If you love someone set them free. But if you want someone to be tied to you forever: beat them up.

grayscale photo of rope on log

I am reading a book about trauma bonds. It was recommended to me by Lexicon Lover- a blogger/ commentor I admire.  ❤️

I am mid way through the book. It is so helpful. Hard. But helpful. Like most truth.

I can already better understand why the battered wife cannot leave her husband. Why the molested child a friend adopted feels so bad (for telling on her abusive grandpa) that she picks the skin on her arm until it is raw. And I also see more clearly why I had such a difficult time being honest about my own abuse and then separating myself, physically and emotionally, from my abusive family of origin.

The book theorizes that trauma bonds people in ways that peaceful circumstances cannot.

Indeed.

I have also realized things about love, and it’s flip side (extreme selfishness-dangerous levels of narcissism).

First: love.

Love is a verb. And one action it does is it releases. The old adage is cheesy but true (if you love something, set it free…if it comes back to you it was meant to be). True love does not WANT anyone being dependent on them, it hopes for a healthy relationship as two equals who choose it— therefore it detests bondage situations.

Love wants to see others live in independence and autonomy. True love gives selflessly for the sake of the other so that that goal of mutual independence can be reached. Mentors, good ones, know that they are successful when their mentees no longer need them. The mentee may choose friendship at that point but the mentor, if he is a good one, doesn’t expect it going into it. Same with parents.

Abuse is the opposite. It is so selfish that it wants the other to be broken and dependent and tied up to the other—forever if possible. There is no release, no setting free. There is intentional bondage-making.

To me that is evil. And I believe evil knows that if you want to create a near-unbreakable bond you don’t treat someone with a combination of genuine care, affection, and freedom, letting them figure things out on their own. There is no setting free with evil. Never.

That would mean that person had no binding ties to anything, unless they chose to give themselves to God or others. (In spiritually abusive homes, believing in God is not a free will choice.)

Evil knows that if you want to create a tie that binds two people together greater than any other tie on earth, trauma needs to be involved.

So evil, and those given over to it, buys the neglected girl a bicycle and then sexually assaults her a few months later. Six months after that the evil one tells her how special she is to him and praises the bond they’ve always had. A day later the evil one mocks her pre-teen breast size.

That is how you create a type of bondage that lasts near-forever. That is how you hide your ugly deeds and create a slave to cater to your wishes for years, lifetimes if you get your way. You mess with their mind. You beat them up. You bring them to the lowest low of self hatred and then kiss their forehead and tell them they are still your special little princess. Because that’s all it takes to tie them up to you. A mixture of abuse and what seems like love but is just fake affection to hide and further the abusive bondage.

Evil forces a daughter to sit on its lap. And that night it beats her mom up in front of her.

Evil knows this works at trapping. It knows that is how it can make ties that bind, and blind. In such relationships there is no process of the child entering adulthood and being set free, not from homes like that. The child enters adulthood with every intention of breaking away from their family but finds she cannot do it. The pull is too great. She missed the highs and lows and returns for Christmas and another round of verbal battering and perverted uncles mixed with forehead kisses and photographs with linked arms because we just love our little princess so much!

To break such trauma bonds is arduous, exhausting, and, dare I say it: miraculous.

I am praying, that now that I see them for what they really are (incredibly powerful tools of bondage from the pit of hell) that  my own strong bonds with people who inflicted trauma on me, can finally be broken.

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

 

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.

God knows everything. But does He WATCH everything?

air aircraft clouds drone

(Trigger warning: The following post includes details of sexual abuse and voyeurism). During grade school, I needed a baby picture for a project. All of us went home and asked our moms. My mom made a long process out of grabbing a Virginia Slim, lifting the window above the kitchen sink, and curling her mouth around the tip. About the time my head was ready to explode in the awkward silence, I heard “What for?” as she lit up. She blew smoke, hard, out of her nose; not even bothering to aim at the window.

“School.”

“I have to make your father his dinner.”

She rarely yelled. She withheld. It was more effective. She could go silent, or use one or two words, for days on end. In hindsight, I see the genius in it. She had a talent and brevity with scary sounding words that put Edgar Allen Poe to shame. All done while exhaling smoke and without expending an ounce of her own emotional energy.

By that point in my life the edge in her, the lack of words, was as familiar to me as the sugary-but-empty-gushing times, the free flow of words that she turned on whenever she was low on ‘fuel.’  It was others who fed her, never the other way around. My childhood was a combination of being stuck by her side filling her needs, or in some corner hiding from her and taking care of myself.

A few days later I was the only one who hadn’t brought back a baby photo. And Mom was still exhaling scary poetry. Luckily I was home alone after school and found my unfinished album perched on top of my older siblings’ baby books, in the back of Mom’s closet. The oldest child’s book was nearly full.

Mine, the youngest, was 1/4 full. On the first page my eyes landed on me and mom in a rocking chair. Mom was scowling, as if she was either annoyed to be photographed, or annoyed to be rocking me. I was wrapped in a blanket so big you couldn’t see my face, and her glasses were glaring stars from the flashbulb. It was a frightening photograph. The other kids would make fun of it; they often made fun of my weird parents.

Thankfully a birth announcement card slipped out from one of the back pages of the album. It was the resale kind that hospitals take before dismissing newborns (maybe they stopped doing that now). Some other kids in my class had already brought their own hospital-created newborn shots. So I grabbed that card out of the book with great relief.

Then I turned the page.

At first my heart swelled to see snapshots of my toddler years. It soon fell. I was naked in the bathtub with my cousin, naked in a chair with a cheesy grin, posing in the kitchen like an underwear model, (except I wasn’t wearing any). There were more naked photographs of my early childhood then there were clothed.

I turned the pages back and forth, confused by all the strange poses, wondering why I couldn’t remember any of it. It wasn’t that long ago.

The final photo in the book gave me some hope. I was wearing clothes and holding the barbie I’d received for my fourth birthday. I still had the doll. But my cousin had destroyed her as she had all the others. After a holiday visit, during which she had played for hours by herself in my playroom, all of my Barbie clothes had disappeared, their long hair had been chopped off, and every last one had pubic hair and nipples drawn on with a magic marker. Seeing how lovely the doll had once been, I felt fresh hatred toward my cousin. I returned the album and ran into my bedroom before anyone caught me snooping.

The house I grew up in held other horrors. I couldn’t have escaped them if I tried.

There were stacks of Hustlers, next to the Disney princess books, on my playroom shelf. My uncle, a minister and a frequent over night guest in our home, spied openly on me while I was in the bathroom–from as early as I can recall, right up until college when I left home. I was forced to watch explicit movies with my uncles, and to watch and/or hear about explicit acts. Eventually my cousin and I viewed the Hustlers together, in my playroom, during her visits. Likely the aim of whichever adult(s) placed them there in the first place.

I struggle to think of an adult, or a child, in my family of origin who wasn’t openly perverted.

To this day I still don’t like being watched, and I hate that I still have a lingering primal urge to view explicit things or laugh at dirty jokes. At some point I realized that viewing the intimate actions of others (pornography and explicit movies but also certain people on facebook and some TV shows), listening in on conversations (GOSSIP included), was doing to others exactly what had been to me in my childhood. It. Was. Just. Plain. Wrong.  And eventually something switched in me. I wanted to give other people space and privacy.

Even if they aren’t asking for it.

I am still learning how to derive pleasure just for the sake of pleasure, without it coming at the expense of others. Joy for the sake of joy. Intimacy for the sake of intimacy. I know, from my childhood, that there is a counterfeit. A stand in-for-true-joy, love making– without any love whatsoever, an excited type of temporary pleasure, which comes from viewing other people’s naked states (whatever that might look like) and using that to fuel your own needs — and lately I am aware that there is a type of uninvited ‘nakedness’, and viewing of it, involved with gossip.

Christians sometimes justify airing a confidential or private detail because they say they want others hearing it to be ‘in prayer’ for that person.

I’m learning to put a hand up and say, stop, I don’t want to know that. I don’t want to be in on viewing that. I want to respect that person in their state of nakedness.

And I still don’t enjoy cameras in my face. I could never do reality TV. Back when I didn’t bother to regulate the camera discomfort, there wouldn’t be any photographs of me after a big event or trip; just shots of the kids with my husband. Or there I was with hands, or menu, held over my face. Over the ‘mom’ years I forced myself to be ok with being in photographs, otherwise my adult photo album would be as empty as my baby book. I wanted more than that out of life.

Yet that grind in my gut remains whenever I see someone come at me with a camera. I know, now, how to tell myself: Thank you, Central Nervous System, someone with a camera in your face was a real danger in our past…But, this person is my friend. She just wants to remember our lovely time tonight!

Usually I can relax into a natural smile. Unless the person on the other side is shady. I listen to my gut then and remove myself. Or I insist, ‘Do. Not. Put. That. On. FACEBOOK.’

photographer camera lens person

The real issue which lingers, per everything else that happened to me in my childhood, stems from the perverted care I received by the adults around me. That lack of intimate bonding affected my relationship with my Heavenly Parent (God). Mainly in the area of TRUST. Or lack thereof.

My therapist suggested I journal my thoughts about God being omnipresent, to journal through my thoughts about Him seeing, literally, everything about me. Every private moment. Every private action. Every. Thing. Like reality TV cameras in every single room of my house.

How do I really feel about God being omnipresent?

During that counseling session a disturbing question popped into my head: is God a voyeur?

After all, He does know, and can ‘see’ everything.

I was immediately uncomfortable at the thought, it seemed blasphemous to think it, seems blasphemous all over again as I write it out. I knew the discomfort meant I had to confront the feeling; and the thought.

That was months ago. I journaled some; mostly ‘around’ the question. I edged closer and closer in my head and in my written thoughts.

Then I had a watershed moment that made a distinction between knowing and viewing. It came to me in the form of a rhetorical question and it relieved the disturbing question I couldn’t shake: is God a voyeur?

The question which came to me in response is the very title of this post. And it changed something inside of me.

God knows everything. He is omnipresent. But, what does that mean, exactly??? A few stories came to mind as I pondered God’s character and ability to ‘see’ all.

Ham, Noah’s son, was punished for generations– his entire family tree cursed, after he walked into his father’s tent and gaped at Noah’s drunken, passed out, naked state.* Contrast that with Shem and Japheth, Noah’s other sons, who walked backwards into the tent with a blanket, in order to avoid ‘viewing’ their father in a compromised position. (*Some scholars believe there may be more to Hams’ sinful action in that tent– things that went further than merely viewing Noah without clothes on. I’ll leave you to study that on your own, if so inclined.).

It seems that Shem and Japheth’s action is the one which represents the character of God.

King David, before he was king, watched King Saul relieve himself in a cave, his men urging him to outright kill him; David snatching a piece of Saul’s cloak instead…but then, later on, David felt guilty for doing so…

If David, a ‘man after God’s own heart’, felt guilty after being so close to Saul while he was relieving himself in a cave, doesn’t that mean He was outside of the character of God in that moment?

Such were the questions, and the Bible stories, in my head as I journaled and pondered God watching me.  I had uncomfortable thoughts. Things like, does God literally watch me, as my uncle watched me, when I use the toilet, or take a shower?

I have a great friend that I swap ‘you-won’t-believe-my-family-stories’ with, who once shared that her Grandpa kept his Bible and stacks of old Guideposts on the back of his toilet. She found it to be a combination of funny and disturbing. We never could answer the question of whether it is a good thing, or grossly perverted, to read the Holy Word, while on the toilet.

Interestingly, Webster’s 1828 print and online dictionary (one of my ‘go to’ word and Bible study tools, linked to above on the word ‘omnipresent’) doesn’t even contain the word voyeur. Seems the need to define voyeurism is a relatively new thing.

air atmosphere blue blue sky

Undoubtedly, God knows everything. Like a Mother’s intuition and love knows about her children thousands of miles away. It is hard to grasp the idea of someone being everywhere at once and NOT also watching all that is taking place. But it wasn’t until I could separate out the difference between knowing, and seeing, that I began to find more peace, and trust, in an omnipresent God.

Furthermore, when we sin, does God view that, or is He simply aware of it? Does He take any pleasure in such things? One definition of a voyeur is a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous. (Again, the voyeuristic action which plagues me now is not the porn exposure of my past. It is: gossip.)

Or does God intentionally NOT watch, does He turn away His eyes, in such moments. After all He already knows everything anyway. Why the need to see certain things, anyway?

In summation, God is no voyeur. To conclude that He is not one, a distinction needed to be made between being all present and all knowing, and purposely and intentionally WATCHING and VIEWING all things. The question I eventually answered my own question with makes that distinction. Therefore, in true Hebrew form, I ended up answering a (disturbing) question with another question.

Q: Is God a voyeur?

A: God knows everything. But does He WATCH everything?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Holidays Are Hard

selective focus photo of red turkey head

Every year it is the same. I dread the end of summer. Finally, I get used to fall. I even begin to enjoy it. I love ginger cookies and homemade stuffing and baggy sweaters and stretchy pants and boots. Stores and QVC and mail order catalogs burst with holiday deals. I like all that. At first. But just about the time I start thinking that the holidays might actually be fun this year, I am hit by this incredible, overwhelming sense of loss and sadness.

We Christians like to declare that Jesus is the reason for the (Christmas) season and that Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks to God…But no matter your religious persuasion: the holidays are all about Family. Family gathering. Family bickering. Family going to church together. Family traveling to see family. Family gift giving. Family. Family. Family.

It becomes nearly impossible to limit the thoughts of my family of origin. The questioning (maybe they weren’t that bad? Maybe they’ve changed? Maybe I should reach out again?) starts up again. The aching feelings of abandonment. The loneliness.

adult art conceptual dark

I believe I have something called trauma bonding. Especially with my mom and to a lesser degree with my dad. Going no contact with them was very, very difficult. It remains difficult. It was also something I knew in my gut that I absolutely had to do if I was going to crawl back from the very dark hole I ended up in after a lifetime of denying the extent of my childhood abuses.

I have made such good progress in climbing out of that hole. But I can still get very low and I don’t like it. So lately I have been researching how to break trauma bonds. According to this article, there are chemical reactions in our brain which can take place automatically due to our feelings of love for another. To quote the article:

Through the process of love, our brain will have many chemical reactions, which take place automatically. Therefore, when we are trying to move past this type of painful relationship, we can reduce the chances of the brain having those reactions (of bonding) by limiting the time around the person with pathological narcissism or psychopathy.

And so the holiday season brings near-constant reminders of family which reminds me of the painful reality of my family situation. As well as constant temptations to forego reality and go back into the fantasy land of pretending that my family of origin isn’t completely toxic.

My therapist tells me I can’t outright call my parents, siblings, and other close relatives ‘narcissists’; or I might get sued…but regardless of what actual pathology they may have, I know I had to go ‘no contact’ in order to save myself and to try and heal. That is the hard reality.

And so, when I see all the obvious signs of Thanksgiving, and Christmas…

dachshund dog wearing a red sweater

I wonder if there are just automatic chemical reactions in my brain which occur. I suspect that the holidays themselves, with the constant reinforcement of family ties, are a bit like having actual contact again with the toxic people I choose to avoid. Because I’ve been doing CBT for years now. I’m containing. I’m reframing. I’m counting my blessings and being thankful for what I do have.

And the holidays are still very, very hard for me.

If anyone else is struggling with loss and the holiday season fuels your feelings of loss, then I feel your pain. Prayers and much love to you. And if I may offer some advice (advice which I am saying to myself as much as to anyone else):

Stay in reality. Don’t slip back into the fantasy that just because there is a turkey and a tree you can have a ‘normal’ time around a table with toxic people. You can’t.

Being Nice is the Hardest Thing to Heal From.

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

The photo is a repeat photo. I’ve used it before in a blog post because it fit there as well as it fits here…

I’ve been the woman in this photo. Baking treats for people I don’t even like because I just wanted to be that nice lady who is good to everyone no matter what. Also known as: a doormat.

But in my heart I often want to be Minny in the movie The Help and bake that kind of pie for another (see clip below if you have no idea what kind of pie I’m talking about).

I think of a recent airplane ride where the stranger beside me kept touching me. Not to the point where I could have filed a police report. He was touching my arm a lot with his hand as he was talking to me. I wanted to tell him to stop, but I didn’t want to be rude. So I just shoved my bag down in between us on the seat and made myself as small as possible next to the window. All that accomplished was having him tilt his head over and touch my shoulder…with the top of his head.

WIERD.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is why I am nervous to fly…I often sit beside the strangest characters on airplanes. Though — on the return flight God made up for the weirdo with a lovely millennial from the West Coast. The flight went super fast as we shared thoughts on food and God and Donald Trump.

To quote a sitcom theme song from my youth: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have… The facts of life.”

Back to the point. A simple definition of mental health is ‘when the inside matches the outside’. I’m learning how to let that happen. It is hard. I suffer from being too passive (and then being too aggressive when I can’t handle ‘being nice’ any longer.). I’m learning assertiveness. Healthy boundaries. Being honest in relationships (one can be nice about it, but the key is being HONEST). It was a watershed moment for me when I began to learn that being nice can actually be… mean. Particularly if you don’t actually think and feel the way you are presenting yourself. That’s lying.

The devil lies; it’s his hallmark trait.

I don’t want to be a liar. Lying to someone is the meanest thing you can do to them.

So if I’m really ‘nice’ inside; why did I have such a hard time telling a stranger, “Please stop touching me.”?? Why was I dishonest in that moment? Sigh.

During my formation years boundaries were non-existent and so I had to hide who I really was in order to avoid being abused any further. I became whomever I thought people wanted me to be.

You need to know yourself in order to be honest. It is still difficult at times to decide for myself what I really want to believe, and who I really am. I feel like a lot of people establish those basics in childhood. But until one knows ones’ self — how can you even begin to be honest with others about who you ‘really’ are???

Books like ‘No More Christian Nice Girl‘ were life changing for me (well, life changing for my mind–my actions are still in progress–those old neural networks take a while to retrain).

Yesterday, while reading some of the blogs I follow, and pondering some of the comments left on this blog, I was reminded of this statement (the title of this post) which my therapist frequently tells me: Being nice is the hardest thing to heal from. 

She further explained, “I can have a volatile couple in for counseling and they will be fine. They will work out their issues because they are being forthcoming and getting it all out, albeit they might be too aggressive, at least they are getting their true thoughts and opinions in the open. When I get a couple in here where one or both spouses are being overly nice; it is very difficult. The nice spouse doesn’t understand why the other spouse has any issue, as they’ve ‘always been nice’. It can be a real problem when someone is too agreeable. If someone doesn’t share their real opinions and desires because they just want to please the other, or avoid conflict, then the burden of making all the choices falls on the other spouse, who can grow resentful. It’s a lot of work to form all the opinions and make all the choices for the other person as well as yourself.”

My BHH and I do fight openly, so I guess that means we will be ok. We can be too aggressive with one another, though. We are working on that. My passive nature extends mostly to strangers, coworkers, and friends that I haven’t let in close enough to see the real, convoluted, deeply-over-thinking, nervous, me.

As for me, I see my habit of being too nice as a combination of several things. I am still trying to figure out who I am and what I actually feel and believe (this takes a lot of alone time, for me, which I have learned to carve out and try not feel guilty about doing that). I still battle a good deal of (self-absorbed) fear (often the fear is that I will be rejected). I also tend toward resentment (aka anger — often the anger is that others don’t immediately know my heart and thoughts on a matter–and I think that stems from all the childhood rejection by my family of origin).

Curious if others have struggled with being too nice and ended up wishing they would have served Minny’s pie instead?

Have you found it annoying to be around someone who is too agreeable?

Is it just aggressive types who have anger issues? Or do you think nice, or passive, people can also suffer from anger issues?