Intensity versus Intimacy

I discovered the Sherlock BBC series early in my recovery (see clip if interested). When I was first diagnosed, the stress part of PTSD had manifested in my neck. The old adage of someone being a ‘pain in the neck’ or ‘it made all the hair on the back of my neck stand up’ took on new meaning. I now know, from personal experience, that extreme distress does weird and painful things to your neck. The muscles were so tight that doing my job at a computer was difficult. I could manage sitting upright on the couch, surrounded by pillows, watching TV. Which is where I spent most of my time in the beginning stages of recovery.

One of my favorite finds was the Sherlock series. I loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s emotional detachment and the extreme analytical mind of the Sherlock Holmes character he played.  And I could relate, too, to every single bit of it–to Sherlocks investigative powers and seeming ‘sixth sense’, to Watson’s displacement, to the victims of the crimes, and to others who were taken aback and didn’t know if Sherlock was mad, or a genius, or both. I was completely hooked in the first episode when Watson, a soldier with PTSD, went to his therapist after doing some detective work with Sherlock for the first time. His visible tremor had disappeared and his therapist said she believes he wasn’t actually suffering from any after effects of the wartime. Rather, she surmised that he missed it (the intensity of wartime) and that is why he was symptomatic.

That scene really stuck with me.

Fast forward a few years and I am well aware, from books and other research I’ve done, that incest and sexual assault survivors often have tell-tale signs of past abuse. They tend to be very sensitive to smells, for instance. They also tend to love and devour mystery novels and detective shows.

Indeed.

The internet is full of articles like ’10 signs you were molested as a child’. I received so much silence and denial from my abusers, after I owned the truth of my childhood, that I needed something to latch onto. Whenever I’d start to doubt myself I would look up another one of those ‘lists’ and realize that I had EVERY SINGLE ADULT TRAIT of someone who had been sexually abused as a child. My mind would calm down again. I wasn’t crazy. It had really happened. This was my story. I couldn’t deny it anymore even if everyone else involved WAS denying it.

And so here I am, years later, still trying to figure out how to NOT live in denial. When does the crazy feeling in your brain go away? Hmm. I think it would instantly go away if one of my abusers (or ALL of them) came to me in true apology and owned it. But, I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime I am just trying to break the emotional and mental bondage (to my abusers) and to uproot the abusive mind-sets that I still fall into.

To help me in that effort, I am reading The Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes.  (I wrote about it yesterday). And, as with many other helpful things I’ve read and experienced, I’m seeing how all the other things I’ve read, watched, or experienced stack up to form an overall explanation of why I am…the way that I am. Particularly the section of Carnes’ book which talks about using intensity in the place of intimacy.

Yikes. That is so me.

I loved that BBC Sherlock show because it was intense. I, too, love intensity. And I often mistake intensity for intimacy. Intensity was part of the cycle of abuse I grew up in.

There is an old song by Garth Brooks called ‘two of a kind’. that can get stuck in my head for days, especially the line ‘sometimes we fight…just so we can make up’. That line has always resonated with me. Now I know WHY.

Like many other incest survivors, I sometimes manifest conflict with those closest to me. I am subconsciously trying to re-create the drama that was my childhood, and trying, in vain, to resolve that past conflict through present relationships. I manufacture tension. I start out by withholding. Then I go from zero to one hundred in a few seconds and unleash the fury of abandonment and neglect unto those who are not abandoning me or neglecting me. I see things that are NOT there. And then I just want it to go away again. I want to passionately make up and forget it ever happened… ‘Sometimes we fight….just so we can make up‘. It is the making up, which never–ever–happened in my childhood. It is THAT which I am craving. Conflict resolution. Restoration. Things being made right again. Making up

All of this is a longing for true intimacy.

All that ever happened to me as a child was intensity on top of intensity. I didn’t even know what I was missing; just that SOMETHING was missing. Therefore I began to VIEW the intensity as intimacy…And then we get to make up and it’s oh so good again. Except I’m the only one who doesn’t tire of this lashing out routine. My BHH is exhausted and very angry that I am still doing it.

I don’t want this intensity any more, though. I want it to stop. I want to be like Caroline Ingalls who never raised her voice and always spoke with smiles.

The problem is, when my neck gets tight and I have to spend a few days on the couch again: I would much rather watch Sherlock than Little House on the Prairie.

The book Educated & Breaking My Upbringing

books school stacked closed

Two of my therapists suggested daily meditation to heal my brain. Both therapists also suggested Yoga (as did my family doctor). I smiled and nodded and ignored the advice. Later I vented to my BHH: I don’t want to exchange one brainwashing for another brainwashing! I want to break my upbringing not repeat it!

Yoga, to me, is a bit like tattoos. People get really into it and then like to show off their ‘newest ones’, often times on Facebook. Meanwhile I had a foam mat and soy milk in the fridge before FaceBook existed. I would contort my body in a ‘new one’ and immediately holler, “come, quick, come and look!” to my children and husband. I would even bow and say namaste to others, who didn’t know what the heck I was talking about, (which only fueled my ego more).

The practice did not do much for me physically, other than make me walk around taller because I believed I was ‘all that’.

After I got sick (PTSD/Anxiety), the physical therapist who helped me unthaw my anxious-neck, (and who also works closely with my family doctor), warned me not to do Yoga. She lowered her eyes and whispered, “It is not safe for a lot of people, and if they push themselves, or have poor supervision, it can be dangerous. I wish he (my doctor) would quit telling so many people to do it.”

I was glad that at least one professional I was seeing was affirming what I’d already decided was not ‘for me’. Shortly before I got so sick, the ministers I was listening to on youtube (to try and undo all the religious abuse I’d endured) all warned me about yoga being a possible doorway to demons. Through them I learned what namaste actually means (the divine/god in me recognizes/honors the divine/god in you). Turns out I was the idiot tossing around a phrase that I had no idea of the meaning. As a child, when someone was acting full of themselves, we used to say, ‘Wow, who do you think you are–God!?’ So it was for me. In my early thirties, I had all of my life ‘figured out’ (or so I thought), one might even say I was acting like I was God. I mean, some of my favorite lingo was…calling myself god… so there’s that.

After I crashed, burned, and could barely leave my house from social anxiety, I knew certain things wouldn’t work for me, no matter if every expert on the planet says it’s the go-to-thing for healing PTSD and Anxiety (and most do).

Meditation gave me pause because I was a huge daydreamer as a child; to escape. (And, again, I knew I needed to break the upbringing; not continue it.) So I sought out benign activities that would calm my central nervous system without reverting to childhood brain numbing tactics.

I’d always enjoyed nature and watching birds. So one of my changes (and fill-ins for daily ‘meditation’ time) was to become a seed-toting, birdbath warmer in the winter, crazy bird lady. If you feed and water them; they will not disappoint you. Now I simply walk by the window, and I am immediately drawn in, letting my brain get fixed by the jays fighting over the peanuts. It brings me complete pleasure and peace, without having to think about anything, beyond whether or not the feeders need refilling.

All that birdwatching transfers to nature watching in general.  When I travel anywhere, my mind is immediately soothed from sunsets. Snow. Rain. Clouds. Trees. Birds. Butterflies. Even examining the unique plant in the corner of my accountant’s office can calm me now.

There was one survival tactic from childhood which was beneficial to me: I was a voracious reader. I believe that reading so much planted the seed to break away from my abusers. So, as I’ve written about prior, I started to read again after I got sick. Seriously read–for enjoyment as well as for learning purposes– all of which is very healing for me.

The book Educated by Tara Westover is everywhere right now. At my local Barnes and Noble, there are copies around every corner and across many genres. I’m glad I had already read it prior to my last trip to B & N, otherwise I might have thought it was being completely overhyped. (I sometimes intentionally avoid highly marketed offerings.)

BUT. It is worth the hype. Seriously. Best book I’ve read in years.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. For me, I found it incredibly helpful in viewing my own past, and my own journey out of a damaging upbringing. Presently, I am aware of the lingering trauma bonds from my family of origin. Such strong bonds make this time of year (holidays) hard. Seeing the author’s ties to abusive and neglectful family members–her willingness to return ‘again and again’ to her family home, (at least one poignant ‘return’ occurred at Christmas time), and my desire (as the reader) to scream through the pages “STOP! QUIT GOING BACK! DON’T GET INTO THAT VEHICLE WITH YOUR INSANE, ABUSIVE BROTHER AGAIN!” gave me serious pause.

What would another person reading MY story say to me? Likely they’d be screaming silently too: “Your life is so good now; you have every right to ignore and walk away from the people who did that to you! Don’t screw it up by going back into relationship! And, for God’s sake, don’t let yourself get physically near to any people who have once physically abused you, you are crazy to do that!”

It is so obvious when separation NEEDS TO HAPPEN in another’s life. Not so clear in my own…but as a result of reading such a poignant memoir of a neglectful and abusive upbringing– something in me was just…severed… it was getting ready to happen, but some major movement inside of my heart definitely DID happen after reading Westover’s book Educated. For that, I am so thankful.

There is tremendous value in sharing our stories; letting other people see ‘themselves’ in the things we share.

The hearers/readers are able to choose their own form of healing, knowing what has and has not worked for them in their own past. It’s best when there is no strict ‘formula’, or method that someone else is suggesting. Let the reader figure it out. Likely their mind already knows the way out. It just needs some nourishment to get there.

It’s a lot like putting seed in a bird feeder. The landscape changes for the better when someone is willing to put food out. No thinking required. Just sit back and enjoy your brain being fixed.

Life is editing and rewriting. It is not NaNoWriMo.

person typing on typewriter

November has me pondering the similarities between my recovery/therapy process (aka my desire to lead a Christian life) and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Creating new content is fun. It’s also deceptive. I might hit the save button and think I’ve just done something truly genius. Then I read it a second time. Or I show it to my BHH and he asks for a ‘cone of safety’ before giving me his honest thoughts. I take another look and smack my head. It is hardly original…and why so many run-on sentences? What’s up, with, all, the, commas?

This verse from Ecclesiastes gives me comfort at that point. I’m just another grain of sand amongst millions; others have already thought of everything there is to think.

Relax. Let it go. Enjoy the process. Do it anyway. Just because you can.

I write and create fairly naturally, without thinking about it all that much–because words are trapped in my chest. If I don’t release them, like an exhaled breath, I will die.

But it is the editing and re-writing process that both intrigues, and frustrates me, the most.

Editing, like following Jesus, is examining what you really are, after the fact. When the moment of inspiration has past, the excitement fades, and our eyes adjust to the sudden bright light of reality; voila– we can see the errors. ALL. The. Errors. Similar to when prophets and apostles had direct encounters with the impossibly bright light of God. They were undone. They saw how much they fell short. They begged to be allowed to live after the encounter.

Book jackets and amazon suggestions compare writers to other writers, hoping to gain their readership by default. In life, though, Christians must make our comparison with God Himself, to whom none can compare and all fall short. After that, it is about trusting, on faith, that He has you covered through the shed blood of Jesus. 

You repent. Then try to relax in that love and enter that rest. BUT. You also chisel away at the stuff that, on a second examination, you regretted. It takes knowledge of words, characterization and grammar to write. Just like it takes knowledge and familiarity with the Bible, to rework your life into that of a sincere Christian.

Here comes the editor, and it isn’t YOU. Turning fresh work in to an editor always made me sweat. Worse than going to the doctor or the dentist. I wanted to send Moses in my place, to the mountain of impossible light (aka my editor’s email), just like the Israelites did in the wilderness when they were afraid to get too close to God. What are they going to see that is wrong with me–this time? Seeing your word document come back to you with red slashes or comments like ‘clean this up’ ‘this is a disconnect’, and ‘what are you actually trying to say here’? Is not fun. I am often undone by the bright light. Then, when I recover, the real work begins. And it is work, at that point.

In the beginning of therapy I wanted to NaNoWriMo my way through in a few weeks. I thought I could have a finished product with a month or so of work and commitment. I thought my therapist would travel to God’s mountain for me, or at the very least with me.

I can hear some of you, who have been in recovery for years, laughing right now. I am laughing as well, at how naive I was back then.

And so therapy, and more importantly:  my walk with Jesus, has taught me to be more cautious of the creation process…I am training my brain to take thoughts captive before they can start messing with my central nervous system (sending out stress hormones and physical symptoms of anxiety).

I ask myself more questions than I did prior. Do I really want to put that thought, or that gripe, or that idea into the world right now? Do I really want to say yes to what this person is asking of me? Am I really in agreement with what is being put forth here? Is this feeling something that I need to work on myself before I share it with anyone else?

Going slow, in creating the content of your own heart and mind, can lessen ugly re-reads and harsh edits.

Furthermore, a therapist is simply an editor of your content.

He or she is not God. It is tempting to give a therapist entirely too much control over your decisions about your self. There were some times in past writing pursuits where I disagreed with an editor. “But I put that there intentionally to make a point”. “This detail is part of the character I am developing in the protagonist.”

When an editor and writer don’t agree; the writer is supposed to have more sway since the writer is the creator, the one seeing the big picture.

Likewise, I have realized that I cannot let a therapist actually write, or re-write, my life for me. A therapist can polish, point out what needs work. But I know that it was God who created my story, and it was He who entrusted me to write, and re-write, it.

I walk toward that mountain, with its flashes of bright light and thundering clouds, alone.

 

 

When people make fun of me (update)

ancient antique armor armour

Well I had a chance to return to the same coffee shop where this happened.

The day I was mocked, I was only charged one dollar for a bottle of Smart water. Smart water is $2.50 at that coffee shop. The cheap, no-name, waters were the ones that were only a buck.

I had thought it was a cheap price for a Smart water that first day, but with all the other processes going on (in my head), I didn’t question it.

When I went back a second time and asked for a Smart water, I nearly laughed out loud when I was told the correct price.

Oh, the irony! God really does even things out; even when we don’t immediately see it.

 

When People Make Fun of Me. (Thoughts on Shame & Justification.)

espresso machine with white mugs

I purchased a bottle of water at a coffee shop while traveling out of state and the barista seemed a little bit cheeky. But I didn’t think too much of it. We all have bad days and I had just asked a few questions that a local would not have asked. I was the only person in line at the time so at least I was not holding up other customers.

When the transaction was over she turned (ridiculously fast) and went behind the walled partition. Perhaps she assumed I had walked back out of the store. Maybe she knew I was still standing right there.  Either way I heard her laughing loudly, about dumb little me. Not regular laughing.

Devil-laughing.

I then heard exactly what she had thought of me, as she related it to her coworkers.

Then I heard them laughing.

Devil-laughing.

It wasn’t pleasant. I slowly walked out of the store and then walked aimlessly around a nearby bookstore trying to sort out my feelings.

It was hard.

But it wasn’t the debilitating, shame filled, knock-me-down-for-days experience it would have been in the past.

Their devil-laughing didn’t remind me of my uncle’s devil-laughing, while tormenting my cousin and I, or my high school classmates devil-laughing while sexually-harassing me in the computer lab.

So that moment in the coffee shop was a first for me. Prior to that any kind of mocking laughter triggered flashbacks. Except I didn’t know they were flashbacks. It was just a tightening of the ever-present-tension. A feeling that I was in extreme danger. A feeling that it would be best if I just disappeared for good. And I spiraled into a rage-filled, self-loathing, tormented creature who had no idea what had just happened to her except that everyone else was surely to blame. So I lashed out at my husband and kids until they also ran off in fear and anger.

I couldn’t even have relayed such an episode to anyone close to me, not until weeks had passed and my cheeks didn’t flare up in fresh, raw memory.

This time was different. I told a friend all about it an hour later. “You’ll never believe what happened to me, it was the worst!”

Right after it happened there was a flash of self-righteous-indignation. Anger. How-dare-she? What-the-…. just happened here?

I consider those responses to be normal human reactions to being mocked. That’s what made me so excited. I was actually having normal human reactions to someone mocking me.

My friend suggested I do like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Buy big shopping bags of bottled water and return to the store, walk in with my nose in the air, and say, “Remember me? You made fun of me yesterday! Big Mistake.” (hold up the heavy shopping bags) “See this–all bottled water in here! Big Mistake!” and turn on my heels and run out. We laughed. I was tempted but I also knew she wasn’t serious.

Justification is just another shade of shame, in my thought. I don’t need to justify myself.

I can still remember each and every moment of my childhood and adult life where I was bullied, taunted or mocked. I know what it is to feel shame, and to feel shamed. Not the helpful kind of shame which leads to repentance. The kind of shame which ties you up and leaves you stuck in mire before God and others.

I have now reframed the biggie episodes of shame. And the others fell away like dominos (as my therapist suggested they might). I walked straight into it and slayed it back to hell where it belonged.

Shame does not have the power it once had to harm me. I knew it would be a choice to feel shame, and it was not a choice I wanted to make and so I simply placed her attempt to shame me right back on that barista’s own head.

With that frame of mind I was able to clearly think it through. God reminded me of all the times I had laughed at a clueless customer behind my own business’ counter. Yikes. Had I caused another to feel shame? Had I also devil-laughed at others?

I was reminded of a couple of scriptures as well.

God responded to the prophet Jeremiah with: If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

As an evangelist, I better get used to being mocked. The thickets by the Jordan are getting closer and closer for me now. Being made fun of is part of the calling. And enduring it well results in a reward.

Meanwhile, Ecclesiastes records the following wisdom: Do not pay attention to every word people say about you or you may overhear your servant (barista???) cursing you.

And so I hope to return to the coffee shop someday. With no ill-will, with enough money for a tip in my pocket and a smile on my face and good natured-ness in my heart. I hope to look that barista in the eye as I buy another bottle of water and thank her and bless her; somehow.

And it will not be a cheeky thank you.

I will mean it.

If my doing so heaps burning coals upon her head, that is between her and God.

I will say thank you because she helped me turn a very big corner.

And I happen to really like the street I am on right now.

 

Being Salty. (aka: feeling some anger in the journey to forgiveness).

closeup photo of gray cat

The tea kettle whistled obnoxiously on the stove as clouds of steam dotted the microwave with droplets of water. Her hands fluttered as she spoke, nearly shouting over the noise. She grabbed a basket of teabags from a cupboard shelf, brought it back to the table and told me to choose whatever I’d like. Brown hair fell over a cheek as a shaky hand tucked it behind her ear. She kept right on shouting as she walked back to the stove and finally took the whistling kettle from the burner. She poured sloshing hot water into two mugs on a tray. I was afraid her jerky movements might splash and burn but I remained silent, watching and listening as she verbally and physically released one strong emotion after another, under the pretense of preparing tea.

She had just moved into the neighborhood and had offered me an invite to her home the week prior. I supposed I ought to be cautious, as I didn’t even know this person.

But I was too mesmerized by the sudden display.

In my childhood, when people expressed strong emotion it was scary. It could escalate quickly into physical attacks. My mother used to say, ‘Don’t say anything about (x, y, or z) or it will make your father (brother, uncle, aunt, teacher, pastor) mad.’ The spoken, and unspoken rules, were clear. Expressing yourself was always bad. We were to don masks, as my mother had. A mask of calm and acceptance; no matter what happened. Don’t show fear. Don’t show sadness. Don’t feel a thing. Smile and laugh if you can, especially around church folk. If you can’t smile, just don’t let anyone else know you are upset. It isn’t safe.

So as I watched this stranger prepare tea, I took note of her contorting face. I saw the open emotions in her jaw and forehead and lips. She was breaking all the rules I’d learned. Ordinarily that would make me want to crack a joke to get things back to a safe zone.

But I already felt I was in a safe zone. In large part because I loved her home. It was tidy but not obsessively clean. Her decor, in the rooms I’d seen, generated a feeling of peace and calm. Bible verses were noticeable here and there. Paintings of trees and landscapes were skillfully placed.

Her whistling litany continued as she carried our mugs of hot water to the kitchen table.

“One lady from church actually told me at the funeral, ‘aren’t you just so glad, at times like this, to know the sovereign grace of God?’  no!  No! NO! I am not glad for the sovereignty of God that took my child away from me. Don’t tell me to be happy about that until YOU have buried a child yourself!”

I hid my gum in a Kleenex (she kept a box in every room and on the many visits which would follow that first day, we both used them a lot). I gently took my mug of tea from the tray. I had two thoughts in response to her display of emotion. I thought: this woman is salty. And: I like it.

“I’m sorry. Am I sharing too much? I make people uncomfortable.  They don’t want to get this personal this quickly.” She interrupted my thoughts.

I smiled, “Oh no. I think you are salty. And I like it.”

She wasn’t sure she liked that adjective and she let me know it! I wanted to laugh again and say, ‘you just proved how salty you are!’ but I could tell she was also feeling a bit insecure so I shared, instead, “Salty is good!! Like the Bible–we are the salt of the earth. To me it simply means you are being entirely truthful. Honest. REAL. What would food be without salt? YUK! How bland! You are spicing up my life. And I appreciate it. That woman who said that to you was out of line. She needs someone to sting her with a dash of salt!!”

My whistling-tea friend moved away a few years ago. Except for an occasional phone call, we rarely linger over tea anymore.

But I was talking to another salty friend over mugs of tea this week, about the anger that can be a part of the grieving process, about how expressions of strong emotions are needed before you can really move into acceptance of the loss. And I was reminded of this moment, when a woman I’d just met showed me her grieving heart, making anger into something beautiful and intriguing rather than something to run from.

There are so many unspoken rules, particularly amongst Christians, about how strong emotions are bad; expressing them openly–even worse. Open up in the usual church setting–about your anger or grief over an injustice or a loss, and you are likely to hear some version of: ‘I really hope you can come to forgive that’. Forgiveness is needed; yes. But even God gets angry for a time, (according to the psalm which assures us weeping must occur; if there is to be joy in the morning.). Many times I suspect we hear that ‘forgive’ platitude because it is part of the unspoken rule I grew up with–keep quiet, don the mask, and look the part on the outside.  Otherwise you make the rest of us feel uncomfortable…

But in my own journey I have learned that sitting in some discomfort is a key part of the healing process. Discomfort needs to be faced, not ignored. Emotions need to be felt and released, in a safe way, or true acceptance and forgiveness can’t happen. One only need to read the psalms of David to see how he worked through things. He was angry, sad, lost, grieving–some psalms are so honest they can make us uncomfortable. But, always, David returns to his praise for God–likely because after owning up to all those emotions, he was able to return to the proper view of God as savior, protector…Father.

That day in my friends kitchen began to spark the strong feelings I had buried about my child abuse. Looking back, I can clearly see God’s hand in many such moments.

Granted, it probably isn’t a good idea to go off like a teakettle around just anyone and everyone (particularly not on live TV or social media). But cultivating safe spaces and friendships, journaling, talking openly with God (as David did), are important.

Ultimately I hope to have the kind of kitchen that makes that kind of thing acceptable, and I want to be the kind of friend that lets others steam up their own kitchens now and then, too.

Songs, Psalms, George Jones & Sister Sinead (O’Connor)

The buried truth was so strong and it needed air so badly that it was music which snuck behind all my defenses and fed it.

silver colored microphone
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Each morning I (try to) read the daily Oswald Chambers devotion, which is a classic Christian devotion book and is also found online (utmost.org). This year my BHH (better half of my heart) and I both decided to (try to) read through the Bible in a year, by using the reading plan found at the bottom of the utmost.org daily devotion. Having it online and laid out so concisely makes it easier to (try to) stay devoted.

In accordance to that plan, I’ve been reading through The Book of Psalms since July 11th. And today, again, September 3rd, there were more: Psalm 140-142. I knew that psalms had to do with singing/songs/worship. But I hadn’t known how long it would take to read through The Book of Psalms on a reading plan, or how doing so might affect me. I am starting to understand how big of a role music plays in our relationship with God, and in healing the brokenness of that relationship.

If you have been following along, here, you will see that I reference songs often. I even wrote one. Well, it was like a song, anyway. I think reading Psalms each morning has had a lot to do with this focus.

My BHH is a Country Music fan. The old school stuff. Not necessarily the newer artists (although he finds some he likes there too). George Jones. Johnny Cash. Kris Kristofferson. When we first met I was leery of his taste in music. My peer group at the time liked  80’s rock music. Skid Row. White Snake. Def Leppard.

Still stuck in an abusive home at the time; I didn’t know how to have my own likes and dislikes. I liked what my friends liked, thinking that would make them like me. After quickly falling in love, I switched loyalties and started to like the style of music my BHH (boyfriend at the time) liked.

Things changed as I aged. I started deciding on some things for myself. Like music. Hairstyles. Clothing choices. And how I wanted to worship God.

Then I got sick from PTSD and things changed further. Crawling back out of that hole was nearly impossible. Being told by therapists that I was choosing to feel anxious ticked me off further. Who would CHOOSE this? When I am flared, in fight or flight, I do not feel like I have those (choices). It feels like everything is just happening on its own and like my life is completely out of my own control.

“You are choosing to feel shame.”

“You are choosing to get angry.”

“You are choosing not to trust your husband.”

These were things I heard in therapy. I wanted to scream back, “Well where was my choice when I was molested by so many family members?”

But I also wanted to be able to go to the grocery store by myself again; without sitting in the car beforehand in a panic.

And so I listened to my therapists and started changing the way I was thinking. What choice did I have at that point? Not many.

In time I saw the truth in what they were saying. I started to listen, and put it into action. My mind was filled with a back and forth between my therapists voice: You are choosing to feel shame. You are choosing to get angry. That was compounded by the melancholy twain of George Jones lamenting, “I’m living and dying with the choices I made.” (My BHH loves the George Jones song, choices, and so that song has played on repeat in my head during my recovery.)

Sigh. OK. I get it. I make my own choices. But that’s scary, as I was never allowed that as a child; when most people learn how to do that for themselves in the safety of a loving environment. And I’m still mad about what happened to me.

Then things started to click. And change.

I ‘got’ why I had been drawn to certain songs in my years of outright denial of past abuse. They spoke to my inner angst.

The song Amen by Kid Rock was one that I used to listen to over and over; volume on high. That was years before I ‘owned’ that I was a victim of clergy sexual abuse. The lines ‘wolves in sheep clothes pastors’ and ‘I’m scared to send my children to church‘ sent oxygen to the fire, which needed to rage, inside of me. I kept trying to put that fire out and do the expected things with my life.

But the buried truth was so strong and it needed air so badly that it was music which snuck behind all my defenses and fed it.

Now I don’t feel as much connection to the song Amen by Kid Rock. Because he uses God’s name in vain. At the time, it felt good to let myself vicariously blast out anger by using God’s name too. It doesn’t anymore. It’s the opposite for me these days. Other songs still mean a lot to me though.

Kris Kristofferson put out an album a few years back that I ended up outright stealing from my BHH’s stack of beloved cd’s.  I would spend hours listening to the song Sister Sinead. The song is in reference to the infamous moment when Sinead O’Connor ripped up the picture of the pope (on live TV).

“…She told them her truth just as hard as she could..her message profoundly was misunderstood…and humans responded all over the world, condemning that bald-headed, brave little girl.”

“Maybe she’s crazy and maybe she ain’t. But so was Picasso and so were the saints.”

I related to that song on such a deep level. Hearing Sinead O’Connor share recently about her own childhood abuse breaks my heart and I pray that she is finding healing for her own past traumas.

After I opened up about being a victim of sexual abuse (and that one abuser was ordained church clergy), I understood why I had always connected with the Sister Sinead song. The song honors the rage of an artist. An artist who was brave enough to stand on a stage and speak out against sexual abuse of children; in a church setting. Long before the big movements have made such things a bit easier.

Just like you can flip the Bible open and will likely land on a psalm (song)…if you flipped open my life, you would see that music and words and lyrics, of many stripes and styles, is also right there in the middle of my journey… of making choices; and choosing truth.

**In case the BHH reads this one: I can’t write a post mentioning Old School Country Music without a shout out to The Hag (Merle Haggard–RIP).