On the Corner of Responsibility and Consequence

Strong CW: Contains discussion of the abuse and neglect of my children, by me. References spankings and not being at home.

**********
Been hiding my scars in broad daylight bars
Behind laugh tracks on TV
If you can’t see the forest for the trees
Just burn it all down, and bring the ashes to me

You hear your mother screaming
You hear your daddy shout
You try to figure it out
You never figure it out
Your mother’s screaming
That you don’t deserve love
If you don’t deserve love
And if I don’t deserve love
Could we deserve?
Come down off your cross
And tell me!
~ Arcade Fire, We Don’t Deserve Love

I don’t wanna write this. My brain keeps reaching out and grabbing the words, stuffing them into little boxes and padlocking them closed. The people who live here with me are whining and weeping, clutching at me with greedy fingers – Don’t leave. The place i’m going is one where they can accompany me (they’re with me always and everywhere), but they won’t. This is a back alley neighbourhood, with only the occasional dusty patch of light. The shadows are full-throated and hungry. My precious Bits N’ Pieces will hover at the entrance and pule for my return.

It’s not like i want to visit this place, it’s that i must. I come here as infrequently as i can. Here i feel wretched and monstrous. Here i can sense my mother around every corner, i can fairly smell her stench in the air. There are rooms here where we live together, and pipe organs play funereal dirges. Everything is coated with oil and dust, like a poorly kept diner’s flat top hood.
I’m waxing poetic because i truly do not want to be in this place.
Oh, my heart.
Oh, my heart.

I’ve written of my children a number of times, careful to respect their privacy and mention them only as it pertains to my journey through mental illness and neuroatypicality (may not be a word – zero fux). Today i’m going to skate along the razor’s edge, and if i slice some off here and there, it’s as it must be.
Because if i don’t, my guilt will pulverise me and the cold depths of my sorrow will suck me down and hold me until i am nothing.

This is one of the things that i write about that seems to make people the most uncomfortable – my many and terrible failures as a parent. It scores right up there with the times i mention that i will never be completely healed or well. I’ve learned to dance around these issues, because i can feel the need of others to believe that it isn’t true. People hold on to these beliefs with respect to me, mostly because they love me, and i appreciate it. I can feel the warm and supportive place it’s coming from, and i decided to accept it and not press the issue. I also tread lightly and rarely because i’m trying to build and foster hope here on this blog, and i know many, if not most, find my stance on these issues counterintuitive.
I’m sorry if you find these beliefs of mine stressful.
Gently i will say that this is life as me, and this is how my brain works.
Your mileage will vary, and this blog has never been to tell you how to save your own life, only to give you some hope that you might be able to, because i am. I’m saving my own life, and these are my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs – this is my path, my road, my mountain, my ocean, my internal universe.

My children are all grown now, and i’m living in the days of the damage i’ve wrought, the price they’ve had to pay, and the consequences to them, to me, and to us.

I remember most of my first son’s early years. When he was somewhere between 6-9mos was the first time i heard 1 of my parts speak loudly, in a voice that was not mine, and seemed to come from outside me. I was changing his diaper when a voice in the kitchen told me something very specific about an abuse committed by my mother. And then there was the time when he was 5 and i slid to the back of my brain and watched as i hurt him. It was awful, and i watched helplessly, unable to stop it, and completely lacking understanding of what was happening. These 2 events might have been what finally opened me up to the possibility of being a multiple.

I remember some of my middle son’s early years. The first 4 were clear: i had a couple of solid friendships where we spent a lot of time together, and the religions (yes, 2) i was practising at the time were working somewhat. The problem with one was that it required a great deal of my time, and i left both boys with sitters too often, and for too long. And although i wasn’t abusive by some standards, the other required physical punishment, i.e. spankings, which i employed with some regularity. I deeply regret both things.

Then i fell in love, got married, and gave birth to my youngest son. To sum up, because i’ve written about this a LOT: falling in love scared the crap outta me, i dissociated, put on a tremendous amount of weight, had weight loss surgery, experienced my first obvious mania and was diagnosed bipolar.
It is one of the saddest truths of my life that i can’t recall much at all of his early years. Although i had abandoned religion entirely and stopped spanking my children, my neglect increased. Both older ones were struggling at school, and i was no support. I let the television babysit my one that was still at home, and eventually i was on some combination of pills and booze every day. As soon as their father came home from work i would leave until all hours.

I was receiving treatment for both multiplicity and bipolar disorder, but it wasn’t helping much. I was in and out of the Bin (of the Looney variety), in and out of detox, treatment facilities, and a handful of p-doc’s offices. My husband and i decided we needed to get out of the big city. My MIL took me in, and her gentle, quiet love helped calm me down for a time.
But the damage had been done.
My oldest son had become increasingly angry and refused to move with us. He emancipated himself and lived with relatives, eventually moving in with his girlfriend and having a child.
My middle boy continued to have big problems at school, and was paraded in front of many school counsellors and p-docs who threw a number of diagnoses at us. He got the worst of me. My oldest got some good stuff on the front end, and my youngest on the back. I was incredibly sick for the majority of my second son’s upbringing.
My youngest did well in school and was zero problem at home, but over a period of time he began manifesting his own serious issues, that have stalled his development into a fully functioning adult.

I have 1 son that wants nothing to do with me, 1 that purposely hurts me, and 1 that cannot currently function in the world on life’s terms. One has serious addiction issues, and 2 have mental illness diagnoses. All 3 are closed doors when it comes to getting to know them. They all have thick walls around them, they all wrestle with rage. They trust few, seldom, and not very much. They’re highly critical of others and hardest of all on themselves. One functions in the world by shutting everything down, one by wearing a mask, and one simply doesn’t.

And this is my responsibility. This is my doing.
Yes, i was abused. Yes, i’m seriously mentally ill.
But whether or not it’s my fault (it is), and whether or not i meant to (i didn’t), doesn’t change the way my parenting affected them.
I’ve communicated to them in every way i can think of, how sorry i am.
I’ve made it abundantly clear that i’m available for anything that they might want to say to me. I’ll show up and pay for every appointment. I will never offer an excuse.
I live every day working on myself, not just for my own benefit, but for theirs.
As none of them have taken me up on my offer of therapy, it is the only amends i can give them.
Trying to force them to tell me off and get angry at me would be for me, not for them. I have to respect how they choose to live their lives and handle their childhood.
I want to fix it, so badly, but i cannot without an invitation, and even then…

One son who has a successful life and happy family without me.
One son whose life is going straight off the rails.
One son who is okay as long as he doesn’t have to interact with the rest of the world.

I’m not good at balance, but i damn sure work at it all the time. I do not know where balance is, here. How much to carry and what to lay down. I know some of it is mine, but not all. I know there comes a time when, regardless of who did what, the responsibility for what comes next lies with the individual. I know what it’s like to be dealt a shitty hand, and i’m beyond convinced, convicted, and contrite that i was their dealer.
I don’t know where the line is, between doing the best i could, and my best not being nearly enough.

I mourn my broken relationships with them, and i mourn the lack of opportunity to make it better in some way. I see my mother’s hand in this, and my daddy’s, and my stepfather’s, but if i only cut them so much slack for their actions, i must also hold myself accountable.
This is treacherous territory.
I will continue to do the work in front of me; to live and learn and try always to be a better human. For me, of course. For my husband, absolutely. For the betterment of the human community, ideally.
For my children, because it is the least of what they’re due from me.

Put your money on me
If you think I’m losing you, you must be crazy
All your money on me
I’m never gonna let you go, even when it’s easy
Put your money on me
Or tuck me into bed, and wake me when I’m dead
I know that you gotta be free
But I’m never gonna let it go

All my presents are broken before they’re open
And the promises, the second they’re spoken
I know I’ve been different
My skin keeps shedding
~ Arcade Fire, Put Your Money On Me

Here’s to a better tomorrow, with hope that i’ll feel a bit less heavy inside.
Love and Peace to All,
~H~

 

Seriously

WARNING: References to suicidal thoughts.

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Love and boundaries. FML.

I was raised to have none.
All the better to enslave you, traffic you, and just generally abuse you, my dear.
~ My mother the wolf

Whatever people wanted to do to me, i generally let them. Sex stuff was strictly controlled by my system, which saved me from sexual abuse by peers, but adults could get away with anything, and school-aged kids could humiliate and torture me at will. I did nothing. I never fought back. I would try to avoid, to stay away, but once some bully had me cornered, they could say or do whatever they wanted, as long as sex wasn’t involved. Somewhat strange, is that i was never beaten up physically at school, or after, although i was often followed and threatened and hurt by harsh words. I think my size (Amazon) was intimidating.

Over the years i’ve learned to stand up for myself. Despite the years of screaming and yelling that came from other parts of me, i myself am not violent. When my system was basically unleashed on the world around me due to a severe bipolar mania, i broke a lot of shit. Dishes, glasses, i kicked holes in doors and slammed them off their hinges. I threw things at walls, and one time i threw a chair through a front window. And even worse, there were times during this first, years-long bout of madness, where my people would confuse my partner for a past abuser. I couldn’t control them, and he didn’t know how to handle me switched, so there were times when he pushed for communication too hard, got in too close, and they would scratch and bite at him, and even pull out his hair.
I’m fortunate he stuck with me through that.
He would have been well within his rights to have me arrested and charged.
He saw me as sick and forgave my physical acting out.

It wasn’t long after i was first in therapy with the person i’m working with again now, that i was able to regain control of myself enough to stop the violence. It’s been a decade since i fought him off like a wet cat, and at least a half dozen since i’ve broken or otherwise destroyed anything (although i can still occasionally slam the shit out of a door).

The world’s current system of criminal justice, levied against my childhood abusers would have been nice. I’m in my 50s now though, and my primary abuser is long dead, some of the others that i have names for are either dead or dying, and there were many whose names i cannot recall, if i ever knew them in the first place. I’ve never thought about revenge towards them. Not even my mother. Oh, i’ve reimagined what i might say to her as she lay dying in her hospital bed, only days from the coma that would cradle her to her death.

I had my girlfriend drive me when i went to visit her. I’ve always been a crappy driver.* I’ve got too much going on in my brain to pay proper attention i think, and even back then i knew i was too emotional to get behind the wheel and not have an accident. This time i asked her to take me to see my mom because i’d made her a cassette with music on it (yes, i’m mix-tape years old) and wanted to talk to her. The song list was gross. It bore witness to me years later of how sick and twisted my relationship with her was, as it was filled with love songs, e.g. Without You, by Badfinger.

“I can’t live, if living is without you… “

And i begged her to love me with T’Pau’s Heart and Soul. Yeesh.

I went to her room and she graciously received me (/s), and i gave her my little gift, and then proceeded to apologise for being such a bad daughter. I told her how her accident made me realise how lucky i was to have her for a mom, and how desperately sorry i was for all the difficulties she’d had because of me.
Seriously.

She raised her arms up off the bed and spread them open to either side of her, splaying her fingers wide. She shrugged and nodded and with lips slightly pursed, she magnanimously (/s!) forgave me. I wept with gratitude.
Seriously.
Of course she didn’t say sorry back.

(My mother said sorry to me once in my life. I was 3 or 4 and i said “Fuck” while playing with my dolls. She slapped me across the face so hard i fell off my chair and later couldn’t see out of one eye. She did a lot worse things than that both before and after though, so i don’t know what moved her that day.)

At least she died a week or so later.
Of sepsis.
She rotted from the inside out.
Damn right it’s poetic.

Raised with no boundaries and to take the blame for everything.
I come from a country that’s made gentle fun of for saying Sorry a lot. Take my cultural influences and my upbringing, and i’ve said sorry countless times. Every day, multiple times a day. My first response to so very many situations and happenings is, Sorry! I know that sometimes i drive my husband and sons batty with my constant apologising. It’s not just, Sorry, i oversalted the soup.
It’s, Sorry you have a headache (because i’m annoying and needy and do stupid shit).
And, Sorry kids, i know between the nature and the nurture i’ve completely fucked up your lives forever.
When we used to watch team sports on television and our team was losing, i’d say sorry and leave the room because i felt like it was my fault.
Seriously.

After years of counselling i’ve been able to tone it down quite a bit, but a new close friendship i have has made it clear i have a ways to go. She’s told me a number of times to stop saying sorry for things that aren’t my responsibility, have nothing to do with me, or were due to circumstances i couldn’t have helped. She lets me see the love and the frustration on her face when she says it, too. So i know i still have a problem.

I know now that i have an overblown, highly developed sense of blame, and i’ve been working hard over the years to temper it. To be honest though, i struggle. I’ve hermitted a great deal over the last number of years, because i’m just not well enough or together enough yet to do a lot of peopling. It’s too complicated and too fraught with emotion for me. It takes so much effort and energy to be present and conscious and stay in the face while being around others. Now i do it in small chunks, almost always with just 1 or 2 people. If it’s a group, i don’t last more than 3hrs, except for a wedding i went to this summer where i lasted just over 4 – but i was switched for the last hour and some, so yeah, 3 hours, tops.

I put my personal growth in this area to the test a few months ago, when i stopped taking the blame for a loved one’s problems, and removed them from my safe place. It was incredibly difficult, it took years of poor treatment for me to do it, but it was an empowering experience. I now know i can say Stop, and No, to a loved one, and i’m not bad and i won’t die.
The problem is, that was just a dress rehearsal for what i’m facing today.

Today i say Stop, and No, and draw a boundary around myself that’s been decades coming. It’s a big deal, the biggest, and i might pay dearly for it. The cost may very well be losing the relationship. I have to do this though, or there’s a good chance i won’t make it through the therapy i’m currently in. I’m afraid i’ll just stop it and walk away. I’m afraid i’ll get sick and locked up. I’m afraid i’ll get overwhelmed, lose control, and end the relationship myself, in an unhealthy way. I’m afraid i’ll fold in on myself, and those soft, suicidal whispers i’ve been hearing lately will get louder and start suggesting a plan**…

Right now as i’m writing, i’m reminding myself that this person’s reaction to my boundary will be their own. I cannot control it, and more importantly, i won’t even try. They get to think what they think about it. They get to think whatever they wish about me, and whether what i’m doing is right or wrong. They get to question my motives and even come up with an answer that i think is incorrect. They get to misunderstand and get as hurt and/or angry as they want to get.
I’ve written down what i want to say, because i know my Bits N’ Pieces are going to be active and talkative in my brain, so i’ve made sure i don’t miss anything that i think is important. I want to chicken out and not do this, but i can’t. This ache in my belly will consume me, and i’ll lose myself for who knows how long? I want to send the words by text or email, because it’s going to be brutal for me -i’ll probably cry my face off while reading it out loud- but this relationship deserves a face-to-face.
I
I
I
I deserve a face-to-face.
Seriously.

I know this is a little vague, but as i’ve embraced a more rational and critical method of thinking, i’ve learned that i’m the kind of person who prefers the unvarnished truth. You don’t need to sugarcoat it, and you can be as blunt as you’d like. I would just rather know what’s real and what’s not. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible – even if it hurts and changes my worldview or drastically alters my circumstances.

Maybe i’ll write about that sometime soon.

Sorry this is a bit of a downer for the holiday, but it’s the truth.
Sorry.
Heh.

Love and Peace,
~H~

*I quit driving a long time ago, don’t worry.

**I’m doing all the things i know to do when i have suicidal thoughts. There is no current plan, but i’ve stepped up the frequency of my therapy appointments, and i’ll be sharing this uptick in invasive thoughts with her this week. I’m maintaining my house and my personal hygiene, but eating and sleeping are difficult. My BFF is spending the day with me tomorrow, and that will put a spoon or 2 back in my drawer for later. My thoughts do not determine my actions so much as my conscious awareness of them facilitates better choices and decisions. I’m not at the place where a higher level of care is required. I assure you that if it was, i’d go get it.

Sometimes I’m Just Wrong

As people with a history like mine often do, i’ve had severe dental phobia most of my life. To have to hang my mouth open and have someone poking around in there, sometimes causing me pain, can be a brutal trigger. As a child, my mother stopped caring about my dental health around the time she was committed; i was in grade one. The only time she’d bring me in was for an emergency, which happened occasionally. I wasn’t much for brushing, which resulted in a few abscesses and a couple of pulled teeth.

Once on my own i just dodged the dentist. I finally paid attention when i found an excellent family physician during my pregnancy with my second child. She urged me to attend to my teeth, which were becoming problematic.
I required many appointments to get my teeth cleaned and a number of fillings followed. Neither the hygienist nor the dentist seemed to realise or care about my severe anxiety, and i was shamed and lectured every visit, guaranteeing more avoidant behaviour. It wasn’t until i was well into therapy with my current counsellor that i finally dealt with my fear head-on.

I found a nice lady dentist who’d been doing it for decades, and i went to talk to her. No cleaning, just x-rays, and a chat about what i was looking at to get my teeth shipshape. I told her of my phobia. (No, really? Like my huge, watering eyes and clenched fists didn’t already announce it.) I indicated as delicately as i could that it was trauma-based. She was immediately receptive, kind and gentle in her response, and assured me that i wasn’t her only patient with these issues. She said she’d work with me, to help me overcome my anxiety as much as possible (at my pace), and to attain and maintain healthy teeth and gums.

I know a fair number of people who use sedation dentistry to handle this issue, but i wanted to at least try to do it without drugs of any kind. I prepared as best i could; going over what was going to happen in my head, looking at pictures i’d taken of the dentist’s office, and the chair that i’d be sitting in, the ceiling that i’d be looking at (they have tellies up there – how smart is that?), i thought of how i feel in a dentist’s chair, and went over the different methods i could use to cope:

– focused breathing,
– body mindfulness,
– reminding myself that the intensity of the feelings are a response to trauma that’s no longer happening,
– stopping the hygienist and asking for a break,
– stopping the hygienist and talking briefly about the feelings,
– stopping the hygienist and rescheduling,
– using an anti-anxiety med beforehand,
– sedation dentistry,
– maintain dental health as best i can on my own, do more therapy around the issue, and try again at a later date.

I was stiff as a board the first time i sat for a cleaning; eyes as big as saucers, hands and feet clenched hard enough to cramp. The hygienist had a soft, soothing voice, and she calmed my jangled nerves with banter about her children, a recent move, a holiday. Her demeanor was quiet and kind, and i knew she wasn’t going to hurt me. Cleaning my teeth properly would take a few visits, they’d already told me, but i never sensed any disapproval from her, and there was never the slightest hint of a tsk or a tut-tut in her voice.

Then it’s time for my dentist to do some fillings, some caps, and even a root canal, to preserve my teeth for as long as possible. Her voice is also soft (i think dentists may cultivate this voice – also smart) but her vibe is jovial, even goofy. Her assistant is sarcastic, with a deadpan delivery, and between the 2 of them, they provide a great service and a show besides, which distracted and delighted me so much that i came to look forward to seeing them. Not even kidding.

I settled in to regular maintenance, and then the recession hit. We had to let go of our dental insurance, and i didn’t want to stress our already squeaky budget, when i knew my teeth were in good shape, and i was now diligent and conscientious with care. We still had a son at home who required extensive orthodontic work, and so i stopped going for a couple of years. When our financial situation improved,  i went back, thinking there’d be no problem.

Oh, but there was.

I missed a number of appointments, for which i provided lame excuses, and i’d call after and reschedule with a self-deprecating chuckle. Six months later i did the same thing, i missed my first appointment and called, saying it had totally slipped my mind and i’d be there for sure next time. The receptionist fixed another time with me, but i noted something in her voice before we hung up – a hesitancy. I felt uneasy.

She called me mid-morning the next day.
She told me that they wanted very much to continue providing me with dental care, but in order for that to happen they were going to require the cost of the appointment up front. She explained that my dentist couldn’t continue losing money when i didn’t show up, that it wasn’t fair for her or anyone.
I bristled. Feelings flooded my body, and i reacted with offense.

“This feels like i’m being punished for being mentally ill,” i said.
“I’m going to have to discuss this with my husband and i’ll get back to you,” i said.

To my credit, before the end of the phone call, i knew she had me dead to rights. But shame is a massive trigger, and i was dissociated and edgy for the rest of the day. It took me a while to bring it up with my husband, but not too long, and he understood right away. I called the receptionist back within a day or 2, and told her i knew they had to do what they were doing. And then i paid them.

I was anxious about the cleaning. I thought about why. It wasn’t just being embarrassed – it was a few things. There’d been a break in my association with them, one where i wasn’t in therapy, and i hadn’t had to deal with some of the triggers that dentistry touches on. I was now back in therapy, and learning to stay in my body during times when i feel emotions and/or physical sensations that i don’t want to feel. I understood why i was dodging. I knew i was setting myself up to miss my dates with my dentist.
I was trying to avoid all the feelings.

I showed up on time, and prepared. I knew i was going to feel awkward and embarrassed, which was normal and appropriate to feel, because i’d done them wrong. I hadn’t meant to, and i knew that. I knew they would all be gracious and kind, as they had always been, and they were. When the cleaning was done, my dentist was there at reception, and she gently asked me, “Do you understand that we had to do what we did?”

I told her that i did, and i told them all that i was sorry. I told them that it hadn’t occurred to me that i was costing her money, or inconveniencing anyone – but it should have, and i was ashamed about it.

She said, “You know, we just wouldn’t have had you back if we didn’t like you so much, eh?” And i could see that that was true.

I could also see that, while i’d fucked up, i’d also done some things right.

I’d been honest about my mental illness and my fears and anxieties from the jump.
I’d carefully built relationship with them, so much so that when i started behaving poorly, they tolerated that behaviour for as long as they could – perhaps longer than they should have done, and only for my benefit.
And when they finally called me out, i accepted responsibility for my actions.
Yes, for the briefest of moments -the space of a phone call- i reacted badly, but i knew almost immediately that i was in the wrong, and why, and that i could and would put it right and it was going to be okay.

I got caught doing something shitty, and i reacted by trying to avoid taking the blame. To assuage my chagrin by haughtily providing an excuse.

I’m not bad – i’m sick!

While that is true in a way, it’s neither appropriate nor is it helpful to apply that in this instance. After i hung up the phone i felt it right away – i was convicted in my heart by a jury of me. I’ve identified myself to these people as someone who lives with serious, multiple diagnosis mental illness. I’ve done so first for my benefit, but also for others like me. I want to bring awareness and exposure to those around us, in service to us and apart from that, who have little or no experience with us (or knowledge that they’re having such – because they certainly are, am i right?), and by so doing, help pave a way for fellow neuroatypicals and those living with mental illness to do the same. To see that it can be done, and perhaps they might do it, too.

I feel the weight of that responsibility. It’s a good weight, one i’ve willingly and purposefully shouldered, and it’s a right thing and a steadying force in my life. It gives meaning and provides balance and even serendipity. I would not so inadequately, so boorishly represent a community that has my love so easily, and needs help and understanding so desperately.

The love and life that i’ve found there made my path clear, and set my shoulders squarely towards it.
Yes, part of the reason why i behaved the way i did was the way i was raised and the way my brain responded to try and save me, to help me cope and to perhaps spare me some of the worst of it, that i might survive. And survive i did – and in these last years, even more and better.
Yes, there are reasons -childhood causations- for my behaviour, but in the end, today, right now, at this moment, i am as free and autonomous and aware as i can possibly be, and i am happy and grateful and relieved indeed, to be solely responsible for my choices and actions.

And sometimes i’m just wrong. And i was.
I accepted the consequences, which were fair, and no one abused me and i didn’t die.

I can hardly wait to screw up again.
Heh.