Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy 29th Birthday, Jeff

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of
infinite jest, of most
excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a
thousand times.

~Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, scene I, lines 160-162

October 29, 1996:
Hello all:

I just got back from the Al Gore rally and I wanted to tell you all about it. But since I am such a lazy ass, I am just sending this to all of you at once. Hey Cort, how are you. Go run. Anyway, time for politics.

I got to Mac Court and waited outside for about one and a half hours. And it was cold! I was one of the first twenty in however, so it was worth it. When I got in, I found that they were playing loud techno/dance music. This only lasted for about thirty minutes. Then the live band started to play. As the mosh pit (yes, there was a mosh pit) filled up, people all over the place started to dance. The Oregon duck mascot was there and he inspired much movement among the masses. The best part was watching the secret service people dance. Those guys that have not blinked in 15 years and still have the cardboard in their shirts would all of a sudden bust a move, and then look around making sure no one saw.

After two hours of live music, the techno was back on and Clinton/Gore signs appeared from nowhere. As the signs spread throughout the crowd, people started throwing little flags around. Then the duck mascot started to dance on the stage. Did I mention the 6 ft. cat walking around in a suit and tie? Then Defazzio, the local congressman, started talking and did some serious Newt bashing. It was very entertaining. Then the governor spoke for a few minutes, and then the student head of the democratic student body spoke for a few minutes and then she introduced Gore.
All I have to say is that Gore should quit politics and go into stand up comedy. He made stiff jokes about himself for about 15 minutes. "If you look at Al Gore in a strobe light, it looks like he is moving. You can always tell Al Gore from the secret service because Gore is the stiff one." He said when ever he hears a new Gore joke, he always responds, "Thanks Tipper." Then Gore got down to business by talking about his reputation. As a dancer that is. Then he started to talk politics.
He spent much of his time talking about economics. He spend a lot of time on how women owned businesses are increasing, and producing more than the total gross national product of Canada, Great Britain, and Australia combined. Then he talked about the Clinton/Gore promise to increase financial aid and lower tuition. In the meantime he did some serious Dole/Newt bashing. He made mention of the Contract with America several times and cited Clinton's leadership, etc. It was really good.

A few people got arrested by the secret service because they were yelling and holding up some banner. I could not see what it said, but they started when Gore was talking about protecting the environment. The people really liked Gore, and many had Gore 2000 signs. Anyway, it was really fun. Talk to you all soon.


I love you Jeff. Happy Birthday.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Girls with tattoos like authority less.

Okay, it is way too late at night for me to be blogging, but I just feel like it. Due to my problems with insomnia, I'm not supposed to be doing anything stimulating at night, but this week has been verrry stimulating.

Monday was Christmas of course, and Tuesday I saw my psychologist for my PTSD treatment. We've made a list of flashbacks that I regularly have, and we're going through them, from the least intense to the most. (I would have preferred to go from the most intense to the least, but I'm impatient that way.) I do some deep breathing to activate my parasympathetic nervous system (as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system where PTSD lives). I close my eyes, and describe everything I can about being in the flashback- where I am, what I see, what I’m like (age, what I’m wearing, what I’m experiencing), and even what it smells like. I talk about how I feel, and (we're getting into therapy-speak) what I needed in that situation that I didn’t get. Then I imagine myself walking in, picking myself (in the flashback) up, and carrying me out of the situation, i.e. rescuing myself. Then I imagine looking back as the place becomes dark and fades away.

This probably sounds a little wonky, at least it did to me at first, but it works. I feel rescued. I don't feel trapped in the little kid who was trapped in the situation. I feel like an adult who can save myself. I'm turning 35 next month, and I feel 35, not 8, or 17, or 25. (I don't feel like my brother would be turning 29 on Sunday if he was alive, but that's another story.)

On Wednesday we started a new flashback, and it was difficult. They take 2 or 3 sessions to work through, and that's just with the milder flashbacks I've done so far. After we went through the scene, I realized it really brought up a lot of feelings about my mom- confusion, anger, resentment, and frustration with how disconnected and absent she was as a mother. I left my psychologist's in somewhat of an emotional turmoil. That night, I was meeting an old school friend, Mariya. (If you hate me using your real name, honey bear, let me know.) We went to high school and college together in Seattle, and had been good friends but in the last 10 years had only seen each other once (when we ran into each other at a brew pub). We kept in touch through MySpace since then. She lives in Alabama but grew up in Seattle, so she was in town for Christmas.

We met at Liberty, a bar with sushi on 15th. They are supposed to have espresso, too (so Seattle) but don't have hot water (? I'm still confused about that) and I wanted tea, so after a drink we walked down the street to a very hip Seattle cafe. We were kind of making fun of Seattle's sushi and espresso on demand culture, girls with ridiculous hats, and sensitive Seattleites who are full of themselves, but then we got into a discussion about the book I'm reading, and other family/abuse dynamics. It was perfect- we talked about the yucky stuff and I got to get what I was feeling off my chest without it dominating the evening. When we decided to go back to Liberty for sushi we realized that we were having a very Seattle evening even though we had poked fun of that same lifestyle earlier.

We had a fabulous time at Liberty. We sat at the bar and made friends with the bartender and owner, or owners, or something. They took good care of us, and the sushi was divine. Mariya and I reminisced, laughed about our inside jokes from 10 years ago, talked about boys and girlfriends, and chatted with our new friends about religion and music. We closed the place out. It pains me to leave when the party is still going on, so I was lucky I had the whole week off from work. I was really happy with our full night of drinks, food, and conversation.

The next day I had another appointment with my psychologist. Everything came out- my worst fears about how my parents had screwed me up, that I was damaged, and that I might always be messed up. All this bitter cynicism about my life and myself. I've really been struggling with resentment lately- the holidays brings up a lot and I miss my brother so intensely right now. I learned with my grief work that if I don't let myself feel these negative emotions they will never get worked out and, most importantly, go away. I wasn't sure if this would work with resentment, but I was giving it a try.

My goal with Christmas this year was to really feel the sadness and not numb myself out, so I figured I should do the same with other emotions. Resentment and bitterness are the hardest for me, though. They are so counter to the way I see myself. I don't want to blame other people for my problems; I don't want to seethe with anger at people who aren't even part of my life anymore, and I especially don't want to see myself as a victim. That's how I got through my childhood- by not allowing myself to feel victimized. I believed I was strong, smart, and could take care of myself. Bitterness didn't help me. Anger is motivating, but resentment just eats away at you. It's not who I am.

I just unloaded to my psychologist, though, and did that really hardcore crying where my eyes puffed up and turned red and my nose was so stuffed up I could barely breathe. Afterwards, I realized a major change had taken place. I used to feel ashamed after I cried like that- weak and pathetic. But I didn't feel that way. I felt relief. I felt release.

I met up with 2 other old friends who were in town that night, Bengt and Marc, and Marc’s sister Nicki (spelling? Sorry if I got it wrong). We caught up, laughed about our screwed up childhoods, and went dancing at Neighbors. They played eighties music, very eighties music- Walk Like an Egyptian, Love Shack, Relax (Don't Do it), Come On Eileen, Pleasure Little Treasure, Boys Don't Cry, Bananarama, Erasure, Duran Duran, Dead or Alive, New Order... They played a Cure song that Bengt loves so much he got goose bumps, and then they played a Joy Division song that gave me goose bumps. We sang along, tried to imitate the dances from the videos, pantomimed the lyrics, laughed at the other people who were dancing crazy, falling down drunk, and dry (or not so dry) humping each other.

I got into a shoving match with a guy who smacked my friends and me on the head (and messed up my hair. Unacceptable!) He called me a little bitch, much to our amusement. We moved to another area on the dance floor where the gay guys were more interested in each other than me, and a sexy woman salsa danced with me and felt me up. Just when I was speculating as to whether I could switch sides, her boyfriend took her away from me. We laughed hysterically at a guy who sang along to Gloria at the top of his lungs, collapsed to the ground when a song told us to, invented a new dance to break these chains of love (don't give up), and danced for 3 1/2 hours straight (until 3 am), but the most memorable part of the night was when I realized that I don't feel bitter or resentful anymore. It wasn't like I was on a dancing induced ecstasy trip where I loved everyone (I was totally sober too), but everything felt right to me. I felt right with myself and right with the world. It wasn't a temporary feeling either. I've felt that way since. I've been liberated.

We returned to Liberty tonight for more drinks and sushi, and closed the place out again. It's not a nightclub, it's a lounge, so act like it! It was Mariya’s last night in Seattle. She had a little too much, uh, seaweed. I can't remember the last time I felt so much like myself, only myself now is much more (therapy-speak) centered and happy than I've ever been. I can't help being a little sarcastic about all the self-help books, therapy, support groups, etc. that I've put myself through in the last year, but they've really helped. The last 4 days, though, have been the most fun part of my recovery so far, and I owe it all to laughing with my friends, dancing, and sushi. Seattle's not so bad after all.

How great is it that I'm going into the New Year feeling like this? New Year's Eve is my brother's birthday, I feel sad about it, but not angry. Tonight I’m picking up my amazing friend Michelle up from the airport. I missed her! She has a fabulous night planned for Sunday. 2007 is going to be a great year. I can feel it. Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Crassmas

This X-mas I decided to do whatever I wanted. Right now I'm watching the Rick Steves' European Christmas special on PBS. (Note to PBS- could you please, for the love of god, find another version of the Nutcracker? You've played the same version every year since I was a kid, and it's soooo boring! There has got to be a better version out there.) It's pretty liberating to have the freedom to do what I feel like. So far, I've slept in, picked up my friend from the hospital (she had surgery last Friday), had lunch at a Mexican restaurant (it was the only one open we could find on Capitol Hill), walked around Broadway, watched an episode of "Six Feet Under", read, and watched "Business Week" and "The News Hour".

There were quite a few other people walking around on Broadway. People were extra cheery. Almost everyone I passed said, "Merry Christmas". That kind of friendliness is usually unheard of on Broadway. Although the best thing about today is not feeling obligated to attend any uncomfortable family gatherings.

Frankly, I don't understand why so many people spend the day with families they complain so much about. I blame television and movies. It used to be that everyone's family was assumed to follow the "Ozzie and Harriet" model. Now, everyone is assumed to have a dysfunctional family. This is probably an improvement- family portrayals do seem more realistic than they used to be. I did say more realistic, though, not realistic. Fictional dysfunctional families are wacky, funny, entertaining, loveable, and a vehicle of redemption. In a movie, all you have to do is make disparaging witty quips to your boyfriend/girlfriend about your family, roll your eyes a lot, keep your mouth shut when you are actually around your family or bicker about inconsequential things that are a diversion from any real problems, and some well-timed adventure will come along to try you family bonds, bring you together, and leave you with a new appreciation for your family relationships.

In real life, the grandfather who gooses female relatives and makes inappropriate sexual comments is horrifying, not funny. Verbally abusive parents aren't really sensitive, loving individuals who are hiding their true feelings behind a gruff exterior. Alcoholism is a lot scarier and more destructive than a red-faced giggling relative would have you believe. Most of all, real dysfunctional families aren't entertaining and fun. Accepting inappropriate behavior year after year is denial, not a normal part of family life. That's such a downer, I know, but I also know that I'm not the only one who thought for years that if I was patient my family would come to their senses and start acting like a real family, you know, like on TV. I finally let that fantasy go, realized that a family based on dishonesty would never be happy, and actually tried to do something about it. Now I'm enjoying freedom from disappointment and unmet expectations, at least. It's surprisingly liberating to not be afraid of the truth about your real dysfunctional family.

Speaking of which, the book I'm reading is Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. The book seems like it was written specifically about my dad, and to a lesser extent, some of my ex-boyfriends. For a long time I thought abuse was just the most extreme things that my dad did to me- beatings and threats of violence. Now I've realized that emotional and verbal manipulation, controlling behavior, and talking to someone in disrespectful and degrading ways are also abuse, and just because someone isn't as bad as my dad doesn't mean the way they treat me is acceptable. Lundy Bancroft has counseled abusive men since 1987, but he is quick to point out that most abusive men do not change (my dad, for example) primarily because they don't want to. The book is for abused women, so they can understand the techniques, rationalizations, and thinking of abusive men, and use this insight to identify them, figure out how their manipulations work, and get out from under their power.

The way he talks about abusive men and the difficulties women face in getting away from them shows so much more sophistication and understanding than anything else I've read. In dealing with his clients, the abusers, he also talks to their partners and ex-partners so the book is not about how abusive men characterize themselves. He gets both sides of the story, and really understands how abusers manipulate the abused person AND everyone else- other family members, friends, police, the courts, and therapists. Their ability to pull the wool over people's eyes is the source of their power, so understanding how they operate helps you figure out how to deal with them.

He lists 17 myths about why abusers are abusive, and explains why they are myths and how abusers use these myths to justify their behavior. I was blown away by this section of the book- my dad and mom have used many of these myths as excuses for my dad's abuse throughout my life, and I have used some of them to try to understand both my dad and some of my ex-boyfriends' behavior. These (incorrect) explanations have also been alluded to in many of the books I've read about abuse, and I've used some of them in previous posts. The thing was, these explanations didn’t really make sense or truly explain why my dad is the way he is, so the arguments in this book for why these ideas are myths, perpetrated by the abuser for his own purposes, make much more sense.

For example, Myth #1: he was abused as a child. My grandfather abused my dad, according him, and I know from my own observation that his dad was abusive to my grandmother. Why would that make my dad violent and manipulative towards women? According to "Why Does He Do That?" there is not a strong link between abusive men and childhood abuse. Similarly, the most frequent excuse I heard growing up for my dad's abuse was I reminded him of his sister whom the family supposedly abused less than my dad. That didn't make sense because I've seen my dad with his sister countless times, and he's never shown any animosity towards her in front of me. In fact, he regularly defers to her. She made practically all the decisions about my brother's burial.

Myth #9: he hates women. In fact, most abusers don't hate women, although disrespect for women is common. Why would my dad hate women because his dad was abusive? I would think he should have bonded with his mom, who was probably abused more than anyone in the family. In fact, he seemed deferential towards his mom too, and was devastated when she died (or at least he acted that way). The only women I've witness my dad showing hatred for are my mom and I. He's been abusive to my brother and stepbrother, who are obviously not women.

A handful of myths paint a picture of an abuser as someone who holds his feelings in until they erupt, has poor anger management skills, and loses control of himself. If you've ever lived with an abuser you may have experienced, as I have, an abuser who didn't seem to have any problem expressing his feelings all the time, expecting you to always be attentive to them at the expense of your own, and regularly demonstrated the high degree of control necessary to manipulate and control those around him. Abusers know exactly when they can get away with expressing anger and when they cannot. If an abuser can control his anger towards his boss, his family of origin, and strangers, why does he blow up at his partner or child? Because he can, of course. He has a lot of control.

My mom is fond of Myth #8: he is mentally ill. There is no particular mental illness that is typical of abusers, and my theory that my dad is anti-social or a psycho doesn't explain his behavior because he's only cruel and abusive to his family. Real psychos are like that with everyone. I've never seen my dad depressed, or any of my abusive ex's. Most of the depressed people in my life were abused, not abusers. And finally, there are the myths that abusers have low self-esteem, and/or are afraid of intimacy and abandonment. In fact, in my experience abusers are very arrogant and self-centered. You could argue that their arrogance is in reaction to low self-esteem, but it's not the kind of low self-esteem that responds to loving support and reassurance. Abusers want loving support and reassurance, but getting it doesn't stop the abuse. It usually makes it worse. It's not that they fear abandonment- but abandonment takes away their control and that's what they’re trying to avoid.

So why do abusers abuse? According to the book, it's because of how they think. Specifically, abusers consider themselves to be superior and entitled, expecting others to cater to them. Other peoples’ inability to fulfill their fantasy of what they think they deserve justifies (in their mind) disrespect, manipulation, control, and insults. They objectify and think they own the person. When I was a child, it was easy for my dad to treat me as inferior. I was his daughter, to treat as he pleased. As an adult, I can't tell you how many guys have taken a savior attitude towards me- I am so screwed up, but he'll help me because he loves me so much. I should be grateful that he’s even with me, so how dare I question the way he’s treating me. It's just my lack of trust that is clouding my perception of what a great, caring guy he is. I should be thanking him for all he’s done for me, not complaining that he doesn't listen and I'm not happy. Yeah, I'm taking a break from dating.

There's a plethora of warning signs for controlling, manipulative men, so when I do date again, I'll be prepared. I love this book! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Year 2, My Funny Valentine

You are an insomniac who has gone to bed on an ordinary August night. -Carolyn Forché

November 29th was the 1-year anniversary of my blog. I was busy in the last year- I wrote, went to therapy, confronted my parents, changed jobs, volunteered, read, watched movies, and ended another debacle of a relationship. I have a 100+ page Word document to show for it, and a lot of changes in life and the way I think about it.

I enter year 2 with an official diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I'm seeing a psychologist and finally getting treatment for it. It is a relief to understand that the memories that seem to come from nowhere, and leave me trembling and disoriented, my heart pounding, gasping for breath and feeling like a helpless doll, are flashbacks. I am reliving it, sometimes 3-4 times a day. I never talked about it with anyone before because I thought it was just another part of my crazy life I could do nothing about, like the fear, anxiety, depression, and feeling of disconnection from my life.

Year 1 was about dealing with the people in my life. Now it's year 2 and its time to deal with me. I'm scared. Part of my PTSD treatment plan is to explore my flashbacks- what they are about, the feelings I have, why these experiences, and what are they trying to tell me. Last week I described one of flashbacks to my psychologist, having to do with my great-uncle who sexually abused me. I had told my psychologist that I felt disconnected from the feelings I had when I was a child, and she was asking me questions about how I felt and what I needed in that situation that I couldn't get. I was trying to connect with what I was feeling that triggered this memory to keep coming back.

As I talked, I felt very small; my voice was timid. She asked me if I was afraid, and I tried to tell her how I was so scared that I couldn't stay in my body, and I would feel myself floating up and behind myself so I couldn't feel the terror gripping my throat and pressing down on my chest. I started to cry. No, actually, I was sobbing. She was asking me questions, but I couldn't understand her. Then the colors in the room became very bright, and my body felt far away. "Are you in the flashback? Are you disassociating?" she asked. "Yes, yes" I said, feeling panicked and confused. "Do your breathing exercise,” she said.

I closed my eyes and tried to breath deeply, calmly, but I was crying and gasping for breath. My arms and legs were tingling, and felt heavy. My head felt somewhere else, like it had floated away from my body. After a few minutes, she asked if I was back. I lied and said yes because I didn't feel like I was capable of coming back, not in that room, not as long as I was still talking about it. I had mostly stopped crying, and that was about the best I could do. She told me over arousal caused the bright colors, and the over arousal was caused by anxiety. She reminded me of the 3 types of PTSD symptoms- intrusive thoughts about the trauma (flashbacks, for example), psychic numbing (dissociation), and anxiety. She also said that I withdraw into myself when I'm upset because I'm the only person I feel safe with.

It was freaky, trying to stay with a flashback like that. Usually when I have them, I go numb so quickly I don't feel much, and just cry a little. It seems clear that something my body is still experiencing is so threatening to my brain that I just shut down. I don't totally understand what triggers it, but it seems to be fear.

I'm afraid of reliving the isolation I felt as I child, with no adults who would care for me, listen to me, or protect me. Luckily, I have some friends who are there for me. With most people, though, I fear even more what they might do if I let them in. I was vulnerable with my family- I had no choice because I was too young not to rely on them. Just look how that turned out, and how betrayed I feel to this day. Boyfriends have called me emotionally distant, defensive, and guarded. I don't have a sense of security or comfort in most relationships.

My great-uncle treated me like his personal plaything, reveling in my protests and attempts to get away, and my dad kept me in constant terror of what he might do to me. He made me stand, facing him, without flinching, while he screamed in my face threats like that he would punch me so hard my head would go through the wall, he would beat me with 2 by 4's (he explained what those were when I was 7), and that he would kill me. I can't fully describe how savagely he beat me when I was 17, but I thought I might die. My mom never protected me, and was either unavailable or belittling. I was under constant attack, verbally, physically, or sexually, for the first 18 years of my life. Living on the streets didn't improve my sense of security either.

If I could work out the fears I have and get over the PTSD, it would be a huge breakthrough in my life. It feels like such a monumental challenge, though. Of course, I know that my family can’t hurt me like that anymore, but psychologically, I'm trying to protect myself, as if I am still a helpless kid who lives at the whim of other people. I have to fight my own defenses to realize things are different now, but I have a lot of history to overcome. It's daunting. I still believe I can do this, but it will take all of my emotional resources (whatever that means). It requires a huge commitment to this whole recovery process, but I'm not willing to turn back now. And so begins year 2.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Some things never change

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I saw one of my favorite groups, The Coup. Before they came on, there were just a handful of people milling around, watching the opening acts. Then Boots came on stage, and the whole place seemed to fill up. I still don't understand where everyone came from.

DJ Pam The Funkstress wasn't there (sad) so Boots Riley sang in front of a band. On their CD's it's just Boots and Pam (and rapper E-Roc on their first couple of albums), so it was a different experience with a band. I liked it, even though I was disappointed I didn't get the DJ Pam experience. Boots wore a suit, and moved around the stage like he was channeling 70's funk, accentuated by his signature afro. The man has Stage Presence.

After they played, my friend Dave and I noticed Boots in the crowd talking to his devoted fans, so we went over. Boots shook my hand! I was thrilled. I contemplated never washing it again. Then, when we left towards the end of Mr. Lif's set, Boots walked out after us, so again I pumped his hand and gushed my gratitude for his music and for coming to Seattle. *sigh* It was dreamy.

Seeing The Coup live and my encounter with Boots caused me to reminisce about some of the memorable experiences I've had at shows. As a huge music freak, probably 2/3 of my most cherished memories involve shows, dancing, or driving around listening to music. They are too numerous to mention all of them, but they include:

-Talking to Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys. I was just going to thank him for his music and express my admiration, but he started asking about my tattoos. I was thinking, "holy crap, Jello is making small talk with me. I can't deal!" I got so overwhelmed I walked away mid-conversation. My friend said he looked confused when I did that. He was so tall. He teased the guy before me about wanting him to sign his stomach by saying "if you were a girl you'd want me to sign your boobs." I was so nervous he would think I was some ridiculous groupie that I started the conversation by saying, "don't sign my boobs." (2005)

-Seeing Flipper play with the singer lying on the stage during most of the show because he was too drunk (and most likely high) to stand. People were throwing joints on stage, and a woman threw her underwear up there. I was flabbergasted. At a punk show? I seriously doubt he could even get it up. (1992)

-MDC serenading skinheads (who came to the show to pick fights) with their song S.K.I.N.H.E.A.D. "'S' is cause you're so stupid...” (1991)

-Captain Sensible from The Damned sticking a banana down his pants (front and back) and trying to get someone in the audience to eat it. (1996)

-A Subhumans show with more mohawks than I'd seen in a long time, maybe ever. A bouncer dragged a guy out by his mohawk, who was fighting with four of them trying to kick him out. It looked like it hurt. (2006)

-At Gas Huffer's final show, a bouncer stood next to me (arms crossed) during half the show to protect me from a big fat drunk guy who kept slamming into me and screaming in my ear (presumably to move me out of my place in front of the stage. I refused to back down. It was Gas Huffer's last show ever, after all.) (2006)

-Totally annoying a group of teenagers at a Circle Jerks show because I sang along to all the songs and tried to push in front of them, repeatedly. Keith Morris, Circle Jerks front man, original singer for Black Flag, and punk rock god, made fun of his age in between songs. He had dreadlocks down to his ass, and a little bald spot on the back of his head. I was in total awe of him. (2005)

-Mr. Chi Pig, Singer Man for SNFU, doing back flips off the drum riser during the WHOLE show. He had more energy than anyone I'd ever seen, ever. I believe he was in his 40's at the time, and had never done drugs. He also had dreadlocks down to his butt. (1993)

-The cops showing up at a Reason For Hate show at the Party Hall, and the drummer trying to pick up his entire drum kit and run out the back with it. (1991)

-Wandering into a venue at Bumbershoot and seeing Alice In Chains when they were still butt rockers. The entire audience and band had tight jeans and big hair. When I tried to get a closer look, I got hairspray in my eyes. The head banging made it fly everywhere. (1990)

-Hanging out with my friends in the alley behind the OK Hotel because we didn't have the money to get into a Poison Idea show. The band happened to come out to smoke and have some beers. They shared their beer with us (we were underage) and snuck us into the show. (1991)

-Chatting with Mike Palm from Agent Orange before the show. He agreed to play my favorite song, and I was in heaven. I got more bruises slam dancing in the pit at that show than any other, primarily because I was so excited and the stage was shin height. (1995)

-Running into an old friend in the bathroom at an Exploited show. I gave her my business card. It just compounded the irony I felt jumping in the pit while my friend from business school held my coat. (2003)

The Coup's discography:
1991- self-distributed LP
1993- Kill My Landlord
1994- Genocide & Juice
1998- Steal This Album
2001- Party Music
2006- Pick A Bigger Weapon

Thursday, November 23, 2006

full of thanks

Boy, is it raining here in Seattle! The rain is pounding against my windows.

I have survived another Thanksgiving. I had fun, actually. A friend from my Survivors of Suicide group invited me to Thanksgiving with her and her husband and some friends. The food was excellent, and the conversation was even better. It was a relief to be around people and still be able to acknowledge that the holidays are difficult because of Jeff's suicide and my family history.

I have been thinking about how I have changed or been affected by experiencing suicide and abuse. That is one of the questions for my first writing exercise in The Courage to Heal. This is an extremely challenging question for me, one that is hard for me to write about because of the implications I see. That is, when I ask myself how the abuse has affected me, I question whether I can ever be the person I should be, if the abuse has irreparably damaged me and twisted my personality and outlook on life in a negative way.

I see my core personality as fun loving, social, enthusiastic, inquisitive, thoughtful, and open-minded. Some of the qualities I have learned or strengthened in response to my experiences, such as compassion, self-sufficiency, and faith in myself, support my core personality. Other emotions feel threatening to the way I want to live my life, such as resentment, bitterness, and distrust. It is especially hard to see myself as open-minded when I am distrustful of other people. I want to believe the best about other people, but find myself suspecting the worst.

I have realized in the last year that denying my emotions doesn't make them go away, so telling myself I am not bitter doesn't mean I don't feel bitter. I just don't want to be a bitter person, because that doesn't seem like me. In some sense I don't want to see myself as a survivor because I don't want to give up my identity to the people who abused me and the painful things that happened to me. I worry that personality is passive, reactionary, while the personality I define myself with is actively engaged with life.

It just started snowing. (I am sitting in front of my living room window while I work on my laptop.)
One of the things I have realized lately is that I have been in survival mode pretty much my whole life, which means I have been focused on trying to survive other people and survive my life (reactionary) instead of focusing on living my life and experiencing my relationships with other people (rather than trying to protect myself from the potential threats they represented to me). I probably won't be able to get out of that mindset until I deal with all the feelings I have about the abuse. I need to face that fear that my experiences have changed me, but that doesn't make me a passive victim (I hope).

I need to get out of this defensive mode, and accept who I am, changes and bitterness and all. I can apply what I learned about grief- you can fight it all you want but then you are stuck it one place, or you can let yourself move through it and experience how you are feeling, and come out the other side. It changes you, but there's not much use fighting it because it happened, whether you like it or not. That acceptance is really the sticking point. It all happened, and there's nothing I can do to change that. I can't really change how I feel about it either. I can choose to accept it, and accept myself for who I am now, and see where that takes me.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving in Seattle

So tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I know you are not supposed to complain on Thanksgiving, but I despise Thanksgiving. And Christmas. I just realized that I decided to start dealing with the sexual abuse a couple of days before the time of year it would happen. My family would go to my great-uncle’s house on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, and he was the one who sexually abused me. Every year, I try to pretend like I am fine with it, but I hate this time of year. I hate it even more now that the only friend I had in my family is dead.

I suppose I am being hideously negative, but I feel so uncomfortable in my skin right now. Most of the time I want to either scream or stab myself. I feel nauseous and my skin is crawling. My feelings are raw, and there is no protection from them. Somehow I have been able to put myself right in the middle of my bad feelings and the agonizing over what happened to me, and I feel it everywhere. Reading that book, and making myself think about it has opened the floodgates. My discomfort with my body is like a tingling wound that moves around, so I feel it in my hand, then my head, my stomach, my foot, my hip, then my face. It feels like I am detoxifying. I am detoxing from avoiding this pain. This is just the beginning of working through my worst, most uncomfortable feelings. Agony doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Arrrrg! I want to throw things. I hate this holiday! Three times a year, people put up decorations, cook elaborate dinners, get together with family, give each other things, and celebrate the days I was sexually abused. Maybe you are reading this and thinking I am really sad and pathetic. I feel really sad and pathetic. But if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, maybe you, like me, wish the holidays could be joyful and magical instead of a reminder of how bad things can be.

It is raining here in Seattle. (Surprise!) We've been having record rainfall, as a matter of fact, and it has been really windy too. I have been having the full experience because my car broke down a couple of weeks ago (more like three) and it's still in the shop. I've been taking the bus and walking everywhere. I walked so much today that my calves hurt. It reminds me of living on the streets, and being out in the rain all the time. That's another reason I am not so thrilled about the holiday season. I have also been thinking about the streets because my work is participating in the Teen Feed Secret Santa program. My co-workers are buying 25 presents for street kids. It is very exciting.

In keeping with a least one tradition of this holiday, I am thankful that the people I work with are so generous as to help out a charity that fed me, kept me from dying of malnutrition, and made my Christmas truly magical for a couple of years (big thick socks are a magical, amazing gift when you are walking around in the rain every day). I am thankful that I am not on the streets anymore, and I have a huge apartment all to myself with no questionable people staying here, and a job that I love and learn new things in every day. I am thankful that I was able to go back to high school after dropping out, get into college, and go to grad school. I am thankful that I am almost 35, still alive, healthy; I have great friends and people who care about me, and love myself at least part of the time. I have always had amazing opportunities; my life is always interesting, to be sure. I have hope, and hope is always there no matter how bad things have been.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"like an odor snarled in the deepest folds of childhood"

(The picture is of the Taj Mahal, taken Spring 2004)

I started working on the book The Courage to Heal last night. It is "A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse". I actually started reading it last night, but it is kind of a workbook, with writing exercises and stuff like that. I figure that since I got through the Survivors of Suicide (SOS) intensive group therapy experience, I am ready to tackle the sexual abuse.

I bought the book almost a year ago (and I started blogging almost a year ago, too.) I've flipped through it several times, read parts of it, and thought it seemed helpful and amazing. Then I would read the words of another survivor, or a sentence I could really relate to, and I would get a feeling of panic and fear and put the book back on my bookshelf. I discovered that the book addresses those feelings directly right in the beginning- "It's been my experience that every time the subject of incest comes up in any kind of personal way, I reexperience the terror I felt as a child being abused." (page 22) One of the co-authors, Laura Davis, wrote that part. She was sexually abused. The book also says that if the feelings are too intense, or you start to numb yourself while reading the book, you can put it down and come back to it later when you are ready. I feel ready now.

The SOS therapy helped me immensely in getting to this point. The readings, writing exercises, and feelings charts were tools in identifying, exploring, and dealing with my feelings about Jeff's suicide, but also my feelings in general. It is hard to un-suppress my feelings, but the SOS homework made it easier. It seems the farther back the feelings go, the harder it is to face them, but I think I can get there. The SOS therapy made me realize something important- I have distanced myself from and do not accept who I was before the suicide, and also myself as a child. Identifying with my past makes me feel naive, helpless, and weak. Again, from The Courage to Heal- "As a child you could not afford to feel the full extent of your terror, pain, or rage. Because your innocent love and trust were betrayed, you learned that you could not rely on your feelings. You may have learned to block out physical pain, because it was too devastating or because you did not want to give the abuser the satisfaction of seeing you cry. But since you can't block feelings selectively, you simply stopped feeling." (pages 39, 40)

Some people have attacked The Courage to Heal in response to the controversy over repressed memories of abuse. I think it’s ridiculous to attack a book that is there to help survivors, as if questions about the validity of repressed memories imply that all memories of sexual abuse are questionable. Of course it is shocking and dismaying that so many people respond with outrage towards the victims of sexual abuse rather than the perpetrators. I have not personally repressed and then rediscovered abuse memories. As good as I am at repressing feelings and disassociating, I have not been able to repress my memories. I remember the abuse (and my brother's suicide) so well that I could never avoid it entirely, even in my conscious mind. Now that I am trying to deal with the aftermath of my experiences, this is probably a good thing. I don't have to work to remember what happened to me, and when I just let my memories come back, the emotions come back as well. None of it is hidden very well. Like so much else, this must run in my family. My dad has a photographic memory. My memories are like a movie that just keep playing over and over.

I feel hopeful because I have made so much progress in the last year, and I feel confident that I can take on the sexual abuse. These experiences have tainted my adult life in the most pervasive and chronic way. They have trashed my ability to trust myself and others, to find and be in close relationships, and the way I see myself in every part of my life. It exists in the corners of my mind, like a disgusting fog, sometimes invading my consciousness before I know what is happening. It is always there, always, and I am always aware of it. It is so much bigger than just a collection of things that happened over many years. The man who did it to me probably never thinks about it, but what he did to me lives with me every day of my life.

"...It evaporated with the dew, and at dusk when dark
spread in the sky like water in a blotter, it spread, too,
but it came back and curdled with milk and stung

with nettles. It was in the bleat of the lamb, the way
a clapper is in a bell, and in the raucous, scratchy
gossip of the crows...

It became her dead pet, her lost love, the baby sister
blue and dead at birth..."

Mood Indigo by William Matthews (The title is from this poem as well.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

distinction, develop, delight

I love to write. Yet, it is my most frustrating area of procrastination. I posted to my blog every week for the first 6 months, but after a while I started putting pressure on myself to post so the people reading my blog wouldn't think I was flaky. I thought I should think about it as if it was a weekly column, with a deadline. I had good intentions- writing helps me sort out my feelings and rotates my perspective around. Sometimes I feel burned out by this whole process of change though, and retreat into old patterns of shutting down and making myself numb. Rather than escape even further into myself, I try to push myself to stay open and keep writing, if not for me than for my friends and well-wishers who read this.

I wish I had not started thinking about my blog as an obligation, though. It is really something I do for myself. It makes me happy to write because I love writing. I love how I feel when I'm preparing to write. I start with an idea, and let it bounce around in my head, my chest, and my stomach. I even feel it in my toes. With poetry, I usually start with some parameter- to write a poem about something, or in some style. When I was in poetry classes I usually had an assignment that I would think about for several days before I started. When I let my mind wander- on the bus, while I was walking (moving in space) my thoughts would go to the poem I was formulating. I would start with a phrase, usually, or a word, and that would turn into a line, and the poem would crawl out of that line, and start constructing itself.

My poems, after suitable gestation, take on a life of their own after they hit the page. I don't know what the poem will have to say after it starts to formulate itself. My blog posts are similar. I have an idea, and I usually have some sentences, phrases, or even paragraphs or a paragraph structure in mind before I start writing. Once I start writing, though, I don't really know where it will go. My process isn't as loose as stream of consciousness writing (not a fan of that style), but it is sort of similar in that it just flows out of me, and I am always surprised by the results. I do, however, edit- extensively, unendingly, exhaustively, especially with poetry. The nice thing about my blog is that I feel a little freer to just writing something and let it go, although it still takes me about 3 hours to do one post, even with the editing cut down to the minimum I am willing to live with.

So why don't I write as much as I'd like to? I'd like to write every day, and I'd like to write a lot more poetry than I am. When I was young, I was an overachiever. I was trying to get noticed. I could never do anything right as far as my parents were concerned, but a lot of my teachers thought I was fabulous. I avoided the reality of my life in homework, reading, writing, and art. I remember being very lonely back then. I was usually ignored, or getting negative attention, and I felt trapped and helpless. I am still struggling to move past that. When I was in high school, being brilliant at school got to be too much because I was just trying to survive the intensifying abuse, the foster care system, and my own depression and suicidal desires. I went from straight a's to dropping out of school, and it devastated my self-esteem because for so long all my self-worth was tied up in being good at school. It was the only positive feedback I got during the formative years of my life.

I struggle with a lot of anxiety and ambivalence around my writing and other artistic expression. I still love to be recognized for my work, and the best thing anyone can do for me is to compliment my writing. At the same time that I feel satisfied and proud of myself when I write, I feel like a failure because I have this idea that I should be so much better, and so much more accomplished. I feel crippled by my past, and slightly repulsed by my "confessional" writing. I think I'm still struggling to accept the part of me that feels victimized, thinking that the "strong" part of me should have fought back harder, and that I should be able to walk away from the past and never give it another thought. When I identify with the part of me that writes and is creative and expressive, I open myself up to feelings of loneliness and helplessness- to feeling misunderstood and overlooked. My creative side and my "inner child" are perpetually holding hands. It is still extremely painful, almost overwhelmingly so, for me to identify with who I was as a child- creative, expressive, talented, and precocious, as well as utterly terrified, confused, rejected, alone, and powerless.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Here I am as Lady Luck. Michelle is in the background. She was a caterer for Halloween. I went to 2 Halloween parties this weekend, and I have 2 more days of dress-up to go. I've seen 2 Ghostbusters, Katie Holmes, Mormon missionaries, 1 of the dancers from the iPod ads, autumn, a horny priest, Hunter S. Thompson, a struggling fashionista from What Not to Wear, Michael Jackson, a female Evil Kineval, Bert & Ernie, Strawberry Shortcake, a keg, lesbian soccer moms, a German beer wench, Kenny from South Park, a box of wine, a fisherwoman, and a grunge rocker, among other things, and it's not technically Halloween yet.

Halloween is 1 of the only holidays I don't dread. It's just fun and crazy. No family, no painful memories, and no fireworks smoke to give me allergies. I've been having a fantastically social time lately. My boyfriend is too busy with grad school to see me very often, so I have been hang out with friends and having fun. The rats keep me company, too.

This Wednesday is my last SOS group therapy meeting. Last week my homework was to write a letter to my brother. I told him all the things I wish I had said before he died. After I wrote it, I realized the letter was to me too. I wrote about the things I wish I had known back then, like that my life would get better, and our parents' behavior was their problem. Maybe later I will post the letter in the blog. It is a really painful letter, though. I found myself crying in the bathroom before the meeting, and it felt the same as crying in the bathroom in between classes the year after Jeff died. It really feels like I have gone back to when it happened 9 years ago, bringing back those feelings I suppressed, and letting myself really feel them this time.

I am not looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. My life feels pretty raw right now. Even worse, my brother's birthday on New Year's Eve is always emotional for me. I have spent the last 8 weeks in group therapy opening up to all these painful feelings, and I cannot disassociate anymore. I am more at peace with myself than I have ever been, and need to continue to respect how I feel and not try to control it. I don't know how I will do with these holidays, holidays that I wish I could ignore. I have tried really hard to ignore them in the past.

I am having a fabulous Halloween week though, and after the dreaded holiday season I turn 35. I can't wait! It will be almost as fun as Halloween. Maybe I will throw a costume party. Got any ideas for a theme? I have almost 3 months to collect suggestions.

The blackest cats that were ever seen wish you good luck on Halloween.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

LRG bemoans global terror

I still wonder about evil. There is so much going on in the world that I do not understand. How can people do such horrible things to each other? I wonder if people who do terrible things think badly of themselves, so they are bad to other people, or if they think the people that they victimize are worth less than they are. Probably both.

It seems to me that there is no justification at all for rape and the abuse of children, yet it happens so much all over the world that large numbers of people must find these things tolerable. Otherwise, it would not be so pervasive, would it? Why do so many look the other way?

I was almost completely ignorant about sex trafficking- selling women and children who are forced to perform sex work, until I saw a Frontline episode called Sex Slaves. If you are unclear on how someone could be forced into prostitution, how their slavery is maintained, the conditions they are forced to live in, or how sex workers are brought to other countries, including the United States and Canada, I recommend looking at the website. It is really shocking that women and children could be treated this way. I was raped only once, and the experience deeply traumatized me. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be raped repeatedly every day, both by your "clients" and the person who "owns" you. From the stories on the website, it seems pretty common for the trafficker or the pimp to repeatedly rape their victim to break them in/break them. Of course this torture is coupled with additional violence and threats. Imagine if you were in an unfamiliar country, did not know the language, had no one to go to, no money or identification, and this violent psychopath is controlling your every move and threatening that if you try to run away he will find you and make you and your family pay. Not surprisingly, many people victimized like this end up committing suicide.

When I was in India, the last night we were in Mumbai we went to the dance club in the Taj Mahal, a popular hotel. At some point, a woman came out on stage and did a stripper dance (without taking off her clothes). She looked Eastern European, with white skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair. She had a completely blank look on her face, like she wasn't even aware of what she was doing. A large group of men, many of them abandoning the woman they were with, ran to the stage and pumped their fists in the air while they hooted and howled at the woman. It was really disturbing. The men who responded that way included several men in my group, one of whom was later arrested for soliciting what he thought was a thirteen year old girl for sex over the internet.

Speaking of child exploitation, Friends of Thai Daughters is an organization dedicated to preventing child trafficking. According to their website, "UNICEF estimates that over one million children are trafficked each year, the majority into sex slavery and prostitution. The Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos converge, is home to a vast and growing network of human traffickers, seeking out troubled and impoverished families with few options.

These traffickers promise jobs as waitresses or maids in distant cities. Instead, girls as young as eight years old are confined to brothels where they may be forced to service up to 20 men per day, at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or other diseases. Older girls are often sold overseas, where they are stripped of their documentation and left powerless to escape."

Here is a story about a journalist in Mexico who is in danger for reporting on child-sex-trafficking rings in her hometown of Cancun.

What is wrong with this world?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

the game

My brother's best friend Andrew sent me this description of a dream he had about Jeff. I love how it captures Jeff's irreverent personality and sense of humor.

"I had a really vivid dream about Jeff last night. I was walking downtown, and I saw Jeff, a friend of mine, and people I don't know playing a board game inside a restaurant. I walked in and my friend was gone, and I asked Jeff how he knew him and Jeff said that my friend knew a lot of people. Jeff talked about my friend for a little while. I asked Jeff why he was in Eugene, and he said he was just visiting friends for the night. I was angry that Jeff was hanging out with people I didn't know without contacting me. I asked him why the hell he didn't get in touch with me, and he poked me, smiling.

When I asked what he had been up to lately, he said he spent almost all of his time playing a game that was "kind of like world of warcraft." I asked him lots of questions about it, and pretty soon, without realizing it, I was inside the game with him. It was a really surreal, green, and hazily sunny world, with lots of strange animals with shimmering neon coats with fluid, moving coloring. Colors trailed out behind the animals and they left shimmering neon footprints and droplets behind them. There was a pack of three neon green wolf cubs playing on hilly golf-course grass. There were grey emus and feisty purple ostriches, baby tigers with odd-colored stripes. Jeff was talking about the mechanics of the game, but I was mesmerized by all of the animals.

After exploring around a bit, we came up to a group of people that Jeff knew and he said he had to go on a mission with them. I told him that I really wanted to come and see more of the world, and Jeff said I couldn't. I was pissed and hurt. I said I had a computer and I'd start an account. Jeff laughed. "This isn't publicly available. And who says it has anything to do with a computer?" I remembered with a shock that Jeff had died, and I very suspiciously asked if he was the same Jeff, and he said "But of course!" I was completely speechless, wondering where the hell I was, when it suddenly occurred to me that I was dreaming. Jeff smiled at me and said: "I guess you'll be waking up now."... and I did. It was early morning and dogs were barking outside."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lady Luck

Lady Luck

Black coffee tastes burnt, and cigarettes
burn too fast. What would
thinness solve? But to be worn down, pressed
dark to coal. The circles under my eyes.
A mummy, cracked and dry.
Do I want to look as scary as I feel?
A small girl with black curls smiles,
records my movements,
my look, the blue-green hair.
I want to be a mermaid, my own
pathetic fantasy. Swimming
all the time. Or Lady Luck,
escaped the wheel
she knows more horror
than rapture.

Copyright Kristina Coker

Dreaming and Poetry

Dream of Sand Dunes

Day holds me up like a stick.
From a small room, I can see
silver foil on the ceiling and
concrete speckled floor.
You are in bed, or in a house
somewhere, or covered
in dirt, suffocating. Do you know

this desk lamp is on my face
every day. I lie in bed
and think of smoke rising,
my throat tightening into blackness—
coal, or jagged rock.
You hold this in
the palm of your hand, open
some nights, for me,
dark river rising
out of dry hills.

Dream of Holding Hands

Orange blue
clocks stop for me I see the ocean
eye of black pupil I see
that I envy you

Think I have your bone fragment in my brain
I do not
have that coal soot trail of enlightenment
oh brother
I dream of babies that hold on
with little hands
think I’m their mother

Both poems written and copyrighted by Kristina Coker

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fantasies of Sin and Punishment

I had a breakthrough last week. The SOS homework was about guilt, and I just happened to be reading about guilt in my self-esteem book. We read an article for SOS- "Guilt: How to Overcome It" by Margaret H. Gerner, M.S.W. (No, I do not know what M.S.W. stands for. Medical Statistics Wiz? Mental Swami Woman?) The article listed different types of guilt, and I have had them all at one time or another.

Causal guilt is a big one- I caused the abuse; I caused the rape; I did not do enough to save my brother, therefore I caused his suicide. Cultural guilt- I had to be a good daughter after Jeff's suicide, and not walk away from my parents as I wanted to because then both their kids would have abandoned them. Moral guilt- the suicide, the rape must have been punishment for something I did, otherwise, what could explain such terrible things happening to me? How could those things just be random, how could it have had nothing to do with me? Recovery guilt- I can never be truly happy, because that means I will have to forget my brother's suicide and betray his memory. The biggest source of my guilt from Jeff's suicide is survivor guilt. I had been suicidal; I had been depressed, why didn't I die? Maybe if I had committed suicide, he would still be alive.

When I wrote about the sexual abuse and the rape (in this blog) it really helped me let go of a lot of guilt. I had to put myself in my own shoes at that time, and remember what it was like for me. I discovered that my unexamined memories, the ones I avoided because they were so painful, were actually the key to freeing me from the self-destructive way I thought about my past. I realized that I did not have much in the way of options, and I did the best I could to protect myself. Similarly, when I re-examined what I was thinking and feeling at the time of Jeff's suicide, I began to appreciate what a struggle it was for me to just get through that time. I was fighting my own depression in the months and years before Jeff's death. I had three more quarters of college to go, after 5 years and dropping 2 quarters because of depression. I had worked really hard to get that far, considering I was a high school drop-out living on the streets just a year before I started college. I was just trying to keep my head above water long enough to graduate.

I was afraid- afraid for myself, and very afraid for my brother, who I knew was struggling with his own mental illness. I knew how hard it was, especially when you do not have a future you are fighting for within sight. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, in other words. Jeff was just starting out, and had not figured out how to pay for college. I realized how serious his situation was, because I had been in similar darkness. The thought of Jeff taking his life was so horrifying I did not even know how to think about it. It was difficult, even impossible to fathom, and something I could not prepare myself for, as much as I feared it.

After my worst nightmare came true, I tried to block the grief out as much as I could, because I HAD to finish college. It was all I was living for, and if I gave up on that, I would give up on everything. I did not think I could handle facing what had happened along with just dealing with my day-to-day life, and I was afraid I would get so overwhelmed it would send me over the edge. I put it off until my regular life finally settled into a (boring) routine, and my feelings would not be ignored any longer. That is why it took me so long to deal with all the repressed pain. I did what I thought I needed to survive.

It was a breakthrough because now I can forgive myself- I did the best I could under the circumstances. If I had been in a different place, maybe I could have done more for my brother before he died, but no matter what I did he probably would have still taken his life. If I had freaked out after his death, and let the confusion and agony inside me dominate my outside life, I may not have finished college, and then where would I be now? I did what I thought I had to, and I can respect that now. I am strong, what I have dealt with has been tough, and I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished.


These are my pets. The black and white one is Ulysses, and the gray one is Blue Jay-Z. I love rats. They are intelligent, inquisitive, and cute. They also have distinct personalities. J-Z is a very independent creature- he does his own thing. When I picked him out, he was sleeping while all the other rats were running around because the cage door was open. He was too cool for that. Uly, on the other hand, could not get enough of me. Even with food in front of him, he wanted to play with my fingers and check me out. He follows J-Z around, and likes sleeping on top of him, or at least next to him. They both get excited when I come home, and like to hang out with me on the couch while I watch TV.

I've had pet rats since high school. I used to bring my first rat, Rat, everywhere with me. When I ran away from home, I took her and her cage with me. I got my boys from my friend Barb, who is my friend Gwen's mom. I have known them both since high school, or maybe junior high. I even stayed at their house once when Rat and me ran away. Barb keeps female rats. Two of her rats, who are sisters, had litters within days of each other. Uly and J-Z are cousins. J-Z is a little younger than Uly, and definitely smaller. I think he was the runt of the litter. He does not act like a runt, though. He is a tough little guy.

Most people who have never had rats as pets think they are "gross" and bring up the plague when they hear about my rats. Well, my rats do not carry the plague, and domesticated, or fancy rats, are not like sewer rats. For one thing, they are smaller and cleaner, and if well handled, friendly and affectionate. Rats are ideal pets (except that they only live a couple years, so it is very sad when you get attached to them and they die). I admire wild rats as well. They are the ultimate survivors. Anywhere humans live, there are rats doing quite well. They are pack animals, so they are very social, and their intelligence is a big part of why they survive and flourish. In India, rats are holy at the Karni Mata Temple. People protect and feed the rats at the temple because they are the reincarnated followers of the goddess Karni Mata. I would go back to India just to visit that temple!

I think that the Karni Mata Temple must have inspired Tori Amos when she made the video for "God".

Speaking of India, I have been living on kitchari, an Indian dish that is supposed to be good for digestion. It is very tasty, and it is the only food that never bothers my stomach. India is a wonderful place.

Monday, October 02, 2006

“he hath borne me on his back a thousand times”

I am angry right now. Angry, and disappointed, and really really angry. I feel calm, too. I don't feel angry like I want to break things, or scream and yell. Just pissed, and disappointed in the world. I am not really having thoughts, just feeling it. Every week in my suicide therapy group, we make a chart of our feelings. Too bad my scanner quit working, or I could post them on my blog. I use colored pencils and make them into art. The first one I did was all over the place- lots of colors and different shapes within my circle. (You are supposed to do a pie chart, but mine are some screwed up pies.) My emotions were confused, and I was confused about them.

The book I just finished and my therapy group's focus on feelings are encouraging me to let myself feel it. Often I try to intellectualize and talk myself out of my feelings, but right now, I don't feel like doing that. Now my feelings are abundantly clear. Pure. My mother's voice, the one that tells me I am overreacting, that I am too emotional, has faded away. When I realized where that voice was coming from, I stopped listening to it. Now that I realize that if I just let myself feel it, it will pass, it will not take me over, I feel bitter. Bitterly angry about everything that has happened. Bitter at the world for putting me through this. Bitter that it is so hard to just be who you are.

After finishing Emotional Alchemy, I went back to reading How to Raise Your Self-Esteem. I started it a while ago, but only got about 1/3 of the way through. I started from the beginning again, and now I am 1/2 way though. (It is a pretty short book.) It has a very different philosophy than Emotional Alchemy, which draws a lot from Buddhism, often hinting that our perceptions, even our sense of self are merely illusions, schemas we follow even when they do not match reality. The book pushes mindfulness as a way to break free from habitual thoughts, feelings, and reactions. I have noticed that lately I recognize my feelings more, and I am better able to identify how I am feeling. My feelings charts are becoming more structured, and less chaotic.

How to Raise Your Self-Esteem focuses on strengthening your sense of self, rather than discrediting it. Yet, these 2 books are basically saying the same thing- accept who you are and live up to your potential. For instance, here is a quote from Emotional Alchemy:

"To some extent, our schemas embody ways we have given up part of what is possible for us. Abraham Maslow put it powerfully: "If the only way to maintain the self is to lose others, then the ordinary child will give up the self." Some schemas--and the ways we've learned to respond to them--represent a sense in which we've sacrificed our potential in a bargain to preserve connection." (page 87)

And from How To Raise Your Self-Esteem:

"But when you fail to live consciously (and this is one of the most important facts about human psychology), the deepest and most primitive level of your being tends, in effect, to turn against you--by generating pain at the level of self-esteem. It is that deepest "I" we offend when we default on the integrity that positive self-esteem requires." (page 69)- i.e. be true to yourself.

I dressed up today to go to the doctor. I wanted him to take me seriously, or at least take my stomach problems seriously. He diagnosed me with irritable bowel syndrome. There is no cure, and the only treatment is to just keep doing what I am doing- avoid foods that bother me, take vitamins and supplements, and exercise. It is a diagnosis, though. It is something. He asked me about my weight history, so I told him I had been under 100 lbs twice in my adult life- when I was in grad school and I was in the hospital for a week because I could not stop throwing up, and when I lived on the streets. He seemed shocked. I'm a financial analyst wearing a suit. Go figure.

I suppose my anger probably means that I am still struggling to accept the reality of my life. My digestive system is a mess. My brother is dead. It's hard for me to trust people. "To thine own self be true" is harder than it sounds.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

the middle is the best part

Last Wednesday was my second SOS (Survivors of Suicide) group therapy meeting. We have homework to do every week. The facilitator gives us only the homework for the next week, so we cannot look ahead. This is probably good for me, because I always flip to the back to see how it ends. I figure there is nothing wrong with doing that, because even if I know how something ends, there is still suspense for me in how we get there. I like to know where I am going, even if I do not know how I get there. I do not like surprises, and not because I think unexpectedly good things will happen.

I suppose this makes me a bit of a control freak. I am usually not willing to just go with it- whether "it" is a book or therapy. I just started watching Six Feet Under with my boyfriend. He has watched the HBO television series before (all 5 seasons), and loves it. I had heard of the show, but never seen it before today. We watched the first 3 episodes. I keep asking him questions he would not answer- "Does he know about that? Is he going to find out? Who is she talking to? When are we going to find out?" My boyfriend is making me wait and find out.

I will admit it kind of freaked me out to watch a show that was all about death. If you have never seen Six Feet Under, it is about a family that runs a funeral home. In the first episode, the father dies. In fact, someone dies at the beginning of every episode. When they showed embalming, with the blood draining out of the person and the embalming fluid flowing in, and a character talked about reconstructing someone who had put a gun in his mouth so there could be an open casket funeral, I thought about my brother. Instead of feeling angry or upset, though, I felt really comfortable and relieved to be watching a show that actually acknowledged death and grieving, and did not sugar-coat it or try to get away from it. I am so lucky to have a boyfriend who wants to be with me and support me while I try to get through this.

He has been very patient with me this week. Last Tuesday night, he was at my apartment while I was doing my SOS homework for the next meeting. All I had to do was write about my feelings, at the time of the suicide and now. It triggered a complete breakdown; I was crying and wailing for the rest of the night, in part because my feelings have not changed a lot in the last 9 years. I have not dealt with how I feel, really, so I am still stuck in guilt and anger. The feelings are not as intense as before, but I have not moved on to another stage. I think, after letting myself feel it both the night before and at the meeting, I understand why I was clinging to the guilt and anger stages in the grief cycle (shock and denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, depression and despair, and reconciliation and acceptance. You do not necessarily go through these stages in this order, or one stage at a time, but I have been stuck in the first three primarily. I have been in the bargaining stage before, which was scary. I was screaming to my brother to come back, because I could not handle losing him. That was almost 6 years after his death.)

My brother was the only person I trusted. His death destroyed my faith in the world. I felt that because I knew him and understood him so well, I should have been able to help him. His friendship, humor, and appreciation for me had carried me through my painful childhood and kept me going as I struggled with my adult life. He had always been there for me, and I thought he always would. Losing him was the worst thing that could possibly happen to me, and I thought that I let it happen, and that I had failed him. When I think about how desperate and alone he must have felt, it is hard for me to accept that my affection and appreciation, and the bond that we shared could not carry him through. If I did not do something wrong, I feel like he just rejected my love and our close relationship. I question my own worth, because what good am I if I could not help the person I cared about most?

I realize, intellectually, that it was not my fault. He knew that I loved him and was there for him, and did not reject me. Holding on to guilt, though, has helped me avoid fear that seems worse than the guilt. Terrible things have happened in my life, things that came about because of other people's choices, not mine. It is very scary to acknowledge that life-altering events that have affected me so profoundly, that have changed me, were out of my control. You could say, in some sense, that I was a victim of circumstance. I have read and heard people say, about a million times, that you cannot control other people, just yourself. That means there is a lot that can still happen in my life that I cannot control or choose. Considering my track record, that is a scary realization. Trusting is a struggle for me.

The other thing that has been hard is that when I succeed in letting go of guilt, I move into depression. It is comforting to think that depression is just a stage (I hope). Dealing with the sadness and depression seems like a very daunting task, worse than guilt or anger. This is how an SOS handout we got last week describes it- "These initial stages may allow you to deny your loss, to feel anger that it has occurred, and to bargain for life to return to normal. None of these has changed the reality of the situation. Now you may be left with anguishing pain, unanswered questions, the heartache of loneliness. Sadness and tears often seem to have no end. Depression and despair characterize this period. You may feel drained of energy, and even the day-to-day tasks of living can be difficult. Fears of being unable to cope often surface." (Crisis Clinic of King County)

It does help to break down and cry. It helps to tell the people in my SOS group my fears, and to describe the anguish that I feel. It helps a lot to tell my boyfriend how I am really feeling, especially because he does not turn away from me. He listens to me and accepts my feelings, even when I feel irrational (and embarrassed about it.) For the first time, I feel like I am making progress.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Friendly Inventions

Boy, am I hungry. Today was the first day of my elimination diet. Last Thursday my stomach freaked out on me (after what seemed to be a perfectly healthy dinner, but heavy on the wheat). It has been hurting ever since, especially when I eat pretty much anything.

So, I am cutting out any foods that could be bothering me for the next month, and then I will gradually add some things back and see how I react. The bad list is partially from Heal Your Headache by David Buchholz, M.D. Eliminating these foods is more for my migraines than my stomach, although I always get nauseous with migraines. The reviewers on swear that the book works miracles for people with chronic migraines, which would be me.

The rest of the bad food list is from Prescription for Nutritional Healing by James F. Balch, M.D. and Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C. My friend Hannah gave me this book, which I love. It is a reference book of alternative treatments for a variety of ailments, including dyspepsia (indigestion), candidiasis (yeast overgrowth), and celiac disease (gluten intolerance). I have had stomach and migraine problems for a long time, and my many visits to various doctors have met with little success. The only thing that has worked for me is to modify my diet. I have already identified many problem foods, including beef and dairy (thanks to an inability to digest cow proteins). However, I am mystified by my recent problems, hence the crappy elimination diet.

For the next month, I will be limited to brown rice, millet (I do not even know what that is), vegetables (with some exceptions like tomatoes, corn, and peas), seeds, fish, and eggs. Rice crackers and pumpkin seeds got me through today. I think some people would rather suffer with stomach problems than give up some of the things on my bad list, like chocolate, coffee, cheese, and beer. There is something I cannot bear to give up, though, and that is spicy food. I cannot live without Indian and Thai food. It would be impossible. I cannot tell you how often I think back fondly on my two weeks in India, where I ate amazing vegetarian Indian food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (The picture is of me in India, drinking chai on the train to Agra.) Furthermore, if I could never have Thai curry vegetables again, my passion for this world would be seriously tested. And coconut milk Thai soup. Mmmm...

Surprisingly, I feel less hungry after just writing about food. I may have to write every day for the next month. I guess my imagination is good, almost as good as the real thing (although that may be stretching it). I should be able to go to bed without the hunger pains keeping me up. Maybe I will have a cup of rice milk first, just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Labor Day and Business School (is it really autumn already?)

Hi! Hope you had a fun and fabulous Labor Day weekend, or if you did not get Monday off work, a great weekend. I went to Tucson, AZ with my boyfriend. His friend Tad, and Tad's girlfriend Alanna, live down there. I have been busy organizing my pictures so I can upload them online, including the aftermath of the Tucson hurricane we were caught in. (It does not rain like that in Seattle, believe me.)

I would like to write about that experience as soon as I get the pictures ready. Speaking of which, I am envisioning some changes to my blog. Until now, I have focused on my struggles- the memories, my feelings about it now, and how it colored my life. Writing about it has helped me stop denying what happened, and deal with the shame and other feelings. I hope this blog is helpful to my readers as well. It helps me to read and hear about other people's experiences that I can relate to, and if you have not gone through similar traumas, maybe this blog has been a window into what it is like. The support and compassion people have shown me in response to this blog has been really touching. I have opened up about the most painful places inside me, and instead of the rejection I was expecting, I have received the caring I longed for when these things were happening. Sorry to get all mushy, but it is true. I am so grateful to the people who have listened to what I have to say.

It is not as if I am done with my ongoing struggles with my past and my feelings, though. I am still reading the Emotional Alchemy book, and I have a lot to respond to and explore with that. I also started SOS (Survivors of Suicide) group therapy yesterday. It meets once a week until November 1. We will have weekly homework assignments, and I am sure those will make their way into my blog. Moreover, I still have a ton of books to read. I could just do self-help book reviews every week if only I could read faster. I would also like to write about my attempts to improve my relationships, since relationships have been a big struggle for me.

On the other hand, I feel like the intense focus on my problems can be oppressive. I know I have to deal with these negative things, but my real life involves a lot more than ruminating about my crummy parents and the like. If you just knew me from my blog, you would probably think I was pretty grim. Do not get me wrong, sorting out my issues is a huge project that does take up a lot of my, shall we say, bandwidth. I have dedicated myself to working this out, no matter what it takes. I am a more balanced and joyful person than this blog might imply, though. I have to be; otherwise, I would not be motivated to get better.

So, I would like to write about other things as well, like our trip to Tucson and my new cutie pet rats, stuff like that. I would like to post some pictures, like the one here. I have friends who have never seen pictures or heard stories about my trip to India in 2004. I am volunteering with a non-profit, The Vera Project, as a member of the Finance Committee, and I am excited about that. I hope I will not bore my readers who do not know me personally, but my personal life will start creeping into this blog more. My boyfriend and I like to say we care about each other holistically, and I am trying to be more holistic, that is, not compartmentalize my life. I think part of accepting myself and my life is just to be me, all the time, instead of trying to present only a carefully controlled side of me tailored to different situations and people. So there you go. I am going to have to start posting more often, because I have so much to write,!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Promises, Promises—A Child’s View of Incest

I know I have been ranking on CPS a lot lately. It maybe a good sign, though. I felt a lot worse when I was angry with my parents. At least there is a progression to my feelings. Before I move on, though, I wanted to share the following. I first read this in a Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren, Universal Press Syndicate, 1987).

Promises, Promises—A Child’s View of Incest

I asked you for help and you told me you would if I told you the things my dad did to me. It was really hard for me to say all those things, but you told me to trust you—then you made me repeat them to 14 different strangers.

I asked you for privacy and you sent two policemen to my school in front of everyone, to “go downtown” for a talk in their black and white car—like I was the one being busted.

I asked for you to believe me, and you said that you did, then you connected me to a lie detector, and took me to court where lawyers put me on trial like I was a liar. I can’t help it I can’t remember times or dates or explain why I couldn’t tell my mom. Your questions got me confused—my confusion got you suspicious.

I asked you for help and you gave me a doctor with cold metal gadgets and cold hands… just like my father, who said it wouldn’t hurt, just like my father, who said not to cry. He said I look fine—good news for you. You said, bad news for my “case.”

I asked you for confidentiality and you let the newspaper get my story. What does it matter that they left out my name when they put in my father’s and our home address? Even my best friend’s mother won’t let her talk to me anymore.

I asked for protection and you gave me a social worker who patted my head and called me “Honey” (mostly because she could never remember my name). She sent me to live with strangers in another place, with a different school.

Do you know what it’s like to live where there’s a lock on the refrigerator, where you have to ask permission to use the shampoo, and where you can’t use the phone to call your friends? You get used to hearing, “Hi, I’m your new social worker, this is your new foster sister, dorm mother, group home.” You tiptoe around like a perpetual guest and don’t even get to see your own puppy grow up.

Do you know what it’s like to have more social workers than friends?

Do you know what it feels like to be the one that everyone blames for all the trouble? Even when they were speaking to me, all they talked about was lawyers, shrinks, fees and whether or not they’ll lose the mortgage. Do you know what it’s like when your sisters hate you, and your brother calls you a liar? It’s my word against my own father’s. I’m 12 years old and he’s the manager of a bank. You say you believe me—who cares, if nobody else does?

I asked you for help and you forced my mom to choose between us—she chose him, of course. She was scared and had a lot to lose. I had a lot to lose too—the difference was you never told me how much. I asked you to put an end to the abuse—you put an end to my whole family. You took away my nights of hell and gave me days of hell instead. You exchanged my private nightmare for a very public one.

Feelings by Cindy, age 12; put into words by Kee McFarlane

This breaks my heart. One of the things that struck me is that for an abused child there are no good options.

Speaking of the options for abused children, there was an article in the Seattle P-I last month that illustrates this. (The article was taken down, so I can no longer link to it.) After 10 years of allegations and reports of physical and sexual abuse, 2 amazing and brave young women went public and led police to their foster father’s stash of child porn depicting him molesting his foster daughters (3 total). Despite at least 25 referrals to the state about the girls, they disregarded the charges in large part because the girls would not corroborate the abuse allegations while still living with their abusive foster father! Do the people investigating these cases have a clue? How can they expect a child to testify against a violent and dangerous adult that they are still living with and dependent on? Jeez. It seems these days the pedophile idiot needs to be stupid enough to film the abuse to land in jail. If this is what it takes to get caught, imagine how many abusers are getting away with whatever they want. It's pretty easy, I imagine, to threaten a child not to tell and not capture your behavior on film.

Finally, here is a very disturbing article about the rationalizations and online activity of pedophiles.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Child abuse makes me angry.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

ex motio (a teaser)

I said in my last post that I would report on my progress. Here's my report:

Okay, where to begin. I have been thinking about emotion, Buddhism, psychology, and self-help books. The book I'm reading, Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett-Goleman, incorporates all of these. It starts with a discussion of mindfulness (the Buddhist part). This part talks about acknowledging feelings as they bubble up (not suppressing them), observing them, and then letting them pass. She equates this to an experience she had meditating when instructed not to move a muscle. She discovered that it was incredibly uncomfortable, even painful, to not shift her body to alleviate stress points. In time, though, the pain passed and she was able to focus on her meditating rather than on her (continued) physical discomfort.

The book is about 10 "maladaptive schemas" (1). Schemas are part of the framework we use to understand and interpret the world. For example, the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson identified a highly adaptive schema called "basic trust" (1). A person with "basic trust" will experience the world as non-threatening, and will assume people are trustworthy. Children who are cared for, supported, and loved learn this schema, and are more likely to have positive interactions with people and stable relationships as adults. As you might imagine, abused children are more likely to use the "mistrust" schema, assuming people cannot be trusted. This is a maladaptive schema because viewing other people with suspicion, and constantly questioning people's motives, makes it very difficult to have healthy relationships (speaking from experience). Here is the rub- when you are a child in an abusive home being mistrustful is adaptive. It is a necessary response to reality. After all, you have to survive any way you can. You cannot afford to trust.

Once you learn mistrust, though, how do you learn trust? That is why I think it is insane and unconscionable for CPS to take an abused child out of their school and separate them from their friends. Their friends are probably the only ones they can trust. The first rule of thumb as an abused child is- you cannot trust adults. Furthermore, ask any child psychologist if it is good for a traumatized child to switch schools while their family is being torn apart. Chaos, instability, not having any predictable environments or people to rely on = NOT HEALTHY FOR CHILDREN!!! Please read this article or just let me share this statistic from the article- only 44% of foster children graduate from high school! Only 44%! From high school! How can this be? I cannot believe it even though I dropped out of high school. So, you are victimized by your family, and then the police, CPS, the education system, and the economy (when you cannot find a job because you are a high school drop-out). You become an adult surrounded by adults that you do not trust.

Guess what, there's more. The first 5 maladaptive schemas affect our close relationships: abandonment, deprivation, subjugation, mistrust, and unlovability (1). The other 5 are more broadly defined: exclusion, vulnerability, failure, perfectionism, and entitlement (1). These schemas are our expectations about the world (that we will be abandoned, deprived of what we need, subjugated, that the world is untrustworthy, we will be excluded, and/or vulnerable to catastrophe) or how we see ourselves (that we are unlovable, a failure, entitled, and/or need to be perfect). I thought I would deal with each one separately since the book says to. First, though, I want to write about how the book deals with emotion. Before that, though, I have to pack and go to bed. Tomorrow I am off to Nooksack, WA to meet my boyfriend’s parents. Wish me luck!

(1) Bennett-Goleman, Tara. Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.