Monday, June 26, 2006

Express Yourself (in honor of Gay Pride last weekend)

I have been thinking about secrets. Lately it seems they are nothing but destructive. Not in the- they come back to get us eventually- kind of way, although that is bad too. More like, when we keep other people's secrets, and it is bad for us. We do not give anyone the chance to help us, even if it is just to give us perspective. I know from experience that your perspective can really be out of whack if you never discuss your personal problems with someone outside the situation. I do know why I did not talk about the abuse, though- shame. I thought that the abuse reflected something about me- that I was worthless, unlovable, and worst of all, there was something horribly wrong with me. Something wrong with me that I did not understand, that I could not fix, that meant I deserved to be treated that way. If I told people about the abuse, they would realize how horrible I was. I had to hide it, blend in the best I could, and suppress that horrible thing inside me.

This was a challenge, since I did not know what it was that was wrong with me. I tried my hardest to overcome something about myself that I could not even identify. This was, obviously, very difficult. Impossible, actually. Moreover, I felt like a sham, that I was pretending to be someone that I was not. That is how the blog helped me. When I write about my life, I realize that these are things that happened to me, not because of me. These experiences are not me. I realize who I am, and who I am is not defined by what other people did to me.

It is not as if secrecy and shame exist independent of each other. Abusers instill and encourage shame in their victims, so they will keep their secrets. Keeping something secret makes you feel ashamed. After all, if something is a secret, it must be shameful. The act of keeping a secret makes you feel dishonest and ashamed of yourself, even if you think you are "protecting" someone else. You do think you should keep secrets to protect people- your family and yourself from public humiliation and judgment. Sadly, there is not a lot of support out there for abused children. There were people who knew what was happening in my family who did not do anything. I felt betrayed. What I did not know, though, was that just talking about it helps, even if the person you are telling does not or cannot help in any other way. Like when you talk to your friends. It helps a lot. Just telling my story, regardless of the reaction, has helped me separate what happened to me from who I am, what is my responsibility, and what is not my responsibility. That is not to say that it feels good to tell people such painful things if they react with indifference or insensitivity. It is important to find people who are safe to talk to, and I did not know how to do that for most of my life, so I did not really try. I was lucky enough to find a therapist in my recent history that reacted to my story with outrage and anger. She helped me feel outraged and angry, to start protecting myself, not from other people's reactions, but from the abuse and lies.

The longer you keep other people's secrets about the bad things they have done to you, the more the shame grows, the more powerful it becomes. Not only do you feel ashamed about what was done to you, but also you know that your silence could be hurting other people. The fear and shame is so great that you cover up for the abuser even when you start to suspect that you are doing the wrong thing. You play along, as I participated in relationships with my parents that were cover-ups for what had really happened, based on lies, and my brother's and my suffering. It was hard for me to walk away from my parents, harder for me to admit to myself the truth about them, to stop defending them and lying for them, than to just blame it all on myself. For some reason, it seemed easier to hate myself than to hate them. However, every day, it gets easier. And better. Because I do not hate myself, I am not ashamed, and my life is not a lie. My life is my own.

It is hot here in Seattle. I am cooking in my tiny apartment right now, and not in the yummy brown rice and vegetables kind of way. I will be moving soon- not far away, just to another apartment in my neighborhood. My rent is going up, and I am not going to take it. No, I'm not gonna take it. I was feeling unhappy about the disruption to my life, and general pain-in-the-ass-ness of it all, but now I think it will be a good change. A chance to move, and move on.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Vengeance is mine

I have been MIA from my blog for about a month, coming back to it last week. Part of it was I was studying for the CPA, but after that, rather than going back to dealing with things, I just felt stunned. It is just hard for me to comprehend that my parents would rather let me go than acknowledge what they did to me. I do not understand how my dad could have abused me the way he did, forced me to go to a man’s house that he knew was sexually abusing me, beg my forgiveness, drive his son to commit suicide, and then choose to do it again to another family. I do not understand how my mom could tell me she thought I could handle the abuse on my own, and then when I confronted her about how she failed in her responsibilities to me, deny the abuse even happened. I do not understand how they could abandon both Jeff and me.

I felt a lot of this same shock after Jeff’s suicide. I just could not comprehend how he could do that to me, and everyone who loves him. I am having the same physical problems as I did after the suicide too- migraines and my stomach hurting whenever I eat. It is hard for me to work all this emotional anguish out of my system, and it eats away at my health. My body is overwhelmed with stress, and the only way I have been able to feel better physically is to be as healthy as I can in every other way- eating healthy and exercising. That does not address the cause of the stress, though. The only way I can really get better is if I can figure out how to stop holding these feelings inside me.

I think the real sticking point is how I learned to deal with emotions as a child- post-traumatic stress, if you will. In order to survive, I used copying strategies that were the best I could do at the time. I was hyper-vigilant- always on the look out for danger, always prepared for the worst to happen. I disassociated from the sadness, pain, confusion, and anger. I focused on what I liked about my parents, and blocked out how bad they were, so I could stand to live with them and be dependent on them.

Right now, I am experiencing a flood of heart-wrenching emotions remembering every detail of how bad and unsympathetic my parents really were, and how bad and unsympathetic they still are. My coping strategies helped me survive living with them. I was also brainwashed into thinking that the way they acted was normal, and that I was bad and emotionally unstable for rebelling against them. I could not help rebelling against them, because what they were doing was wrong, but they beat me down and put me through so much that I believed I deserved it. When I escaped that situation, I did not escape it psychologically. I thought I deserved that treatment, and I attracted people who took advantage of that.

Now I feel really angry that I was taken advantage of, used, and mistreated, and angry that people are capable of treating other people like that. I am really struggling to know what to do with these feelings. It is unsatisfying to just walk away, after everything I have been through, when they took so much from me. I wish I did not feel vengeful, but I do. It is hard to accept that these people will just keep doing what they are doing without having to take responsibility for all the pain they have caused. They should pay!

When I think about these feelings, though, I realize that I have gained something that my victimizers will most likely never have. They are prisoners in a never-ending cycle. My grandfather abused my dad when he was a kid, and my dad takes his revenge on other people. He will never be satisfied, though, because he sees himself as the victim, and his anger and resentment over his perceived helplessness only gets worse. He hurts others to feel powerful, but because he does not take responsibility for himself, he is incapable having power over his own life. He is incapable of having compassionate, supportive connections with other people, and being happy.

My ex-boyfriend, last I heard, blames me for everything, including his alcoholism. He took advantage of me when I was at my lowest point, blaming myself for Jeff's death. He verbally and emotionally abused me, constantly belittling me and cutting me down. I left him when I was sure he would start physically hurting me. After how hard he made my life at a time that was already incredibly difficult, he has tried to punish me in any way he could for leaving him, including threatening physical violence on me. As long as he holds me responsible for his misery, though, he is powerless over his miserable life, as he is powerless over me.

My mom has buried one child, and alienated the other. She sacrificed us to save herself, and in the process, threw away everything that mattered to her. I do not need to seek justice against them because they are inflicting it on themselves. Once I stopped waiting for them to release me, or for someone else to rescue me, I was able to save myself. I fought against and escaped the victim cycle. Now I am responsible for my own happiness, and there is nothing more that these people can do to take my happiness away. That clich├ęd saying is true- living well is the best revenge. All we really have power over is our own life. I wish I knew how to heal my body, but I think as the anger subsides, the pain will too. I will stop expecting the worst, and realize how far I have come.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Pheasant & the Rainbow (or, Batcaver Out of Hell)

Saturday, April 29, 2006: it was cool outside when I started out, about 9:30 am. I had committed myself to the 288-mile drive to Pullman, and to turning around and coming back the same day. I needed to visit my brother’s grave. Snoqualmie pass went quickly, and I stopped at the rest stop on the way down, Indian John Hill. I went to the bathroom, got some coffee and a cookie from those people who hang out at rest stops, and took some pictures of myself. When I looked at the pictures, I thought, funny, I feel fine, but my smile looks crooked and my eyes look worried. I sent a text message to my boyfriend at 11:55 am- @ a rest stop over the pass. About a third of the way. Feel good :D listen 2 disco & punk, sing loud! Try not 2 speed- unsuccessfully :P how r u?

It was warm at the rest stop, and it kept getting warmer as I drove. The weather was beautiful, and I thought, this will be fine. I kept seeing dead animals on the side of the road, though. It disturbed me. I had a feeling of dread that was getting stronger. I had decided to stop at all the rest stops, under the theory that the drive would be less oppressive that way. I stopped at the next one, and had another ½ a styrofoam cup of black coffee and a cookie. The other people at the rest stop seemed annoyed. I sent my boyfriend another message, at 12:28 pm- @ Ryegrass Rest Area, taking pix. It is hot!

At the next rest stop I sent another message- 85 m 2 go. getting hotter
(He did not receive this one.)

When I got to Colfax, I felt myself tense up. (My dad lives there.) There was a big sign with the temperature- 83 degrees. I was glad to have my sunglasses. I was warm, it was sunny, but I still felt like I would throw up.

It was getting a little cloudy and windy when I stopped in Pullman to get gas. The kid working there stood outside and talked to me. He told me he was hung over, and was going to party as soon as he got off work. He asked me what I was doing. I told him, “going to the cemetery to visit my brother.” He looked a little sad, and then commented on the wind.

The cemetery has been there for a long time. It used to be in the middle of nowhere, that is, the fields outside Pullman. A strip mall was built nearby, but you still have to drive on a narrow road to get there, and the fields still surround it. At it’s highest area you can see WSU in the distance. Large, old trees line the gravel roads and form a canopy. My brother is in a newer area, where the trees are still small. The area used to be a field, and when he was buried, there were only 1 or 2 other graves, all far away from his. About 5 years ago, a cop’s grave showed up next to his. I know he was a cop because it says so on his gravestone. Jeff’s gravestone has a nature scene with a mountain and evergreen trees on it. It suits him because he liked to hike and go rock climbing. He was buried with his bike helmet. Seeing his grave, I think about all the decisions that had to be made- picking a coffin, a program design with a quote for the funeral, planning the funeral. I spent half the funeral, which was at graveside, with my forehead pressed against my knees, bawling. It started to rain right after the service ended, and someone released 19 white balloons into the sky. I watched them until I could not see them anymore.

The first thing I noticed, though, was the crappy fake flowers. My dad had decided to decorate my brother’s grave with baskets of fake flowers, hung on a hook cemented into the grave, which he insisted were just as nice as real flowers, and lasted longer. These flowers had lasted at least 2 or 3 years; I recognize them from other times I had been there. You could not even tell what color the flowers used to be, and the “petals” were shredded. I was disgusted. When was the last time he was even here? He plays the devastated father, and he does not even bother to visit Jeff’s grave anymore. My mom has not been to his grave since the funeral. She told me so.

I sat on the grass in front of his gravestone. I cried, and talked softly to him. I looked at all the decorations on the other graves. Jeff’s grave looked abandoned. I told him I was sorry. I said, “I don’t know what dad did to you when you were living alone with him, and it scares me. I am so sorry we did not talk about it. I am so sorry for what he did to you.” It started to rain. I cried, and the rain stopped. The electric wires were sizzling. The rain started again, and I pressed my forehead against the gravestone. When I looked up, I saw a rainbow arching over the edges of the cemetery. When I looked down, I saw him.

The pheasant was standing at the end of the cemetery. He was beautiful- colorful, and standing proudly. He was still for a while, and then walked slowly along the perimeter. Eventually, he disappeared into the field.

I was shocked. Was this supposed to be a sign? When I was a kid, my dad would go hunting for pheasants. My brother shot himself with my dad’s hunting rifle. The one he shot pheasants with.

My dad is responsible for my brother’s death.

I took the fake flowers and stuck them in the trunk of my car. I got some paper towels out of the trunk, and tried to clean off the gravestone. I drove down to the strip mall, to look for something to replace the crappy flowers. I found bamboo wind chimes. I brought them back and hung them up. They looked nice, and tinkled pleasantly. As I drove away, I turned and watched the chimes moving in the wind, lifelike.

I drove across town to see the house I grew up in with Jeff, from when I was 4 to 17. A very unattractive woman was standing outside. She looked sharply at me as I slowed down. The house had been painted the most hideous yellow I had ever seen. It looked like a gruesome dayglow box. I had a moment of panic, not knowing if I should stop and look at the house I’d been through so much in, with my pets buried in the back yard, despite this horrible woman glaring at me. I keep driving.

I stopped at the grocery store to look for some food. It was crawling with frat boys buying beer. By this point, I had enough of Pullman. I could not get out of there fast enough.

About 20 miles out of town, a pheasant was standing on the side of the road. He seemed to watch me as I drove by.

10 minutes later, the rain and wind really started. Chunks of earth, a to-go cup, newspaper, and branches flew across my windshield, sometimes thudding into my car. After a while the rain stopped, but not the wind. The dust was so thick that I could only see the silhouettes of barns and grain silos. The sun was an angry yellow-brown ball.

When I got out of my car at the rest stop, my hair whipped across my face, and dust stung my eyes. I hurried back to my car and sent another text message (that didn’t go through)- 200 m 2 home. Very strange trip. Very. Including the drive back so far –xoxoxo

I spent part of the drive behind a car that would slow down whenever the dust got especially thick. At times, we were going 20 miles an hour and I could not see past the car in front of me. I noticed the spindly watering contraptions were running in the freshly plowed fields, but the water was shooting straight up.

Road kill surrounded Othello. As I drove into the Columbia Basin, the wind died down. The Columbia River was pitch black and churning violently. I stopped at the rest stop just past Vantage.

The rest stop was dark, and eerie. There were 2 vehicles, a minivan with a woman inside, and a car. The car looked abandoned, but I wondered if the owner was lurking around somewhere. The woman leapt out of the minivan and ran to the bathroom. As I walked up, she was on her way back. “You better get out of here soon!” she said to me. I nodded. She waited until I was back in my car before she sped away. I sent a text message. It was 8:26 pm- Hi! I think I just escaped hell! My eyes r burning. Wish I was home safe!

The dust and wind picked back up after I drove out of the basin. Ellensburg was grimy and quiet looking. I kept driving past the Indian John Hill rest stop at the base of the pass.

At 10:54 pm- I am home! Brutal winds in E. WA, chunks of earth, branches hit my car. Visibility bad! Saw rainbow & pheasant at cemetery, another pheasant on road. Surreal. xo