Some things were easier when I was living outside of reality.

rear view of a boy sitting on grassland

So my son lost his job. He was fired the week before Thanksgiving. His dream job… Well, all right, perhaps it was not his dream job. Let’s just say it was my dream job. One that I would have loved to have had myself. My stomach is still in a knot as I write this post; a week after first hearing the hard news.

He seems ok with it. It seems he’s learned from the mistakes he made. The work wasn’t fulfilling him anymore. He would have quit soon anyway had he not gotten fired. Still. I felt like I’d been smacked in the gut by a bear.

After a day or two of pain, I found myself longing for the foggy dissociative haze that was once my brain. A numbed out holding place where nothing hurt deeply. Everything could be minimized (well, he was going to quit anyway!), spiritualized (God’s got this! Surely this was meant to be!), or blamed (those dirty pigs, firing someone right before the holidays!?!?), OR, (my unique speciality), DOING ALL THREE AT ONCE.

I no longer deny the reality of my abusive childhood, nor my present mental-health-struggles. Living in those truths is changing my brain. One might think that things would get easier when one is getting healthier mentally. It is a bit trickier than that for me. I denied reality (as an unhealthy coping tool), for so long that there are consequences. Bad news is harder to handle than it was prior. The pain is sharp. Foreign. It tempts me to return to the emotion-less-void that is still so familiar to me. On the flip side, exciting events can, literally, be overly stimulating. I also have to enter into those slowly and with caution.

All of which makes the holidays, err, interesting.

Very early in the morning on Thanksgiving day, I put a turkey in the oven with my heart heavy over my son’s situation. The feeling of loss had eased some, but not enough for me to host a gathering with a smile on my face. I knew I had to pull myself together before the turkey was done. The familiar ‘place’ in my mind was waiting for me to return. I entered into the numbness with relief, because, well, have you ever hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at your house?? It is a ton of work!

The scary part is I didn’t even notice, or feel, the burn on my arm that happened when I put the turkey in the oven. An hour or so later I saw the ugly red gash and only then did the wound begin to throb.

That’s when I realized that it is better to be in reality after all. Because to harm yourself, or to have another harm you, and not even feel it, is scarier to me, now, than anything else. Denial is not a place I want to be anymore.

I thought of Jesus weeping outside of Lazarus’s tomb. The shortest verse in all of Scripture: John 11:35. A mere two words: Jesus wept.

Dead Lazarus–whom Jesus knew would be raised from the dead in mere moments. Why the tears? Why not  focus on the miracle, which was literally about to happen, and which Jesus alone knew was about to happen. It seems strange–why He would cry. Everyone else, who had no idea Lazarus was about to come back to life — sure — it makes complete sense that they would cry and wail and mourn. But why was Jesus crying over something He was about to fix?

Perhaps it is because Jesus didn’t deny any truth. Not for a second. And in that moment, wherein Jesus wept, there was death and loss and hard changes and grieving people all around Him–and so He cried too. He felt the pain. The God-man who is full of Grace AND Truth… stayed in reality.

Scripture doesn’t record Jesus’ reaction when Lazarus emerged from that tomb moments later. But I suspect Jesus was shouting, laughing, dancing, hugging and crying happy tears along with everyone else. I have a hard time believing that He was just standing there, aloof and removed. I think He engaged fully in the celebration which likely ensued.

Living outside of reality works to escape the pain of life, in your mind at least. But the body knows when an injury has occurred, even when the mind is somewhere else. The body always knows. Books have been written about that (The Body Keeps the Score. When the Body Says No.). I’ve read them both in my recovery. They make some very good points; I dare say: chilling points about the importance of living in reality. Indeed, just like my Thanksgiving day oven-burn, it can’t be ignored forever. The body will get the mind’s attention eventually and then it will hurt. We think we can ignore it as a way to deal with it, but it won’t disappear like a salesman at the door. It waits and waits, even though you never invited it in, the pain doesn’t leave. The saddest thing is that a whole lot of restorations and resurrections might happen while you are ignoring the door.

It would be a tragedy to miss those while hiding from pain. And so, while part of me still wants to numb out, a bigger part of me wants to experience all of life. The pain and the joy. The sadness and the celebration. So I placed the good china on the table with a gash on my arm, tears in my throat, and a smile on my face. I felt it all that day. My emotions looked like the heaping bowls of sides, the platter of turkey, and the four kinds of dessert. Or was it five?

There was too much of everything.

But it was good.

pastry on cake stand

 

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.

 

Smells are the worst…and the best! (Wisdom gained: #5)

woman wearing sun hat smelling yellow rose

Airplanes, buses, crowded waiting rooms, and other places where I might have to sit close enough to people to smell the garlic in their teeth from the salad dressing they ate for lunch (sometimes the day prior), yes–those confined public places are the worst for me. Because half a lifetime of traumatic experiences left me with a sense of smell so heightened my BHH teases me that if things go south at our store, I could always get a job working alongside police dogs.

I frequently need to open windows at work, in car rides, or at home, to get rid of smells which are overwhelming me. My husband once came home from a Bible study event smelling like strange cologne that I knew was deifnitely NOT his cologne. He’d simply sat next to a man who was wearing a whole lot of cologne that evening, hadn’t hugged him, just sat there beside him…which is why “How in the world did you smell that?” is a frequent expression around our house.

This super-sniffer-power of mine makes life interesting. I’ve learned to travel with several scarves, and I spray them with a scent that I find calming before traveling, particularly on airplanes. If it gets too bad, I just wrap a scarf around my neck and breathe into it and go somewhere else in my mind. The scarf trick has saved me a few times. A flight from LA to Minneapolis once had me beside a musician (his carry-on was a guitar) with an exploding human head tattooed on his forearm, a green army jacket with grime on the sleeves, and the smell of hangover-vomit and weed on his skin. When he fell asleep with his mouth open I noticed, from the air drifts finding my nose, that he hadn’t brushed his teeth either that morning–after clearly vomiting bad food and booze from the prior day. And there was even a seat between us.

That was a long flight.

Thankfully, I had a scarf wrapped around my face to mitigate some of it.

When the PTSD was at its worst, smells were also the worst. They triggered such horrific memories. The smell of pickles on someone’s breath. The smell of hard boiled eggs, after a few days in the fridge.

On the flip side: as with a few things ‘anxiety disorder related’, there are some really great benefits to this super-power-nose of mine. Certain smells are instantly calming for me. Lavender. Bananas. Roses (but NOT rose-water: ICK). Lemons. Grapefruit. Peonies. A tiny bit of eucalyptus (but not too much or it has the opposite effect). The smell after it rains. Basil. Bread baking, cake baking, (anything baking really), cinnamon, apples, and all sorts of bath products (except those I can’t stand). Bitter cold winter days, when my nostrils nearly freeze shut and the air is so far south on the thermometer that nothing harmful, or beneficial, could still live in it. That is the cleanest and best smell ever. It’s something only northerly dwellers might understand. Though I dislike being cold, when the temperature dips like that, the scent of that frigid air is divine. Almost as good as when a cultivated field starts to thaw in farm country and you can literally smell ‘earth’ floating on particles in the air. And so while scents can be triggers–they can also be great grounding and calming tools. The right ones instantly lift my mood and bring me peace. Smells add a richness to my life, and writing, that I am not sure others (who haven’t had trauma heighten their senses) experience.

A good nose is even quite beneficial at times.

I have smelled cooking fires before they started. Propane leaking from tanks before anyone else. Smelled rotten meat and other foods before eating it or feeding it to others…known exactly how many drinks my rebellious teenaged children, or younger mentees at work, had the night prior, (before they could dare lie to me).

Which is the point of it all. When the body is in heightened response to a threat, the senses are all heightened as well, to keep you alive and out of danger. So you may not see the danger yet but you can sure smell something being ‘off’.

Even though my stress levels have come down and I’m not being triggered into fight, flight, (or freeze) responses as much anymore, the heightened sense of smell is there. I’m accepting that it is just part of what makes me, me.

I took a walk with a girlfriend the other day. She has elevated stress symptoms due to a lot of traumatic things happening to her in recent years. She was told by her doctor that she has ‘anxiety’. After we took off from the parking lot, the first thing I did was insist that we slow down and go for a stroll instead of a power walk. She responded almost immediately to the slower pace as I saw her facial features relax into a beautiful smile. And I asked her what she smelled; because I smelled such a strong scent from the pine trees that surely must be up ahead around the corner we were about to make on the park’s path.

She replied, “Ooh, ooh, I smell chickens, like the fall air is lifting up the scent of chicken feathers into my nose… but there’s something else too, mixed in…”

I prodded, “Do you smell the pine trees?”

“Yes, that’s what it was, I knew there was something else!!”

We rounded the corner and saw several free-range chickens coming out of the shade of three pine trees.

Yup. She’s had her share of fight, flight, and freeze responses. Unfortunately, her nose may be elevating her stress levels even more, for the time being.

But I assured her, that if she starts listening to her self and uses scents to calm and heal as well: then her nose is going to help get her out of it, too.

 

 

Niggling Through Hell.

hi way road

The country song, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going” was released in 2006. At the time it was released I switched the dial whenever it came on the radio. Its catchy lyrics stayed with me anyway… “If you’re going through hell, keep on going…don’t look back… if you’re scared don’t show it…you might get out, before the devil even knows you’re there…”

Nearly a decade later, my life came to a halt with anxiety disorder, and an eventual diagnoses with PTSD. While learning cognitive behavioral therapy, my therapist instructed me to watch for any niggling things. Then examine those during my daily containment and journaling times. I laughed. Niggling? What kind of word is that. Is that even a word? I wondered aloud. She tried to explain its meaning. I searched niggling on google.

Then I ‘got’ it. I was to mark those moments which caused slight but persistent annoyance, discomfort, or anxiety.

Huh. That niggling feeling occurred so much it would have been easier to mark the moments I didn’t have any niggling feelings.

And it was just that–a niggling feeling, that I had the first time I heard that country song about going through hell. A nudge from the Holy Spirit that something significant was just said, or that something is off in my life. A pentecostal friend of mine calls those ‘checks in the spirit’. At the time, it was easier to turn the dial and pretend things were fine. Going through hell? Not me. My life was good! I hadn’t asked directions from a genie in a bottle of Jim Beam. I had found Jesus!

Now I know that I’ve been going through my own private hell and I find the song empowering. Even though I haven’t heard it on the radio recently, it is on repeat in my spirit.

In the early stages of recovery, it was all I could do to maintain some normalcy in my life. To do daily care of my body and get through my work obligations and then a bit of therapy homework. I cut most ‘extra’ things out of my life. Scaled back my work and social commitments. Stopped communicating with peripheral friendships. Tried to explain to closer friends what was going on. Separated from most of my family of origin. And I avoided most known triggers. Rested and took care of my body and tried to calm my mind. Then, bit by bit, I faced things.

Going to the grocery store alone. Going to doctor visits alone. Being left home alone. Owning my story without my voice shaking. Confronting past abusers. Finding some enjoyment in living again. And after each obstacle: retreating to my safe place in my comfortable home with soft lighting, a trickling waterfall scene on the TV Screen, scented candles; and the door locked.

I needed to do that. And it’s strange how so many commitments and people just sort of disappeared and gave me space to do it. I think God had a hand in that.

At this point, the door on our comfortable home has gone back to how it was prior–there are a lot of knocks. And several people who feel comfortable enough to just walk in if the door isn’t answered promptly. Bonus children. Friends. Friendly UPS drivers. It is almost back to how it was before I got sick. So I am digging through the piles of obligations and peripheral associations that I let slide. It’s messy. And I’m changing my job title at work. Doing more leisure pursuits. And looking into publishing some writing again.

It’s overwhelming to reclaim a life. Especially when the life you had prior never really was your own. I was enmeshed with my abusers to the point of not knowing who I was; or wanted to be.

I couldn’t have done this six months ago. And here I am. Doing it. Nothing has been resolved with my family and I’m learning to accept that pain and to not anticipate apologies or reconciliation there. I think part of me didn’t want to get better. As long as I remained ‘too sick to deal with the mess which has become my family situation’, I didn’t have to accept that things might never change there. I stayed in that ‘bargaining’ phase for a long time.

And I am a lot better now. Even though my body is still having stress symptoms. My brain too. The other day at work I could feel the heat rising and the familiar urge to duck and run out the door. I was worried my coworker noticed the sweat on my forehead. Cortisol sucks. I had thought my stress hormones had gone down as I am back to ‘always being cold’ and ‘taking an extra sweater.’

I know what it is to be in the deepest pit. And I’m not there anymore-inspite of some moments where I need to remove my cardigan. I’m afraid that if I do not keep moving forward through the intense heat; if I run the other way every time I start to sweat–that I will never get out of this hell I found myself in.

Strange thing is–I was already in the exact same hell back in 2006. I was just denying that I was there.

Well I been deep down in that darkness
I been down to my last match
Felt a hundred different demons
Breathing fire down my back
And I knew that if I stumbled
I’d fall right into the trap that they were laying, yeah
But the good news
Is there’s angels everywhere out on the street
Holding out a hand to pull you back upon your feet
The one’s that you been dragging for so long
You’re on your knees
You might as well be praying
Guess what I’m saying
If you’re going through Hell
Keep on going, don’t slow down
If you’re scared, don’t show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you’re there
Yeah, if you’re going through Hell
Keep on moving, face that fire
Walk right through it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you’re there

 

 

Can we over-think our way right out of an anxiety disorder?

white seagulls near water
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the first things I learned in my ongoing recovery process (anxiety disorder/PTSD) was that there are ‘anxious personality traits’. Anxious people tend to be… analytical, artistic/highly creative, deeply empathetic, deep thinkers, reacting with emotions over reason, high motivated, perfectionistic…

The second thing I learned was that the people who confided back to me, “I have anxiety too” didn’t always fit those anxious personality traits I had just learned about.

I was visibly twitching. They seemed so cool and calm, peace filled, that I doubted they were truly dealing with an anxiety disorder. But, like ducks, that was a surface thing only. Underneath their peaceful exterior the muscles in their legs were working away just as quickly as my actual leg was bouncing up and down during all of my therapy appointments.

I grew sickly thin, as a result of anxiety disorder. I learned that some people have the opposite happen. The body can’t go into fight or flight response while eating. Some anxious personalities deal with anxious feelings through food. Thereby gaining excess weight.

Plus, I was reactionary and emotion-based, having a hard time using reason in my self-talk. Some anxiety sufferers I connected with were the opposite. They were overly rational. Having a hard time reacting any other way but with logic, even if someone in front of them desperately just wanted some empathy and understanding.

One poignant discussion with a friend, who was also receiving therapy for anxiety, still reverberates in my mind. Unlike the usual ‘anxious personality type’ I was learning about: she is extremely logical. She reasons everything out and rarely reacts, responds, or decides things based on emotion. She doesn’t like it when I, or others, cry in front of her. She says she doesn’t know what to do when that happens.

Her therapist told her she needs to quit ‘overthinking things’. I just listened and nodded. In her case, it seemed she needed to add in some emotions and feeling into her very rational, but overworked nonetheless, thought processes.

She shook her head. “But I don’t agree with my therapist. It doesn’t make sense. If thinking too much is what got me so anxious, then it stands to reason that thinking is what will get me out of it. I just have to keep on thinking of all my options and eventually I will think my way out of this, like I have thought my way out of many other things in the past.”

What she said has come up often, in my own thoughts, during my recovery process.  It almost seemed like a prophetic utterance. As I was able to walk into the traumatic memories, I thought about them. Even overthought about them. Journaled and journaled and journaled about them. I purposely changed my thought process, which took a lot of thinking, even some over-thinking, as I processed it all. I listened to my wounded little girls’ take and then I guided her to a mature take that did not blame her for the past abuses. I spent an enormous amount of time thinking about these things. In some ways, I have been thinking my way right out of an anxiety disorder.

I love to go deep with thoughts. Pondering time is never long enough for me. Except that it started to be too much. All that thinking made me physically and mentally ill. I had to learn that pondering time needed to be limited and not overly indulged. I had to start balancing my life with time for play, recreation time, and social interactions too. I had to learn how to turn off the thinking switch.

People who appreciate going deep sometimes tell me I am very insightful. As the psalmist wrote: deep calls to deep.

Others find me a bit too intense. They don’t want to stand under a gushing waterfall, it hurts their heads. So I am learning to respect that, and not ‘go there’ with everyone. Not be offended if people don’t want to hear or read my deep thoughts.

I can be funny, sometimes, goofy, quirky, lighthearted. I try to be those things around people who don’t want to hear my thoughts on why there are so many seagulls flying around the sky in Middle America — a thousand miles from an ocean. For those that care to go there with me:

My thoughts on Seagulls Flying over Middle America

Sometimes we need distance from the things we love; the things which feed us. Indulge on any one thing too much and it can give you a stomach ache. Like thinking too much. Or being too perfectionistic. I sometimes leave known errors alone; for personal therapy purposes. In the first paragraph I noticed I wrote high instead of highly. I fixed all the others I noticed, but left that one writing mistake. I mean, it came right before the trait of perfectionism! It seemed like a good moment to fly away from the ocean of perfection to see what kind of things the grasses of the prairie might offer instead.

I know that sitting on a shore of a deep ocean of thoughts is exactly where I belong. On the other hand, if I stay there all the time I wouldn’t strengthen my wings, I wouldn’t see what else the world has to offer, and I would be in danger of being choked out by the very things which also set me free.

There are times that we need to purposely head in the opposite direction of our calling–a thousand miles in the opposite direction–in order to keep it.

 

“You’re gonna leave a scar on my daughter permanently!”

woman holding baby above head
Photo by Elias de Carvalho on Pexels.com

So this happened recently. A young girl was victimized by a perverted voyeur in a dressing room. Her protective mother then chased him down, made sure he was detained as someone called the cops, and then turned her own camera on the man she had just caught trying to video tape her daughter in a Rue 21 dressing room.

In the video the mom’s shaky voice is pitched high and filled with justified anger. As he sat on the ground awaiting arrest, her words to him are scattered and traumatized but all the more powerful as a result. One of the things she said to the man was, “You’re gonna leave a scar on my daughter permanently!” She lamented (paraphrasing and going by memory) that they were birthday shopping for clothing as her daughter’s twelfth birthday was in two days…and now this. “Now this, is this what she deserves for her twelfth birthday, a pervert trying to grab her legs and film her in a dressing room?!”

The video I linked is not the entire video this mother took. I watched the full length video earlier today. In that video the mom eventually scanned the camera back onto her own face as she asked someone where her cigarettes were, “I really need one.” She is then shown lighting up and smoking.

I was a little surprised as the image in my head (of a protective mother chasing down a pervert) didn’t match this woman’s actual appearance. I was not expecting to see someone with a neck tattoo lighting up a cigarette.

You know how sometimes the ‘radio voice’ doesn’t match the appearance you had imagined in your head?

I know from personal experience that sexual abusers rarely look like the deviant creatures they are inside. Yet I still think I might be able to ‘spot one’ easily enough.  It makes me feel safer, more in control. But I never pondered, until today, the fact that I have a clear notion in my head of what a ‘good’ or protective ‘mom’ looks like. I am embarrassed to admit I harbor such deep presumptions.

And I feel like this is a pivotal moment in my own healing journey. God has done this before. He has used some viral video or story, even popular movies and TV shows, to spur me into deeper layers of onion peeling. I recognized He was trying to show me something key today.

All my life I have always been drawn to stories of sexual abuse. For a long time I would think to myself how tragic they were and how glad I am that such things had never happened to me. The denial of my own story was that strong.

When the PTSD flared, I couldn’t handle seeing those stories. I had to avoid them. Particularly stories like this one wherein mothers had openly defended their daughters. Such accounts triggered a pile of emotions too powerful for me to handle.

Today I was able to view this video and reflect upon it without a rise in any stress symptoms. PRAISE GOD. That’s progress!

My own mother looked the part (that I had created in my head) of a protective mother. She dressed carefully in public and could put on a smile, but it rarely extended to her eyes. She was a career woman and volunteer children’s minister director for thirty plus years at her church. She had a closet full of kitten heel pumps and drawers full of nylons to match her modest church dresses.

She did smoke; though. She hid that fact in bathroom stalls while traveling with other people, (to avoid filling the vehicle with smoke). But she smoked openly in front of me either at home or when we were alone in the car. Something which annoyed me to no end as I hated the smoke and resulting plugged nose. I also saw the tattered clothes and constant scowl mom wore freely around the house. When company came; she changed.

There were two moms. I think the private Mom was a far more intimate glimpse into who she really was than the public one. Privately, mom was checked out. Assuming a posture and attitude which I call ‘playing dead’.

In public Mom tried to teach me to play the same games she did. At an appointment, a doctor turned to Mom and said what a pretty daughter she had. I felt yucky inside. But before my next appointment, Mom advised me to wink and smile extra big at him. Still quite young and not knowing any better, I did just that. On the ride home from the clinic she didn’t light up a cigarette (that was rare) and she kept repeating what the doctor had said to her about me. “Oh, those eyes, that smile, and did you know she actually winked at me today. My heart melted. Such a pretty girl you have!” Mom smiled the rest of the day. A real one that reached her eyes.

I was so confused. Mom was happy, but I felt so weird inside. It had scared me to no end to see that doctor react to my wink and smile as he had. I regretted doing it as soon as it had happened. Thankfully, that was the last appointment I had with him. He moved away and a female doctor replaced him.

When I was nearly twelve, I witnessed a visiting uncle (in his thirties at the time) toss my cousin onto the guest bed and then forcibly remove her clothing. I started screaming, telling him to stop and beating on his back with my fists. I don’t know what he would have done to her had I not walked in. I ran to tell mom what had just happened. My voice was scattered and traumatized, my chest was heaving from trying to catch my breath. I told her that her brother had just taken off all my cousin’s clothes. Mom was standing at the sink, peeling potatoes. She turned to look at me, the familiar dead look in her half-lidded eyes. Her lips scowled. “I told you to just ignore him when he starts teasing you girls.” She turned back to the pile of potatoes.

I believe that in that moment God cried out in horror at my uncle, using similar words that the mother in the linked video did, “You are going to leave a scar on my daughter permanently!”

My uncle had a choice. And Mom had a choice. She could have chosen outrage. She could have taken God’s side. She could have shown the same courtesy she did with strangers and not plugged her own daughter’s nose with the stink of her bad habit. By choosing to ‘play dead’–Mom joined the perpetrators of abuse. She also left a permanent scar on her own daughter.

The scar is fading a bit now. But I still can’t stand being around cigarette smoke.

 

 

 

Fear leads to Anger

full frame shot of text on wood

(This post will be paraphrasing from chapter 8 of The Anger Workbook by Les Carter and Frank Minirth).

Hesitancy, apprehension and doubt are some of the feelings underneath the emotion of fear. We expect fearful people to be shy and easily intimidated. However, fear can also be expressed by talking a lot, workaholism, lying and being dishonest, as well as excessive bravado.

I resemble quite a few of the checklists in this chapter on fear.

*I sometimes feel the need to justify or rationalize my decisions.

*People don’t know me as well as they think they do.

*I use humor to avoid delicate subjects.

*Other people’s moods have a strong effect on my mood.

*I worry more about my public image than other people would expect.

The authors stress that fear is revealed in cover-ups and phoniness. Fear keeps us from being fully honest about who we are. Instead, we project a false or partially true image. Individuals who fear have learned to be cautious in self revelations. This causes evasiveness or edginess.

Perhaps the most reliable way to identify fear is by defensiveness.

Defensiveness is an expression of anger.

I am in recovery from PTSD. Basically, at its peak I felt afraid 24/7 and was in a constant state of defensiveness. My fears were out of control. My anger was hair-trigger. I am discovering that as I work through the past traumas, the fears lessen, and the defensiveness and anger lessens as well. This workbook is helping me examine how closely linked these emotions can be.

Knowing I was angry wasn’t enough motivation for me to change. Knowing that fear is at the root of this lingering anger, makes me want to overcome it. I want to conquer those remaining fears, because I want to walk in faith not fear. And because I know that then the other nasty stuff will go as well.

It is important to find the roots of things. Without pulling those out, the problems just resurface again and again.