The last couple of weeks i’ve found myself experiencing strong emotions very quickly. For a while there, i wondered if i was manic, but i can’t tick off any other box on the list of common symptoms. Good then, i’m not in a bipolar mania. What seemed the most likely culprit then, was a low spoon count, meaning i’m dealing with many different things, with a limited amount of energy. It made good sense, and i felt better.
But not all the way better. I still felt like i was missing something, and while i was unsettled, i figured as long as i was still doing the work, the answer would eventually come.
I was, and it did.
I was frustrated at the end of each day. The day seemed unfinished, as if i hadn’t done enough. My list of activities and accomplishments looked good. It was in line with what i’d been doing lately, everything that’s important to me to do, was getting done. Personal hygiene, housework, writing, healthy eating, a bit of exercise, connecting with other humans; it was all there.
I asked myself if i wasn’t pushing too hard. Again, it’s about mania. I need to take self-improvement fairly slowly, lest i trigger one. My manias last a loooong time, and take longer still to recover from. I get a rush from being higher functioning, and i feed on it like a drug.
Was that it, was i feeding on accomplishment?
Well, the short answer is Yes, but no.
It came to me while walking and thinking about writing.
I walk most mornings, as i enjoy it, and my dogs need it, and it gets my day off to a good start.
We live on a farm, and it’s quiet and peaceful, a pastoral paradise. The perfect time to think about things i’d like to write about, and that’s exactly what i was doing the other day. I was thinking about how i’ve been sharing my new level of maturity, how i can feel that i’m “coming into my own.”
As a writer, i enjoy using idioms to convey meaning to my readers. I’ll often double check the definition to make sure i’m using it correctly. So when i got home from my walk, i looked it up.
Come in to your own: to be very useful or successful in a particular situation.
And that’s when it came to me.
I could be MORE useful.
I am capable of more than what i’m currently doing.
I’ve been feeling unsettled because i am unsatisfied.
I want more, and i believe i’m qualified for the job.
I’m due for a promotion.
The reason it occurred to me while i was thinking about writing, is that i’ve been feeling the urge to do more with my writing. I’ve known for some time that my blog needs some work. It’s not very intuitive, it’s not overly welcoming to repeat visits, and i’m not reaching enough people. It needs a makeover before i can expand my writing and reach a wider audience.
This revelation was slow and difficult coming, because i don’t think i’m much of a writer. I have found my voice, which is good. I like that when my friends read my stuff, it’s just like talking to me. That’s what i wanted, so i’ve got that going for me.
The thing is, i think i’m a good communicator, a good talker, but not a good writer. I thought this little blog with a few quiet followers was my lane, and i should stay in it; this was the most i dared hope for.
When i started blogging, i was highly dissociated most of the time. I barely finished high school and have had no further formal education. I came into it knowing that i had a decent command of the language and sometimes i could write something that was deep, impactful, and well said. While journalling, which i’ve done on and off since i was first put in counselling as a youngster, i would occasionally write something that impressed me. If it hadn’t been a journal, i might have shared it. As it was, i was mostly telling the social worker what they wanted to hear, careful never to say anything that would get me in trouble. My mother read EVERYTHING. I learned early not to tell the truth about my situation even in a diary, because she’d always find it, and i’d always get a beating when she did.
The advent of the internet brought blogs. I was fascinated to learn that people were actually sharing their diaries with others. Online. Like, in public. You put it out there and let people read it, and they let you read theirs. It was counter to everything i was raised with, and i was drawn to it like the proverbial moth.
Maybe it doesn’t make much sense, but i always wanted to tell my story. I’ve always wanted to be known. The problem was it went against everything i was taught:
What happens in our home is private. Others wouldn’t understand. Don’t talk too much, and when you do, only tell them what they want to hear. Don’t answer any question directly; obfuscate, distract, dangle red herrings, LIE.
I did all those things, but my true desires leaked out on occasion. When someone initiated a friendship with me (because i almost never did that myself – fear of rejection, doncha know) it wouldn’t be long before i said too much. Even when i wasn’t oversharing, i’m just, i dunno, clumsy in my social interactions. If you want to be friends with me, be prepared for cringe moments and awkward silences. If you can’t roll with that, we’re probably not a good fit.*
But the internet was making friendships easier and more likely. There was the safety of anonymity, so i could share as much or as little as i wanted, and there was an endless supply of new prospects if i cocked it up. At first my friendships online mirrored my real life ones. I would push too hard, too soon, and offer too much of myself too early. They’d either pull away or disappear entirely, and i’d be devastated and embarrassed. Gradually though, i learned to take things a little slower. Plus, the speed at which i ran through internet associations and groups had lessened the sting of rejection. Eventually, i stumbled across a group of people with a shared interest that accepted me as one of their own, many of whom i’m still friends with to this day, nearly 20yrs later. They became my safe place to learn how to be a good friend.
It was through this group i discovered blogging. Many of them had one, and i joined them on a popular blog site, set up my own, and started posting. Initially i kept it light and silly, mostly little questionnaires and ranting about things that irritated me. In my real life though, my mental health had gotten entirely out of control. I was in and out of hospitals, with rotating p-docs and meds to boot. My blog then shifted into purging. I was drowning in chaos, and i went there to vomit up my past. I told the story of my childhood for the first time, outside of therapy situations.
After years of searching, i found a therapist i could work with, and settled into the business of putting myself back together. When i returned to my blog, i was horrified and mortified at what i found there (i’d been highly dissociated throughout), and promptly locked it down. By that time social media had become a thing, so i found connection there instead. Most of my group had moved there too, and i hung out with them, while continuing on my path. Some of them kept blogging, and i came here when i decided i wanted to try again.
This blog is not about telling the story of my childhood. Here, i’ve focused on sharing how i’ve learned to live with what happened to me, and been able to improve my functionality, thereby enjoying better quality of life and even some happiness. I want to be known, yes, and i have a deep desire to help others. My blog is one of the ways i do that.
We return now, to the dissatisfaction i mentioned at the beginning of this post.
There is a confluence of events: me itching to do more and actually being capable of doing so. I’ve made good friends who know me, who also know a thing or 2 about blogs, and can help me. Also, i’ve managed to overcome enough fear and flaws that i’m ready to learn, and able to seek out and absorb the plethora of information and experience that’s out there. At last!
To sum up, changes are in the works. I don’t know at what pace, but it won’t be all of sudden, that’s for sure. I’m a babystepper. I tweak things and try them out to see if i like them. I’ll be smoothing some things out and polishing them up. My reading list has grown exponentially. I’m intimidated, but excited. I’m afraid to fail, but undaunted. I’m expecting tears and tantrums and still i am resolute.
I’ll still be writing and posting; i’ve almost finished a couple of pieces right now, and they’ll be up soon.
I will still be odd and clumsy and histrionic.
I’m a lot, and these days i don’t much mind.
I hope you stick around.
Love and Peace, Always,
* I have a post in the works that deals with this. Trying to figure out how to connect with other humans is a common theme around here.
IMAGE: Alex Lee
I have done a great deal of personal work in my life. I’ve had to if i wanted to survive in the real world on its terms. After escaping my abusers (both major and minor), and creating some space for myself to be able to breathe without having to fight for it, i had the unbridled temerity to want more than survival. I wanted to THRIVE.
I started out immersing myself in therapy. Individual, groups, programs, courses… I did it all, reader. I read the books and went to the lectures. I screamed and beat the ground with a bataka and cried in front of other people (that i didn’t know and often didn’t like much) and told them personal things. I spent many hours telling my life story to many MH pros. I invested what little money i had on them, and workbooks and pretty little journals and coloured pens that smelled like apples and grapes and chewing gum.
I have never not wanted to LIVE, even when i sought death.
It took years, but with a Bipolar diagnosis under my belt, i figured out that doing ALL TEH THINGS wasn’t going to work for me. I became a babystepper as a matter of necessity, and then i stuck with it because it suits my personality and produced the best, most long lasting results. And it fits my lifestyle, too. I like a slower pace. I enjoy excitement… for about an hour, and then i fall into overwhelm.
So i have been slowly, carefully, intentionally remaking myself in my own image while renovating and landscaping my surroundings. A long time ago i accepted that that was my life, and that any kind of big milestone was some ways off. I learned to focus on the work and let the results come when they may. I’ve been at this for years. There have been many breaks though, due to life requiring more of my attention. Loved ones need more of my time, or my mental health crashes or explodes, or the world wrests my faculties from what’s directly in front of me to something important that may have nothing much to do with me, but it needs me to care about it.
This last 18mos, the world didn’t take me away from my work – instead it shut down. It did so so completely that i was afforded an opportunity to work almost exclusively on myself, with very few “distractions.”*
I used the time, and despite continuing to work at my snail’s pace, i was able to accomplish a great deal. It’s not like i was going gangbusters or anything, but i was going steadily, and i had known i was close to something big even before the pandemic hit. I had known i was close to a “milestone” for some time. And recently, i hit it.
I feel different. I feel more grown, more capable, more present. The days seem longer and more tiring to get through. It all came over me slowly, like when you get at gardening first thing in the morning. You’re getting so much done and aren’t even aware of your body… until 11 o’clock rolls around and you look down and you’ve soaked through your shirt.
Oh hey, i’m cooking out here, i should get out of the sun and eat some lunch.
I have also become aware that things are piling up and i’m running out of spoons. It wasn’t a sudden thing, like in the past when i would be mostly dissociated and the problem would have to clobber me over the head before i paid it any mind. I have felt the weight of everything pulling me down and down, and my body asking me for rest.
But, you know, i’m still relatively new at this grownup stuff, so i stumbled.
We went into town 2 weekends ago, and for the first time in months and months, i went into a couple of stores to pick up some things we needed. I felt myself pulled down this aisle and that, browsing happily. I’ve missed it and was quickly engrossed. Unfortunately, i got separated from my husband. First i stayed put and waited for him to find me, but he didn’t. I began walking around the store very slowly, up and down each aisle, stopping at the end and casting my eye as far as i could see in each direction. I tried so hard not to panic. I thought of leaving the store and waiting outside, but my arms were laden with things i wanted, and i was suddenly aware of how it might look to all the other patrons if i put everything down and exited. My anxiety rose. I began sweating, and i could feel my eyes, big as saucers. My panic would be obvious, i thought. Everyone looked at me as i passed them and it was getting hard to breathe…
Next thing i know i’m looking at a handsome young man and he’s speaking to me but i can’t hear him. I look around me and my heart sinks.
I’m in an ambulance and he is a paramedic.
My head is full of voices chattering at me, and i can’t shut them up, and i see his lips moving but i’m fading again…
Then i’m back at home, sitting in my chair and my husband is beside me.
I know i took off. I know i was close to home when the ambulance and police found me.
I know my twin took over at some point and was able to change their minds about dragging me to the hospital and convinced them to let me go home.
I told my husband i didn’t want to talk about it yet.
I needed to process it on my terms and in my time. Fortunately, he is not a pushy guy.
My initial inclination was to crap all over myself for losing control and feel like a terrible person and a loser and worry about what i did and who saw and start kicking myself for upsetting my loved ones… But i stopped it immediately and shifted quite easily into a calm and somewhat unemotional review of the day.
This is who i am, and this is how my brain works. It’s neither good nor bad anymore – it simply IS. I understand why i switched. It makes sense why i switched. It happened, but i’m fine, and everyone else is fine, and this is my life. This is okay and i am OKAY. It is okay to be who i am and it is fine that i switched. It really, truly is fine. It’s me and how i work and sometimes it happens and if there’s any fallout afterwards, i’ll clean it up.
I’m not freaked out or drowning in shame. In fact, it was barely a blip on my radar. I’m here and i’m grown and i’m capable.
This is new. I’m heartened by how i handled things after it happened. It didn’t trip me up. I am not spiralling.
This last weekend i went into town and ran a couple of errands that involved going into a store. I was careful to know where my husband was and what he was doing at all times. Not obsessively or even nervously. Just knowing how i work and where i’m at and what could go wrong and taking proper, preemptive steps to avoid a repeat. New issues, new problems will definitely present themselves, and i will handle those as best i can. And hey, if one of them trips me up, i’ll just pick myself up and do whatever i need to to set things right.
I’m not all jangly and anticipating the worst.
I’m not waiting for the other shoe to drop, kind of because i know it will.
And that’s okay.
It just is.
And i don’t feel defeated – i feel powerful.
… if you love your garden, you don’t mind working in it, and waiting. Then in the proper season you will surely see it flourish.
~ Jerzy Kosiński, Being There
I hope you’re all doing as best you can.
Love and Peace,
* This is me silverlining the pandemic. I wish with my whole heart that it had not happened.
IMAGE: Annie Spratt
I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn’t itch.
~ Gilda Radner
I think this new life i have fashioned is starting to chafe, a little. This new way of living that involves higher functioning has brought a calm and peace to which i am not accustomed. I’m most familiar with drama and chaos, it’s happened regularly, and frequently, since i first drew breath. I’ve spent many years now, whittling it away, carving something sturdy and serviceable. Stripping away soft, rotted bark and patiently (okay, not always that patiently) working to reveal its true shape hidden in the fragrant and vital hardwood beneath.
This work has become a daily part of my life. I pick it up when i will, and carve a little as it pleases me. However, as its form becomes more clear, i’ve felt excitement stirring in my nethers. Not sexual in nature, rather of something soon to be born. I am coming forth.
Yes, Hi, it’s me and my flowery way of communicating; that’s part of it. Part of me, part of who i am as a one of a kind piece of art. I am a sculpture that fashions itself. Behold!
I’m being silly, but honestly i’m hoping to lift myself out of this mood by so doing. I’m low. I’m tired and somewhat afraid. I know these feelings, but underneath them, another has been simmering slowly – it’s an uncomfortability. I’m blaming lack of familiarity, along with a smattering of boredom.
In past times such feelings could quickly land me in overwhelm. My response to such would be to either shut down, or nope right outta there. In short, to dissociate in some form or fashion, out of proportion to what was currently happening and how i felt about it. These days i’m practising mindfulness and staying present, i.e. conscious and in control. I’m working on sliding* and switching* as seldom as possible.
Also, i’ve been working hard to cut down on chaos by managing my system, calming my thoughts, eliminating problematic friendships and associations, and pursuing age appropriate levels of maturity. It’s working well, but it feels weird, like there’s something missing in my life. I’m guessing this is caused by a couple of things. The easiest to identify is the one where this is simply not what i’m used to. It’s like if i wore sweat pants all my life and suddenly started wearing jeans. It’ll likely take some time before i feel comfortable in them.
Sometimes, when people survive an experience that might have killed them, say a car accident, they find themselves seeking more dangerous situations. It’s been studied at length and thought to be some survivor’s guilt, along with a desire to recreate that intensity of emotion. To feel that alive again. When one isn’t constantly in fight or flight mode –when the threat is finally eliminated– it can almost feel like something’s wrong. My life hasn’t been legitimately threatened for some years now, and i find it at times unsettling. Part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Being safe, being an adult about things, only having the people i want to have in my life – none of it feels natural.
Plus, when i lived with all of that ruckus (both around and inside me) before, i could practically sleepwalk my way through it. Everything requires my attention now. When i’m awake, i’m on. It’s all new and i’m exhausted. I’ve been concerned that my system might manufacture some drama just to feel “normal.” They didn’t get the chance.
Last weekend i blew a gasket.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
A chafing savage, down the decent street
~ Claude McKay
Until Next Time,
Peace and Love,
*Definitions can be found in my FAQs.
If you love something
set it free
If it comes back
it is yours
If it doesn’t
it never was
It is very hard not to do it sometimes.
There is a situation in my life that i could fix with just a little push, here and there.
Just a properly worded statement or 2.
A well acted play, presented in a few short acts.
I could just “fix” the problem and no one would be the wiser.
Ah, why did i grow so much?
Why am i sitting here, working on letting go with love?
Why did i build a love so big that i could do this?
A love bigger than myself.
I could have what i want.
It’s right there in my hand and it wants to be there.
Manipulation takes away the individual’s autonomy.
So this is the true test. This is it right here.
Believe people when they show you who they are.
I do. I do believe.
And it’s so not okay, but it has to be.
I have to love me, too. More than i ever have.
Manipulation is a zero sum mind game.
I love them so.
I hate that i love enough to let go, but it can’t be undone.
The world has suddenly gotten bigger, and i am afraid.
I am also sort of excited.
I will either get what i want or i won’t.
The world will keep spinning me dizzy.
But my personal machinations are winding down.
Today is a perfect day outside.
I’ve decided to match it inside.
Beauty for beauty, shine for shine.
I will give my truest self, which will never be for naught.
No matter what comes – and the rain always comes.
I will stand outside and let it wash me clean.
There is no fate, only choice.
This is a vague one, and i do apologise, but it is what it has to be.
Strange title, eh? I was trying to figure out how to share about a particular set of personal flaws i’m trying to master, and i thought it might serve me well. Maya Angelou once spoke about not allowing oneself to be “pecked to death by ducks.” I understood that only years later, when i was extricating myself from friends and family who took little pieces out of me every chance they got. The backhanded compliment and the voice of disdain and the subtle eyeroll… It was difficult and scary to move away from these relationships until i clued in to how much better i was feeling. These people “meant to have my life,” a piece at a time, and i was bleeding to death slowly, from a thousand little bites.
Getting space from them –which is all i’d intended to do when i began– allowed me to start healing from these attacks. After a while, i had an experience of peace, so much so that even i, in my generally dissociated state, was able to easily mark the anxiety that welled up inside me at the mere prospect of any contact with them. I’ve been happily estranged from all of the pecking ducks in my life for nearly 10yrs now.
It’s only been in the last year or so that it’s come to my attention that i can also be a duck sometimes. And i’m guilty of pecking at those with whom i share living space, particularly my husband and my sons.
There are reasons i do this, of course. Everyone has reasons – genuine, legitimate reasons. The people i left behind that did it to me probably have some fine ones. However, that does not excuse crappy behaviour. The behaviour i’m currently focused on eliminating is entrenched, and broad in scope. It’s manipulation. It’s an ugly trait of mine – a ubiquitous stinkweed in my garden, and i’m pulling it out at the roots, wherever i find it.
It was taught to me, and modeled for me. My mother was a master manipulator. By the time she had me, i think honesty and forthrightness were already well behind her. And once she made the decision to use me as a commodity, i doubt she drew an honest breath. Whatever her own reasons, she snuck up to whatever and whomever she wanted. If she ever came at anything head-on, it was calculated, and generally secondary to what she really wanted. I am convinced that people were sport for her. We were all mice in her maze, and she took pleasure in seeing what she could make us do. We were either utterly clueless, or wrong about her true intentions.
When i was barely out of toddlerhood, she taught me panhandling and shoplifting. I would stand outside the local bar, while she was inside, targeting some drunken mark. It wasn’t as big a deal for a child to be out on their own back in those days, and if anyone ever expressed concern, i knew what to say and how to act to allay their fears. I was always tall for my age, and i presented as older than i actually was. I was the perfect blend of innocent and precocious. I was always clean and well groomed in those days. I looked nice – but not too nice. After speaking with me for a couple of minutes, many people were charmed into believing i wasn’t being abused or neglected, but my mother and i could sure use a couple of bucks, which they thoughtfully tucked into my pocket or purse.
She taught me cold reading, too. She was a skilled fortune-teller. I’m not here to speak on whether or not any of it is for real, i’m only saying that her “gifts” were pure con. I knew what to say to whom, based on how they dressed, how they spoke to me, what they drove, whom they were with, what purchases they might be carrying… As i got older, she taught me palm reading, reflexology, reading auras, etc. She also taught me how to shoplift food and necessities from grocery departments. Knowing what i know now –that she worked good jobs that paid a living wage– i don’t know why we were so poor. I think it was mostly selfishness with a little bit of lousy money management, but whatever it was, i grew up extremely poor. What little we did have was tightly controlled by her, and could be given or withheld based on her whims.
What methods of control and manipulation she didn’t teach me outright, i picked up by how she treated others. She could get what she wanted from me or my stepfather or siblings with a variety of recognisable methods:
– a withering look;
– an eyeroll;
– a dangerous glare;
– a deep sigh;
– the silent treatment;
– a sarcastic comment;
– a pointed question, e.g. Do you think you should be eating/wearing/saying/doing that?
I know a lot of people do these kinds of things. They’re easily identifiable as manipulative by anyone who’s even half paying attention. My mother had developed these methods to a fine art, though. And as with most families, a lot of how we acted and responded to each other was unconscious and reflexive in nature. Plus, we were all afraid of her – every single one of us. She could escalate a situation, going from zero to light speed in seconds flat. And she wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone –oh, she could play scared and hurt and sad when it suited her purposes– but i’m convinced everyone was a mark to her. Underneath her sweet and jovial facade lay a deeply dangerous woman, full of white hot fury that could quickly manifest in a capable, easy violence.
I grew up thinking that sort of behaviour, that kind of treatment, was normal.
If i thought about it at all, that is. (I did not, until i was an adult.)
I can be petty even now, sure. I’m far from perfect, like most of us. But i’m specifically posting today about some of those sneaky, petty, duck-bitey ways of getting something from someone. It’s a way to get what i want without actually having to ask for it.
It’s about control, and avoiding rejection.
Repeating that last bit louder, for my friends in the back row:
It’s about control, and avoiding rejection.
I’m working at removing all of those behaviours from the above list. Those petty, passive-aggressive, nasty tendencies that were bred into me, that i thought were just the price of 2 human beings doing business with each other. One had to get over on the other. Life as a zero sum game.
(To be honest, you will pry my sarcasm from my cold, dead hands… But i will use it judiciously, okay?)
I found out a few years ago, that there are not a few people intimidated by me. I was surprised by that. After giving it some thought, i figured out where the disconnect was happening. I see myself from the inside, and i interpret things through my experiences, my opinions and beliefs, my filters. I have blindspots; things i’m unaware of, things i haven’t learned yet.
I see myself as this sweet, nice, funny gal with a salty tongue and twisty sense of humour. I’m privy to how insecure and frightened i can be, and how intimidated >>i<< am by other people and the world around me. >>I<< know that some of how i present is a facade, created out of childhood trauma, mental illness, neuroatypicality (if that’s not a word, it is now), a desperate need for connection and yet a colossal fear of rejection.
The truth is i AM sweet and nice. I am kind and empathetic and generous. The truth also is that it can be hard to get past all of my protections to have a genuine experience of me as who i am. Another truth is that it is no one’s job to get past my myriad defenses.
It is MY job to lay down my weapons, lower the drawbridge, stand at my battlements, and invite those i will to come in.
And who’d want to approach with snapping, cavernous-jawed, toothy creatures in my moat and a cannon at every embrasure? Why come in to break bread and drink a toast when the hearth is cold, the hallways damp and drafty, and there’s nothing in the pot, bubbling away and wafting a welcoming smell?
Enough imagery – now to the meat of the matter. Heh.
I’m working hard to drop all of my passive-aggressive defenses and manipulative conduct. There’s no longer any need for it. I am not in danger anymore, i am surrounded by loved ones who dearly love me. They have proven already that they will not reject me, nor betray me, and they are willing to take the time and effort to work out any issues between us or difficulties we may have navigating a relationship with one another. From this bastion of comfort, care, and commitment i can venture out or invite others in to take a load off and set a spell.
If a visitor overstays or otherwise becomes unwelcome i am free and well within my rights to bid them adieu. I needn’t fear that, or an outright rejection of my invitation and hospitality. My castle is filled and fortified and guests may come and go as either of us will it to be so.
I ask for what i want and i state what i do not, plainly and without fanfare.
I do not take to my chaise longue with a case of the vapours.
I no longer treat others as if they’re stupid for not knowing something that i do.
I’m not playing for the power position.
I don’t view asking for something as a vulnerability, nor do i see it as a loss to have to ask, or a victory to receive it without using plain language.
I’m not expecting everyone to eventually hurt me and leave me.
I act on the outside who i am on the inside, because i know for a fact that rejection won’t kill me.
I seek kindness, generosity, understanding, and willingness in others as i do in myself.
No more pecking.
I won’t allow anyone to nip little bits out of me anymore.
And i hope that anyone who reads this and knows me personally doesn’t tolerate that crap from me.
At least, not ever again.
And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire
Then let me build a bridge
For I cannot fill the chasm
And let me set the battlements on fire
~ Sting, Fortress Around Your Heart
With Thought and Care,
*As she aged, gained weight, and became more of a shut-in, it slipped more and more until she wasn’t fooling anybody anymore. At the end, the only people she could exert control over was her husband, her kids, and various members of her 12-step program and her church.
IMAGE: Robert Gramner
The sleeper must awaken.
~ Duke Leto Atreides, Dune
For a while i was angry all the time; everyone and everything set me off. I hadn’t much experience with sitting with anger and feeling it, so my system would step in and take it for me. I’d stifled my anger for so long that, while there seemed to be no going back, i was still trying to manage it using old tools. Parts of me would try to absorb it, like a little one who’d charm everyone around her, or an angsty teen who’d take it to her room and mope. There was also my most developed part, who would shut me away and take charge of the house, my husband, and my kids. She’d clean within an inch of my life and feed everyone to bursting, all while being brusque and terse and not any fun at all.
The worst was when things were sour between my husband and i. To be angry at him frightened everyone inside, as he was the source of what little security we had. One perceived wrong look or frustrated tone from him could trigger a switch that might result in smashed dishes, kicked in doors, or my face in his face, screaming and howling. The worst though, came if i felt significantly threatened or shamed, then my system would broadcast the imperative that had been built into me by my abusers: GO HOME. I’d immediately leave the house and hit the road, often hitchhiking into the city and disappearing for hours or even a day/night.
I had no control over my actions, but it wasn’t anger’s fault. Anger was doing its job. Anger had been activated inside me long ago, but it wasn’t safe for me to feel it until i was an adult and safely away from my abusers. If i’d shown anger i risked what little home and safety i had. Sure, it wasn’t much, and no, i wasn’t really safe at all… But i didn’t know that. I was raised to believe whatever best suited my mother’s whims and desires. I believed i was bad and unlovable, and i believed that i was lucky… No. Fortunate… No. I was BLESSED BEYOND MEASURE that she had deigned to bestow her mercy on me and throw me the odd crumb of love, attention, lodging, food.
I stuffed my anger down so far i wasn’t even aware i was angry.
And the couple of times i felt it in her presence i was put in my place – easily and instantly.
I knew it was an emotion to which the likes of me had no right.
And it wasn’t so much that anger made me lose control – feeling anything intensely enough caused me problems. I was so split apart that the only way for me to function was to act, to put on a show. All i knew was donning the face costume of the day and hoping for the best. I didn’t understand that i was mostly smoke and mirrors until i was well into adulthood. I gave everyone what i thought they expected/wanted, and shoved everything that was uniquely me so far down inside i forgot i was anything else.
Acknowledging that my childhood was abusive, that my primary abuser was my mother, and that the result of it all was that i was a multiple, allowed some things to swim up to the surface. Therapy and time was required for me to figure out how to handle it all. Looking at all of my past was a terrible experience, painful and ugly. It triggered all sorts of reflexive responses: to shut down, to run away, to blame myself, to drown in shame and seek forgiveness… Any or all of these might have swallowed me whole, but anger came in and saved me every time.
Anger took my hand and squeezed it tight and said, No, and Stop, and Hold on a minute here.
Anger asked me, What did you do to deserve that?
Anger answered for me and said, Nothing you could have done would have deserved that.
Anger shouted from the sidelines, What a fucking monster! She is one sick bitch!
Anger asked, Who does this shit? What the fuck was wrong with her?
Anger ranted and groused and cursed and jumped up and down and pounded its fists.
Anger turned my face back to it, again and again and again, and said to me No. Stop. Fuck that shit.
Anger pulled me close and turned my face back out and Look. Look at all this and SEE. See who she was. See what she did to you. Look at how little you were. How innocent and sweet and good. See that you did nothing, could do nothing, to deserve what she did to you.
Anger swept away all distraction and opened my eyes to the stark truth.
Anger rose up before me in righteousness and fiery resolve.
Anger peeled the scales from my eyes and turned them to ash.
Anger burned my prison to cinders.
Anger danced me into the furnace, and i was not burned.
Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and goodwill, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the finder of lost children.
~ Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction
Anger is he who came and shepherded me. Anger found me and kept me. And then set me free.
I take a deep breath & I count to 3, in hope that it’s grounding me,
poetic my tantrums bound to be when I’ve found relief, sound asleep,
this anger will never be about to leave, you’ll see
~ Esskay, Beautiful Anger
IMAGE: Amruth Pillai
I love things it’s not cool to
Like my fanny pack
and cheap candy
Little foil-wrapped Easter eggs
too sweet and waxy
I dig them out during long walks
Trying to concentrate on the road
while sucking chocolate
from my fingers
It holds the tinny shreds handily
so i don’t litter
I love things i’m not allowed to
Like women and weirdness
and arrythmic dancing
I am out on the floor alone
my body supplicant to the bass
My arms reach out to the edges
and beckon them
Yes everyone’s watching
They know nothing
but they might learn
I love things i’m not permitted to
Like my staccato laugh
And my big legs that spirit me away
from them and pain and death
They falter not
and keep on truckin’
Girded with hard hot muscle
I pound every floor
and shake the air
with seething joy
~ Mine, June 17, 2021
IMAGE: Tim Gouw
WARNING: Brief reference to rape.
Poetry = Anger X Imagination
~ Sherman Alexie, One Stick Song
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
~ William Blake, Songs of Experience
Anger, Tessa thought, was satisfying in its own way, when you gave in to it. There was something gratifying about shouting in a blind rage until your words ran out.
~ Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel
The flavour-of-the-month where therapy was concerned at that time, was the self-help monolith known as 12-step program. I tried any and all that might apply.
(NOTE: It’s going to be clear that i have some negative opinions regarding this organisation and their methods. It is my own opinion based on personal experience. My thoughts about their politics and the data that’s been gathered over the years regarding its efficacy have no place here. If you have been helped by them, i’m only glad. If they’re an integral part of your life and being successful, i say keep that shit up. If you are currently seeking help from them, i sincerely wish you well.)
I started with looking for help with my issues with food. I branched out to others, looking for some kind of group vibe that suited me. What i found there was religion. Over and over again i felt forced into a mold that didn’t fit. I’d pour myself in, only to feel contained and suffocated. The freedom proclaimed by others eluded me, despite my best efforts. I took every suggestion and worked every step, thoroughly and repeatedly. It did help me clean some of the clutter out of my brain, enough so that after some years, i could see that there were parts of my brain that were closed doors to me. I felt incomplete. I knew i wasn’t done. The completion of the steps did not bring me the things it seemed to bring others. I was unsatisfied and frustrated and disillusioned.
The longer my mother’s death afforded me no contact with her, the safer it became for my true self to poke its head out from the darkest recesses of my brain and have a look around.
Religion, to put it as mildly as possible, does not suit me.
I worked 12-step programs, i went to group therapy (so many groups), and pursued individual counselling with a half dozen different people over a half dozen years. It all helped some, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t going anywhere near my dissociative nature, or the reasons for it. Any time any of the therapy or therapists came close to it, i became disgusted and moved on to the next thing.
My deep-seated and untapped anger had resulted in abuse towards my child, and wrought a cold distance between me and other people. I wish i hadn’t hurt my son, but at least i knew i was hurting him. I knew i needed to be a better parent, and i sought help. I took parenting classes from any place that offered them, and i associated with women that seemed to me to be good moms. I hung out with them and aped their actions. It helped some, but not enough. I loved him so much it hurt my heart, but there was something missing in the way i connected with him.
I’d received feedback from many people that i was a closed system. They said i was only knowable to a point, and then the door was shut and they couldn’t get it open. That wasn’t at all what i wanted, but i couldn’t seem to open the door, either. I wanted friends; i craved connection with others. I felt hidden and would try to open up, but that was always followed by abject terror and horror at what i’d done. I’d often become repulsed by the person i’d shared with, and recoil from the friendship, avoiding further association. I knew i wrecked relationships and hurt people.
Again, i sought help.
In both cases the assistance and guidance i was able to find only helped so much.
I was unconsciously resistant to anything that came too close to my multiplicity, and the reason that i was a multiple. The mere suggestion from any mental health care professional that i might be highly dissociative was met with instant, actual physical revulsion, and if they dared utter the words “multiple personality disorder,” i bolted and never returned.
Slowly though, all the therapy helped, even just a visit or 3, even a counsellor that was ill-equipped to handle my mountain of issues and torrential past (frankly, that was most of them). The one thing it consistently did, THEY ALL consistently did, was help me redirect my anger towards its true source: my childhood, my upbringing, and specifically, my mother. My resistance to the idea that my mother was an abuser was powerful, but years and distance had loosened her grip on me.
The night my stepfather tried to suffocate me because i wasn’t easy to rape i cried out for her help. She left me to tend to him that night, and dropped me at a shelter 2 days later. She used my siblings as bait to get me to drop the charges against him. At her deathbed she accepted my sobbed out apologies for being a bad daughter, but never offered her own for being a terrible mother.
Her death freed me, although i didn’t know it until much later.
Some internal barriers fell, and the truth began seeping in.
When i was ready, vulnerable and filled with a need to know and understand, those moments came back to me. I caught a glimpse of the beast under her moribund facade, and rage was born in me.
A couple of years after her death, a perfect storm of events sent me spiralling:
– I accepted the DID diagnosis;
– I got married;
– I lost a LOT of weight;
– I had a long and intense mania.
When the mania finally released its grip, i was in terrible shape, both mentally and physically. All the anger that had been simmering inside me came bubbling up, throwing everything into chaos. I didn’t know what to do with all of it. There was so much it overwhelmed and consumed me. It pulled me into its arms and danced with all my parts. They all rose up and partnered with it, spinning across the floor of my mind, whirling and dipping to a tremulous treble and a pounding bass. The rage thrummed through my blood and suffused my flesh. I was hot and red with it. I was in its thrall.
It was forbidden love, and we’d all fallen hard. It was exhilarating and intoxicating. It was a whirlwind romance and i was filled with power and a dire beauty. I was wearing the red shoes, and i danced and i danced and i danced.
More to come yet…
Anger: AnggUHR n. A strong feeling of displeasure or hostility.
The best fighter is never angry.
~ Lao Tzu
Anger… it’s a paralyzing emotion… it’s helpless… it’s absence of control… I have no use for it whatsoever.
~ Toni Morrison
Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside.
~ Mitch Albom
Don’t hold to anger, hurt or pain. They steal your energy and keep you from love.
~ Leo Buscaglia
I vigorously disagree with these quotes/sentiments.
I’ve had to work hard to find the right kind of help to heal and move on from my past.
Part of the difficulty came from “common sense,” pop psychology, and inspirational speakers and philosophers with ideas like these. Being raised religious, it came naturally to me to believe and trust any adult who embodied the qualities i was taught were moral and wise. When i went to these people for help, i always did my level best. I did what they told me to do, read their books and studiously completed every workbook. I took their courses and parroted their words. I worked therapy like it was my only job. Like i was diabetic and it was my insulin.
It never “took.” Some things would land, and i would plant them in my garden. But most of it never took root, never flourished. A lot of it withered and died. I had been raised to believe that in any and all situations, if there was a problem of any stripe, it was me or because of me. So, i bore it all as my failure, not the therapist’s or their particular brand of therapy.*
As with so many other things, like education, like weight loss, like love… There is simply no one-size-fits-all for therapy, for how to fix your problems, for how to live your life.
Dozens and dozens of people, places, and things came into play to help me save my life. The loss or absence of any one of them may have resulted in me not making it. I find this perhaps the most true when it comes to anger. I’ve written about it before, but it bears repeating, i think. Over and over again, i see anger getting a bad rap. I don’t see any emotion as either negative or positive. They are just feelings. They’re indicators, they’re place markers, they’re flags, they’re storytellers. It is the actions that follow an emotion that can be good or bad. And by that metric, in my life what has flowed from me as a result of anger has been lifesaving, empowering, and actually quite wonderful.
If my abusers had permitted, had tolerated any anger from me, i might have eventually told them NO, STOP, and risen up against them. That was too great a risk for them to take. That they might not only lose their living shit receptacle, but also perhaps be caught by some authority in their twisted deeds? For others to find out how sick and selfish and psychopathic they were? Absolutely not. And why worry? Because in me they’d found the perfect victim. I was obedient, compliant, and never spoke a word about the abuse to anyone.
The first time i can remember feeling angry i was around 9, i think. It only makes sense that i’d have felt it before, but it was either mild, or i hid it away because it was against the rules. I knew i had no rights. I knew only those in power positions were permitted anger. I believed it was right for them to be angry, about whatever they were angry about. My job was to fit their narrative into my experience. They were always right and i was always wrong. I was certainly the cause of their anger often enough.
I began getting angry fairly regularly after that, but i expressed it through sarcasm and disdain. Students and teachers alike found me intimidating (i found out later), a combination of my size (where the students were concerned) and my next-level mouthiness. By the time i was in high school, no one physically threatened me anymore. They still said awful things that stick with me to this day –and that includes teachers– but no one tried to hit me. (Unless you count that 1 jerkwad of a teacher who’d throw things at me in class, including a dictionary straight at my head.)
So, my sarcasm could be caustic, and i was sometimes flat out obnoxious, but i wasn’t violent.
Once i got away from my mother and had a child of my own, my anger became a problem. No one had taught me how to handle the normal frustrations that come along with raising a child. What my mother had modeled was abusive, and at that point, thankfully, i knew that. I took parenting classes, which helped a lot, but i was desperately in need of good therapy. Having a kid had me constantly triggered. I couldn’t connect with him physically, and i was hot and cold, emotionally. He was one of the best behaved children i’ve ever known, so i wasn’t tested often, but when i was, my patience ran out quickly, and i spanked him on a number of occasions. Too hard. I was angry. I was a triggered, dissociative mess and i needed help.
To be continued…
*To be fair, i only had a few awful therapists, who shouldn’t have been practising. Most of the time they were decent, and they tried to help me. They just didn’t have the right tools for the job. I’m sure they helped other people.
IMAGE: Julien Pouplard
It didn’t come easy, but it wasn’t exactly hard, either.
I’m talking about yesterday. I’m still having to force myself to do things, but it’s not coming at great cost. I’m just blasé about stuff. This could be a temporary thing, or it could be that i’m experiencing a more normal emotional state of being. It might be something else entirely, OR i could be overthinking… Wait, not that last one. I never overthink, so it can’t be that one.
I planted flowers in my garden, walked the dogs, made supper, and oh yes! i wrote a blog post. My house is clean and i am, too. My relationships are in fairly good order. I’m feeding my brain and caring for my system. I ate healthily, took in enough liquid, and watched some things that made me laugh. I went to bed at a reasonable time and fell asleep easily. I know i’m dreaming a lot, but there’s no morning residue. What little i can recall seems like normal processing.
A very cool, very nice thing happened, and that was finally getting some more obvious payoff from my calorie restriction and exercise. I went through a plateauing period that lasted weeks, and it suuuuuuuucked! I know it happens because i have so much experience with it (grumble grumble.) I hung on and kept doin’ my thang, and yesterday it happened! I’ve been walking and gardening and spring cleaning the property and walking some more, and still minding what and how much i eat… But i don’t look any different and all my clothes seem to fit the same way. I don’t know why it works this way for me, it always has. Maybe it works like this for other people, too? I don’t see any changes and i intermittently feel gross and freak out that i’m gaining and i have anxious thoughts that say i need to restrict more and do more because it’s NOT ENOUGH…
But i’ve been through this before and i know myself and how i work. So i just dig in and keep putting one foot in front of the other, holding on to these few, small, manageable things i do that always, eventually, bring about changes that i can see and mark. And yesterday i saw it and marked it. I put on my yoga pants and they fit weird. While i was walking the dogs they felt weird, too. When i got home i noticed they didn’t look right, and in fact needed to be pulled up. That didn’t compute, because i like my active wear tight, y’all. I like all my business to be held in nice and snug, and i don’t want to be distracted by the need to readjust once i’ve got everything looking and feeling how i want. When i pulled my pants back up, i noticed i could hike them up to my chest, and when they settled, my waist did not fill out the waistline.
I got a pair of jeans that are too tight out of my drawer and tried them on (i don’t weigh myself, i gauge weight loss by what clothes fit.) They slid on easily and there was no muffin top. I went and sat in my recliner and there was enough space along the side of the seat for my dog to lay beside me. Then i took a hard look in the mirror, and it was like the scales fell from my eyes. My face has become more angular, and my collarbones are jutting out.
I’m definitely over the hump.
My reaction was weird too, though. In the past, weight loss has triggered euphoria and even mania in me. But this time, while i was gratified, i took in the knowledge rather calmly and continued about my day. Is this more grownupness?
I think maybe it is.
I’m in this for the long haul. I have goals i intend make. And none of them are so i can go back eating and drinking unhealthily, and with impunity. This is about lifestyle change. This is about my health and longevity. This is about living amends to my husband and especially my children. And this is about my happiness and having more of it.
Today i had a wee 5k+ adventure with my Kiddo, and by end of day i’ll have 10k in. I had a sugary drink and Chinese food for lunch as a treat. We had a great time. I feel good about finally seeing some results, but this is just one more step along a path of many. May it sustain me through the tough times that will certainly come again.
Y’all Hang in There, Y’Hear?
IMAGE: Pascal Swier