Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Ugly Truth

What is worse than surviving an abusive relationship? Dealing with the aftermath, the scars and insecurities is hard enough but worse: dealing with well meaning people who want to believe the false face the abuser approaches the public with.
It must be an exaggeration. She must be overreacting. It is a little misunderstanding. He says nice things about you, the implied unspoken being: so how dare you tell me what he really treated you like. How dare you take the mask I want to believe off the guy or gal I like.
It is not easy to verbally express what you go through. What you wake up because your mind is reliving it again. The torturous words intended to push you to self destruction. The physical abuse. The control, manipulation, constant gaslighting. The ridicule and humiliation. The repeated nightmare of the worst moments. Struggling in a friend's bathroom to avoid having fingers broken. Breathing and accepting that you might die in a moment when for the ninth day in a row you've had the person dry fire a handgun at you from two to three feet away.
Just a joke, it must be. I didn't see any of that. I've known him for years, he's just a little crazy and loud. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses that corrode and isolate abuse survivors more.
Who wants to have a heart to heart with someone, who in their opening statement empowers your abuser? When you think back and realize how bad it was and where was everyone? Didn't they hear? Didn't they see? Why didn't they say anything? In a silent way they let it happen. Weather the storm. He needs you. He doesn't mean it.
Seriously, why don't you just talk to him? He is so nice. Everyone knows you can't believe a word he says except when you discuss abuse, now somehow his words have validity? You hear the contradiction well meaning people do not  realize they are voicing. It hurts. You hear "I would rather believe a notorious liar with a known history of abusive volatile behavior than you. Period."
People come up to justify their continued friendship with both of you. That's fine, your choice. But when you do not want to hear what we dealt with and you tell us what a good friend our abuser is you are telling us you are okay with them abusing us and others. You are telling us you want the fiction that the truth discomforts you. You want the blind eye and we can't unlive the darkest moments and bottom line: you were not there for us. We faced it alone. You didn't step in. We went to our private places, you had a normal evening. We dealt with emotional explosions, threats of physical violence, mandates on how we had to appear to you. We tried showing you by resisting directives and arguing or expressing lesser points- we paid in privacy later but you still missed it, minimized it, justified it for your own reasons.
Do not speculate. Talk to us. Listen to us. Our experiences and emotions are valid. Our safety is important. Do not empower abusers. Do not strive so hard to love the mask they make for you. Tear it off and really understand the horror we deal with in knowing you would rather love and support a falsehood than be there for a real human that was treated inhumanly.
You would not befriend someone who tortures animals. You will explain to me the finer points of someone who spent two years making my daily life hell. Where I coped by blogging about every emotional or psychological bomb I was trying futilely to diffuse. My blog was my figurative defense attorney- a regular plea that he would read like some barbaric king to laud the praises of then dismiss as he gleefully entertained himself hurting me.
I'm awake again. Its the middle of the night. I hate thinking back. I hate talking about it. It isn't going to go away. Perhaps eventually it will lessen. Quietly, I find the friends who understand. Who have also survived or who understand abusers and masks. They make it easier. We talk. We understand the isolation that the hurt, the unintended betrayal and empowerment the community offers those who hurt us. He said she said. And he said nice stuff. She must just be bitching. She's a she. She's a She and it happened in a relationship: 50% off the validity of her words; as we can choose to dismiss on the grounds of the relationship is over so they're just bitter. It could be a He it happened to for the same reason. Same justification. Eww. Relationship gonbe wrong. Sigh. File it under: Invalidate and sweep under rug. Stop. Do not perpetuate a cycle. Do not aid an abuser by dismissing their actions. They didn't do it in front of you because they know you would not have tolerated it, you wouldn't have been able to like them if you heard or saw. That's why they wait until they have you alone. They set you up. They play games. They fuck with your head. They quietly remind you they have all the power and control, you have nothing. Community doesn't intentionally endorse this but unintentionally it empowers it. 
We go through each day focusing on goals. Focusing on the friends who encourage us to think and be healthy. Focusing on coping with the scars and fears. Focusing on never wanting to ever have to be in close proximity to the person who threatened us. Who belittled us. Who criticized everything from what we ate, how we look, how we make decisions, what we wear, how we feel, as they wasted our money and told us how much we needed them. 


As I talk I listen. So many men and women have come individually, talked of what they are dealing with or have dealt with. What hurts each of us the most: the hurt. The isolation. Hearing alleged friends conjecturing to us and our loved ones that we are oversensitive, overreacting, misunderstanding. Support us. Stop wanting to believe the excuses and dismissals. We didn't fall down the stairs. We didn't deserve to have someone try to break our fingers because we did not jump to one of their rigid rules. Listen. Be aware of the mask. Tell us we don't deserve it: that is the best truth you can give us. Give us a place that is safe. Give us someone to talk to where our words are safe to express without judgements or danger of them getting back to where they hurt us worse.
I appreciate the friends who realized and intervened in a healthy way. The ones who saw the severe depression, anxiety and isolation. The ones who persisted, to be there then and now. People who had an idea of what I was not saying. Who solidly approached the problem with practical sense and compassion. Letting me work it out and validating, reminding me who I was and could be and that I could choose healthier choices and people.  The friends who explain abuse and behavior of people who don't understand. The friends who communicate safety and support. The friends who look us in the eye and give us permission to heal and remind us that we were not deserving of the abuse and that we are allowed to heal, that our emotions are valid and they let us cry when we need to, which is far to often. The friends who love us even on days we struggle to like ourselves.   
As I sit here awake in the middle of the night having to mentally process again. Having to work on scars and wounds he told me I deserved as I am a terrible human being that is so deplorable no one but him could possibly tolerate my presence. Seeing the gun. Feeling the struggle in the bathroom. Watching my friends Melissa and Amy figure out they could stop him by walking in with a smile when he started shouting, when they heard my voice raise with stress and defensive words. Seeing the look in their eye as these beautiful women stood for me when I didn't believe in myself enough to try. It hurts to remember what they had to hear and go through. But go ahead, invalidate their experiences, tell me how we overreact and are overly sensitive.
What caused that distress and severe sensitivity? Not being treated like a human being. Being tormented and terrified and hurt. But wait? Shhhhh. Don't talk about it. It makes people uncomfortable. Don't talk about it. He doesn't want to people to know how he is when you were alone and the mask was off, they might treat him like the asshole he is. They might call him on his behaviors. The community might have open communication. It might be harder for him to flatter his way into another relationship. The next unwitting person might have a chance to hear something other than the gaslit version of his history that makes him sound like he was just harmless and misunderstood. They might hold him accountable. Him. Her. The abuser. They might avoid the nightmares, anxiety attacks, depression, isolation, the shaking, the fear, the rage and the humiliation of having to remember it and express it to process it and to try to neutralize the poison.
Do not stay in an abusive situation. You do not deserve it. There are places to go. There are people who  can help you deal with finances, getting the things you need to live, you are not a burden. You do not deserve it. You deserve to be safe. You deserve to be treated with respect. Your feelings and experiences are valid. You deserve to be treated with respect. You do not deserve humiliation, pain, punishment. You do not deserve guilt. You are not guilty. It is not your fault. We will not be mad at you or stop being your friend because you left or because you are being abused. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a monster. You are not repugnant or undesirable. You are beautiful, human. You aren't perfect, but that is okay. You make a wonderful you. We value you for who you are. You are brave. You survive. You survived.
I fight the anxiety. I sit here expressing to heal. I sit here thinking of the wonderful moments and people in my life. Thinking positives and breathing, reminding myself I am safe. Reminding myself of constructive goals I am working on. Trying to keep healing and growing.
Putting together resources to start a safety net of support for abuse survivors working faires. Taking time to gather and connect strong resources and working on the framework so a solid network of volunteers who support each other and are there to talk to for those going through or dealing with past abuse to go to for support and community connections if they need more than a supportive conversation. Figuring out what we need, what would help us all heal and grow. Speaking out. Each time I do, my words echo back from another trickle of people dealing with abuse issues hearing they have permission to break the silence- supporting each other. It is hard to speak. It is hard to feel. And the feel doesn't ever fully go away. Someone has to speak. Silence is endorsement. Silence is an ally of Abusers. Quit buying the mask. Quit trying to invalidate our experiences. We aren't buying that mask again and we don't want to hear why you like it. Would hurt you too much to look behind the mask is that why you jump to rationalize our experiences that you weren't there for? Your judgement is empty. Your conjecture invalid. Your choice to hurt us by rubbing the mask in our faces? Not nice. Not healing. Not telling us you are trustworthy. Not demonstrating integrity. 

  If looking would hurt you, we faced them without their mask- consider that and you may start to understand the sorrow and isolation. You can't handle a horrible peek at what we starkly faced. Paint another sparkle in their eye, use the broken glass of their words and deeds to make their smile glint in the light. So shiny. So friendly. Such a good person you say, as our heart bleed from being chewed up. Such good people abusers are, just misunderstood?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dealing With What Time Does Not Heal

Life happens. For better or worse. Beautiful moments, exhilaration and inspiration skipping your heart and blooming your smiles. Jagged painful moments: fear, sorrow, shame and anger are sharp edged as the gouge into your mind carving wounds there that time does not heal. Hoping the memories grow less poignant, less destructive does not lessen their impact.
Accidents. Medical issues. They rip away our assumptions of safety and strength. They take people we love in a moment leaving us with memories we hold fast to, as they are what we have left. Those memories and the unsettling knowledge that we are all fragile, mortal, and nothing can be taken for granted.
Abuse. Abuse scars us. Leaves us limping and torn inside, vulnerable. We begin to perceive ourselves as bad, flawed, broken. We perceive that somehow we deserve this and when we look around we see the people around us unaware of what hellish warping has happened to our view of ourselves and each other. It is difficult to break the cycle. It is hard to talk about the pain. The humiliation. The fear which becomes your constant companion. Part of you fights to take your power back, part of you becomes resigned as the community around you seems unaware or even accepting- making you wonder if perhaps you deserve the abuse. The critic in your head uses it all for ammunition.
Time makes it easier to talk about but the feelings come back. They are always with you. Folks seem uncomfortable around you, not always knowing what to say; they often say nothing or change topics which spirals you further into isolation. It gets more difficult to express the things you need to so you can heal and go forward. Depression and anxiety become constant companions you struggle with.
Even harder: when people you love still compliment and express positives about the people who hurt you. When they help an abuser, even if it is not related to you- it feels like bricks in a wall. Part of you wonders, do they understand what you went through? Do they conceive of how horrible a person can be and has chosen to be to you? A quiet voice whispers " they don't believe you."
No one wants to see the worst in a friend, even when its in front of them.
Abusive people can be very charismatic. They do not abuse everyone. Things get dismissed as jokes or moods. Do not talk about it. People might get uncomfortable. Do not talk about it, the abuser doesn't want people to know or to hold them accountable.
You have to talk to heal. The abuser gave up the right to be respected when they chose to use words and actions to torture you. This. This is truth. Talk. You might save someone else. You will save yourself. Talking with supportive people, healthy people- this helps you redefine yourself. It helps fight the inner critic. It helps you heal what time alone cannot.
The feelings do not go away. They are there when you triumph and when you fall down. Some days the feelings make it hard to get out of bed and go through the motions of a day. It is hard to go through life with an emotional prison sentence you got but never deserved. You did not deserve to be treated badly. You do not deserve to have someone feed your demons for their amusement and benefit. You deserve to be treated with kindness. Respect. Love.
One of the hardest steps is dealing with the shame and humiliation. You stayed for a while. Why? Stop punishing yourself is easier said than done.
You find your communication skills and focus slide into a variable setting you cannot always control. You assume you have to stay in a bad place. You try to keep drama low. You try to keep people around you from getting angry. You judge yourself harshly and the downward spiral continues as your mind exaggerates your weaknesses and imperfections.
The abusers words follow you and haunt you. Is there something wrong with you? What if they are right and you really are worthless and terrible?
Wrong. It is hard to see the positives when you are stuck in the cycle. You fight it in your head but part of you feels and whispers: if they were wrong why am I still vulnerable and why do people still think its okay to let them get close to you? People assume they aren't going to be abusive. Abusers say wonderful things about you to everyone but you- it is one of the ways they manipulate the perception people have of them.
This is one of the hardest things to deal with. You find yourself withdrawing from good friends because they go have good times with the abuser. They cheer on positives for that person while you are struggling with anxiety, nightmares and despair having no idea that their actions hurt.
Then at the darkest moment someone walks up. Someone you barely know. They tell you what they are facing. What they struggle with. They read or heard about your struggle. They know you know. They know they can talk to you. They know you know what they are feeling, thinking and going through. You talk with each other. You connect. A little bit of the burden lifts as you share it.
Then another person finds you. Not always people you expect. They share their story. They know. You know. You share the burden again.
After a while you realize that the tip of the iceberg is what folks see; what is underwater: that is what you start to perceive. You realize something needs to shift.
Dealing with my own issues I have found myself mentally identifying friends who are Angels, who I feel safe with. Who I can talk to. Who help me remember to laugh and create a safe place for me. Who react by giving my feelings and experiences validity rather than more heaps of stinking doubt and silence. I realize with the numbers of people quietly finding me that I am not the only one needing Angels. That with Angels around, the pain although present is something that can be dealt with.
This week I am reaching out and starting to work with many friends to create a volunteer network of "Angels" who we will train to outreach and help abuse survivors receive the emotional support to heal and step forward within the Renaissance festival community. We heal together, alone we hurt. Awareness changes the shape of our worlds.

Dealing With What Time Does Not Heal

Life happens. For better or worse. Beautiful moments, exhilaration and inspiration skipping your heart and blooming your smiles. Jagged painful moments: fear, sorrow, shame and anger are sharp edged as the gouge into your mind carving wounds there that time does not heal. Hoping the memories grow less poignant, less destructive does not lessen their impact.
Accidents. Medical issues. They rip away our assumptions of safety and strength. They take people we love in a moment leaving us with memories we hold fast to, as they are what we have left. Those memories and the unsettling knowledge that we are all fragile, mortal, and nothing can be taken for granted.
Abuse. Abuse scars us. Leaves us limping and torn inside, vulnerable. We begin to perceive ourselves as bad, flawed, broken. We perceive that somehow we deserve this and when we look around we see the people around us unaware of what hellish warping has happened to our view of ourselves and each other. It is difficult to break the cycle. It is hard to talk about the pain. The humiliation. The fear which becomes your constant companion. Part of you fights to take your power back, part of you becomes resigned as the community around you seems unaware or even accepting- making you wonder if perhaps you deserve the abuse. The critic in your head uses it all for ammunition.
Time makes it easier to talk about but the feelings come back. They are always with you. Folks seem uncomfortable around you, not always knowing what to say; they often say nothing or change topics which spirals you further into isolation. It gets more difficult to express the things you need to so you can heal and go forward. Depression and anxiety become constant companions you struggle with.
Even harder: when people you love still compliment and express positives about the people who hurt you. When they help an abuser, even if it is not related to you- it feels like bricks in a wall. Part of you wonders, do they understand what you went through? Do they conceive of how horrible a person can be and has chosen to be to you? A quiet voice whispers " they don't believe you."
No one wants to see the worst in a friend, even when its in front of them.
Abusive people can be very charismatic. They do not abuse everyone. Things get dismissed as jokes or moods. Do not talk about it. People might get uncomfortable. Do not talk about it, the abuser doesn't want people to know or to hold them accountable.
You have to talk to heal. The abuser gave up the right to be respected when they chose to use words and actions to torture you. This. This is truth. Talk. You might save someone else. You will save yourself. Talking with supportive people, healthy people- this helps you redefine yourself. It helps fight the inner critic. It helps you heal what time alone cannot.
The feelings do not go away. They are there when you triumph and when you fall down. Some days the feelings make it hard to get out of bed and go through the motions of a day. It is hard to go through life with an emotional prison sentence you got but never deserved. You did not deserve to be treated badly. You do not deserve to have someone feed your demons for their amusement and benefit. You deserve to be treated with kindness. Respect. Love.
One of the hardest steps is dealing with the shame and humiliation. You stayed for a while. Why? Stop punishing yourself is easier said than done.
You find your communication skills and focus slide into a variable setting you cannot always control. You assume you have to stay in a bad place. You try to keep drama low. You try to keep people around you from getting angry. You judge yourself harshly and the downward spiral continues as your mind exaggerates your weaknesses and imperfections.
The abusers words follow you and haunt you. Is there something wrong with you? What if they are right and you really are worthless and terrible?
Wrong. It is hard to see the positives when you are stuck in the cycle. You fight it in your head but part of you feels and whispers: if they were wrong why am I still vulnerable and why do people still think its okay to let them get close to you? People assume they aren't going to be abusive. Abusers say wonderful things about you to everyone but you- it is one of the ways they manipulate the perception people have of them.
This is one of the hardest things to deal with. You find yourself withdrawing from good friends because they go have good times with the abuser. They cheer on positives for that person while you are struggling with anxiety, nightmares and despair having no idea that their actions hurt.
Then at the darkest moment someone walks up. Someone you barely know. They tell you what they are facing. What they struggle with. They read or heard about your struggle. They know you know. They know they can talk to you. They know you know what they are feeling, thinking and going through. You talk with each other. You connect. A little bit of the burden lifts as you share it.
Then another person finds you. Not always people you expect. They share their story. They know. You know. You share the burden again.
After a while you realize that the tip of the iceberg is what folks see; what is underwater: that is what you start to perceive. You realize something needs to shift.
Dealing with my own issues I have found myself mentally identifying friends who are Angels, who I feel safe with. Who I can talk to. Who help me remember to laugh and create a safe place for me. Who react by giving my feelings and experiences validity rather than more heaps of stinking doubt and silence. I realize with the numbers of people quietly finding me that I am not the only one needing Angels. That with Angels around, the pain although present is something that can be dealt with.
This week I am reaching out and starting to work with many friends to create a volunteer network of "Angels" who we will train to outreach and help abuse survivors receive the emotional support to heal and step forward within the Renaissance festival community. We heal together, alone we hurt. Awareness changes the shape of our worlds.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Danger of Dismissing Warning Signs

Years ago I lived in western New York, renting an apartment from my parents on family land. My great grandmother's house was turned into three apartments. I lived in one. My family's construction company with barns, heavy equipment and a large garage separated me from the Genesee River.
My father and his employees would hang out drinking beer with their friends. Some of those friends were alright folks, others, had issues.
There was a guy who was missing most of his teeth, whose behavior was erratic that would show up. He talked flirtatiously to the under age girls, to the point where I went to them and told the girls to avoid being alone with him. He had tantrums. He did a variety of drugs and boasted of trafficking with bikers.
He was Bipolar and about once or twice a month, the state police got called to his house by his parents who lived on the property with him. He threatened suicide by shotgun. There was ample documentation. He lived in the house between my parents and their business (and by default, the apartment I lived in).
I repeatedly went to my parents and asked them to stop allowing him to hang out on the family land.
I warned them. One day, he will commit suicide and likely, it's going to happen at the garage. He parties there. He does these suicidal gestures for attention. It was a warning I made too often to count. I was worried about who he would hurt or take with him when he finally followed through.
I intervened one time. I had stopped over to visit his kind hearted brother who is now long dead after struggling with a debilitating illness- multiple sclerosis, if memory serves. As we talked Will approached us and said how he was going to shoot himself. His brother cried and begged him not to. He fed on that. I finally put my hand on his brother's hand and shook my head. While Will went for his prop so he could fully enact this torturous play I talked to his brother. Will also met the criteria for borderline personality disorder, my dad's favorite kind of friend. I looked at his brother and said we can't react. We have to tell him, if he's going to do it do it or if he's not go get counseling. He nodded. His attempts at begging and pleading had failed so new tactic.
He came back with his gun. I looked at him.
His brother silent, tears still sliding in the darkness down his face. We said " If you are going to do it, do it. You are hurting your family too much with this. Stop. Get help or get it done and over with." He looked at us. " I will!" Said Will.
I looked at him hard. "Then go get the shells." His brother said "Yes. Get the shells. I will load it for you- if that's what you want."
Will wasn't so willing then. He had no idea how to respond. His brother wasn't hurting. His little drama was not playing out as planned. The audience had become the director and no one had given him the new script. He put the gun away and kept asking us if we really would have loaded the gun.
For over a year he was quieter, better behaved. I still warned and his two wonderful brothers agreed but everyone else thought I crying wolf. Funny how often you point out a real danger and even when it ends up verified you go from an alarmist to a creepy mystical person who predicted the future- even sometimes the superstitious mutter of "witch."
My words were dismissed, like the words of a woman with several psychology degrees are. It's easier to call a woman a witch rather than accept that she is applying an education and years of experience working with severely mentally ill people. Cassandra. Her shoes, having walked in them, are uncomfortable.
The story of Will continued.
He told people I was a witch. He was awed and fearful. He acted better if he thought I was looming. I didn't even have to wear a pointy hat or carry a broom.
He gradually partied more again. One day, my family had a drinking party at the garage. I had gone down to the river to talk with my friend Michael who was visiting. We talked Tool and martial arts as we watched the large carp circle the river bend. Several boys rode around on a four wheeler unsupervised. We happened to be looming back from the river across the field as the garage when the boys cried out. The four wheeler had flipped onto them. We were the sober people. We ran. Adrenaline fueled us as we each grabbed an end of the four wheeler with one hand and flipped it off the two ten year olds.
I had been calling out "Do not move!" As we had approached. If either had a back injury it was crucial.
The four wheeler bounced to the ground. One of the bots was in a pose like a dead bug, look of terror in his eyes. The other got up and said his ankle hurt but otherwise was alright. He had been driving and he was teary. As I focused on the still frozen boy event unfolded around me. The drunk adults came out. Interpretation they made was "kids being reckless" versus reality- they were inexperienced and tried to turn too sharp on sand. The frozen boy had taken my literally. Hus mom and I were relieved he was fine. Then the sound of a loud slap. I turned around. The boy who had been driving was holding the rear frame of the four wheeler. Will was walking around cheerleading the violence. The boy's father, a construction worker with arms like thick trees was beating his son so hard every hit was lifting him off the ground. The boy's mother and the father's best friend were trying to talk him into calming down. They might as well have been soundless. Fury. Adrenaline. Not thought other than the safety of the boy who had done nothing wrong. No one intervened when I was a kid, but here I could do what I had always wished someone had done for me. I grabbed the father and spun him around. Rage stared back at me.
"Stop. You are not hitting him again. You have to go through me. It was an accident." I realized that his wife and friend were now behind me supportive but small and without fire. Full of fear. I knew how much it was going to hurt if he hit me. I braced. "Accident." I tried to speak drunk language. " I need to assess him for injury. I need your help. Step back." Will shouted venom and violence from around the edges. Dad paused trying to logic.
Will stepped up, realizing this fun show was ending too soon for him. He started shouting slurs at me. I had it. Adrenaline. Drunks. Abuse. Fury. I turned and stepped toward him. " You're done." I lunged forward hand solid in a spike for his throat. His kind brother, from behind me realized what I was doing. He dove around me like a hobbit, power tackled his brother. Face first into his stomach. Down they went. Michael stepped in. Took Will be the arm. The other guys followed his lead. In a moment they had thrown him in the bed of a pick up truck to drive off the land and dump somewhere. I picked the hundred pound boy up in my arms. I carried him to my car. Sober, I drove while his mother cried, all the way to the ER. He had a chipped bone and a deep bruise in his foot. He felt safe with me there. His mom got a divorce shortly after this and I never saw him again. Michael looked at me when we got back. "You would have killed him." "I know. Kenny knows. Kenny saved me, not his brother." Kenny came up and talked too. He said words to that effect. His brother frustrated him and poisoned life around him. He couldn't let that be on my hands. I told him I just hoped when he finally imploded that no one else would get hurt.
The rest of the group had their own reality.
Will got quiet for a while. Then it built again.
About a year after I walked away from that life, I learned that late one night Will sat in the garage drinking with one of my father's employees- the father of that boy.
They were drunk. He decided to play Russian Roulette. The friend objected. He clicked anyways but this time it was more than a click. From the other side of a picnic table the friend watched Will's head as the bullet tore in. Gore covered him and everything nearby. The police were called. The grilled the friend as a murder suspect until Will's father, the State Police and my father showed up several hours later going through his well documented suicide threats over the years.
The friend almost committed suicide. He had to step away and start a new life to get away from the toxicity that had become his life with the influence of my family and their friends. My dad instigated a lot of terrible behavior, encouraged it in his workers.

Volatile people do not follow the rules or social considerations of society.
The best I've found you can do: find the people who are healthy, spend time with them. Use social supports. Breathe. Meditate. Do your best to get out of your head. Be prepared and plan ahead to keep yourself safe as best you can- and hope that your fears are unjustified.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Challenge of Breaking the Silence

I was sixteen. Our school band was doing a concert program with the band from the next town. A boy I had a crush on from the summer program I had been in asked me out. I was excited. It was the first time I had been asked out. I got in the car to go home. I told my mom. Before the words were gone the hitting and screaming started. The next day I told him I couldn't go out with him. He didn't know why and I was the butt of jokes.
Why didn't I tell?
When you live with abuse, abusers do their best to control your life. They manipulate people through how they act. They can act better than a Shakespearean performer. They have an image they carefully construct for the outside world, away from others, the mask comes off. I learned to do my best to tell the truth, and found despite this, friends and peers wanted to believe the sugar coated persona of my mother. There were exceptions. People who knew what abusers and abuse was like, people who spent time with her watching how she interacted with me. In Girl Scouts, one of the other leaders watched as I sat in a corner excluded from activities and snacks, ridiculed and put down by my mother when I tried to join in. She wasn't someone my mom wanted to impress, so she got treated to mild abrasiveness and hostility as well. That woman fed me, included me, encouraged me to visit her family and gave me a place to feel safe and normal.
There is the threat of violence and disbelief. Being told people will not believe you, and when they aren't around getting you back is a top priority.
You get out of an abusive relationship. You work on yourself. You work on yourself. Because you can trust you.
I found myself in an abusive relationship years later. Waking up to be baited into arguments. Being told daily that while I was amazing I was terrible and undesirable. And the threat of if I lose my temper it is your fault that I hurt you. Your fault.

Abusive people work hard to present a persona they want the world to believe. They talk highly of you, they are proud of you, grateful to you. They do this to affect people's perception. Who do you believe, the one shaking and crying and messy crying abuse or the one so eagerly complimenting and seemingly hurt and confused by the allegations? Too often people minimize and doubt. I can't believe he pointed guns at you and dry fired them. Why didn't you tell us? It would have escalated him. I wanted away. I wanted to be safe again. I didn't want to face my friends and peers and see them weighing and deciding whether I was telling the truth. I didn't want to think about it. I wanted it gone. The past. What if I told you and you told him before I was gone? What if I told you and you told him now? He frequently expressed his desire to shoot am ex wife that left and broke the silence. He frequently warned me if I told he would nudge people to believe it was exaggeration. I blogged every few days as I dealt with heavy emotions and situations I could not write about, hinting that there were a thousand things I could not write. I could not express.
Coming from abuse, it takes me time and support to speak. I shut down. I have to evaluate and come to terms with emotions to release them. I am elusive, keeping even the closest friends at a distance like the barn cat that survives. Good friends know, when things get very bad I call, but still have trouble getting the words out. Ironic, being a storyteller and facing the challenge of breaking the silence to find my words broken into nonsense sounds and tears. Thinking of the awkward dance to keep my ex from breaking my fingers at my friend's house as I have another friend say "I don't know who to believe, I hear you but he compliments you- you should talk to him. Its a misunderstanding." Being on trial in life, no representation but the truth and the truth is no showman. The smooth charismatic defense for the Defendant is all Hollywood, that Law and Order Attorney you catch yourself believing even when he tells you it is raining on a sunny day.
Even though the truth is a tired public defender, I stick with it. The truth isn't good at consoling me when I face the anxiety and the emotions from the bad shit again and again as I reach the point where I can process and release it- or have it suddenly thrown back at me. Go ahead, someday you will tell people, you will use this against me and I will tell them you exaggerated. I will compliment you and the seed of disbelief will plant.

When you ask us what happened: it was humiliating, it was depressing, it was stressful- living with a bomb you are constantly trying to keep from exploding. Do not wake the dragon. When you ask us what happened: we have to think about it and how we felt again. When we see the abusers it is the same. I survived by hiding, by running, by isolating. I chose when I left to live. I choose to break the silence, not to allow the isolation but to do my best to avoid for my own safety and peace of mind.
I know it can be frustrating and difficult to deal with abuse survivors. We try to please you. We try to do our best to keep everyone calm and smiling. We are insecure at times. Sometimes we hide and cry because an injury from the past came back and haunted us. We have to fight not only our own demons but the ones abusers add through emotional abuse. Comparing us to others, acidic ridicule, belittling, controlling.
Today, I am in a safe place. I am communicating despite the anxiety that threatens. I am in a healthy relationship. I get up, work on goals and plans, enjoy the day. Little drama, mostly vehicular. Do I know if I will always be safe? No. Will I make choices to stay safe as best I can? Yes. Sometimes it is going to be hard. Very hard. The anxiety is strong and real.
When I face it now though, I am going to face it by communicating with my supports. When someone you care about has survived an abusive relationship, or is in one: give them a safe place, give them trust and consistency, give them time. In their own time the words will come. In their own time they will grasp the support when they feel they can. Give them numbers to hotlines, hotlines are anonymous- it is likely they will feel safe talking to a trained stranger before they feel comfortable unloading on you.
We see the change in your eyes when you see our broken places, and sometimes it hurts that you know we should have left, should have talked but could not. We don't want to be seen as broken, defective. Our abusers already made us feel that way.
We want to feel normal, strong. We want to really smile and just enjoy every normal moment as it comes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Vehicle Wisdom

We travel year round. Contracts in different states shift us through the country like dandelion fluff on a breeze. Last spring we decided on a conversion van, so we could use the bed in the van and have room to pack our possessions. When you travel year round you need to take your camp stove, propane tanks, all your gear everywhere.
We priced options on Craigslist, knowing whatever we got was likely going to need some work. We saved for that as well as for the vehicle. We settled on a Chevy van, one common enough that parts aren't pricey and are easy to order.
The night before we were planning to take it in and have everything checked, the transmission went when the shifter cable broke. We were in a small town. We wanted to go to a national chain, a place with guarantees. We ended up at what was there.
800 miles later their work failed. We paid to ship the burnt out transmission back and they did rebuild it again under warranty. It failed again several hundred miles later. They had not used the right shifter cable.
Again we wanted a national chain. Again, we were over thirty miles from any national chain. A highly respected mechanic rebuilt the transmission a third time. He put in the right cable. He thought he adjusted everything properly. Six months later, we felt the transmission fail to shift properly. Local warranties are not great on the other side of the country.
We discussed. We paid to be towed an hour to Cottmans, a national chain that uses warrantied parts. They did a free analysis. They took the history we had for the vehicle. They dug for root problems and took everything apart. They found the issues that were underlying, they addressed them. They used new parts. They checked for leaks. They replaced seals and even addressed issues in other systems they saw without charging us for the added labor or pieces. They replaced the torque converter with a new, heavy duty one. They installed a new, warrantied transmission. They checked and properly adjusted the shifter cable. They did a little tune up, even though that wasn't directly the transmission- they did it for the vehicle. They did it to address and prevent future issues.
Seriously, if you have a van whether you tow or not- get a transmission cooler installed even if you have to borrow a couple hundred from friends. It will prevent your transmission from getting burnt out and save you thousands potentially. This is important.

Last year we wanted to go to a national chain, we focused on budget. Our lesson: pay the extra, get that tow to a national chain, get warrantied work, get that transmission cooler even if you need to borrow- borrow a little now rather than a couple grand when it all goes again. Consider mechanics like surgeons. Look for the ones with the best equipment, training, experience, service options: a field doctor is great for a patch up, but when your vehicle is your lifeline to work that isn't good enough and it might get you by for a while but consider the potential repeat large drain of patch after patch.
The van we have is an excellent van. The mechanics all have said it is a solid vehicle, the flaws have been in the patch style workmanship. It is not a lemon, but shoddy patches and frequent repairs leave you with a hint of lemon flavor in your mouth and in the minds of your friends who fear you are driving the cursed suck you dry cash vampire van.
Taking care of regular tune ups, oil changes, transmission and coolant systems is critical to the longevity of your vehicle. Like your body, your vehicle cannot survive on junk food and optimism.
It sucks to be stuck waiting for a tow. It is stressful even with support to wait and to realize how much you've got to make to go forward. I've had a hardcore migraine and a rumbling ache in my head since the van failed; hoping now that abates. Would have, could have, should haves are why I share this lesson with you. I can't go back to last spring and change the past for a tow to Tulsa. I can't go back for a tow out of Winona to the nearest Aamco there. I'm glad we paid for that tow this time.
Keep jumper cables in your vehicle. A jack. A functional spare tire. Triple A or emergency roadside assistance through your auto insurance. Basic tools for basic repairs that you can do like fixing broken door handles and mirrors. Take care of your battery. Keep warranty papers and know your vehicle. Keep drinking water, a gas can, extra coolant, a physical road map- because phone batteries do die when you need directions, and some snack foods and spare change for unexpected tolls or parking fees. Keep a blanket and a jacket, rain gear. You'll be glad you have them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Changing the Colors in Your World

I remember my childhood. Bright red tulips, a black well cap in the back lawn I sat on and cried. I remember being spanked because I picked that tulip one day. I carried it to the neighbor and tried to sell it to buy my mother a gift to make her happy. Red tulips became a symbol for anger. How dare I pick that precious flower! Accusations of doing it to destroy her pretty flower. I was too young to know irony when it fell around me in tears.

Desolation deeper and darker than the well. My mother screaming at no one in the house while I held my only friend, a small struggling confused barn cat seeking solace and love from that little fluffy kitten who really wanted to run off and practice hunting mice. Shuffling between three of my great grandmothers, who did their utmost to buffer me from life at home.
I remember fear. I never knew what would set my mother off. I remember trying so hard to be worth loving. I remember my great grandmother Alice telling me that she loved me and that what was happening at home wasn't my fault.
For many years I struggled with emotional wounds and scars. Sometimes hurting others to try to get approval or out of frustration as I watched my mother lavish love I could not earn on my brother. I remember the one time she was loving and gentle. I had been playing at a neighbor's house. I was about four years old. I made a slide out of a large cardboard box my neighbor and I wrestled onto a chair. I fell off and got hurt. I was bleeding profusely. The neighbor almost took me to the hospital. My mother took me home instead fearing that it would trigger a neglect or abuse investigation, because that's the priority. She held me, rocking me in a chair until the bleeding stopped. I remember the two times my Father held me I was three and then six. Both times were to remove stitches from my face, cheaper than going back to the hospital. Priorities.
My best friends in childhood were books and barn cats. I spent most of my time alone in my head wandering the brighter worlds created by authors, wishing the characters were real. Wishing for friends as my intelligence and slight autistic characteristics isolated me from cruel teasing classmates.
I started working the summer before seventh grade. I worked at a kennel and babysat. I spent hours working a hose to spray dog turds off the outdoor runs, grooming poodles and teaching them to walk on leads. I earned the money to pay for what I wanted rather than get hassled over wanting clothes that weren't always hand me downs or ugly clearance rack leftovers, books, toys, candy.
As I got older I grew into treating others the way I wished I had been treated. A neighbor girl and I were playing. She accidentally dropped and broke a toy I loved. She cried. She tightened up waiting for the storm and fury. I closed my eyes and thought of Alice. Alice with her soft hands, sweet heart and garden full of flowers you could tend and pick and share with smiles. I looked at the younger girl and took her hand. "It was an accident. It isn't worth as much as your friendship is to me." We both cried. It was how I realized she also came from a world with dark places in it. We picked up the pieces and as we did, we colored each other's worlds brighter.
In college, my friend Nathan was always there. Listening. Caring. Fearing he could end up breaking down with schizophrenia like his mother. He could only be a friend in my heart because I was afraid my dark places could hurt him. My past comes out in bursts like little rainstorms. Gentler as years pass, body trembling from emotions I can't always express. Nathan, Francine, and Mary brought their bright hearts full of colors. Their humor, their resiliency, their humanity were the paintbrushes they used on my heart. We did silly things. We walked St. Bonaventure every friday night around midnight as I worked on climbing every tree I could on campus. They and others joined me on this eccentric quest. They begged me not to prank campus security by swinging in the trees by the roads toward the vehicles going by so I did it more. Thankfully, none of the guards had heart attacks when they saw someone apparently flying out of a tree toward their vans only to vanish as I swung back out of the roads and dropped into the woods to melt away into the night. I was a ghost story.
Each year my life expands. The connections with other people grow. The stark colors get tempered with shades and blending. I communicate more, letting others help me see and let go of dangerous fragments still stuck in places my scarred heart cannot always see. I think of Nathan finding me sitting catatonic outside the Science building after my first real love after several intense secret dates told me he could never love me because I was an Atheist. I don't remember walking to my room. Nathan quietly looked out for me, always on alert and always there when the darkness rose. He would just sit with me. The lone soldier without a gun, manning the wall alone. Eventually my words would come back. He would reassure me that everyone wrestles with something. He would nudge my humor until it rose up and became the tool we both used to fight the darkness.
He taught me that I had strength, that the years of fighting myself alone had given me tremendous power. I realized I could use it to help him, and my other friends. My inner demons were relentless and harsh; I could step into other people's heart and face theirs without breaking a sweat or shedding a tear. I could step between the boogeymen and the people who were teaching me what healthy was. I could keep them safe at cost.
It cost because it pressed on wounds, emotions flowing without healing.
It took years to learn to let go of the armor. To let go of the weapons. To be the gardener nurturing my heart and the hearts around me, discarding dangerous creatures lurking in the garden rather than wrestling with them or trying to bring out the best in them. Put a bow on a copperhead and you still have a dangerous snake.
Regardless of how much you love, you cannot heal everyone. Each of us has choices. We decide what is or isn't in your world. We color them with perspective and emotion. We determine our focus and attitude. Reaching out to healthy friends for perspective is the first step. As the holiday approaches, on the darkest day of the year, my thoughts are of you. I appreciate each of you and how you change the colors in my world bringing vibrance and light with your presence.

Wherever you are today in your world, I offer you my paintbrush. It's a little tattered and beat up. It has been used as a sword more than once. The colors on it are bright. Your world should be full of laughter, appreciation and beauty. So, let's get painting!