Water of Life

CW: Contains indirect references to childhood sexual abuse. This one is heavy for me – emotional. It may be for you, too. Take good care.

**********

Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water.
~ Christopher Morley

So i made it to my therapist’s office today. And i started crying as soon as i saw her.
In the parking lot.
Crying.
Fuck.*

Tears are difficult for me. There is, as with just about every fucking thing in my life, a push and a pull with tears. As an infant, i know that i would have cried. I know from gathering as much information as i could from people who would talk to me about her honestly, that she wasn’t a terribly attentive mother. Unless family or someone she wanted something from was around, and then she was perfect and doting. But her mask would slip occasionally with those she called friend. She’d leave me cry in my crib for too long, saying i needed to cry it out or i’d be spoiled. Claimed i was colicky and would drown me in gripe water (which contained alcohol back in the day), and push baby Aspirin. Based on behaviours i do remember from a young age, i imagine the ignoring of my needs went for longer when no one was around to see.

When she’d spank me or hit me, sometimes she’d stop when i cried, and sometimes she’d go harder. If i cried for something other than beatings, say, disappointment or sadness or fear, she’d berate and humiliate me. I was a big baby and needed to toughen up. She’d accuse me of crocodile tears. I remember her telling other people when they’d show concern, “Don’t believe it. She’s faking. She’s an amazing little actress.”

She groomed me for predators from infancy, so i’m going to assume there were some tears involved there. And the people she gave me to were the hardest, when it came to shedding tears. Some of them would hurt me worse if i cried. Some would complain to my mother and then she’d beat me. And some needed me to cry, which became a problem when sometime around 3 or 4, my tears dried up. She took me to the doctor about it, i think, but i don’t remember what he said.

I do remember what caused my tears to flow again. I was around 12 or 13. I’ll tell that story another time, because this subject matter is already heavy enough.

I’ll share another interesting tidbit about me and tears, though. For my whole life, since my tears stopped flowing and through their adolescent return, you couldn’t tell i’d been crying when it was over. No matter how long i’d cried –i could, and did, bawl my little eyes out sometimes– all i had to do was wipe my eyes and blow my nose, and no one knew.

Sometime during this recent bout of therapy, that’s changed. I’ve never been asked, “Have you been crying?” until a couple of months ago. My face gets blotchy, my eyes and nose get red… It’s like my body is giving up all its ghosts. I’m no longer carved from alabaster. I’m becoming a living, breathing, crying being. Filled with snot, apparently. Buckets of snot.

I’m coming to life and i’m mourning my dead. The tears water me. They wash off my grave clothes. They cleanse me of the filth that coats me that was never mine. I’m pink and warm underneath. Red and blue and purple and golden light! I pulse and sparkle as life flows into dead limbs. I’m sitting in my cemetery, surrounded by beautiful dead things, and as i water the barren sand it becomes fecund. Living things are sprouting up around me. Pretty things. Green things. Life from death. Beauty from shit.

Which is all very lovely and poetic (and still true), but in the meantime – i cry. I want to cry all the time, and i cry just about every day.
People, i am not a fucking cryer. I get choked up over art and suchlike. Verklempt. Sometimes my eyes will fill up with tears, but they generally remain unshed. I can cry for other people, too. If a friend/loved one is suffering, i cry. But that place where one sobs until there is nothing but hitching breaths and hiccoughing? That place where one connects with one’s own pain and suffering? Almost never. And until my first round of effective headshrinking with my current therapist, if it did happen it wasn’t really for me. I didn’t cry over what happened to me, what was DONE TO ME.

Now i am.
I’ll be attending to some task, speaking with someone, reading something unconnected, sitting on the goddamned toilet – and the tears will suddenly come. They spill out and pour down my cheeks, hot and salty. My heart aches and my belly clenches. I weep. I mourn. And i know this is only the beginning. I know there is an ocean of tears inside me yet. A torrent waiting to be unleashed.
I’m going to let them come.

I’ve marinated in self-pity before, and i fucking deserved to. But this isn’t that.
I’m transporting myself back to my childhood, to bear witness to the crimes committed against me. I look upon that innocent little baby, toddler, child, adolescent, teen, and yes, young woman. I watch what happened to her. I listen, and i feel.
And then i mourn. I weep for her suffering. I ache with her needs. I lament her violation, and i grieve her death. She died over and over again, scavenged bits of flesh and blood from the corpse and made a new thing. A zombie. A golem. A robot. A doll.

The water flows and there’s no bottom to this well inside me.

And i thought it was hard to cry. To release my white knuckle control and cry. To stop dissociating from the grief and cry. To feel the pain of past abuse in my body today, and cry. But it is not the hardest thing. Not by a fucking long shot.
Why does a baby cry?
Hunger, thirst, pain, fear… Unmet needs.
What do we do when a baby cries?
Figure out which one it is and meet the need.
Sometimes though, we meet all the needs and the baby still cries. What do we do then?
We soothe them. We hush, we hold, we comfort, cuddle, softly sing. Blankets, stuffies, low lighting. We whisper words of love, vows of protection. We promise that everything is going to be okay.

And now, here we are at the hardest thing.

I’ll try to post about it in the next couple of days.
Until then, try to have as good a weekend as you can.
I will, too.
Do they still make tissues with lotion?

Love and Peace,
~H~

*If cuss words aren’t your thing, you might wanna pass on this piece. I mean, i often let 1 or 2 into my writing, because i write in my RL voice. What you’re reading is how i talk. Yeah, i’m pedantic and histrionic and show-offy with my admirable vocab. I’ve also been known to swear like a trucker made a baby with a sailor, and it was born with an itch it can’t scratch and a 2′ wide yapper.
This post is feelin’ like it needs to be full of swears.

Firm Footing

Nights and days came and passed
And summer and winter
and the rain.
And it was good to be a little Island.
A part of the world
and a world of its own
All surrounded by the bright blue sea.
~ Margaret Wise Brown, The Little Island

Being raised alone with my mother for the first 8 or 9yrs of my life, means there are some questions i have that will almost certainly not be answered. Considering my age, most perpetrators are dead or close to it, and the best evidence is either gone, or held in places i wouldn’t go looking. I’ve done the best i can to figure out what happened to me; some stuff i know, some i’m pretty sure, and the bits that are experience/intuition based i mostly keep to myself. I puzzle over it all with my husband and my therapist, (and my Peanut Gallery, of course) but if i’m not reasonably certain, it stays between us.

That being said, i don’t know if my birth was accidental or planned. My mother lied as easily as she breathed (and nearly as frequently), so the circumstances aren’t ever going to be clear for me. My first decade or so was spent believing my father was a Canadian volunteer soldier/POW in Vietnam. Sometime around 12 or 13, she changed her story, and told me that i was actually the child of a man who raped her on their first date. When i was 21 and looking for answers, i had 2 sources tell me she came back from a 2yr stint in Quebec, pregnant and heartbroken because the Jewish man she’d fallen for wouldn’t marry outside of his faith (although screwing shiksas was apparently fine). And i had 1 source tell me that on rare occasions a wealthy, not-Jewish businessman would pick me up instead of my mother.

So, 4 possibilities at least. It was only a few years ago that i felt capable of handling a light search for answers. I got my DNA tested this year, and based on results, the second and fourth choices are the most likely, and the third is an unequivocal nope. I have memories of a wealthy businessman that i called Daddy, except when we went to church and then he sat with another family and i wasn’t allowed to go near him or speak to him.* I know his name and it matches my ethnicity, but so does the name my mother gave me of the man who allegedly raped her. It’s as far as i’m likely to get, as i have zero desire to track down either of these hideous human beings (1 who might not even exist), and they’re probably dead anyway.

I’ve mentioned a number of times that i was born for a purpose. I don’t mean that in a religious way. I’m not 100% certain what that purpose was, but there are quite a few possibilities, whether i was planned or not, and it all revolves around my mother:

-she wanted attention/love from someone/me,
-she wanted attention/love from someone other than me (parents, man, friends),
-i could be molded into someone she could always use,
-i could provide income,
-i could be a receptacle for her rage and pain,
-i could keep people from leaving her (parents, man, friends).

I know absolutely that once i was born, i had a job, and that was to do what i was told, at all times, no matter what. Understand that i didn’t see any of this then – i was just a little girl who loved her mommy and wanted to be good for her. I only see it with time and distance, that i was born to be obedient. To serve. She had me so indoctrinated, so gaslit, that the 2 or 3 times i remember being angry at her, i remember forcing myself to put it away inside my body somewhere, and i’d physically contort with the effort it took to do so. She told me to do something and i did it. She told me not to do something and i didn’t. If a stranger came to the door and she said, Go with him and do what he tells you, i did that. If she dropped me off at a public park at night and said someone would be coming to babysit me for the weekend, i knew i had to do whatever they told me to do, too.

I was so good at taking abuse and thinking i’d caused it, that even after she died i continued the practise with other people i loved. I was easily used and emotionally controlled by family and friends alike. As i went through therapy and the process of learning who i am and how to live my best life with how my brain works continued, i whittled away the people around me who used me or those i just didn’t feel good around. (Some whittled me tbh, and that’s just fine. They saved me the trouble.) I’m now comfortably estranged from any family, save 1 cousin, plus the man i married, the children i made, and my child’s family. And the only long term friends i have (15+yrs), are ones i made online. I have 1 real life bestie. The rest of the RLers i like and am friendly with, but we’re not close.

But the one thing i was born to do was to take people’s shit and like it. And if i didn’t like the shit then my next thought was that it’s my fault i’m getting the shit – i deserve/earned/brought on the shit. Which is some super fucked up shit to be sure, but it dies a hard death. It slithered, slowly and insidiously back into my life. It quietly ate away at a love relationship, until i was stripped nearly to the bone emotionally and mentally. I was reenacting my relationship with my mother, to an extent. Trying to avoid anger and upset. Trying to please and appease. Subjugating my thoughts and my feelings to their moods, and eventually, their whims. It eroded my safe space until there was nothing left, becoming a constant burden.

I couldn’t fully give myself to the work i was doing in therapy because of it, but i couldn’t stop the therapy either. That was a snowball rolling downhill and about to become an avalanche. I gave so much energy to handling my crumbling relationship that i had nothing left over to properly manage my system. To stay present in my body and feel my feelings was a continuous struggle – one that i frequently lost.

And then one day, things came to a head in my relationship. The volcano erupted despite my best efforts, and i was so sick and tired of it all that i pulled away and took care of just myself: my system, my feelings, my body, my thoughts. Only myself.
I stood up, planted my feet firmly on the ground, and said, No more. This stops NOW.
I took my space back.
I set boundaries and laid out conditions for how the relationship could continue.
I refused to allow guilt or worry or anyone else’s opinion to sway me from taking care of myself and reestablishing my safe space.
I picked up the pile of shit they’d laid at my feet and gave it back to them.
This is not my shit. This is your shit.

It was a kind of liberation.

The world didn’t end. Everyone didn’t hate me. I wasn’t alone. I received acknowledgement and support, and my conditions were met and my boundaries are being respected. And i have a place where i feel safe and protected again; a place that feels like it’s mine and i belong there.
I said NO to someone i love and refused to take their shit and something fundamental has shifted inside me.

Those other family and friends? I didn’t sit them down and have a discussion. I didn’t write them a letter. I didn’t have a huge emotional explosion and vomit up all my thoughts and feelings about them and our relationship… I just let them go. It was easy. No one asked me why or even seemed to notice. I stopped calling, i stopped hanging out, but it transpired without remark. People like that can always find another human bin for their trash. I was imminently replaceable. It hurt some, but it was simple. I was ready to stop and there was no fight involved.

This relationship is with someone i love and i am not willing to let go. But i would walk away, give it time and distance, and come back and fight for it later. I was ready and willing to take a break. I was already restocking my spoon drawer and polishing up my arsenal to come back and fight after i’d taken some much needed rest.

The first day after i woke feeling lighter and calmer than i’d felt in months. A massive weight was gone from me. My anxiety level fell so low it was barely a blip on my radar. During my check-in with my system and my body, i found a strange thing inside.
Solid ground. A little piece of something firm to stand on. An island with enough on it to feed and sustain me. Quiet. Safe. It’s mine and it’s me at the same time. All that dirt from digging up the bodies of my past, watered by my tears. All the work, all the sweat, all the ache, all the holes where people used to be. An ocean of tears has filled them in and i’ve built me an island.

I won’t ever sacrifice myself over shit that isn’t mine again. I may stumble a bit, as this was my life’s purpose, but i’ll figure it out and i’ll put a stop to it.

Whatever is coming will come.
I’m ready.

Love and Peace,
~H~
*Gee, i wonder what that could mean.
<insertmassiveeyerollhere>

Love, Mommy

Too much space
Too much waist
Too much taste
Know your place

Make less talk
Make less thoughts
Make less whats
Know you’re caught

Turn your head
Turn your heart
Turn your part
Know you’re dead

Kill that fact
Kill that face
Kill that case
Know your act

Take the time
Take the lyin’
Take the diein’
Know you’re mine

Still Not A Bitch

PART III

Lately i’ve been thinking on the reactions to this person that i’m becoming. I’ll tell you flat out and straight up that i’m incredibly self-focused. It’s not that i don’t care about others – i’m chock full of sympathy and fairly bleeding empathy. I believe that turning an intense and unflinching eye inward is how i not only saved my life, but made myself into a decent and functional human. My mother intended for me to be someone quite different than who i am today. To put it mildly, she wanted me as slave labour, as a receptacle for her rage, to worship her as a deity (you think i’m kidding… ) and as an ever-flowing fountain of unconditional love for her and her alone.

The best gift i got from her other than my life, was her early death. It might have been my only chance to escape her conscious and deliberate indoctrination of me. I’m not sure i would have had the insight, the will, or the strength to free myself from her iron grip. When she died, while i was immediately emancipated from serving her, i was still left with a personality and behaviours that had been designed to ally myself with selfish manipulators who mostly took and rarely gave. I was a slave without a master.

My system didn’t just save me from the horrors of my childhood, they kept me from bad relationships, and some potentially awful friendships. I still managed to make best friends with 2 of the kind of people i’ve described above, though. Not deadly like my mother, but toxic AF. They both did me the favour of ending our friendship, which i’m grateful for today. (More commentary on that later.) Some of my more developed and powerful parts would exert their influence in other areas. For instance, i avoided roommate situations, preferring to live alone. I could perform the sex act, although it was mostly other parts in control when it was happening – or i was heavily medicated with alcohol and/or other drugs.  What i couldn’t do was commit. I never thought about marriage or children. I became pregnant due to unsafe sex practises, and was engaged for a time because i was asked and i was very religious and thought it was expected. It was my system that made the decisions to keep the baby and ditch the dude (to be clear, he wasn’t the father).

When i accepted that i was bipolar and a multiple (years after these events), my level of function plummeted. I practically abandoned my children and nearly destroyed my marriage (a different, way more suitable dude). On the plus side my crap friends ditched me and i became estranged from what was left of my family. I had no one to pretend for, anymore. All that was left was my husband, my children, and a couple of excellent professional health care providers – one medical, and one therapeutic.

Everything inside me fell apart. Some fully sentient creatures (by the broadest definition), some feelings and memories that had developed their own personalities, and then all the other things that make up a person, like: my good qualities, my flaws, my skills, how i coped (besides being crazy), my hopes for the future (mostly for my loved ones, and for my relationships with them – i never really had much in the way of life goals or aspirations – too busy just surviving, i think).
Everything that made me who i was became detached and scattered about. I’ve spent the last dozen years or so trying to put myself back together. I’ve spent it trying to become the captain of this ship of fools. Learning to read the stars. Making repairs. Trying to fix the goddamned rudder.

I started out with a blueprint, but somewhere along the way i decided it wasn’t mine. I decided on a major overhaul. I decided i would be the architect and i would have precisely the ship i wanted.

I didn’t know enough about myself to know how to rebuild me, let alone how to REMAKE me, but i didn’t do this much work at this much cost for this much time not to have exactly what i want.

I started out with only the vaguest ideas, mostly based on not wanting to be in pain or stuck in chaos or hurting those i loved anymore. But somewhere along the way i discovered that there was more to life than that, and i wanted some of it. I discovered that i was a capable and talented architect. I discovered that i already had almost everything i needed to build the ship of my dreams. I discovered good and hopeful dreams inside me. And i discovered that i knew how to get, or at least could figure out how to get, anything i didn’t already have, in order to be shipshape.

Some of the changes i’ve made have upset those around me, and a lot of those people are now gone. Mostly it was their choice, and it happened before i realised what i was doing or how it was affecting them. And all the leaving hurt. Often, it hurt so much i would fall into a deep depression or act out in some way that caused chaos. But i kept doing the work, the remodeling and the cleaning up after, and now? It still stings a bit occasionally, but less and less all the time. Now i know i have choices, too.

Some of those toxic people have tried to contact me. Sick, passive-aggressive bullshit that’s so obvious to me now. And those parts of me that my mother built so carefully, those parts that think that people who love me abuse me because i’m bad and i deserve it? Those parts that think abuse IS love? I’m gathering them to me and showing them what love really is – by keeping the bad people away. By helping them form alliances and friendships with protectors in my system, including me.

Those sick and dangerous people who wove a false narrative. That told me not to tell the truth. That told me not to be angry or sad. That expected me to act like everything was okay and no one is bad (except me) and no one is hurting and everything is great because Jesus and the Cross. Those people that never, not one of them, not one, single time, said sorry to me for anything they did to me, ever.

My ship is a sailboat: small, sleek, mostly slow and just soaking up the sun, but fast as fuck when she wants to be.
Underneath, my ship is also a submarine, full of sailors who love the life, and we’re slowly building a yacht.
(This is almost more allegory than analogy, because the way they treated me is a moral issue.)

My mother made me a tugboat and she used me constantly, with no decent or regular maintenance. I was already in terrible disrepair when she died, but it didn’t stop the rest of ’em from having me haul their shit around. None of them believed there was an invisible submarine underneath. I’ll bet if they saw me, they’d still see an old tugboat, too.

Well, they won’t get more’n a glimpse, and no Ahoy! cuz i’ll trim the sails and hightail it outta there, lickety split. They can just stay on the shore, danglin’ their feet in putrid water and tellin’ each other how fine the day is.

If these parts don’t seem quite connected, stay tuned. Heh.

The Garden and the Gate

WARNING: Contains specific references to childhood neglect, physical assault, sexual assault, and incest. This piece is a bit brutal and a bit odd. Be certain you’re in a good place and/or have good support before proceeding.

Note: I’m very vague regarding the current situation i’m dealing with, in order to protect myself and my loved ones. Stuff can and does happen between me and people i care about. One of the most effective ways for me to maintain a decent grip on my mental/emotional health is to talk and write about my life. This current therapy i’m in makes it even more important to be diligent in cleaning the clutter out of my head. I must listen to what my system has to say and be mindful of their thoughts, feelings, and needs.

While i am the one who’s written this piece, i’ve done so in a highly dissociated state. I wasn’t completely switched (i.e. i didn’t lose time), but there were a few particular Bits N’ Pieces that dictated the more vague, analogy-driven parts at the end. It’s like, if my brain was a starship, the inside of my forehead feels like the bridge right now. I’m Data at the helm, and Captain Picard, Commander Riker, and Counsellor Troi are discussing where to go, what course to plot, and at what warp speed to travel. (Okay, i’m not Data. I’m very emotional today. I’m Wesley, which is fine, because i love Wesley. So there.)

**********

I was brought into the world for a selfish purpose. My mother wanted someone to love her, which is not unreasonable in and of itself, but her definition of love was twisted and sick. She expected me, from infancy, to fill all her needs.

I should love her, no matter what. Even if she often failed to meet my most basic needs, like food, clean diapers, protection from harm, soothing, medication/care when sick, vaccinations, play times, clothing that was clean, and proper according to the weather, and warm human contact.

I should love her, no matter what. Even if she slapped me, punched me, kicked me, pulled my hair out, pushed me down flights of stairs, bashed my face into walls, doors, cupboards, stove tops, twisted my arm, pinched me, bit me, bent my fingers backwards, threw things at me, broke things on me, even if she choked and suffocated me, sometimes to unconsciousness.

I should love her, no matter what. Even if she sent me out on the street to beg for money. Even if she sent me to the store to steal food. Even if she rented out my body for favours and gifts and cash.

I should love her, no matter what. Even if she used me as a receptacle for every feeling she couldn’t/wouldn’t express in a healthy way: fear, shame, guilt, and angerangeranger RAAAAGE. Even if i was her vessel into which she poured an endless stream of poison/venom/bile/shit.

I should love her, no matter what. Even if she spoke to me like i was a grownup since i remember comprehending speech. Even when she talked to me like I was her counsellor/confessor/best friend. Even when she had me touch her like I was her husband.

And i did, with my whole heart and mind and body. I loved her; she was my world. She was the best mom ever. And no one ever loved a child like my mom loved me. She’d had such a terrible childhood, i knew. She regaled me with stories* in lurid detail, stories that i might have identified with if she’d not already consciously, purposefully, carefully, and skillfully, helped me split apart and compartmentalise my brain.

How wonderful, how fortunate, how blessed i was to have such a special mother. So unique, so highly evolved, so triumphant over the evil that had surrounded her. So decent, so kind, so good.

She told me what to think, what to do, what to feel, whom to like and dislike.
I obeyed, i followed, i acquiesced, i surrendered, i died. I died over and over again, cutting off little bits of myself and shoving them into some black void inside me. Junk drawers and overstuffed closets and garbage bins inside my brain, and yes, i see now, inside my body too. Chunks of unacceptable personality tossed onto a compost heap and rotting, decomposing into some rich pile of shit that started talking to me when i was alone and in silence. Monsters morphing behind those closet doors, mostly muppet-like, but not all. Some terrifying and filled with rage and capable of destroying anything and anyone. Clawing at the door and rattling the knob, roaring to be set free, seeking apocalypse – annihilation.

I knew not to speak about how it was between us when the 2 of us were alone and behind closed doors, but not because it was bad or shameful or wrong. I knew how she treated me was special and we were highly evolved and incredibly intelligent and meant for a purpose. I knew the rest of the world was meaningless, and other people were dumb and stupid and incapable of understanding our ways.
I was indoctrinated, brainwashed, and Stockholmed. Fully. Completely. Utterly.

In the years since i first fell in love, accepted my multiplicity, got fat, got thin, got mania, got apostated, and lost or walked away from all friends and relatives, i’ve come to realise and own and carve out a reasonably functional and happy life from this washed up driftwood – to chip out a recognisable figure from this implacable slab of marble, this obdurate pile of refuse, this intransigent fabric.

It’s been the hardest work I’ve ever done; i’ve sweated and toiled and ached beyond measure to create and feed and grow this garden of mine, and it has yielded the most beautiful fruit.
Yes, i’m asserting that i’m amazing and colourful and worth a great deal. My fruit is too rare and precious to ever be put on sale, or for my location to be marked as a destination, though. One must be invited here, and my fruit is by offer only, although free to whom i would give it.

Another weird post, i know. It protects me and those i would shelter to be so arcane.
I’m HistrionicaButterfly, and i’m multifaceted AF, and sometimes it pleases and soothes me to be poetic and mysterious.
Today i’m being so because i’m sad and scared.
Someone i love is causing me a great deal of heartsickness and vexation.

I have a dragon who lives in my brain and he’s like an angel with a sword in that he oversees and protects all my lands and watches the gate.
I might have to banish someone i love, and my heart feels so laden and heavy and burdened. It feels as if it’s sinking into a yawning pit of emptiness that lies behind my heart. The ache reaches out of the muscle and into my bones; my sternum, my ribs, my scapulae.

This is not what i was born to be, or how i was raised to behave.
To tolerate is not even a consideration, and yet i’ve considered, and i’ve called it by that name. I’ve extended myself in grace that i was assured i never possessed.
I’m preparing to put my loved one out of this garden that i’d tended so long for my mother. This garden that was never hers and was always mine.
No matter how loved or how once welcome, you cannot dig up my flowers, my plants, or my trees. You cannot shit in my garden, and you can’t pick or partake of my fruit without permission.

I’m prepared to send my Dragon-Angel to swoop down upon this once-welcome visitor –to be swooped up by the talons and be deposited on the other side of my gate– to be guarded against as one might an interloper. I’m prepared to harden my heart until such time as they return with hat in hand, to humbly ask for reentrance.

No one, no matter how much I love them, will ever be allowed to abuse me again, and i will fight anyone for my safe space, no matter who they are or what they mean to me.

I have hope that all will be well, and in not too much time.
Nevertheless, i’m as prepared as i can be to say No and bar them from the safety and beauty of the space that i’ve built inside me and around me.

Y’all Take Care,
Love and Peace,
~H~

*Some that i’ve been able to verify, some that i’ve been able to debunk, some that i’ll never know for sure.

Image: Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole (1828)

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.

Keep On Keepin’ On

Once again, i think it’s important to start with a warning:

If you are currently in a place where you’re easily upset or triggered by content, this may be a piece you’d like to skip, either until you’re better able to process, or even altogether.

If you are a multiple, this piece contains the prelude to a discussion of integration. Take care of yourself and your system. Think about it before proceeding. Talk to your p-doc or whomever is your mental health professional go-to.

**********

It’s okay, you can take a condom
It’s okay, you can take a valtrex
And it’s okay, you can get an abortion
And then keep on keepin’ on
And then keep on keepin’ on
~ Vic Chesnutt, You Are Never Alone

I’ve written at length about my life experience with therapy, but a (semi) brief refresher course would be apropos.

I started therapy when i was around 6yrs old, when my mother sought treatment for my night terrors. After that, she began involving me in whatever new thing she was into, as she struggled with her own mental health. We chased a few pop psychology gurus including Werner Erhardt and EST, and Fritz Perls and Gestalt. She jumped on every bandwagon and read every book. If you are unfamiliar with my story, let me be clear that, although she had her own issues that needed addressing, i don’t believe that’s why she walked those paths and broke bread with those people.
I don’t think she ever put any serious work into becoming a better, healthier person. It is my opinion that these places were rich with easy targets for her to use, and the icing on the cake was that they also vastly increased her arsenal of weapons with which to manipulate people. And this is what i may have subconsciously took in – her absolute derision of anyone seeking healing or enlightenment through psychology. They were beneath her.

Then there was the indoctrination i’d received since birth that i’m never to talk about what happens in our home. Ever. And i was a good girl who did as she was told. Even when teachers or school psychologists, members of the church, friends of the family, or mandated social workers would occasionally smell something off and ask me questions varying from vague to pointed – i said nothing. Years later, when i was a new mother and sought out an old and much-loved caregiver for insight, she related a story of a night i was dropped off at her home for an overnight. I had obviously been seriously beaten, and when she asked me about it, all i would say is that my mother had told me not to speak about it.

At one point i was taken from her and put into foster care, which cemented my brainwashing. Every visit home she’d fill my head with how all the caregivers and professionals around us were trying to take me away from her, how they were telling lies about her and trying to keep us apart; how my foster parents were trying to adopt me and i’d never see her again. I was too young to know that she’d made me both her mother and her spouse years before, so she was triggering me to come home and take care of her.
I carried that distrust and suspicion with me until i was 21yrs old, when my mother abandoned me at a shelter after an attempted rape by a family member, and a tiny, First Nations social worker convinced me by just telling her own story that i was a victim of child abuse.

Once i knew the truth i was set on figuring my shit out, and i knew i’d need help to do it, but i could never find the right person. I could work with someone for a while, but they’d either tell me after a couple of visits that i was fine, they’d hit a wall they couldn’t get over, or they’d suggest i was a multiple and i wouldn’t go back. There was a wonderful social worker through my church who was finally able to get me to accept the diagnosis, but the kind of therapy that she offered was filtered through our religion and that was never going to help me.

Since i was 21, i’ve probably seen at least a dozen therapists, and that’s not counting psychologists or psychiatrists i’ve seen through my medical doctor or when i was either staying voluntarily in various hospital units (i call them The Bin, with zero affection) and mental hospitals, or being forcibly committed. I’ve done various group therapies offered through different counselling groups and tried a lot of 12step groups, and courses and workbooks under the care of trained facilitators galore…

How funny -and here i mean both peculiar and haha- that i should finally find the right person in a little sleepy town i’d gone to hide in, who agreed to see me at my husband’s desperate request, at a women’s shelter on short notice?
I don’t remember anything about meeting her, just going to the shelter and i think she was in an office down the stairs? I may have seen her a couple of times there, but she incredibly, graciously offered to come to my home for sessions, which was wonderful, because i was taking off down the road all the time at that point. Maybe i told her these things or maybe she ascertained my level of fuckedupness and stooped down low to meet me where i was at, either way, she started coming and i actually let her in.

She did (or rather didn’t do) a number of things other than that, that no other therapist had ever (not) done before*:

– she didn’t ask for my life story;
– she didn’t ask to talk to my system or even ask for their names;
– she respected my request for no spirituality and talked about things from a science or experience perspective only.

She would sit on the big leather couch by the front door, and i would sit on the love seat, on the side farthest from her. The other thing she didn’t do, not even once, was push. Not to talk about anything, not to do anything, not even to think about anything, that i didn’t want to. Not ever.
I think it was over a year, and maybe even 2, before she could sit beside me.
And sometimes, i would even look into her eyes.

We’ll never know for sure of course, and i know i’d have kept trying as long as i could have, but i was spiralling down hard and fast and she helped me save my life. I may not have got that done in time without her.

One more thing she never pushed on me, though we discussed it: integration.

Here we go.

*Sorry to grammar people for that one. It hurts my brain a little too, but that’s how it came out, and i try not to edit this stuff.

Photo credit: Melancholy, Louis Jean François Lagrenée (c. 1785)