the unrelenting ache of how much I want her in my life.

Isolation comes when your partner looks at you differently because the toll of you has surpassed what he expected and what he believes he can handle.  The look isn’t completely devoid of love; resembling more a doggedly loyalty and disappointment as to how life isn’t fair for him.

Its odd how the question of “are you isolating yourself” is presented to me.  Its almost as if I haven’t already climbed the tallest skyscraper to have a full and functioning life.  And it seems that its overlooked that I’ve walked across hot coals and  practically begged myself into different groups of people in order to keep that phobia at bay, forcing myself to hurdle over the fear/anxiety/warped thinking that wants to win and plunging straight into activities that sometimes work out and sometimes don’t.  I know what brings me joy and being acknowledged for who I am and invited to join an activity makes my heart soar.  Especially if it comes from any member of my family.  And that doesn’t sound like someone who tries to isolate herself.

Now here’s the tricky part.  This is where the psychiatric world has been called in to address my pain and isolation.   Its been decided that my love for people is an attachment of a pathological form.  Something I feel as a warm glow from my heart has been labeled as an aberrant way of avoiding my extreme fear of rejection of course, stemming from my childhood abuse and neglect.  My desire to love and not be isolated is now a bad thing.  Its now being presented, rather callously I may add, that I have borderline personality disorder to which in some parts I don’t disagree with.  The message has some merit but the delivery so far has sucked.

Wikipedia defines borderline personality disorder as “prolonged disturbance of personality function characterized by depth and variability of moods”.  It seems to be one of the scariest, time consuming and all around unsatisfying diagnosis for the psychological/psychiatric profession to deal with.   Joke among therapists… “How do you get rid of the annoying, troublesome patient from your caseload?  Tell them they are BPD and they will become so angry they will leave!”  Apparently even the non BPD want to be labeled BPD.  While some people laugh at this, I find this profoundly sad.

Wiki goes on to say that there is concern about social stigma; “the severe disapproval of or discontent with a person on the grounds of characteristics that distinguish them from other members of a society”.  Apparently some members of the profession get that this particularly disease tends to ostracize the very people who are more than capable of doing that to themselves.  Hmmm….I’m getting some irony here….Wouldn’t it make sense to surround these people with love and acceptance for who they are while not enabling the disease.  Aren’t we back to the last post where I ranted about separating the person from their behavior?  Love the person, hate the disease?

Thank the universe for Marsha M. Linehan who has led the field in therapies for the BPD patient and added a whole lot of humanity to their situation.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is proving to be not only the best choice for recovery but accessible to those therapists choosing to change their elitist views on treating the sickest of the sick.  Marsha herself was/is a BPD patient subject to the most inhumane and cruel treatment at the hands of the psychiatric profession.  She schooled herself, becoming a PhD and led the way toward a kinder, gentler way of viewing the sick.

Those closest to me have learned to scorn me in a very obtuse sort of way. If they find me hurting and difficult, they leave.  If others see me alone too much, they say I isolate too much.  If I am anxious about an upcoming separation where I will be completely alone for several days, they tell me I am too attached and fear rejection.  If I object to and confront a situation that feels wrong (even though I’m told to take care of myself and my boundaries), then I’m labeled hostile and aggressive.

And as always, I reflect continually, my behavior, my nuance, the energy I project and constantly wonder….Am I really the crazy one?


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