Poem #2

I gave

(Everything)

You took

(Everything)

(almost?)

You left me The Nothing

Maybe I am more

Then you took from me

Because you took and took

Everything

(almost)

Maybe something left behind

A grain of sand

A drop of water

The last sliver of myself to give

Will this be enough?

To turn

The Nothing you left me

And build into Something

The power of being just me

Down Comes The Night

Lately, I have been having a hard time sleeping. I have always struggled with sleep; falling asleep and staying asleep are both difficult. Once it starts getting dark, I start getting anxious. I watch the windows and am too aware that it’s dark outside and dark = sleep (eventually). I look into the dark outside and see things that I don’t want to-faces, places, memories, images. And somehow, when it’s dark, these things seems brighter, more easily defined by my eyes and brain. I try to keep busy. I feel tired after a day of pretending to be normal, of trying to keep up the rhythm of a normal life, and taking care of everyone around me. Being tired, even exhausted, both physically and mentally aren’t the problem when it comes to sleep.  I am tired, exhausted, spent (whatever term you’d like to use) by the end of the day and I desperately want to sleep. My brain is so very very tired. But each night, the same cycle repeats itself. It gets dark, it gets closer to bedtime, and I get anxious. It’s as though there’s a switch in my brain that goes from ON (because my brain is always running at full speed) to REALLY ON which is like my brain in hyperdrive. All of the thoughts and emotions I’ve suppressed all day long to ‘function’ and ‘be normal’ bubble up and I can barely stand the idea that I’ll have to tolerate one more night of twisting and turning, sweaty and panicky while everyone else in my house sleeps. I envy them. I listen to my husband breathe, I sometimes go and watch my children sleep, almost choked up with jealousy of how easy it is for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.

After much internally fighting with myself, I do fall asleep. It’s usually after a few hours of wrestling with my thoughts and fears and I finally drift off. After that, I normally wake up after about an hour. I have nightmares that I’m being choked, I can’t breathe, I can’t move, someone is touching me, I’m trapped. I startle awake and every nerve in my body is screaming that I’m in danger, that I have to escape. I’ve soaked my sheets with sweat and my heart is racing so hard, I swear others would be able to hear it if they were awake. But they aren’t and I’m alone.

I get out of bed and pace, try to shake off that old echo from childhood that there is danger in every minute of the day. If I’m very lucky, I will be able to settle myself down with the hour. If I’m just lucky, it’s a few hours. If I’m unlucky, those feelings will turn into a flashback and there will be almost no sleep left for the night. If I am lucky enough to fall back to sleep, it begins again with another nightmare, more sensations of being in danger, more likely to have a flashback. Each time, I look at the clock and calculate how much sleep I can get if I go to sleep RIGHT NOW. But I never do and time marches forward until around 4 or 5am when I can finally drift off feeling safe enough to sleep. I wake for good around 7am groggy and my thoughts like mud. It takes most of the morning to shake off the night before.

I have read every article about how to improve sleep: no screen time, limit caffeine, change the appearance of your room, meditate before bed, tea, medications, mindfulness, tapping, and journaling just to name a few. I have a weighted blanket. I have my room at a warmer temperature because being cold is a trigger for me. I have my lavender right at my bedside so I can smell it all night long. I have done nightmare re-scripting, drawing of my nightmares to externalize it, creating a ‘hero’ image of myself that can act as a protector when I’m asleep. So far, no luck. I’ve gotten into the bad habit lately of going to bed later and later but honestly, why would any sane person want to go through this night after night? It’s torture and my own brain is the tormentor. It’s not as if you can escape your own brain, your own thoughts, your own memories. And that is ultimately the kicker, the final karmic bitch slap to being a trauma survivor, is that you can do everything that is asked of you. You can take your medications, go to therapy, take good care of yourself, and try everything possible to reduce your symptoms but sometimes, most times actually, the brain is an asshole. Because in the end, I can’t change what happened to me. I can’t write it away or color it away or distract away from the fact that I had a shitty childhood and adolescence. I practice acceptance but the inside piece of me that is little is just so hurt and so scared and needs so much care and she won’t let this go. She will be heard. She doesn’t want to forget that this happened and howls with the thought that this pain will be forgotten, tucked away in a corner somewhere. I honor that piece, or at least I’m starting too because she went through some bad shit. At the same time, I could really use some sleep. My therapist tells me this is a way for survivors to stay hypervigilant or hyper alert. When I start to relax my brains says, Hell no!, and triggers me so I stay alert to any danger. When I wake up now, I am supposed to tell myself that I don’t need this protection and that we are safe. She says if I can improve 2% week to week, she will be pleased and this will be progress. She may be pleased but I’m not, I want this to go faster. If I’m honest with myself, really and truly, underneath it all, I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel like my guard should be down and this was a revelation to me because I hadn’t thought about it that way before but it’s true. The world seems like a dark and dangerous place to me and I have to be ready.

What does that mean? It means the foundation work has not been done. I need to go way back, back to basics, and work on feeling safe because for a survivor if there’s no sense of safety, there is no progress. I guess I skipped that part. This I know about myself, I want a shortcut, I want to get better yesterday and I hate that healing isn’t a straight line and almost never continues forward. There are regressions and side trails to this journey that can never be prepped for. It’s maddeningly frustrating for me as a control freak. But I need to work on that too.

I write this because a lot of people take sleep for granted. Only those who had experienced insomnia either short term of long term will understand the fear and anxiety that comes when you watch the clock keep going forward and realize your window for sleep is almost gone and there won’t be any chance for rest for a long time. There’s also that tiny voice that nags at you, quietly, that maybe sleep will never come again. My very first therapist said lack of sleep never killed anyone and this is one of the reasons she is not my therapist anymore. Because lack of sleep can kill people, but the reason is listed as heart attack or alcoholism or suicide. It’s an insidious thing that doesn’t get enough attention. So, if you can’t sleep and like me feel hopelessly locked in this vicious cycle, talk to someone, get some help, reach out. Just like me, even in the midst of the dark, the hopelessness, the nothingness of insomnia there is always room for progress.

I think this is pretty awesome

“Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing.

It is making a spreadsheet of your debt and enforcing a morning routine and cooking yourself healthy meals and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution.

It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic friend you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from living to do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Marie Claire and turn your phone off for the day.

A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick. Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so absolutely exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure.

True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.

It often means looking your failures and disappointments square in the eye and re-strategizing. It is not satiating your immediate desires. It is letting go. It is choosing new. It is disappointing some people. It is making sacrifices for others. It is living a way that other people won’t, so maybe you can live in a way that other people can’t.

It is letting yourself be normal. Regular. Unexceptional. It is sometimes having a dirty kitchen and deciding your ultimate goal in life isn’t going to be having abs and keeping up with your fake friends. It is deciding how much of your anxiety comes from not actualizing your latent potential, and how much comes from the way you were being trained to think before you even knew what was happening.

If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.

It is no longer using your hectic and unreasonable life as justification for self-sabotage in the form of liquor and procrastination. It is learning how to stop trying to “fix yourself” and start trying to take care of yourself… and maybe finding that taking care lovingly attends to a lot of the problems you were trying to fix in the first place.

It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It means rewiring what you have until your everyday life isn’t something you need therapy to recover from. It is no longer choosing a life that looks good over a life that feels good. It is giving the hell up on some goals so you can care about others. It is being honest even if that means you aren’t universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren’t anxious and dependent on other people.

It is becoming the person you know you want and are meant to be. Someone who knows that salt baths and chocolate cake are ways to enjoy life – not escape from it.”

-Brianna Wiest

Holiday help

For a lot of us, the holidays are a struggle. From isolation, too much stimulation, too much stress, trauma anniversaries, or being triggered, this is not the happiest time of year. I include myself in this category.

Know that you’re not alone.

Ive put a link below with a lot of helpful hints & articles all in one place. My best advice is know your limits & boundaries & stick to them the best you can.

Sending out peace on a day like today that can be so tough.

https://psychcentral.com/holidays/

Poem

On that day I wore my favorite purple underwear

for the sole purpose of knowing I was wearing them.

And underneath that?

I was naked.

The only barrier was that thin cotton

And under

And under I’ve got skin.

Miles and miles of skin

I’ve got skin to cover all my secrets like plastic

that you can see through to what leftovers are inside from the time before.

And despite what you thought,

my skin is not rough, nor is it bullet proof.

My skin is soft smooth easily scarred.

But that didn’t matter

You didn’t care about how soft my skin was

You just use your hands and fingers

You just want to tear into me

with your fingers

And mouth and teeth

Prying me open

Relentless. Pushing. Violating.

Lifting my chin (please save me)

Why?

So I can see lightning through the clouds?

What if all I crave is to swing high as a bird for a taste of fresher air?

What if all I reach for is a notebook to write in, not a hand to hold?

But that’s not the story you want.

You are licking your lips and baring your teeth.

Gleam in your eyes. Possession.

Just once I would like to go in the direction everyone else is

I don’t want to be the water in the well.

I don’t want to be the well.

I’d like to not be the ground anymore

I’d like not to be the thing people dig their hands in

Something they can own

Suicidal tendencies

Trigger warning: discussion of suicide

I wrote this a few years ago while I was on an inpatient unit. I share this so that others who experience this won’t feel so alone & give others a view into what a major depressive episode is like:

I am sitting in an inpatient psychiatric unit. The doors are locked and there’s no escape. They check on us all day & night, invading my room with their intrusive bright lights to make sure I haven’t hung myself with contraband dental floss. There is a woman screaming somewhere on the unit, about what I don’t know and I’m not sure she does either. We are not allowed anything that’s considered Sharp so I write this with a crayon. How did I get here? How did things get so bad? The color has been bled from the world and what is left is monochromatic, full of nothing but various shades of gray. I always thought it would be worse when there was full darkness but now I know that isn’t true because if it was dark I wouldn’t be able to see anything at all. The gray has sucked all the joy out of my world, food tastes like dust, there is no happiness, no desires to be had.This is the death of joy and has been replaced with an unending numbness. I am tired of this mask that I wear to make others happy. I am tired of pretending and I have no more energy for it. I want to die. I don’t want this life that is full of pain and horrors that jump at me unendingly. People will say my death by suicide is selfish but they don’t understand That the pain, unseen, invisible, is just as potent as a terminal illness. Suicidal thoughts are a terminal illness, a disease, Rust on the soul. People say words like ‘commit suicide’ as if it’s a crime and maybe it is But I have to ask how long do I have to be punished with this life? When do I get The relief of darkness? People will say that I have a great life, looking from the outside and base their judgments of me on that. No one wants to look below the mask, the skin that covers my life because the horrors that are under are unspeakable. Instead, when I am gone they’ll cluck their tongues & say ‘what a waste, such a selfish girl’ or ‘how could I have not seen this coming?’. Useless statements and feelings said to make the person feel better because people who are suicidal always give the signals that we are drowning. It’s just that No one cares enough to throw us a life vest. In group they asked what our favorite animal is, as though we are preschoolers sitting on brightly colored squares of rug but in reality are placed in utility gray chairs. ‘An octopus’ I say ‘because they’re clever’ but really it’s because I’ve only seen them enclosed in a tank always searching for a way out with their long tentacles. They are clever but they’ll never escape. Like me. I am trapped and as many times as I reach out, I only touch emptiness. The thought of death is seductive, full dark. No moon or stars. Quiet. Peace. The shrinks can’t sell me on any medication that’ll give me that relief. But they try. They peddle their currency which is hope but I have none of that left & dont care to borrow from anyone anymore. I’m sitting in an inpatient psychiatric unit. There is a woman screaming somewhere on the unit, about what I don’t know and I’m not sure she does either. The staff turn away from her howling despair with blank smiles as they discuss banal subjects like the weather with each other. The analogy to real life is almost unbearably painful.

The damaging silence of trauma

This essay was also published on The Medium: https://link.medium.com/1wHZYeHtUZ

Trigger warning: discussion of childhood abuse

I’m one of the many people who watched Leaving Neverland. The first part, I had to stop a few times because I was so overwhelmed. The second part, I cried through. I assumed there would be backlash, there always is when it comes to stories of sexual abuse. The shock, the demanding questions, the disbelief. In the age of #metoo, I knew that despite what the news reported, people still asked the same time worn questions. Why didn’t you tell? Why didn’t you say anything? Why did you keep going back to this person if they were abusing you? I’m not like the two men on that documentary. I am completely average and there is nothing special about me. My abuser was average too, there was nothing special about him. He sexually abused me for 4 years when I was a child and I did the same thing other survivors do. I stayed silent.

I was born into a middle-class family in the outskirts of a suburban area. We had a nice house, lots of property, and it was a good school district on paper. I am the second of four children. My parents were available to us. There was no drinking, drug use, or domestic violence in my house. My parents worked and carted us around to every extracurricular activity. My father was the coach most of the time because no other parent would step up. From the outside, it was perfect. Except it wasn’t. My parents fought frequently about my dad’s family. My grandparents were dysfunctional and felt love could only be metered out in a specific amount. My dad didn’t fit in and they treated him and my mother badly. Being the second grandchild shouldn’t have been a problem except I was a girl and there was already a girl. From the beginning I was a disappointment, not a boy, better luck next time. My older sister was the favorite and my grandmother adored her. She decided since I looked so much like my mother, I was just like her and treated me just as badly. Before the age of 10, I was told I was fat, unlovable, and a burden.

I liked school and I was a good student but I was shy and quiet and wanted to do a good job because in my family it didn’t really matter what else was going on as long as you were a high achiever in academics or work. When I was older, we had to say what color we thought we were in my religion class, I said beige and everyone laughed but no one disagreed. I was a good, invisible kid. The first time I interacted with my abuser, he brought a bunch of us to his classroom because it was rainy and we were going crazy with indoor recess. I liked the room, we banged on instruments and listened to music and it was a bigger room to mess around in. We all got ice cream after from the cafeteria cooler and he said ‘shhh it’s a secret’. And how delicious to have such a secret. To be part of something secret and special that connected me to others.

He kept bringing us but the group got smaller until it was just 3 of us. Each time we got a treat. Gum, candy, ice cream, chocolate milk. To have gum in school! It was forbidden. I would chew it on the bus on the way home and spit it on my front lawn. I was 7. He started to touch me but it was subtle at first, just a brush on the backside, a hand on my back or in my hair. Nothing scary at all. He would brush my hair and tell me how beautiful I was, how special, and how much he loved me. Those words filled a hole in me I didn’t know was there. I wanted to hear more. I was selfish and did everything I could to be with him. He would have me lay on blue mats and I would stare at the wall. He touched me over my clothes, then under them, and then had me touch him. It felt uneasy but not bad enough that I told him to stop. After all of that, he would hold me in his arms and tell me the same things about being beautiful and special. They were perfect moments of peace. There were also treats, trinkets of rings and bracelets, flowers and tiny dolls, lollipops and candy. Each one was like it was made of gold because it was for me, just me.

Of course, it didn’t last. Soon it moved onto oral sex and that was very unpleasant but I did it because I loved him, it made him happy, and I knew he wouldn’t hurt me. Right? There were no second thoughts because kids don’t have them. They just have now and that’s it. I was praised a lot after this started but there were also the start of threats and coaching, we’ll get into trouble, we won’t be able to see each other, your parents will hate you and send you away, no one will believe you. Hammered over and over into my head alternating with I love you, you’re special, you’re the only one. I was panicked that I wouldn’t be able to see him and that I would be separated from my family. I wanted to be the only one. Not one of 4, not the loser of the grandkids, but the one. There were rules to follow and if I broke them or made a mistake, I was punished. Slapped on the side of the head, hair pulled, thighs pinched, legs punched. Nothing that left any marks. I made more mistakes as time went on and he would be distant, push me away and not say the lovely things he had. I would beg for forgiveness, I’ll do better, I’m sorry, please. I started to have stomach aches and couldn’t concentrate in school. I was 8 by this time and went to the nurse every day with a stomachache. Her office was a safe place. She called my mother to ask if everything was ok at home and I was told not to go to the nurse unless I was bleeding. I never went to the nurse again. There was no safe place anymore.

His mood was always changing, I never knew what he’d be like but I wanted the old way back and every time I went, I would hope I would be good enough to have him love me again. Then for a while he was sweet and kind. That was around the time we first had sex. I was 8. He took me to an apartment building, I have no idea where. He had a special gown and had me take a bath. When it was happening I looked at the painting of fruit on the wall and heard the tree branches scratching at the window. I was in the painting, away from what was happening. After, I remember being in a bath again and it was full of blood. The bathroom was a 70’s blue and it turned the water purple. I cried with my hands over my mouth because I didn’t want to upset him. I remember after him brushing my hair and humming to me. He taught me how to use toilet paper to cover my underwear so it wouldn’t get ruined and what to do if it did. He said, you’re my beautiful special girl and gave me a bracelet. I still hear the scratching at the window in my nightmares.

Once it started, there was no going back and this is the second part of why kids don’t tell. We get too far into a hole and don’t have the skills to get out. We haven’t said anything up until this point so who would believe us? Plus, the same stuff is getting pounded into our heads love, special, only one, don’t tell, you’ll be alone and no one will love you. The sex continued in school, both during and after, when I was supposed to go to afterschool activities, and in his car. It was painful. I never complained. If I bled, he punished me and called me a pig or a bad girl. He would push me away and tell me he didn’t want to be near me. I was devastated. I was ashamed of my body and my face. I thought I was ugly and wouldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I punched my legs. I had a dollhouse and my dolls acted out the sex I was having. There was a ‘bad room’ and a ‘bad bed’. I had a swing set and used to swing for hours. It lulled me out of my body. A body that no longer felt like it was my own. I know now I was dissociating because the stress was too much but back then, I just knew I could curl into myself and escape for a while. I swung so much over the next few years, I wore through 2 swings seats. I started to see a dark shape that followed me everywhere and gave me nightmares. I called him my darkman and at night I’d see his fingers creep across my rug to my bed. I had nightmares and wanted to sleep with my parents. The darkman still follows me today.

I’m 9. I never felt well and my stomach still hurt. I would get this thumping in the back of my head. I was always alert, waiting to hear him come down the hall. I would hear the clock tick tock in the classroom and it would be so loud, I thought my head would explode. The darkman would wrap around the clock and I could hear him laughing at me. Near the end of 4th grade, the sex slowed down and I thought things would go back to the way they were before. But they didn’t. One day he came for me and brought me to a different place. It was a room in a basement. There was another man there and I was expected to have sex with him. I did not know this but figured it out when he started to take my clothes off and held me down. The teacher stayed while this happened to me. I was confused and felt like I had betrayed him. I kept expecting him to jump up and help me. I didn’t want to do anything sexual with anyone. I remember a total of 12 men I was brought to meet and sometimes he stayed and sometimes he left. All in the same room. Some of the men wanted to have sex, some wanted to masturbate, some wanted me to dress up in things they brought, some wanted to take pictures. I was drugged on 2 occasions. If I broke a rule or if one of the men was unhappy, I was pushed, hit with a belt, or slapped. There was one man who I encountered the most, a total of 6 times and he was without a doubt a psychopath and a sadist. He hurt me in ways that you could not comprehend.

The abuse stopped when I was 10.

4 years had gone by and I was a different person. By this time, I was numb. I was so good at pretending and having a fake face, you could have asked me a 100 times and I would deny being abused and you would believe me. But if you looked there were signs even in my silence. I had fits at school where I would cry, I never wanted to sit criss cross apple sauce because I thought everyone would know I had had sex. I would need to go to the hallway until I calmed down. My 5th grade teacher said she needed to call my mom and I was terrified that they knew and she would send me away. Sometimes I would stare at my schoolwork and not be able to see what was on the paper. The kids started to stay away from me, I was weird and felt very alone. I had UTI’s and bad stomach pain. I still couldn’t sleep and the darkman was breathing down my neck. I still hit my legs. My dollhouse playing got more violent and I set one of the windows on fire. I cut the hair off my barbies and blacked out their eyes. I hated them and their bodies. I hid them at the back of my closet. I swung and listened to music for as long as I can. From the outside, if you didn’t look too hard, I was a normal but anxious kid. I did well in school. I was quiet. I was invisible.

This story is not unique or even interesting but it brings up the same question: why didn’t I tell. When you ask why we (survivors) don’t tell, we can’t. We been love bombed or threatened or are frightened and confused. There are times when I did want to tell but didn’t know where to go or who to tell. It was too complicated for my little brain. Then, I was too far into it and felt like I was part of it. That I’d get blamed and get into trouble. Then there’s hope and hope is probably one of the most powerful things to a kid. I hoped again and again that we would go back to the way it was at the beginning. That if I was good enough and made him happy he would love me again. I also didn’t want him to get into trouble. I loved him totally and completely. He saw me when no one else did. He thought I was special and picked me over everyone else. I would never betray him. He always came and got me from the room. He always saved me and brought me closer to home. How can you not love someone who saves you? That love is more powerful than anything else.

People have questions and they have doubts about our stories. It true that I have no proof, just my word. Also, is my memory perfect? No it’s not. There are some things I remember pieces of, like slices of glass or just smells or lights. Survivors are just as hard on ourselves as others are. We ask ourselves: am I making it worse than it was? Why can’t I just be normal and get over this? Why did this happen? How long do I have to suffer? How much am I to blame? How long do I have to be punished? These questions haunt me when I’m trying to unsuccessfully sleep. There is no answer. There is no upside to us sharing our stories. No one gives you a metal for having survived trauma. Most of the time you’re shunned, told to be quiet, or not believed at all. I have terrible symptoms of PTSD: nightmares, insomnia, crippling panic attacks, severe depression, suicidal thoughts, flashbacks, stomach pains, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, social phobia, fear of strange men, irritability. Who would want to live this way? I still have to work and take care of my family. No one lives your life for you and no one wants to talk about my trauma except my amazing husband, a patient therapist, and a best friend who understands when I flake out of her. These are my people and I’m lucky to have them.

Trauma is insidious and affects every part of my life. I feel like I can’t connect to people, not even my husband and children. It is heart wrenchingly lonely because all I want to feel is like I belong with someone, to have someone understand. I still hide behind my false face (which has held up spectacularly over the years) and most people think I’m ‘normal’. I have a hard time letting go of it, even in therapy where I’m supposed to be the most genuine because I’m still afraid of being rejected and not believed. I’m told I’m a victim of child pornography and human trafficking but all those labels mean is that I wake up every morning wondering how many people looked at the pictures of me online and saw my pain. That will never change because those pictures will be online forever. Try living with that. I feel deep and unrelenting shame about the things that happened to me. It’s like a black hole inside of me that sucks in all of the joy and happiness of life and shreds it. I’m constantly waiting for ‘them’ to come back and take me away. My terror is constant, it’s one of the few unchanging things in my life. I work hard to fight back against these symptoms but a lot of the time it seems hopeless. Trauma is a life sentence. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, people have done amazing things because of adversity in childhood but it’s still a lifelong struggle. It flares up when you least expect it and smacks you in the side and knocks you to the ground. Not everyone will understand why we are silent about our abuse and stay with our abusers because it’s complicated. There’s a lot of damage in and around silence. It grows like a weed and chokes out things like honesty, compassion, and openness. It makes us different, seperate, and scared. It makes us always be ready for the next bad thing to happen. The only person you have is the one who started it all. So you think it’s best to just stay silent. And the vicious cycle continues.