Tis the Season

Well, I never thought this would happen. Practically for as long as I can remember, my mother has been the biggest ‘bah humbugger’ there is. Not anymore, apparently. It’s not even December and she’s been excited about putting up Christmas decorations; in fact she’s already put some up. “Say what?” you ask. Yea, I know.

Perhaps now that my father-abuser (and her husband-abuser) is dead she feels free to enjoy the coming festive season? Perhaps she’s determined to enjoy it now that he is finally gone? Perhaps she’s worried that this will be her last Christmas? It’s made me wonder if this Christmas might be less hideous than all the others, if at least one family member (well, my only family member) is open to enjoying it? Who knows? I’m not arguing, I’m just going with it.

By the way, this month’s Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse has just been published on the theme of ‘Surviving Holidays’. Head over to From Tracie to check out some most excellent submissions. 😉

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I made it

Yes, I’m here on the other side of Christmas hell, and I lived to tell the tale. 🙂

Actually this year was better than most. I kept focussed on myself, and kept my therapist’s advice top of mind (as well as Therapy Doc’s and Dr Kathleen’s – which I blogged about here and here).

For my future reference, and for yours, here are the things that I think made the biggest difference for me:

  1. Minimising time in the cesspit of negativity and criticism – I arrived late, and left several days earlier than normal. That certainly helped. I woke in my own bed on Christmas morning and, even though I was alone, I felt happy. I held on to that feeling for as long as I could. And when things did start to skirt the edges of “gnarly”, I reminded myself that I was leaving soon. 🙂
  2. I expected nothing – meaning that I expected things to not be great. In some past years I’ve gone hoping there’d be a miracle and the day would be great. Of course, it never was, and I was left with nothing but disappointment. Going in with no expectations was a much better approach – and accepting whatever happened, was equally important.
  3. I helped in the kitchen – kept myself busy, in the lead up and on Christmas day, preparing food. And for once we didn’t have enough food to feed several small African nations for a year – just enough for a nice meal without too much over indulgence.
  4. I kept my therapist in mind – I remembered the advice she’s given me over the last couple of years, and all the positive things I’ve achieved.
  5. I kept you guys in mind – that’s right, you lot; you readers; you out there. 🙂 I thought of you and imagined an invisible force binding us together and steeling us against the shenanigans we usually endure.
  6. I focussed on happy thoughts – and happy places. Things, people, places, ideas that make me happy or smile. If I felt things starting to slide, I just focussed on those and they got me through.
  7. I minimised conversation with my father – ok, sure, there were some exchanges, but mostly I was able to keep busy and keep away from him. And when I had to be near him, I did everything I could to avoid looking at him or touching him –guaranteed triggers for me.
  8. I kept touch with iPhone magic – games, social networking, anything that enabled me a few minutes peace, and some grounding.

I can’t take all the credit for things going better than anticipated. My father, for once, was in a better mood than he usually is, and actually spoke to me (or at least in my general direction) in a civil tone. And my mother went nearly 24 whole hours without getting snipey and critical of the world in general. Even when she did I charged up my Teflon coating and just let it all slide away from me. 🙂

Yay for me!

My anxiety didn’t really start to kick in until after I’d come home – I’m not really sure why. Well, I think I know what the anxiety’s about, just not sure why it didn’t hit until after I got home. Possibly it’s about fantasies colliding with realities, but that’s another post for another day.

Holiday coping

Dr Kathleen has an awesome post about Holiday Coping for Trauma Survivors (it comes from another blog – see the original here).

I’m reposting it here, in its entirety, because I think it’s great – and because it captures many of the things the Wonder Therapist has taught me over the years. (And also because it’s Christmas morning here and I’m avoiding the inevitable – the seemingly interminable day in the cesspit of negativity and criticism. LOL)

The irreverent me particularly likes the reference to the Judy Garland Trail Mix, though of course I don’t recommend this either. 😉

I hope you all have an ok Christmas Day. I hope you can remember that sage advice – Do Not Abandon Yourself – and practice some self-care. I will be trying. Hard.

An Adult Child Abuse Survivor’s Guide to the Holidays

First, and most importantly, this is the primary principle to follow when you’re in the presence of perpetrators and their allies:

Remember this always –

DO NOT ABANDON YOURSELF.

I can’t say this enough – do not abandon yourself.

You were abandoned as a child. You did not deserve this. No child deserves this. So, as adults, we take care of ourselves as if we are our own precious child. Imagine taking your child-self gently but firmly by their lovely, grubby little hand and getting them out of harm’s way. There are many ways to do this whether you are in the presence of perpetrators and their allies (like your own dismissive and scornful siblings who get angry whenever you mention the legacy and source of your pain) or if you’re in a place where you may be triggered.

The following is listed in no particular order of importance because it’s all important. I respect that some of these ideas may work for you, some may not. As long as you keep that all-encompassing guidance “Do not abandon yourself” in mind, you can take it from there.

Here we go:

Remember who you are TODAY. You are no longer a child. Indeed, there is a hurt child who is alive and well within you. But, now you’re an adult who can make choices.  Don’t forget, you are an adult and you have power over your life.

One of the choices you can make is to not go to the abusive family’s house. You don’t have to go. You can tell them you’re sick if you can’t tell them the actual reason for your absence. It’s okay to “lie” in this situation if fear keeps you from telling the truth of the matter.  It’s not really a lie, though. The abuse was and is responsible for its consequences that you may suffer from – depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you do “call in sick”, don’t answer the phone if you know your abusive family members are trying to call your cell or land line To this, I say – thank you, technology, for caller ID. Don’t answer the calls from your abusive family members for up to a week. Then, if you must, call back and say you’re feeling better. And, when I say”better”, I mean that you’re probably doing great because you didn’t spend time with people who were not good to you and continue to be bad to you.

If you have to be with abusive family members, do whatever you need to do to stay centered as you cannot abandon yourself and you need to remember who you are today.

Staying centered may involve many tactics:

Go to your abuser’s house with your real family, your husband, your kids, your chosen family of dear friends who believe in you. If you need support and active reminders of who you are now, take your supportive people with you. These people are your true family members who love you, won’t abandon you and remind you of who you are today.

This is a big one – STAY SOBER. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you get drunk or high, you will lose that centered spot. You will relax, that’s true, but it’s a false sense of ease.  Do take your Xanax if necessary but stick to your prescribed dose. The Bloggess will always recommend that you should avoid knocking back handfuls of the Judy Garland Trail Mix. And, there you go, a little Bloggess humor for you on a tough day.

Help in the kitchen. Be involved with the preparation. Do this only if such activities are not triggering. I always do this. I put my head down and work. I set the table, I do the dishes, I cook. I put my head down and work it, like a Zen monk whose practice includes performing chores mindfully. That’s an excellent way to stay centered, pretending to be a Zen monk and doing tasks wholeheartedly.

Sit by a window so you can look outside. When you pull in the outside world as you sit with those who abandoned you, the world becomes that much bigger. There’s more out there, beyond the dark cave of the abuser’s house.

Go beyond looking out the window and get out there in that bigger world. Expand your universe. The abuser’s house or the house with the abusers in it is not the core of the world. The world is beyond that house. In this world there are people who believe in you and love you unconditionally. That world contains your working life where you are valued or perhaps your university studies where you excel. So, go outside for a few minutes and take a walk in the bigger world.

Put your therapist’s number on fast dial. Call anytime. Even if you reach their voice mail, leave a message. Don’t fret if they don’t call back. Instead, revel in the knowledge that you were wise enough to reach out. You asked for help and that action alone is therapeutic.

Keeping your therapist in mind, remember the tricks and tools they have suggested to help you through these tough times. For example, I like to use what all of my therapists taught me –  the classic meditation exercise of sitting comfortably and going to my inner place of refuge. FYI – it’s a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. Not bad, eh?

Minimize conversation with the perpetrator and anyone who has been abusive to you. Again, you can say you’re not feeling well, you have a headache, you need to be quiet. And, again, you ain’t lying here. That person makes you feel unwell and your head probably hurts when you’re around them.

If you cannot avoid conversations with those people, keep something in your pocket to remind yourself of who you are today. I use a little plastic monkey from the Barrel of Monkeys toy-game. Small and with a defined shape, the monkey reminds me of the relative light heartedness of my life away from the abusers. Also, a monkey is not to be messed with and you can pretend the monkey is throwing feces at whoever needs to be taken down.

You can also keep your cell phone on to Twitter, Facebook or chat or whatever you use for social media interactions. Set it to buzz everytime you get an update. Another reminder of the bigger world out there and that you’re part of that bigger, better world.

Okay, get ready for this big one, survivors:

Remembering you are an adult of legal age, Walk out the door the second things get gnarly. Just go.

Everyone, no matter how badaas and brave they seem to be, is scared shitless to do this.  I was scared to do this. But, I’ve done it and I’ll do it again if I need to  because it felt exhilarating, liberating and life affirming.

Don’t leave yelling, but if you do, try to cry, yell some more or laugh really hard once you’re out the door to release what is truly an emotional atomic bomb full of energy. Really try to do that before you get in the car. Do not drive home in an intense emotional state as you are not centered and in control. Respect your anger and anguish and give it time to release and subside. You will feel better and that will help you think clearly as you operate that moving vehicle.

 

Expressive Arts Carnival Activity No. 6

The theme for this month’s Arts Carnival activity is open – as Paul says, “any survivor art is welcome!”

I took a photo last night of a Christmas decoration. I think it’s beautiful. I had hoped to photograph it nestling in feathers, or something soft, but with everything else that’s happening this week I haven’t been able to make that happen.

I love this decoration. For me, it speaks to everything I want Christmas to be – beautiful, happy and, well, “normal”. Everything it isn’t at the moment. I’m trying to maintain hope that one day I can create the kind of Christmas I’ve always wanted. I’m still missing a few ingredients for that at the moment, but I try to hang onto the hope. My religious colleagues tell me that’s what this time of year is about – the hope of a better future. Captures my Christmas wish, that’s for sure. As well as the idea of “healing” for all of us survivors here, I think.

The silly season

Yea, it’s that time of year again. Sigh. I know this is a hard time for many of us. A couple of weeks ago I drove past a shop selling Christmas trees and burst into tears. Sigh.

It hasn’t all been bad, though. I’ve been trying to get through, almost pretend this silly season doesn’t exist. Not expect anything (certainly nothing on the family front); not do too much; and just maintain my sanity.

Therapydoc posted on this recently. It’s a great post. She mentions the “countdown” that I go through every year. First it’s seven days to go, six days to go… and once Christmas arrives it becomes 24 hours to go, 23 hours to go … until it’s all over.

She also offers a “prescription” of sorts, which in a way makes clinical the things I’ve been trying to do:

a) plan as little as possible, wing it – yep, doing that. Not rushing around trying to catch up with people. Enjoying the few gatherings I have with friends and colleagues, but otherwise resting and taking care (discovered this week that my iron and B12 levels are something less than what they should be, so rest is coming pretty easy at the moment.)

b) label dysfunctional patterns, but don’t argue; discuss – this one will be a challenge, but I’m hoping I can keep the “bubble” around me when I’m with family. Let them play their games, behave badly… and, if there is a god, let me not engage in it.

c) have an escape plan – sorted. I have taken control of my time with family this year, and reduced it by a day. I will arrive later than normal, and leave earlier. That mightn’t sound like much, but it’s a big step for me, and I’m hoping will go some way to making a difference. And if it doesn’t, I have walks on the beach. 🙂

d) expect little – yep, expecting nothing this year. Absolutely nothing.

e) accept a lot – this is a new one for me. I guess, if by some miracle, my family behaves like anything approximating “normal”, yes, I’ll try to accept it and enjoy it.

f) and when the catastrophic expectations materialize, laugh about them – hmm, not sure about this one. I guess I can try to stand back and laugh at how dysfunctional it all is, and be thankful that I’m not around that level of dysfunction more often.

To all my readers, I hope this season of silliness isn’t taking too much of a toll on you. That you are finding time to rest and take gentle care. ((hugs)) and good wishes to you all.

Ungrateful

I feel like such an ungrateful b!tch. I’m unhappy with my family’s Christmas offerings this year.

Normally we have an ordering system within the family. My father has a tendency to not give anything at all, and my mother has a tendency to choose gifts that are, well, not quite me, so the ordering system saves getting (or giving) gifts you don’t really want.

This year I asked for some new measuring cups for the kitchen, or a voucher for a kitchen store so I could buy some. Since moving into my new home I’ve been enjoying cooking and baking, but find myself without a lot of things I need. Like measuring cups.

What did I get?

A pair of pruning snip things for the garden (I hate gardening and I have a gardener) and a new chopping board (ok, at least it’s for the kitchen).

I’m annoyed because the one thing I asked for I didn’t get. It’s not about the money. And it’s not about getting what I want. It’s about the thought that goes into the gifts – or doesn’t.

I gave up hoping for anything from my father a long time ago, but I never cease to be disappointed by my mother’s lack of effort in the gift department. Not just for not buying what I’d asked for, but for not really putting much thought into what I might really like.

The thing is, I love giving gifts. I put time and effort into choosing something I think the person will really like, and I put time and effort into the gift wrapping, to make the gift look gorgeous. I also put time and effort into the card, and what I write in it.

Ok, I don’t put a lot of time or effort into gifts for my father, but I learned long ago that it doesn’t matter what you buy him, he’s never happy. This year amongst his gifts I bought some shorts (he doesn’t like the colour) and some particular continental food he likes (which grosses me out, but he likes it, though I bought the wrong kind).

I put a lot more thought into gifts for my mother and, to be honest, I feel a bit ripped off. And that makes me feel like such an ungrateful b!tch.

Post-surgery update

Can you believe this? I’m three days out of hospital with a 20cm (8 inch) slash in my belly, and my mother says:

“Surely you must be feeling better by now?”

This is sooo not how I imagined this blog post starting, but really, who could let a comment like that slide by the blogosphere? (David, your airline ticket is already in the mail so you can come over here and slap some sense into her!)

As many of you know I had surgery last week. Surgery that didn’t exactly go according to plan. I was scheduled to have a laparoscopy for some gynae problems. Unfortunately, I started bleeding during the procedure and the surgeon had to open me up to stop the bleeding and then deal with the problems he went in there for in the first place. The surgeon said, “it was that or let you bleed to death.” I guess that’s pretty scary, although I’m still trying to comprehend it all.

The result? Nearly four hours under general anaesthetic, a 20cm (8 inch) slash in my belly and a very sore and bruised tummy. Oh, and a mother who makes ridiculous comments.

I seemed to be coping with my family and the whole Christmas charade quite well, with most of it passing in a post-surgery fog. Not even a pain killer fog because I’ve been too scared to take the “real” pain killers. But I’ve somehow survived, even things like my mother’s incessant and meaningless (but generally harmless) chatter; my father’s endless complaining; my mother and father yelling at each other; and even my father’s ridiculous comments about women being “baby factories”. Ugh.

I’ve survived. That is, until today. Until my mother’s comment, which has come closer to anything to tipping me over the edge.

Damnit.