Tuesday, January 4, 2011

tired, but hopeful

I suppose all of this work that I have been doing is what has me exhausted. It is really demanding stuff, and after an hour with my therapist today, I was spent. I came home, made supper and am now trying to figure out how to finish that paper so I can go to bed.

I have shared some rough stuff here in the past. What I failed to mention here recently are some of the real milestones that have happened in the past month.

I am setting boundaries. And I am doing pretty well at not feeling guilty about it.

I have stopped my aunt in mid-sentence when it feels like she is invalidating what I am saying about how I am feeling. I know that it is her default setting to deny unpleasant things, I know that. But lately I have been able to say "stop. I know you'd really like for me to be enjoying school and having a marvelous time, but right now what I am feeling is scared, overwhelmed, terrified and trapped, and that is not fun, it is not a good time and I am not going to tell you that it is because that is what you'd like to believe. I know you love me and want me to be happy and have fun, but right now, it's not happening that way, so please stop telling me that I am not feeling what I feel."

Holy shit.

That's a lot.

And for the most part, she's handling it pretty well.

The other night we were talking about my father and my childhood, and she said what I always have heard: "well, I think you've come to the place where you can say he did the best he could."

I stopped her immediately. Yes, he did the best he could, but that does not make it ok. He did the best he could, but it was not enough. He did the best he could, but it was still wrong that he beat me with a strap. It was still wrong that he berated me and humiliated me and terrorized me. That was abuse and it was wrong and saying it was the best he could do does not make it right or excuse it. It was wrong. Period."

We both took a deep breath.

And she agreed.

Holy shit.

Something has shifted in the universe in the past eight weeks, I swear.

The week before Christmas, I came down with a cold. Not just a 48-hour sniffle to cough and be done kind of thing, but a full three days of no sleep, sneezing, constant runny nose, stuffy head, made for a cold medicine commercial kind of thing. I was hurting. So you know what I did?

I cancelled Christmas.

Well, I postponed it. I refused to travel while that sick. I refused to spread those germs to anyone I cared about. But mostly, I took care of myself. I stayed home, in my pajamas, drank tea and kept in touch with friends via the internet and telephone. Then some friends came over and did some nurturing for my soul (and my kitchen, thank heavens!) and I went to bed content.

No travel. No stress. No drama. No family baggage. Tea. Friends. Silly lopsided reindeer antlers. Rest. Care. It was a great Christmas. My aunt took care of herself and visited people in her town and it was good. Neither of us felt neglected or lonely for any length of time and it all was pretty great.

Three days later, I was on the phone with my aunt. We were talking about a family that was close to ours way back when I was little. She had dinner the night before with the matriarch of the family, now in her 80s and growing feeble, and one of the sons, now in his 50s. He told stories of abuse and horrors that happened in his childhood that my aunt had never imagined. The guy's father broke the fingers on his left hand with a two-by-four so the kid would learn to write with his right hand like "normal kids." The father broke the kid's elbow with his new baseball bat when he misbehaved. The man's father was a cop back then, and later a big shot in the PD. Who could they turn to? Nobody. My aunt was shook by the revelation, and moved with compassion for the matriarch, who was first generation Irish-American and told to obey her husband and not protest and certainly not to leave him. For her, it was an impossible place to be.

As I listened to my aunt relate the stories, I thought back to my own childhood. It was rotten. Nobody ever broke my fingers, but my father threatened to break my bones often. He threatened to beat me to within an inch of my life, not that I knew what that was, but I knew it wasn't good and I certainly didn't want it. Sometimes he did beat me. Sometimes he didn't. Psychologists will tell you that random reinforcement is the most effective at creating compulsive behavior. That's why slot machines are regulated. They hit every so many pulls of the handle.

So we talked a little then about my childhood. How I didn't get beaten as bad or as often as other kids, but certainly more than others still. How it didn't matter how often or how badly I was beaten, because it was sufficient to keep me terrified every waking moment for my adolescence. I lived in a fairly constant state of terror.

And then she said the most remarkable thing.

"I'm sorry we didn't do more to protect you."

And for a moment, I couldn't breathe.

The air just stopped.

It couldn't go in, it couldn't go out. It just stopped. As though any motion or noise would make the miracle I had just heard evaporate in the air.

There was no couching phrase, no justification, no "we didn't know it was that bad," no "but we were afraid he'd never let us see you again," none of that. Just "I'm sorry."

I thanked her.

I explained how much it meant to have her say that. I cried. Not enough to freak her out, but enough so that she knew it made an impact. The real sobbing came after we hung up the phone and I was able to absorb the enormity.

Someone had validated that I needed protecting. For the first time ever, someone acknowledged that I should have been protected from my father's abuse. It was huge. More huge than I can explain in words here.

Something has shifted in the universe. Energy is aligned in a way that is making things happen. I don't understand it, and I won't pretend to know what's going on. I just know that I have not had this much growth in my life in a long time.

Now, on to finish that paper. I have a date with a hot chick and a bunch of needles tomorrow, and I don't want to miss it. I'll post pictures when it's done.


Queenie said...

What a wonderful moment with your aunt; a moment of revelation for her, of admitting what I am sure she has felt all along, and the magic of you getting to hear it. We all need to be protected from the boogeyman in the closet and the man under the bed. Some of us just slipped through the cracks.

MRMacrum said...

It's great that you even noticed this new growth. Seems for me, any growth I realize happens well after the fact and thus is not appreciated as much.

Good for you Dawn, good for you.

Jen said...

I am so happy that you're drawing those boundaries and sticking up for yourself. It's never too late.

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