I might be able to relate to this article. Just a little.
My higher power orchestrated quite the “do-over” at a folk festival here this last weekend.
It was one of the most successful big crowd / high stimuli weekends in my life; and, it was also momentous and ground-breaking in the people from my past who showed up, and my interactions with them.
First of all, I have to acknowledge that I haven’t done so much socializing in 3 days in a very very long time. I don’t know what came over me. By the end of the 2nd of 3 days, my voice was hoarse from talking with so many friends. I felt so wonderfully at ease with whomever was standing in front of me, and that is something that has never happened to me. Throughout the weekend, I never felt estranged, isolated or humiliated, like I have so many times in the past; and I enjoyed having several different friends and groups to land with. Whenever I came to sit and take in a concert, there was always someone I knew to go and sit with. Walking the grounds, there were lots of smiles and hellos and chance meetings along the way.
This might sound normal to many people, but for me, it has not been. I can often end up feeling like the odd one out, and that everyone I know is witnessing me standing there like a square peg in a round hole, perhaps pitying me, perhaps avoiding me especially, perhaps both. It’s like in the movies, when the sound fades out, and all the surroundings go blurry, and suddenly, the whole world is definitely and extremely separate from me. The feeling that I have to hide what I am feeling — the pressure, the shame, the silent panic — is suffocating and horrible. The only thing I can do is disappear, leave immediately. I’ve had horrible times trying to stick it out, filled with awkwardly forced conversations. And so, this weekend was not another one of these experiences, though I was very worried it could be.
The headliner was an artist I had listened to at the time I was abused as a young girl. I had cried myself to sleep each night listening to this woman’s sad, beautiful iconic voice, and here she was, in my back yard. Also in my back yard, having returned to live here, is the teacher who abused me. (Full story here, and follow-up here) I had heard that he was returning, meanwhile continuing to process deeply and remember more of the feelings of what happened. New information has also been coming in, from various folks I run into — people I didn’t know when I was here, but who were involved with the school when my letter was written. I now know that there were two letters written: Mine, in 2005, and another one in 2008. It was the latter that had gotten (I’ll refer to him here as) ‘P’ to resign in the face of defacing dismissal / termination; not my letter.
There are supporters and non-supporters of ‘P’ here. As I have said before, I do not consider him to be a dangerous or evil man. Emotionally needy and unprofessional to a tragic and life-altering fault, and should not be teaching children (which he is currently not); but not in the same category of perverts, pedafiles, and molesters.
And so, on Friday afternoon at the festival, I was walking the main passage way to find my chair in the back row of the main stage area when I spotted him. I stood a few feet away from him, which also happened to be at my chair, having no intention of interacting with him; then spotted a friend and moved my chair to her immediately, not looking up, not looking around, keeping my head down, feeling relatively calm and grounded, but relieved to find a recovery friend I could tell.
But this was not high drama. Remarkably, I actually felt relatively calm and grounded. I think this is where my higher power was there to shelter me, and give me this strength of genuine connection with others. Having so many people I knew there, and feeling so comfortable around them kept me in a place of strength and empowerment, rather than the feeling of smallness and shame that goes with the dissociation and the disappearing act described above. It was fine that he was there; just because he was there did not mean that I would have to interact with him. I felt totally safe and supported to interact or not interact as much as felt right to me, and for the most part, it felt right not to interact at all.
At the same time, there was the question in me of how I would handle coming face to face with P — what I would say or not say, how to respect my own inner boundaries with grace and in a way that wasn’t going to gnaw at my psyche for days afterwards. I was a little bit nervous, and I didn’t know what I was going to do; but in the mean time, I didn’t let it distract me or stop me from enjoying the festival and friends.
The next morning, I came back earlier than I would have normally, for a workshop on vocal harmonies with one of my favourite bands. The room was packed. I scanned it for people I knew, and found a colleague I sing in the same choir with. We sat on a counter at the very back of the room. The energy in the room and between us was light and playful and joyous; the room was large and bright, the sun was shining, gearing itself up for another hot summer day on this beautiful farm, and a delicious breeze wafted through two sets of french doors on either side of the space.
The workshop started, but the people in the back couldn’t hear anything, so we were invited to move up and sit on the floor at the front. I decided to move. As I came around the counter at the back and headed down the isle between seats, someone grabbed my hand and held on to stop me from continuing forward. I turned around, and there he was, smiling, expecting a friendly and jovial greeting; expecting me to be happy to see him, as I would have been even a few years ago. I’m not sure what has changed in me, but I knew that I could not continue that warmth with him while honouring myself here.
In grade school with P, we sang for a hour at the start of each day, sitting on the floor in a circle; we sang around the camp fire on class camping trips, and always, I would sing the harmonies. It was my thing, and he told me how much he appreciated my talent. And now, after all these years, I have been singing again, doing my harmonies around fires and in my choir. And so here I was at this harmony workshop, and here we met.
A smile lingered on my face. I was glowing with the spirit of the weekend and the place, dressed to the hilt in summer folk fest fashion — halter top, bold shell necklace, flowy, hip-hugging pants. More radiant and sensual than I have dressed in years. Aglow. And here, in this moment, was our meeting.
I felt that the smile and a brief moment of acknowledgement were all I could give him, and so, I let the moment linger for as long as I could; and then, without a word, I let go of his hand, turned and walked away to go and sit on the floor in the front and sing.
This was the moment that should have happened so many years ago. If, instead of engaging in a secret together, we had connected in a healthy student-teacher way, and I had run off to play with my classmates …
Did anyone see us, holding hands and smiling strangely at each other, in the middle of the jam-packed room of people all shuffling to move to the front. Was the weight of this fleeting moment, and its richness, visible at all, or hidden from all others, just like it had been all along. Yes, I couldn’t linger here any longer. Time to connect “above board” with a quick hello, a nod to the past, and then move on.
I then found myself once again, not alone, sitting there on the floor, for the rest of the workshop, with a friend at my back and by my side. The friend at my side looked at me with tears in her eyes, and said, in the middle of her own process with her marriage, “I’m caught up in the emotions; I’m overwhelmed.” A tear rolled down her cheek, and I replied, “And here you are, showing up in this moment, in whatever state you are in. And you are safe.” I put my hand on her knee, and we stayed that way for a few minutes, and she let her tears fall. And there I was, feeling like a rock, aglow, in the midst of the fire, dancing.
I didn’t tell anyone what had happened that morning for the rest of the festival; I didn’t feel the need. It happened and I flowed out of it with little notice.
That night was the artist I mentioned above, from the time of the abuse. I noticed P sitting a few rows over, slightly in front of me. And there we were again, listening to this artist, singing the songs from my childhood, even some children’s fairytale songs. I came and went with ease, allowing myself to be seen. He knew I was there, and I knew he was there, and it didn’t matter. Our secret had ended, and this was the first time it showed. We did not engage in it. We let it go.
I could feel my higher self there, watching with wonder and awe; not oblivious in any way to the beacons of our past and the synergy that was present in what was happening.
Residual feelings are there, yes. The memory of how much it hurt when I missed the opportunity to connect with him, be around him, be in our secret place together. It was like oxygen to that young girl, and when it was gone, it felt like dying. I remember. Also is the codependent concern that I have hurt his feelings by avoiding him, changing my stance towards him so drastically and without warning. I want to protect him from that hurt. And that is the old pattern, working its way out of my system. I remember. I feel it. I feel the sadness and the burden of it.
In Love and Healing.
How am I:
I’m either in crisis, incredibly scared and shaky and just barely staying out of the hospital right now OR I’m doing more wonderful than I’ve ever been. Coming to bloom in the garden of life. Experiencing enlightenment. A bright shining light of inspiration and wisdom. Enjoying summer and friends and my happy new home.
On Friday, I began the day by reaching out for help in the face of having been distracted by increasing thoughts of how to kill myself, feeling hopeless, that no one was ever going to get me. Coming up with a plan for how to stay alive over the weekend, alone in the house with my roommate gone. It was an accomplishment that this was taken seriously and I received the caring I needed in order to have a re-do.
That the doc was not treating me less seriously than the ones who act out instead of hold it all in. That I need to feel the depth of these feelings in someone else’s presence, and how hard that is. Finally, I felt got!
I went for a walk with a friend that afternoon, mentioned nothing to her of my morning or what was going on. Took her lead instead to speak about writing and indulge ourselves in simple time together in the sun by the river, feeling peaceful and content and having good conversation about creativity and healing. Feeding the creative muses in both of us.
I got home, thawed out some home-made chili from the freezer, ate it, and went to my ACA meeting.
As soon as I walked in the door, I was struck by the feeling of not knowing how I was – was I in crisis, or was I enjoying the fruits of my labour in life? I honestly did not know.
This confusion was (is) so terrifying for me that I went into shock. I felt the Dead Feeling in my body and face, barely able to rouse a facial expression, sitting slumped in my chair, unable to look at anyone. Managing to read aloud my part in the opening to the meeting, managing to function just barely enough to not disrupt the meeting or draw attention to myself, and meanwhile sliding further into shock and the Silent Panic.
By the end of the meeting, it was so intense that I reached out for help, and concluded with a close recovery friend that I should not spend the night alone, and should go to the hospital if I couldn’t get a hold of anyone else to stay with.
The recovery friend went back into the meeting room for the second part of the meeting, and I moved to my car with my cell phone to find a place to go that night. I finally cried and shook when she hugged me good night. I was really scared and not in control of myself – not myself, and feeling exposed in that state, unable to think clearly and make decisions.
I couldn’t get a hold of anyone on the phone, so I decided to show up at someone’s house. But it was near the hospital too, so maybe I should just go there. I turned around several times, driving back and forth between the person’s house and the hospital, eventually up to the hospital. But then I realized I was almost out of smokes, and didn’t want to spend the night in the emerg room without smokes. So I went home and continued my phone search. By this time, my abdomen was in pain, enough for me to be slightly doubled over and moving quite slowly. I equate this with emotional stress, as that is where it tends to be stored in my body. I spoke with a couple other recovery friends, telling them what was happening. But they were unable to put me up for the night. I had never reached out in this way before.
Finally found someone who could. As soon as I left the house, on my way to be with someone in my time of need, I felt calmer, and began to come out of the shock and panic.
By the next morning, I felt like myself again. I invited some people for a potluck, made soup, and went for a hike and a swim with the same friend as the previous day.
This friend had no idea that my visits with her had been sandwiched between near admission to the hospital.
Is this real yet? What will it take for my Child to believe that her pain is real, her feelings are real, her distress is valid. What has been happening to me?
Does this not sound insane?
It scares me that I have this range, and the capacity for such extremes.
Your leg’s not missing; you just need to think more positively.
Of course your leg is missing; everyone’s leg is missing, so buck up and suck it up, also like everyone else.
“I’m broken Dale” — that’s not a cry for pitty and love; it’s one of confusion.
It’s like having had a missing limb, and people continually telling you that it wasn’t missing. To a degree that created permanent confusion.
I’m constantly wanting to prove to you how broken I am, so that I can change my confusion around whether or not it is real. So you can say, “Yes! I see that!” Oh, what glorious words to me.
It’s soothing when circumstance brings the brokenness to show without my control, and in a way that is undeniable to others, in a way that confirms the missing limb, without any doubt or questioning.
There was a moment in our last session. I was telling you about the two ways I presented myself at the party, and when I spoke about the presentation of a successful career woman, you were saying that it’s not confusion, because I know that that presentation is not true – that I am not a successful career woman. You said that, looked at me, and added, “Right?”
I actually felt an enormous amount of relief when you said that. I was relieved that you weren’t saying “Yes you are; you will recover to being that. You will eventually be success that way. You are too talented not to eventually find your way back there. Don’t start selling yourself short in the world. Don’t underestimate yourself.”
I felt that you were admitting that aiming to be that may not be realistic with my injuries in this moment, but that I may get there in a much more unique and authentic way.
When I make the wound real, I can find the healthy loving response; if it’s not real, I can’t respond, and then that part of me is abandoned again. That part of me has had a lifetime of abandonment.
Two private therapy sessions ago, I sat on a beach by the ocean with my therapist and told him about a visceral memory from my abuse by the teacher.
The memory is one that I hadn’t had before, of a specific moment. It came to me while writing a ptsd inventory sheet in my ACA program. It is the moment the teacher first kissed me, after a long, full-body hug, and eye-to-eye contact, noses brushing. I was 10 years old, staying over at his house to get away from my parents, who had been arguing.
It’s the moment when my adrenaline system first became overwhelmed. My heart began racing immediately; I went into my room and began fantasizing, sexually for the first time. It was the start of my first crush — an obsessive infatuation that would see me waiting by the phone every day for his call, fantasizing wildly about sex on the beach with him, completely disregarding and abandoning my friends at school. My fantasies would involve him rescuing me in various ways, and then making love to me.
In the session, I sat in the sand and wriggled my toes in it, my legs stretched out in front of me. My therapist embodied the healthy, caring adult response to the scene I recalled. As it was a new memory, I had never spoken it aloud, or received this healthy, caring adult response. It felt like I regressed into my young girl self, which ended up lasting for several days. This was a re-do: An acting out of what should have happened so many years ago. I saw how different my life would be if I had been able to tell a caring adult about what had happened. If appropriate disciplinary action had happened at the school towards this teacher, if we had both received therapy out of even just this moment, not to mention all the inappropriate and damaging moments that happened in the coming year afterwards.
The feeling that lingered, from regressing into my young girl state, in the presence of a healthy and caring older man, was a feeling I described at the following session a couple of days ago as “tenderness”. We talked a lot about what this word means for me, in this context; and this post is a result of that conversation.
At the session, we got to the description of ’emotional intimacy and attunement’, and he began conjuring any memories I had of being touched, swathed, cooed and coddled as a baby and young child. “Being touched with the awareness on the part of the parental figure of how their touch was feeling for me.” These memories do not flow freely in me. Simply imagining myself being touched in this way, as perhaps during a diaper changing, are actually totally repulsive to me. My physical response is to want to writhe and coil up into a ball, shuddering inside my torso.
I cannot recall the experience of being touched by my Father. There are no memories of ordinary moments of touching, such as diaper changing or dressing, bathing, cuddling, etc. with my Father. With my Mother, I remember brash and bold movements, not so much sensitive to how her touch was felt by me — not tender.
I recalled showering with my Father, even up until age 9, but even then, there was no touching; by the time I was showering with him, I was old enough to get in and out of the shower by myself. I also recalled being in a hot tub with both my parents, at around age 12, completely naked, while eating pizza, at a hotel. He had me find a living example of a healthy loving adult, and imagine him or her wrapping me up in a towel, protecting me, and removing me from the situation.
At the end of the session, I had to voice the inner critic that was blasting me with shame and denial — “you are being ridiculous. This is ridiculous. You are making a big deal out of nothing. You are such a flake and a drama queen. You just want attention. Shame on you. He is bored and only humouring you with all these explorations, but sooner or later, he is going to abandon you, and you will be alone again. It’s time you stop belly aching and get over it. Others have had it a whole lot worse than you; you don’t deserve these sessions. You shouldn’t be here. He is laughing at you. You’re not bad enough or sick enough to deserve this.”
When I got home, I cleaned house mindlessly, in a bit of a trance state, as is the norm after these sessions. That night, I sat out on my balcony by the river and wrote. What emerged was an awareness of the part of me that is still not being seen or validated, and would rather die than continue without. A couple of different names have come to mind for this part: My Psychiatric Self, or The Watcher. I don’t know why yet, but this part of me is a He.
I wrote a list of all the things I have been missing and pulling out of lately. It is quite an extensive list — one thing after another. All the people I have had to let down in the last few weeks. I realized that this Psychiatric Self is being honoured in all these cancellations in a way he has been longing most of my life. That I am not emotionally / psychologically well enough to attend … is an accomplishment and an immense relief to him, in the fact that it is being witnessed. I am acknowledging his experience, letting it be seen and seeking the healthy response; and this is something that has never been done in my life.
Letting positive things show around certain others — including my therapist — BETRAYS him; yet, around others — particularly and especially work-related / professional contacts — the positives are all on display. It comes back to my experience of being split, containing two different selves that are in opposition to each other, incongruent. And I am feeling that dynamic very strongly in my present. My gifts and talents are coming out and being seen, but also being undercut by my Psychiatric Self wanting and needing to be seen, acknowledged and responded to in a healthy way.
There is a player in me, and so really there is always one act or the other at play, while the other feels betrayed. It is compulsive and completely out of my control at this point. It is insidious and slippery like an addiction. It creates a constant underlying pain, anxiety and fear of abandonment.
The Watcher is the one in between, experiencing this incongruence and contradictory experiences. The Watcher sees how much pain, instability, isolation and failure this opposition creates in all areas of my life. He says that if he has to continue to witness and experience this, he cannot bear it, and he would rather die. Someone needs to understand and reflect this reality in me. I need to know how to present myself. I can’t bear to continue living this extreme identity crisis. The habitat of the Watcher is so dark that I cannot go fully into feeling it all at once right now.
Finally, I also came back to the definition of tenderness we had been working on. I realized that it is more than just emotional intimacy and attunement. It’s not just intimacy, it’s love. Love, innocence, fondness, affection and caring from a healthy, male, adult figure. These are the things I felt on the beach with my therapist; these are the things I remember also feeling when I was with the teacher. A list of phrases this energy would speak came to me:
I’ll look after you. I’ll always love you and be there for you, no matter what happens.
I’ve got your back.
I think you’re a wonderful person.
I will defend, protect and empower you, and I will never ever leave your side.
I care for you and your well-being deeply, and I will be a guardian and protector of it.
It’s okay. I’ve got you. Let me hold you. It’s okay. I’m here for you. I’m here for you.
I’m not sure how this all relates or doesn’t relate. I’m not sure where it’s all going, but I will speak it out, write it out. Follow it to find the gems that can heal me.
A new era has begun in my life, with a move from the place I moved into 2 months ago, to a place that is … well, it’s a little piece of heaven, with a fellow recovery woman.
It’s on a river. The sound of the river permeates the entire property and house. My room is on the 2nd floor, with my own private balcony. The house has several skylights, wood floors and trim throughout.
The property has several gardening areas for vegetables and flowers, grassy nooks with chairs, fruit trees, and a gazebo on the river. There is also a workshop and an art studio.
Both my roommate and I feel that this is a place that wants to be a vessel for healing. It wants to provide a safe, affordable and soul-nourishing haven for people who need it, in order to do our work, the work of the soul and spirit. The rent is super cheap, and the location is a few minutes walking to down town. We want to host healing circles and various healing modalities here.
My arrival here happened suddenly, removing me from the danger inherent in living alone. I had been isolating and not eating, in and out of various states of dissociation and paralyzation. A friend of mine asked me why i was remaining in this harmful situation. I realized I had not made it real in my mind that it was a harmful situation. I was still holding on, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t happening, that really, I was fine; I was just thinking I wasn’t. When the landlords there gave notice they were returning to the Valley, this new place emerged. After my friend asked me why I was staying, I checked out moving earlier, and was given the green light. I moved the next day.
The previous roommate here was a beautiful, bright, gay man who was the keeper of the space and property, loved gardening, home repairs and landscaping. He also lived with OCD and Bipolar Disorder. He chose to leave this world by suicide last month. As he had promised to his friends, he waited until he was happy for several months before leaving. He sorted his things and arranged for them to be dispersed, cleaned the house, made soup for the woman who is now my rooommate. Everyone knew that his leaving was imminent, and when he was all set up to facilitate his departure, he emailed my roommate, who was out of town at the time. It took him two consecutive attempts to leave.
His body was found in his room. He died a happy, loving and giving spirit; at peace in his surroundings and with his friends in this life. His passing has brought me here, and so I write this as an offering of gratitude and appreciation. I feel his presence, and that he is a kindred spirit. I regret that I did not get to know him while he was still here.
For Carl. For all your journeys, sorrows, joys, achievements, struggles, and losses. And for all the great love you gave to this world. May you be in peace in the afterlife. May your spirit soar on, always and forever free.