Deprogramming, Pt. I

I was raised religious. I’m gonna say some stuff about that, and you may not agree. That’s fine. The majority of the world holds some sort of belief in the supernatural. I once did, and now i do not. It’s no big. As long as i’m not being preached at or proselytised, i have no problems listening to those around me talk about such things. But this is my blog, written by me, full of my thoughts, experiences, and opinions. I’ve chosen a path and am mapping my own route to get where i want to go.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m just talkin’ ’bout Life As Me.
I’ve been wrong thousands of times, and will be thousands more yet (at least, i’m hoping for the opportunity to be). If you think there’s a god/gods out there, i think you’re wrong. So? You think i’m wrong, too. Doesn’t bother me in the least. I might be wrong, and i could be convinced by enough good evidence.*

Now that’s out of the way, lemme get to it.
Like many people, like many female people, like many female people born into a religious family, like many female people born into an abusive, religious family, i wasn’t allowed to say No. My permission was never required – not if it affected me directly or indirectly, and not even if it involved the use of my own body. Growing up, it didn’t occur to me that i could say No, and i rarely said it. It occasionally popped out when i was in extreme distress. If i said it outside the house and family interactions, it was usually respected, if for no other reason than, if i was saying No, i was likely completely unhinged at that point. When i lost control it got weird for those around me: wild eyes, panicked voice, heaving chest, all my ticcing behaviours on display… Most would back off. On the exceedingly unusual occasion that i used it in my house and/or with my parents, i was beaten.

I had no rights, no autonomy. Along with not being allowed to use the word No, i was never permitted to question anything. I was raised to obey without a word. I couldn’t pull a face either, that’d earn me a slap or 2, for sure. This contributed to my being an insular person; i was hidden deep inside, any natural individuality was subverted, and i compartmentalised in order to survive. My traumas were so intense and ongoing, my compartmentalisation became so widespread, rigid, and rigorous, that i split apart inside my brain. I’ve been diagnosed with what is currently referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder.

As i’ve said before, i fought the diagnosis for years. I never went back to mental health professionals that even brought it up peripherally. Being around others who identified themselves as multiples made my skin crawl. I believed it was a real thing, but i thought most people were faking it.** I believed what i was raised to believe; what my parents and others in authority over me told me to believe. I was taught what to think, never how, (and in that, i think i have more company than just fellow abuse survivors).

I was punished for asking questions. I might get yelled at, shamed, or even beaten if i dared use the word “why”. To this day, if you want to see me get frustrated, then angry, and then shut down, just start asking me questions. I get nervous and irritated quickly. What was happening in my family had to be hidden. I was taught that nosy people were a threat. Others weren’t as smart and socially evolved as we were – they wouldn’t understand. They’d take me away and i’d have no one. I was such a handful, such a difficult child; no one would be able to tolerate me for long. It was always indirectly, subtly reinforced that i was a terribly misbehaved child, and not easy to love. I was lucky to have my amazing and long-suffering mother there to care for and love me. Without her i’d be completely alone.

She’d always let me watch old movies, because she liked them, but she banned me from watching All About Eve. I was an advanced reader, and had worked my way through her large collection of books by grade 6, but when she caught me reading Sybil, she lost her mind, took it away and hid it. I don’t remember her ever telling me it was bullshit, though. In fact, looking back with grown up eyes, i think she was obsessed with the subject. I think there may have been a time that she played around with the diagnosis for herself. She loved attention and struggled with her mental health, and i have some memories of some talks and programs that she brought me along to, where the way she was talking and the way she was treated by others there would fit her claiming some form of multiplicity.

When i finally got away from my mother, i knew i needed professional help, but it never occurred to me that i had a diagnosable, mental illness (or 2).*** I was just bad, not ill. My brain wasn’t sick, i was just a rotten person. I was a disobedient, selfish liar.
Ah yes… Liar.
You bet she drummed that one in to me as far back as i can remember.

She told me i was a compulsive liar until the day she wound up in the hospital where she died. Hey, i did lie. I lied a lot and i lied as easily as i breathed, but they were all rooted in her teaching me to do it, and modeling it for me so well. I lied to get out of trouble, e.g. denying eating something i wasn’t supposed to eat, which i ate because i was not fed properly. I lied to impress other kids, because my life sucked and i wanted them to like me and i wanted to be more like them. And the #1 reason i’d lie, was to cover for my parents. To hide the abuse that was going on in our home. The abuse that i was told wasn’t abuse but only what i deserved because i was so very, very bad.

My whole life growing up was a lie to the outside world, but that was one i didn’t know i was telling. I didn’t know i was abused until i was 21. I knew my mom hit me often, and sometimes beat the absolute crap outta me, but i knew i deserved it. I never thought that she was wrong or she shouldn’t have done it. She’d raised me to think i was a piece of shit and she was my gracious and merciful teacher and provider.

And church was invaluable in backing up everything she wanted me to believe.

She went through many periods where she didn’t attend church, but she made sure i always did. She’d arrange for other families to pick me up and drop me home, or insist i go with other children whose parents would make them invite me. She was highly intelligent, clever, an incredible manipulator, and deeply devious. She never sat me down and preached at me that i remember, but she did this thing that i didn’t recognise until i was a parent myself.

When i was still small, she hung out with younger, childless folks who were going for their degrees, and sometimes the older, established professors whose children were grown (she worked at universities and colleges as a secretary). If she wasn’t farming me out to someone (let’s just call it that for this piece), she’d bring me along. I was a perfectly behaved child out in public – i knew what would happen if i wasn’t. So i’d sit quietly and unobtrusively at parties and various get-togethers and even courses she was taking, and the people there would eventually start talking like i wasn’t there. They’d forgotten. I heard things no child that age should hear, and learned things no child should know. I was mentally sophisticated, and i suppose precocious (UGH), so i grasped the subjects being discussed relatively easily.
The thing she’d do to secure her control of me is she’d say things to other adults at these events, knowing full well that i was listening. That i was, in fact, all ears. She’d talk religiously and philosophically with these people, but she’d drop bits that i now think were meant for me.

This bit is difficult to convey. I’ve been thinking about how to make it understandable for the last couple of days. Say for instance, her friends were discussing Dr. Spock and his views on spanking children. She’d say something like, “Well, Dr. Spock must have some very well-behaved children. We aren’t all so lucky.”

That would be a message for me.
I hope that illustrates my point well enough.

When things were particularly rough at home, money was tighter than usual, or maybe she’d been beating me more frequently, she’d talk more about her own childhood. She’d tell me horror stories of being locked in the root cellar, or bathed in scalding hot water. And she’d share all her rape stories in lurid detail,**** starting when i was very young, say 5 or 6, maybe earlier, i don’t know.

The message there was she was the one who was abused, not me.

She never let up on the programming. Manipulation was her life’s work. She played me like Perlman played violin until the day she slipped into a coma.

All this to say that it has been a gargantuan effort on my part to get help for myself. I thought that i was the problem and i didn’t need any help for the first 20+yrs of my life. Once i knew i was a victim, and had experienced my lack of proper adult functionality in the real world, it didn’t get much easier. My mother had availed herself of every psychological tool, every method, every book, every well-respected researcher and public speaker, every self-help group… I’d been saturated in psychology most of my childhood. She used it to hone her skills, and i think it put a lot of people in her path that were easy for her to get something from. Money, attention, whatever.

The result for me was that i didn’t trust any of them. Frankly, i found most of them stupid (i’d been raised to look down my intellectual nose at anyone outside of my parents) and, big surprise here, easy to manipulate. I knew what they wanted to hear, and despite my inner derision, i wanted to be the best damn screwup they’d ever had sit in their office. I was programmed to want people to like me and to seek their approval. So i’d figure out what they wanted and give it to them, and they’d quickly determine that i was well on my way to mastering whatever issues i’d dumped on their desk. I used all the right buzzwords, and mixed it in with an appropriate demonstration of how smart i was, and i’d manipulate myself right out of any genuine help they might have offered me.

I’d talk myself out of their help, and go back out into the world, and things would still get chaotic and painful. I was still struggling. I still couldn’t manage to live life on life’s terms. And then i popped out a couple of kids and fell in love (yes, in that order), and i began searching for someone to help me in earnest. I’d returned to religion with the birth of my first child, and i found a counsellor to work with through my church, after the birth of my second. She had her master’s in social work and she was one of the kindest people i’d ever met. I had completely submitted to church authority, and i worked hard with her, always doing what she asked me and any homework she gave me. One day she sat me down and said she had been thinking she had a diagnosis for my particular issues, and had consulted with the psychologist who attended our church, who agreed.

She said it was her professional opinion that i had Multiple Personality Disorder. She reiterated that her colleague concurred. I’ve tried to remember what happened after that, but i can’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if i left, but i don’t think i did. With my mother gone, there was no greater authority in my life than their authority.
And i was raised to be obedient, above all things.

Great, so i had a diagnosis. The problem was, the treatment was bible-based. She took me to an old guy (BAD IDEA) who specialised in helping members map out their systems, so they could start praying over them and casting them out by name.

Because they were demons.
Of course.
I was demon-possessed.

**********

*Not here though. My blog isn’t for that.

**I’m not sure about that now. The important thing is that, even if they are, it’s none of my business.

***Okay, 3 or 4. Maybe 5, but that one’s relatively dormant, so i don’t count it. I’m kidding here, one might diagnose me with more than 2, but the 2 i deal with most can (kind of?) umbrella the rest, thereby cutting down on my stress and anxiety… So 2 shots of the hard stuff with a smartass chaser.

****I don’t know if her stories were true, as she lied practically every time she opened her mouth. To me, it doesn’t matter.

Promise

WARNING: This piece contains graphic, specific speech regarding child sex abuse.

Also, a brief note: These are the thoughts and musings of my mind, only. This isn’t an invitation to discussion, nor a request for answers regarding any of the “questions” asked herein. I would say they’re better characterised as “wonderings”. If any of this piece triggers a strong response, the place for a rousing discussion/debate on any of this is not here.

Thank you,
~H~

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I made a promise, Mr Frodo. A promise. “Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee.” And I don’t mean to.
~ The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

People hurt me.

They just do.

I’ve been both irresistibly attracted to and repelled by them since i can remember.
I wonder if it’s like that for most of us, all of us, or particularly those of us who are survivors of abuse, or maybe just anyone who’s neuroatypical. I don’t know. I just know i love people, but i can’t be around them too much.

Maybe it’s because, when the person who gives birth to you does what my mom did to me, it splits you in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with my diagnosis.
I need you, but you hurt me.
I can’t live without you, but you keep putting my life in jeopardy.
How do i reconcile needing people, but also being tremendously harmed by them?

I do not fucking know.

What i’m saying right now feels so deep and poetic and emotional.
Ha.
Not at all. No more than anything else.
My experience
Yours
Hers
His
Beautiful and tragic and transcendent, all. To a one.

Sometimes i feel so alone that i think my life, my suffering, must be some kind of poetry.
But it is and isn’t – no more than yours and theirs.

If i elevate my rape, mustn’t i also then elevate the time you fell and skinned your knee alone – with no one to cry out and care and comfort you? Am i worshipping at the altar of pain? Must pain be pain, regardless, lest i risk the sick admiration -the twisted crown- bestowed to whomever’s been through the most?

1 rape
2 rapes
2 dozen
3 hundred

Baby
Toddler
Precocious child
Does the rape when i was 21 mean less because i was an adult
Does it matter that i’d still never had sex by choice at that point
Does it matter that it was someone who said they loved me
Would it matter more if we were related
Would it have been better if he’d used a knife
More legitimate
More understandable that i’m a total fuckup

Why would it fuck me up that i started sucking dicks before i even had teeth
I was a baby and i don’t remember, so what’s my problem
Or do i get big sympathy points for baby rape
How much of a waste of skin do i get to be that my mom was the one who sexually prepared me to be raped by the various people she gave me to

Cringe
Feel uncomfortable
Stop reading – i totally get it
That’s some ugly, revolting shit to read
To live it, there will never be words

I know i sound angry, and ohyoubestbelieve i am
But that is not my current overarching feeling
When i’m able to speak, to put words to what is my day-to-day existence right now
I say i’m scared
I’m scared all the time

I’ve stopped leaving my house again
I go to my room when someone comes to the door
The phone is an abomination, an affront to nature
I force myself to keep 1 curtain open
Some light

**********

I don’t know what to tell you if you’ve gotten this far. I’m sorry for the words, but they’re mine and this seems to be what i have to do to have the life i want.
Feel what i feel while knowing what i know. Put my pieces back together. Become whole.
TO BE WHOLE.
Oh my, can you even imagine?
I cannot quite, yet. But i aim to.
I am the lidless eye, pouring all my focus into the having of it.

I had to have a phone sesh with my therapist this last week. It’s better than nothing, until i’m able to leave the house. It was way more of a fruitful hour than i’d have thought possible on the phone, definitely the most impactful of my experience. One of the many things i love about my therapist is that she knows what i need to hear. She is not a tough love therapist, or a preachy therapist, or a psychotherapist (i’ve walked out of a few of those offices, heh). She’s not a do this/do that therapist. She’s not a “time’s up, see you next week” therapist.

She’s a mother.
She comforts, she soothes, she loves, she holds space.
She wept for me when i couldn’t shed a single tear for myself.
She’s shelter.
She asks me what i want, what i need, and helps me figure it out because i don’t have a fucking clue.
Soft fury pours out of her eyes as she gently, always gently, speaks her bleeding heart for all of us that have suffered as i’ve suffered, watering the desert inside me.
She cheers me on, she cheers me up.
She thinks i’m a superhero. She said so.
Can you fucking believe that?

So, we’re talking on the phone, which means she’s quietly, calmly asking me questions, and then we wait 1 minute, 2, while i try to make my mouth move. It’s a difficult and frustrating process (at least for me, i can’t speak for her), because there’s pressure inside me not to speak. I was raised/indoctrinated/brainwashed/threatened/beaten to never speak of these things. There are many parts of me who were made to keep the secrets. Not only that, but after all the work i’ve already done, there’re lots of parts of me that’ve been freed to speak, too. My therapist asks me a question and i’m immediately flooded with intense force to keep quiet. Also with words from those who have something to say. The push-pull fills me with distress. Sometimes i choke the words out, sometimes i whisper, sometimes i snark, sometimes i sob them out, and many more times than i’d wish – i say nothing.

I share with her how i’m not sleeping; how i’m afraid i’ll die. How we’re ALL afraid i’ll die. I tell her i can’t leave the house again. I tell her i’m scared all the time.

She says, You’re not scared, H.
You could probably hear the click of my rolling eyeballs over the phone as i spat, Oh really?
She says No. You’re not scared, you’re absolutely terrified. Your little Bits N’ Pieces carry the memories of what happened, but your body carries the memories of how it felt.
She says, You’re feeling terror; you feel in fear for your life because that’s how it felt when you were being hurt.
And the nights are worse because that’s when they came, to which i reply, Mostly.*

After that, we do some work on how to take care of the babies that live in my brain that aren’t real. I cringe at the merest entertainment of the thought that i might share some of how that looks.
I’ll think about it.

**********

I’m sorry for this post in a way, because it is harsh and sad and terrible, but this is how my brain works and this is my life right now and i made a promise to do my best to share. I am getting to the meat of the matter, and it smells of rot and filth and death.

I’m also not at all sorry for this post. One, because i’m a multiple, so i feel/think all the things at the same time (please feel free to join me in a hearty snort here), but also because it’s brought me closer to my goal, it’s made me more present in my mind and body, and it’s brought me precious hope that i can continue.

I intend to crest the peak of Mount Doom, where i shall toss this evil, poisonous thing that i’ve carried all my days, and watch it burn away to nothing in the eternal fire.
And that will be the finest and greatest moment of my life.

If this brought stuff up for you, do what you know to do to take care of yourself.
With Love and Gratitude,
~H~

*Of course my nerdbrain goes straight to Newt in Aliens and i giggle a little inside, because i’m a dark and twisty nerd. Heh.

To The Bone

CONTENT WARNING: This contains frank discussion of suicide and childhood sexual abuse. If you aren’t in a good place, i’d strongly recommend skipping this one. Have someone handy that you can talk to if this brings up stuff for you.

**********
**********
**********

The first time i thought about suicide i was 4.
The first time i tried it i was 9.
I’ve tried multiple times since – one time was right in front of my 2 youngest children.
I’ve been given ipecac, had my stomach pumped, and a shot that may have been Narcan (?) back in the day – i’m not sure about that one. I was even more fucked up than usual that time.
I’ve written dozens of notes to loved ones and torn them up. I’ve written fuck-yous to some of those who tortured me who still unfortunately draw breath.

None of those times did i truly want to die. Not once. What was happening to me is something the pros call “parasuicidal behaviour”, meaning, i didn’t actually want to commit suicide, i just didn’t know what else to do and i needed my current situation/emotional state to STOP.

I’m grateful that i never succeeded. In my years of struggle in various programs dealing with addictive behaviours, broken and abusive homes, and mental health issues, i’ve lost a great many people i knew to suicide. More than a dozen, easily. A couple of them were like sisters to me, and they broke my heart.

I wouldn’t do them the dishonour of speculating on their reasons for what they did – it was their life to do with as they wished. But i think, today, i understand the step beyond “para”. I’m bone tired. More tired than i’ve ever been in my life. I see that, while i’ve done the best i can, that it hasn’t been enough. I’ve failed my children and my husband and people in my past in such profound ways that i can feel my heart burning and dropping into my belly.

And now, today, this work i do is to “feel what i feel while knowing what i know”. I don’t mean to sound superior (although i know i do), but no one can possibly know how difficult, how awful this work is.
My childhood was wretched: filled with literal torture and near-constant pain. I’m not sure if the small moments of happiness and beauty made it easier or harder to bear. The loving babysitter who cared for me 5 days a week from 10mos old until i entered grade one; she is THE reason i didn’t swallow that bottle of poison when i was 4. I remember holding it in my hand, staring at myself in the mirror (i see now that the mirror was how i talked with the others in my brain back then) and saying, “If it gets too bad, i’ve got this.”

Back then, i severed the connections between my thoughts and emotions and sensations to survive the unsurvivable, and now, in my 50s, as i wade into this terrible work, i remain unconvinced that i can survive the reconnection. It feels as if i’m being torn apart, rather than put back together. My body is a misery to me. My genitals burn, and i keep going to the bathroom to check because it feels like my rectum is bleeding. My jaw feels like it’s going to crack, my throat aches, my head pounds like a giant is having a tantrum inside my brain. My ears won’t stop popping. I grind my teeth all day. It burns when i pee. My body feels battered and bruised everywhere. There isn’t an inch of me that doesn’t hurt. I can’t put anything in my mouth without gagging. There is no touch, no matter from whom it comes, that doesn’t make me flinch.
Dissociating would fix all that, and i want to so badly.

But my therapist says this is temporary, and she has never lied to me. Never not treated me with the utmost respect. Never touched or even approached me without my permission. (She sat on the couch on the other side of my living room for 2 fucking years before i’d even let her sit beside me.) She doesn’t mind telling me a thousand times, that she has no desire to hurt me, and she’s never pushed me to do anything i didn’t want to (made suggestions and let me fume and freak out and go home and think about them, yes). She even let me walk out of therapy thinking i was all “fixed”, when she knew damn well i wasn’t, but she didn’t tell me that, she honoured my process, even if that meant i never came back to her or got anymore therapy from anyone.

I trust her in a way that i trust no one else. No one. I’ve never trusted anyone like i trust her, and so i will sit with this agony and i will bear it. I will minister to pain that doesn’t really exist as if it’s real, and i will talk to the terrified little ones inside my brain as if they are my own children – because they are. They’ve always just wanted a Mommy who will hold them and rock them and say:
Shhh… It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay. I’m going to take care of you.
Oh, it hurts down there? Let’s put you in a cool bath.
Your head feels like it’s splitting open? You poor thing. Does wrapping your head tightly in this scarf help?
Would you like to cuddle this teddy bear?
Would you like me to hold you and rock you to sleep?

I do these things, these ridiculous things, and they’re working. This fucking crazy-ass shit is working. It’s calming down the cacophony in my head, so that i can focus on my body. Which is super awesome because that means feeling the pain. Listening to what my body wants to tell me about what happened to it when i was little. It doesn’t have language, but it sure AF is talking to me, and i’m listening.

But i’m exhausted. I’m sososo tired. I’m sure i’ve never been this tired.
And life is still happening, all around me. The world had the nerve to keep turning. Problems still happening. Relationship problems. Money problems. Things breaking down and dogs getting sick. Family and friends who still need me. (Don’t get me wrong, they don’t expect much from me right now, they just need me, y’know?)

So i have brought this piece to the place where i tell you that i have considered not being here anymore. Every day, all day, this work feels like too much work. Every day, all day, i’m afraid i can’t do it, that i’ll fail.
I do not have a plan.
I’m not thinking about it obsessively.
I’m in therapy with the greatest therapist in the world (fight me), and i have good support.
My home is once again my safe place.
There’s no room in my life right now for anything but the pain, and the small shred of hope i have that it may end, and i may wind up with an even more normal*, functional life.

So Hi, this is how i’m doing today. You may have noticed i’m writing more. Writing through the bad, like i said i’d do. It’s helping more than i’d have thought it would.

Y’all take care of yourselves. Talk to someone trustworthy if this piece brought stuff up for you, okay? I’m still here, still hanging on. If i can, maybe you can too. I know i want you to.

It’s just a ride
And you’ve got the choice to get off anytime that you like
It’s just a ride
It’s just a ride
The alternative is nothingness
We might as well give it a try
~ The Ride, Amanda Palmer

Love and Peace,
~H~
*Comments like, “What is normal, really?” and “Nobody’s normal,” are NOT welcome here, plzkthx.

Blood & Stars

Distilled into a single moment
an exploding star
My heart on my pinafore
Blood again
Scrubbing out the sky with the bleach in my brain
Don’t look up
Don’t look
The star sighs in death and joins the others
A constellation
Ruined panties in an expanding universe
I look up and see my face in the mirror
I look pretty
You can’t even tell where the blood was