Saturday, March 18, 2006


Since I have been out of town, I have not been able to see my therapist. I saw her on Friday. We talked about my 4 year old step-niece, who lives with my dad along with her dad and my dad's wife. We talked about how I have heard him threaten my step-niece, and they are going to my great-uncle's house for holidays, the one who molested me. This is how it started with me. When she talked to me about confronting my dad, I could not breathe and my chest tightened. What could he do to you now, she asked. I said I was still afraid of him. I told her I had tried to get the police report, from when he beat me so savagely, and when I told the police about my great-uncle, so I could send it to my step-mom and stepbrother. I could not get it though.

I told her I just wanted to get away from my parents, not confront them, and she said, you do not want to take the coward's way out, like your brother. She said I held all the cards because I could tell what happened. I walked back to work. I left at 5:30, stopping in the bathroom to cry. I walked home, and stopped at Blockbuster to rent "The Constant Gardener.” A lot of people wore green. I got home and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up at 7:30 and left to renew my driver's license. I wore all black, and didn't smile in my picture. I looked...I do not know what I looked like. Blank. While I waited, I read in one of my trauma books about why men who were hit as a child hit their children. To regain a feeling of power.

I stopped by Whole Foods on the way home, and bought vitamins, juice, and vegetables. Two paper bags, double bagged. At home, I called a friend and left a message. I watched the movie. When it ended, I sat down to write a letter. My friend called back and said I was doing the right thing. I printed 2 copies, and addressed 1 to my stepbrother and 1 to my step-mom. I also wrote a letter to my mom. As I walked out of my apartment, I started to gasp for air. My chest was tightening up. I walked outside, and then turned around. It was cool but sunny outside. I got my sunglasses to cover my eyes, and started out again.

As I walked, I still struggled to breathe but my steps became more and more purposefully. I told myself, I am doing the right thing. I told myself, I can write whatever I want, and send it to whomever I want, because it is the truth. I thought about how everyone in my dad's family, including my dad, acted like they were afraid of my grandfather, even though he was old and frail and could barely walk. I never understood it until I realize how terrified I was. I thought, he cannot hurt me anymore, I am an adult and I can protect myself now.

I stopped at 2 different mailboxes, and mailed my stepbrother's and my mom's at 1 and my step-mom's letter at another after getting different stamps. I had printed labels for my step-mom's and wrote in girlie, different handwriting in green pen for my step-brother's, and made up different return addresses, so my dad wouldn't recognize they were from me when he got the mail. I said a prayer at each mailbox, forgive me for waiting so long to tell, and may my step-niece and I be okay.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Warm Summer

Warm Summer

Waiting at a bus stop
along a four lane residential street
I am smoking
a cigarette I am holding on
to a metal pole for the bus
stop lined with holes it is

not shiny Filling
out forms for two and a half hours I
left lines blank
a last name of someone who proved to me
that I am not dead
in my belly I feel a silent foot

pressed against
the wall of my stomach I have not had food
in two days Cars
rush by I am the only one
on this street standing
my hands pressed on my round belly

copyright Kristina Coker

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Houdini Act

I'm done working out of town, hopefully for a while. I've had some good times the last 2 months- free soup and Jeopardy at the Best Western in Port Angeles, reading about elegance on the treadmill, my friends in Wenatchee- the kid at the front desk and the bartender at the Red Lion and the guy who always smiled at me at the Mongolian grill, having someone clean up for me everyday in my hotel room, and watching Gonzaga men's basketball with their biggest fan during Lent, laughing at Adam Morrison's porn mustache. Adam vs. J.J.? Obviously, Jesus prefers Adam.

It was, however, an added hardship in my efforts to deal. Dealing takes time- going to support groups, reading self-help books, journal writing, going to the gym (yes, the gym helps me deal), therapy, boring my poor friends who listen to me talk about it- these things take time. Especially when you throw in the CPA exam. One cannot read about post-traumatic stress and self-esteem while studying Alternative Minimum Tax and testamentary trusts. Even through all that, though, I am starting to get it.

You know, get it. Wake up. Open my eyes to the reality of my life, myself, and the often odd and sometimes surprising feelings and ways of thinking I have worked so hard to avoid. Then I have avoided the consequences of avoiding the feelings- in certain areas of my life I have blindfolded and handcuffed myself, wrapped myself in chains, and thrown myself in a locked box. This blog really helps break that cycle. It is venting, but it is so much more. It also-

1. Has helped me tell my friends and the world things about my life I've been hiding, breaking me out of the shame and guilt.

2. When I write things down, I discover things about my thinking and feelings that I do not realize when I am just thinking about it.

3. I'm learning how to "live authentically"- a phrase I got from How to Raise Your Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden. This is a little book I tried to power through this last week, but only got about a quarter of the way through. So far, though, I have learned the importance of being absolutely, entirely, unwaveringly honest with yourself, and conducting your life in such a way that you build your self-respect. This is all moving towards the goal of self-acceptance. Even in the face of cynicism, regret, doubt, and fear, while fully aware of my weaknesses, what would it feel like to be totally comfortable with who I am?

Somehow, when I write about these parts of me, I can accept them. I think writing is beautiful, so no matter how horrible it is, if I write about something, it makes it beautiful in some way. This blog is me being honest about myself, to anyone who reads this, but especially to myself. I could not write this if I was not willing to accept it.

A couple months ago, I could not even consider such a thing, primarily because I was so out of touch with myself. My own feelings were a total mystery to me. I was not only not being honest with myself; I was not being honest with myself about not being honest with myself. Now I can say that trying to understand myself, and trying to be more forthcoming with my friends and world about who I am, is helping my self-esteem and self-respect. It feels right, when everything used to feel wrong and I did not know why.

But it is hard. There is a reason why I suppressed all these feelings in the first place. Dredging them back up is painful, uncomfortable, and kind of sucky sometimes. Avoiding bad feelings is bad, but feeling them is icky. Bleck. Case in point, what is it about the rape that is still bothering me so much? I’ve been trying to figure that out, especially since I seem emotionally incapable of having good, close relationships.

The self-esteem book has exercises where you complete a sentence, stream of consciousness style. The hard thing about staying fully conscious in this area of my life is... 2 things spring to mind. The 1st is a classic way of trying to cope with the effects of rape and sexual abuse- choosing to be with someone, even someone I would be better off without, makes me feel good because I was with someone by force before. It gives some relief from an overwhelming feeling of victimization, emphasizing to myself that I do have some control.

The 2nd is a somewhat odd piece of logic that I have never really challenged because I did not realize I thought that way, at least not to that extent- at the time that I was raped I thought that if I had been with the nice guy, it would not have happened. Part of it is trying to relive and alter what happened by finding a nice guy to be with, part is punishing myself for not being with that guy because I was not ready, by pushing myself into other relationships that I am not ready for, but the biggest part thinks that if I am with someone, I am protecting myself from being raped again. I am terrified of being raped again. That part of me thinks that if I am with someone, he will protect me by keeping me out of that situation, alone and vulnerable. I honestly feel that I would rather die than be raped again.

Relationships helped me avoid dealing with the fact that I was not ready to be in a relationship, because I had not dealt with being sexually abused, beaten, or raped. They were a way that I lied to myself and told myself that all those things had no affect on me. It is how I proved to myself that I was not afraid, when I was afraid. I have not been able to handle that fear. I am so afraid. I feel beaten down, defeated. To have things forced on you destroys your confidence in yourself and self-respect. You are too weak to protect yourself. The knowledge that someone can and has taken away my control over my own body makes it hard for me to feel that I have control over anything, even my own life.

I figured if I was with someone who did not hit me or force himself on me, that meant I was not with someone who would. I also avoided rocking the boat in relationships, because I did not want to risk someone yelling at me or even hitting me.

I hope this is a cautionary tale. Do not deal with things the way I have. Do not let fear run your life.

Now I am feeling those feelings I have worked so hard to avoid. The cycle is broken. I am off the roller coaster (2nd reference to a disco song). I have to face it. I have already had some success dealing with my feelings. I used to feel so guilty about my brother, and now, not so much. I am also less angry with him (and more with my parents). I am dealing with the feelings that come up and doing okay.

Now that I am back home, I will be spending my evenings with The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, the almost 600 page bible for female survivors of sexual abuse. I have flipped through the book and already love it. It speaks to me. It says- you can be free. Even better, my horoscope this week had this quote from Gandhi- “Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you.”

Sunday, March 05, 2006

For Your Approval

I have been working out of town during the week for almost 2 months now, and I am exhausted. This is a complete lack of work-life balance. I meet my co-workers for breakfast at 7, work until 7:30-8:30 (early in the world of busy season auditing), have dinner with my co-workers, drop into bed, get up and do it again. I miss going to the gym and writing after work, like I normally do in Seattle. I can honestly say, though, that I have learned from all the traveling I have done in this job.

I can pack like nobody's business. I can navigate any airport in a rental car. Security, delays, lost luggage, bad driving conditions, rude hotel staff- all in a day's work. I feel comfortable traveling on my own, and being on my own, which was not the case before. I feel independent and self-sufficient.

This was not always the case. When I was on the streets, I was so drunk, manic, and/or depressed that I could only manage to do 1 or 2 things a day, and 1 of those was to get drunk. There are few things as demoralizing as spending the day at the welfare office, and it exhausted me. I feel good about spending my Saturdays doing errands now, especially when my bikini wax is over.

One of the things that made it so hard for me to do everyday things is that sometimes I cannot deal with people very well. When people are rude to me, I take it personally. My job now, and waiting tables before, has helped me with that. People are rude, thoughtless, and insulting to me all the time, and it bothers me less and less. On the other hand, there are things about my job that really bring up issues for me. I suspect that some part of me is attracted to situations that challenge me, and this is certainly one of those situations.

I (don’t be too shocked) have problems with authority. These problems (again, don’t be shocked) have to do with my parents. Specifically, they have to do with approval, my desire for it and resentment about feeling that way. I know that the thing with my parents is huge- the foundation of it all. I come back to it again and again, as I am trying to deal with myself. I can recognize that I am replaying these frustrations- trying to fix the situation post-mortem through current situations and other people, instead of fixing the problem inside of me.

My dad and I were the best of friends until my brother was born when I was 6. He then made it clear that Jeff was his favorite, and that it was because I was a girl. My dad grew up in an abusive home, and instead of directing his anger at his abusive dad, he hated his mom and his older sister. He felt that his sister was favored, so he recreated the scenario with my brother and I, only this time with the favored brother and the abused sister. I know that the way I was treated had nothing to do with me; it had to do with my parents’ issues. At the time, though, I did not understand that, and the only explanation that made sense to me was that there was something wrong with me.

I developed this idea that in order for people to treat me decently, I had to earn it, and if I wasn't getting someone’s respect, I was not trying hard enough. I have a hard time recognizing that other people have their own issues that have nothing to do with me. I often hold myself responsible for other people’s behavior and think that if I am clever and smart enough I can fix it, not wanting to recognize a lot of things are out of my control and there is not much to do but accept it or walk away. It is also hard to see things for what they are when you are constantly reliving the past. I keep thinking I can win people’s approval, and that I will be recognized at work, and that will make up for my dad rejecting me when my brother was born. When my efforts do not get me the appreciation I crave, I feel inferior, and I want to rebel against the authority that makes me feel so bad about myself.

I have been awkwardly struggling to get out some of the anger and frustration I feel towards my parents. The fundamental issue I have is very powerful and very immature- what other people do is not always in response to me; the world does not revolve around me. My parents are only human, very flawed humans, and while that does not excuse what they did, I cannot make them 1) sorry in the way that I want them to be, 2) take it all back, 3) work out all their issues in a way that is satisfactory to me.

When I was in the foster home, I never wanted to speak to my parents again. I went to the house during the day and removed every single picture of me from their possession. I wanted to disappear and start a life completely separate from them. I could not walk away from my brother, though, so I kept in minimal contact with them. It broke my heart to not see my brother every day. He was, in fact, everyone in the family’s favorite. Everyone thought he was the normal one who would be successful, which put a lot of pressure on him and probably contributed to his suicide.

After Jeff’s death, I ended up making many of the decisions about the funeral and being the pulled together one, taking care of things. I was in shock, and I stayed in shock for the next 5 years. In the meantime, my parents tried to drag me into their very contentious divorce. Suddenly, they were proud of me. I feel like they have both tried to rewrite history, because Jeff could not possible be the favorite now, could he? My family knows nothing about unconditional love. I feel like a traitor just talking to them. I do not know if it is to the memory of all they have done to me, the memory of my brother, or just to myself in the present.

I still think the way they are treating me is bullshit. I am living with the consequences of what they did, not them. My dad is still spending his holidays with his uncle who sexually abused me, and he is being verbally abusive to my step-niece. My mom still guilt-trips me and messes with my head. Both of them seem to equate love with pressure and expectations that have nothing to do with me, that I validate them and cover up what they have done. All I can do is accept it or walk away, because I know I cannot fix them. I wish I had washed my hands of them after the funeral.

Which brings me back to my job. My friend (and former co-worker) and I were discussing how my job is like a bad relationship. You can never do anything to anyone’s satisfaction, constant criticism, the destruction of your self-esteem, isolation from your friends, and people taking their issues out on you. For me it is really difficult because I keep thinking I can make it better if I just try harder, work more, say the right things, whatever I can do to fix it. Little things give me hope, occasionally someone says something nice, and I think it will all turn around.

I just cannot accept it for what it is; I keep trying to turn it into something it is not. Just like I could never accept that there was nothing I could do to get my parents to treat me respect, and love me for who I am. Just like all the times I tried to earn caring and consideration from someone who was not giving it, instead of walking away from them.

What comes first, washing your hands or walking away?