Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 4

The Bait

I continued reading a couple more chapters in the book, Codependent No More, and writing out the exercises at the end of each chapter in my big notebook. I accomplished chapters 11 and 12 by the next appointment. Chapter 11 stabbed into low self-worth. Did I really have low self-worth? Really? That chapter is smothered in yellow highlights. Chapter 12 dealt with changes, disappointments, losses, and the grief process. In an academic way, I took in the information and did the ‘homework,’ Was I really learning? Absolutely! Was I able to break my life down and apply anything? Absolutely not! There were ideas and concepts that made a whole lot of sense; I saw myself in considerably much of what I was reading. Truthfully, I remained busier than a Wham-O Super Ball thrown down the highway. I did not have the skill sets to break down my life and understand psychological issues on a deeper level, for that matter, I did not know there were deeper levels. I was skimming the surface of a very deep therapy and personal abyss. I thought the therapist would begin discussing what I had already handed in at this next appointment.

I was uneasy heading out to the third appointment, given what had occurred at the second appointment. Believe you me, I learned quickly that I was responsible to get checked in one way or another. Thankfully, when I arrived a receptionist was at the desk, checked me in, I took a seat in the waiting room, and the therapist came to get me shortly thereafter. My thoughts – thank you, thank you Jesus that there were no mishaps, I got it all right!

I entered her dim office and sat down in, what would become my permanent chair choice, the chair right by the door. Her disposition seemed different. The atmosphere seemed lighter; something about her had changed. She smiled at me, was very warm, and quite attentive as we talked. Now I presumed we would get right into discussing my ‘homework’ assignments – not at all! She dove directly into our marriage.

The first issue she opened up for discussion was the inequity and division of labor within our household. We discussed my husband working full-time in the corporate offices of a large local retailer; he had been there nearly 15 years, maintained an excellent work record and attendance, and was a very steady loyal man of routine. I was two and one half years into my fifth job (by choice) working full-time in the accounts department of a local hospital. I must admit, I liked all the various jobs I had worked, but occurrences that disagreed with me, schedule changes, or staffing/environmental changes sparked disunity within me and I would move along – nine months, two years, eight and a half years, two years, ten years. I never had difficulty securing employment. I was always a faithful employee; I learned fast and worked fast; I maintained high accuracy and work performance; and I was on top of everything. In fact, in this current job, I collected one million dollars in outstanding receivables in less than six months; there would be no bad debt happening on my watch. So, together my husband and I consistently earned a respectable wage; we had carved out our career niches – the difference being, all else! His company never offered overtime. It seemed that every employer I worked for offered abundant overtime. Of course, I worked as many hours as possible and of course, he never minded; we both always welcomed the extra income in our successful endeavor to pay off student loans early.

On the other hand, home had become a circus for me; I was the seal trying to balance the ball on the end of my nose. I was doing ALL chores – laundry and ironing; cooking and dishes; dusting; vacuuming and floors; bathrooms; kitchen; budget and paying bills; keeping track of birthdays, holidays, and gifts; prescriptions and supplements; lists for groceries, personal care needs, and household products ; mowing and raking; little home repairs; washing and vacuuming vehicles; hosting our friends for dinner; etc. Oh, if I asked him to help, he did with minor dragging, but we functioned like the tortoise and the hare. I knew what needed to be done, jumped right in to get it done without grumbling or much thought, and consistently maintained a meticulous organized home. He had no sense of owning home responsibilities, motivating himself to help, and from my vantage did not really seem to care. There were a few times I came to the end of myself. We had serious conversations about him helping. One particular time, I worked a double plus shift getting home at one o’clock in the morning. For some delusional reason, I thought he would have cleaned house that evening given I worked an eighteen-hour shift and we would have the weekend to rest and do something fun. When I opened the door, absolutely nothing had been done – NOTHING! In the blink of an eye, my mind went racing to his past. Had he betrayed my trust and our established accountability? Not in the ways of his past, but in ways I could not define at the time. A demon rose up out of the dust of my weariness. I spewed venom demanding to know what he had been doing all this time. His response, “I made a conscious choice to do nothing!” He arrived home from work, fixed himself dinner, and relaxed watching TV all evening. The battle became fierce until three AM! There was nothing forgettable or forgotten about those two looooooooooong fierce hours! He always sincerely said he was sorry; he always promised to change and do better; and I always extended grace (so I thought!) Yet, within two weeks, he would fall back into his role of not helping out and not owning any responsibility and I would fall back into my role of shouldering the weight of the world and doing everything. He was not male chauvinistic; he never treated me as a submissive female set on earth to serve him. We were both cut out of far different cloth, but I had no understanding of those concepts. The glue that held us together was our spiritual convictions, a dear friendship we had developed despite our fractured imperfect selves, and our beliefs that we treat all people with dignity and respect. We were never condescending or belittling to each other and we never called each other names. He lived in an oblivious carefree world. I lived in a hyper-everything world. By year 15 of our marriage, I was feeling used, taken for granted, taken advantage of, and unloved by a gigolo.

I was tired. Parts of me felt like I had been in a severe accident, had been in a coma for the first 36 years of my life, and now teeny tiny parts of me were waking up, and I did not recognize this place. I never said those words to the therapist because I did not recognize any of that until much later. The therapist listened intently and though I do not remember verbatim our conversation, I remember feeling like for the first time ever someone was listening; someone was hearing; someone was caring and that right there was the bait dangling on the hook.

She advised me to start asking him for help. I told her I did not want to be his mother; I should not have to ask him for help; he should be a responsible adult. I told her about some friends in a similar yet much worse situation. We would go to their house for dinner and play Euchre or Hearts. Her husband was male chauvinistic and expected to be served, was condescending, and I could go on. When we left their home some evenings, my husband would comment on how sorry he felt for her. It was disparaging and disheartening for me that he could see and attest to her misery and had zero compassion for me. One time driving home, I said to him, “How is it that you can feel sorry for her, but not for me?” He fell silent and did not want to talk about it.

The therapist also suggested I stop doing any chores related to him – his laundry, his ironing, paying the bills, etc. She said to let him run out of underwear and see how he feels about that. She said to let the lights be shut off once and see how he responds. I could not do those things. It felt cruel and irresponsible to me. Between the book and her minor suggestions, I tucked some thoughts away. I needed time to think through and gain more understanding before making choices that certainly seemed unkind. In no way did I ever want to hurt him, harm him, or burden him. The mind is a battlefield, particularly when you simply do not understand or ever experience healthy dynamics.

The homework was never mentioned. The book was never mentioned. Without knowing it, I was in thick therapy fog. I was a blank slate, vulnerable, and completely ignorant of therapy! When matters are left open-ended and unspoken, my mind splinters into various parts trying to understand. Was this book just some additional enhancement to therapy that I needed to dissect and comprehend in view of our discussions? I really did not know, but I did not have the skill set quotient. What I did know is that I would be continuing through the book because I thought that was an expectation as part of therapy whether mentioned or not. For me, it was like academic homework. I would get the assignment completed to the absolute best of my own ability. I would figure this out!

To be continued…

Love you, mean it!

Crosses to Carry

Raise your hand if you have burdens you bear. It does not matter if those burdens are permanent or temporary, heavy or light, exposed or hidden, or even perhaps you are driving with your eyes closed, trust me, eventually you will crash! Come on, raise those hands, we ALL have our crosses to bear in this life. Some crosses are unchangeable and interminable. Some crosses are an adversity lasting an indeterminate, but limited amount of time. Some crosses are things that ‘happen to us’ causing severe ripple effects throughout our entire lifespan. Some crosses are consequences from conscious or ignorant choices made. Some crosses are life, redefining moments that establish a time marker of before and after where life breaks forever, you are now stumbling through an unfamiliar dense forest, and your life story is instantly getting re-written; life will never be the same.  Now that all of your hands are finally raised, you ALL can put your hands down now.

If we put together an impromptu list of crosses people bear, I imagine it would be a scroll stretching out unfathomable miles and truthfully still would never be all-encompassing.  I have my truly unbelievable ‘stuff’ to me, but I know every single person on the face of this earth has their personal story filled with hardships. I wish I had an anonymous PO Box to receive anonymous stories from willing people about their adversities. I think it would be quite therapeutic and safe to unload a portion of that weight. Whatever your crosses and however you define them, at times the pills seem too hard to swallow. To me I can feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up that steep hill; sometimes I would like to let go of that boulder and just let it steamroller over me. Crosses equal suffering! Suffering equals grief, pain, agony, anguish, despair, temptations, trials, and tribulations. I have had times when I felt like I simply could not tolerate my constant-never-ending-at-times-desperate struggling.  

For me, I did not exactly win the “Wonderful Parenting, Happy Childhood” lottery. Life was MESSED up!!! Nevertheless, I drove through life with my eyes closed. Externally, I gave the appearance of all together, life was a bed of roses – clean, pruned, good job, faithful employee, bills paid, nice clothes, friends, attend church and served, practiced personal spiritual disciplines, warm and cozy tidy meticulous home (all things said in no certain order,) the only external red flashing beacon of light giving off urgent warning signals was my ever-increasing weight. I was over-qualified at surviving, recovering, and denying and onward I raced through my inner obstacle course. On the inside, I was MESSED up! Weedy vines began choking out and killing my roses! Those vines intertwined around everything; they were killer vines invading and smothering my landscape. Yet, I was merrily speeding through life with my eyes closed at a high rate of speed. I did not even realize these vines had suction cupped and attached themselves to every piece of me, until eventually, I crashed. In reality, I was being internally strangulated by choking vines; I was being attacked by rose thorns causing injurious deep scrapes and cuts; I was slowly fading and dying. I carried crosses labeled spiritual, physical, gender, marital, financial, bankruptcy, loss of house, moving, friendships, family, financial, employment, disability, death, mental issues, therapeutic abuse, medical nightmares, insomnia, buried feelings of emptiness, loneliness, resentment, shame, PTSD, etc. – all symptomatic seepage from my internal brokenness.  I was fighting a fierce battle of survival, trust me I had an extreme arsenal of weapons acquired in childhood where I learned how to survive. Eventually, profound despair, exhaustion, and hopelessness turned into a daily crusade of desperately wanting to take my own life. I would sit at work on the third floor, thinking about going down to the vacant first floor restroom and slashing my wrists. I would think about OD’ing on pills. The abyss kept getting deeper and darker the further my mind slipped into searching for an escape hatch.

This is just a mere glimpse at the tip of my iceberg; it is the unseen mass below the surface that truly needed to be worked at chipping away. It takes a whole lot of courage to choose life; it takes a brave soul to look at what lies beneath the surface. It seems the holidays and winter months can capitalize on my weaknesses, even though I have gained many coping skills. I know that I am not alone. There are oh so very many who suffer during this joyous season – sadness, loneliness, estrangement, anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, fatigue, isolating and social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, depression, PTSD, grief, tearfulness, financial constraints, fear, shame, perfectionism, frustration, irritability, fixating on the past, physical ailments, aches, and pains, etc. These too are symptoms of floating icebergs. It takes bold audacity to drill down inside those frozen parts and take a hard long forward look at what is actually causing behavioral and symptomatic manifestations of deeper causes. It is hard work! It is hard to get gut wrenching honest with yourself and begin identifying your junk. And, it is even harder to implement the life-long changes in order to stop the hemorrhaging. There is always a different way to manage carrying our crosses. Now, I am no authority or professional, and quite honestly am still in recovery, but we have been able to cut away some of the vines, remove some of the thorns, I am breathing a little better these days, and definitely I am not suicidal.

I don’t begin to know or pretend to know what cross you are bearing; I don’t know if it is a thorn in the flesh, a death, a divorce, a sick child, someone terminally ill, mental illness, personal injury or illness, addiction, family issues, troubles at work, change in work status, less than favorable custody arrangement, financial decline, foreclosure, change in residence, school, or church, betrayal, loss of trust, loss of safety, violated, crime, imprisonment, a bad hair day, or hell on earth. Here is what I do know. There is ALWAYS hope, there is always something to be thankful for, and there are acts of service we can do for others to switch our focus!!  I do not mean denial; I mean concentrating on good things. Your situation might not change tomorrow, next week, a month, or a year from now, but there is hope and something to find gratitude for in the midst. You may spend a lifetime praying for something that will never be and at times, it makes your heart so painfully sad that you recoil from life for a bit, lick your wounds, and slowly emerge with renewed hope. Press the reset button and do a good deed for someone else. Somehow, find gratitude and bless someone else. You may spend a lifetime battling an addiction – rising and falling, rising and falling, time after time hoping this time will be victory at last. Do not give up hope! Extend grace and mercy to yourself. Stand up, brush yourself off, and try again! You may be carrying a hidden grief so heavy and painful that at times you are drowning and suffocating. Do not let hope slide away. Look around for even a miniscule something to be thankful for and spread a little joy somewhere. Whatever your cross, keep hope alive, find gratitude in the waiting, and grasp that little mustard seed of faith. Miracles happen everyday!

I want to share a writing by someone anonymous to me:

THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

The whole Christmas story is full of miracles. 

I personally find them hard to comprehend. 

It makes no sense. 

How could the infinite eternal God become a baby? 

Not only how, but also why? 

Why would He choose to be born to peasant parents? 

Why would He empty Himself of every advantage of His divine nature? 

Why would He choose to become a servant and become obedient to death?

even death on a cross? 

Why to sinners like us did He do it?

It is because of his all-encompassing love.

I cannot explain it, but I believe it.

I thank God for sending His Son to an imperfect world. 

To a world that celebrates the spirit of consumerism

Where Christmas comes from shopping lists, catalogs, and the almighty credit card.

I pray God delivers us from empty cheer and season’s greetings born of obligation. 

I hope He delivers us from all the social events that supposedly honor Jesus. 

Surely, Christmas is supposed to be more than packages, paper, bows, silver bells, Frosty, Rudolph and all his reindeer friends.

You see the true spirit of Christmas cannot be found in a store window or in a Christmas carol.

Christmas is not giving bigger and better so we can get bigger and better.

You cannot count Christmas by the number of decorations you use.

We cannot even count Christmas by the number of manger scenes and stars we have on the tree. 

In fact, we cannot even count Christmas by the number of verses we memorize. 

I pray God would grant us the true spirit of Christmas:

Generosity of heart and the love, which caused Christ to wrap Himself in the garments of our humanity.

I pray God shows us the true meaning of Christmas and affirms our worth apart from what we have or what we do.

For reasons which only His Holy love can explain, God gave Christ to become one of us and to suffer the consequences of our sin.

This Holiday season as we’re in the middle of singing carols, baking cookies, decorating our homes and opening our gifts

remember to leave room for CHRIST.   

“For unto us was born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” 

“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Prince of Peace, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father.”

As we celebrate Christ’s entrance into the world, let us try to make our world a little better.

Mend a quarrel

Call a friend

Seek out a forgotten friend

Do random acts of kindness

Give compliments, encouragement, and appreciation

Do not be critical of others

Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust

Write a letter

Send cards of kindness

Share some treasure

Cook dinner together

Bake something and take it to a neighbor

Pay for someone else

Let others go first

Give a soft answer

Say ‘Thank You’

Encourage one another

Be loyal in word and deed

Keep a promise

Listen

Love unconditionally

Apologize if you are wrong

Try to understand and show acceptance

Disregard envy

Be joyful

Express your gratitude

Welcome a stranger

Invite a friend for hot chocolate

Gladden the heart of a child

If you’ve wronged someone, fix it

If you think you’ve wronged someone, fix it

Forgive

Go outdoors and take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of this earth

Make a difference

I am not talking about the other person

I am talking about you; you are the one that can make the difference.

It starts with you.                    

At Christmas, we tend to believe all things are possible.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

Sin can be forgiven.

Broken relationships can be restored.

Hearts can be healed.

Try to make your little corner of the world a better place!

To those who believe:

EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US!

Anonymous

Glad tidings of joy!

Merry Christmas!

Love you, meant it!

Home Before Five

My mother’s due date is to be the makings for a New Year’s Day celebration or there about, but even at birth, I take the road less traveled; in desperation, I draw my first breath one month late. I am purple from head to toe, having difficulty breathing, and my skin is pealing from being in the womb too long. My mother tells me in that day, they did not induce labor; they allowed life to happen naturally. Her labor did not progress; it was prolonged with exceptional pain. Laughing, she tells me she screamed quite loud throughout the entire ordeal, annoying the staff, the doctor, and probably the entire labor and delivery wing. Ultimately, she rips the curtains off the hospital window. She says the doctor strongly urges them never to have any more children. Because I am struggling to survive (the story of my life,) my mother does not hold me. The medical staff work on me as she says she prays, “God, please let her live. If you let her live, I’ll give her to you.” My mother tells me that my father took one look at me and says, “She’s an ugly little shit!” So, near dying, one wants to give me away to God and the other thinks I am ugly! Let’s get this late New Year’s party started!

My brother is a little over two and half upon my arrival. He has been an only child, grandchild, and nephew his entire short life thus far. Naturally, all dote upon him. I am told he is full of life, always on the go, in to everything, very active, all boy, and always hungry. In the pictures I have, he is one cute little boy with brown naturally curly ringlets of hair! When I begin talking, I call him “Bubby” and he calls me “Sissy.”

One Easter, for some insane reason, my aunt brings us each live little yellow baby ducks. Now, we do not live on a farm; we are city folk. What pray tell are we going to do with ducks in the city in a small yard? My brother wants to see if they can swim. He goes out to the garage; I follow him. He gets out a five-gallon bucket. He fills the five-gallon bucket with water from the garden hose. He goes back indoors and gets the baby ducks. He places the baby ducks into the five-gallon bucket of water. We are standing over the five-gallon bucket watching these baby ducks trying to swim for their very lives. The baby ducks do not know how to swim; they gurgle to the bottom of the five-gallon bucket and drown.

My brother loves playing with matches and fire. Where and how that began is a mystery to me. Again, my aunt for some insane reason, buys my brother a white Styrofoam life-size surf board and lifesaver ring. We do not live near water. We do not own a pool, other than a little plastic yard pool in which these items do not even fit. They are useless to my brother other than futile folly. I am unclear how my brother has a book of matches, but outside at the corner of the house, he begins breaking off little bits of the surfboard and ring, setting a match under the pieces, and watching them melt. I vividly recall standing aside watching the melting with great intrigue. He runs out of matches in his matchbook and asks me to go inside and get more matches out of the drawer. I do. He continues melting Styrofoam as a black soot mark begins accumulating on the corner of the house. My mother comes home, rounds the corner, and I literally think my brother’s death date has arrived. Her wrath swoops down upon him like a typhoon. Now, I strongly believe in proper discipline, rules, boundaries, consequences, punishment fitting the crime, etc., but corporal punishment  and ear- splitting vocals cause grave life-long trauma to a child.

Frequently, I hear my mother and father say, “We have to break his spirit!” Before I am five, who knows what that cognitively means, but visually and audibly that meant watching my mother turn into a category five hurricane with rantings and screaming at decibels beyond the Krakatoa Eruption of 1883 chasing after a little boy. Now my brother says he probably deserved everything he ever got, but harsh physical spankings and cruel punishment equate to abuse and I refuse to define it by any other term! How about they take responsibility for safeguarding access to matches and such, playing with him rather than leaving him up to his own mischievous wiles, and seeking out participation in constructive activities, which they had no interest in doing throughout our entire childhood. They wanted him contained and controlled by punishment and sought measures to “break his spirit” not considering they were breaking much more than his spirit – his self-esteem, his belief and joy in who he was as a little boy, changing his internal chemistry into someone he was not created to be, and emotionally creating defiance, anger,  and rebelliousness. They did not break his spirit, they altered and wounded his spirit.

My father is rarely home. He works three jobs. One I know, he scrubs, buffs, and polishes floors at night in an office building. A couple times, he brings the buffer home to do our floors. We get to sit on the buffer for a ride as he swirls the machine all around the room. His main employment is working for the grounds department at the state university. He enjoys that job and does it for his entire career, working countless hours in the winter plowing snow around the clock. A co-worker of his plays Santa at Christmas and travels about the town visiting little children at their homes. My father arranges for him to drop in for a visit to see my brother and me during a few Christmas seasons. Santa boisterously emerges through the front door shouting, “HoHoHo!” I run for the bedroom, but my brave brother goes right up to Santa, sits on his lap, and tells him everything he wants for Christmas. I keep my distance, peeking around the corner to see. I am still given a little netted stocking filled with candy. One Christmas we get bicycles. Mine, of course, has training wheels. We do not stay long, but in the snow, my father takes us to the school playground to ride our new bikes. Before I am five, I gravitate toward my father. He really does not have much of a clue about me as my mother keeps a solid grip on my life. In his absence, he thinks my mother takes care of everything for the kids. However, he certainly gives his two cents about doctors and dentists. My mother is not to take us to the dentist while we have baby teeth. He thinks that is a waste of money. We do not see the dentist. I am given a toothbrush, shown where the toothpaste is, and how to put the toothpaste on the brush, but I am not taught how to brush my teeth.

My mother tells me I was a sickly child. My nose dripped constantly. I struggled with severe constipation to the point she says she was frequently checking and administering some type of medication from the doctor. I have chronic earaches. Apparently, my mother hears of an old wives’ tale that suggests if she heats dry salt up in a pan on the stovetop, puts it in a baby sock, and places it on the child’s ear, it will draw out the pain. I beg for salt socks regularly. Did it draw out the pain? Who can say, but it is comforting and soothing quietly lying down on the couch with my hot salt socks pressed into my ears. I have migraine headaches, primarily on Sunday afternoons, that pierce my skull, throbbing and pulsating with a rhythm of a bass drum. She speaks to the doctor and gets another type of medication. I yearn for the isolation of a quiet dark room to lie down and let the pulsating subside. My mother tells me I was an angel sent from heaven. She tells me I never cry. She says I sleep all the time. She says she flicks the bottom of my feet to wake me up to eat. She tells me mostly she props a bottle up for me to drink in the crib and walks away, only to find the partially drank bottle somewhere on the floor. She tells me my brother wants me to come outside and play with him, but I am just a baby, so he decides to bring in a bucket of dirt and proceeds to pour it in my face. She says I nearly suffocated, turns me upside down to get me breathing, and has a terrible time getting all the dirt out of my eyes, ears, nose, and throat. She tells me I do not like to be held except for my paternal grandmother. She tells me that I do not talk. She says it is because my brother speaks for me. She decides to send my brother to my grandparents for a week and somehow forces me to speak. My speech is abnormal; I talk like Elmer Fudd for a couple years. I remember my mom and aunt mimicking my speech and words. It feels like they are making fun of me and laughing at me.

My mother tells me when I am able to sit up by myself without tipping over, many days she sits me in the middle of the dining room floor surrounded by toys and goes off to take a one to two hour nap. She says that I never move or cry; I sit there until she returns. I actually have a foggy memory of a few of those times.

At age three and four, I begin to have some of my own clear memories. My mother loved to watch, I Love Lucy in the mornings. Many mornings she sits me down beside her with a basket of laundry and teaches me how to fold washcloths and dishtowels – perfectly, while watching I Love Lucy. If it is not perfect, we start all over again as she watches The Price Is Right and The Young and the Restless. I eventually learn how to fold all the laundry – perfectly. In the afternoons, she takes a nap and begins giving me a choice. I can either take a nap or stand on a chair at the kitchen sink washing the dishes. I no longer want to take naps and always choose to wash dishes. By age four, I am a master class laundry folder and dishwasher – with perfection.

Now I am unclear of my naughty behaviors, but I am very clear on spankings. My mother spanks me; I do not cry. My mother spanks me again; I do not cry. My mother becomes infuriated and spanks me again; I do not cry. My brother tells me it became laughable to her. I remember this escapade a couple times. She is out to break me as well.  

I have no recollection of being played with, other than by my brother. Before I was born, I believe an uncle built my brother a super large roofed sandbox that stray cats used as their litter box, and a swing set was erected in the side yard. I want to say I was three. My brother and I are playing on the swing set. He pushes the swing sideways at me, gashing my forehead open. My mother rushes me to the ER where I am stitched up, not crying, all the while asking for my dad. I have no memories of sitting in laps, being read to, being told ‘I love you’, or any of those warm safe and secure feelings.

The doctor decides to remove my tonsils and adenoids. My mother decides that my brother will have the same procedures done at the same time. It is summer. We are confined to house arrest in the mornings and limited activities in the side yard for a short bit in the afternoons. We each wear ice cuffs around our necks for a few days; we each drink pink medicine. My earaches cease and my speech clears up. I am five.

Love you, mean it!