Friday, June 29, 2007

Listening (the Other Side of Language)

How well do you listen, really listen to someone? Can just the act of listening help someone? How about save a life?

I asked these questions to a class of 8th graders once and the response was interesting. I’ll give the teeniest bit of background first – I was specifically told that this lesson plan on listening wasn’t appropriate for my class and that 8th graders knew about listening. The administration told me it wasn’t a skill I should be focusing on. These were kids in the South Bronx. I taught it anyway. (I was only there for a week anyway)

At first, the children were confused. What was this about listening? Could it heal? I asked the kids to make a list of what they listen to. It was the normal things, music, their mother, their teacher. Then they got slightly more abstract – the religious tried to listen to God, others listened to nature, to their surroundings. Then I asked if anyone listened to themselves.

There was complete silence. Finally a boy asked how you can listen to yourself.

“I knew it!” I screamed internally, “Everyone needs to learn how to really listen.”

So we talked about our thoughts for a bit, what goes on in our minds. If you are always just listening to others, and not yourself, who are you really? Just a mirror or an individual? I didn’t phrase it like that, but the point of the lesson was that there is as much if not more discovery in silence then in noise and that Listening is a strong power to have, it can even heal.

After the kids began to ‘listen to themselves’ and write out some thoughts I had them think, really think about how just them listening has helped someone and how that made them feel. Finally a girl spoke of how she listened to her sister after a bad break-up, and her sister thanked her for it.

“So how did it make you feel?” I asked.

“Well, I didn’t think I really did anything at first, but now I guess I helped her, didn’t I?” she replied.

Slowly others began to talk about how much better they feel when people listen to them, and times when they stopped talked and just listened to their friends and family.

Then came my favorite, the smallest boy in the class told me that his grandma has asthma or emphysema, I forget which, and that he runs and gets her medication when her breathing changes. He never realized it before.

“So you can save her life just by listening?” I asked

He beamed, “yeah, I guess I do, I get her inhaler at the right time. She doesn’t have to ask.”

In areas such as the South Bronx many of the kids feel powerless. They are shuffled in and out of foster homes and youth centers or from aunt to aunt. The poverty is horrendous and there is no continuity of education. The sense of helplessness, weariness, fear, and confusion hangs thick in the air. Before I did my lesson there was a shooting around the corner from the school that killed a ten-year old girl. Desperation is huge.

What I like to think these kids learned is that they do have power within them, and they have an intelligent mind that they should trust. At least the one boy realized he has saved a family member through something he took for granted – his own ears.

Listening is about more than just being quiet though, it’s an active process. The book Momo by Michael Ende is a wonderful treatise on the power of listening. The heroine is so adept at listening, truly listening to people that she not only brings them out of their shell but, in the end, saves the world.

I strive to be as active a listener as I can. It’s not easy, my internal dialogue is always churning. However, language is useless if it stands alone, there needs to be someone else out there who can listen. But for those who feel they can’t speak, they need to understand that the power to listen is just as strong.

How different would the world be if people tried to be active listeners? If people heard, not just the cries, but the joy as well? When confronted with the same thing over and over people tend to become numb and just stop listening. There is danger in that, in assuming the world is one way and will always be one way. It means you’ve stopped trying, you’ve stopped listening.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tolerance vs. Acceptance

I’m going to continue on my talk about language today. It is of the highest importance to me, because it is how I define myself and others. One thing I’m saddened of is how the connotations are being stripped from words and our language sanitized. Thus, nowadays it seems people don’t know how to express emotions as much as they are no longer inherent in our speech as they used to be. Maybe it’s just me. When I talk to my class most have never heard of a connotation and don’t know what a word means beyond the definition. One of the ‘tips and tricks’ for the GRE is that if you don’t know a word see how it sounds, how does it make you feel? Then you can usually eliminate a choice from there.

But many can’t say that a word makes them feel anything, except perhaps confused.

That is my lead in to two words that are thrown around all over the place: tolerance and acceptance. Let’s look at these words, shall we?

Tolerance: The act of enduring. “She is tolerant to loud music.” My favorite is this part on, “Tolerance, agree in allowing the right of something that one does not approve.”

I love that, the right of something that one does not approve. I often hear tolerance preached and think people have no idea what they are saying. They are saying, “even though I don’t approve of what you’re doing, I’ll allow it.” It’s just a nicer form of the missionary complex.

I mentioned before that I grew up in ‘the church’ and have many issues with them. They taught tolerance as well. It was the type of tolerance where they stressed that we, the God-fearing Christians were right and the others wrong but since their horrendous beliefs in something outside of our own only hurt themselves, we would tolerate them and in our tolerance they could see God.

Tolerance. I call bullshit on the whole idea. I tolerated a lot growing up; I endured so many layers of hell. But what saved me is that I recognized it as wrong. Yet, when people go around saying how great they are as a person for tolerating others or how great we are as a nation because we tolerate so many different cultural groups I do say bullshit, because to tolerate is to assume that you are right, and don’t approve of the others. In fact, it still creates that mindset of ‘the other’ which is the main way to rationalize someone as less than human and that makes killing easier to do.

Gotta love rationalization.

Now, on to acceptance, which per, is, ”the mental attitude that something is believable and should be accepted as true,” or simply, “favorable reception, approval.”

Isn’t that what we really want for each other? Not tolerance, but a ‘favorable reception’? Isn’t that what we need to offer those that differ from us, approval and a positive mental attitude?

I wonder if I’m the only one that sees such a difference between tolerance and approval and how this trains our thinking. I really think it does affect how we view the world. If we only tolerate things we are still setting a standard of right and wrong (with us in the right) that sets up that dangerous other. With acceptance we are acknowledging that, as the Muppets said, “Peoples is peoples.” We need to accept others, accept their customs and cultures (and language) and not merely ‘tolerate’ them because we have too.

Does that make sense, or am I talking in circles?

I tolerated the pain in my childhood. I tolerated my mother. I never accepted that what happened was meant too, I never approved of her actions. I think that distinction made all the difference.

picture from found via google images

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Language (It’s Power and Trappings)

Of the many things I do in my life, I adjunct at a local college. There, I teach a seminar class to adults dealing with the English language. The main reason people take this course (a total of eighteen hours) is to prepare for the GREs (General Record Exam) and get help in writing their essays for graduate school. Of course, I like to try and slip in knowledge other than just prep for future academia.

Language is powerful. Language is how we, trapped within ourselves, can convey our thoughts, our emotions . . . our humanity. Whether verbal or otherwise, there is a language that we use to express ourselves. Those who don’t have that power are lost. One of the main ways conquerors have taken over lands is to strip away the language of those who already live there. A perfect example is given in Brian Friel’s ‘Translations.’ You strip away the original names of the land and you strip away history and man’s connectivity to their surroundings. You strip away language and force people to learn a new one and you strip away a past and a means of expressing themselves. People promote unity with the taking away of one language to learn another, but instead they are taking away identity. This also happened when ‘Others’ came to the Americas and, in the name of ‘progress’ took away the natives homes, their land, their language and customs. You destroy a people not through death, but through making their words meaningless.

There is nothing more frustrating then the inability to be heard. That makes one feel so insignificant.

In my class I can’t touch on this too much, I’m not supposed to be political. It’s a seminar and there are certain things that need to be taught – the relationships of words to one another, root words, how to form a sentence and write effectively as in – shorter sentences. I find it funny that I teach that when I read over my own writings. However, English is a great amalgam of many languages. There are no set grammar rules; there is always an exception. As I am in New York City, and most of my students have English as a second language to begin with, they find it quite annoying that you don’t always pluralize the same way.

Then we come across a word like “Blackguard.”

See, racism is still such an inherent part of the language. It is just built into the very way we speak, which is dangerous. Student’s take the word apart and think it’s some kind of guard, but not sure what kind. I love their innocence. “In the Academic English language,” I explain, “Black still means bad. Thus, while a guard protects a blackguard is a traitor, a betrayer.” They then think of other words with black as a prefix and are amazed that yes, I’m right. Black=bad.

And Indian=false. Indian summer. Indian giver. Etc. It is such a subtle racism that people don’t tend to realize they are thinking that way. But it’s inherent in the words we study and use. It makes it easier to discriminate against others later in life because it’s already built into our thinking.

We, as a nation, as a people, need to be held accountable for our language. We need to be so careful about what we teach, about how we express ourselves. I really think we need a new lexicon as we dream, we think, in the language we use – whether it is words, colors, or notes it forms who we are.

This becomes apparent as I talk about war and peace. I have worked with children as well, usually in art-based afterschool programs or some community building exercises. And it’s amazing.

“What is war?” I may ask the class, and they give me the visual identifiers. They can talk of guns and tanks and the crying mothers they see on television at night. War is fought not to save the women at home, but to make the women of ‘the other’ cry as they hold their dead children.

“What is peace?” I ask. There is silence. The Sunday school student will generally say a dove. But there are no visual identifiers for peace. Peace is an abstract, not concrete. It can’t be understood, not yet. That is because we lack the language for peace.

Look at the words used, and you can tell what is important in a culture. What do we as a people use as our similes? War terms. Not agricultural, not artistic, not peaceful, but warlike. Because that is what we understand, that is what we are as people. We fight.

Examples: “He’s as big as a tank”
“She typed with machine-gun rapidity”
“He’s gone postal”
“Here comes the cavalry”

I used to have so many more, but you get the point. Our language is one of aggression; it is what we as a nation pride ourselves on, “survival of the fittest” and all that jazz.

We need to take a good hard look at the words we use and the images they conjure in our minds, and those of our children. Peace is what people say they want, but does anyone really understand it when all we have are symbols, and not concrete visual identifiers as we do with War? And how can we stop that, how can we make peace real to ourselves, to our children, to our language? There needs to be other words as stepping stones to peace, I just don’t know what they are.

What mental images do you have when you hear that word? Is it just the logo from Woodstock, the olive branch? Are people involved in the vision that springs to mind as they are in war?

What other words do we have that can bring up an image that children can understand? I think of compromise and see two people talking. Surely that’s a start. What about greetings, two people shaking hands. Before peace there needs to be a greeting and understanding. And negotiation. Negotiation seems a good one. Maybe we shouldn’t teach peace, but teach understanding and negotiation instead, something people can understand.

Did I stray from my point? War and Peace are words we use often in our language, but only one has an identifiable meaning. That doesn’t make the other useless, it just makes it harder to comprehend. And if we prefer the ideal to the reality then we need to form the language to bridge the gap to make peace real.

Just like we need to deal with the fact that our language is riddled with words that subjugate others. That we teach our children that black is bad and Indian false. Language is the most important thing we have at this point, we need to take a critical look at the way it’s taught and used. We need to become aware. We need to care. We need to take steps to help others gain their voice, and to make sure ours is as pointed as we’d like it to be.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gynecologist’s Visit

If any guys read this, here’s your chance to turn back. Not that I’ll be graphic.

Since I’m thirty, I decided to bit the bullet and get the full check-up. I don’t know why thirty is the magic age, well, okay, I know part of it. Thirty is the age by which if you haven’t shown signs of bi-polar disorder you are free of it. That was my sword of Damocles as it were, that I’d be like my mother. That I’d have her disorder. Like everything in my life, there’s a lot more to it. Living with a woman who was as wild as her, and a brother that whether he is bi-polar or acted wildly to be more like her and be accepted, well, I never learned what emotions were or how to express them. But that’s another post.

One of these days I’ll get into the physiological aspects of PTSD, for now, I’m just writing these entries as things come up. And today, it was the gynecologist.

She came highly recommended by a workmate. And she was incredibly friendly. The part I always hate of any new doctor is when they ask for family history. I’m honest.

“My mother lied a lot,” I tell her fighting back a tear. I knew I would tear up. It’s a new situation and, dammit, it triggered a memory that I’m fighting against. “For instance, when she had gastric bypass surgery she told everyone she had cancer instead.”

“I had a friend like that in college,” she told me, “our whole senior year she told everyone she had ovarian cancer. She didn’t.”

I don’t know my family medical history. That bothers me at times. My mother also lied to me a lot to keep me ‘in line.’ For instance, if I wanted pizza she’d tell me I was lactose intolerant. If I wanted strawberries I was allergic. If I liked a boy in school she told me we were related and I was a sinner. Blah, blah, blah. So while I’ve been allergy tested for most things, there are still a lot of questions left. The only thing I know for sure is that she is, by all standards, bi-polar.

“That must have been hard,” the doctor told me. “My mom tells me some of her stories. Her grandmother abused her horribly.” I sigh, because abuse is just so common.

Then she asks how I’ll do in this, how I’m feeling. I tell her the truth, that besides the possibility of a flashback, I’m all for it. I run at my fear now, not away from it.

See, when I first started having my period my mom did the sensible thing and took me to the woman’s clinic in our hometown. There was only one, and it was a good drives away down an old country road. The first time I went as the doctor explained about hair ‘growing between your legs’ I started cracking up picturing my inner thighs turn into Chewbacca. I had learned this already in school and knew what pubic hair was. But the second memory –

One of the things I have to work on in therapy is how I view my memories. The worst ones, I see them as one watches television – on the outside looking in. I’m completely detached. I need to get back into myself and look out, to feel my emotions and see through my own eyes, not those of the observer I became.

This one, it’s half and half. Half in, half outside observer. And, like the worst memories, there are gaping holes in the action. What I remembered, and what played through my mind as I was talking to the doctor as I fought back tears, was a fight with my mother. I forgot what started it but I was yelling at her. I was loud. She then decided that I was crazy and it was a PMS induced insanity. Thus, and I think my brother helped, it’s just darkness in my mind, she dragged my out of the house by my hair and into the car. Then she drove me to the clinic as I kicked and cried in the back seat of the car.

My brother’s smile. I remember that clearly. Him looking down at me with his smile. He had this particular smile that just by him doing it frightened the shit out of me. It meant something was up. I really can’t describe it, but it wasn’t a happy smile, it was an evil one, one of power over another. I remember screaming just when I saw it; the sides of his lips curl up. He must have helped her, because I remember that smile as I lay in the backseat of the car.

She dragged me to the clinic the whole while screaming about how I was going crazy. I was insane. I was unstable.

I don’t remember if I ever saw the doctor. I don’t think I did. A nurse came out and saw the scene, maybe she realized who the real crazy one was. Although, not enough for me to be taken away from my mother.

This memory came up as I sat there talking with my doctor and I started to tear up. It was strong. But you know what? I’m getting there. While I recognize that it’s not the best that for part of that memory I was watching myself helpless in the backseat of the car, I still went though with my appointment. I didn’t faze out of the situation either, I was able to ask the doctor questions about what was happening, about how everything looked.

In the end, the doctor said I did marvelously, that she has had patients come in with a similar history and just seize up and cry. But I didn’t want to let the memory overtake my present. I want to live in the now. I do, however, realize that perhaps that’s a memory I need to work on as even now typing it I want to cry and I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have control of it yet, or that perhaps it is one worth crying over.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Confess What You Crave, A Life Without Pain

This is a line from the song ‘Emerald’ by Tea Party. Not that I crave a life without pain. I have had my share of pain, that’s for sure. But what I crave is the ability to live the complete human experience, pain and pleasure, to be able to accept all emotions as they come and have the strength to deal with not so pleasurable times.

I crave unity.

I crave. . . .music. Harmony.

And, sometimes, chocolate and spinach pizza. Not necessarily together though.

Now, I don’t even recall music before my teen years and then it exploded in my life. I know I was around those dulcimer sounds as my mother sang, we went to church, etc. But it wasn’t really ‘music’ at that time in my life. Others my age were listening to Tiffany, Whitney – ‘Forever friends, bound by love’ that sort of stuff. I didn’t own a single tape from that time period.

Suddenly, I began to listen. The notes and the rhythm amazed me, and the words, oh the words. I did love the songs that had been in the background of my life – The Sound of Silence, Scarborough Fair. Then there were the Beatles. The Beatles, where to start? They opened my eyes. It’s as if George had me realize there was more to life, there was an East and a West, and there was beauty in dissonance. Paul I found bland, the everyman, but Ringo became the father I craved. He loved his son; he was so genteel, his songs were fun. I dreamt that he went to my school functions when no one else from my family would.

But John, he was how I felt. He was anguish and pain and raw and in the moment. Not that this is going to be a love affair with the Beatles, but music opened my eyes. Especially his line, “Mother, you left me, but I never left you.”

Those words hit home. This is how my mother told the story of my birth, “I died on the table and rose above my body. I looked down and watched you being born. I was so sick afterwards I couldn’t hold you. I guess that’s why we never bonded, because I wasn’t there in the beginning, couldn’t hold you.”

Sometimes she’d end it with, “So see, you tried to kill me then, and you’ve been trying ever since.”

From birth I was alone. I tried- I tried so hard. Every birthday I’d get her a gift, make her a special cake. I took her hand in mine and proudly walked her to the Stewarts Ice Cream Shop for her free mother’s day cone, and even on father’s day after the divorce. I told them happily that she was both parents for me, and deserved the scoop of recognition. In grade school, my macaroni necklaces were only for her. All I wanted was for her to be proud of me, to love me, to accept me. But she left me. She left me right in the hospital when I was born.

Music is a powerful force. It helped me further develop my inner sense of self as my outer shell was left to die until my release from that household. I’m not one that can write poetry, but I can identify with others, and with the lyrics and melodies others produce.

At first it was classical – Tchaikovsky. I loved him. Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ – a descent into madness and frustration. Then I allowed words to come into my realm.

Further lyrics in Emerald:

Did you always want to be
Did they try to steal your soul
Did they hurt you with deceit
Can’t you come in from the cold

I didn’t know this band until recently. Actually, it was in college when I got a sampler with one of their songs on it, but I only found it again while in my depressive state. Then I ordered the CD and this was one of the songs on it. How could I not cry? I was fighting for existence and now, now I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m alive. I have control of my actions, of my life, of my surroundings. I can finally come in from the cold and sit by the fireplace and begin to warm up my heart. There is so much beauty around me that as I thaw, I notice in even more vibrant colors than ever before. And the music is still with me and expanded exponentially. I sing down the streets, in the shower. I feel the rhythm of life and it excites me, even when it becomes overpowering.

Today I went for a walk under the most azure of skies, the clouds only speckled the blue making it even more beautiful. The sun didn’t stream down from above; it merely illuminated the world around me. As I walked, leaves rustled down the street caught in stray breezes. Birds hopped around me, chirping out their editorials on the world aat large. It was amazing, and I have the capability to see it now.

What do I crave? I think I have what I crave now. I have music. I have hope. I am alive.

What do you crave?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tag! I'm It

Amel tagged me recently for the Thinking Bloggers Award. I was honoured and amazed, especially since I haven’t been in operation that long! This is what she said about my blog, "It's honest, it's real, it makes me think of other things I know nothing about. She's strong, too! :-)))"

I really couldn’t be happier. She is such a sweet and joyful person and it shows in every word she posts, so to be chosen by her? Priceless.

Here are my five choices:

Wildlife Alive: The union of passion and nature. I love her tales of life ‘in the wild.’

Shrink-Wrapped Scream: Kind of sophisticated pain, lol, something I strive to be. Her works are touching, provocative, and just plain amazing.

Post-Secret: I hope this counts, it is a blog! The stuff posted here astounds me in the rawness, and makes me think of my own ‘secrets.’

Memoirs of a Broken Man: Just plain wow. Really, wow.

Open and Explore: Her title explains it all. She opens up articles in the news today and explores there implications and ramifications on the world at large. I definitely need to spend more time hanging around her blog.

The rules are -Congratulations, you won a

Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).


Guilt, shame, self-doubt, worthlessness. These all swim in the same sea – the one I’m fighting against drowning in. Shame is such a hard one, such a strong one. I feel shameful at times for things I didn’t do, things I feel I could have stopped but just didn’t have the strength to do. It always amazes me when people say I’m strong. Nowadays, it’s just this sense that I have to do what is right, not that my actions are in anyway spectacular, but I can’t sit by and not act as often anymore.

It’s summer now here in good old New York City and besides that meaning the mass exodus of the homeless out of shelters and into the parks and doorways, it also means the time of charity walks. I have gotten numerous e-mails from former students and acquaintances to donate for the AIDS walk, the Revlon walk, the American Cancer Society walk against breast cancer. Usually, I’m fine with these. But now that I’m peeling off band-aids to allow these emotional scars to heal in the open air, well, I’m a bit raw. So I open one and suddenly:

It’s seventh grade. I’m close friends with this girl, I’ll call her Jessy since I’ve forgotten her real name. She can’t share my candy because she has diabetes.

“What’s that?” I ask, and she explains, telling harrowing stories of dialysis and needles and, worst of all, not being able to share in my sweet bounty. I put it away and we go back to riding our bikes up and down the street.

Cut to me finding out that there is going to be a Diabetes walk in my hometown. I’m ecstatic. I can help Jessy! The school isn’t doing a group, and neither Jessy nor I are exactly “popular.” We aren’t picked on, but we aren’t in any social groups either, so there is no one else to go with me. However, my teachers are happy to see me doing this. Most of them sponsor me.

When Jessy hears, she can’t believe that I’m doing the walk for her.

I do the walk and proudly wear my shirt to school. I still remember, it’s white with a Red sneaker. Jessy hugs me, and the teachers who sponsored me pay in checks and cash. In all, I raised sixty dollars.

My mother tells me that she’s going to take the money and put it in one check to make it easier. She’ll hold on to it so I don’t lose it. I give it to her; happy she’ll help me in some way. A few months later a teacher pulls me aside and asks if I remembered to send her check in as it wasn’t cashed. I get that sinking in the pit of my stomach.

“What happened to the money?” I ask my mother that night.

“I needed it for lunch,” she replies.

“But, what about the checks? Didn’t you at least send them in?” I ask, confused, hurt.

“No, because then the amount wouldn’t match what’s on your sponsor sheet. I didn’t want them to think you took the money.”

My mind whirls.

“We can send it without the sheet,” I say. “At least send the checks,” I beg as I become even more confused. Even as I write this now I feel the confusion set it, the slight dizziness.

“No honey, I don’t think so,” she replies as I look up at her face. Then, she puts a hand on my shoulder. “I really need lunch sweetie,” she says, her storm-cloud gray eyes boring into mine.

The shame. She didn’t send it in because it would look like I took the money. But I didn’t, she did. However, by denying my mother the money I’m also denying she, who works so hard for my brother and I, something she needs. I couldn’t rectify my knowledge that this is wrong versus her discussion that it was right.

Somehow, I felt the teachers looked at me differently after that. The checks were never cashed. And Jessy, I had let her down. I did the walk, raised the money, and then in the end just felt guilty that my mother had stolen the money for her lunches and refused to even send in the checks. Why did I still trust her? Why did I believe that she would help me? Why did I give her the money to begin with? What was supposed to be a good deed turned into something so awful. I was wracked with guilt and shame.

When I received the e-mails this year about charities, that sense of shame welled up again. It was strong. I couldn’t eat, I felt nauseous, my stomach started turning in on itself. There are a lot of physiological effects involved in PTSD and anxiety. I found the Diabetes Association and felt I should give them not just their 60$ but interest as well. Only, I’m in debt myself now, I can’t afford it. This made me feel even worse. Not only did I take let them down so long ago, but I can’t make up for it now. If I was going to send them money, that would mean not paying another bill.

Here’s the thing – I didn’t take the money. I was doing a good thing. I was becoming aware of ways to help others. I was in 7th grade and trying to support my friend and my mother is the one who turned it into something awful. This is the example of the internal dialogue that makes me feel so fragmented. There is the soul-eating shame and then the realization that it isn’t my burden to bear. Why must I feel responsible for the sins of my mother?

And no, in the end I haven’t sent in a check. My doctor told me I shouldn’t out of shame for a perceived wrong, one I never committed. It’s fine to send one because I want to, but not to fix the past deed of my mother. I need to face that fact – what I did was good, what she did was not. She and I are not the same, nor am I the one to atone for her deeds.

It’s all just so incredibly hard.

Friday, June 22, 2007

My Brother

At the end of my session this week I mentioned that I don’t know what to think about my brother anymore. I used to think I knew. Before therapy I thought I knew, but now things have changed.

The whole point of all of this is to acknowledge the events that happened, to unite with my younger self who withdrew and separated from life. To accept the emotions I felt but never showed. This, so when ‘triggers’ happen I don’t spiral. Nothing will blindside me. No more flashbacks that leave me dazed and confused and reaching for the Ambien.

Not that this is a flashback.

When I was younger, much younger, I adored my brother. He was absolutely everything I wanted to be. He was tall, he was strong, and he was the smartest big brother there ever was. I wanted to do everything he did. Most of the times he was annoyed. What boy wants a little girl around him all the time? But there were times we played and I loved it so much. I remember one time we took some thread and made a giant spiders web across his room. Half of it was so our mother couldn’t get in, but the rest was childish glee. Then we found we couldn’t get out, and tried crawling underneath it to the door. In all our other games he was my knight and saved me from certain doom.

At school he was my hero. Always the nerd, I was picked on. He’d handle every bully that came my way. I remember one time, after my parents divorced, when he stood between my father and I when my father swung something at me, maybe shoes, I don’t recall. But my brother took the bruise for it.

However, I also remember a lot of other stuff. Something shifted when I was in 6th grade, and he 8th. I remember rage. I had such rage toward him, toward my mother. The hatred in the household seethed out of every pore. We fought constantly. He threw me down stairs and I threw things at him. Once I threw a screwdriver that went through the window when he ducked. There was another fight that left me with a nice white scar on my leg. My mother lamented that it needed stitches (which it did not get) and whenever I shave I see it and remember that darkness.

In the beginning, he was my idol, my hero. Then he was my tormentor. He sided with my mother on everything. He’d pull me over his knee and spank me at my mother’s bequest. She enjoyed watching ‘her man’ discipline me, the unruly one. The one who wasn’t like them, who refused to cry. Who refused to let her control me.

The thing is, for so long I hated him because he ‘turned.’ All of the values I loved – his height (he sprouted to 6’1, I am 5’4) his strength, his intelligence, were used against me. I mentioned how he vowed to make me hated in school and the town, to make sure I had no friends. I hated him because he still wanted to love my mother, and to get on her good side. He’d ask me if I loved her, saying he didn’t and we could speak honestly, and if I did he’d turn on a recorder hidden in his pants pocket and play it for her later. He’d cut himself and say that I did it. Anything to align himself further with her. I wasn’t safe in any thought or deed.

But now, now I’m rethinking things. We parted ways many years ago when I started digging for the past, to fill in all these holes in my memory and discover what events I blacked out. I mean, if what I remember gives me nightmares, what lies in the darkness? He shunned me, told me not to call, that he can’t stand me because I don’t love our mother. He asked me point blank if I loved him and I couldn’t answer. But he did say he remembered getting examined after it came out about our father. Then he hung up.

That’s the thing. He was abused too, and I always say worse than me because it was sexual. In all the psychology texts there are ways that children react to trauma. I am the classic case of dissociation. I withdrew. I found a place within myself that was for me alone and hid there, emotionless. “They will never take me!” I thought. Somehow, some part of me found this way of survival. When my outer life was dying I found an inner one. My brother began to identify with the abuser. His way of survival was to do what was asked of him, even if it meant hurting others. The Patty Hearst syndrome – the more abuse my mother doled out the more he seemed to love and obey her.

I was sickened that after he ‘grew up’ he still lived with our mother. While I was in college he, the older brother, the ‘smart’ one, the ‘strong’ one, the one revered in the family was at home and jobless. My mother constantly gave him money while I struggled to pay for my education. I looked at him with disgust for not getting out as soon as he could, for loving her. For choosing her over me, the one who wanted a chance to love without pain.

But how can I hate him? He, like me, was trying to survive a horrid ordeal. He adapted to the situation the way he could, and I adapted my own way. We were both so busy saving ourselves and, as mere children, we barely had the capacity to do that let alone each other. I can’t place any burden of familial affection on him when we were, in essence, living in a war zone. I can’t condemn him when I, myself, withdrew from him. I’m sure it was just as confusing to find his sister become a ‘robot’ as he called me, as it was to for me to have him become a monster.

Last I heard he was accepted back into the military as an infantryman. I’ll admit, every time I hear that more soldiers have been killed overseas I scour the papers for names. But I don’t know how I’d feel if I saw his. I’m not sure I’d cry. It would be sad, that he escaped one war only to be killed in another, that he never got a chance to live outside of such high stress conditions. Also, when I say my prayers, I still end them with:

“God bless mommy and daddy, Eddie, the whole family, all my friends, and all the cats and dogs in the world”

A holdover from when my mother first taught me how to pray. No matter what else I pray for at night, I can’t end it without the above line. The funny thing is, he changed his first name when he was around eleven or twelve years old. But that’s who I still pray for, the boy that was once my brother. The child that loved me and tried. The big brother that was my hero.

I have no idea what I think about all of this. I just know that I do think about it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Learning to Accept Praise (and Other Good Things in Life)

I was in a meeting the other day with my boss, her boss, and the VP of finance (my dept.). She mentioned out loud how proud she was of all that I’ve learned so far. My first thought was, “If she only knew.” I immediately felt like a fraud, like I’ve deceived her into thinking I’m something I’m not.

Then, later, I ruminated. I have come a long way. She knew when she hired me I had no experience. She knows I’m learning; that’s why the company is paying for my accounting classes. My boss knows I don’t understand everything I’m doing yet, it hasn’t even been more than a couple months that I’ve worked on the project I was in the meeting about.

I want to ask ‘why.’ Why was that my first thought. My therapist mentioned I ask why a lot, not that there’s anything wrong with it, but that there might not always be an answer. She also mentioned in asking ‘why’ I look to the past, and the goal is to look to the future and define myself outside the pain while still accepting it, or something like that.

When I was hired for my current job, this is how I was approached:

“I know that you have no experience. I know you have no idea what you want to do with your life. But you’re intelligent and we can use you. You never considered finance- I understand that. But why not give it a shot? One year, we’ll give you full benefits and the chance to explore us. If after one year you don’t like it, you can move on and I’ll write you a recommendation. If you want to stay, we can talk about where to go from there.”

My boss created my job specifically for me. She saw something in me that I couldn’t. This job, now going on two years, is the longest I’ve ever stayed anywhere. I was always afraid people would find out that I’m a fake, that I didn’t have the knowledge, any other number of excuses to sabotage myself.

She’s been wonderful. I get to leave early to go to sessions. When I approached her about it her first words were, “How can I help” and then she shared her own stories and troubles.

That entire first year I thought something was going to happen. I thought it was a set-up, that I’d be fired, that there was a nefarious scheme behind the whole thing. I couldn’t accept that this chance was offered. Every time I was praised my stomach sunk, I figured they were saying nice things to gear up for something bad. So when the year ended, I almost cried thinking I was going to leave, that it was over. Okay, I did cry. In her office. I told her I didn’t want to give it up, to give her up. She conferred with her boss and they told me I’m with them for as long as I want. I even ended up getting a promotion (6 months later and I asked for it. I shook when I asked, but I asked), a raise, and an extra week of vacation. Then I thought they were doing that because they pitied me, because I am scared.

I’m calming down a bit, but there are times when I think that I don’t deserve this at all, to be happy in my job, to have an understanding boss, to be thought highly of. And I know the ‘whys’.

I was 18 when I went to college, and I still went home during summer breaks. When I was 21 I moved to New York City but still wanted my mother to be able to comfort me, I held out some hope. But that never happened. I’d call her crying because of something that happened and she’d hang up on me because Cops was on, or tell me all I did was whine, or any myriad of things that only made me feel worse about myself. It wasn’t until I was about 25 that I finally made the physical cut from her and stop calling, stopped writing, stopped sending her gifts hoping to make her happy. I changed my phone number. Later, I changed my last name to have one to begin to define myself outside of the abuse. Then, maybe around age 27 is when I wanted to start on the mental split and was inducted into a research study for PTSD and received free treatment. I’ve been seeing my current therapist for about 6 months.

So, for 25 years I was physically in the proximity of people who deemed me as worthless, as ‘undeserving’ of anything in life. Today, I turn 30. I have only been physically free five years and just recently started the full mental realization that I am a woman of worth. The point being – 25 years is a long time to be so brainwashed, and I need to give myself time to heal. But that’s part of the frustration – that knowing that I want the scars to heal - it seems like it’s going to take so long for that to happen.

“I’m tired of the dichotomy!” I cried during my session. “It’s a constant dialogue, I feel like Gollum.”

My first thought when good things happen tends toward the negative, toward the ‘why.’ And then the dialogue with myself starts. “Stop being so doubtful,” I say, “just accept it. Acknowledge that you, like everyone else on the planet, deserves it.” The day my boss complimented me when I went home I literally had to write up my accomplishments so I could see that yes, the praise was warranted. Yes, I am working hard. Yes, I may only understand 50% of what I’m doing buy she doesn’t expect me to know 100% after a few months on a new project. I just wish there was more of a unity. But at least I recognize it, I have the dialogue going, I have a goal for myself. I have a sense of self-worth, even if it’s not immediate.

I just wish I could see more readily what my boss sees in me. One day I want to be able to graciously accept praise without doubt or fear. I want to be able to say “Thank you” and not have that voice say, “I wonder what they want from you.” I want to be able to walk into her office with my head held high.

There is so much more swimming in my mind on this, I think it will be revisited.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Recognizing Happy Times

This is something my therapist wants me to work on, the ability to recognize happy times in my past (as well as, of course, the present). She doesn’t want me to always dwell on the negative, but to see that there were moments of peace. Plus, I suppose, by acknowledging the good times in my own past, I can build a foundation that allows it to be more prevalent in the present. Or at least easier to spot.

So today is a happy memory:

My family lived in Arizona until I was nine-years old. We lived in what was, to me, a very big house. Across the street from us was a house with an in-ground pool. People often jumped the fence to swim during the hottest weather, and the owner didn’t like coming home from work to find cigarette butts all over her backyard. To stave that off some, she allowed my family access to her pool when she wasn’t around, and we took full advantage of that.

I had a friend, Rose. That wasn’t her real name, but that was what she thought her real name should have been, so that’s what I called her. My house had a big backyard and, behind that, some type of trees. It was a huge maze of branches and leaves and flowers. It was here that Rose and I played.

We crawled and climbed through every inch of those trees. We created stories, told each other of wild imaginary adventures. And there was one constant path we went through. It involved one branch that was bouncy and our ‘trampoline.’ We had to always hold the branch above it, and then jump up and down. Then there was another branch that we used to swing across the tiniest of clearings. Then we ended up on the top of a shed in someone else’s yard. It was completely overgrown, and our fort. We’d sit up there and read comic books, color with our crayons (or, more often than not, melt them) and paint each other’s nails with polish snuck out of her mother’s drawer. Basically, we were kids.

I thought Rose was very beautiful and smart. She had long black hair, everyone in my family was a blonde or redhead. She was taller than me, braver than me. She knew about make-up and there was never any in my house. She knew about boys and rocks and I think had a rock polisher. Sometimes we traded stones, or stickers. The smurfs were popular ones then and Lisa Frank I think was just starting out with her colorful creations, so we would trade those.

I remember the happiness, the freedom. When we were swinging from those branches we weren’t just kids, we were the next generation of Tarzan, we were Wonder Woman, we were super heroes, we were independent, and we were laughing. It was Rose and me on the fort.

And oh how our biggest dream was to decorate that fort. We were never pink Barbie girls, but we did recognize the power of a good makeover, even if we couldn’t afford it. I think the most we got was a sheet to cover the top of that shed and maybe some crackers to snack on. But it was still magical, it was still ours.

And it’s still a happy memory.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


This one is going to be hard to write. Even before the blog I’ve been afraid to talk about the root of my PTSD, about my family life. The more I write, the more I ruminate about it, and the more scared I become that something bad will come out of this, that I’ll end back with my mother for some reason, that’ll she’ll take away the security I’ve created for myself.

I think it’s really hard for me to focus on the ‘whys’ of this. I started this to force myself to be open, to give me a place to face my demons and accountability to do so. Also, to make it real to myself. I can go back to my words and see that I was honest, I was brave, I was strong enough to put out there what happened. And hopefully, I’ve grown.

There were two things my mother said and reinforced in my life. Well, there were more than two, but these are the ones that stick out most often:

1. “I made you.”

By high school I was known in my community. I was in the Key Club, vice president of the honor society, Latin club, anything that kept me away from her. I was a math scholar, in the technical section at school; top some odd percent of the class, singer, band member, etc. I got into a good college. I was a success. People would comment to me about what a great mom I had (which would make my stomach drop) and compliment her on my achievements.

So, my mother realized that I had strength, that despite her efforts I had survived. My therapist says my mother realized my strength when I was young and was jealous, hence her trying to constantly cut me down. But, my mother then decided to take ownership of it all.

“I did this on purpose,” she told me. “If I had coddled you, if I had hugged you and told you everything was good then you wouldn’t be the woman you are today. If I had acted any differently you wouldn’t be strong, you wouldn’t be independent. I did this all for you honey.”

I was aghast- to say that all the abuse for so long was planned? That it was beneficial? That all this praise heaped on her for MY achievements was justified?

But, a part of me still wants to believe it. A part still wants to think that my mother had a plan, that she wasn’t evil, that she loves me.

Yet, she also told me so many times that she didn’t love me because I didn’t need her like my brother. So many times she told me she was jealous, that it wasn’t fair that I had a chance for a future and she never did, that I didn’t deserve it. Which is of course why in the end she took credit for what I created, to own me till the end.

Not that I’ll let her, I’m fighting it with every core of my being and that voice, her voice, emotionless and just dripping with darkness saying “I made you” doesn’t ring as true anymore. There may be times of relapse, but I recognize it as just that – relapse, not the truth. She need not make me. I succeeded in spite of her, not because of.

(Side note, Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” came on just as I was about to move on to #2, I don’t know how I feel about that. I will never thank my mother for ‘making me stronger’ although I love screaming, “You won’t stop me!” along with Xtina)

2. “If you ever tell anyone about the family, if you ever talk about us, I will deny everything. I will tell them you are mentally ill, that you fantasize, that you can’t recognize reality. If you ever try and write about us I will destroy you. I will sue you for libel.”

That is the reason for my fear. The last two sentences were when I started focusing on writing in high school and getting noted for my abilities to ‘see the world and literature with a great sensitivity and expression.’ But the last thing I want is to have my security threatened, which spirals me down as I’m beginning to realize. At the same time, I have to overcome this mentality. “Just let her try!” I say in my defiant moods. “Let her try and stop the truth from coming out.”

There are instances where she acted on that. I remember one when, I think I was in fourth grade. We lived in a four-unit apartment building with gray siding on a corner lot. At the time I still cried, I still screamed when things happened, I hadn’t fully retreated into myself yet.

After a particularly bad night I was outside with my mother when a neighbor came up to us.

“Is everything all right?” she asked. My mother pushed my gangly body behind her. “I heard a lot of screaming from your place last night.

I tried to peak around my mom’s body, I saw my neighbor arching her head to try and look at me.

“I almost called the police,” the neighbor mentioned casually.

“Don’t mind her,” my mother responded, even-toned. “She’s just dramatic, likes attention. It was nothing.”

I wanted to scream, “Why! Why didn’t you call the police, why was it an almost, why can’t you see?” but said nothing.

“Oh, okay.” The neighbor replied and walked away.

I often wonder, did my neighbor truly believe I was just dramatic? Just wanted attention? Or is it just easier to not care and accept the easy answer, was she really just looking for an out to stop worrying?

That was my mother’s answer- I was dramatic. I was a brat. I was spoiled. She did everything for me, and I was just ungrateful. And people seemed to accept it. The bruises were from ‘kids being kids,’ the fear from watching too many cop shows.

There is more to this I think. My brother and my mother have much in common, and I really don’t know how to approach him in my mind or writing, not quite yet. But he told me many times that it was his mission in life to make sure I have no friends. He’s a couple years older than me, and thus we overlapped in high school. However, I had already attended some classes in high school a year or two before I was officially enrolled. I was the youngest in some of my classes.

When I was bussed just for specific classes, I learned some things. One of the first students that befriended me was surprised to find out who my brother was, as she couldn’t stand him. My brother tried to tell me that she was a liar, a ‘vicious dyke.’ I liked her- she was artistic. We often spent study time doing our homework together and worked in groups. One day I brought butterscotch chips in to class for us to nibble on and she stuck them on her fingernails and pretended she was a cat answering calculus questions. I loved it.

I met some of her friends and was exposed to poets and painters, angsty individuals who spoke out. Of course, this meant I was banned by my mother and brother from speaking to them. He complained that I was spreading rumors about him. Actually, I still defended him, still wanted him to be my hero.

My first official year in high school I was in a biology class in teacher-chosen group projects with students my own age when one of them said something that completely shocked me.

“Geesh, you’re not a bitch,” he said.

I asked what he meant. Apparently my brother had spoken with the brothers and sisters of his peers, thus with my peers, and warned them about me. Told them I was a bitch, a liar. Before I even got there this had spread around people in my peer group.

Why are people so quick to believe the easy answer? The bad opinions of others?

And this leads to my fear. People believed my mother and brother before I even gained my voice. Before I even appeared on the scene I was made out as a liar. There were a lot of lies they told about me before I even walked into a room for the first time.

So as I struggle to find my voice I also struggle with the authority, with the strength. I am afraid that the stronger I become the more my ‘family’ will rear up against me. But the fear isn’t really that they’ll attack, it’s that I’ll fall. I fear that I will go back into my cocoon and that all I think I accomplished is an illusion.

But the more I withdraw into that fear the more it also awakens the fire to fight against it. How dare they even try to deny what happened. THEY are the ones that slandered, not me. THEY are the ones who did wrong, so why do I put the burden of guilt on myself?

Goodness, with every step I feel the fear. But honestly, I think, I hope, it’s morphing into the fear of failing myself more than anything else, of letting them still win. I’m going to be the winner here. Hell, maybe I already am. Wait- let me change that. I am the winner here. Now if only I can gain the strength to not doubt that. I am winning. Indulge me one more time- I need the practice. I’m winning.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Child Abuse in the News or Mothers and the Modern Media II

If you’ve watched the news lately, I’m sure you’ve come across the recent incidences of child abuse. It’s on every channel. Names such as Nixmary and Andrea Yates conjure up gruesome images of horrid conditions and mothers who go so far as to kill their children. But we can’t leave out the fact that even priests, the ultimate in purity and guidance have been coming out left and right as having sexually abused the very children they were meant to nurture and save from such actions. Then there are the teachers. I think the name Mary Kay LeTourneau can still turn a few stomachs. She’s ‘famous’ for sleeping with her twelve-year-old student whom she had known since he was in second grade. They are now married with children (though I don’t think they have custody).

These stories are in the media so much now it makes me sick. Every paper I pick up has a story of a child brain-damaged from being shaken by an angry parent, molested by a day-care worker, or even dead from parents who refuse to feed them until they behave, or other such nonsense.

The case of Andrea Yates goes back to what I was mentioning before about the ‘Cult of the Mother.’ She is in no way the first to kill her children, nor will she be the last. There is a long list of mothers who ended up taking the lives of those they were supposed to hold dear. These include:

Patricia Blackmon was 29 years old when she killed her two-year-old adopted daughter in Dothan, AL in May 1999.

Debra Jean Milke was 25 when she killer her four-year-old son in Arizona in 1989.

Dora Luz Durenrostro killed her two daughters, age four and nine, and her son, age 8, when she was 34 years old in San Jacinto, California in 1994.

Caro Socorro was 42 years old when she killed her three sons, age five, eight and 11, in Santa Rosa Valley, California in 1999.

Susan Eubanks murdered her four sons, ages four, six, seven, and 14, in San Marcos, California, in 1996 when she was 33.

Caroline Young was 49 in Haywood, California when she killed her four-year-old granddaughter and six-year-old grandson.

Robin Lee Row was 35 years old when she killed her husband, her 10-year-old son and her eight-year-old daughter in Boise, Idaho in 1992.

Michelle Sue Tharp was 29 years old in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania when she killed her seven-year-old daughter.

Franic Elaine Newton was 21 when she murdered her husband, seven-year-old son and two-year-old daughter in Houston, Texas.

Darlie Lynn Routier was 26 in Rowlett, Texas when she killed her five-year-old son.

(Note, all the above were taken from )

Even Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond have admitted to having post-partum and not being able to deal with the feelings they have for their children when they found it wasn’t all love and devotion. I mention these because, most notably with Osmond, they are people that have become icons and especially with Marie, darn near infallible in the eyes of society.

I remember one year when I was maybe, seven years old, my brother and I each got a rabbit. His was a gray male that my brother named Johnny, and mine was a white female I named Snuffy, short for Mr. Snuffleupagus, my favorite Sesame Street character. My mother told me that if she were to get pregnant and give birth, we’d have to separate her from her children.

“But why?” I asked. “How can they live without her?”

“Because,” she responded her gray/blue eyes looking into my hazel ones, “Often times rabbits kill their young.”

I didn’t understand this. I couldn’t see how a mother could kill her child (even if the abuse in my house had started already, for the longest time I felt I deserved if for doing something wrong). But it is all too common in the animal world. In college my roommate and I each bought a goldfish. One gave birth, and we watched in amazement as the cute little fry swum around the tank. The next morning they were all gone, eaten. It’s only natural. So who are we, as humans, to think we are above it all?

The thing is, and I don’t know if this is just a phenomenon in America, we hold ourselves above all beings. Despite being in the same genus as chimps, we are better. We are smarter, we use tools, etc. etc.

Yet we are unable to take a critical look at ourselves and rather than be afraid, step back and see how to change things. We are unable to stop ostracizing people for natural feelings. We are unable to accept that mothers, teachers, and even our religious leaders are imperfect.

I really don’t know what to think about such things. As pertains to myself, I mentioned before how no one listened to me, or wanted to listen to me perhaps because of the view that mothers can do no wrong, sometimes I think it was because they had gone through the same thing themselves. It’s so easy to turn away.

But with this notion of perfection comes an incredible burden. People are denied validation of their feelings. They fear what is natural. If a mother begins to think her child is ugly, isn’t perfect, she can begin to become afraid of her own thoughts. Granted, these are symptoms of a treatable illness, but how public is the knowledge? Isn’t it easier to wallow in self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness than to face the fact that something might be wrong? And isn’t it easier because there just isn’t a prominent belief or understanding that even those that are supposed to be infallible are, in fact, human and face the same diseases and demons as the rest of us?

This is becoming a long post, but it’s something that bothers me. With the case of Nixmary what the media showed was shocking. Here was a little girl that had, by all cases, cried out for help. Everyone seemed to realize after the fact that there were signs. Social Services was called. But no one did anything.

Shock. That was the headline, “A City in Shock.”

Shock (as defined by A severe offense to one's sense of propriety or decency; an outrage. As in “numb in shock.’

It’s the numbness in that definition that bugs me. People became numb. There was an immediate outcry for help and reform and then – nothing. Society cries for a solution to the immediate problem, not the root disease, and becomes satisfied with band-aids. Nothing is accomplished except that our communities are stuck together with tape and nothing really changes.

What is my solution? Admit things. Admit it if you are afraid. Admit that you’re scared. And recognize that there is nothing wrong with that. Admit how you feel, accept it, then look for the root cause. Admit that things in the world are messed up but instead of dwelling on the surface grab a shovel and dig deeper. But don’t think that everything is bad, just because there is a lot on the news, or in the paper. Realize that in the U.S. at least ‘news’ is an economic venture, and bad news sells better than good. There is a lot of good in the world, and you can be a big part of it.

Also, see what you can do, even if it is just listening to someone. Often, that is such a healing activity. The elderly are so much livelier when they know someone recognizes their existence and the value of their stories. Children glow when you listen to them talk about their day or tell their fantasies. And by truly hearing what someone has to say, who knows what you’ll discover. I know the more I’ve listened the more I realized I’m not alone in my questioning, in my quest. I’m not the only one who is searching for my identity in a world I don’t understand.

Talk to me, I want to know people’s tales. I want the chance to listen to others as I struggle to find my voice. We can help each other out.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lying To Fit In

I lied on my college application. That has bothered me for so long, it’s time to get it off my chest.

See, the college application essays are stupid. They want to know an important moment in your life, about your future plans, about your hero. The most pivotal moment I can think of now is when I realized I could no longer please or even try to understand my mother. Future plans? I thought I’d be dead by twenty. Hero? I had none. I was dead.

I often wonder why I even applied to begin with. I think it was peer pressure. Being in the honors program, everyone else was applying. Thus, I did too. There was no research involved, I applied only to schools that sent applications to me and asked me to apply. I think I even got application waivers because of my economic status. All I had to do was fill in the paperwork and then write those damn essays.

It wasn’t easy. I understood some things. Colleges wanted happy. Colleges with money could give me money. Looking at the tuition costs, I applied to those that were the highest. My mother was aghast, didn’t support me in it, didn’t help me fill out applications. She wanted me to go to a State school, but she didn’t really even want that. She wanted me to go to community college, like my brother, stay at home and work to ‘save money for a state school.’ There was no way in hell I was staying with her.

So I had to write the essay and I realized that they didn’t want to know the ‘real’ me, they wanted a shiny happy person, and the poorer I was the happier they’d be because all colleges crave ‘diversity.’ Thus, I lied, and still hate myself for it. I wrote an essay praising my mother, saying how strong she was. I talked of how she brought us from a life in poverty in Arizona to a stable house in New York giving up her husband for her children. All hail the mighty mother, I bowed to convention. Playing up the poverty, I turned her into a f*cking saint.

And, I not only got into colleges such as Vanderbilt and Barnard, Columbia, I got scholarships.

But the worst thing was that my mother loved the essay, cried. “It’s so true,” she sobbed, “I never thought you realized how much I did for you.” I swallowed my vomit and asked her to please, for the hundredth time, sign the financial aid forms. She finally did.

Then, to add insult to injury, when admissions came in they called my mother. At work. This pissed me off. I went to school for all these years, I excelled, I wrote this essay that made me ill denying everything I felt, and they call her first to tell her that her little daughter is in. Always the public martyr my mom would cry, then tell them that this was her dream school for me but I wouldn’t listen and if only they could help. . .

In the end I went with the school that gave me the most money, because it was the one that my mother decided would make her look best at work. She told me she wouldn’t help me pay for any other school (not like she helped me pay for that one either. She never signed any paperwork, if anything was sent to the house she promptly destroyed it, and I ended up having to go through the paperwork to declare myself as financially independent each and every term, because legally we shared the same home address) and I held out hope she’d pay for this one. Though, to be fair, one year I filled out the paper work that qualified her for a PLUS loan for my education, I think it was about 1,200, and I never have any intention of paying for it for her.

See, when she bought my brother car after car she told me that I wasn’t getting one because she was saving that money for my education. But when the time came, she bought him another car. So it’s only fair, right? That in the end she burden some costs. After all, she takes all the credit for my success; she might as well pay for some.

I only wish I could charge her more.

I only wish I hadn’t lied on that application, but then I would have never gotten out of that house.

Interesting side-note. I felt so bad after that first year, like everything was a lie and I was such a fraud, that I tried to transfer. This time the essay was real- it was raw. I talked of statistics. I was a female. I was from a life of government cheese and dumpster diving. I was from a violent single-parent home. I was the one in four of my friends who hadn’t been sexually molested. I was (if my mother was to be believed) a minority. Statistically, I shouldn’t be alive. Statistically, I shouldn’t succeed. Statistically, I was less than nothing. Yet here I was, applying to you the college, asking for your help in my continued success.

I was rejected from all places. Maybe I should have stuck with happy lies instead of sad truths. Such is life; we all want to live in cheerful oblivion even if everything underneath the surface is wretchedness. We want to take pills to make ourselves merry, rather than battling and defeating the demons that bring us down.

But I’m not lying anymore, especially to myself. I may have a dark past but I have a bright future, hell, even my present is pretty damn well-lit, and I won’t hide anymore, not even from myself. If a place doesn’t want to hear the truth, the true me, then I don’t want them either. It’s the only way I can be. And if I don’t want to hear the truth, I know it means there’s something there I have to explore and overcome

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Modern Perception of Motherhood

I almost started writing about this yesterday, ready to call it “The Cult of the Mother.” The mother is still highly revered in this culture, not that it shouldn’t be. As much as we are (and I live in the U.S.) a patriarchal society motherhood is the ultimate virtue and the mother is the one who sets the morals of society. War is fought by men, and it’s the females who cry out for their sons. Look at the one who camped out at the White House – the moral barometer is the mother.

I don’t know if this starts in religion. There is certainly the image of the Virgin Mary, pure and chaste, the only vessel pure enough to birth the Son of God. But it’s reinforced in the media. We have Mrs. Cleaver, the perfect mother who always catches her sons’ foibles and gently prods them to the right path. Mrs. Brady had her ‘smiling frown’ when her children misbehaved. In media, women were either mother’s or children (think Lucy in I Love Lucy) but filled with this innocence and moral wisdom. Not to mention the constant newscast footage of women crying for their slain children.

There is a reason why it seems to be a recent phenomenon that men can gain custody of their children. It has taken some time to realize there can be such a thing as a ‘bad mother’ despite Joan Crawford’s public image of motherhood. I always identified with her daughter, and called my mother “mommy dearest” for a bit.

But it is still in the public consciousness that mothers cannot be bad, and this has led me to, maybe not get mad at some people, but perhaps lose connections that could have been beneficial to bringing me out of my shell.

See, in college, everyone talks about their family. It’s how they identify themselves. I’m still struggling for my identity, and since I couldn’t find it in my family I have to find it in myself. But that’s a different story.

In terms of mothers, I hated when people would congregate and start talking about their families. I heard tales of mother’s doing the ‘mother-daughter’ teas and being on the PTA. Of mother’s who knew just what to cook when their daughter’s boyfriend broke up with them. Of mother’s who with the band-aids would bring a grape lollipop, or a story. All these wonderful things.

“I can tell my mother anything,” they’d say. “She always knows just what to do.”

And if someone didn’t have a mother, it was a pity party for them. “You poor thing, you are missing so much.”

So what becomes of me? The one who physically has a mother but emotionally doesn’t? The one whose mother is the main antagonist?

I learned that the truth is alienating. The group would turn to me, wide-eyes, ready to hear about the glories of my mother. At first there was honesty, “My mother is evil,” I’d state, unable to put into words her actions. “All she causes is pain.”

“Oh, she just does it because she loves you,” someone would say.

“No,” I’d whisper. “No, she does it because she likes it.”

But so many couldn’t understand. They’d think I’m weird. “Maybe she had a bad childhood” was a common response. Like that explains it. I have had a horrid childhood, but refuse to blame my actions on it. Refuse to continue the cycle, refuse to hurt another living being.

Usually there’d be one person who came up to me afterwards to admit, in private, that their parents beat them too. Of course, they never admitted it in the group. I don’t like ‘secret alliances.’ I’m sick of living in shadows and keeping everything hidden, even in college when I was an angry dark woman.

This makes things hard. People don’t want to hear that the purity of motherhood can be compromised. But see, by obfuscating the truth to preserve some sense of security we are actually undermining ourselves.

I think this issue of not being willing to recognize that not all mothers are the pinnacle of perfection has led to an erosion in our society and has actually harmed, rather than helped, the woman’s movement. It’s only now that post-partum depression is getting the attention it deserved because for so long if the mother was having problems she’d be the failure, not a society that refuses to admit the truth. Living in silence is never the answer. Being afraid to talk for fear of alienation is never the answer.

This is also, I think, a reason why so many children that are abused are afraid to talk. It’s easier to say that your father hurts you. Hell, it’s almost expected. The man is tough, the disciplinarian, and nowadays in the news more for sexual abuse. But not the mother. If the mother hurt you, “you must have really deserved it.”

It’s a sad dichotomy to which I have no answer. I just know that when I tried to voice things about my mother at an earlier age I was shot down by those who just couldn’t imagine a bad mom, or that there wasn’t a reason behind it. Now whenever people talk to me about their children and/or ask for advice my main statement is, “don’t deny their reality.” If your child says something is wrong, listen. If your child doesn’t like the way something feels, listen to them. Don’t tell them the way they feel are wrong. They’ll stop asking, start doubting themselves, and once that happens who knows how far it will spiral.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Religion and the Abused Child

This is a tough one for me. Long before I could start to hate my mother and realize that what she was doing to my brother and me were wrong, I had to realize God wasn’t who I was brought up believing he was. I had to realize religion was wrong first.

See, we always went to church. When it was the whole nuclear family of ‘mother, father, son, daughter’ we went to a Catholic Church. Sunday school, Christmas parties, the whole thing. We learned the “suffer the little children” line and John 3:16, “For God so loved his son that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever beleiveth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life in heaven.”

When our family’s cracks began to deepen, and the unit became mother, son, daughter (notice, I still put myself last, I hate that but it’s there.) we went to the Salvation Army. I was a sunbeam, in the children’s band. Later I was in the choir and Girl Guards and going to nursing homes and was a junior soldier and promised to not harm animals or have strong drink and on and on.

My mother was a Sunday school teacher. She drove shut-ins to church. She was in the Home League and all the other stuff. And all that time she was erratic at home; she was throwing hammers at televisions, throwing plates against the walls, at us children. She was threatening to kill herself, to have me raped if I misbehaved (this was a favorite of hers, “you want me to send you to your father so he can rape you?” she’d yell.) I have scars, physical as well as emotional, from her. And I began to hate myself for not being able to see the good in her that God obviously did.

The Bible is a strong weapon, and my mother was smart. That’s the danger of people, intelligence and mental illness. It means doom for the world. She would throw the Ten Commandments at as, to “honor they father and mother, and make them holy.” And I disobeyed God in not wanting to do whatever inane wish she had in her mind. Then there was some line about returning things ten-fold. So that meant if I yelled at her, or disagreed, she or my brother (she seemed to enjoy watching him hit me) would hit me or spank me ten times.

So I was going through the Bible together and found her favorite quote:

Proverbs 13:24 – “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.”

I hate that so much, the power it had. There are others of course:

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer: - Revelations 2:9

“I will come like a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come to you” – Revelations 3:2 (This justified those times she’d drag my brother and/or I out of a sound sleep and bang our heads together, throw us under a cold shower, cut out chunks of our hair, spank us, whatever.)

“Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Rev. 22:15 (This was why we couldn’t talk to anyone outside of the family about what was going on inside, because they were evil and just wanted to rape us and my mom was our savior.)

See, there was Jesus, the symbol, pure innocence. The picture of Jesus with the children surrounding him was somewhere in the house. He was the goal, you have to suffer to learn, and through that suffering comes redemption. God is good, and if you are in pain it’s because you deserve it, because you did something wrong.

That guilt complex was built into us from an early age. Everything was our fault. If mother was unhappy it was our fault. Did we not understand how much she gave up for her children? That she sacrificed her marriage, her last chance at happiness, to keep us safe? Did we not see that just as Jesus gave up his life on the cross she had given up her life of adulthood and sex to care for us?

Suffer the little children.

So as I aged and was able somehow to free myself from this brainwashing, how could I hate her without hating the God that created her? How could I not be mad at a God that let this happen? When she aligned herself with religion to such a degree that Mother and Jesus were synonymous, how is a child supposed to cope?

I tried, for many years after I left I tried to return to the church, and can’t. I went to a few Salvation Army’s but am still pissed that they couldn’t see her evil, didn’t question our bruises or tear-stained cheeks.

I tried other churches, but haven’t felt God.

However, I still feel him in my heart. I still talk to him, even if it’s arguments at this point. How can I be happy in a creator like that? How can I say that suffering is justified? That we need it to learn, to grow closer to God.

I feel like a failed Job experiment. He had no problems watching Job lose everything and still cry to him, my mother did the same. She admitted that she enjoyed watching us cry and then ask her to kiss the very ‘boo-boo’s she had created. “Dogs are smarter,” she’d say, “you guys keep coming back.”

It’s all so painful to try and figure out.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On Feeling Doomed

That was thing when I lived with my mother, and times now when I spiral back to being age twelve again. The sense of doom. The feeling that I’m not in control of myself at all. Not that I’ve lost control and will lash out, but that someone else (in that case, my mother) had full complete control of even my thoughts and thus my future wasn’t mine. And with a future that isn’t mine then basically, I have no future.

This sense of doom carries over into everything. I figured I would never do well at school, even though I always did. I just thought that what my family constantly drove home (that I was worthless) was true. But there was something else inside me, apparently. That split persona that I think forms in abused children. The part of me that wanted to exist, and that I wanted to be was kept hidden from ‘them’ but exerted itself in school.

Worthless. Ugly. You’ll never do anything in life. You think you’re better then us, you want to go to college?

I’m writing it tame, and that’s not the worst of it.

Here’s a good one. I don’t know what age I was when my mother decided to ‘gaslight’ me. It was probably around fourth or fifth grade. I would go to school, come home, and everything in my room would be moved. Or just little things. I had this dog doll with those paws that Velcro together or something. He’d hang on one side of my curtain when I left and the other when I returned. I asked my mom what happened and she’d say, “Nothing, your room is just the way you left it.” This went on for a long time. Books would be taken from my room, dolls moved, sometimes my sheets would be changed. But whenever I thought it was wrong, and voiced that things had changed she’d tell me I must be going crazy.

I forgot how I found out. I remember her laughing, thinking it was funny. I vaguely recall her trying to justify it, that I thought I was so smart getting “A”s in school while my brother struggled.

She tried to take away everything, even my mind. And this all led to feelings of doom. I couldn’t even trust myself, so what was the point?

I don’t know, honestly, what kept me from suicide. Maybe that was also the other persona inside me, the real me, not the shell I had become. Maybe it was that at the time I was searching for a savior and clung to God, who I argue with constantly now. The whole issue of religion is another post.

But now I realize these feelings. Like recently when the PTSD was triggered. I had been contacted to tutor some college kid, very bright. I had accepted. But when in that triggered state I began to doubt myself, to feel there was nothing I could offer and that he was smarter than me to begin with. I didn’t fill in my contract with the college I teach at because I felt too dumb, worthless, wondered why they wanted me anyway.

At my full time job they are signing off on a promotion for me and suddenly I felt like I was pulling the wool over their eyes, like they just hadn’t figured out what a failure I was yet. And now it just pisses me off that I could sink to those depths again.

I’m trying so hard to control that and realize my self worth. I am not doomed, I have a future.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Survivor's Remorse

This is, I think, one of my biggest issues. “Why me?” And I don’t mean why was I so abused as a child to the degree where I just stopped living, but why didn’t I get it worse? Why wasn’t I sexually abused?

Here’s the thing- I have a brother, older. I loved him so much. He was everything to me. He was two years older, but to me he was the strongest boy ever. I was always a nerd and he protected me at school, beating up kids that threw sand at me as I sat and read during recess.

But things changed quickly. My father had a ‘special’ relationship with his little boy. My mother also had a ‘special’ relationship with her beautiful boy, though I’m not sure of the extent of that one. My father did strip away his innocence and turned him from my knight in shining armor into the one causing me the pain. He’d hit me and insult me at school, and this later escalated as he would bring home knives and guns and became the strong man I always dreamed he was. And he went from being the smartest big brother to failing in some classes.

So as I go to therapy and ruminate about my life, I’ve begun to listen to these thoughts that have always swirled around in my head and they are coalescing around my brother. If I had been prettier, would my father have been attracted to me and my brother saved? My father always said I was ugly; I was never his beautiful little girl. Perhaps if I had looked better it could have been me, not him, and my big brother could have always been my big brother and not turn into the monster he became.

Then comes the other thought – what makes me so goddamn special. Was there a universal plan and I need to fulfill some greater purpose? When I think that way I see myself as a failure, I work one full-time job and adjunct at a college, I do nothing spectacular. If my brother was sacrificed so that I could fulfill God’s plan, am I failing the loss of his innocence?

It goes even deeper. My best friend in Junior High was a girl named Dawn. We used to always play together. She lived in the projects and I only a few blocks away. She had scars around her wrists and ankles. When I asked about them, she said her parents had tied her to the bed when she was little, that’s why she lived with her grandparents. But scars were natural in my world, I have one from when my father punched me in the face when I was about five, a nice white line from when my tooth went through my lip. And that’s just one of them.

Dawn and I used to ride together in the Salvation Army van and lay down in the back seat with our legs over the seat in front of us. Then, with each turn we’d roll into each other giggling and laughing. Sometimes we’d sneak toilet paper from the Army bathroom and hang it out the back window and watch it flutter in the wind and then break off square by square.

Then she turned sixteen and her father was released from prison. Nine months later she had a child and it was a pretty good guess who the father was. I saw her die when she first told me she was pregnant, it was the same look my brother would have when he came from one of his ‘father/son’ moments in the garage. She went on to have another child, and last I heard they were both taken away from her by social services and she was a prostitute.

I’ve seen other people fall too, sexual molestation is the absolute worst thing. But, while I had so many bruises, cuts, and scars not to mention the psychological torture my mother loved to inflict on me, I wasn’t raped.

And I want to know why. Could I have saved my brother from his fate?

Then the rational side emerges – I lived in an irrational world, and living in Manhattan I can recognize the world is still very irrational. I can’t say if it had been me instead of my brother things would have been different. Perhaps my brother would be severely screwed up because he, always the protector, couldn’t protect me. I also don’t really believe in ‘grand plans’ just that I was born to be me, and that’s who I am. Then I start to think of how screwed up I am to wish that my parents had sexually abused me instead, or even in tandem with him so at least we might have an understanding.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that I’m alive, which I guess makes me sorry and guilty that so many other people aren’t. I always thought I was going to die by age fifteen, or twenty-five, or thirty. Then when I finally got out of my mother’s control I realized I had already died so long ago and that now, now I’m actually living.

And now I want to know why I couldn’t bring my brother or friends from that time with me. I want to know why that kind of bullshit still continues and so many children are made to suffer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Do Not Have Depression, I Am Just Depressed.

I hope I do not have depression.

That worried me, because for two weeks I was agitated, I was restless. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I was waking up early in the mornings and walking through Central Park. My legs didn’t stop moving even at work, I’d anxiously shake them while at my desk.

And I didn’t really mind, because hey, who can’t stand to lose some weight?

Ennui. That’s what I said. And to make it more fun, Emu. I was feeling like a flightless fowl, unable to free myself from the earthly bonds. I stopped seeing my future. I stopped seeing the good around me.

Then I looked up the real definition of Ennui- depression. I took the survey from my therapist, I had to mark everything yes.

But that doesn’t mean I have depression, it means I was in a state of depression.

What I’ve had, for quite some time, is Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder, PTSD. Being a Manhattanite, that’s a trendy diagnosis. But it has nothing to do with the towers falling, it has to do with my ‘childhood trauma’ which are likened to over 20 years of torture.

My mother has a diagnosis, presumed by her actions: Bi-polar.

That scared me, for so many years as a child, as a teen, I was afraid to show emotions because she was like a shark ready to attack. Hell, she admitted later in life that she enjoyed making me cry, causing pain, doing what she could to feed off emotion. So I stopped crying, stopped everything.

Then, in my twenties and having severed ties with her, when I felt happy or sad or anything else I feared I was bi-polar. I am really still learning what emotions are and how to not be afraid of them. I have been tested many times, and so far a clean bill of health. Not bi-polar, PTSD.

The thing is, I get triggers. And after finding out what depression was and only knowing about Cymbalta I dive-bombed and found I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t make any decisions, felt like everything was futile.

But now that it’s past, I realize what happened.


When something happens that threatens my safety I become that teenager I was who couldn’t control anything in her life and had to deal with the irrational parent that enjoyed causing her children pain. That was a time when I felt I wouldn’t live to be twenty.

I feel so silly now, knowing that construction outside my house coupled with fleas in the apartment threatened my feeling of safety. I’m upset that such seemingly normal events can send me spiraling.

But I suppose that’s why I’m in therapy.