April is almost gone, just twelve days to go. Usually, grief latches on as the calendar page turns from March to April. Depression soon fills all the creases and crevices from my inside out, leaving little room to breathe. The pain of knowing what April stole from me was unbearable, no matter how healed I thought I was. The pain was still there, taunting me from a far off place.
This year, my therapist and I started using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing ) therapy. EMDR is used to help people who have been through a traumatic event reprogram their thoughts, beliefs, and reactions to the trauma. This process helps remove the block a person created in order to cope with the traumatic event. Once the block is removed, healing can begin.
I had heard about EMDR, and saw it used when I was at Onsite last year. It was just by chance that my therapist asked me if I would be open to trying it. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I decided to give it a try–I had nothing to lose.
The first session was just days before April 1st. It was perfect timing to test the results. If April could sneak past me, without depression following it, I knew it was working. The first part of the session was used to create a safe space, and a feeling that I could pull up if I needed to. Then I was to think about the two most upsetting memories or beliefs about my gram’s death. That was easy, because, even after so many years, the guilt still haunted me. My first belief was that I killed my gram. A nurse at the ER even cast the blame on me. After my gram’s surgery, I had not filled her prescription; mostly as an order by my gram who just wanted to get home. The following day, I forgot to fill them after work, and then she was on her way to the hospital in the back of an ambulance. I was told it was irresponsible to not get the prescriptions filled, and it was my fault that my gram had a heart attack. My next regret was that I did not follow the ambulance to Dartmouth when she was transferred. I wanted to, but my gram insisted that I go home to my children; who were eleven months, three and five years old. I felt guilty that I listened to her. I felt guilty that she arrived at the hospital alone. I felt guilty that I wasted minutes I could have spent with her.
As I explained these thoughts to my therapist, I told her, “Logically, I know I didn’t kill her.” But logic doesn’t always come into play when there is trauma. The doctor at her bedside after she died told me it was not my fault. And, if I had not listened to her, and followed the ambulance, she would have been angry at me. I know these things, but the guilt was overpowering.
During the session I went through that day step, by step, and pulled up memories and feelings that have been swirling inside of me for the last ten years. I cried. I smiled. I felt sensations throughout my body. I was exhausted. It felt like years of pain and memories were lifted out of me, shook around, and re-positioned. I seemed to have responded to EMDR quickly, and effectively.
The following days came and floated by. The dread that usually arrives with April was not there. I was able to think back to those last few moments with my gram without the overwhelming pain, without the longing, without the deep sadness. A few tears fell, quietly, and quickly on the ten year anniversary. But, they stopped as soon as they started. I felt comfort and even smiled at some of the thoughts that came.
She was ready, and she knew I never would be. She picked how and where she wanted to die. She was in charge, and went peacefully. There was nothing more that I could ask for. She deserved to die with dignity. After ten years, I let her go. I let her go, and accepted that she will never leave me. Her love and guidance are with me everyday. And, for the first time, I actually believe this.
Since her death happened on Good Friday, Easter has also haunted me. This year, as we approach Good Friday tomorrow, I am free. I am free, and so is she.
Sometimes I fall down, inside of myself.
Unable to get up, or out of the way.
I don’t know what I will trip on,
or what will cause the fall.
But I know I will land, in a hard, loud thump.
My body rejects any efforts of comfort,
and pushes away love and concern.
I am not sure what makes the light fade away,
and allows the darkness to creep in.
I know the pain of trying all too well.
The empty spaces growing,
while the numbness tingles places unknown.
Staying down, too long is not an option.
Pushing my way through the darkness,
helps me live again.
Each fall is followed by my rise,
through the darkness, into the light.
With each fall,
I know one thing,
Nothing remains the same.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Although, I am aware every single day. I am on edge from the PTSD at times I least expect it. A loud noise, people yelling, an angry expression can be the trigger. A feeling comes over me, and I fear for my safety. I scan parking lots as I walk to my car, waiting for death that was promised.
It is not something that just goes away. Good days can be stolen in an instant when a memory pops up. Anxiety creeps in, and there is nothing that can quiet the mind. My heart races, as I wonder why I wasn’t one of the statistics…but I know there is still time. When an unpredictable abuser, who was never held accountable for his actions roams the streets, his death wish for me could be a when, and not if.
Thoughts like this, make Domestic Violence part of what shaped me into who I am. Fear from childhood, wondering when my dad was going to kill my mom, and I continued to be fed by threats from my ex husband. I have expected my murder since I was four years old. Before I even knew what death was. It is a miracle that I am still alive, and I am determined to be the change. The change for my children. The change for others who want to be free. The change for me.
Alone, the world is a scary place. Together, we can get through anything.
You are not alone.
From The Monster That Ate My Mommy:
A couple of years into the job, I found out I was pregnant with baby number three. Chuck and I continued to fight, but that was the norm now. We couldn’t have a conversation without calling each other names or yelling. Ian was four and Emerson was two. Chuck only occasionally put his hands on me now. Most of the abuse was emotional.
Until I was nine months pregnant. Chuck spent the day belittling me. “You’re a fat whore. No one has ever loved you. Your own mother hates you. You’re just a piece of shit.”
After hours of listening, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had the cordless phone in my hand from my daily call to Gram, and without thinking, I threw it at Chuck’s bare back. I wanted him to stop talking. I was nine months pregnant, my husband was verbally abusing me, and my hormones were raging. I wanted him to leave me alone.
He spun around and yelled, “You’re gonna pay for that, you stupid, fat whore!”
Ian and Emerson were in the living room, and they stopped playing as he ran to me. I ran past him into the living room to get the kids to a safe spot, but as I got into the living room, Chuck pushed me into the changing table. When I didn’t fall, he pushed me again, harder. I stumbled and landed on the floor in the kids’ playroom as Ian yelled, “Daddy, no! Stop, Daddy!”
On the floor, I held my stomach. Chuck came over and kicked me over and over again in the back. He kicked me harder each time his foot made contact. Ian ran over to try to make him stop. I fought back the tears because I didn’t want Ian to be afraid. Emerson stood in the corner of the living room, crying as she watched her father continue to yell at me. I needed help. I managed to get to my feet and walked to the phone. When Chuck saw what I was doing, he ripped the phone out of the wall and threw it. “What the fuck do you think you are doing? You’re not calling anyone.” He pushed me into the doorway to the upstairs, pushing me so hard my body broke the door. The kids both watched and cried. We were all at his mercy.
Chuck pulled me up out from the broken door and dragged me into the kitchen by my hair. He tried to smash my head onto the hot wood stove. I couldn’t let my face hit the stove. I somehow managed to brace myself in the door frame of the bathroom that was in front of the wood stove. He took my head, bounced it off the door jam, and yelled, “I am going to kill you!”
The kids followed us into the kitchen. Their screams filled the house. Ian yelled, “Let her go! Let Mommy go!”
Chuck didn’t let me go. He grabbed me by the neck and pushed me into the wall as he yelled, “You are dead! I am going to kill you and hide your body.”
“Daddy! Please don’t kill Mommy. Please, Daddy, please.” Ian’s pleas didn’t stop him.
Chuck continued to yell, “You are dead, you fucking whore. You are dead! The kids won’t care if you’re dead. They don’t even love you.”
“Daddy, no! Daddy, we love Mommy. Daddy, no.” Ian pleaded with him.
Chuck finally let go of me, and the kids ran over to me. Emerson hugged my legs, and Ian stood guard. Chuck was angry they were so upset. “Stop your fuckin’ crying. God damn it…make the little fuckers stop.”
I held them close to keep Chuck away from them. Chuck paced the kitchen as they continued to cry. “Get the fuck over it!”
My whole body hurt. The baby stopped moving. I was scared he had killed the baby inside of me. I sat in the living room with Ian and Emerson in my lap, and I cried with them. Chuck sat on the couch to watch us. “I need to go to the hospital…the baby isn’t moving.”
“You’re not going anywhere. You just want to get me in trouble.”
“No…I’m scared the baby’s hurt.”
“You’re fine, the baby’s fine.”
My body was covered in bruises. It hurt to sit down. After a while, the baby did move, and Chuck reminded me he was right, there was nothing wrong. He told me again if I told anyone what happened he’d kill me and take the kids. He said he would cut the baby out of me and take it too. I couldn’t leave them. I couldn’t let him kill me and leave them with him.
At my doctor’s appointment, a nurse asked about the bruises. I said I had fallen down the stairs. I hoped they wouldn’t believe me, but they didn’t ask again. She told me it was selfish of me not to come in right after the fall. I felt like I’d failed this baby too, just like I failed at everything.
After that day, my dislike for Chuck grew to hate. I hated him for all he had done to me. I hated him for all he did to my kids. I hated him for all he pretended to be. I hated him for all the hope he stole from me. I hated him for everything. We’d been together for six years, and I still hadn’t told him I loved him. Now there was no way he’d ever hear me speak those words.
I’m sick of caring what everyone else thinks.
I’m sick of being ignored by the people who used to care about me.
I’m sick of perpetrators playing the victim.
I’m sick of the unsaid things that linger in my mind.
I’m sick of the days bleeding into each other.
I’m sick of how quickly negativity spreads.
I’m sick of being the adult in all situations.
I’m sick of people hurting others, and never having to pay.
I’m sick of the anger.
I’m sick of watching while others hurt.
I’m sick of the noise that takes over the quiet space.
I’m sick of not knowing what is to come.
I’m sick of not having anything to grab onto.
I’m sick of twenty-five years turning to silence.
I’m sick of depending on people who don’t really care.
I’m sick of humanity becoming anything, but human.
I’m sick of the hate.
I’m sick of waiting for things to change.
I’m sick of it.
Ever since I can remember, I have loved words. Either in songs, poems, quotes, books…it didn’t matter to me. I just needed to be around words. One of my favorite books as a child was a book of quotations that I found on my gram’s bookshelf. I would spend hours reading through it, finding ones that meant something to me, and I would write them on little index cards and tape them up all over my room.
Words made sense in a world where nothing else did.
This love of words is one of the main reasons that I love Tom Petty’s music so much. His words mean something. They reach the core of my soul, and wrap me in warmth. As the year anniversary of his death is fast approaching, I find myself drawn to looking for more words.
My words have been sparse. For reasons unknown to me. Depression maybe. Grief possibly. Whatever the reason, my words have been harder and harder to set free. This has made it next to impossible to write my weekly blog posts. I watch the days slip by, and the number of posts that I am behind continue to grow.
I do things all or nothing. If I don’t think I can do a job up to my standards, I just don’t do it. Typically, I am able to force myself into it, and usually I produce results I am mildly satisfied with. As this challenge taunted me, I found a way around it.
As I was drawn into searching for quotes, I decided to share them here. I will write what comes from the inspiration of the words, and hope to pass along some of the joy they bring.
To start, let’s begin with:
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”— Theodore Roosevelt
For as long as I can remember, my accomplishments have never been celebrated. In my thirty-seven years, I never had a Birthday party. These days, that is what I prefer, but as a child, I always felt inadequate when I couldn’t reciprocate the invitation to my friends. Other kids had parties at McDonald’s, or the bowling alley, or a big sleepover full of girls. I always had a cake, and usually a barbecue…but that was because it was the day before the Fourth of July. For a little while, I thought the fireworks were for me…it was very disappointing to learn they were not.
When I brought home a report card with all As, I was questioned why there was an A-. Surely, I could have tried harder. When I graduated eighth grade, other kids had parties and gifts, and praise. I didn’t even have a picture taken of me at the event.
In high school, when it was time for the Chorus I was in to have our first, and second, and third concert…there was no one in the audience for me. I had to get a ride from a friend to get there on time. I think it was at this time that I decided to “why bother,” while also increasing my desire to “do better.”
It was a relentless cycle of not caring, and never feeling good enough. I would teeter into the not caring zone, to tipping the scale with chasing the next thing that might matter. Matter to who? I wasn’t really sure. I had dreams that I had to make happen, because if I didn’t, then what good was I? Like the age old question, “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” For me, it was, “If no one notices my accomplishment, do they really even count?”
In my senior year of high school I was dropped off at the award ceremony, where I won an award for excelling in Home Economics. No one was there to see me receive it. No one. At graduation, my gram and mom were there to watch me receive my diploma. Not one picture was taken. My celebration for graduating after a full year of receiving high honors? A quick trip to McDonald’s, where my mom criticized my dress and complained about how long the ceremony took, and how hot it was. I was grateful for the lunch, but it happened more so because it was lunch time. I know my gram felt bad about it, but at 80, it was the best she could do.
Because I had no support, emotionally or financially, there was no way I could go to college right out of high school, no matter how badly I wanted to. I told myself it was better that way, because my gram needed me. I couldn’t leave her behind when there was no one else willing to help her. I found a full time job, where I walked three miles to and from until I had enough money to pay for a taxi.
When I was able to figure out a way to go to college, I took as many credits as financial aid allowed me. I was working full time, and taking at least 15 credits a semester. Then, I had to take a break when my son was born. Quitting was not an option. I had to complete what I started. When my son was twenty-two months old, and my daughter was only a few weeks old, I received my bachelor’s degree in human services with a 4.0 grade point average. My mom, gram, and brother were there watching me, but again no picture and no celebration. It was clear that my gram was proud of me, and that alone was enough of a celebration, but it was another time where it seemed as though I didn’t make the mark.
Weeks after graduation I was hired for my dream job…you guessed it…nothing.
I received an award from the Governor of Vermont for the Healthy Aging of Seniors in the area. There were sixteen awards given out to the whole state of Vermont, and I was one of them. At twenty-nine years old, I was honored for the difference I was making in lives of the people I served. No one came to the ceremony to watch me receive the award.
When I decided that it was time to go after my master’s degree, I was working full time, and raising three young kids: 8, 6, and 3 years old. I was deep in depression from the loss of my gram two years before. During the time I was in grad school, I fought to keep my son safe from the bullying he was enduring at school, lost our home to a fire, was homeless for a short time while things were situated, all while the domestic violence in the home continued to escalate.
Three days before graduation, my ex-husband was arrested and removed from the home. I lost my job when I did not have child care. My daughters and I drove to the church where graduation was being held because I had worked too hard to let him take this from me. A group of people who took time out of their lives were there to celebrate me. My brother even came to watch me receive my master’s degree, Friends took pictures to help me cherish the day.
My mom was not able to come, and I tried to not let that bother me. I did beat myself up though for only graduating with a 3.86 and not a 4.0. I couldn’t accept the praise, I had to keep saying, “But I could have done better.” I pushed away the compliments and burrowed my head into the familiarity of the past.
When my life long dream became a tangible reality, and my book became real, and available to the world, it quietly passed like any other day. No celebration. And my thoughts went back down the rabbit hole. I self-published, it didn’t count. There were mistakes. It wasn’t perfect. The list of criticism went on.
Emails and reviews came in. For the most part, all good. People could relate to my story. They said it was well written. They thanked me for sharing my story. It was hard to receive. It was harder to believe. They just feel sorry for me, because it is a sad story. I didn’t want their pity, but it turned out I was unable to accept their sincere words. How was I enough to be worthy of their kindness?
I entered my book in multiple contests. Each rejection proved to me that I was not good enough, that my book was not worthy of the five-star rating. I found each and every negative remark that had been said about my book, and I held them closer and closer. I was done. I couldn’t let this control my self-worth any longer.
On September 1, 2018, I received word that The Monster That Ate My Mommy had been awarded Honorable Mention in The Reader’s Favorite contest. I shot down the congratulations that appeared on my screen, only to say, “But it’s just honorable mention.” It took me some time to embrace what had really happened. And then it hit me.
Maybe it is me. Maybe it has always been me. Not feeling worthy enough to accept celebration or praise. To stomp it out as quickly as it comes. I don’t like a lot of attention, and maybe I have always been the one to not want a big deal made out of my accomplishments. I have come a long way, and do have a lot to be proud of. My new goal is to accept, and embrace what I have to be proud of.
No more negative self-talk.
Easier said than done, but all I can do is keep on trying.
Repeat after me:
You are worthy.
You are enough.
You are loved.
Bringing light to the darkness is what has gotten me this far.
If you look close enough, there is always light to guide the way. Never stop looking.