Exactly a month ago, I wrote about the perspective of my entire life, all in one neat package. The only way that was possible was because I did so from a totally honest place. I had never been able to do that before quite in that way. I read it aloud in therapy that same day, and we both were full of emotion, with some tears of joy.
It was certainly a huge healing step for me, yet it was also an internal risk. I did not consider that at the time. I have no regrets. It was necessary. I needed to know it, feel it, and write it.
I quickly found that having all that perspective has nothing to do with arriving at any particular destination. While it may have sounded "feel good", it led to a chain of realizations and internal acceptances as well as some massive conflicts. From a purely human psychological perspective, it was kind of astounding to me how that happened.
A lot started coming at me quickly and I tried my best to hold onto the entire perspective all along. It was not easy. There were a myriad of inputs reverberating throughout.
All parts of me were listening—indeed trusting—and they were all over the place. There were onslaughts of memories from different periods which were coming at me and hitting me in different ways. Parts of me were railing against everything in quite dramatic ways. There was massive acceptance, but also massive denial.
Some of the perspective was about being suicidal and the ways in which I had tried to kill myself long ago. Some was about the ways in which I have hurt myself. So, while there was a total dedication to safety all throughout, there was also a constant internal chatter about suicide and self-harming. Some was also about abusive events I felt I "should" have had control over, which led to guilt and shame.
I kept my focus on containing everything and keeping what was happening somewhat balanced by paying close attention and reality checking. I was constantly trying to assess my safety, which is never easy. When guilt and shame came up, I challenged that through an internal message of forgiveness. When denial took hold, I tried to focus on simple truths. And I practiced self-care all the time.
However, the containment only worked for so long as the internal stressors became greater and greater. It became clear that the containment was at odds with the perspective.
Containment was winning out, so it was decided to face the perspective head on. I pushed. Hard.
Less than a week later, I found myself in the hospital. I got here safely and I knew precisely what the job was I was here to do: "we" had to push harder.
Since I have been coming to the same inpatient unit for over 20 years, and know so many of the incredible people who work here, it was not difficult to get back to perspective. I did it in a very direct way. I was able to focus on trust with others and within. I spent nights in the "quiet room", the room one goes to for a "time out" but also the room ones goes to when "losing it" and needing to be physically restrained. Not all great memories.
I struggled some with opening up enough to where I felt I was close to losing control. It was not really a struggle of willingness but rather a struggle of how to do it. And while I did feel like I lost some control, it was never like it used to be, and I was really in control the whole time. I let rage pour over me. I touched immense sadness. I laughed harder than I had in a long time too, which may sound weird, but sometimes it is better to laugh hard if the alternative is to sob. There were "volcanos" erupting inside me. Physical pain. Mental exhaustion. Inability to ground.
While it may sound odd to some, a significant piece of the work here has been about changing the name of what has always been perceived as the scariest part. This had been something in my consciousness for a while. It has happened once before a few years ago. It is not an easy process. It is not just "done". The goal was to achieve a new name for this part which more accurately reflected the healing that has been accomplished over the past few years as well as the part's true essence. It took 7 days, but it was done. It felt like a part of me was reborn; that I had given all of me a new direction or at least a stronger path.
Then the perspective took on new meaning because of the hard work. Then there were a few more days of settling that in inside. Sort of like the glue drying.
This has been amongst my most healing (and most difficult) hospital stays. And now, I am ready to go.
My apologies to those who posted a comment here. The site has been having spam problems. I changed the settings on the filter too high and could not figure out which of the 40,000 comments marked spam were from real people! I finally solved it. Comments are now working.
There is so much happening in my life and I do not know where to begin. But I will. I so want to write here because this place has always been vastly different from my journal. Writing here is always about perspective, taking a step back and making sense. A touchstone. A rung on the ladder.
As with all of us, when life becomes truly complicated, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Life can become one giant load of crap. It can easily not make sense. The metaphor I have been using for the past year is a "hole." It is not a new metaphor for me. Hole in the Sand was a poem I wrote 20 years ago.
But I am not where I was 20 years ago. Or 10 or 5 or 1. I am here. In this moment. Now.
Five years ago, when this blog was born, I was finally able to say "I am not going to accept the status quo any longer."
I said "I am not going to fight for my life only when it's convenient for me or someone else."
I said "My safety has to come first."
I said "I am the number one priority in my life, not any other person including my family."
I said, rather loudly, "I am going to do everything in my power to not fall into that fucking hole!"
But to say that, I had to first know and say, even louder, "I have power."
Twenty years ago I had no ability to make statements like these. But in 2009, just a year after saying such statements, I had finally brought myself to The Contract—my truths. Every day is now about living up to and building on that contract.
Lasting change requires embarking on a journey. A long, difficult, painful and joyous journey which requires scaling mountains, moving mountains if need be, doing the impossible, never saying never, and most importantly never giving up. This journey requires such brutal honesty and an unfettered willingness to look directly into the depths of your psyche and soul. It requires facing anything and everything that is difficult, no matter when it comes up. There is no picking and choosing. There is no putting anything off. The stakes are too high. It requires constant commitment, especially when you are stuck in reverse.
And even with all of that, change is painfully slow. Change is not linear and does not always move forward. That has been such a painful lesson, which has allowed me to cultivate patience.
Eventually, the truth becomes firmly established, and denial falls away. Then if your truth is ever questioned inside or out, you will always be able to stand up, maybe not in that moment, be certain of your truth and speak it, and not look back. For truth is not borne of arrogance or ignorance, but rather strength, perseverance and knowledge.
While I know it is not fair to compare my life or my journey to others, there is a simple reality that I will say just once and then leave alone. I am saying this because it is sometimes how our truth can be questioned—either we or others minimize, normalize or outright dismiss. Challenges some face are harder than others. Some journeys are more complicated, have more mountains and are longer. Some experiences are more traumatic than others. There, I said it! That is just a simple reality. That is life. It just is. It does not mean someone is better or worse than someone else. It just means that what we each face is different. For example, I cannot envision a life without legs (or arms). That, to me, seems impossible. I cannot envision a life where all your children die in a car accident in one fell swoop. And I certainly cannot envision a life where my bathrooms are not clean!
But I can envision a life of an adult who as a child of five was sexually abused in kindergarten, was sexually and spiritually abused by a priest for years in elementary school and middle school, and was sexually abused at the hands of other men through high school and college and beyond, even though I suppose I could have "chosen" to escape it. I can envision a life where religion was perverted and distorted at the hands of others. I can envision a life where the take home message from abusers was that I am worthless (despite the language of "love" sometimes used). I can imagine a life with an ever-present fear and, yes, terror. I can imagine a life where one abuse makes it easier for the next abuse, because my vulnerability was exposed and ripped open and manipulated. I can imagine a life ruled by guilt and shame, mostly because even when physically you escape abuse, inside you do not think you deserve better and you can seek it out. That is very easy.
That was my hole. I did not choose that hole. I was put in that hole.
That was my life—past tense. This, my healing, is what my journey is about—present tense.
My challenge is not so visible. This is the single biggest lesson I have learned from my friends because I always assumed it was in plain sight for the entire world to see. But if you look at me on the street in my day-to-day life, you will see me with my legs and arms. I try to dress nice and be presentable. I smile. I laugh. I love. I always try to be kind to others. I talk to friends. I have a family. I volunteer at my kids' schools and take them to their activities. I keep my yard and house neat. I play piano. I work. I am not perfect at all of these. But I try and I do the best I can. And, yes, my bathrooms are clean!
My challenge is the injury inside my head and the injury to my soul. My scars are mostly inside and they are deep. To survive, to stay alive, I had to do extreme things inside my head to compensate for the emotionally intolerable real-life situations I had to endure. To survive, to simply see another day, I took the different facets of my psyche, which every human being possesses, the different compartments we all hold memories and emotions inside, and drove them into another realm, another dimension. For me, it really has always been about life or death. That may sound overly dramatic, but it is entirely accurate.
We call how my head is structured dissociative identities. These days it is frowned upon to think of them as different people or even to say different personalities. I fully know they are not different people. But I also know the experience of them in the past, much less so in the present, is that they can feel like different people, act like different people, and can be in situations that if you objectively looked at them would say are the lives of different people.
I do not like to call how my head is structured a disorder. I would rather call it dissociative identity injury. Others can call it a disorder and that is fine. But it is an injury, plain and simple. While I often view it as a disorder myself, I must think of it as an injury first and foremost. I am not ducking anything by saying that. Saying that is not a cop out.
Imagine, for a moment, what a typical 24 hour video of my life back in the day may have looked like. Take a day that begins with me as a child not being able to wake up and not wanting to face the world; a day of waking up to fear. I go to school and have lunch and recess with my friends. It's an early release day, so I go to church with the priest where I serve as an altar boy then "hang out" with him in a twisted kind of way where I get sexually assaulted. I come home to milk and cookies and a loving Mom and Dad and friends and street hockey and dinner and studying. I struggle not to throw up (and sometimes fail). I feel terror building as bedtime nears and then I lay for hours staring at the clock minute by minute while trapped in fear. I would often get a phone call from the same priest on the second phone line in the basement and race down to get it so my family will not hear it and find out the whole truth. Because it's all my fault. Because I'm supposed to protect the secret. Protect him. Back in bed, I reenact the assault of earlier in the day until I bleed, purely to have my body be in my control (whatever that meant). Finally, at some hour in the middle of the night and still trying to will the clock through to the next morning, I fall asleep to nightmares of being chased by a murderer. And that is how I wake up, in terror, the next morning. While the details changed, that was the cycle. That was my hole.
Of course because of the way my head was structured, I didn't know all of this video with such perspective. Every piece of it existed in its own place. I could not tell you the "whole story" back then. That was the entire point of how I survived it all.
The sad reality: this is not a rare video. I have met countless others who endured similar intolerable abusive situations. It is not even a video that could only happen many years ago. It happens in the present. Every day. In our neighborhoods.
How I know the truth of this 24 hour video is that I have healed. I have learned how to bring the walls down between the parts of me who exist in different dimensions by building internal trust. I have learned to communicate between them—installing phone lines across "continents." Parts have learned to share—building bridges between "mountains." And the truly cold reality of how I know the truth of this 24 hour video, is that even though I have come so far, my journal in which I am constantly recording how I process my life, will often record such titanic shifts of experience and consciousness which makes it all so real. That is what is my reality. That is my truth.
A long time ago when I met others who said they were abused over and over again by multiple people in different contexts, I would immediately have a judgement and think "There is more to this. Surely, lightning doesn't strike two or three or four times." For years I chose to focus on what was "easy" and what was irrefutable. I was abused by a priest. It was simple. It was known. It was neat. There were records. Sure, I knew about the pieces of the bigger picture. But I was not willing to tie them all together. Until this past year.
That is when I came face to face with the hole last fall. And that is really what never giving up is all about. I stood up in the face of terror. The hole I wrote about 20 years ago came back to me full circle.
As one person, I am determined to live, to thrive, to heal, to be happy, to never wear my past on my sleeve, to never use being a "victim" as an excuse, to make the right choices, to do the right thing. I take responsibility for my actions. I don't have to try that hard to never ever whine about my past. I will not be beat. I will not give up. That is who "all of me" is.
But I have parts of me in a way that is drastically different than most other people. And the reality is that parts of me were broken in a way that I have come to accept is different from other parts of me. I am certainly not, as one person, broken or in a hole. But some parts of me are. Always. That is their existence. That is what they know. They know being hurt. They know how to be hurt. They do not see a way out.
Sometimes the walls go back up and the phone lines are disconnected. Sometimes the past is the present. Sometimes I fall into that hole. Sometimes I am not safe. Sometimes, as one person, I do experience being broken. Because that is reality to some parts of me.
While I have come so far, my journey is not by any means complete. It just changes. I keep going. I keep fighting. I fight for these parts and for all of me.
I hold onto the hope that they are not truly broken. They are still alive after all. I hold onto the hope that there are other parts of me near them willing to reaching out. That they can see, maybe across a long, narrow and tattered bridge, to the other side. I work to reconnect the phone lines. I hold onto the hope that they will connect. That they use their anchors. That they will ask for help. That they will not give up.
And when my fight is not enough... I fight harder.
A friend of mine on Facebook posted a picture that said "Be brave enough to tell your story and kind enough to not tell anyone else's".
Then along with it said this: "At its best, truth telling is a healing art - not a weapon. There is a world of difference between shameless truth telling and reckless truth telling and that difference is love."
In the comments, someone mentioned this TED talk by Glennon Doyle Melton, which I found very helpful today. It's about being honest and genuine and telling your story. There is a message here that should heard by all. It's a distinctly human message. Wherever you are in your life's journey, or whatever your past, there is meaning in her story.
She speaks about "superhero" capes as walls to keep "who we are" hidden and deflect the struggles of life. For many of us, our young minds learn that being hidden keeps us safe. The walls are meant to protect us after all. They are erected naturally and for good reason. Few of us grow up without building walls of some sort. Walls come in all manner, shape or form. They can be addictions. They can be a state of mind driven by constant appeasement and avoiding conflict at all costs. They can be defensiveness and belligerence. Or gossiping. Or constantly working.
They achieve the same goal as dissociation and are closely related. Dissociation is all about building walls too. It's a normal psychological response. But, as I have written before, for some the ingredients are such that a dissociative response is taken to another level. The walls can become very real and very large psychological constructs. For those of us who dissociate extremely, the true capes for us are the distinct parts of our psyche. And that is what we focus on healing.
But whatever the walls are about, whether they are more behavior based or psychologically based, they are walls. That is what we all share.
Our new life begins when we realize that the walls are limiting and we decide a new path. Sure they helped keep us safe, but the cost is the loss (or diminishing) of emotional connection within our selves and with others. The cost is a difficulty to emotionally mature. The inability to achieve any true wisdom. The inability to be fully authentic. The inability to achieve a long lasting sense of joy. The inability to achieve a full sense of self worth. A loss of health (for addictions). The inability to fully embrace being human.
For many of us we come to realize that our walls are holding us back.
If walls can be built, they can be taken down. That is the leap of faith. You have to take the first step. The important piece to remember is that they can be taken down safely! Dismantling the walls is the hard part of life and healing. It requires risk and making mistakes. It requires commitment. It requires facing fears. It requires reaching out. It requires making connections. It requires putting yourself out there. It requires trusting yourself and others.
I only have my own experience, which first involved being in a mental hospital when I was 21. As Melton says, the hospital for me has always been the most real place in the world, and where I have learned about courage and bravery, because it was all around me. That was where I took my first steps towards authenticity, vulnerability, removing shame and facing fears. I have often talked about the hospital as being like open heart surgery, except it is with emotions. Slowly, I learned how to translate my various "emotional surgeries" into my "real life". But I had to take that step.
As the walls come down, our feelings become our friends and not our enemies. They set us free instead of keeping us bound. They give us answers instead of only questions. They give us light instead of darkness. They give us truth instead of fiction. They give us reality instead of fantasy.
If this is the journey you are on, I welcome you. Share your story. Trust. Be genuine. Open your heart. Tell others who you are. Hold your head up high. Be proud. For you are human.
Amuletum (from Latin) meaning "an object that protects a person from trouble".
Yes, I know. It's been a while since I have posted here. Life has stepped in quite a bit, and in many ways that has been fantastic for me. Life has big feet, and as long as Crocs aren't involved, we can be friends.
Anyway, I'm digressing. I have kept up with my journal during my longish absence here. If that stopped or even slowed, I would have certainly fallen off a cliff. It has taken me many years to get to a place of consistently writing down my private thoughts, and being totally and brutally honest with myself about them. I am now in my fifth year, and journaling is on the same level of self-care as brushing my teeth. Journaling is not a luxury to make life "nicer", it is a requirement, almost like breathing, even though it can take up a fair bit of my time. My journal is like a best friend. It listens really well! It never judges. It is there when I need it. And most importantly, it provides insights I would never get to "on my own".
I realized it was time to resume writing here when I saw the news about the Ohio kidnapping rescue. I said this long ago: If you have a voice, you owe it to yourself to use it. If you have something to say, speak up. Every voice helps. And I have more to say.
There is a difference between writing only for yourself and writing publicly. While there are many different ways to journal for yourself, the hardest for me is to step back and look at the big picture. Writing publicly is almost always about perspective. That is why it has been helpful for me and why I look forward to jumping back in.
If you want to come along for the ride, hop on in. There's plenty of room. We have places to go.
One of the things Deb—I want to start using real first person names for people in my life instead of descriptive terms like "Healing Guide"—has helped me with is planning for potential responses before I do something.
On the surface this may seem like over-planning or over-thinking, but it is not if it helps and makes life easier and safer. While life is filled with unpredictability, there are ways in which I can make it more predictable. And there are ways in which I can control my internal responses even in the face of what is externally unpredictable, which in turn helps me be more resilient.
This is perhaps the best benefit of increasing internal and external awareness. With time, and journaling has helped with this too, I learn all about patterns, mine and others. It engenders a sort of personal wisdom.
I thought I would share one of the skills I use to plan. For a while now I have mentally "set an intention", usually before I take on an significant event. I would say it is similar to how athletes approach a competition. They do what it takes to either relax or get pumped up, or both. Setting an intention is putting yourself in a certain mindset which, in theory and often in practice, makes it more difficult for an unexpected event—or a trigger if we can use that language—to be derailing. The intention remains as a sort of constant or a focus. I think I came up with this on my own, but Deb has always helped remind me to do it.
My friend Danielle has been fond of actual objects. She gave me a "No" button for Christmas (which will be the topic of another post) and gave me a "Compass" medallion a little while later. I have been no stranger to objects as aids. A few years back I put two pins on my briefcase, a blue child abuse awareness ribbon and a puzzle-pieces "dissociative disorders" ribbon, which looks much like the autism ribbon. A couple years ago Deb gave me a clay labyrinth she made as a grounding exercise and I gave her a compassion stone inscribed with Om mani padme hum, which sits in her office.
Getting back to the compass medallion. It had been really helpful for me, because it was something I could carry with me wherever I went in my pocket. That was the new piece for me. I didn't have something like that before. I also carry my iPhone all the time which is a grounding object because I can connect to people quickly or read or write in my journal. But it's vastly different. The compass has been a tangible reminder to always remember I must know where I am going. In some ways it's an intention. But then I realized that single message loses its luster after a while.
So, I tried a variation on a theme. I have recently started setting the intention for each day at the beginning of the day. Here is how I do it. I have recently collected a bunch of amulets on my dresser. Every morning I lay them all out. Then I reflect on what is to come for my day, check-in on the inside, and then ask what my intention needs to be for the day so I can stay the most present and emotionally well.
I take the amulet, put it in my pocket and keep it with me all day until I get home, and then it goes back on my dresser with another check-in of how well I did with the intention. In effect, I create safe bookends for each day.
The amulet really does feel like a protector. If I have trouble during the day or need some help, I can pull it out and look at it. Or I can reach into my pocket without anyone needing to know, hold onto it and usually just breathe. It does not always work like a "charm", but it most certainly helps.
By having the possibility of a different amulet for each day, the process becomes more meaningful. There are intentions for specific events and situations. For example, I co-led our elementary school's Lip Sync shows this past weekend and I set the intention to Embrace the Moment, which seemed to match what was basically a "performance". I did not have as many responsibilities for this event as in past years, so I was able to just go with it, connect with the kids, and be myself. That carried me right through.
Today's was Keep it Simple. I started to feel like things were getting a bit complicated and there was really no reason for that.
I don't know what tomorrow's will be. And that is sort of what is great about it all.
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse
And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face
Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
I really love this song. For me it is about trying in the face of failure, grief, finding oneself, and hope. "I will try to fix you", is for me a self-directed message to all of me. What does it mean for you?
Thank you for listening!