Time is a Bubble

Trigger Warning: Physical Assault

If you feel like this blog started in the middle of my story, you are correct. This blog is a book I have written at least four times and have never completed largely because my memories aren’t linear. Trying to organize my memories and experiences linearly has caused me so many problems, that I have abandoned the attempts. Choosing a medium (blogging) that doesn’t have to be linear, I hope will actually play to the unique way a traumatic brain function.

Consider a life-altering experience, a car accident perhaps. As popular media has demonstrated these events happen in nanoseconds and are experienced as an interminable amount of time where minute details crystallize and are frozen suspended and experienced in slow motion by the person the trauma is happening to. Why? Well, back in the day when a nanosecond could be the difference between life and death, our brains learned to extend time perception, drawing it out and giving out bodies a chance to find some lightning sharp reaction that might save us.[ Slower Time Estimation in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Carmelo M. Vicario and Kim L. Felmingham: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5762810/%5D

Living with my abusers I took to spending as much time outside as possible. Like many abusers, my biological father moved us to a rural secluded part of the North Georgia Mountains. I spent my time outside, hiking trails, and deer runs, losing myself in nature as far from my abuser as possible. One day, walking down a new deer trail, I started to step down but something in my periphery caught my eye causing me to pause my stride and note that a large snake was making its way across the trail I was on. I managed to hop and jump over the large reptilian slithering along its average day and then registered with a nervous giggle that it was just a large black racer or black rat snake. Perfectly harmless, still I was glad to have not stepped upon it. This extended time experience, allowed me to see danger, acknowledge the danger, avoid danger, and then dismiss danger in likely less than two seconds. But my experience of this event is a slow-motion movie I can easily call back to my mind in great detail from the knowledge that this was fall with a slight breeze and the smell of the first fires of the season on the wind. I was wearing a light jacket and discovered that black racers are actually black, brown, and iridescent I was even able to acknowledge that the racer’s last meal hadn’t been digested yet and was outlined in its cavernous belly, a mole most likely.

When I remember this event, I can smell the smoke of the burning leaves in the wind. Feel the wind caressing my skin, re-experience the shiver of fright and the euphoria of relief that it wasn’t a rattlesnake looking to warm itself in sunlight on the trail.

And this phenomenon is precisely what abuse survivors experience regarding their abuse. In my last blog, I stated that I sucked my thumb throughout childhood and into my middle school years. In stressed states, even today, I will rest my thumb along my jaw and self-soothe by blowing gently on my knuckles.
Before I had completely altered my habit of thumb-sucking, my family was piling in my biological father’s suped-up wood panel station wagon. The three of us, my biological brother (eight years my junior) and my biological sister (eight years my senior)were crammed into the backseat where I was positioned in the middle. My parents were arguing and it was summer. The car was stifling and my thighs had wielded with the vinyl seat. The argument in the front seat continued to escalate and I got more and more nervous. Cramped as I was between my biological siblings, I unconsciously started to self-soothe by sucking my thumb. Movement from the front seat caught my attention and with a type of morbid curiosity, I watched as the fist of my biological father came with unerring accuracy and hit me in my nose, breaking it. My mother grabbed tissues from the glove box and shoved them at me as the yelling in the front seat increased. The pain was excruciating and the sudden violence caused waves of cold dread to flood my body as I suddenly started shivering despite the intense southern heat. As a discussion started about what to do with my gushing nose while my biological father bellowed that I deserved it, the scene fades to black in my memory.

I know the nose wasn’t fixed until years later when I had it fixed after not being able to live without having a sinus infection. But the rest of that day, where we were going, if we ended up going, all of that is gone… the threshold of my ability to cope with the increasing stress was reached and my mind “blacked out.”
This too is common for trauma survivors. Unable to escape the abuse, there is a point in time when the mind just checks out completely leaving these gaping black holes in my memory. I have nothing but context clues to help me position this incident in the linear line of my life. I don’t know how old I was, but sometime before I was in 9th grade. I know the house where we were, it was the house before we moved to the mountains. We lived there for over ten years and where in those tens years this happened, I couldn’t tell you. I have no clue how old my siblings were. This leaves me with memories that are suspended in time and not tied to a timeline. I am fascinated by people who can tell stories about their childhood and give an approximate age or fixed time markers like the year in school they were. This seems like some magical ability that my life of trauma has disconnected me from.

I really cannot emphasize enough how the memories of my abuse are hung in time like someone has been blowing bubbles in the vast expanse of time. In the bubbles are memories and I am a smaller bubble floating ungrounded to any real sense of time as it holds meaning for those around me. Occasionally my small bubble self is overtaken by memory and within that bigger bubble, I experience the entire abuse again in vivid detail. Sometimes, I can disengage and be safe again.

A single bulblet unattached to harmful memories and unattached to happy memories or present events. Sometimes those that love me can ground me into happier memories that do exists on this linear timeline that is my actual life, but usually, the conditioned response that safety is a bulblet unattached to anything is too powerful to overcome and I float off into time, dissociating and blissfully unaware of the stress and pressure surrounding me.

This is the lasting effects of trauma, a person secluded in space and time, ungrounded. Learning to be grounded and not hyper-vigilant is a process that takes discipline and practice to reverse. Often in a world that is uneducated and intolerant of the physical, mental, and emotional effort required to stay grounded and present. What for you is just a day for me is like I am facing a bubble machine mercilessly spitting out memories that I am dodging and avoiding while staying engaged in a work meeting or listening during a class or fully engaged in a conversation. And this helps to attract a level of exhaustion that isn’t “normal” or even “acceptable.” So survivors plow through.

Today, I called in sick. And I am. Going about my life while the bubble machine blows directly onto my face was simply too much. My brain and my heart needed a break – a time out where I immersed myself back into that place where time isn’t counted and my safety is assured. The place in my bulblet that allowed for the emotional and mental rest my everyday life rarely allows for. After talking to my sister yesterday and tuning out half of her conversation, I realized I needed to stop the constant demands for my complete presence and give my emotion, mind, and body a chance to exist without stress or strain. I spent my morning sleeping until my body said to wake. I walked Cas [Dia’s Goldendoodle service dog.] and trained with him on a new skill. I crocheted on a project I wanted to crochet on. I plan to go sit with my best friend, Brook or sit in the presence of my husband with Cas at my feet. Someplace safe and emotionally, mentally quiet after eating a lunch of comfort food.

The problem is most work environments would not interpret my lack of presence at work for this purpose as “legitimate.” I mean it is hard to get a doctor’s note for what amounts to a mental health day. I am so fortunate that my boss is forward thinking and if she should read this would not penalize me for what I have done. She knows I will work an extra day to make up for this one or work extra hours. Ultimately I wouldn’t let my work tasks go undone. She also believes that I will come back to a more productive person at work. This is absolutely true.

This is a problem in America where having mental health issues is seen as a defect. How many others would work semi-regularly if only the work environment would support their mental health? The taboo of trauma survivors and the health, physical and mental, challenges are so underrepresented and underexplained that it seems like a pipe dream to think there is a future where workplaces take mental health issues as seriously as other chronic diseases and are willing to work with sufferers knowing they will end up with devoted and hard-working employees in the end.

My boss has my devotion, gratitude, and loyalty. If you can get that from a trauma survivor you have earned it and that devotion, gratitude, and loyalty will be unwavering.


Tired – Malaise of Abuse

With this new blog, I am committed to writing regularly again. Carving out time away from all my many obligations and writing about my journey to a life of thriving after significant and prolonged abuse. I am struggling today. I don’t want to write.

I want to go lay down.

Tired isn’t really descriptive regarding what I am feeling. Weary comes closer but really the term malaise is more accurate. I am literally so tired that the very thought of doing anything else is soul shattering. And yet, this morning, I have done dishes, cleaned up from ritual last night, prepared for a class that was held this morning, sorted laundry, said good bye to a good friend who stayed over last night, finished a crochet project, and led an hour-long class on energetics.

This is what thriving requires. I gave in to this soul crushing exhaustion once and ended up in a mental hospital in Atlanta after literally being in bed for six weeks. The more I “rested” the more fatigue crept into my life the more I stayed in bed and the more I binged True Blood. I was escaping from the world that had become overwhelming to me.

I had been diagnosed with a disorder I couldn’t see or control, Mast Cell Activation Disorder with Neurocardiogenic Syncope. I continued to battle Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from my childhood and I was completely lost. Cut off without a community and set adrift in a sea of emotions that threatened to drown me.

The fatigue is partially a real bodily fatigue from my various medical conditions, but the feelings that accompany this fatigue says, “I can’t handle one more thing going wrong,” or “If anyone is mean to me I will cry,” or “I want to curl up with Cas[ Castiel, call name Cas, is Dia’s service animal.] and pretend the world doesn’t exist.”

It is as if I have gone passed the place where the things I have seen, been forced to do, and had to experience are pouring out of my pores like a sickly sweet smelling sweat. I am drenched in the feeling, sticky with it. The smell is pungent in my nose and there is no escape from the insistence that even a shower wouldn’t rid myself of these overwhelming feelings of violation, hurt, and devastation.
The secret truth of trauma survivors is this…. we feel like this every day. Today isn’t some special exception to my life. This is a mind numbing normal that I cannot escape even with years of cognitive behavioral therapy – years…as in I was 18 when I started and I am 52 now.

Overtime, you learn to present your indomitable spirit as the mask others see first, refusing to be beaten by the trauma of your past and the chronic illness that past created. It becomes this second skin that simply suppresses the vile and vitriol the trauma creates in your emotions and mind. You learn to mimic the smiles and mannerisms of those who can’t smell the stench upon you. You learn to keep your disassociation to a minimum least it take over and ruin the house or cards you precariously balance upon the trauma ruins your life began with.

Some later time, I will do some research and explore more effectively the biological changes made in children who suffer severe trauma at young ages. Today, I am tired and I will stick to what I know.
Disassociation is a way that the mind copes with trauma and stress. We all will disassociate some: on days we binge, “Murder in the Building,” or read an entire book or lose ourselves in a world of crafts, video games, or watching sports. Some take this disassociation to horrible places by drinking too much, taking drugs, or doing other destructive and harmful things.

Disassociation for trauma survivors is not just a way to cope with stress it is a conditioned response to stress. As a child as stress and tension rose in our homes, we looked for escape which was reading, being outside and away from the abusers, going to other people’s houses, playing pretend, or literally disassociating from the current real moment by simply drifting off into the ether world where nothing was or is and certainly nothing is raping the mind as the pedophilia rapes the body.

The problem as a adults is that stress to the body is the same biological response as it was when we were being raped. Our body doesn’t understand that today’s stress is my overflowing basket of papers to electronically scan and file and not an active rape. To my body it is just stress. And disassociating is how my body has learned to handle stress.

When I do not comply and check out of my current environment.. my office and desk of cluttered papers in need of filing, my body fights back. It says to me, “Sleep. Your tired. You have earned it. Just close your eyes and sleep.”

I suddenly want to finish a book I am reading or there is some crocheting I could do or I could just give in and take a nap.

There are consequences though to giving in. Laundry doesn’t get done. The kitchen doesn’t get cleaned. My filing continues to pile up. My writing goes unwritten.

Which, when I am not disassociating, exponentially raises my stress level, which cause my body’s need to disassociate to grow which makes it hard to be motivated to get things done, which causes my stress to grow….

A cyclical return of never ending stress and the pressure our past puts upon us to do nothing but emotionally, intellectually, physically hide.

Food helps. But food is, in and over itself another coping mechanism that I can use to fight the stress and need to disassociate. Being addicted to caffeine when your heart is physically fragile isn’t such a great way to cope with the fatigue need of disassociation.

Exercise helps but who wants to exercise and be even more physically exhausted.
In fact my sister[ Any sibling or family member I refer to is a chosen one and not biological unless specifically indicated as biological.] has educated me on the term “self soothing.” A series of behaviors people do to try to alleviate anxiety and physical stress. I knew immediately what she was talking about because I knew exactly what I did regularly to try to alleviate my stress and anxiety levels. My biological mother did it too.

My biological father had been on a tear. I could hear him raging through the house knocking things around and screaming at my mother. The side door slammed and the loud rumble of his suped up wood paneled station shattered the hot, humid southern afternoon. It trundled down the road gaining moment with the increasing sound of his retreat, signaling the all clear to the children who had scattered and hidden when his rage had begun.

I walked into the piano room in the house and my mother was all huddled on the patten leather green chair that had somehow survived the 1970’s to live in my childhood home. It was hideous and my mother, for some unknown reason, loved it. I walked in and she was sucking her thumb and completely disassociated from the world I was currently walking in. I called her name softly, “Mama?”
She started and ripped her thumb from her mouth and then with venom said, “Don’t you tell anyone,” jumped out of the green monster and left the room.

I understood. I sucked my thumb until well past middle school and my biological parents spent lots of money trying to make sure I didn’t go through my life with horrible horse teeth caused my the “voracious” thumb sucking, one orthodontist quantified it.

But it was soothing and required nothing but my own body to help ease the ache of trauma all around me. I wouldn’t and didn’t judge my biological mother for thumb sucking something I caught her doing multiple times. I understood it and longed to be able to do it myself.

When my sister told me about self soothing, I was on the phone with her. My right hand thumb was laid along my right jaw line. My first two fingers of the same hand were curled up under my nose where I could feel the soft breath from my nostrils move the hair on my hands. With sudden clarity I saw myself and realized my was still sucking my thumb it just wasn’t in my mouth.

My hand jerked to my lap after that jolt of understanding hit me. I felt exposed and vulnerable and shamed. Like my biological mother I suddenly realized that this habit exposed some truths about me and my past and present, even when I thought my mask was firmly covering the stench of my tiredness.
Now I live a battle to not “suck my thumb” in public or when people are around. I catch myself doing it daily. Invariably I can’t help but feel some kindred with my biological mother over the similarities of our coping strategies.

For now, I am tired and will finally allow myself lunch and the hope of not wasting my day asleep hiding from the stress of my life.

Fragile Heart, Indomitable Spirit

Domestic Violence appears simple. People live together. One party beats, violates, or mentally abuses another party they live with and that equals Domestic Violence. With this simplistic view, persons’ who have never experienced beating, violation, or mental abuse come to believe that the solution is simple too. The person who is beating, belittling, or violating others should stop. The person getting beaten, belittled, or violated should leave. And that kind of thinking opens a world of blame for abuser AND victim. If the victim doesn’t leave or tell then there is something wrong with them. If the abuser doesn’t stop, then there is something wrong with them or there is some secret justification for what they do. In either case, the answer is simple, stop or leave and tell.

Here is a piece of truth. Any persons involved in domestic violence have something wrong with them. How “wrong” they are depends on the extent and length of time they are abused. I don’t like to say that victims, survivors, and thrivers of abuse are broken. I would say that their operating system has been corrupted by the virus of abuse. There are glitches in their abilities to executive function, emotionally connect, carry out the mundane functions of life, sleep, eat, have sex…the glitches will depend on how they processed and are processing the abuse they suffered. They can find alternative pathways to function. This means that how they have learned to function is forever altered – different from the parts of society not touched by abuse.

I am intimately familiar with domestic violence. My father was (is?) an explosive abusive and pedophile. My life was measured by moments of terror interrupted by moments of bizarre behavior, strange coping skills, and a broken family dynamic. Even my own memories of my abuse and childhood are a little suspect given that much of my abuse lives in a clouded space in my brain that my mind’s eye cannot penetrate. I am left with context clues, my body’s own reaction to stimuli, other people’s witnesses of my abuse, other peoples’ violation at my father’s hand, and the assurance of the many counselors I have had over the years that I am a thriver of sexual, physical, mental, and emotional abuse. This also leaves me feeling less than .. Unsure .. feeling a little crazy. As crazy as my biological family claims I have always been.

I have started and stopped this book throughout the years unclear where it was going to go or how it was going to get my story out there. I recently had a waking vision that my sister brought me a book to sign for her and said she was sorry, then walked away. When you have been abused, you long for love from those who didn’t give it, those who have denied the abuse and its devastating effects upon you. You want them to acknowledge your truths and then offer some consolation prize of sorrow at their disbelief and the actions they made because of their disbelief.

I would like to say that at nearly fifty-two years my desire for that type of acknowledgment from my biological family is gone. It is not. I have been cut off from my biological family on both my biological mother’s and biological father’s sides of the family. An uncle on my mother’s side told me point blank he didn’t believe me. An Aunt on my father’s side simply walked away in silence after I told her I wouldn’t attend my dying mother because she was complicit in the abuse I suffered. Goddess bless, I long so deeply, to have someone of my blood turn to me and say, “I believe you….I believe you.” I am not holding my breath. It would cost my biological family too much to believe me.

My biological father was (is?) a charismatic man. Loud booming laughter often preceded him wherever he went. Good-looking in his youth, he didn’t age well but still, people were drawn to him. My biological mother would later confirm something I had suspected since my college days, my biological father was afflicted with bipolar manic and depressive episodes and spent most of his life unmedicated. I will never forget her telling me.

“You can come back around now. He is so much better since he went on Prozac. Turns out he was bipolar or something all this time.”

Because in my deeply rooted southern family the current status quo was all that mattered. Nothing from the past should be permitted to touch the present. My father was better at this time and had a good excuse for his violent and violative behavior. Suck it up. Get over it. Move past it. Let it go! Just like a cartoon. Terrible things happen and upheaval is everywhere but no one suffers mentally for it. They just, “Let it go!” while singing about it all.

It is how my biological family still lives with blinders. It is culpability. If they could be friendly with this man for all these years and like him, then there is no way he was raping preteen girls, feeling those same girls up, or beating his family. Maybe some knew he beat the children with a belt during his blackout fits of rage, but we, my sister, my brother, and I had broken rules, lied, or done wrong. Maybe the way they “disciplined” back then was misguided but it was no more or less than anyone else of that time or before. Parents beat their children and children just got over it and maybe chose to parent differently. I am intimately familiar with the excuses given for abuse and the ways people around abuse dress that abuse up or try to diminish the impact abuse has or, ultimately, blame the victim.

Even still, I am cut off from my biological family because they would have to let go of a reality that for them is comfortable and friendly, even. They would need to face their own abuse suffered at my grandparent’s hand because make no mistake, this story of domestic violence doesn’t start with me, although, I pray often that none of my cousins or nieces and nephews suffered as I did and continued the violence passed their generation.

And that brings me back to this blog. Originally a long-worked on book entitled, “Fragile Heart, Indomitable Spirit.” A nod to the genetic condition I have had my whole life and the physical changes, literal changes to the DNA of my body, that my excruciating abuse caused. It also is a nod to the triumph I occasionally feel. I survived. I didn’t buckle to the beseeching and cajoling and threatening and ostracization meted out because I would not back down from my truth..the truth…the reality that I was repeatedly raped, physically abused, mentally gaslit, and emotionally crippled by my biological family.
I want to write down this reality and simultaneously reach out to other survivors with this story.
I want to say, “I believe you,” but do more.

I want to help shed light on what many clinical self-help books teach. They explain clinically how severely abused people act as an adult and why they act that way. What I have are the stories to fill in the gaps and truly demonstrate what that looks like. I want to help those who do love the horribly mistreated better understand us, support us, and love us.

But I realized today that my book in total may never be written. I am a busy minister in training, currently undertaking an Ordination track that requires class projects, class time, homework, and pre-work. I serve as a Distinguished Religious Group Leader at a base two hours from my home. I am disabled but work three days a week for a not-for-profit and spend my other time in ministry. I have a service animal that will always need refresher training.

So maybe I need to go about this differently. This blog will be my book. Put together over time. Come along with me and laugh, cry, be outraged, be comforted, moreover, come along and learn to help those whose childhoods were far from situations that anyone can easily let go of.