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.”

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