Pockets Full of Noes

As soon as i hear the words “you should… ” i’m out.

I remember an old nugget from 12-step that refers to “terminal uniqueness”, and while i understand what they’re getting at, i reject the concept. There literally cannot be another person exactly like me, as i’m not an identical twin, and human cloning isn’t a thing. And since we’re all gonna die… There you go. I’m terminally unique. So what?

I spent my upbringing plus some years after only doing what i was told, and then doing what i imagined other people would want me to do. At 21 i briefly rebelled by having a relationship with a woman for nearly 2yrs. When that ended in disaster and i immediately went out and got myself pregnant, i saw it as confirmation that my way was the wrong way, and i returned to being/doing what i thought was expected of me… Mostly.

Having a child seemed to give me an ability to stand up for things that had to do with him. I defied my family a number of times where he was concerned. I received a few phone calls whenever they discovered that i wasn’t raising him the way they thought i should. I bucked family traditions. Despite still being willingly tied to their toxic religion and having a boatload of hangups and twisted thinking due to its entanglements in my thinking and lifestyle, i did manage not to inflict some of the worst of it on my boys. They were raised with a healthy body image, and in a relatively sex positive household.

I went directly against some of my former religion’s most stridently applied dogma, as well. Once my obsessive and unhealthy relationship with my girlfriend ended, i made sure i only chose partners for whom my feelings were mild and manageable. I was looking for bed partners, for the most part, although i played at being engaged to please my family. When i stumbled across real romantic love for the first time, a friend confronted me with my hypocrisy. I was regularly attending church, and actively involved in anything they did outside of Sunday services. My friend, who was experimenting with a possible return to the faith, pointed out that i would be judged a fornicator by my own purported standards.
She was right, i was convicted, and i promptly asked my boyfriend to marry me.
(SPOILER: He said Yes, and we’re still together.)

Looking back, i can see how dissociation was at play, here. I’d been highly sexualised as a child, and some of my Bits N’ Pieces were created specifically to handle that. They remained a part of my system even after the abuse had stopped, and were definitely the impetus behind some of my sexual behaviours once i became an active adult, i.e. sexual by choice. I was a dutiful young woman, trying hard to be the model of what my religion expected of me. I studied its book, its dogma and tenets, deeply, and at length. I pondered and “meditated” (quotes because my multiplicity has made proper meditation impossible), and yes, prayed on all of it at length – both on my own and in groups led by my church.

I just… i don’t know. It wasn’t a willful or conscious decision. As soon as someone called me on it, i knew i was in the wrong and immediately took steps to set things right. Yet i’d been having sex since i was 21, and i was religious all along. My mind did what it does and glossed over whatever it didn’t want to know. I took my sex life and compartmentalised it, as i’ve been known to do on occasion. Heh.

Other things come to mind, too. Like when my stepfather would tell my son as he was ending a visit, “You take care of your mom now, y’hear?”

I would instantly respond that children don’t take care of adults, and i would reassure my son that it’s my job to take care of him. And that’s weird, because i didn’t talk back to him at that time. (I did some, to him and my mom as a teenager, and have no regrets. I wish i’d said more, but that horse galloped off years ago.)

I also wouldn’t allow anyone to coerce my children into hugs, or physical touch of any kind. Yet i had no touch boundaries of my own, with anyone – especially family. It was less than 10yrs ago that i realised i’m not a very touchy person. Even now, it’s so ingrained in me that i’ll initiate hugs when stressed/dissociated. But no one could touch my kids without their permission.*

And then there’s my extended family.
First though, i must confess. When my 2 older children were both under 5, i was close with my siblings. They’d spend lots of time with me at my house (i’m older than they are, and they have a different father). When i had my second boy, i launched into what i now know was a mild mania. I became obsessed with 12-step programs, and the friendships that i had as a result of that. I used my sibs as babysitters. Some of it was reasonable, like, when one of them was staying with me and not paying room/board. However, as i became more manic, i drifted away from “the program”, started frequenting bars, and began dating my first and only BadBoyBoyfriend (BBB).

He was trouble. My first relationship was a tumultuous one, filled with chaos, some violence, cheating, and general immaturity. I mean, we met at a halfway house, she was a violent alcoholic, and i’d been kicked out of my family because one of them tried to rape and asphyxiate me. We were fucked up kids and both of us acted that way. After that debacle, i only dated people to whom i wasn’t very attached.
Cue BBB. I was manic, and he was a handsome, charming ladies’ man. He pursued me, and i was dazzled. No guy like that had ever wanted me so brazenly. Hit me up for sex when no one else was around/available sure, but want me for a relationship? Aw, hell no. He was on parole for cocaine and beating up cops, and he was *ahem* very experienced, which was new for me. Hindsight makes it clear that i was a naive, overweight girl who’d spend money on him, and he was lonely and broke.

He took me on a number of kooky, fun adventures, and that’s when i really took advantage of my sister and brothers, using them as babysitters too often and for far too long. My heart and my bank account were flat busted when he was done with me, and i’d done irrevocable damage to my relationship with my sibs. Screwed blue and tattooed! as he’d have put it. But hey, i met my husband shortly after that, so it worked out for me in the end. (I’m now comfortably estranged from all extended family, save 1 precious cousin.)

All this buildup is to say that i had 1 more hard rule when it came to my children, a boundary that i didn’t set for myself until yeeeears later. When my sibs would be looking after my boys, they knew not to evereverEVER leave them alone with any other family members. Their secrets are sick and deep, and i knew it firsthand. It’s a long and sordid story why i was still involved with any of them, but we won’t be going there. They’re still alive, still sick AF (in my opinion), and i’m not going into personal crap that they might decide requires a response. The important part of it is that, even though i was still seeking their acceptance and approval, part of me knew they posed a potential threat to my boys, and so i protected them from situations where they might be vulnerable.

I don’t know why i’m writing about this today, or what specific point i’m trying to make, if any. My ability to compartmentalise is something that i’ve been looking at in depth recently, and i guess i just find it interesting.

All the times i said No once we got away from the man i called Daddy, and someone hit me up for sex.
All the times i sniffed out danger and got away. (I didn’t always, but i did often enough for me to feel compelled to examine it more closely.)
How i raised my boys with healthy boundaries, instinctively.
All the times i advocated for them against people i was taught to obey.
How i had no hesitation saying No for them, when i couldn’t for myself.
All the times i avoided the toxic kinds of romantic entanglements i so often saw others who’d been through childhood abuse get into.
How i had the sense to choose a good, kind, gentle, hardworking partner. I chose the absolute perfect person for me. After everything that’d been done to me; how they’d broken me, shattered me, mercilessly crushed me – how in the hell did i do that?!

I’ve come to see it as the gifts being a multiple gave me. The way my brain works enabled me to secrete parts of myself that my abusers must have been sure they’d destroyed.
My will.
My body autonomy.
My sense of self.
My ability to mother.
My desire for healthy attachments.
My freedom to choose.

Today i bristle at being told what to do. I can stubbornly stand my ground, even when it’s against people i love or those in positions i was taught to obey and not question. I say No often. I’ve drifted away from toxic people and toxic behaviours. I don’t answer the door when they knock. I’m no longer blindly obedient to anyone or anything. I make up my own mind; no one tells me what to think anymore. And woe to any and all who’d try to “should” me.

Perhaps i’m writing about this because i’m in the process of mending the severed connections between my thoughts, my feelings, and my sensations. Maybe this work is deepening and broadening my insight. I think that maybe, just maybe, i’m feeling not only compassion for myself, but some serious appreciation for how amazing i am. Hell, i might just be Queen Amazeballs of Crazy Island.

If so, i’mma need a crown.

Until next time, y’all hang in as best you can, and i promise i will, too.
Love and Peace,
~H~

I am bigger on the inside
But you have to come inside to see me…
We are so much bigger

Than another one can ever see
But

Trying is the point of life
So don’t stop trying
Promise me.
~ Amanda Palmer

*Unfortunately, while i did set some good protective barriers for my children, i did inflict a lot of religious crap on them. My church promoted homeschooling, so i did that until my oldest was 12 and my middle one was 8. I had NO business doing that. I was ill-equipped, to put it mildly. I lacked the education, the attention span, and the temperament, too. I was descending into mania, and the neglect was undeniable. They were basically not schooled at all.
This is not to say that homeschooling can’t be done well by someone else.

 

Making My House A Home

When you can’t take it anymore
Why not forget the past
And off you run
Baby, run
No more tears, no more mistakes
Why don’t you just check out your bags and run?
Baby, run
~ Run Baby Run, Amanda Lear

I’m hard-wired to run.

My mother would move us every year or 2, without fail – sooner if folks started becoming suspicious, or the authorities came poking around home or school. The abusers that surrounded me also programmed me to return home at the first sign of danger. /irony
Paedophiles love a multiple, but that’s a different story, and one too dark for me to tell today. Once i left home, i never stayed in one place for very long, maybe, 3-6mos, tops. I never thought anything of it, it was just the way i lived. I’d get antsy and the urge to go somewhere else was never far from me. Memory fades some with age of course, but even now i can think of 32 places i’ve lived in my 53yrs.

I had some decent therapy under my belt when i had my first child, and so i had the insight to promise myself that i’d stay in one place for 1yr minimum for his sake. And one year was the best i could manage. That is, until i moved in with the man who’d become my husband. We lived in our city’s ‘Hood in the same house for 10yrs, and we’ve been out here on our beloved Little Crooked House on the Prairie for 12, now.
But still… I deal with the urge to run on a regular basis.
The therapy i’m in, coupled with our current pandemic, has kicked it up to daily, and sometimes many times a day.

My childhood taught me that some shit is always gonna come down the pike where you gotta skedaddle. You smell trouble brewing, you GTFO ASAP. We always left things behind, too. When we moved we generally had to move fast, say, to evade creditors or avoid Social Services. Other times it was due to local gossip – whispers about the huge woman with the husband that looked like a teenager (he was), or the children that didn’t seem to be properly cared for (we weren’t). There were also occasions when my mother would tank a friendship so badly, that she’d move us out of anger, shame, owed money or apologies… She was the queen of the geographical cure.

I learned not to get attached to things, e.g. clothing, stuffies, pictures, various knickknacks and tchotchkes (isn’t that a wonderful word?), bedding, dishes. Even books could be left behind. (Yes, i’m as aghast as you.) Even some lovely things of my grandparents’ that she inherited upon their deaths. That carried into my adulthood. Although i didn’t leave things behind when i moved out –i left places empty and clean– i manifested my mother’s example in a particular way.*

I didn’t decorate my space.
I didn’t put up pictures or paint or have a decorating style. Bric-à-brac was minimal. And i lived frugally, so i’d take whatever furniture, dishes, bedding, and suchlike that i could get. I’m one of those people that has trouble resisting something if it’s free. Number one, i keep my money for something else. The #2 (hahaha – yes i still laugh at poop jokes) that was quietly hovering in the background, was that if i needed to run, i wouldn’t feel as guilty for leaving things behind because i hadn’t spent money on them.

When we lived in the city and were expecting our third child, i tried to decorate. I watched HGTV all day, every day, and became obsessed with painting techniques and decorating. I started, but i couldn’t finish. I seriously couldn’t. I painted the room, did a cool texture thingy with plastic bags and primer, and started putting up a teddybear border close to the ceiling. I thought i stopped because i was pregnant and tired, which i was, but also negative crap like i was fat and useless and talentless. (Honestly, those teddybears were rather awful. Heh.)
I believe now that it’s tied directly to my reticence to set down roots.
Lest they be torn mercilessly from the ground, you know?
No, says my mind.
No, you never know.
What’s HOME, Precioussss?
I didn’t know, and i distrusted the concept, though i saw it modeled well many times outside of my childhood hellhouse.

My husband and i moved  me and our 2 younger boys out of our blue-grey house with the red metal roof, on a relatively quiet street, smack in the middle of the ‘Hood. I was at the peak of my first big mania, working in the entertainment industry. I was partying 5 days a week, engaging in high risk behaviours, and day-drinking while neglecting my children. It would take some time to sell the house and deal with our furious 15yr old who refused to move with us who was trying to figure out how to emancipate himself (and understandably, rightly so). He stayed in the city and we went to live with Mum on the farm. (His mom, but she took me on as her own. She was the sweetest person i’ve ever known.)

It was the right thing to do. I calmed down measurably. I kept my drinking to the weekends when hubs would come and visit. I spent quiet days eating toast and drinking tea with Mum, sleeping, and… And what, i don’t actually don’t know. I was a cavalcade of people taking their place in my face and having their way with my thoughts and body. She accepted it all with gentleness and grace. She mothered my Bits N’ Pieces, and never spoke of it. When i brought it up to her years later, she told me she hardly noticed and every part of me was nice to her and she liked them all.
(Pardon me, friends, while i have a wee cry that she’s gone now, and i miss her so much in this moment.)

That’s a little better. Sister Jeannine was correct when she told me, over-and-goddamn-over, that tears are cleansing and healing. I would roll my eyes at her and she would laugh at me were she still with us.
Ah me, loss is such a bitch.
Sec. Gotta blow my nose.

Anyhoo, the man-thingy made it out to us 6mos later and we moved into the Little Crooked House across the road from Mum. The day my mania hit its apex i had been drinking (i’d returned to it once out of my mother-in-law’s house). I’ve written about what happened at length, and am happy to leave it done. I bring it up to say on that day i tore up our house. I broke things and threw things and did a significant amount of damage.

I’ve been crawling my way out of chaos and dysfunction since then.
Mr. Man works 12-14hrs a day, 6 days a week to support our family.
I turned my attention to raising my children while figuring out my brain and my past, as best i could.

Our house sat damaged; clean but unadorned. We took some of the money we made on the sale of the house and bought new furniture for the first time. I thought i was a post-modernist, minimalist. Ha. Turns out my taste runs to the somewhat masculine, my-living-room-looks-like-a-study, style. Huh. Okie doke. I found myself eyeing a large picture at the local hardware store. It was damaged, and i looked at it every time we went. For months it sat there, not selling, and finally offered the manager a price below what they were asking and he said Sold! We took it home and placed it above our fireplace.
It was my first picture.

Over my years of therapy with my best and current Ms T, i’ve picked up a wall clock and a few tchotchkes. Friends have kindly given me some of that LiveLoveLaugh kinda stuff that i see in other people’s homes. My boys made things at school that i proudly displayed on tables and shelves, and clinging to my refrigerator with magnets. I was almost like a normal, regular mommy. I’ve picked up a lot of mirrors over the years, and Mr. Man has hung a few here and there. (HGTV taught me it makes small spaces look bigger. They were right.)

About a year ago i was shopping at Ikea with my bestie. I’d been back in therapy for a while and was feeling better but worse, as one tends to do when one is doing the therapy thing, i think. Then i saw it. A large, unframed print of a Klimt painting. I love Klimt. No, i adore Klimt. It was one of my favourites, it was on sale. I thought about buying it, walked away, then made myself go back and grab it. I bought it quickly, with as little thought as possible, because i knew that’s what it would take for me to get it home. I also had my husband hang it that evening for the same reason. Progress, w00t!

Still and all, the damage i’d done all those years ago, stayed. The divots and scrapes and holes hung like stark pictures of my pain and failure; coloured in violence and shame. He works so hard i hadn’t the heart to ask him to help me fix it. Plus, i felt i deserved to be reminded of how horrible i can be, how sick and out of control. Bad H. A finger pointed and waggling, poking me hard in the chest. My reaping.

Cue pandemic.
He’s still working enough (so grateful), but his hours are cut and he’s getting some weekends off. Entire weekends, holy crap. He turns to me and asks if i’d like to fix up the bathroom. My eyes well up and i’m nodding as he’s talking about plaster and drywall and paint. He brings home an epic whack of swatches (he works in construction) and i get to choose! He fixes the massive chunk he cut out of the wall when we had a leak, and when i come back to see how things are progressing, i see he’s been patching and sanding outside the bathroom. He’s erasing the damage of my past actions.

Well, i’m a bit of a crybaby today.
Cleeeeansing, heeeealing, H.
Oh look, tears can act as lube for my eyerolling. There’s no click as i look at the back of my brain. Heh.

Work like this has taken me a long, loooong time, but i’m here, i’m doing it, and i’m HOME. We have plans for more paint, and yes, more pictures on the walls. If this madness continues, there may even be curtains, folks!

I’m on my way
Just set me free
Home sweet home…
~ Motley Crue, Home Sweet Home

Y’all hang in there now, y’hear?
Love and Peace,
~H~

*My mother also left things behind because she was slovenly and lazy, and hadn’t a shred of gratitude for anything she had, ever.

IMAGE: The Kiss, Gustav Klimt (1907/08)