Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Confessions of Thriving with Scars and Open Wounds

Surviving trauma leaves scars and open wounds that heal over periods of years, lifetimes. The open wounds are tended and kept from festering and permeating your daily life.  You spend time rising above them. Time – that’s laughable. You spend every second of everyday rising above them.

As an addict they teach you that if you get through one more day without using then you have succeeded. As a survivor of childhood trauma, you measure your daily success in all the normal things you do. Did you get up and take a shower, dress, put on make-up, interact positively with your intimate family, eat, avoid destructive behavior? If so then you have succeeded to be traumatize without being victimized again.

At the end of every year, survivors ask themselves if they managed to stay out of the psychiatric ward. If so, then you have obtain a great victory. 

And of course, the most important daily, weekly, monthly, yearly check is the attitude you take toward the life you have been dealt. Do you view yourself as victim or survivor? If you have lived years with surviving have you moved to thrive? Do you focus on giving back to the community that supported you through the depths of your trauma? Have you moved beyond seeing yourself as broken to a beautiful form into a unique sculpture where the mounds of scars on your soul represent your magnificence and elegance under times of deep stress and inconceivable abuse? 

And when you think you walk in magnificence and elegance, you walk into a BBQ restaurant and are hugged by a strange bear of a man who is calling you the name you forsook when you were forced to be reborn and unconnected yourself from the victimization you suffered for over twenty years. This happened yesterday, New Year’s Eve Day, and started innocently enough. My family didn’t want to cook. Nate was unenthused, Tony was dead set against it and I was indifferent. So Tony checked the open restaurants a few minutes from our house to see if the BBQ joint we had all been wanting to try was open. It was. We piled in the car and in laughter and love set off to have dinner. 

On the way over, all of five minutes it took us to get there, Nate, Tony and I laughed and told bawdy jokes to one another. In general delighting each other with our own company and a bit impressed with all the things we had accomplished that day. Nate had been working on a wand that was nearly finished. Tony had been working on his volunteer project for our son’s choral group, the video production of the seasonal concert. I had managed to clear my inbox and electronically file months worth’s of papers, make some important phone calls and mark some things off my ever present list.

As we walked toward the restaurant our feet were buoyant by our own love for each other and singular accomplishments. The restaurant was well appointed and lacked the typical red-neck flavor so many BBQ places have. There were no pigs painted on the windows in Santa hats, just simply three dimensional glitter ornaments hung on painted garland. As we came in, the boys each took a door and opened the way for me, I walked through feeling exceptionally important and loved. Moving according to the establishment’s signage, I took the tour around the outskirts of the interior and ended in front of a man behind the register.

He looked very, very vaguely familiar, as if I should know who he was but didn’t. This happens to me more than one would think. I have traveled and taught extensively and because of my childhood trauma and B12 issues, I have a hard time retaining faces and names and places where those faces belong. The man greeted me warmly. I was momentarily frozen when he called me by my childhood name and was decidedly stiff when he hugged me. Confused I looked toward the anchor in my world, Tony who reflected my befuddled state of mind. The unspoken conversation was quick and negative. No, he didn’t know this man and yes, he hoped I would come up with a name or association. The man asked how I was and I was beginning to panic. In the back of my mind, whether the man had spoken it or not, I heard that name.

It was a name formed on the lips of my biological father when he violated me. It was the name my biological mother used in disgust when we would argue of what was real and what wasn’t. The name my siblings use that was associated with the crazy sister whom they refused to believe. In my mind, it was rising like a tsunami and drowning out my senses. 

“You don’t recognize me?” the man was saying incredulously. It was clear he thought I should.

This temporarily receded the tsunami and I could think again. I adopted what I think of as my ‘eccentric author who has a hard time remember things’ face and ramped up the wattage directing it at the man behind the counter. It had the desired effect of prompting him to explain our relationship.

“I am your cousin.”                 
For victims of traumatic events the flow of time is significantly different. Time can at once be moving at its normal pace and for us experienced in clear thought patterns that are slow motion playbacks. I experienced this as I looked again at his face and recognized the eyes and facial structure of my biological father’s people. There were only three or four male cousins on that side I could remember in the moment. There was only one that I would imagine remembering me. 

“Stephen?!?” Holy crap, I thought. My heart began to race and the tsunami swallowed me whole.
“I didn’t recognize you! Then again, look at you, who would?”

His face was shrouded in a biker’s beard any bad-ass would be proud of. I saw the glint of a nice silver or platinum band on his hand, wide and prominent. His beard was white and black which mirrored the mounds of hair on his head pulled back into biker’s pony tail. He was in a black shirt and jeans, significantly heavier than the boy from my youth. And absolutely the last person I would expect to see at that moment in that place. 

I turned to Tony who was incredulously saying, “He isn’t really your cousin.” Then snuck a look at Nate whose face had moved to that neutral Navy face he adopts when he isn’t sure what was going on or what emotion would be appropriate.

From behind the counter a cute, younger woman exclaimed, “And he owns the place!”

Addressing Tony, the world began to move in real time again, “Yes, he is my cousin. Oh, my! Uh, Tony this is Stephen and Stephen this is my husband Tony.”

They shake hands, Tony’s wariness is etched all over his face. I know he is assessing if this new element in our world is friend or foe.  I turn to include Nate in the family reunion. “This is Nate our roommate.”

They shake hands and I try to think of something intelligent and safe to say.

“You own the place huh?”

From there the conversation on the surface was friendly. We told Stephen about Sam who was absent because he is visiting his biological father out of state. Stephen makes some vague indication that he isn’t in contact with that side of the family. I show him a picture of Sam. Stephen reminds me the last time I saw him was at his own wedding to his wife, then and now. I don’t remember the wedding which is disconcerting and not surprising because of the damage the trauma in my life has caused to my memory. 

We place our orders and somewhere in the ongoing melee in my head Tony manages to whisper in my ear, “We can stay right? Or do we need to go?” I said we should stay and eat. In my rapid assessment in my own heart and head I recognize that Stephen is no immediate threat to me. I invite him to come to our table to catch up and we move off to find a place to sit.

When we sit, I give a brief rundown of how I am related to Stephen. My biological father had three sisters, there was one who was kind of crazy, like me. The one who repeatedly accused my biological grandfather of sexual abuse and worse. There was Stephen’s mother whom I always thought had a weary acceptance of her childhood, choosing to neither deny nor really deal with the abuses she may or may not have suffered as a child. Then there was the good sister, like my own biological sister, who stoutly refused to believe any ill ever happened in her family and took care of her mother, my grandmother, Mémé, until she passed. My grandmother, of course, is the one who, on her death bed begged my forgiveness for raising a rapist and pedophile and drinking while her own husband did unspeakable things to her own daughters. Stephen, I quietly explain, was the oldest of two biological children and at least two or three foster children adopted by his family. There were allegations of sexual misconduct in that home investigated by the state. I didn’t know the result of those except that there was a child in the home who was female and suffered from trauma prior to coming into my aunt’s home. It seems that some of the issues, if not all, were centered on her. Regardless, I quickly finish my explanation, Stephan would be the only cousin out of the entire side of that family I was actually fond of and therefore, I felt relatively safe eating there.

“We can stay,” I say with finality. 

Stephan cares for his customers and then comes over. It is his unconscious body movements that are a punch to the gut. He has that sway in his walk that reminds me of my biological father. His bulk being shifted heavily from one side to the other. I see the unconscious touch to his beard, my biological father had, that says he is unsure of his reception by me and a few feet from me he draws himself up right consciously righting his shoulders. His physical language says that curiosity has overcome uncertainty and he will approach and find out what there is about the black sheep of the family. 

All of this happens as my mind has pushed the double arrow to slow down time and I have to remind myself that he isn’t my biological father approach my bed. He isn’t that man. Just someone with the unfortunate resemblance of the villain from my youth. 

My mind goes to the place all traumatic survivors have, every emotion is walled off and you allow the mask of civility and bravery to rise to the surface regardless of what is really being felt. You talk, ask about the family and the person’s life while you hide the urge to throw up, cry and crawl under the table and hide. This initial conversation is polite and around his life and the trials of restaurant ownership. Our food comes and we begin to eat. He leaves us and promises to come back when we are through. We tuck into our food and find it exquisite and I know I will want to come back and eat here again. I am frightened. 

I give ½ of my fries to Nate, knowing my stomach might permit me to finish the excellent sandwich and not much else as I try to deal with the bombarding thoughts and pictures in my head. Thinking, I ponder that my biological family lives in denial. They live in a place where I am a raving lunatic who lies and my personal belief that these opinions have extended to aunts, uncles and cousins was bolstered by several discussions I had tried to have with my mother’s side of the family.

Whiles these conscious thoughts are being considered, I am fighting PTSD flashes. Suddenly I am four, five or six and we at Stephen’s house in their above ground pool on a hot summer Saturday in Georgia. Everyone else had gotten out. I loved the water and really wanted to stay. My biological father had remained and he and I began a dance I was all too familiar with. I would swim keeping the distance of the pool between us as he tried to circle close enough to capture me. Eventually he commands that I come to him and sit on his lap. Fearing a beating, I do. He pulls my legs apart and the cool water floods my intimate parts as fear squeezes my heart and it seems to stop beating while I look at the back of my cousin’s house, so close and yet too far away to stop the violation. As the abuse begins, I look into the sun dappled light spilling through the trees and refuse to have him steal the sunlight and water from me too. I give no thought to beatings and potential problems and kick away from him connecting with his engorged penis. I don’t stop. Fear and courage have collided and I swim across the length of the pool flinging myself out of it and running the length of the long yard and up the three flights of stairs throwing open the back door and colliding with my aunt and my mother who are drying off my brother and my cousins. 

My mother’s disgust is obvious and my aunt’s suspicion is palatable. My mother demands to know where my towel is and then supplies the answer by saying that it is by the pool and I have left it. She is beginning to demand I go back out for it when my aunt produces a towel and tells my mother, “She can get it later.” 

This mental rush happens while in the current time, Nate is sitting across from me inhaling his food and Tony is watching me warily for signs of emotional trauma. I add sauce to my sandwich in an attempt to bring myself into the moment and out of the depths of my stressful past and try to engage myself in teasing Nate about how fast he eats. Then I talk about Sam, something real and untouched by the horrible abuses of my past. We talk about missing him. When he will come home.  We move back to teasing Nate and I give him more fries. I am musing about how Stephen recognized me despite that I am no longer a young cousin with brown hair and red streaks. I am in my mid-forties with silver hair and blue streaks. This discussion is cut off because Stephen is coming back to the table. He is more self-assured now. I muse that he is a little more confident that I am not going to yell or make a scene. He has made up his mind, though, I can see it and unconsciously Tony picks up on the shift in energy and reaches under the table to rub my leg. 

A flash of the pool crosses my mind and I firmly shut the door upon it and turn to face Stephen and the questions I know he is going to ask. For me it comes out of the blue, it seems sudden in my memory, however, I am sure that there was some conversation before he asked, “Do you speak to your family?”

I know he knows the answer and I find for the first time in my life I am not hesitant. My Stone is to my right and my Hand is across from me. The gods and goddesses fill my soul and I open my mouth and speak truth.

“I divorced my family years ago. I refused to continue to support a pedophile and a rapist. I was fortunate as an adult, to be adopted by another family, another mother - Cora. I have two sisters now whom I love dearly. It was a matter of my sanity.”

I watch Stephen’s face and know that some version of this story has reached him. He nods and says nothing. Feeling nerves creeping up, I continue.

“I mean you can only be confronted by childhood friends asking why you didn’t protect them from your biological father, why you let them spend the night knowing what he would do to them before you are force to confront the truth. Eventually you have to own it. Unfortunately my biological mother and siblings supply him with their female children, my nieces, and refuse to believe me or anyone else. I wouldn’t let my son be exposed to that. When he is eighteen he can make up his own mind. If he chooses to see them, I will help him. I just couldn’t allow him to be tainted by that evil. I choose to live in truth. And it has been five years or more since I have spoken to them. I have been living a blissfully drama free existence filled with other things. It has been good.”

“I don’t see them at all, you know. Mémé’s funeral was the last time I saw him and he acted like he didn’t even know who I was,” Stephen says his face contorting into a look of disgust. I am assuming this is the most disparaging thing he can think of to say about the terror from my childhood.

“I have to live in truth. If you want to live in truth with me, then I am all for that. I cannot deny what I know and what other victims of my biological father know. I have to live in truth. I have to live in truth.”

Tony squeezes my leg and Stephen starts taking up the baskets littering the table. It’s awkward and in that time-trauma way I have plenty of time to wonder if I sounded crazy. Did he believe me? Did it help to hold out that I was not the only victim to the heinous acts perpetrated by a defective man, the very devil, as Mémé had once described her own son. 

Somewhere during this exchange I discover Stephen’s girls are home schooled because they are living in a county with a horrendous school system and Stephen agrees that Sam is in a great school. I mention Sam being in chorus and Tony being an electrical acoustical audio engineer. We cover Nate living with us because of a motorcycle accident and he shows off his wicked scar on his left bicep. In the manner of full disclosure I try to sneak in the ideas that my family has drifted away from the Southern Baptist beliefs of my own childhood and into more liberal ground. Stephen and I both talk about having values that are different than the general world we live in and I am left wondering if that means he is a right wing radical or a more liberally minded person fighting the innate backward thinking of the South. I mention I am a writer and work part time as an office facilities manager for an agritourism organic farm. I note that he doesn’t ask me what I write which leads me to believe he knows more about me than I would have thought. I mention I couldn’t believe he recognize me and his voice warms with true affection when he says, “How could I forget you?”

“You know, I know that your mom is really bad off, really sick. I don’t talk them or anything but my mother told me,” suddenly shifting the energy and flow of the conversation as he gatherings the baskets. 

I feel my face take on my neutral expression. One that I think gives away no indication of any emotions I am feeling. In that moment I think of Cora, my adopted mother, who died nearly four years ago now and I feel an overwhelming sorrow that I cannot run to the car and call her and have her call me daughter and accept me and embrace and validate my truths. For the biological woman dying somewhere in Florida Stephen has just giving me news of, I can only find pity and a deep knowing, a sensing that she has chosen lies and a rapist over her blooded child and that would kill anyone eventually. 

Walking away Stephen asks with naked uncertainty if we will return. I assure him we will and that I will bring Sam, who he last saw as a baby. His parting shot is, “I can’t wait to meet your son…. Again.” He gives me a lopsided and genuine smile that stabs memories of my biological father into my heart. This is a similar smile often given when by my genetic father when he would leave my room having taking his pleasure. It was a reassuring smile that said everything was alright. It never worked for my him. On Stephen, though, the charm, honesty and genuine affection shines through and I catch a glimpse of what might have been if my biological father had not be a monstrosity.  

Nate and Tony gather coats and we leave. Walking toward the car in the brisk, clear end of the year, the shock begins to settle into my bone marrow and I know that traumas will rise and threaten to kill me again with pain and flashes of abuse. Once in the car, Tony tells me he is proud of me and I manage to ask if I sounded crazy. That is always my greatest fear. Crazy people imagine things that aren’t real and my credibility relies upon my capability to present rational truths from the perspective of the human being who is living in painful clarity about the trauma she survived and who perpetrated that trauma. 

I am assured that I sounded nothing but rational. It is the last conscious thing I hear outside of myself as I slip into shock.  The drive home is terminal in that traumatic way of PTSD. I fight the flash backs and fall into habits that cause Tony to be concerned. He pulls my fingers from my mouth and gently says, “Don’t chew on those, you just had them done pretty.” 

I stare at him for a moment and then nod. 

He gently grabs my chin, “I am concerned. I think you are in shock.” 

I vaguely nod and try to communicate something reassuring or put into words what living in my soul at that moment is doing to me. After trying a few seconds I realize we are in the driveway and Nate has already slipped quietly from the car. I pick up my purse and say, “I am going to take a Clonazepam. Maybe even two.”

“Yes, this is precisely why you have them. Do that before you do anything else,” Tony concurs.

I don’t typically take drugs, especially drugs that have addictive qualities but the reality is that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a tentacle of a large titan who lays dormant in the soul of any survivor of great trauma or abuse. When it rises from the waters of ones emotions like a leviathan, the strangle hold it can take upon the mind is well beyond what most people can deal with. The tentacle flash backs stick to your soul and prying them loose is thwarted by the painful vivid remembrance that comes when they attach. Prescribed medications help the mind and soul relax and let it go long enough for the immediacy to wear off, time to pass and the person to adjust. I end up medicated and laying on the couch with Tony, Alice, the Service Dog and Ziek, the Wonder Dog wrapped in a red blanket, the color of love, passion and purging fire. I allow the safety I am held in to work with the medications relaxing my muscles and letting my thoughts drift away from the bombardment of images that are painful and disturbing. 

I post on Facebook looking for love and support and not expecting any. Who would love and support me? The crazy women repeatedly raped by her biological father and disowned by her own biological family because they all think she lies. 

My Facebook is flooded and it is my sister Crystal and my sister Sarah who restore some equilibrium to my life. Crystal says it is a reminder of what I have left behind. A prompt that I have been enfolded in the love of my true mother, Cora, who even in death is with me every moment of every day. After a welling meaning soul suggests that I need to say good bye to my biological mother, I reply with, “I have already said my goodbyes.” My sister Sarah adds no comment just "Likes" that response and sends energy to me so I know she is saying, “You did say goodbye. They cannot hurt you. You were right to walk away.” I feel validated. 

Through this Tony tells me quietly and often, “They won’t come for you here.” 

“You didn’t tell Stephen exactly where you live.”

“You are safe.”

“I want let them harm you.”

After the New Year is toasted with a little champagne and kisses to Tony, Nate, Ziek and Alice, we all go up to bed and I fall into a deep sleep. I wake feeling beaten, the effects of alcohol and my body's remember bruises to a child too young to protect herself. My head, however, is clear and though my dreams try to resurface with more images of abuse and degradation, I soak in a tub drawn by Tony and take the medication he gives me (honestly I think he slipped another Clonazepam in) and I visualize those emotions, flash backs and trauma being eliminated by the Epsom salts and sacred oils my tub is filled with. 

There is a party at Sarah’s house this afternoon. The Rose Bowl parade is on. I need to take down my tree and the Winter Classic Hockey game is on. I wouldn't want to miss that. Success in the life of victims of trauma is measured in our ability to get up, get dressed and move through life with a growing surety that we live now and are not owned by the abuse of the past. It has been many years when I haven’t had a successful day and I am not starting a new year without another success.

1 comment:

  1. My darling, my wife, you are the inspiration and the light of my life! I will be your Stone through this lifetime and the next. I love you for you. Plain and simple.