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The Gift of Nana and Papa

| By Paul | | Comments (8)

In what was the first real post on this blog, a bit over two years ago, I wrote about safety and the healing I had done to that point. How fitting that on the two year anniversary of this blog, I am coming back to safety. Indeed, I posted this month's Carnival activity on safety—which will be published Saturday night. At the time, I did not think it was going to be terribly hard for me. Was I wrong!

I had no idea what to submit for my own contribution. The last couple of weeks have been enormously difficult, tumultuous, and confusing. I experienced some instability around the time I posted Hallelujah Piano Cover. But since then, I have experienced massive time warps, huge amounts of lost time, safety concerns, fundamental rifts in awareness and perception, as well as accomplishments that I thought were not possible anymore. The only point in telling this is that life has been too complicated to even contemplate how to capture safety in any way.

But, the ship was righted today. Almost precisely in the same way it was a month ago, except without needing to go into the hospital.

I decided that for my Carnival submission on safety, I would look through my photo galleries and try to collect images that are most safe for me.

There are many pictures of my daughters that show them as safe. Two, for example, taken when each was born, show them swaddled in the hospital blanket with the sock on their heads in the nursery crib. There are hundreds like that. All safe. And while I know I felt a huge sense of safety at the time, the images tell a story that the safety is really on their end. Plus, I did not want to imply that safety is only at infancy which, of course, is not even true for many.

So, I started looking for different images, going through each gallery to see which "spoke" safety to me. I quickly saw pictures of my now-deceased grandparents. Since I was extremely close to them and have often said that I have felt most safe with them, I knew I need to focus my attention there. But as I began gathering images to show, I started having an experience that is evolutionary for me. There are tears. But so much joy and so much awareness of safety.

We always did a lot as a family with my grandparents. There were the customary Sunday dinners, Christmas Eve with Santa Claus every year, our annual family apple picking trip, Papa teaching me how to do yard work and plant flowers, hanging out at Papa's barber shop, endless "silly banter" with my Nana, and, what I remember most, lots and lots of hugs and kisses.

When I was 22 and my life collapsed, I moved to the family home with my grandparents and parents. I was mentally very unwell. I tried to commit suicide, and nearly succeeded twice. And while life was nearly impossible for what felt like an eternity, I always felt a complete sense of safety with them that was unique for me. After a few years and a lot of treatment and effort, my life got much better and more stable. That was around 1994. I met my wife in 1995. Got engaged and bought our first house in 1996. Got married in 1997. Had our first daughter in 1998.

Those years were huge for me and my Nana and Papa. I had hundreds of dinners with them. We talked for hours. We laughed. I took up golfing with my Papa. We bowled together; he would take me to his weekly bowling league for a time. He had a 35mm Minolta camera that he did not know the first thing about. When I got into photography, I started teaching him and he would go with me to the local camera store. I taught him about different films, about lens filters, composition. He attentively listened. He took up art in his 80s; taking painting classes. At the time, I had no interest in making any art myself. I did not realize that now I would incorporate art—as well as photography—as important aspects of my healing.

While I was better, I was still severely internally partitioned. And while I told them I loved them a million times, I was really not able to see my relationship with them in a larger context. I was in the moment with them. All the time. I just knew it was love. I just knew it was safe.

But, on the day I got married, I gained perspective on what they meant to me. And this is a memory that I have tried very hard to learn more about, but could not. Until tonight.

We got married on a picturesque lake 6 hours by car from where we were living, in the town my wife grew up in. I remember that they were staying in a guest house with all my immediate family, including me. I was there a week before finalizing the wedding festivities with my then-fiance. My family came up a couple days before the wedding. It was all fun and relaxing.

On the night before the wedding, I think it was after the rehearsal dinner, I left them a card and a handwritten letter in their room. This is where the memory gets hazy. I remember I wrote something along the lines of "you saved my life" and also "you taught me what love is." But, aside from that I do not know what I said. And I do not remember their reaction, which was most certainly extremely emotional for all of us.

I think the writing of that letter was a transcendental experience for me. An aligning of sorts. Somehow, I was able to have perfect clarity and perspective on not only how much they meant to me, but also on what getting married to my wife meant in relation to my life history which included them. After, that perfect perspective went away. We partied at the reception and it just became a party, just as it was supposed to be.

When my daughters were born, they were a source of my grandparents' happiness. We only lived 30 minutes away and, so, we continued to see them all the time. Life changed for me in relation to them. It was no longer just me and my Nana and Papa. They died in March 2004 and January 2006 respectively.

Almost exactly two years after my Papa died, my healing journey changed course, and that is what this blog chronicles. My internal and external awareness blossomed like never before. I started using words like healing.

I like to think all these gains are closely connected to my Nana and Papa.

You see, I do not need to know what those words were in the letter I wrote to them when I got married. Because of the process of looking through their pictures, I now know precisely what I was feeling when I wrote it. And it is the feelings that are key.

I am having those feelings right now.

Of love. Of safety.

And that is why when they died, while I cried, I had absolutely no regrets. I told them everything I wanted to tell them. And they gave me everything they needed to give me.

I settled on three images of them. The first is my Papa outside on the patio posing—he was a ham—with my elder daughter. The second is of my Nana outside the hospital as her health was failing a little less than a year before she died. I was trying to cheer her up by taking a picture of her wearing my daughter's hat. She was not a ham like my Papa, but she reluctantly humored me. The third is most meaningful to me. It is a picture of my bedroom now. The chair was one of a pair that my Nana and Papa sat in every night in their own bedroom while watching television together. It is my safe chair. In the background are three paintings my Papa made. It is probably the safest spot on the planet.

That is their gift to me.

Categories:

Living and Perspective

| By Paul | | Comments (26)

This is the point at which this blog takes a decidedly personal turn. I am probably going to start writing about things that are more about my day-to-day life, though I will always try to tie it into a broader picture on healing.

The last four weeks have gone like this: I had an enormous trigger in the middle of February. I handled it well initially, but it eventually led to an internal breakdown and huge disconnect internally. I landed up in the hospital and truly thought I was set back two decades ago. I was certain it was going to take a long time to turn things around and would need to cancel my obligations for the next several weeks. But, I am not in the same place I was two decades ago, one decade ago, or even a year ago. I was able to turn the incapacitating disconnect into a total connect which propelled me forward in just a couple days. I learned that my "resilience" is probably here to stay. And that knowledge gave me confidence.

I did not have to cancel any of my obligations. After I got out of the hospital, I had to prepare for a big elementary school "lip sync" show I was co-leading for the following weekend. That went super well. All 150 kids loved it. They got a taste of being on a real stage with real sound, lights, props and costumes. I dressed up as the school mascot, a "penguin" and danced a final act before all the kids came up on stage and we closed out the show with the traditional "Cotten Eyed Joe" dance. I had enormous satisfaction for having a big role in making it happen.

The following week, I had to meet a work deadline of a large research proposal that had been in discussion and preparation for many months. It was a single-spaced 15 page main narrative document with a whole host of ancillary materials. I was not happy with the quality of the main narrative initially, but I had some people contributing pieces to it, and eventually I was able to pull it all together and submit something I was proud of.

Traditionally, there have been total collapses after these work proposals. I have done many dozens of them over the years, but relatively few over the past several years. Even with the last one that was due middle of January, I had a decent sized collapse and I only wrote one part of the proposal. But I did not collapse this time. Instead, the next day I went to the championship swim meet for my youngest daughter and photographed the whole event.

There was definitely a worry of collapse after that. I struggled quite a bit the beginning part of last week, and last Tuesday I started to write a post titled "System Disconnect" but did not get very far as I was too mired in difficulty. I found myself run down. I cancelled some obligations.

But if I had to describe what it felt like, it was as if there was a little something extra in my "tank" that I could call upon. In the not-too-distant past, I could easily find myself in bed for days, unable to do practically anything. Instead, by Wednesday I was back on schedule. Thursday was St. Patrick's Day and I photographed a town event. Friday I went to work and attended an evening social function for work. Saturday I cleaned the house and then went to my youngest daughter's swim banquet where she won a trophy for "Most Improved Swimmer" for her age group. Sunday I was out hiking with the kids most of the day while my wife was in bed sick with a flu. Monday I spent most of the day volunteering in our town's elementary school—more on this in another post. Tuesday, today, I was at work by 6 am and was busy until I left for therapy at 4 pm.

So, what is the problem? Well, on one level there really is no problem at all. I know that to the outside observer my life has looked incredibly smooth. I have been navigating everything perfectly. My wife is the happiest she has been in a long time, because I have been very engaged with the family for a long time now and my engagement is only increasing with time. To me, on one level it feels like things are also very smooth.

But what I do not quite understand is why I am not at all connected to the past week or two or more. It feels like the proposal was a lifetime ago (or really didn't happen). It feels like all the stuff at the end of last week and this weekend was a lifetime ago too, even though I can recount the days and everything. Being able to recount the events though doesn't feel so natural. If never pressed, I would have no need to recount them. But, yet, they are all on my electronic calendar. And they are in email records. And they are in my journal. All of those things I did not have a few years ago or even a decade or two ago—at least in this way and so accessible. All are tools I have now that seem to help me in so many ways.

The last week or so has not just been about "doing things." I know that there has been a really unusual quality to my piano playing that is a step or two or three beyond where I normally am at even when I am playing really well. There have been expressions about religion and Easter and possibly going back to the church that I went back to for the first time last year with "My Healing Guide." I seem to know exactly what to say to my kids, without really getting irritated with them. I have even been more open about what I struggle with, telling certain people some things that seem to naturally come up in conversation, but saying just enough so it feels safe and appropriate. If I were just "disconnected", none of these would be possible. So, it is not the normal disconnection which leads to problems with safety and lands me in the hospital.

The reality is that life has not really been so smooth. "My Healing Guide" brought up her assessment that my ability to tolerate distress is extremely high. And if I think about it, I know that in between all this wonderful "functionality," there have been some massive panics. I know after my proposal was done a week and a half ago, there was a huge conflict about getting home safely and I actually needed help to get home. I know there has been a lot of pain and that I have not taken heavy duty pain pills, but instead Tylenol and Advil.

What I do not quite understand is how there can be so much connection and flow that must require most all parts of me, yet there is a huge degree of disconnection (for me).

After spending time in therapy today, then writing about all of this in my journal, then writing about it here, there actually does not seem to be that much disconnect anymore. So, maybe all that I need to do is allow myself to "live" (which is what I have been doing) but merely stop now and again to assess where I am at and maintain perspective.

Categories:

Beach

Last week was our family vacation to the beach. I had mixed feelings about going. One of the reasons was that I had been "off the healing track" for months and felt like I was just getting things back on track in the couple weeks leading up to the trip. I did not want to upset that. Another, is that these days I find it almost impossible to sleep away from home without huge difficulties. But, I also saw the trip as an opportunity to have well-deserved together time with my wife and girls away from the daily routine.

The trip was precisely the mixed bag I had anticipated. Every night I had nightmares or very weird dreams—something I had not experienced for a long time. My Healing Guide (therapist) was, for the most part, "out of sight, out of mind." And I flirted with what I guess was denial, wondering what I could possibly have to heal from or why it wasn't over with already? That was not really a bad thing. We all need a vacation from work or from our troubles. During the days, I was quite engaged with the family and had virtually zero difficulties. We played paddleball on the beach, made sand castles, got a tan, played harmonica, and cooked lobster. So, by any measure, it was a success.

When I came home, though, the vacation meant almost nothing. The experience was lost. Even though I have the pictures, they very much have a "newspaper" feel to them.

Then, yesterday, I realized that I was in "robot mode." I was not really connected internally in any meaningful way. I was "off the track," which was something I wanted to avoid. I know that is not good. It puts me at risk. It means that I am more vulnerable to triggers. I am more apt to deal with things in a more fragmented way. My safety becomes jeopardized.

Funny how that happens, huh? Vacations are meant to recharge you so you can resume life with renewed vigor. That like never happens for me! I know this is not the first time dealing with this vacation issue. In June, I wrote Is This a Vacation or Allowing? where I thought I was taking what I thought was a "healthy" internal vacation, but it was not good for me. Last October, after being completely functional while my wife went away on her own vacation, I had a huge collapse that I wrote about in The Boat is Sinking or Is There Even a Boat?

Maybe part of the problem, if you want to call it that, is that we came back from vacation to some big changes. This week is the unofficial start to Fall. And I recently discovered I have an aversion to seasonal changes. The kids started school today. And work officially "ramps up" now for me, as I am on an academic calendar.

I know I have to find my equilibrium. I just get so disoriented so easily it seems. I will try to take it easy on myself. I will try to shift things away from fragmentation. I will try to get on the track again. I know the types of things that I can do to help. They entail checking-in internally, journaling, not throwing myself completely into work.

It is all about balance you know. Of course, those of us who dissociate, know that balance is difficult to achieve. I usually say it is difficult because we are trying to do it while riding a unicycle on a tightrope, backwards, blindfolded, chewing gum, in hundred mile hour winds. But the funny thing is that we can actually do it!

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Independence and dependence come with the territory of us as social beings. But as with many of life's properties, they exist in delicate balance. When we are very young, we long for a parent's care. Yet, it is in our biological makeup to seek independence as we grow older. And we all very quickly learn that there really is no such thing as unfettered freedom.

This is why boundaries exist seemingly wherever we look. Oftentimes we are not even aware of them since we are usually taught them from so young. Boundaries are the necessary "checks and balances" we learn if we receive a proper upbringing. The society we live in imposes a set of boundaries we generally must adhere to. Parents are supposed to teach us many of the other necessary boundaries. In doing so, they instill in us a moral compass. They are supposed to model good behavior. They are supposed to teach us how to properly treat others. They are supposed to correct our bad behavior and reward our good behavior.

If parents are smart—and we know many are not—they understand that boundaries are connected to independence when raising children. Being mature adults, they help us navigate these delicate waters by granting us increasing levels of independence while at the same supporting us in areas where we need it most. In this way, they help us develop awareness.

Even in the best of cases this is all hugely difficult. It is not easy for kids and it is not easy for parents. If you are a child that is being abused, the task becomes nearly impossible because the rules of the game are different for the abused child. Boundaries have new meanings. Needs—a measure of dependence—are unmet in various ways and to varying degrees.

I was not abused by my parents, not in the least. Being the oldest child, I was assuredly the most "over-protected." I seemed to be the last person in my neighborhood to be allowed to cross the street alone. My mother was, and still is, perpetually worried about safety and health. I think, for me, that I was somewhat smothered for a long while and was not able to practice the boundaries I was being taught by being granted any measure of independence.

For me, personally, as I was being abused over the course of many years, I was hugely conflicted. I was taught good behavior. But somewhere I must have known that the abuse was not good behavior. Given that much of my abuse happened in the context of religion, there were layers and layers of conflicts. It is no wonder, when you think about it, how parts of a child end up being stuck in the past. Frozen in time. In this way, dissociation makes complete sense.

Everything was conflicting because as I was granted independence, it meant I was more available to be hurt. And part of me longed for dependence and safety. I wanted my parents to save me, yet I could not form the words to say clearly what I was going through. I acted out. But was so dissociated that when asked what was going on, I believed the made up answer I gave them.

I ended up taking the hard route to learning about independence and dependence. In college, I used my independence and freedom from my abuser to act out and lead a somewhat reckless existence. Right out of college I got married. But it was a co-dependent relationship and did not last.

Then came the hard early 90s years. I worked on myself long enough in therapy to understand some of what was going on inside. That budding awareness led to some healthy attachments. When I got married to the mother of my children in 1997, things started to fall into place. When we had children, I somehow learned (I think through osmosis) how to properly raise children and strike the important balance between independence and dependence. I learned that the dependence children most need is emotional. They need parents to listen to them. Really listen.

I am still very much learning boundaries I was supposed to learn long ago. I am still mourning that I did not have aware parents. I am still mourning that I had to be independent in a dysfunctional way. I am still mourning that my needs for dependence were not met.

But the most cherished independence of all is one that we already have: the freedom to heal.

This post was specifically written for the July 2010 Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse with this month's theme being "independence."

Categories:

Pope Cries, I Paint

| By Paul | | Comments (19)

Art Therapy Child Abuse Recovery

It is difficult not to pay attention to the stream of news regarding clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. It is on all the major news sites I frequent, plus the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issues daily e-mail press releases.

I really do not want this blog to become about clergy abuse. That is not at all my intention. My focus here is squarely on understanding trauma and dissociation particularly as they relate to my own healing.

But I do have to comment when I read something that begs for comment. I feel like it is sort of my public duty. So let me hop onto my blog soapbox for a moment.

The latest news is that Pope Benedict met with clergy abuse victims during a trip to Malta and 'weeped.' The news story included a press statement from the Vatican, which was telling:

"He prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse, and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future."

One does not need to know much about any facet of this ongoing saga to know that everything said in that statement, after "he prayed with them," is demonstrably untrue.

It is also interesting as to who these "victims" are. They were undoubtedly hand picked and expected to say things like "[I am] trying to regain my faith." But those seeking to restore faith through the Catholic Church do not represent the vast majority of those abused. What about those whose faith has been shattered? Whose spirituality has been twisted by conflicting messages, teachings, and actions? How can that spirituality possibly be truly restored within the walls and constructs of an institution with such weight as the Catholic Church?

I struggle. In my head mostly. And I write. And I talk. And I pay attention. And I draw and paint.

The image above was done as an art therapy directive last week right after leaving the hospital. The directive was to "paint about something lost and something gained." What I lost is a spiritual direction. What I gained is a family, and an ability to ground and contain, and heal.

I know that someday these two sides will have to intersect. I cannot imagine that now, but perhaps they already are. I have had experiences of spirituality not tied to any religion. If you look at the early posts on this blog, you will read about my "consciousness" or "enlightenment" experiences. I also know that parts of my internal system have had similar wondrous experiences that were tied to religion. They were protected for those parts. But as I do the hard work of looking at myself as a whole, I cannot help to know they were really taken away.

That reality poses a huge dilemma for me. It is also one of the big questions that those of us with dissociative disorders have to face.

It could be asked in this way: How do I integrate parts of myself that were protected with parts of myself that were not without going crazy?

Or it could be asked in a much simpler way: How do I heal?

Perhaps this journey, partly documented here, is my spiritual path. Perhaps I am meant to heal. Perhaps I am meant to live.

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Our Family Crisis

| By Paul | | Comments (30)

The problem I have had with writing this blog recently is related to the "elephant in the room" phenomenon. In the last post, I alluded to the family crisis that has enveloped my family for the last few weeks. I feel as though I now have to write about it in order to move past it.

Here goes the drama:

We had a "family friend" who was continually pushing boundaries for a long time (10 or more years). I had always been incredibly uncomfortable with her, but she was my wife's "whacky" friend. For a while now, she has been trying to insert herself as an authority in our family and trying to control situations. She was overbearing. She thrived on creating conflicts or problems and being there to solve them. Many of these problems were lies or the facts were greatly twisted and exaggerated. I saw through most of them and questioned all of them. But my wife was not able to. This created a huge conflict between the two of us because she was convinced there were real problems, focused mainly on our children and on what I was not doing for the family due to my "problems".

A few weeks ago, my wife came home from her evening yoga class and said she got a phone call from our "friend" who said she got a call from one of our neighbors claiming we do not care well for our kids and one of the kids had said she is very sad and angry. The neighbor supposedly threatened to call child services on us.

I immediately confronted our "friend" through a phone call. I warned her that if this was a lie, that it would be the complete end of her relationship with my family. I am convinced she did not expect me to do this. My wife didn't want me to pursue it because she believed the "friend" might have been telling the truth and didn't want to irritate the neighbor or make waves. The "friend" said not to worry because she had someone on the inside of child services who could help us.

In the past, I may not have been strong enough to see through what she was doing. And may not have been strong enough to take action like I did. But over the past year or two, with my increased awareness, I had begun to question things. And this act was just over-the-top. She had done things like this. But this was well beyond everything in the past. I think my increased awareness pushed the "friend" to act in this way because she saw her control being taken away.

The next morning, I had a conversation with our neighbors, with whom we are fairly close. They said they had no idea what our "friend" was talking about. They claimed that no such conversation ever took place. My neighbor confronted our "friend", but through voicemail, calling her on the lie.

At 3 pm that afternoon, I got a phone call from child services stating these allegations. This then required a letter from me to them, phone interviews with both me, my wife, and my neighbors. Child services also contacted my children's school to see if there was anything in their records that caused concern. I told them what I was certain had happened: that this "friend" called child services in order to keep intact her original lie.

For several days I was in "family protect" mode. The only problem was that I was not paying attention to a good deal of me.

After a couple days, the "friend" started to contact my wife, some friends, and relatives and act like she did not do anything and blamed it all on my mental status. In fact, when child services was called she said brought up my mental health issues.

By that time my wife and I agreed that my original warning of no more contact ever would be enforced. We told the girls a kid-acceptable story. I told many of our neighbors and relatives. I changed our house locks, security codes, and got blocks on Facebook. I told the school and talked to the principal. I told the kids that they are to treat this "friend" like a stranger and find help if she ever shows up. Luckily, she lives about 25 miles away, so there is no reason for her to be in our town.

Then I sent her a registered letter. The key paragraphs are these:

If you do not stay away completely, and this means not only zero contact with my immediate family, but also zero contact with our friends or our extended family, then both [my wife] and I will take that as a direct threat to the safety of our family and seek a restraining order.

I am extremely serious about this. So, heed my words. I will have a very low threshold for legal action because we all do consider you a safety threat right now. And in all the discussions I've had last week, this was echoed by others.

We will not entertain any kind of discussion whereby you defend yourself or your actions or blame them on someone else. Or pretend nothing happened. That's all over now.

The story is bizarre, at least bizarre for my standards, because as this all played out, certain things started to click for me. As one small example, the "friend" had often called my 8 year old "our daughter" referring to she and my wife. And over the past several months she had been pushing to get my daughter to stay over her apartment. I never agreed to that, causing friction.

One of the problems is that I was not completely stable throughout the entire crisis because of being in "family protect" mode. I had periods, especially at night, when younger parts of me thought I was indeed making it all up or at least blowing things out of proportion. Or they didn't know what was going on at all. I had other problems where younger parts felt it was a violation to stand up for ourselves. It was not, in their mind, consistent with how things were supposed to be. Needless to say, this caused a great deal of difficulty and required a good deal of support from therapists, family, and friends.

So far, we have not heard from our "friend" since the letter. And the conflicts and drama we got used to experiencing as a family—due to the constant influence of the "friend"—have completely gone away. Family life and married life seem much simpler now!

Now I have said what has happened. And, hopefully, soon I can begin posting some of those 30 "articles" I have started.

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Categories:

Stuffed Animal Blues

| By Paul | | Comments (8)

These are the lyrics to a blues song I wrote when my daughter was just a couple years old. I wrote it with my little cousin who we were babysitting for a weekend. Thought people here may enjoy it.

My name is Angel, and I don't know many words
But I know all my friends' names, just ask Big Bird
I cry sometimes, but I'm really not blue
'cause I've got good friends like Lamb Chop and Pooh

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

Let's talk about Cookie Monster, he loves to munch
He eats tons of cookies, instead of a good lunch
Chocolate chip, raisins, or sugar, he doesn't much care
As long as they're cookies, instead of a pear

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

Meow, Wuff Wuff, and fish are my house pets
I asked daddy for some real ones, but he doesn't like Vets
But I said to my daddy, "You are so mean!"
You just wanna keep your little house clean

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

[Instrumental]

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

[Bridge]

ELMO is red,
he sleeps in my bed
When I wake up,
he begs to be fed
So, I give him some Cheerios, and kiss his nose
Or I give him Oreos, and wiggle his toes

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

I have a lot of quack quacks, they live under the sink
when I bring them to the tub, they smile and wink
I do boom booms and splash about
once I get in I ain't never comin' out.

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

Laa Laa has a TV screen on her belly
when she dances, she wiggles like jelly
She spills Tubby custard on the floor
the Noo Noo picks it up and its not there no more

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

[Instrumental]

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

But my favorite friend of all is a monster named Grover
Me and him ride in my Mommy's Land Rover
But he doesn't know how to drive and neither do I
But he he's got a cape and knows how to fly

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

Nobody knows it, but when mommy's on the phone
They all get up and they start to roam
These are MY buddies, aren't they so cool?
You can't have them, what do you think I'm a fool?

EVERYONE SING . . . THE STUFFED ANIMAL BLUES

Categories:

Rocking the Boat

| By Paul | | Comments (9)

For 14 days, my wife is in Europe on vacation with her niece and I'm completely in charge of the kids. Well, my mother-in-law has been here for half the time in the middle, so she's been a huge help. But, I have to be totally responsible for my 11 and 8 year old girls. We are on Day 8 now, but who's counting?

I've mostly taken the time off from work, as I've only gone in a few times. I've learned that being responsible for the kids is a huge job. I didn't really know that before. Well, I knew it, but I didn't experience it, except for a day or two here and there. There is so much to coordinate with this activity and that activity, who we will carpool with, what to wear to school, what to pack for lunch, and on and on. There are so many details. It's so complicated. I'm keeping a lot of lists. We figure out what they want in their school lunches and two snacks the night before and I write all that down, then in the morning I just have to tick off the list. I also have every day all spelled out on another list with every single detail. If I get confused, I just consult the list.

It's been an emotional roller coaster for me, though. I have to be aware of so much. I can't drop the ball. I'm in charge after all. And I know that my kids are totally dependent on me. I guess that's why I can claim them as dependents on my taxes! I deserve that tax break! This changes things. When they go to bed the reality of the emotional stress kicks in. I can tell that old coping mechanisms are at play. For example, there's a lot of blocking out of experiences during the day. I definitely experience more internal fragmentation. This just makes it that much harder for me to sustain keeping track of all the family details. Sometimes my head is swimming.

It's not just that I'm responsible, it's that my whole environment is different. I'm not used to my wife not being home. I don't know how to sleep alone. Yes, I miss my wife! My work schedule is thrown off, as well as my therapy schedule. It's very hard to set time aside to journal and check-in. My whole internal experience is thrown off; it's akin to how things changed internally when we brought our first daughter home from being born.

But, even while my experience is off, I still have to remember at what time to schedule that orthodontist appointment 1 hour away so that we will be able to get back to gymnastics in time. I have to make sure I send in the pick-up note to school, make sure the gym bag is packed with the right clothes and with water, remember to bring her contacts and a toothbrush so that after she eats her teeth won't be dirty for the exam. I have to take pictures of her getting braces so my wife can see them on Facebook. Then, figure out how to get from the dentist to the gym (thank you iPhone voice navigation App) because I don't ever go from one to the other.

I do like it, though. I just don't think I could do this 365 days in a row. I like the feeling of accomplishment. Another good outcome is that because I need to be on the ball so much, I've been able to get a lot of house chores done. Our basement is cleaned out, septic pumped, oil burner and propane fireplace tuned up, and lawn is mowed. I have this extra energy and alertness going for me (with little sleep).

I also have been able to assess what life is like for our family. I'm a little unhappy about how busy my kids are. My immediate reaction to all the kids' activities is this: Whoa! Slow down! What ever happened to coming home and playing? And having real time to do homework? And relaxing? Nope. Can't have that. Apparently, somehow, we ended up having the crazy activity schedules like everyone else we know, even though my wife and I always promised each other that it wouldn't happen to us.

This has happened partly because I've sort of taken a back seat in the managing of our kids' lives. I want to have a bigger say. My kids are great. My family is great. But our lives are way too hectic. And we all know it's easier to add things then it is to take them away!

I've also been able to appreciate the amount of time and energy that I put into healing. This time with the kids has really meant that I cannot put too much effort into healing. I haven't read much of the blogs I follow. As I said, I've written very little in my journal. I watch the clock in therapy. I have to think much less of me and much more of them. I try not to judge whether that's good or bad. It just is right now. I know it won't be that way forever.

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I have been meaning to write a thoughtful article concerning this month's blog carnival theme (which I'm hosting) on significant others, spouses, families and parenting. That hasn't happened.

So, I thought I would do something simpler by answering some of the questions I posed when I announced the carnival.

I realize some of my answers may sound naive and may not all resonate with you. They are my answers and present my reality. I didn't want to go into details or long analyses. Of course, it's far more complex than what I'm writing here.

Here goes.

How does your spouse handle your healing? Or your symptoms?

This has varied over the years. And it seems that as time goes on it's harder to her to maintain patience. Like many of us, she wants this all done yesterday. And, while healing to us means being more aware of inconsistencies and dealing with them, she does not generally view that as healing. If I'm doing really well for a period and then have a collapse, it's very hard on her. She cannot really predict when the collapses will happen or to what degree and this makes it very hard for her to count on me in a whole host of ways. I do get very symptomatic at night sometimes. These are the times when the younger parts will have flashbacks and I will be in crisis. She handles these times extremely well. She's incredibly supportive there. I sometimes think that she wants it to be how it was before, when I was more "functional" and not showing outwardly how much pain I was in. Unfortunately, I was not healing much back then. And when I make the true statement that healing is messy, it's not just messy for me, it's messy for those who love me. But from her perspective, she has needs too. And they are being unmet because mine are "more important". I don't want that to be the case. She grapples with questions about whether I'm being selfish. These are tough for me to hear and some source of conflict. She thinks I can "toughen up" and sometimes sees where I'm at as a personal weakness. So, all in all, it's a complicated matter.

How do you talk to your spouse about your abuse or current place of healing?

Younger parts talk about these issues at night. During the day I try to be more protective of her. I really have a hard time explaining to her that I'm actually better now than I was a year or two ago. She understands that I have, to a large extent, been able to keep myself safe and she understands that is important. But she doesn't understand the scope of how unsafe I was. She sees this as a quality of life issue and thinks years are being wasted because I'm not healed enough. But usually we don't talk that frankly about my healing.

How do you talk to young children versus older children about your abuse or healing?

My children are 8 and 11. Both girls. I was symptomatic well before they were born and before I met my wife. I had a stability period. Then I became symptomatic again when my youngest was turning 1 and I was frequently in the hospital. So, it's been a long 7 year period since. I tried to keep my struggles as protected from the kids as possible. And what we said to the kids was mainly tied around the hospitalizations. We explained it as "Daddy has bad headaches and that's where they help get them better". This is how we explained some of my "having to sleep" or withdraw situations too. To a large extent, this is still how we explain it to them. However, about two years ago we had started to have more serious discussions with the children. I told the older one something about the abuse and how it's something that I struggle with and that my problems are more than just headaches. This came up because there was an abuse scandal in our town that my daughter became aware of. I couched my explanation of my abuse in terms that she could understand and then we talked about safety. I cannot honestly tell you if I've had a conversation with my younger daughter about the abuse. I think I haven't. But I have told her about my being "sad" sometimes.

What are the strains on the family and how do you cope with that?

I fortunately have good control over acting out behaviors at home. My kids accept me as me, even if that means I may act differently at times. And some of that is even desirable, like when younger parts can be young and play with them (while I do try to maintain a presence so that it's safe and appropriate). I would say the major strains are caused by my inconsistent ability to participate in what the family does. My wife ends up overcompensating some and resenting this some. But some of that has to do with differences between my wife and me. I am much more content to spend time with kids at night, reading and playing. And she is more content going out and doing things.

How do your child abuse experiences shape how you raise your children?

This is perhaps the most important outcome of my abuse. First, I don't let what happened to me force me to isolate my children. Quite the contrary. One of the things I am aware of that happened to me because of the abuse was that I withdrew and didn't have healthy experiences. So, for me, it's important that my children get to experience what being a kid is supposed to be. I want them to make friends. I want them to feel carefree. I want them to think the world is safe. That is how kids are supposed to be. Of course they are supposed to know good touch and bad touch and stranger danger, but I don't want to scare them. I don't think that's right. Second, I have taught my kids to express their emotions. I also know this was something I was unable to do. I want them to cry, laugh, and get angry. But most of all I want them to be able to find ways to tolerate bad feelings and move through them. Not alone. Third, I shower my kids with love. I tell them all the time how much I love them and I really try to show it to them. I hug them and kiss them. I fall asleep with them at night. I read to them. I scratch their backs at night. Fourth, I teach them. Constantly.

If you would like to chime in on the questions I raised, I'd be happy to hear your comments.

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Some in my life say I'm strong.

Some in my life say I'm weak.

The signs are that I'm much more able to keep myself safe, that I pay attention on the inside, that I try to communicate, that I am making an effort to understand some of the darker parts of myself, and on and on. Those are strengths. That is the healing mission I've been on for the past year.

But the healing comes at a cost. The cost is what I alluded to when I told the people in the hospital that I thought I suffered depression because I couldn't get my home life on track. At home, I am somewhat ineffectual. I am clearly not consistent. I am in bed a lot. I am unable to carry out my duties in any regular way. I cannot follow through on vacation plans, thereby upsetting most of the family. I let people down. At work, I'm not nearly half as good as I used to be. I don't go that often. When I do, it's carefully controlled.

The cost looks like weakness.

And I am left asking "What is the measure of a man?"

In the hospital, I learned that I am where I am right now, going through what I'm going through, and doing the best I can. Period. Healing is not pretty. In fact it's quite messy.

I can pine away for those days when I was super functional Dad and husband and worker, but to do that I would have to neglect considering all the self-harm that was going on to make that possible.

I am trying to remake myself so that I can set myself up for the rest of my life. I know I cannot live the way I have lived. That way has no future.

But the question is how to make my life more functional? Maybe the way things are right now is something I have to accept as part of healing. Maybe I have to accept that the reworking I am doing inside is hard and is not bearing fruit in the ways I would like right now. I cannot do everything at once.

In the future, I hope it does more. But, realistically, what can I expect? I honestly don't know.

And now for some context. For several months, we had a 1-week vacation planned at a small zero amenities cabin in the middle of a forest, 7.5 hours away. All I knew was that it had 4 cots. I had planned this. It was to begin tomorrow. Only a couple days ago did I realize that, as planned, this was not something I was able to do because it didn't feel safe. I proposed an alternate plan, to a place closer to home that I was familiar with, for a shorter period of time, and to a more furnished cabin (with it's own shower and bathroom and pillows and bedding). I felt like that was doable for me. The alternate plan didn't go over so well with 1/2 of the family. But, unlike the past, I am standing by my decision of personal safety over family happiness. In the distant past, I would be able to follow through on the original plans without any problem and perhaps pay the price somewhere down the road. In the more recent past, I would have to struggle through miserably. Where I am right now, with being in touch with what's going on inside, I cannot do either to myself. So, I look like I'm being selfish and weak to some. But I've made a compromise. I'm still giving them the vacation, it's just configured differently. On the inside, it's about protection. And if that's considered selfish, then so be it.

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