Monday, September 16, 2013

You's and We's

We've got teenage girls going sideways all over the place here in the Casa de Vanci.  Sometimes the ride is so fast and steep that I feel like I should be popping dramamine.  Mostly it's what I would consider 'normal' teenage drama.  Some of it's long delayed reaction to abuse stuff.  Some of it I can't even quantify yet.

We're dealing.  We're coping.  We're working through it and we're talking, talking, talking (so much that I find myself fantasizing about afternoons spent in quiet libraries and silent museums.)  I know that the talking is what's keeping our various heads above water, and that keeping communication channels open is the best thing in the whole wide world for helping these young ladies to find their paths out of the different issues they're mired in, but lordy is it tiring.

Tonight I had an in depth conversation with one of the DD's, and we made a lot of progress.  Many words were used.  Many tissues were used.  Many issues were brought to light.  Good, we're developing a plan.  This is good.

In reflecting on the conversation after the fact, I had one of those weird connections to my own youth in the form of opposites regarding the language that I use with my children as opposed to the language that was used with me by the Abusers when I was a child (and adolescent.)

I say:
"We're going to figure this out."
"We're going to find a way to make this work."
"We're going to keep thinking about this and talking about this until we can come up with a plan."
"We're going to find a way to help."
"We're going to be okay."
"We're going to reestablish the trust that was lost."
"We're going to keep trying."
"We'll always be here for you."
"We'll always love you for exactly who you are."

They said:
"You're not doing it right."
"You're making bad choices."
"You're being selfish."
"You're not carrying your weight."
"You've messed this up for all of us."
"You're hurting us by being _______ (insert Vanci's current state of being here.)"
"Look at what you're putting us through."
"You're being vindictive."
"You've always been difficult."

It's interesting to me that the Abusers of my NFOO spend so much time and energy making sure that everyone in their lives knows that Family Is Important To Them.  They should wear sandwich boards for all the ruckus they make about it.  "We're a Happy Family!" they'd declare, or "Look at How Perfect We Are!" Of course, it's all sham, a con game, a ruse, a false front.  But it's very important to them that people who aren't in their family know how very family-centric they are.

It was particularly important when ENF was still slamming the holy book into those pulpits on Sunday, while NM pounded out all the hymns about forgiveness on the piano.  The sham was at Von Trapp Family levels at that point in time.  We could have had a freeking production team.

What a lot of wasted energy.

But when I was young and hurting (who doesn't?  Hormones suck.  School often sucks.  Other kids and teenagers are MEAN!  A lot of teachers (no offense intended, mulderfan,) are deeply unhappy people looking to exert control over those 'lesser' than them in order to feel better about their own shortcomings, and that truly sucks for those under their pretense of power, throw a lifetime of abuse in there and you've got one hurtin' unit of a teenager!) when I was fragile and vulnerable and self conscious, well, there was never any of that energy put into helping me to feel like I was a part of a family.  They never told me that we'd work through it.
They told me that they were sure I'd figure out a way.
Or, they'd say you've made your own bed, missy.
Maybe you should hit your knees.
I don't understand why you make things so difficult for yourself.

They never spoke to me in the inclusive, we're all in this together, we're all pulling for you, we're going to work it out and we love you, love you, love you language that is my natural way of conversing with my daughters.  I know why they didn't speak to me this way - because none of that support existed, yet another abuse they perpetrated.  When the goal is to get as much out of you as they can and to make themselves feel/look/sound/act/be perceived as "good," regardless of what it does to you, well, I was never more than a supporting role, a day player, maybe the chick who pulls the curtain open or moves the sets around between acts.  I wasn't invited into the Union.

I'm struck, though, that this is one more area where they didn't and never will get a piece of me.  I grew up with the Family Finger of Blame pointed permanently at my forehead.  My daughters are growing up with the constant input that they're part of, included in, supported by and accepted as wonderful by this little family unit around them. That they'll always have a home in our hearts and our heads and our home.  That they are never, ever, ever alone and that we will always be just that: We.

When I do speak to them in direct address; You, it sounds like this:
"You are so special/smart/kind/beautiful."
"You are so loved."
"You are so funny."
"You can always come to me."
"You are wonderful, exactly the way that you are."

I'm so glad that I can see this for what it is; one more piece of the legacy of abuse that I was handed that I've chosen not to pass on.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

For the Jonsies

(Those of you who follow me know that I've been out of the blogland loop for awhile.  I've been trying to reacquaint myself over the last few days, and I've been doing a lot of reading. Over at Jonsi's blog, she posted a month ago that she won't be blogging for awhile.  Although I'm very delinquent in my response, I have to write it. It has to be said.)

So, this one's for Jonsi and all the Jonsies of our world.  Those kind, loving and brave, brave, brave souls who reach out, care for, love and hold on to we grown children of abuse.  I identify here as an ACoN, Adult Child of Narcissists because it's an easy little acronym to type.  But what I really was when I started trying to crawl out of the hell that my 'parents' caged me in could be described in so many more words.

If you've ever read or seen the last Harry Potter book/movie, I wonder if you identified as I did with the last piece of Voldemort's soul - that horrifyingly maimed and disgusting infant-like creature on the edge of death that Harry and Dumbledore find in the King's Cross train station of the last act?  That's what I felt like when I crawled down into the cannon that would slingshot me out of the Crazymaker Clan.  I was convinced that I didn't deserve happiness, peace, serenity - that the sky would come crashing down around me ears and that I would be to blame.  I was convinced that I was worthless.  I felt worthless.  I looked worthless.

There was no help for me, as far as I was concerned.  I knew that I wanted out because it was so, so, so painful, but I was pretty sure that I would never feel... good again.  I was willing to settle for a lack of pain, but I thought that was a best case scenario.

These feelings of worthlessness and all their attendant horrors; these are what my allegedly loving, supposedly close, practically perfect in every way (except for that pesky Vanci who refuses to stay in line) family had spent my entire lifetime teaching me to feel.  This is what they wanted me to feel.  A well trained in willing victim; that's what they made me.

People often ask me how.  How?  How did I get away?  How is it even possible?  (And those cynical souls among us, who often soon enough reveal themselves to be Minions to Narcs or themselves Undercover Narcs, this is where they always ask, "Well, if you were able to remove yourself from it, could it really have been that bad?")  Some people, normies themselves or other children of Abuse who are looking for a roadmap out, though, they really want to know.

The answer to that is complicated and highly individualized for each of us, I think.  Some of us don't really even have an answer.  That's okay.  As we say in AA, it doesn't matter how you get here - it matters THAT you get here.  For me, though, a big part of my answer is this:

I had someone who convinced me to let him love me.

My DH doesn't blog.  He doesn't type, Facebook, email.  After 14 years, I've finally gotten him to text.  He can google search when absolutely necessary, but that's it.  Which is fine, we all have our strengths.  But it's meant that he's not out in this blogland with me, reading your posts and giving me perspective on them.

But Jonsi's been here since before I got here, and that, my friend, has been a huge help in my journey.  Seeing a non-ACoN's reaction to some of the things that we've talked about, reading the absolute certainty with which you've been able to drill straight through to the core issue of the problem that most of us out here share - that are parent(s) abused us!  Well, Jonsi, let's just say that if you and my DH met, you'd find that you're two peas in a normal person pod.

For me, when I got out of crazyland, and as I've stayed out it's been vital to my growth, to my healing to know that even when the deeply-implanted-in-my-head voice of the Narcs, the Abusers, the Minions starts its constant loop of putting me down, telling me I'm worthless and unlovable, I can turn to the other voice that's there: the person and people who love me.  My DH.  The Jonsi's.  Even when I knew, absolutely knew that it was impossible for me to be loved, for me to be lovable, DH, like Jonsi (and I'm sure others have different people in their lives like them, at least I hope so,) these are the people who did their damnest to convince me otherwise.  To show me that I was good enough.  Even that I deserved love.

So, to Jonsi and all the others out there who love people like me, thank you.  From the bottom of my formerly shriveled and now-full heart, thank you for being you.  Thank you for fighting for me when I wasn't able to, and for telling me that I had an absolute right to defend myself.  Thank you for re-teaching me what love really is.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shame is a Weapon

Hola, cyberfriends.
It's been a bit, please forgive my absence; life gets busy.  There's been a lot shakin' in Vanciland; mostly good, some bad and some indifferent but shakin' nonetheless.  I hope to get time to post about recent events, but it might have to wait a bit.
The Sun's been tracking lower in the sky, though, and the days have been getting shorter so I can see the hibernation (and therefore time to write,) season peeking around the corner.  I hope you're all happy, healthy and free of fear.

I've been reminded lately about shame.
How it festers, where it's hatched, what nourishes it and how it destroys.
You know about shame, too, right?

If you have a Abuser in your life - past or present - you know about shame.
I had a whole bushel of Abusers in my life.  Hell, Abusers were my life for most of it.  I know about shame.

I've carried it, eaten it, drunk it, watched it, heard it, felt it, slept with it, split a piece of bacon with it.  (Shame took the larger piece, too, the greedy bitch.)
I've also shaken it off, buried it, turned a blind eye to it, ignored it, acted it out and - at times - beaten it.

But I think it's one of those feelings, one of those gifts from the Abusers, that's... well, it's sticky.  Hard to walk away from.  It follows me, damn it.  And sometimes I inadvertently pick it back up and carry it around with me for awhile.  Shame is a shadow.  Always just there... right in the corner of my sight... but I can't quite grasp it.

I know where it came from.  It was given to me.  The Nparents always were shitty gift-givers; I'm not surprised that this was one of their most generous and graciously given gifts.  They sewed it into the very essence of my being early on, like infancy, and they made sure it stuck with me.

They used shame throughout my childhood - when I was abused, whether it was physical, mental, emotional, verbal, sexual, they knew they could get away with it.  They knew I wouldn't tell.  Of course I wasn't going to tell, and here's how they made sure of it - they made me believe that it was my fault.  If I told, wouldn't I really just be telling whomever I told that I was bad, I was wrong?  Furthermore, they made me believed that all the bad feelings I had, all of the pain and hurt that they caused me - that I deserved it.

This continued to work when I was an adolescent, but not as well.  I revolted, I told.  I felt momentary freedom.  But I was outgunned, because they responded with increased shame, monumental amounts of shame.  They used it to break me so thoroughly that it was actually easier for me to lie, to recant, to swallow my hurt and pride and future and protect my Abusers than it would have been to stand by what I'd told and continue to live (with them, under pressure, in the special hell that they created for me.)  They made their dirty, nasty, stinking rotten treatment of me my fault yet again, and they made me pay for ever telling in the first place.  They made me pay for years.  And eventually they worked me back around to believing what they told me - that I deserved the shame that they intentionally made me feel.

So, I did the only thing within my power to do.  I hurt the only person that I was allowed to hurt.

My self destructive behavior was on a Titan scale.  I almost didn't make it.  So they blamed me for that too.  As recently as three years ago, in my very last meeting with my Abusive Mother and Abusive, sick, twisted fuck of a pervert Father (and my counselor,) Abusive Mother threw out that I was "such a difficult teenager."  Ha fucking ha.  Who wouldn't be, carrying around all that shame?  But she was still trying to make it my fault, my burden, my cross to carry well into my thirties.

I pulled out of my death spiral when I had my oldest daughter, as much as I could anyway.
I think back to the amount of responsibility that rested squarely on my shoulders when I was eighteen years old, and I can't even fathom how I took even a single step toward wellness.  And were they there to help me?  In some ways, yes.  I had no idea at the time just how costly their 'help' would be.  I stumbled along the best I could, though, and I just kept trying to move forward.  One. Painful. Step. At. A. Time.

I'll never forget how hard my Abusive Mother worked to get me to marry my first husband.  He didn't even propose to me - she simply hijacked a conversation one day and asked him when we were going to get married.  She pressed until he threw out a date.  He of the crack pipe, who would leave me with bruises and scars of all kinds, with debts and with fatherless children.  He was my Abusive Mother's choice for me.  She even made me feel ashamed that I hadn't been with him for a while before (when he'd broken up with me,) and used to talk to any other guy who showed interest in me - some of them actually nice - about this other guy who was the 'love of my life.'  At 18.  Who fucking has a love of their life at 18?  Isn't every one of them the love of your life at 18?  What kind of mother does that?  But she shamed me into getting back together with him, and then she shamed us both into getting married.

When it went bad, as it was bound to do, she blamed me for staying with him.  She discounted the fact that I live in a joint custody state, and that if I'd filed for divorce at the time, he would have automatically been granted half-time with my girls.  It took ten months for him to finally be caught by the police - aggravated assault against me, which I testified against him for, which he then spent four years in prison for - and then, and only then would the state grant me sole custody.  But that wasn't good enough, I hadn't left soon enough, I wasn't good enough, according to dear old Abusive Mother.  (Note that this was also the time frame that I needed the most help.  I've found out now that this was also the time frame in which my daughters were being abused by my dear old Abusive Dad, and dear old Abusive Mother knew about it and covered it up.)
When I did leave, when I finally got it worked out, Abusive Mother had a heyday with trying to make me feel ashamed for the way that I raised my kids.  They'd help, sure, on their terms.  Never when I needed it most.  And then I was made to feel guilty, awful, shamed for not spending enough time with my children.  Here was my schedule for a year and half:
6 am - work first job.  Work second job.  Change diapers.  Feed the kids dinner (none for me, though, I didn't have enough money for that.) Put them to bed.  Go BACK to work at third job.  Home at 2 am.  Sleep until 4- 4:30.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  I made about, oh, $13,000 per year.
But according to Abusive Mother, I was making 'bad parenting choices.'
Choices?  What fucking choices?

When I finally found a full time job, when I (out of the blue) met a decent guy who wanted me and wanted to be a part of my daughters' lives, according to Abusive Mother, I was being selfish.  I wasn't putting my children first.  And when decent guy stuck by me, when he adopted my daughters, when we bought our first house, when I was promoted at work... when I was successful, Abusive Mother said nothing.  Abusive Father showed up and asked to borrow money, or my truck.  The money wasn't usually repaid.  The truck was always returned with the gas gauge on E.

When I spent all of my time ignoring that decent guy (I'll never know why he stuck it out the way he did, but I'm grateful,) and allowing the bad influences of the Abusers to affect my daughters, I was supposed to be ashamed then too.  Because I had at least some happiness in my life, or at least I thought I did.  And they didn't like that at all.  I'll never forget the day before my wedding to decent guy (who actually proposed to me, who then spent the next six years telling me that my family was awful to me,) and I was at the Clan Compound trying to get things ready.  Abusive Mother said, at one point when I was trying to dig through my check register and find the last couple of necessary dollars to pull off the wedding, "Gee, Vanci, I wish we had something to give you!  It just always seems like when it comes to you there's nothing left!"
NSis had been married the year before, an event that I took a full week off of work to help pull off and that my Nparents sent me to her house with a $2,000 check to give her for wedding expenses.  Why send me with that check when they were en route the following day?  Shame, methinks.

And when I finally took a stand, Abusive Father said to me, "I just want you to know that I will NEVER forget the way that you have hurt us all, but I'm going to work on forgiving you."
At least at that point I was able to reply, "I'm not looking for your forgiveness.  Forgiveness is only necessary when a person has done something wrong, which I haven't."

Shame is a weapon.  Shame kills.

So, how to counteract it?
I know of only one way.
Tell the truth, always.
Tell it loudly and stick by it.
Drag the dirty secrets out into the light, kicking and screaming, and blast them with the brightest sun you can stand.
Ever notice how you don't have a shadow at noon?

And now, they've popped back up again.  They think they'll be able to use their Weapons of Shame to sway the DD's to their 'side.'  I'm ready, you abusive fucks.  Bring it on.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

That Which Shall Not Be Named - Still Exists

I adore some of the people who make up the family that I married into.  Others I try to find ways to understand and, lacking that, I meditate on words like: compassion.  Kindness.  Tolerance.  Acceptance.

I haven't written about them here much because this is the place that I write about how I was abused by my family of origin and my struggles to overcome that particular Homer-esque Epic of Trauma.  Simply put, my in-laws haven't been abusive to me; in fact my SIL and BIL have never been anything but supportive of me.  They're some of the people in my life who stood by me through thick and thin - even when they hadn't a clue what was causing my pain or what the holy hell was going on, they picked up the phone and they listened and talked and expressed to me six different ways from Sunday that they loved me.  They were proud of me.  They had my back, baby.

DH and I have traveled many roads together, some of the uphill all the way until you get to the washed out bridge variety and some that have been delightful scenic routes to beautiful places.  He's taught me how to allow myself to be loved in the skin that I'm in in so many different ways, and I've shown him how to crack open the shell of fear that he sometimes retreats to in order to let the sunshine in.

I've never particularly understood my mother- and father-in-law, but I've cared for them and they've cared for me in their own (extremely private) way.  We have very, very little in common as far as our beliefs, our life experiences, how we choose to spend our time, what we enjoy.  We eat differently and at different times. I like spices and fresh produce and food that has unique flavor.  They put ketchup on tacos and mayonnaise on... well, everything else.  They enjoy being 'country.'  I decidedly do not, to the point that I've been known to ask people who refer to a creek as a crick to show me, damn it, show me where that pronunciation exists in a dictionary.  They're crazy cat people (seriously, six cats is a ridiculous number of cats to have,) and I am firmly a one-dog person.  You get the picture.

We've found our vibe of co-existence over the years, though, and it's been mostly comfortable for me.

After all, with my background of family=abuse and mother/father/sister/brother=psychopaths, the in-laws have seemed largely normal to me.

Except for this thing, this giant elephant that stuck its trunk inquisitively into my living room a few years ago and has been slowly inching its mass further and further into the spotlight sense then...

My mother-in-law lies.  If I detailed it all, we'd be here all night, but here's a breakdown of some of the more egregious offenses:
She decided I was Mormon before DH and I got married.  Twelve years later, I still have no idea how she manufactured this; I had two children and was divorced, had lived out of wedlock with her son for almost two years, smoked like a chimney, swore like a sailor and drank like a fish, claimed zero religious affiliation though my father was a Southern Baptist minister (very much NOT Mormon, possibly even ANTI-Mormon as So. Baptists are pretty much ANTI-anything that's not So. Baptist,) and my wedding dress - which she'd seen - barely, just barely covered my ass.  During one particularly energetic dance, it actually didn't cover my ass.  I, however, was drunk enough not to care.  The centerpiece of our wedding reception was a fully stocked champagne fountain.  We got married in our backyard and went to Vegas for our honeymoon.  Really, I would have been the worst Mormon ever.  Ever.
But instead of being forthright, instead of actually asking, instead of developing a relationship, she - without ever asking either DH or myself - decided that I was Mormon (a bad thing in their family,) and called all of the extended relatives to tell them this.

I remember thinking, "Oh... kay."
DH was furious, but I let it go because, hey, I loved the guy.  He loved me.  I had enough issues with my own mother, right?

There have been lots of other "Oh... kay" moments over the years.  Stories that didn't add up the first time she told them, much less as they morphed over time in the (repeated) re-tellings.  Alleged facts of her or other people's live that are thrown out in conversation as attention getting tactics, but don't really add up.  (She barely graduated high school while preggers with my DH, and has never worked outside of her home other than to volunteer at the seriously bass-ackwards and ineffectual "christian" school that she forced her children to attend, is barely literate and has never pursued academic or intellectual enrichment, yet she has begun claiming that she, "retired from teaching.")  Oh... kay.

When my FIL had a major and debilitating stroke, they both insisted for years that it had just been a 'baby stroke.'  No matter how many times I showed them and told them that by definition a 'mini-stroke' or TIA is a stroke that causes no long term effects, they insisted that FIL hadn't had a major stroke.  Even when the man had to attend physical therapy to learn how to use his non-dominant left hand to write with and to pick up such tricks as how to sit on his right hand to control the involuntary muscle movements enough to not backhand the person sitting next to him, they still insisted that he'd only had a 'little stroke.'  Oh... kay.

She claimed that the water test she had done on our well when we moved into this house was fine and clear of bacteria, yet after our disastrous incident with our well poisoning, when we got our fifth water test back showing that the contamination had returned... again, I asked her to show me a copy of that initial water test. I wish I could say that I was shocked when I saw that it said, right there in black and white, that our well water was contaminated (and therefore we had been drinking contaminated water for four fucking years,) but I really wasn't all that shocked.

What did shock me was the height of the wall of denial that she was willing to stand behind in order to be proven right.  Her response?  "I don't know what to tell you.  The water's always been fine for us!"  Oh... kay.

So, in the last week, we've all been dealing with some illness on my father-in-law's part.  He's had medical issues that have gone largely untreated by the non-involved and apathetic doctors that they insist on seeing (cause that's always been fine for us!) and he had another event last week.

I was the first person to say the word (stroke! stroke! stroke! stroke! STROKE goddamnit!) this time just like I was the first person to say it out loud the first time he was in the hospital for that alleged 'minor event' that wiped out all functionality on one side of his body.  And it got me thinking.

I grew up in this vortex of illusion and deceit wherein it was dictated that as long as we didn't name the Big Bad Thing, as long as no one found out about the Big Bad Thing, as long as we didn't acknowledge the Big Bad Thing, then either the Big Bad Thing didn't really exist or the Big Bad Thing was really just an Honest Mistake.  I distinctly remember my molesting ENF teaching the girl scout class on how a girl should tell, tell, tell a trusted adult if another adult touched her 'private parts.'   So, yeah, start with two parts abuse, add one part crazy and a dash or denial of reality, let cook for 30 years then watch the ACON dry out and run screaming for dear life from the NFOO Crazymaker Clan jello mold.  (Then watch the NFOO blame the Scapegoat ACON for all of it in the first place.)

My only way out of that hell was to get honest, real honest, and how.
And I learned that naming the Big Bad Thing and shouting about the Big Bad Thing from rooftops was not only the way to take away its power, but also to cleanse it, to remove the shame and fear and humiliation and fear from it and reduce it from the (Powerful) Big Bad (Secretive) Thing to the thing we're going to deal with.  To make it a part of life, and maybe not the most comfortable part of life, but a part of life that can be dealt with, categorized, taken care of, moved on from and possibly even prevented from reappearing in the future.

So now, the past, present and future medical issues of my FIL are coming out into the open.  Something will have to be done.  Something will have to be named.  Confronted.  Taken care of.  Dealt with.

And my MIL and FIL are so, so, so, so terrified of that, so frozen in the clutches of denial, struggling so hard to not see it for what it is, so willing to lie to themselves and everyone around them in order to deny the existence of the problem that they are risking my FIL's life in order to do so by not seeking immediate testing, diagnosis, treatment, solutions.  I'm super proud of my DH and SIL for spearheading this drive to name the darkness, though they're scared as fuck, too.  They're choosing not to hide from it or to make up stories to deflect reality or hide behind denial like they were taught to do, and I couldn't be happier for them.

Still.  Sigh.
What a cluster fuck.

This blog is about my deciding to carry the rocks that have my name on them.  I'm in the middle of the process of determining which rocks in this pile are mine to carry and of deciding which grindstone to throw the considerable weight of my support and will to.  It's going to take a lot of strength and thought.
It's going to take a lot of honesty.

I guess I'll just spend some time thanking my allegedly Mormon gawd that I've got honesty in spades.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Living Well

I've been out of the blogland loop for a while, and I miss it.  I miss all of you.  I miss posting because I miss the craft of it - this has been my primary writing vehicle during the last year, and I certainly miss the act of expression.  Mostly, though, I miss your stories and following you each on your arcs through them.

I do have a good reason, though, one that I'm sure you can understand.  Life's just been too good, folks, too full of such incredible adventures and heart-warming moments lately for me to have any time to stop by or to knock on your doors.

Have you ever watched a disaster movie or read a post-apocalyptic novel?  They all have some elements in common: the Event, (the disaster, the near end of the world as we know it, the catalyst,) closely followed by some form of Monumental Struggle for the survivors, (of varying length and quality, no doubt, but this period of scraping for continued existence is crucial, otherwise these stories would be short, gruesome and very unpopular,) and then there's a Rebuilding Period, (when societies of some sort are reformed, rules are re-established and we are made to understand who the good guys an bad guys will be,) followed by the Rebirth of the continuation of human existence, (where we learn that the good guys will find a way to build it better, stronger, even if a few of them have to die to do it,) and then there is the Great Peace.  The End.  Until the next time.

That last part, the final scene of episode I, that's where I've been lately, and let me just say that it's been fine.   In the movies or the books, the visual would involve a softly setting sun, a flower pushing up through the ashes and opening its petals, waves lapping at the beach, new loves clasping hands and holding precious children.

In my life in the past few months, it's involved relationships, relationships, relationships and all of the attendant reward of joy, love, excitement.  We've had a family vacation, several college visits, financial gain, accolades, good grades, happy outings, happy stay-inings, Spring weather, plans for a new garden and I even had a lovely birthday surrounded by people who I love and who love me and with no expectations of anything else being required.  It's been normal and sweet and kind and fun.

Six years after my NFOO Event, and after having gone through unthinkable pain to crawl back out of the crater, having broken the chains that  bound me, after slogging through scorched earth for miles upon miles, having weathered epic storms and fought raging battles, I've reached the shore of my Great Peace.  It is full of the kind of relationships that my ties to the NFOO kept me from having.  It's heaven.

I recently had an interesting conversation with my counselor, who's been with the FOC in various incarnations through all of this and was one of the primary voices of reason in the beginning of the struggle to reclaim my shattered internal landscape.  We only see him once a month now, and in fact he's actually seeing my youngest DD only as she likes to know that he's available to her if she needs to talk, though she's rapidly losing interest as her life improves with both distance from the Crazymakers and the course of her maturity.  So I guess he's sort of on retainer more than anything else.

I always talk to him alone for 10-15 minutes at the beginning of her session, just to keep him current on the facts of our lives.  Lately there hasn't been anything worrying to say, but I had explained to him an issue that DD was having and what she and I had talked about so that he would know some of the backstory if she chose to bring it up.  We'd basically already developed a resolution together and she was feeling pretty good about it at that point.

He said, "Vanci, a lot of people who have grown up in abusive homes grow up and have children and they try very hard to do better for their children, to treat their children better than they were treated and that's a good thing, that's progress.  You have done that and you've taken it further.  You've learned how to treat your children with respect and how to have actual relationships with them as the actual human beings that they are and that is what has stopped the cycle of abuse for all of you."

This was a key moment for me.
It strikes me that this is a key understanding to not only stopping continued abuse, but to making sure that abuse never starts in the first place.  Respect for children as human beings seems like such a simple concept, but every Narc and Abuser chooses to disregard this basic human right.  But now I don't, and my children don't either.

That cycle being shut down, shuttered, lit on fire, broken, buried, melted and GONE, that's been the point.  And that's what I've taken with me.
The NFOO worked forever to beat me, break me, hurt me, and they were exquisitely successful in doing just that for a long time - to the point that I almost, almost sacrificed even my children to their altar of insanity.

But I didn't.  And I came back, and I repaired all the damage I could find, not with some half-ass patch up job either.  Over and over again I've gone back to the source of the pain in order to suck out all of the poison, even when it's meant that I had to cut away some of the living flesh in order to do so.

And the reward?  For me, it's been that I've become able to truly love truly loving people.
The gravy on top?  I've almost finished raising two daughters - born into the Crazymaker Clan - who are so self-assured, so smart, so present and so loved that it would be unthinkable to them to allow the fucktards of the NFOO or their non-family counterparts to treat them like I was treated for years.

Oldest DD said to me a couple of weeks ago when we happened to see one of the NFOO members from a distance and I asked, "Are you okay?" - "Oh hell yeah, Mom, why wouldn't I be?  I don't need psycho people like that or their drama in my life.  They're not my responsibility."

Living well, it seems, is truly the best revenge.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Kindness of A Stranger

Yesterday would have been the 85th birthday of one of my heroes, Mr. Fred Rogers.
I loved his television show, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, from a very early age, so much so that the thought of it now brings tears to my eyes.  Remembering that a television character - though an iconic one, still a stranger to me - was one of the kindest influences in my world... that's just heartbreaking.

Mister Rogers told millions of children, including me, this: "I like you just the way you are."
He said it over and over again.  He told me that it was okay to be me.  He showed me that there were hurtful things and people that happened in the sometimes scary world, but that I was okay and that I would be okay and that I was important.  He convinced me with his sweater and his sneakers and his consistency in feeding the fish that there were gentle, kind, caring people in the world... somewhere, even if there weren't any in my house.

I think back now and I realize that this man's influence on my early life was profound.  The dysfunction that the Nparents created was so total that my life until school was a vortex of isolation.  Even after I began to attend school, frequent moves and constant uprooting didn't allow me to establish any true connections outside of the Clan.  But Mister Rogers, man, he could get in.  PBS was a constant in every place we lived, thank goodness, and I remember the joy of finding out when I would be able to see Mister Rogers again after every move, at least until around the first grade.

That's about the time when the Nsiblings - possibly with the help of the Nparents, certainly without the Nparents stopping them - began to heap ridicule on me for loving Mister Rogers' show so much.  GCYB was pretty young still, but even a four year old will join in on calling his older sister a baby if everyone else thinks it's funny.

Wow, you know, you really have to work to hurt a child like they hurt me.  I didn't want anything from them, I didn't even ask for any of their time.  I just wanted to be left alone long enough to hear a stranger in a cardigan tell me that I was valuable, that I was wanted, that he loved having me for a neighbor.  I sat there by myself, cross legged on the shag carpet, holding my rag doll and talking to her like I would to a real friend, listening to a stranger telling me that I was likable, filling me up just a smidgen with the idea that I was loved.  I just wanted to get on that trolley that would take me to the magical land of make believe and go live in the damn tree with King Friday and Queen Sara.

So I sit here and type this with tears streaming down my face as I think of that lost, lonely, hurting little girl that I was, and I mourn for all the abuses, all the pain, all that years of struggle that I know she's going to have to face in order to get out, get away, get better, to make her stand and to walk away from the monsters.  I wish that Mister Rogers could reach through the screen and give her a hug, or that I could instead.  I've read about Mr. Rogers' life, and I know that this feeling of love and safety is what he was intending to pass on to children.  And he did pass that on to me.

As sad as it is that my frame of reference means that one of the kindest people I knew in my formative years was a television character, I'm also so happy to have had even those bread crumbs of kindness, gentle acceptance, love.

I held onto them over the years, you see.  I used them to find my way home.  I pass them on every day, to my daughters, to other people in my life - adults and children alike.  Mister Rogers said,
"The greatest gift you give is the gift of your honest self."

And that is one of the greatest lessons of my life, despite the monstrous efforts of the vile abusers of my NFOO.  I am my honest self, which just so happens to be a pretty decent self after all.
I bet you would like to have a neighbor just like me.
Mister Rogers gets more credit for my goodness, my kindness, my generosity, my compassion, my empathy and my love of my neighbors than anyone else from my childhood.   He's certainly more deserving.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Overcoming Trauma

I'm a pattern seeker.  I always have been.  My brain has always been wired for puzzles, and they've consequently always been fun and relatively easy for me.  My upbringing fine-tuned my ability to pick up clues to patterns as well, creating that intuitive sense that all survivors of abuse and trauma seem to develop on some level, just in order to see the crazy train bearing down the tracks at us.  Seeing patterns intuitively is partly based in the ability to anticipate, I think, which is also grounded in sensitive observation skills.

In a childhood world where a slammed door means something far, far greater (and often more ominous,) than a gusting wind, we learn to pick up supersonic behavioral clues and subtle hints about the direction of the atmosphere.  I see how this has translated into my adult life; I'm always on the hunt for answers, usually before a question has even been posed.  In moderation, this serves me well, as I can often see a pattern - whether of data or behavior - forming long before my peers or colleagues see it.

Lately, I've noticed a pattern in the conversations that I'm having with the people around me - from my daughters to my bosses, from newcomers to my alcoholism recovery support groups to the distant coworker that I recently sat next to on the plane, from friends of friends to co-workers grabbing a coffee in the break room.  Everyone's asking me this on some level,

"What's the secret to overcoming trauma?"

Dalai Lama, Yoda-type I ain't.
But I know a little something about how to move on from pain.

So here it is, straight from me to you, the best trick I know to overcome trauma...

It takes ACTION.

Unfortunately, the first action that anyone has to take in order to overcome trauma, I believe, is to face the trauma.  I'm not a big fan of pop-psych ways to do this.  I believe that I would bodily harm anyone who tried to wrap me in a warm and fuzzy blanket to simulate the womb.  I don't think that setting the stage to re-live a trauma is necessary, but it does have to be remembered, acknowledged, brought forth into the light.

It's ugly, it's painful, it's shameful, it's embarrassing and it goes against our very natures, but I believe that this action of exposure has to happen.  How, after all, can one overcome something that is fuzzy around the edges?  How can I overcome fear if I'm not entirely sure what it is that I'm afraid of.

I used to think that I was afraid of the dark.
It was a vague, faceless, anonymous fear.
I looked at it and I thought about it and I wrote down specifics and I touched it and I danced with it and I examined it and analyzed it.
Guess what?  I'm not afraid of the dark.
I'm afraid of the abuse that happened to me in the dark.
What's the antidote to that fear?  Well, there's a whole list of ways that I can keep myself safe from that very specific fear, starting (and often ending too,) with this:  don't allow the people who abused me in the dark into my life, house or head.  And if that doesn't work?  Turn on a night-light, know my surroundings and the people in it, have a plan (turning on the light in the room I'm entering before I turn off the light in the room I just left,) and a contingency plan (flashlight on the nightstand,) and I could go on and on and on.

I can take action to at best banish, at worst delay that fear.  Either way, I'm progressing - taking action.

I used to spend a lot of time reading self-help books.  Some of them were pretty good, especially the ones that made me stop my ingrained thought cycle and attempt to re-think it.  I can't honestly say that I learned anything I didn't already know, but the process of attempting to seek self-improvement DID get me out of my own thinking long enough to look at myself and my behavior from a different angle.  And that is an action.

Maybe I don't know how to act or react.  Maybe my training as an abused child and as a scapegoat prevented me from learning how to handle myself, sure.  Survivors of trauma often don't know how they should move on, we just know that we don't want the pain that we've already had anymore. But I always have a baseline, and that ground zero is this: I know definitively how NOT to act.  I know what causes pain to others and to myself, so I know what I don't want.

Holding on to that negative has been a crux of action that I've returned to over and over again; "Well, I won't do that," has been the jumping off point for me so many times of trying... well, anything BUT that.  I've gone full pendulum swing to the opposite ends of the earth before in an attempt to get my emotional bearings in the world post-abuser, and I've tried everything on the spectrum in between.  Sometimes it's worked and sometimes not, but I've learned more and more about how to act and react appropriately (and non-abusively,) every single time.   So that, too, has been action.

So I've taken the actions to identify the trauma, I've taken the action to rethink the trauma and how it affects my life today, and I've taken the action to determine how I will avoid the trauma in the future and how I will act differently.  Doing this over and over and over again has helped me to face, overcome and move on from trauma.

Lastly, and this is my favorite action, I make it a point to attempt to do something good every single day.  I find at least one moment each and every day in which I can take some action that pleases me, or that I can enjoy, or that makes me smile or laugh - often this involves kindness and humor to another living soul.  This is an annuity based action.  I get a moment of pleasure today, AND I've just set myself up for success down the road.  Six months from now, when I have that moment of relived trauma that pops up out of nowhere and attempts to side-swipe me, I will also have a well of good moments to draw from to counterbalance that painful memory.  I create good future memories every day partly so that I will have them in the future when I need them -but mostly because it feels good to do good.

When the memory of NM telling me that I'm the most selfish person on the face of the planet surfaces and attempts to derail me, I'm going to remember, too, that I just gave a homeless veteran every single cash money bill in my wallet, and that when he looked at me like he was going to cry and said, "How can I repay you?" my honest, authentic and sincere answer to him was, "You already have sir, thank you for your service."  Is that the action of a selfish person?  I think not.  But it is action.

These are all great tools, and I can honestly say that these principles are some of the main reasons that I'm still ambulatory and have made it through so much trauma with my sanity - relatively - intact.

But the greatest action I've taken and that I continue to take in order to overcome trauma is this:
I stay the fuck away from the people and places that cause me trauma in the first place.