Dark Waters: The Unbearable Truth of My Abusive Relationship

Bessel van der Kolk said,

“The essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable, and unbearable.”

I cannot tell you what happened in my relationship……..only that I believed he would never hurt me.

When he hurt me, I didn’t believe he would do it again.

When I began to shatter and unfold, I didn’t think he would lash out at me in so much anger.

When I begged him to stop, I didn’t believe he would keep going.

When I was hospitalized the first time, I didn’t believe he would continue betraying me as I attempted to heal.

I tried to get away. Twice I went to live where I thought I might be safe.

But he was always there………..sweet, kind, loving, affectionate.

When I returned, I didn’t believe the abuse would continue, but it did.

I never believed he would hurt me. 

I never thought I would believe I deserved it.

Finally, I decided that I would leave or die.

I decided I would rather take my own life than endure the pain of living with him.

I left on a rainy day, hungry and desperate.

I didn’t see him for almost a month.

But then he was there…….sweet, kind, loving, affectionate.

And I waded into the dark waters, hungry for their comforts.

I sank and sank until I almost drowned.

When he left he told me he “tried and tried with no returns.”

And I sat…..wrecked.

He had taken me in, filled me up, cut me down and thrown me out.

Every moment was overwhelming, unbelievable and completely unbearable. I still don’t believe it…and I don’t know how to bear it. Sometimes I wake up to a man’s voice. I am terrified and alone and still……..I long for his arms around me.

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PTSD: “The Stalker in the Dark”

Since my birthday, last year

there’s been someone stalking me

in the shadows.

I can’t see her face or what she’s wearing.

She’s sort of a shadow.

And she blends in to all the dark places.

I can hear her footsteps when I’m walking,

always close, never far.

She whispers to me.

“Watch out,” she says. “Be careful.”

“Remember what happened last time?”

As she flashes pictures and movie clips before my eyes.

Not a lot.

Just enough

to keep me scared…

Pieces of the Picture

There was a painting

 hanging on my wall

          of me. and you. and the whole world.

It began to crack

and chip

and fade.

One day, it all

  fell apart

      and what was left

was me. and you. and the whole world

       faded. and dark.

I tried to put back the pieces

                                                                                        but there were just too many…..

Call Me “Crazy”

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In his appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, Dave Chappelle stated,

“The worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy.

I never quite felt the gravity of this statement so much as I have this past year. I used to use the term “crazy” to describe people whose behavior I didn’t understand, people who I saw as different or somehow less than me.

It wasn’t until a traumatic experience turned my life upside down that I understood how crazy felt. Everything I thought I knew crumbled before my very eyes. In the course of a year, my relationship fell apart, my car died and I could no longer work. I was having panic attacks constantly, sobbing every day and made two suicide attempts. I began doing and saying things I never thought I would or could. Thoughts, memories and nightmares haunted me in the day and as I slept. I screamed and cried for someone to help me but help never came.

I began to feel as if I was losing my hold on reality. I questioned everything and everyone. I trusted no one, least of all myself. My life had become a nightmare I could never wake up from. I wanted my misery to end. I longed for a permanent, dreamless sleep.

I felt completely unhinged and began to think of myself as crazy. I never considered the meaning that word carries for the person who uses it to define their own behavior. Crazy is damaged. Crazy is erratic. Crazy is wrong. Crazy is also silly and stupid, not even worth consideration.

Crazy has an identity-stealing quality. You are no longer Sam or Judy or Beth with a family and friends. You are not thinking. Feeling. You’re Crazy. You don’t matter. You’re a headline, a punchline, an afterthought, a joke. If you looked at your driver’s license it would no longer say your name, it would just say “Crazy.”

Calling somebody crazy is like using a shrink-ray on them. You immediately reduce everything they are and were. Everything they ever wanted is gone. Poof! And now….you don’t have to deal with them. They’re a problem but they’re not yours. You don’t even have to think about them!

I never wanted so much to apologize to all the people I never knew but for whom I used that term. To all those people —

You are not crazy. You’re a person and you’re having a tough time. I don’t know you. I don’t know what’s happening in your life. I called you “crazy” so I wouldn’t have to think about it. But you deserve love and respect just like everybody else. You deserve to speak and have someone listen to you. You deserve to be helped if that’s what you want and need. You deserve to be seen and not ignored and I’m sorry if I or anybody else ever made you feel like you didn’t. You are so important.

This anonymous letter is a wish for me too. I want to feel real and important again. I want to stop diminishing myself as I was taught to do. I want to take myself seriously and be taken seriously by others. I’m not Crazy. I’m so much more. I’m an artist and an idealist, a thinker. I love education and learning and experiencing new things. I am kind and gentle and funny and smart. I have so much love in my heart and none of this is encompassed in “Crazy.”

We are all so much more than this. And we can show it by stopping the use of this dehumanizing word.

Thank you for reading.

The Price of Religious Need-Fulfillment

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I just finished watching the movie, American Jesus, primarily a survey of the different ways Christianity is marketed to people in the U.S. The movie highlights ministries geared towards ex convicts, cowboys, surfers, bikers, etc. Journalists, writers and ex-church members offer alternative views on the direction Christianity has taken in this country and the purpose it serves for people in our highly consumerist culture.

While I agree that religion is not immune to being used to perpetuate consumerism and complacency, I found myself wondering as I have for many years, “Why do people need religion?”

I get that people like the community, togetherness and sense of purpose but isn’t all that possible without a belief in God? There are a lot of ways for people to come together and I don’t think of religion as one of the main ones. Historically, religious beliefs have been used to justify wars, killing, oppression and separation among people. Religion seems to divide people MUCH MORE than it brings them together.

I can even see the appeal of believing in an all-loving and accepting parental figure but isn’t this the same god that would have you sentenced to an eternity of suffering for disobeying your parents or committing any of the other myriad transgressions outlined in the “Good” Book? This seems a tenuous relationship at best, one based on mistrust and fear. Are monotheists motivated to be kind by the belief that all people deserve kindness or by fear of eternal damnation? Maybe both.

What about the relationship with something bigger than ourselves? This is truly a noble reason for the belief in God. Well, if you believe that humans are at the center of the universe than I can imagine a relationship with an omnipotent, human-like presence might be very fulfilling. But what is it that one fails to recognize as great or miraculous about the vastness of the universe and the magnificence of life? Is connection to all living things so dissatisfying that we need to have a father-figure in the sky that created everything so that we can feel fulfilled?

Perhaps religion, particularly monotheism, is answering many needs for people. In one religion, we find a parental figure that is judgmental and accepting, all-knowing and mysterious. We get all the answers we need and don’t have to ask questions because it’s wrong to do so anyway! We get the comfort of knowing that if we follow the rules we can enjoy eternal bliss in the after-life while those who don’t believe the way we do will suffer for their ignorance and wrong-doing. We even get to judge others because we’re special and better and “chosen!”

What could be better? We have all our questions answered and a clear course for our lives mapped out for us by someone who knows better. We can feel secure in our goodness and purpose in this world and we need only spread the “good word” to others…….by force if necessary!

It saddens me that we cannot find fulfillment in relationship with humanity or find wonderment in all that surrounds us. For some of us, relationships extend far beyond ourselves and our loved ones to all people, known and unknown. We have faith in the value of all living things and belief in deep compassion and respect for others. We “give thanks” by recognizing the miracle of all that surrounds us, the boundless nature of life in all its intricacy. Is it not valuable to forge a relationship of acceptance and forgiveness with ourselves and each other? Do we not know how to do this?

I believe we are limitless and are only bound by the limits we set for ourselves. We are capable of a relationship with something greater than ourselves by acknowledging what is greater than ourselves. We can find purpose in living our lives fully and helping others to do the same. The word holy has it’s roots in the word whole or complete. By finding our connection with everything and everyone, including ourselves, we can feel whole and complete.

I hope that one day we can let go of religion and all the hate and suffering that comes with it. Maybe we can break down the walls we’ve built and have the courage to share our love and fears with one another. Perhaps we can build faith in our humanity and our ability to recognize the humanity in others. We need not live in fear of future punishment but with a consciousness and respect for all that we come into contact with.

There are many paths we can take for need-fulfillment, religion is only one path and quite a narrow one at that.

Thank you for reading.

Are We as Sick as We Think We Are? :Cultural Influence on Mental Illness

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The first time I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt was when I was in high school. I must have been around 15 years old. I remember feeling anxious about getting out–Thanksgiving was approaching and I didn’t want to miss it. I thought about how embarrassed my mom would be when asked by my aunts and cousins why I wasn’t there. I said everything I thought I should say to the doctors to get out: that I was feeling better, fine, ready to go home.

I made it out for Thanksgiving. Interactions with my family were awkward at best. I don’t remember anybody asking me how I was doing except for my cousin who asked if I was “better now.” I told her yes but knew in my heart that my answer was for her benefit, not mine. I didn’t feel better, I just wanted to make her feel better.

Throughout my life, I have found myself telling people over and over again what I think they want to hear. When I was hospitalized twice this past year, my coworkers showed concern when I returned but did not call or visit while I was away, not even once I was out of the hospital. I would occasionally receive a “We miss you” text, but that was about it. Similar distance prevailed in my other relationships. Even after a friend had taken me in when I had no place to live, we seldom spoke. She felt slighted by the distance and kicked me out.

I began to wonder how different my life would’ve been if I’d had cancer or kidney failure. I fantasized about caring doctors and hospital visits from friends and coworkers followed by flowers and cards. Images of people walking for breast cancer and raising money for Alzheimer’s and juvenile diabetes marched through my head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that any one of these conditions would have been met with more care and compassion than my diagnoses of depression and PTSD.

Our beliefs about mental illness have a strong effect on our diagnosis, our treatment and even the expression of the disease. We often fail to recognize that certain disorders are endemic to our culture and are seen less or not at all in other cultures. For instance, while the incidence of schizophrenia is fairly consistent across cultures, rates of depression vary widely. Why is this?

Our cultural values influence our perceptions of symptoms we find troubling as well as the way we express them. For example, a culture which values independence might see a strong reliance on others as problematic, causing people to feel “needy” and pressuring them to go it alone. These same values could also cause others to keep this person at a distance and doctors influenced by these values might be more likely to encourage medication and self-reliance in order to heal.

Our culture values productivity, independence and consumerism and if you’re not doing those things, there’s an issue. If you’re unhappy, the impetus is to look inward instead of looking at environmental, social and cultural factors making you sick. Just imagine if we lived in a culture that valued authenticity and compassion for all people over a contribution to the gross domestic product!

Perhaps we are not as sick as we think. We live in a culture that values what you contribute more than who you are, a culture that values achievement, success and beauty based on what sells. If we’re not achieving everything society dictates we should be, is there something wrong with us or with society?

What does our culture know about the value of human life? We make laws to restrict a woman’s right to choose in order to preserve a potential life, yet we send our sons and daughters off to be slaughtered in the next righteous war. We live in a society that does not believe in meeting people’s basic needs for food and shelter but believes that if people are homeless or hungry it is because they are not applying themselves and they certainly don’t deserve help.

Are these the standards by which we judge ourselves? If we find that we are “depressed” or lost or hopeless perhaps it is an accurate reflection of the state of our lost humanity. I’m certainly not implying that self-reflection is not conducive to healing but I believe we need to widen our scope and look at how the world we live in is contributing to our illness. Perhaps we should stop blaming ourselves and other people for the hardships they experience and start helping each other to heal.

How might our experience of sadness and hardship change if we looked at it as part of the human experience? How might our experience of healing change if we looked at others as extensions of ourselves? Might we find the healing of one to be the healing of all? Could we heal our collective hurt and work together to build peace and compassion?

Sometimes I think not………………..but the question keeps me hopeful.

Thank you for reading.