The house down the street

There’s a house like this just down the street from me. Until the other day I thought a normal, happy family lived there. Apparently not. Apparently the dad in this house* is an abusive shithead. His now-ex partner turned up on my doorstep last weekend, quite distressed, in the process of leaving and needed somewhere to store some things. I spoke to her today. She’s safe, thank heavens. She confirmed that this not-so-nice suburban husband and father is a selfish, egotistical, narcissistic a$$.

Unfortunately his daughters still have to visit him and be subjected to his revolting behaviour. I can’t tell you how incredibly ANGRY I was when I heard that. That f***ing son of a b**ch. How dare he treat those girls like that! How dare he pretend he’s this nice pillar-of-the-community type living a “normal” life! I was so MAD!!

I know this is probably more about my own father, but I wanted to yell at this poor excuse for a man and scream and pummel my fists into him. I didn’t. But I did report him to the relevant authorities. I just couldn’t stand the thought that his daughters will grow up with all the weirdness and craziness that I’ve grown up with. I couldn’t stand the thought that they’ll grow up thinking this has something to do with them, when it has NOTHING whatsoever to do with them, and EVERYTHING to do with that piece of sh*t father.

In a not-so-happy coincidence, it was White Ribbon Day here last week – our campaign to stop violence against women.

I’m proud I stood up today, but I’m also a little unnerved – it was a sad reminder that this nastiness is everywhere; that no where is truly safe, not even the nice little houses in my street. I hope and pray the authorities intervene so the girls can be safe.

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* Not actually this house in the photo, one like it though.

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In which the flood gates open

I’ve been walking around in a daze for days. Weeks, actually, including while I was away. How is it that you can be with people 24/7 and yet still feel so isolated? So completely alone and empty inside?

My head is a muddled, jumbled mess. In many respects I feel like much of my progress over the last few months has evaporated. I’m not sure how this happened – was it spending too much time with my mother? Or not enough time alone? Or just too much time stuffing down every conceivable emotion while with my mother? Or … who knows?

I’m hoping that writing will help. I went to the gym earlier and treaded the treadmill for an hour, almost completely unaware of what I was doing. I think it worked, emotionally at least. As soon as I got in the car I burst into tears. I’m not sure why, I guess the proverbial flood gates just opened.

So here we are. I suspect this will be a rambling dump of things swirling about in my head. Apologies.

  • My mother: From the moment she arrived two weeks ago she started messing with my head and unwinding any shreds of confidence I had started to build. One of her first comments to me on arriving was “your bum is getting bigger again”. Sigh. In the time we were away she added to this happy moment saying I have to lose weight; that I shouldn’t eat nuts because they’re fattening; that I’ll never know what it’s like to be a mother; that I’m too old for a relationship; that a skirt I tried on was too short – or rather, needed to be longer to cover my legs because they’re too fat. She doesn’t mean any of this maliciously, but doesn’t understand the impact it has on me. My therapist said something like “God, if I asked your mother what she thought of anyone who said all that she’d probably realise just how awful it is.” Possibly, but it’s unlikely my therapist will ever get to ask her anything again because my mother flatly refused to go and see her. She even referred to my therapist as “that woman”. Sigh.
  • My therapist says that my father, my mother and I have a nice little malicious circle going on. My mother puts up with rudeness and nastiness from my father in the same way that I put up with it from my mother. That she uses my father as an excuse for not having a life in the same way that I have used my mother. I’m not quite ready to delve into this yet, so just throwing it out there.
  • Being triggered: I was triggered a couple of times while away. Especially by fish. Somehow my mother convinced me to try barramundi, which she says is beautiful and very unfishy to eat. Stupid, stupid me for agreeing to try it. I could smell it before it even came to the table and started freaking out and shaking and panicking and flashbacking and wanting to run away. Every morsel I put in my mouth made my throat close over and made me want to gag. Of course, I had to sit there like everything was fine. Pretend I’m normal and not a complete freak. Thankfully I had that old pattern down pat after spending so much time with my mother already.
  • I was also triggered by relationships. Specifically couples. Couples everywhere. Old and young. On the beach, by the pool, at the shops, on the boat, on the plane…. surrounded. Feeling like the only single person in a paired-up world. In many ways I long for a lasting and meaningful relationship. For the companionship. For knowing someone and someone knowing me. Connecting, even when you don’t speak. Even for holding hands. Trouble is, I’m too afraid to even admit I want this, let alone do anything to make it happen. I’m so afraid that everything I’ve always been told will be proven true – that I really am an ugly, nasty and horrible person and that no one will ever love me.
  • I also got mildly triggered by some friends, and listening to them talk about children and childhoods and our past.  I’ve known these people since … well, for a couple of decades or more though they don’t know about my past. I found it hard to sit there and listen to the memories of teenage years, of boys, of families, of … all sorts of things. I ran away to the kitchen where I could bury myself in preparing food without fear of freaking out.
  • The Body Image Thing: The hell of the body image continues. It was hard being away in a hot, summery environment where I was seemingly surrounded by models in bikinis 24 hours of the day. I did wear bathers/togs/swimmers (whatever you call them), though I felt hideous. And more hideous as time wore on because of my mother’s comments. Something odd happened when I got home, though – despite the mess in my head. I looked at my sun drenched toes and I thought, “hey, they’re not so bad.” I also looked at my eye in the mirror as I was putting the finishing touches on my makeup and thought, “that looks good.” Rationally I know these are good things. But they’re completely alien to me and with all the mess in my head I can’t accept or understand them.
  • The Weight Thing: This is still an issue as well. I’m still embarrassed to be seen. But one thing I realised while away is that gaining weight is a MASSIVE trigger for me. When I gain weight I think I don’t deserve to look nice, and “have to” buy whatever ugly potato sack fits. Somewhere in my crazy head I think fat is ugly and fat means you can’t look nice and fat also means you have to buy what you can because you might not find anything else that fits. So I buy whatever I can, which generally doesn’t suit me, or fit my personality. And then I feel worse.
  • Social Phobia: This is back with a vengeance. Somewhere over the last few months I’ve managed to come out of my shell enough to speak to people. Randomly, I mean. Like people in shops. Somehow that’s disappeared. A couple of friends from the past have been in touch with me via Facebook. People I lost touch with long ago. They’ve suggested catching up. Part of me wants to but the rest of me is too afraid. Of what I’m not exactly sure. Just too afraid. Afraid that they’ll judge me, I guess. All that stuff about me not being good enough has come right back again.
  • Pilates: I started back at Pilates just before I went away. My instructor is healing from PTSD as well, from what I’m not sure though I have some suspicions from clues she’s given. She somehow understands this thing. She even wants to talk more about it, outside Pilates. Part of me wants to. Part of me doesn’t. I don’t trust her (yet). And she carries a lot of anger, which is fine except I’ve been working hard on just accepting that what happened happened and not carrying that anger around anymore. I don’t want to get sucked into that again. And I don’t want to carry her anger. So I feel mean and horrible for not catching up with her this week. And weak and pathetic for not being able to say I can’t. And a bit angry at myself for being unable to have the kind of compassion I’d like to have for fellow survivors.
  • Abandonment: Somewhere in all this my fear of being abandoned by my therapist has come back as well. It’s always there, lurking in the background, but the last couple of months I’ve been able to convince myself of its irrationality. Not anymore. I hate this feeling because I know it’s stupid. I talked to my therapist and she did what she could to reassure me that she’s not going anywhere. The fear lessened, but still peaks. Or flip-flops between that and my terror at having to end therapy somewhere in the future.  We’ve had no conversations about ending (in fact, quite the opposite), but I’m still afraid. I know it has to end someday, and I used to think that when that time came I would be ready. Or more ready, at least. I’m far from being ready now, and I’m scared to death of the end. Part of me thinks I should quit now so I don’t have to deal with that. I feel hopeless and that therapy is pointless. Nothing will ever change, so why bother putting myself through the hell of therapy?

I have rambled. I’m just dumping. I haven’t really processed much of this. Just needed to break it down. I’m sorry.

Coming out of my paper bag

So sorry I haven’t blogged for a while. I guess my last therapy session was a lil triggering or something, coz I’ve been pretty much spinning since then. A friend described it as suddenly having the paper bag close around you. Yes, that’s exactly what the last week has been like.

Talking about my teenage years brought back all these feelings of being 15 again and sent my inner critic into over drive.

Thankfully the paper bag has opened again and I’ve been able to stuff all that nastiness back in and stomp on it good and proper. For now, at least. I have therapy again tomorrow so I’m sure my therapist will do her best to open up those old wounds again.

*Sigh*

Sugar and spice and all things nice

My therapist has remarked a few times that I don’t talk much about my teenage years. No, I don’t. I’m too embarrassed and ashamed; too afraid to go there. All this time I’ve thought I was the problem: that there was some inherent defect in me; some inherent badness that I’ve not wanted to reveal.

I’m starting to wonder, though, if I wasn’t the problem after all. Well… I was, but only because of circumstances and the things that were done to me – not because I was inherently bad in any way.

Even after all these months of therapy I’m still not sure about this.

I was very unhappy for most of my teenage years. Aside from the regular awkwardness of growing up, there was the fact that I lived two lives: one pretending I was “normal” when at school… and another life at home.

I was a social outcast, particularly with boys. I avoided being around the boys, except in groups. I’d go to parties, but I’d act the fool and get drunk. It got laughs and also blocked out the hard stuff.

I didn’t get asked on a date until I was about 17. I never got asked to the “prom”. I never had that gooey, gushy awkwardness of teenage boys and girls. I was even too embarrassed to hang around too long at the tram stop after school. I was fat and ugly and I thought that’s why the boys didn’t like me. Perhaps it was, I don’t know? Or perhaps it was just that I didn’t understand life and boys and stuff like that? Perhaps it was that my father had scarred me so I was too scared, I don’t know?

When I was about 15 my father started accusing me of being a lesbian. It sounds so silly now, but when you’re 15 and growing up and life is awkward and fumbly and hard anyway… well, it just adds another scar. It shouldn’t, but given that everything my father said to me was negative, he only meant one thing with these comments. (As I sit here now, I wonder what the hell sort of father makes those kinds of comments to his daughter anyway, but I haven’t digested that.)

So I felt alone and unloved and that I didn’t belong, either at home or at school/with friends. I hated going home after school. My father and I would fight. When I grew up a bit I started arguing and fighting back… and that always spelled trouble. Eventually I learned that and I’d hide away in my room and do my homework… and cut myself or burn myself, just to take myself away for a little while.

Back then I’d tell myself that I didn’t want to go out anyway, but I did. I didn’t understand why the boys didn’t like me. I thought I was broken in some way. I just wanted to be pretty like the other girls and dress up in pretty dresses. Even now I’d like a pretty dress, but I’m still too embarrassed and ashamed to wear it.

In which the father turns 90 and I find something to be proud of

This is long, I’m sorry, but it’s been a big weekend and I’ve got a lot to process.

My father turned 90 yesterday. My mother organised a party. I was dreading it. Dreading my father being critical and nasty to me, or humiliating me in front of everyone (a familiar experience, but hurtful even after all these years). I was also dreading seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time, and them quizzing me about my life (or lack thereof) – my endless embarrassment about not being married, not having children, etc etc etc. And I was dreading meeting my other half-sister.

My therapist said I shouldn’t go, but I didn’t have the heart to disappoint my mother. In all, it wasn’t as nearly as bad as I anticipated.

The day didn’t start off great, with my father being his usual critical, horrible self but once his guests arrived, and he was the centre of attention, everything settled down. The day ended up quite well…good even. My father enjoyed himself and, were he anyone else, I’d say that’s all that matters. But, my father being my father, I don’t really care if he enjoyed himself or not. There is part of me who does care, but I don’t see why I should.

I spent most of the day hiding in the kitchen or playing hostess, but it was nice to catch up with a couple of family friends I haven’t seen for a long time. B – who is a lovely, gentle man. He has always been kind and was one of the few people who looked out for me when I was a kid and my father was going off. Back then I wished B was my father. He’s not, but I am grateful to him for his kindness.

And E, who is also a lovely lovely man. He and his parents were in the displaced persons camp with my father in Europe, and came to Australia on the same ship. Unfortunately he took it upon himself to make a speech, but it was ok. I “checked out” quite a bit, but the bits I heard were mostly about those very ancient times, with very little eulogising, so they weren’t really that traumatising.

Even meeting my other half-sister and her husband wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. We didn’t get a chance to talk that much, but her husband spoke to me a few times. He seemed nice. He said that he and my half-sister are grateful that I found it in my heart to share my father with them (their words, not mine). I didn’t really know what to say. All I could think was, “my god, if only you knew…” but thankfully when any of those moments came up I was able to make a quick escape to the kitchen and relative safety.

My father went beyond himself afterwards and thanked my mother for the party. She said he’d been an obnoxious a$$ all week. Rationally I know that this doesn’t make up for his bad behaviour – that a single thank you, a nanosecond of gratitude, can never make up for the decades of abusive shyte he’s meted out against my mother and me. But there’s still a little kid inside who thinks “omg, I did something right. Everything is ok now.” I don’t even know where this comes from, because rationally I know I can never please him and he will never be happy with anything. But for some reason that little kid, the little girl who could never do anything right even though she tried and tried and tried again… for some reason she hears everything he says, and responds in the same way she always has.

This might sound silly, but I’ll confess that I woke up this morning hoping that my father had died overnight now that he’s reached this grand milestone. He didn’t, but perhaps this will enable him to start (and finish) checking out. (Don’t even suggest that it’ll give him the zest he needs to reach 100 or I will personally come out there into the blogosphere and whollop you!! LOL) I still feel bad wishing him dead like this, even though I know I shouldn’t. I should go back to my therapist’s little mantras: “Just because he’s a sperm donor doesn’t mean he’s a good father” and “You owe him NOTHING.”

I survived the party. More than survived, I even came away with a few things I am proud of:

  • When my father was being horrible, I said to my mother, “Mum, I’m not staying if he’s going to behave like that.” She wasn’t happy, but I also said, “I’m only here for you, Mum, and to help you. Not for him.” This was the best I could to do stand up for myself this weekend.
  • This is the first time in over a year that I’ve seen the parents and not had the urge to binge eat, cut or do something else destructive afterwards. (Ok, the eating thing may have had something to do with a mild hangover and an ice pick-headache, but I’ll claim it as progress anyway!)
  • This is the first time in over a year that I’ve driven home from the parents’ house and haven’t wanted to run my car off the road. Actually, it’s better than that – it’s the first time I’ve driven home and thought, “you know, it’s important that I DON’T drive my car off the road. I am important and I don’t want to die today.” 🙂 (I’ll admit that the inner critic piped up with some commentary about, “who are you important to?” but I chose not to listen. Just turned the music up and kept going.)
  • This is the first time in I don’t know how many years that I’ve felt reasonably comfortable talking to people in a social situation. Even, or perhaps especially, people I know. Ok, that might have been Dutch courage, but I think it was more than that. I think, or at least I’m hoping, that it’s a sign I’m no longer as embarrassed as I was to be me. No longer as worried people will find out about the dark secrets. And no longer as concerned about what they think of me.
  • My bathroom at the parents’ house has a hideous mirror that displays far more than any mirror ever should. That fact not withstanding I did notice that some of the awful stretched skin is coming back. Strange as it may seem, this makes me happy. I’m hopeful it means that some of the evil anti-depressant weight may be starting to shift.
  • I even remembered some of back-up therapist’s advice about preparing myself to see the parents, not berating myself afterwards… and, are you sitting down? I even remembered to be gentle with myself afterwards. I’ve listened to nice music, put my favourite sheets on the bed, and just been generally gentle. I even did the ironing, which isn’t exactly soothing, but does help turn my brain off and help me process stuff. There’s something about the repetitive motion of the iron… back and forth, back and forth, and the “tshshsh” of the steam that I find … almost restful. 🙂

Who am I?

Earlier this month I talked about progress. It felt incredibly powerful to acknowledge how far I’ve come. But underneath that was something else: a feeling of being lost, in a way; of not knowing who I am anymore.

A while ago a counsellor said to me that when you are abused as a child you fail to develop that true sense of who you are; the inner core that always believes in you. I’ve felt this for a very long time.

Instead, I guess, you develop this outer shell that protects you. For a while at least. Then it starts to crack and crumble, and fails to work anymore. Then you go into therapy and start dealing with all that heinous sh1t, and all the symptoms of PTSD and depression and god-knows-what-else… at first you fall apart; you feel completely broken and you get worse before you get better. But one day you start to see light at the end of the tunnel. Then before you know what’s happening you start emerging from the other side. It happens slowly; in small steps; but it does happen.

Something else happens as well, though: as you emerge you realise that you don’t know who you are anymore.

You hear people say things about you and it’s like listening to another language. You don’t understand what they’re saying or who they’re talking about. Then it dawns on you that perhaps they’re talking about you, only it’s not a “you” that you recognise. Certainly not one with all those positive qualities that people talk about.

My therapist once talked to me about post-traumatic growth I was inspired by the idea of positive personal change. I thought, “Yes! I want some of that please!” though I never knew how to get it. Now I’m starting to realise it’s not something you can “get”… it’s something that somehow magically happens as you emerge from the dark tunnel.

It’s a little like waking from a deep sleep. At first you stumble around all foggy headed, unable to engage in the world around you anymore than you could when asleep. I’m hoping that there’s also an awakening that helps you discover who you are. Real proof, if you like, that tomorrow does come.

Why?

Will I ever get over all that heinous sh1t from the past, or will it follow me around all my life and continue to sneak up on me when I least expect or need it?

I’ve been bummed most of the day with thoughts of the past. I don’t think I’m dwelling on anything in particular. Just things that keep popping into my head. Like how I never had a decent father. Like how I don’t really know how to relate to people because of him. Like how I’m scared of most people and what they’ll do to me. Like how my mother is wasting her life with him and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it, though I somehow feel it’s all my fault. And like how I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be healed enough to live a “normal” life – whatever that is.

Sometimes I think it would be easier if I wasn’t here.