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.

The Compulsive Woman (a book review)

woman in pink white floral apron smiling while holding a white creme food during daytime

I found a used hardcover book which intrigued me so much it ended up in my bi-weekly bag-of-thrift-store-books: The Compulsive Woman by Sandra Simpson LeSourd, published in 1987. The book no longer had a jacket/cover so I had no idea of its genre. But when I read the title I actually laughed out loud. And then I got a case of the giggles and said aloud: Man oh man do I need this book. I felt myself being looked at funny, over the racks of donated sweaters on the other side of the thrift shop. Whoops. I said that kinda loud, so I smiled gamely and went back to perusing titles…thankfully the other book nuts at the shelves were too engrossed themselves and didn’t hear me.

Since I am also a ‘compulsive woman’, who throws used books into shopping baskets with abandonment, I knew the book would be worth the quarter it cost me.

Turns out it is a Christian self-help book; not that surprising since the thrift store I found it in is a Christian based outreach and often has donated Christian books. However, this is not the usual Christian self-help book. It includes a biography of the author’s life–a completely honest and transparent story that doesn’t sugar coat anything she went through. And what a story it is! It was pleasurable to read through, as it read like an autobiography (interspersed with some solid self-help charts, quizzes and resource pages), I broke my own rule and read it in the evening (usually I read fiction and lighter things a few hours before bed. Keep self-help books, which are heavier reading, for daylight hours).

That was last week. I have since ordered and received a used copy of her follow-up, entitled ‘The Not So Compulsive Woman’. What I have read so far of the second book is also easy to read and very helpful for me. Here is the thing which resonated the most, for me, from The Compulsive Woman:

  • Compulsive people will move from one addiction to another if they don’t root down and address the core pain (usually from childhood trauma or dysfunction) which caused them to choose compulsions-as-coping-mechanisms in the first place.

The author was addicted to many things-alcohol, food, cigarettes, TV watching, shopping and at one point she also joined a cult. Whenever one addiction was overcome, it just segued into another. She was using her own willpower to change, rather than admitting defeat and gaining insight into her past and her own personality. After she gave up smoking she replaced that with a chocolate addiction which had her compulsively baking brownies in the middle of the night. She shares about it on page 121:

I had thought willpower was the answer–if only I were strong enough. I know now why that was a typical, erroneous, thought of a compulsive person: “Willpower as a pure act,” writes Dr. Theodore Rubin in The Winner’s Notebook, “invariably comes from compulsive drives and contracts and further contributes to compulsion. there is no real self involved in an attempt to overwhelm a disastrous situation by an act of ‘strength’ alone. It just doesn’t work. Insight, on the other hand, involves real knowing of self and real self-involvement on the deepest level.”

What are compulsive drives and contracts? It sounded a lot like making inner vows to me, which I wrote about yesterday.

Again, this idea that we just move from one compulsion to another…and ‘switch addictions’ is an ongoing theme of the book, and it has also been something I’ve touched on a lot in my own therapy/recovery process.

Which is why I included a couple of posts on this subject before I write anymore posts about My Anxiety Diet. It is important not to just switch compulsions, making more contracts or inner vows with ourselves only fuels overall compulsion, when making any major lifestyle changes.

Real change comes from insight, from knowing ourselves, from being gentle with ourselves. And for me, that insight and knowing and acceptance of myself can only come through Jesus. He died on the cross in order to save me from…ME. If He can save a wretch like me, then everyone who admits their sins and calls on Him for salvation can also be saved.

Do you know Him? Does He know you?

I am praying for my readers and I hope that you will pray for me as well. Pray that God continues to give me insights into myself so that I do not fall into the compulsive traps of more ‘self-will’ rather than insightful surrender to the true Healer, and true restorer of balance, health, and life.

Shalom <><

 

 

 

Reading for healing, The Lovely Bones, and why I can’t stand being watched.

books on bookshelves
Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

(*Trigger warning: this post talks about childhood sexual abuse and voyeurism in particular).

At the height of my PTSD my doctor recommended a therapist that he felt would match my personality and belief system.

The therapist he referred me to had a statue of Shiva on her office bookshelf. A Mandela printed on silk between the two windows. A wooden labyrinth sat on the corner of her desk. She told me it was a shame that Yoga was so much about health and fitness now, as learning the spirituality and practice of mindfulness of traditional Yoga would really help me heal from my PTSD.

When I got into the waiting vehicle afterward I gave this breakdown to my BHH:

*For some reason I am often identified as New Age-ish, hence my Doctor sent me to a New Age therapist.

*Either God has a sense of humor or else He thinks I’m stronger than I think I am.

*And I hope I’m not making a mistake, but I plan to go back. I believe she will help me and I also sense that God wants me there.

My BHH laughed and didn’t seem concerned.  Said something along the lines of: “I have a feeling she is going to learn as much from you as you do from her. ” Had he been concerned, I might have looked for another therapist.

After she suggested Yoga in my initial consult, I told her that doing a Hindu practice wasn’t going to work for me anyway. Because I am a wholly devoted Jesus-freak who takes it all so seriously I don’t even fit in with most Christian churches.

I shared that my PTSD started after my adult baptism by immersion wherein I renounced my protestant baby-sprinkling. And that I think that I had some sort of mental break after that baptism, a break in my spirit which God actually wanted to happen. I had concluded that God wanted me to quit denying and actually deal with my child abuse. But, now, well, now I’m stuck in this anxious-all-day-and-night-can’t-go-anywhere-alone-anymore hell. And I need help with that. She just nodded. Asked me to explain more of my issues with churches and what exactly my child abuse had been. She wrote a lot of notes on her clipboard as I spoke. When I finished she narrowed her eyes and said, “Some of us outgrow our religion at some point. Most people do not though. I am really proud of you for being aware of that component.”

I wasn’t sure if she had understood what I’d just said or if she was thinking I was eventually going to lay down my born-again baptismal status and hang crytsals on my bookshelves. But I didn’t care. I was growing used to being misunderstood; especially my faith. It was just nice to have someone living and breathing giving me that much attention. My friends didn’t know what to do with me, and weren’t comfortable hearing about my crippling anxiety or my recent need to talk about my childhood abuses. In that first appointment my new therapist also asked me if I liked to read. I smiled, causing my too-taut face muscles to twitch uncontrollably, “Oh yes. Love to.”

“What kind of books?” She wondered.

At that point I’d been feasting on self-help books for anxiety disorder, sexual abuse recovery, Christian apologetics, prophetic and discernment titles. Most of those were gleaned from little known independent authors or publishing houses which sometimes didn’t even sell their work on amazon. And lots and lots of blogs and websites, all the time. I was constantly reading something.

“Have you ever read fiction?”

I nodded. “In my younger years I loved it.”

“Well, getting lost in a novel can do the same thing for your mind, letting it rest and regenerate from being so overworked, just as Yoga or meditation can. But it should be a real paper book, not on a kindle. And something that really transports you out of real life for a while. You need to limit your time on computers and screens and also with self-help materials.”

My hands shook as I ran my fingers over the fiction shelves in the back of a used bookstore later that week. It was all I could do to make a few purchases and retreat hastily to my car. I congratulated myself on getting through a public transaction alone and without a panic attack. And nearly every afternoon since I made that shaky purchase, I have treated myself to hours of brain regeneration and healing… by reading through stacks of novels.

I started with offerings that wouldn’t be triggering. No sex, or violence, or tawdry language. I read through The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. The ladies no.1 detective agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, and eventually I found that I could handle more intense murder mysteries and detective series without having added stress symptoms. For instance, I devoured the Laurie R King series about Mary Russel and Sherlock Holmes.

Now, I just look for cheap books whose covers or tag lines speak to me. Violence rarely triggers me anymore. I still don’t care for the gratuitous use of bad language or perversion for the sake of perversion. My convictions keep me from finding enjoyment there. But if a used book costs a buck, I don’t mind dropping it back off at Goodwill mostly un-read.

I rarely visit that initial used bookstore now. It was a bit pricey. Especially when I can smoke through a novel in two afternoons. Last week I picked up a big bag of hardcovers for $2.13 at a church thrift shop that has consistently good offerings. Among my finds was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. That title kept coming up on my radar this summer so it seemed like I was meant to read it.

I read it in a day. I couldn’t put it down. The narrative is compelling. Her ability to capture extreme trauma and it’s effect on both the victim and on the family and peer relationships is astounding and insightful. It was deep and disturbing but so lightly written that there wasn’t a single part that I found clunky or overly depressing. Not one. I ‘get’ the wide acclaim this novel has received.

I do not, however, and probably will never, understand why people, fictional or otherwise, take comfort knowing that loved ones who have passed on, now ‘watch us’. In the book The Lovely Bones, people in the author’s heaven could even read other people’s thoughts on earth.

As for me, I actually find Luke 16:26 comforting. I believe God knows my thoughts. It comforts me, lets me be real with Him.

As far as others being able to know my private thoughts: I am reminded of a huge and nearly debilitating fear I had as a child. I believed that if my skin was touching another human then they could read my thoughts. I remember lying next to my mother in my bed (she insisted on sleeping with me most nights) and keeping every inch of my body wrapped in a sheet so as not to be touching her at any point. If I awoke in the middle of the night, and found myself touching her, I quickly recoiled and scanned my thoughts to see if I’d been thinking anything incriminating. The lack of boundaries, and the amount of abuses I suffered, led me to guard my mind and thoughts extra carefully. Hence I developed the ‘no touching’ ritual to avoid even that boundary of my private thoughts and feelings being crossed.

I was also a victim of voyeurism, by several adult males within my family. To this day, I am nervous in bathrooms with windows or doors that do not lock and do not feel comfortable showering without a towel or robe nearby for quick cover if someone walks in.

I know these childhood traumas have something to do with me not wanting to believe that all the dead people, good, bad, abusive or entirely loving (if there is such a thing in a human),  now have access to my thoughts, or that they can see right through the walls of my house as well as the walls of my heart and brain. Like God can. I just can’t and won’t adopt that belief. Even if I have to sleep alone, tightly wound up in sheets, there are some things I can’t touch.

Reading The Lovely Bones was helpful to me because it made me understand another way in which I am just different from others. And I realized that I’m ok with being different. My New Age therapist was different than most. It’s why my doctor recommended her to me. He just saw two women who were both…a bit different than most.

I’d rather own those differences at this point, than keep pretending to fit in with the majority. If mental health and wellness is simply when the outsides match the insides, then I think I am getting close.