Me and My Shadow

“I don’t see how you can look at/watch that. It gives me the creeps/makes me queasy.”

I’ve been obsessed with the morbid and macabre since i was very small.
Gore, i wanna see it. At first it was the cartoonish stuff like your classic slasher flick, but when the internet came, i wanted to look at it all. There was absolutely nothing i wouldn’t look at/watch. Sometimes it took me a few views to get through it, and some of it i watched out of the side of my face, but i looked. All the websites known for it (that shall remain unnamed here), i went there and combed through their archives.

And of course i’m obsessed with serial killers. And those who-done-it “murder porns” (thank you South Park).

I worried that there was something wrong with me.
There was, but it wasn’t me wanting to look at death and destruction. What was wrong was seeing the things i did growing up, and then being told i was imagining them, dreaming, lying, etc. I was all twisted up inside, not knowing for sure what was real and what wasn’t. Deep down, i wanted to understand and master my fears. I wanted to look at death, abuse, and suffering to see if it aligned with my memories of such things. I wanted to know if the things i remembered could have possibly happened, and one way to find evidence was to look, listen, read about other people’s experiences and memories, to see if there were commonalities.
What i found was confirmation. Mostly. At least, enough for me. There are things i knew as a child, and memories i held that most people never know about, let alone children.
And if i may, although i assure you i won’t be going into any detail, that was also some of the reason behind me viewing pornography.

I’m still fascinated by documentaries, books, and in-depth articles on the people who do horrible things and why they do them, but i’m no longer interested in looking at real life pictures or videos of those things. I still love horror movies, but i don’t watch the “torture porn” genre anymore. I’m more a fan of the ridiculous, cartoony stuff. Or a well-paced scary movie, or a good mindfuck. I’m also notorious in my family for my love of terrible movies: disasters, creature features, black and white scifi… Think Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

I think i’m always going to be a bit dark and twisty on the inside, but not in a sick and wounded way. Now it’s more of an interesting, quirky part of my personality. Just like being ridiculous and histrionic. It’s who i am, and as i mentioned a few posts back, i’m starting to like me quite a bit.
Did i develop these traits to survive, or was i born with them and they helped keep me alive? I don’t know, but i’m fine with being this way.

I’ve learned over the years to be a little more discerning, tactful and considerate when it comes to how much i share about my “dark side”. Some people are unsettled, upset, even downright offended by it, and i totally get it. I’m respectful of others’ emotional/mental/personal boundaries. And don’t get me wrong here, i don’t enjoy any real person’s suffering.
I’m not writing this to discuss the psychology behind it, either. I’ve read things, but i’m not educated, i’m just sharing who i am and how my brain works. This is me. I love Hallowe’en and scary stuff and i’m an old punk who went through a death rocker phase – which is what we called goths back in the olden days… Heh.

This save-my-life recipe (and it’s my belief that we each concoct our own), has a fuck-tonne of ingredients. Some of them are the big ones, like the flour in a loaf of bread, and some of them are a pinch of this and a dollop of that. Being able to be comfortable with pain and suffering and general twistiness, make friends with it all, and sometimes laugh my ass off at it, are all important elements. I personally think they were vital, and now, whether nature or nurture, they are parts of who i am and i embrace them.

It’s occurred to me though, that if i’m over the real life super-gore, that maybe, as i continue to learn and heal and grow, that one day i may not like any of it. I’d be fine with that too, because all this is a journey. I’m not the person i was 10yrs ago, or 5, or 2, and i don’t intend to be who i am now in a year. I’m evolving, as a friend pointed out to me today, and i intend to keep evolving as long as i’m breathing.

Really though, you’ll pry my love of everything spooky and warped from my cold, dead hands.
Heh-heh-heh. Get it?

Saw my therapist today, and i definitely wanna write about that tomorrow.
Until next post,
Peace and Love,
~H~

Chocolate Potatoes

Warning: This is a story from my childhood. It’s been on my mind because, as i learn to listen to what my body wants to tell me about my past, i had a sudden realisation of why i’ve had occasional stabs of “phantom pain”, on the inside of my left thigh, right close to my genitals. I’m safe now. She’s long dead and her abuse ended with her. It’s just a story now, one that helps me understand and move on.

**********

“Here, go to Red Rooster and get me a bag of potatoes.”

In Red Deer, Alberta, in 1974, Red Roosters are a chain of convenience stores, like a 7-Eleven or a Mac’s Milk. She presses a couple of paper bills into my hand and sends me off.

We live in a low-cost housing complex just off Gaetz Avenue, the main road through the city that connects everyone to anywhere they might wish to go. Some of the units are red, and some are that awful 70s olive green. This is our Canadian version of an inner city ghetto though (read: run down and dirty, but not at all dangerous), so the colours are washed out and drab. Still, i’d prefer the red to our 4yr-old’s-runny-nose green.

It’s spring, but being Alberta it’s still very cold, and being Red Deer, sitting in a valley, there’s still plenty of snow. I stuff my feet into boots that were too small in November, (Good god, girl! I can’t afford to buy new things for you every month – will you just slow down already? Maybe if you didn’t eat like a pig you wouldn’t be so big!) and head out to the store, which isn’t even 5 minutes away by addlebrained 7yr old girls’ timing. Convenience stores, with their obscene markups for the privilege of such, are always close to clusters of the poor.

I pass some younger children playing in the yard of a red unit along the way. They wave excitedly and say Hi! and i respond in kind. Children my own age have already pushed me out of their circles – they know something’s not right with me. I’m poor, yes, but some of them are too. That’s not the problem. There’s a wrongness deep inside me and they can smell it, like a herd of horses will shun a sick one. It’s the stink of the urine in their case, in mine it’s probably the words that come out of my mouth.

“Your daughter is one of the smartest children i’ve ever taught, but she has no friends. She doesn’t know how to play; she just stands on the playground and watches, or tries to tell the other children what to do.”

The younger kids in my neighbourhood don’t mind. I’m bossy, but i’m nice, and i let them play in my yard and play with my toys, and sometimes i perform for them, which they love. They’ll sit on the grass in the summertime and i’ll do a puppet show from inside the house. Our front window has no screen, so opening it is like pulling back a glass curtain, leaving me a couple of feet of stage.
Mother has an old record player and a stack of 45s and 78s that i’ll throw on and do animated lip syncs for them. They’re delighted by my performances and it’s my only source of joy. Their favourite is when i do Little Red Riding Hood, by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

After a quick exchange of hullos, i hurry off to the store. Mother brooks no dawdlers.

I walk in and the door has a bell that dutifully announces my entrance, just like in the movies. Stamping the slush off my boots on the front mat, i survey the area around the till.

It’s where all the chocolate is kept.

Rows and rows of it and Oh! so many different kinds. I see them advertised in magazines, on billboards, and between Saturday morning cartoons on the telly. They’re all right here, though. Lined up like candy soldiers, perfectly faced. I can smell them. I can smell the chocolate, and my stomach reacts enthusiastically.
It’s been a long time since i last ate anything.

When i came home from school the day before i was starving. I’d had a bowl of puffed wheat for breakfast, but we were out of sugar and there was only powdered milk. By the time i got home at around 4pm i would have eaten nearly anything. The fridge was empty, as was usually the way it stood. A monolith of hope, containing cold emptiness and the odd packet of ketchup from some fast food meal of which i’d almost certainly not partaken.

That day though, while rummaging through the cupboards i’d found half a sleeve of saltines, in the bowels of a shelf full of old herbs and dusty spice jars. I arranged them carefully on a plate and squirted a bit of the ketchup packets on each. I was then struck by pure genius and added a dollop of mustard as well, and finished them with a splash of Worcestershire sauce. I tried to make my fancy appetizers last as long as i could, but i was so hungry and they were so delicious.
There’d been nothing since.

My gut managed to cry out and cramp up at the same time, as the smell of convenience foods –CHOCOLATE!– filled my nose. I walked up to the till and hungrily perused all the choices. Were there dozens? I stared so long the man behind the counter finally asked me, “You gonna buy somethin’?”

Sweet Marie. My favourite.
He rang through the purchase and i handed him my crumpled bills. He only took 1 and he gave me back change, so i picked out another one and bought it, too. Rolos. Definitely a close second.

With 1 dollar and a few cents left, i stood over by the comics and ate the Rolos, barely finishing one before i popped the next into my mouth. They were fresh. The chocolate was soft and the caramel filling was too, and it oozed onto my tongue, but still had a bit of chew. Perfect. The cashier eyed me and warned, “You can’t touch those comics now, you’re eating candy!”

I stepped back and made sure he saw i was only looking at the titles. I had enough to buy a Hot Stuff or a Richie Rich or a Casper, or Wendy or Little Dot…

That’s when i saw the potatoes.
Bags of potatoes all stacked on top of each other.
I was supposed to buy potatoes.

“You gonna buy one of them comics, or not?”

He startled me, and the terrible realisation of what was waiting for me at home hit all at once, and i started peeing in my pants. Literally. I was mortified and i couldn’t stop it and the cashier was glowering at me and i tried to make it outside, but i only got as far as the mat in front of the door, where i stood, frozen, and emptied my bladder.

I don’t know if he knew. I don’t remember leaving the store.

I was walking home and the cold air froze the wet legs of my pants and made them stiff and chafe against my skin. I remember my friend coming to take my hand and walk me home. She said it was okay, she was brave and she’d talk to Mom and explain about how there were no potatoes and so we bought her a Sweet Marie instead. Her favourite.
I watched her lie to my Mom for me, and hold out the candy.

I watched my Mom’s face turn scary, so i quickly looked away and down and saw she was still wearing her fancy winter boots she used for work. They had pointy-toes.
I watched her kick my friend in the crotch with those pointy-toed boots.
I saw her kick my friend so hard that she stumbled back against the wall.
I didn’t see what happened to the chocolate.
I know i didn’t see any supper that night, but i could smell it – wafting up the stairs from the kitchen. Sneaking under the door to fill my nose as the chocolate had such a short time before.

Maybe tomorrow after school my friend would come again and help me look for some more crackers.

Hungry

Content/Trigger Warning: This deals with food and weight issues, and references childhood abuse and neglect with regards to food, as well as indirect referral to childhood sexual abuse as it relates to such. Take good care.

**********

It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.
~ George Orwell

I’ve struggled with food my entire life, and with my weight since i was around 8yrs old. I’ve tried every diet, but gradually starved and binged my way to around 230lbs in high school, where i stayed until i Grey-sheeted (Overeaters Anonymous’ suggested eating plan) myself to 180lbs when i was 27. For a 6′ tall female, that wasn’t half bad. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because i went and fell in love for the first time in my life, got married, got triggered massively by the whole thing, and ate my way up to an all-time high of 465lbs.

In the early aughts, weight loss surgery became a thing again. There had been a craze of “stomach stapling”, but that hadn’t been easy to come by for many years. People would overeat, pop their staples, and some even died. Doctors weren’t too keen on it, and the idea that weight loss is simply a matter of the right diet and some willpower was still the overwhelming attitude of many, if not most.

Then along came Carnie Wilson, daughter of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, and member of the 90s pop group Wilson Phillips, and she not only got herself a new, better, safer-than-stapling weight loss surgery called a Roux-en-Y (RNY), it was filmed and released for public consumption. I saw my doctor immediately, got a referral, lost enough weight that he okayed me for surgery, and went from 367 to around 150lbs.

Cue my first major Bipolar mania. And just for fun, cue my multiplicity run amok. What followed was more chaos than i’d ever endured as an adult. It had me searching, once again, for a therapist that i could work with, someone who would help me gain control of my runaway brain that was making an absolute train wreck out of my marriage, my mothering, my life. I did some decent inner work on my own, but without help to understand how my brain worked, my system derailed me, over and over again. My doctor diagnosed the bipolar and i went to a psychiatrist, got medicated, and regained around 100lbs. I’ve struggled with it ever since.

When i started working with the therapist that changed everything, the one who helped me save my life, the one i’m working with again today, i finally had a painfully clear and complete picture of why i had such issues around food.

My mother.

Her abuse of me started soon after i was born, and based on others’ recollections of me as a baby, feeding and food was likely an immediate issue. My earliest, clearest memories that i can confirm start when i was around 4yrs old. I remember her showing me how to prepare a roast with a package of onion soup mix, and how to turn on the oven. She also showed me how to peel the potatoes and carrots to go in with it, the dexterity of which was tough for me to learn, and she’d smack me across the head regularly for not doing it right.

I remember her locked in the bathroom, threatening to kill herself, screaming about getting fat and being alone. I remember wailing and banging on the other side of the door, begging her not to do it.
I remember staring at my face in the mirror a short time later, holding a bottle of some pinkish-orange liquid (Mercurochrome?) with a skull and crossbones on it, thinking i could kill myself too, if things got too bad. It’s the first time i remember a soft switch.

I also remember her leaving me alone, sometimes for days, and there would be nothing to eat in the house. I became quite resourceful. I’d put ketchup and mustard on saltines and pretend they were fancy appetizers. I ate food out of the garbage. I ate frozen food, spoiled food, anything i could find.
Sometimes when she came back she’d bring treats for me.
Sometimes she’d beat me for eating things i wasn’t supposed to, and feed me frozen food or garbage as further punishment.

When times were particularly lean, she’d taught me to shoplift food – to stuff my coat with meat, cheese, chocolate. She taught me to panhandle, as well. Sometimes she’d buy me a treat if i made enough money to satisfy her, but mostly not.
As her relationship with the man i think was my father (not a story for today) began to deteriorate, she ate more and more, and there often wasn’t enough money or food for both of us to eat. I was always the one to go hungry.

All my life she would buy salty and sweet snacks for herself, and only take them out after i’d gone to bed. I could hear the bags crinkling and her masticating and watching television. Sometimes she’d even cook, and i’d be laying in bed, hungry and tortured by the delicious smells wafting under my door.

She also used food as punishment and reward with regards to the sexual abuse, as did the people with whom she associated for such. When she was happy with me, her face would be lit up and she’d make us an incredible meal, or even take us out to dinner at a sit-down restaurant. I remember her regularly being complimented for my behaviour and etiquette out in public – she’d incline her head to the side slightly and nod as if it were her due. If i got too much attention, she’d beat me when we got home, and forbid me to eat for a couple of meals.

This abuse and willful neglect shaped me into my school years. I learned to sneak food from anywhere i could: school, friends, friend’s homes, any place where my mother would farm me out.

I rarely brought lunch to school, and at best i’d have a peanut butter sandwich and a carrot or an apple, all of which i’d have scrounged together myself. She never made me a lunch, even though she quit working when i was 10 and laid around the house watching tv all day after that. So when children threw their lunches into the trashcan at the front of the classroom, i’d wait until everyone was gone and root through, smuggling whatever i found into the bathroom, where i’d sit on the toilet in a stall and pack it all into me in a frenzy, barely chewing it enough to swallow without choking.
When i began babysitting outside the home, i’d make up for the $1/hr we were paid in my day by eating the couple out of house and home.
And when my mother married and started popping out other children, i began brazenly stealing food from her; my fear of starving was so great it even overcame my fear of being beaten, as i inevitably was, every single time i was caught. I think i saw my new siblings as competition for what little food was in the house.
I think that’s exactly what she intended.

One might ask, how could i be starved as regularly as i say and still be the fat kid?

The years of regularly starving and being withheld food had made their mark on me. Not just emotionally either, as i was to learn much later in life; my body would hold onto calories as fat in anticipation of the next period of starvation that would come. Once my mother was married and had morphed herself into a (somewhat) different person, my fears were set, and my behaviours ingrained.

Eat whatever i could when it was available.
Food was comfort. Food was reward. Food was a stimulant, and made me feel euphoric. Food was like an opioid too, numbing the pain and fear. And food tamped down my anger, which i was never, ever allowed to display, let alone express. Food and my system worked together so well i didn’t even know i was angry.

And once there were other people in the house living with us, her behaviour changed.
A bit.
She no longer earned money, gifts, and favours using me.
Her mask had begun to slip, she was gaining weight at an alarming rate, and she slowly became a shut-in, rarely going out and almost never socialising.
She continued to put food above everyone else around her. She used her much younger, new husband to procure food for her, which she consumed whilst her children with him were skeletally thin.

I was young and didn’t see the way things had progressed, naturally. I think my subconscious mind processed things like, the bigger i got, the less i was being molested. And i’d found that food was the closest to love i could get. I thought that if i was eating, i must be okay. So food became my metric. For everything. For love, for happiness, for safety.

Food was my currency.

I probably don’t need to tell you what that cost me.
How the fat kid is guaranteed to be bullied.
How people assume the fat kid is indulged rather than neglected/abused because clearly i was getting enough to eat.
How the fat girl gets preyed upon by sexual opportunists who think we should be grateful that anyone would want to screw us.

Any potential as an adult that i had was always at least partially marred by my fatness. The unspoken assumption that i was lazy, slovenly, even pampered. That i had no self-control. No determination, no gumption, no tenacity.

When i’d finally done enough inner work that i could look back and see all these things (all these things that i’ve shared about food and yet i assure you there is still so much more) i was set free.

I now understand why i love grocery shopping so much, and why no one else gets to unpack and put them away. I now totally get why i become antsy as soon as my fridge or my pantry doesn’t look full, when i get low on things. I know why i’m curious what foods other people have in their kitchens when i visit. I know why i have such trouble throwing out spoiled food, or food that just doesn’t taste good, or food that i’ve burned or overcooked or over-spiced…

I know why when i’m doing well and feeling good i want cake, and when i’m doing poorly and feeling bad i want cake.
And i know why i don’t want sex when i’ve overeaten and when i have great sex i’m not scared to eat when i’m hungry.
I know why i gained almost 200lbs when i fell in love and got married.
And i know why i went completely batshit when i lost all the fat and was a healthy, normal weight.

I tried a dozen different times to write about how my mother’s sexual abuse factored in to my issues with food, but i don’t think it’s necessary for this piece – neither for me, nor for anyone else. Perhaps another time, but i’ve agonised enough over this. It was hard to write and even harder to come to a decision about whether or not to post. I prefer glossing over the abuse and focusing on how it affected me and how i’ve coped.

But being fat since i was 8yrs old really, deeply hurt me. It’s held me back from so much living, so much that i might have achieved, because all i could see was my weight. It seemed like it was all anyone could see, honestly.
You could have this if only…
You could be this if only…
You could do this if only…

Relationships. Sex. Body image. Food.

I’ve spent my adult life trying to take these things back, and it’s taken everything i have, and it will continue to do so. I have to examine all of it, and it’s deeply personal and drenched in secrecy and shame.

I’m so fucking tired of it.
This is not my shame to carry – not my embarrassment to bear.
It’s ugly because SHE made it ugly. Because she was so terribly ugly.

I’ve learned over the years that eating and food and weight issues are rarely a matter of willpower coupled with the right diet. I’ve found it to be intricate and complicated. Skeins of moments and messages woven together in a tapestry of pain and fear, unmet needs, loneliness, dashed hopes, and hunger beyond the belly.

This is painful and intensely personal for me, and i’ve cried through a lot of it – but i see how i got to 465lbs and i see how i got here, sharing this piece today. I don’t weigh myself anymore, but i have enough experience with my body to be able to tell you that i’m likely less than 50lbs from where i’d ideally like to be. I took a hard look at my past, a harder look at who i am and how my brain works, and then puzzled over how those 2 things are related with respect to how i see food and eating.

I now know myself so well and have amassed enough knowledge about diet and nutrition (h/t to Registered Dietitians – where i go to get the most accurate information), that i’ve been able to tailor-make my own way to eat to lose weight and keep it off, finally, for good.
I make small, sustainable tweaks to how and what i eat.
I comfort and feed the parts inside me that hunger for much more than food.

My body physically manifested the wrongs that were done to me as a child. I wore it in pounds of fat.
My body is becoming evidence of the good and kind and right things i’ve been doing for myself.

Starving for love, starving for food. These things are so intertwined for me.
These knots inside me are being untied, these constraints inside me are being unbound.
By me.
I’m trying to help anyone reading this to find hope in however your own childhood struggles may have expressed themselves in how you do or don’t eat, and how much or how little you weigh.
This piece is disjointed and choppy AF. I did my best. I think it’s been super hard to foment into something consumable because it’s not just mental, this stuff is inextricable from the physical. It’s visceral.

I hope this was helpful.
Please take care of yourself and talk to someone if you’re stirred up inside.

I Wish You All Love and Peace,
~H~

Slow

Unreasonable haste is the direct road to error.
~Molière

I’ve flown by the seat of my pants my entire life. Trauma was a regular part of my life from birth, until i was finally free from my mother around the age of 21. Although i sought treatment over the years that followed, i didn’t find anyone that helped me significantly until around 45. It’s only been since then that i’ve been able to properly identify my many trauma-based reactions to typical life situations. These responses have been generally dissociative, with hair-trigger responses to stress and anxiety manifesting regularly as fight, flight, or freeze. More than half my time since then was initially spent dealing with more chaos, rather than less, and the work left me so exhausted that i spent a couple of years just hermitting and resting.

The last few years i’ve built a fairly normal life for myself, and that took some planning. As you might guess after reading my first paragraph, that did not come naturally to me. I needed to be told how to do it step-by-step, incrementally, and to see it modeled, and to be given the grace and the freedom to practise it safely, and fail quite spectacularly, too. Because there’s so much going on in my head, i can be quite scattered. I’m one of those people that regularly loses track of what i was saying or doing, the reason usually being that i’ve been tripped up by a voice in my head. Something/someone on the inside has caught my attention, and i’m now more focused on my inner world than my outer.

Then there was my mother, who wasn’t into the teaching part of parenting. Fortunately, i had the same babysitter for my first 6yrs, so she taught me how to play and how to socialise with other children. My grandmother was a teacher, and she gave me reading, writing, and basic arithmetic, and along with Grandpa, some normal and fun family activities. What my mother taught me was by example, and it was a crash-bang-tinkle course in how to be manipulative and dysfunctional. I knew nothing about planning for the future, or setting goals, or organising my living space, activities, chores, or events. No people skills save charm, which was used strictly for manipulation. She taught me how to hide in plain sight. I was a tumour dressed up like a cupcake. Although i’ve always been a good person, i did things that weren’t good because that’s what i was taught, and i treated people poorly sometimes, because that’s what i knew. I looked down on others, because part of the way it’d been so easy to keep quiet about my upbringing, was that i was indoctrinated to believe i was special; different than the people around me, and better. Others wouldn’t understand our ways – they didn’t belong, and they weren’t smart enough to understand.

I wanted to be liked and accepted so badly. Part of that is a natural human desire, but some of it was because, deep down, i desperately wanted to be rescued, and also because i’d been trained to seek approval. Of course, at the very bottom of the well, was a little girl starving for love and affection. I was too dysfunctional for anything healthy and lasting, though. No one could get to know me well enough for intimacy to develop, as my mother had Rapunzeled me long before i hit school age.

I’ve not digressed – i share this so you might see how the way i was raised was a roadblock to learning life skills from anyone. Back when i was just trying to survive, living an unexamined life, i wasn’t conscious of looking down on people, nor did i know i trusted no one. It simply didn’t occur to me that i could find someone who had what i wanted and ask them how they got it, or even just observe them and try to emulate what i saw. There were many flaws in the way i thought about life and people, and i lacked the insight to see what the problems were. All i knew was that there was something wrong with me. Learning that i was a victim of child abuse opened my eyes to how ill-equipped i was to live life on life’s terms. I saw how abuse had twisted me in some ways, and had atrophied my development in others. Eventually i could see how i kept people far, far away. I was all closed doors and drawn shades.

(You know, as i’m proofreading this, i just had a little a-ha moment! I can see on a deeper level why i had to hide in my house for a couple of years, while i was trying out my new self-knowledge and acquired life skills. I still needed the protection of closed doors and drawn shades around me. It’s like taking your clothes off in front of a new lover. I’m in the bedroom with them and yes, we are going to be intimate, but first time i take my clothes off will be behind this beautiful shoji screen, thank you. We can even light one candle! You’re welcome.)

Having a child was a brutal awakening to how completely disconnected i was, but it was also the beginning of me reaching out to find connection. My son needed me for everything, including affection, and as his concept of himself as separate from me grew, so did his requirement for love and to have his need for attachment be honoured, respected, and nurtured. My son was probably the first person i didn’t fear, the first with whom i had no walls or filters or masks. He was the most amazing, most precious thing i’d ever known, and my love for him shone a stark light on how i was unable to meet some of those needs to the level he seemed to be wanting. Needing.
I began looking to other parents for cues on how to do this. I took a couple of weeks-long parenting courses. I hired money management. I went back to school. I walked away from some troubled friendships and i began purposely building relationships with more functional and successful people.

As someone with my particular set of mental challenges can do, i took this new information that i could learn from modeled behaviour and ran with it. I would zero in on someone who had what i wanted (like 12-step groups had been teaching me), and then i would do what i saw them do, or what they told me they were doing.
Some of it i just couldn’t get the hang of though, like commitment, discipline, and sticktuitiveness. I continued to look for a good therapist or group, but had little success, and couldn’t tolerate any of them for the length of time required to build relationships.

A ridiculously long mania in my late 30s taught me that what was missing, in part, was pacing. I was impatient for results, i was pushing too hard and going too fast. I was caught in a chaotic and humiliating cycle of 3 steps forward and 3 back – 4 if i got mad. I was learning how my brain worked and how to deal with it, and that would have to come before i’d have the cognition and the skills to be able to slow down; to figure out where i wanted to go, and the best route for me to get there.

After half a century i seem to be heading in the right direction.
Of course it has to be playground zones the whole way.
There’s children all over the damn place.

It Was Awful and It’s Enough

This is mostly about memories. It’s a massively complicated field, especially for the one who holds them. Mine is like a demilitarised zone, burdened by landmines everywhere and sudden bursts of friendly fire. I’ll share a bit about my experiences with my memories over the years, and i’ll try to communicate how i’ve sifted through the wreckage and managed to deactivate some and tiptoe around others.
I live with my memories as i live with my people: We have an arrangement. I own the land they’re on so, my turf, my rules.

In case it has not been clear heretofore, i live with Bipolar Disorder and multiplicity. I will explain my word choices.
When i look at the definition of BP, i fully agree, including the characterisation of it as a disorder, which means a mental condition that is not healthy. I use the term “multiplicity” because i do not agree that “dissociative identity” or “multiple personality” is a disorder.*
I see being bipolar as an injury, whereas i see my multiplicity as more of a mutation. My survival was at risk, and my brain found a way to alter (haha) itself and save my life. Calling that a disorder deeply offends me. It dredges up feelings of resentment and bitterness, because i fought the diagnosis and blocked myself from getting the help i needed for so many years, due to the misunderstandings, mischaracterisations, tropes and morbid fascination surrounding it. I view my bipolar behaviours as dysfunctional, but i see my multiplicity as creative or differently functioning. Further, it suggests that the parts of my brain that may technically be me, but aren’t quite me, are a sickness or a virus that needs to be eradicated. As a collection of various bits and pieces, we view this as tantamount to murder.

(As a brief aside i would like to impress that these opinions are my own. I don’t take my thoughts and conclusions about my diagnoses and apply them to anyone else. If you’re bipolar and/or multiple and you see things differently, i don’t think you’re wrong. This is only how i view things through the lens of my own life experience, my own personality, my own personal philosophy, and what i believe to be truths. I’m looking through my own kaleidoscope, facing the sun at a particular time and place in the sky, twisting the tube and marking the bits of coloured glass where they fall. You have your own cylinder of mirrored magic, and i’d love to hear what you see when you look through it. Tell me who you are and i’ll believe you.)

I have memories from very early on. I’d be relating things to other family members and they’d ask, “How can you remember that?”
My grandmother was a teacher, and she taught me to read very early. She saw my gift for memorisation and gave me poems and portions of books to learn and recite back to her. When Mom picked up on it, she’d get me to do it too. She was a single mother on a tight budget who often had to bring me along to adult functions, and i would sit there quietly reading and committing to memory whatever she’d given me. Sometimes she’d make me demonstrate my abilities to the people gathered – she loved the attention.

I also remember my dreams. They go back almost as far as the memories, i think. To this day all my dreams fall into distinct categories and are filled with recognisable patterns and motifs. I was terrified of the dark and plagued with night terrors. Mom was mostly just irritated by it all until i was diagnosed with epilepsy. Then she was able to milk sympathy from everyone, and money from her parents. It also gave her a reason to get me in bed and out of her hair a couple of hours earlier, because proper sleep was paramount to controlling the seizures. This proved problematic for both of us because of my sleep issues. She found someone who could help me (her), and i saw him a few times. He taught me lucid dreaming. I met him in an office and he had nice furniture, so i’m going to guess he was somewhat educated. He might have been an MD or a p-doc or a counsellor with accredited courses under his belt. Regardless of his education, i took to his instruction like the proverbial duck to water, and my ability to fall asleep and stay asleep improved measurably.

I wish i knew who he was, because he saved me in more ways than he or i or anyone could have known. He taught me to examine my dreams: to think about them, talk about them, even write them down. He had me prepare for sleep, too. I would lay in bed and purposely think about prior dreams that had scared me, and tell myself firmly that i wouldn’t be dreaming about those things that night. He had me remind myself that i could get away from anything that scared me in a dream by either waking myself up, or doing something creative within the dream to change things, like fly away (which is awesome, and i can still do it). Then i would use the breathing techniques we’d practised in his office and i’d fall asleep.

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you might already know that as a multiple, my imagination is practically a super-power, and although my fear of the dark persisted until i left home and i would still sleepwalk occasionally, my night terrors stopped.

Once away from home and relatively out of my mother’s reach, my dreams began changing, becoming horrific once again. The subject matter was sexually violent and bloody. Although i was still adept at lucid dreaming, i was frustrated in any attempt i made to control these dreams. At best i might be able to wake myself up, but often i was helpless until it was done with me. In these dreams i felt heavy and had terrible difficulty in holding my head up or moving my arms and legs. Everything around me was distorted, including sounds. I could hear cries of pain and pleasure, and there were thick, awful smells that made me actually retch. I remember the therapist telling me that if i wasn’t certain whether i was dreaming, to pinch myself hard. If it didn’t hurt, then i was dreaming. But i was almost never able to,  and i’d usually cry or scream myself awake. I’d realise that i’d been dreaming, but i could still smell the smells sometimes, and my body would hurt where it hurt in the dreams, including my arm if i’d been able to pinch it.

I learned to live with the dreams, what else could i do? They faded over time, and once i had my first child i only suffered the bloody ones a few times a year.

I’m going to fast forward through finding love, having more children, gaining and losing a tremendous amount of weight, losing my religion (lalala), and being diagnosed with both multiplicity and Bipolar Disorder. I’m going to pick up again where i’m trying to keep myself alive and out of the Bin, and it is REALLY FUCKING HARD, because i’m drowning in a sea of memories and my dreams won’t leave me alone, and i have realised and accepted that there are, to all intents and purposes, other people who live in my head and holy shit! do they have a lot to say about EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME.

Then they tell me that some of my dreams are actually memories, and my whole world explodes.
And here i’d thought it already had.
Hahaha! Nope.

What followed was a massive purge. I liken it to when you’re eating something that tastes okay, but then your mom tells you it’s not the usual chicken stew, it’s actually the wild rabbit that’s been nibbling the cabbages in the garden, teeheehee… And your stomach suddenly clenches up and you know you’re gonna catch hell for it but that bunny is comin’ back up.

I spilled everything that was in my head out into my husband’s lap, sorting through it, picking up various items for closer inspection, grabbing him for support, shaking him as things became horribly clearer, shaking him as i was shaken inside. Recognising voices that i’d always assumed were random thoughts like everyone else had. Learning that they weren’t, that they were me yet not quite, that they were siblings and friends and protectors, yet all of them my own children somehow…

Feelings attached to dreams-that-weren’t-dreams.
There was the awful, sickening internal thud, as these memory-stones that had been floating through my brain-space were finally weighted and overcome by the terrible gravity of my knowingness.
They fell, one after another, like a meteoric hailstorm, scorching the ground and leaving massive craters. I could do nothing to stop them, only watch as they burned until they could burn no more.

Those dreams, those terrible movies that played in my head while i was sleeping, now i knew they weren’t horror movies that i’d directed.
I’d always feared i must be twisted, perverted, and depraved, because children don’t think like that, but my dreams had always been so putrid, so filthy. As an adult i knew i was sick, because i could see nothing like it in my own children.
It was always with me; a shadow, a secret that i tried desperately to keep, a constant plaguing surety that if you reeeeally knew me…

Relief came, relief because i wasn’t a depraved degenerate! but it was bitter and short-lived as it was quickly consumed by feelings that my people had been absorbing and holding for me for so long. They unleashed a torrent that swept me into the cesspool that i swam in for the next decade or so.
But while i was soaking, wallowing and marinating, i was able to identify a lot of the crap that was floating around in there with me.

Metaphors and poetic imagery aside now – i went to science for help. I’d left religion behind some time before, and any belief in the supernatural soon after. I knew that scientific study had found some answers about the brain, and specifically how memory works, so that’s where i started.
I read scientific, peer-reviewed articles on mental illness and how my particular set of challenges affects my brain functions. I learned what skepticism is, and have tried to be a good skeptic ever since. I try to think critically and rationally. I learned about memories and the effects things like trauma, drugs, and time can have on them.
I learned to look for corroborating evidence; i asked family wherever it was possible and safe for me to do so.
My yardstick became a phrase made popular by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
I let go of the need to be right, the fear of being wrong, the idea that i needed to justify my life to anyone, and instead focused only on what i could reasonably believe to be true.

My dreams were finally able to offer some help. They come, regularly, in their highly stylised, easily categorised ways; full of recognisable imagery and well-used motifs. The ones i can affect or alter, are of my own imagining. The ones that hold me in their bloody grip and i can only rarely escape through the sheer horror/terror of them, or my own cries and screams waking me… Well, those are memories. Even those though, can be suspect. Yet still, i can suss out some truth. Some of them have what i thought at first to be a dreamlike quality to them: blurry, melting colours, strange shapes, unnatural creatures, unlikely behaviours and the like. But i know i was often made docile or malleable with the use of drugs, so even those become a confirmation of a kind.

And some of that truly fantastical stuff that i shared with my husband and a few trusted friends? Some of it almost certainly never happened, and some of it may very well have, and although i might like to know for sure, i do not need to.
Because this: Even if i’d never had any realisations, never got my diagnoses, never figured out a damn thing, even if i’d just kept truckin’ along with what i’d been present in the face for, even if all i had was my own flawed recollections from about 4yrs old and upward…

IT WAS AWFUL AND IT’S ENOUGH.

I’m the kind of person that is curious and wants to learn about stuff and wants to know things. The more emotional garbage i toss out, the more organised i become mentally, the more functional i am on a day-to-day basis, the more i am freed up to learn and to know more stuff.

I want to believe true things and be a good human.
I am muddling my way along to that end.

Love and Peace,
~H~
*I do use the terms “MPD” and “DID” in my tags, so those interested and others of like mind may find me.

Thanks Mum

My mother-in-law died, and we held a memorial.
I did a thing that, even 2 or 3yrs ago i might not have done nearly so well. I met a family obligation appropriately, with maturity and i think, grace. I was present, not just in the body, but right there in the face, for almost the entire time. I didn’t use anything in order to cope, and i was genuine and sincere. There was a moment when i could feel myself sliiiidiiiing… But i knew it immediately because i was practising mindfulness, so i was able to recognise that i was pulling out of the face. The words that were coming out of my mouth were things i wouldn’t say. I reined it in by excusing myself from the conversation and the group that was chatting.
I wasn’t too nice, too friendly, or too funny. I shed a few tears, but the deep grief is for me to express privately, and it’s not ready yet.

I shared a few words with those who’d gathered there, about what she meant to me, and i was there for all of them. I hadn’t felt that way since the first time i sang a solo in church. I don’t think i’ve done anything like that after high school. I was a karaoke hostess for a couple of years in my late 30s, but i’m not sure >>i<< ever sang a single song. I sang at my grandfather’s funeral, and i think that’s the last time i did anything in front of an audience sober. Until i stood there, in front of those people who’d come to mark her passing.

Growing up i loved public speaking and performing, and i was good at it.
I’ve spent some time grieving the life i might have had if i’d been allowed to pursue it, or even just been supported when i did things on my own. My mother was concerned with me only insofar as i was a source of positive attention and income for her. She wasn’t much good at encouragement beyond urging me to join something. I think she wanted me out of her hair, so she’d push me to participate in after school activities. The problems came when she was called upon to help, like bake something for the tea, or drive me to swim meets, or be there when i was given an award.

The church choirs and the school plays were the worst. I always got noticed. The teachers and congregants always sought her out to share how impressed they were with my talent. She was approached by people a couple of times who wanted to represent me, saying i could get commercials and jingles and little bit parts were available – even in a city like mine. I loved performing. I loved entertaining people. I loved just speaking in front of people, whether it was a poem i’d written, a scripture in church, or just a book report in class. I’d get excited, but i never got stage fright. I don’t know why those things never panned out for sure, but Mom definitely had something to do with it. Whether it was jealousy, envy, laziness, or she liked the way she had things set up already, i just don’t know. What i can say for sure is that she was certainly lazy, a flaw that only grew more pronounced over the years. Also, when dealing with my past as an adult, i looked back and saw that she’d been markedly nastier and more violent after a school or church performance.

At the end of all the angsty feels, i chose to see it as a dodged bullet – my various mental diagnoses left untreated in the entertainment field may well have made me more infamous than successful, if i’d managed any success at all.
Still…

That’s what grownups do, yes? Or maybe i’ll call them “growers”, as in, those who grow. Not just up, or out, but in and down and through and deep and beyond. People who have the kind of life that looks good to me seem to, anyway. Those who find happiness and satisfaction in their day-to-day, and if there’s none to be found, then they look harder, look forward, look upward, look anywhere, knowing it’s there somewhere, or at least believing in its possibility. Those folks. There’s no particular character trait or personal voodoo woo-vibe they got goin’ on. The only thing i’ve found that they have in common is the way i feel when i’m around them. It’s simple, clean, fresh, pure, real, fundamental and beautiful and… And that’s all i can tell you. What exactly the quality is i don’t know, but i know that i like it. I know that i want to be around people who have it, and i know i want some of it for myself. Not theirs, though. I wanna make my own.
But still…

My mother took a possible future from me. I cannot say whether it was accidentally or on purpose, and that part truly, no longer matters to me. The thing that matters is that i’m mad at her for it. I resent her for emotionally hobbling me. And i mourn my lost opportunities. All those doors, from the ones i walked by at her bidding, to the ones she quietly clicked closed when i wasn’t looking, to the ones that must now remain locked. Sometimes i’m still sad about it, and nothing i’ve overcome or accomplished has changed that. Today i may be a queen, but my parent still gave me away for pride and the king only wanted me for wealth and i can’t really make straw into gold, i’m just clever and lucky.

It may appear that i’ve strayed wildly from my initial paragraphs. How did i get from eulogising my dear mother-in-law to Rumpelstiltskin?
I’ll tell you – i’m not exactly sure, but it feels organic as fuck.
I was standing there in front of those gathered, wondering if my legs might give out, sniffling in punctuation, but i was looking up and making eye contact. I knew what i was saying and i was there and invested in communicating what she meant to me and how i felt about her.

One day i’ll tell you about my brief career as a karaoke hostess, but for now let it be enough that i was in full-blown mania, and my multiplicity was out. of. control. I took the job because it appealed to my need for attention and excitement and drama and some of my Bit N’ Pieces still wanted to sing and dance and play dress-up and flirtyflirtflirt with eeeeverybody!
The thing is, i had crippling stage fright. I simply could not sing without a drink or 10 in me. I’ll analyse it/break it down another time, but for now just get this, okay?
I never had stage fright as a child and now it was ALL i had. I drank the stage fright away, but i also drank me away – that was someone else singing.
And i think the same thing would have happened had i tried out for a play or took a public speaking engagement.

But i stood there fully present in my body, communicating my thoughts and feelings to a group of people that mattered to me. We were all there for Mum, and so i cared about every person there, and it was important to me to share my love for her and my grief at her passing. And i believe i was able to do so.
Since then i’ve been trying to write about it, but i kept putting it back in my unfinished folder, because i knew it was missing something. I hadn’t found my voice to tell you the story yet.

I have, now.

My mother took away my voice. She silenced me to the point where my brain made other people to speak for me. And while her death set me free, it took me decades to find which voice was truly, most essentially and basically, mine.

My mother-in-law gave me the beauty and marvel and magic that is a mother/daughter relationship. She gave me a safe and nurturing place to say things that daughters say to their mothers – and she always responded to me with a mother’s love, in a mother’s voice.
I wanted to convey to the people in that church, just how powerful and beautiful her gifts to me were, and i think i did, a little.
But now i see that she gave me one more gift, even in death. Her love of me inspired such love in return, that i was able ditch the stage fright. No need for liquid courage, no help from the Peanut Gallery.
I stood in front of a group of people and told them something i wanted them to know.
And they heard me and they felt it and they got it.

She helped me get back something that my mother took away.

Thank you, Mum.
I miss you.
I love you.

~H~

50.

I don’t know how many people actually feel 50yrs old when they get there, but i’m gonna guess a lot do not. Count me amongst their lot. I only barely feel grown up, and even that, not completely. The nature of the way my brain works makes my experience of any age a nebulous thing. I can feel many ages, occasionally at the same time.

Today i should feel awesome, i guess. I don’t.
I’m looking at my life, and i’m in mourning.
I’ve been looking at the positive and ignoring the negative, because really, what’s done is done and now let’s get on with it… Y’know?

Later on today i’m going to be surrounded by the people in the world that matter to me more than anyone. More than myself. That will be good and i’ll be happy.
But right now i feel sad and heavy.
It’s the wreckage.
There’s so much loss in my wake.
It’s the people.
I’ve had to find ways to let them go. To make it okay so that i could move on. So i could get better. I’ve had to examine why i had certain people in my life and let go of the ones that were dragging me down. I’ve taken an unflinching look at the ones who’ve left me, and asked the hard questions about why.

The truth is i didn’t want to let go of any of them, and even more so, i didn’t want any of them to let go of me.
My mother and father had me for purely selfish purposes. They didn’t really want me.
I’ve felt unwanted or rejected or tolerated or graciously accepted for my entire life. Fear of rejection is my core issue.
When my mother’s reasons for having me didn’t work out, she kept me around because she had no one else. It wasn’t because i was her daughter, or because i was an awesome person, it was because i was there and utterly dependent on her and therefore her best option. I think my father probably let me go because he had a number of better options. Options that didn’t involve a lifetime of forced association with my mother.

I was the ugly stepchild after that. Mom added to her number, but i was never one of them. A great many of them made sure that i knew that. They were being charitable in accordance with their beliefs, the idea being that i clearly required charity. I have one family member in my life, but she’s good to everyone.
The kids that were nice to me at school were nice to me because their parents had taught them to be nice to the kids that needed other kids to be nice to them. None of them are my friends now, because they don’t have to be. I have one friend from my school years, and she was my teacher.
Then there are the friends that i made along the way. I’ve lost them all save one that i purposely left behind, and i question that decision almost daily now. I no longer have any of my friends from the past, save one, maybe two. I’m afraid to get too close to them, because i’m afraid that i’ll scare them away again.
Finally, there are the friends i’ve made in the last 10yrs. Since i’ve been here in my Little Crooked House. I’ve pulled away from all of them and no one really noticed. Or minded.

The only friendships i’ve been able to maintain over the last 10+yrs are online. They’re good people. They’ve been kind and supportive. But it’s ONLINE. It’s not intimate. It’s not real life interaction. I think a great number of them would stick with me IRL, but it’s not currently an option, and if it was, i fear it would be because they are who they are, and nothing to do with me being the kind of person that inspires long term friendship.

So…
I guess what i’m saying is i’m sad and alone and feeling sorry for myself and not a little scared.
Based on results, i must continue to consider that i am the common denominator in all of my lost relationships.
More than that though, i need to acknowledge and deal with the fact that every single loss has hurt me a great deal. There has been no friendship that has ended that hasn’t hurt me, that i don’t occasionally obsess over, that i have not grieved, and will continue to grieve.

I wasn’t supposed to make it to 50, but i did. That’s good.
I wasn’t supposed to be the person that i am, and i think that is also good.

But here i sit, in my Little Crooked House, and all i have are my husband and my children and my children’s families and my dogs. And while these are super-wonderful-off-the-charts-excellently-beautiful… It is ALL that i have. And as much as it hurts, i must consider that i’m the reason why. I mean, of course i’m the reason why, but i’m referring to the deep down scary level where the question is,
“Am i a shitty person and a shitty friend?”

I have tried to live with the answer being THEY were shitty, i had shitty taste in people, it’s normal for people to come and go in your life, blahblahblah…

I am very committed to the path that i’m on, and i want to know the truth about everything -especially myself- and so if that means i’ve been a shitty human then that’s what it means. If i am, i can change that. I will change that. I hope i have been, already.

Huzzah. 50.