#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Child abuse, Depression, Domestic Violence, EMDR, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Uncategorized

January 2020 Domestic Violence Story: A Child Witness

Since awareness is key to helping end domestic violence, I want to share a story each month with a different focus. There can never be too many stories shared. Sharing replaces hopelessness with hopefulness.

Since this idea did not come to me until late into the month of January, I thought I would start with my story. I did share my story in October 2019, as well as in my memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy, but there is always room for more details and more insight. My hope is that sharing my story, even on repeat, it will reach the right people to make a difference. If one person is helped by my suffering, it was for something.

The first three years of my life I did not have contact with my father, and as far as I know, neither did my mom. She brought baby girl Aiken home to her mother’s house from the hospital with the father’s name on the birth certificate blank. From the start she knew she didn’t feel safe around my dad, and maybe for the first time in her life, she listened to her gut feeling. During those three years she kept him away from me, and because he was not named as my father, without a DNA test, he did not have any rights to me.

The plan had been to name my brother’s dad as my father, and I was going to be given his last name. He agreed to this plan, and as far as I knew, he was my dad. He was loving and kind, and fun to be with. Before this plan could be put into motion, he became very sick, and died. I am not sure if it was this alone that changed my mom’s mind about my dad, or her wish to give me a father, or the hope for a family, but he was welcomed into our lives. My birth certificate was changed to list him as my father, and my last name was hyphenated to include his.

Within days we were moving into a new place as a family, and the abuse came creeping back in. Some of the scariest, most traumatic moments of my life came from the three short years we lived together. I witnessed my brother’s beatings, so severe, I was not sure he would live. I watched as my parents had violent sex in the living room, and saw my dad inches away from ending my mom’s life.

I was a watcher. I watched and observed everything. I wanted to be prepared for what might happen. Every sound awoke my adrenaline as I waited for it to escalate, and spiral out of control. Even at four years old, I knew I had to think fast, and be ready for what might come. I knew I had to be strong and step in for my mom or brother when their beatings became too much. I’d cause some sort of distraction to take the focus off them, hoping the belt across my bare bottom would be enough for him. If they could have a break, maybe they would be strong enough for the next time.

I knew there would always be a next time. I knew that even when we were laughing and having fun, it would end as quickly as it started. My guard was never down, and it wasn’t until recently that I understood the impact this has had on me.

Some things are easy to see what they were caused by, while others take time to fully understand. My newest development came in a counseling session where EMDR therapy was used.

The goal of the session was to understand the reason I don’t feel at home anywhere. The last place that felt like home was my gram’s house, the same house I was brought home from the hospital. Even though I moved out of this home when I was three, every time I went back, I knew I was home. It wasn’t a big surprise to me. It made sense that my gram made it feel like home; she was home.

My problem was I have not been able to recreate that feeling since. It was not due to feeling unsafe or unloved. I didn’t understand what was the route of this lack of connection came from. In the past abuse and neglect made it was easy to see why I didn’t feel like I was home. My life is no longer filled with either and I wanted answers. I wanted to fix it. I wanted to find that feeling.

Some of the factors that lead to this decision were the boxes I have not unpacked for over ten years. They follow me, all the things I have carried with me throughout different moves, and do not find a permanent place inside the building I reside. I do not decorate or make an effort to make it feel like “home.” I thought it was because I was lazy…or busy…but lately, I knew there was more to it.

During my session I had to go back in time to a memory that may have caused this. Going down memory lane I counted 20 moves in my lifetime. Most all of them had a negative connotation. There were two that stuck out. One was when I was 14 and first in foster care, and the second, the one that I worked on, was when I was six and going with my dad for visitations.

Tears began to roll down my cheek as I thought back to thirty-two years ago, to my six-year old self with my rolled up brown paper bag full of my clothes gazing out the window, waiting for my dad’s car to arrive so I could slip out the door before my parents had a chance to interact. In those moments I dreaded these weekend visits. I wanted to go to my gram’s, but on his weekends, I couldn’t.

As I worked through these emotions and memories I realized what had been keeping me from feeling at home. It was the lack of fitting in, the lack of having a safe place, the lack of belonging, the lack of having a solid foundation.

How does this all relate to being a child witness to domestic violence?

All that fear, and waiting I experienced followed me. I’m ready at a moments notice to throw my belongings into paper bags, or garbage bags and throw them into my car to get to safety. I’m ready to make my escape, because to me, home was not safe. To me, home was where I went to be hurt and watch others be hurt. It was a place that held all the secrets and horrors that no one else was allowed to know. It was filled with loud voices, swears, insults, and bruises. It was the space between going to school, and my gram’s house, where safety wasn’t questioned.

Watching my dad hurt and threaten to kill my mom changed me. It instilled a fear in me I thought was part of my existence. It gave me an altered view of what home and love were supposed to look like. It ate away at my self-esteem. It robbed me of self-love.

It changed me.

As an adult, who found my way to my own house of horrors, it took me a while to realize it was not normal. I didn’t believe I deserved anything other than what I had always known. I recreated a “home” that mimicked the one I had grown up in. On guard for the next incident to happen, I never had time to get comfortable. I didn’t know what comfortable was.

Recently, I thought something was wrong with me because I can sleep through my husband’s alarm clock. I know now that there is nothing wrong with me. For the first time in my life I feel safe. Safe enough to sleep soundly. Safe enough to let my guard down. Safe enough to figure out what home is.

It’s time to start living. Existing is exhausting.

If you have exposed your children to domestic violence, please don’t feel guilty. We all do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Each day is a new day to make a change. Tomorrow is a clean slate. Don’t let the past keep you somewhere you never belonged.

I don’t share my story for pity, I share it for awareness. Awareness is the key to ending domestic violence.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, #MeToo, #ReadersFavoriteMiami2018, #TeamKimandJessica, Domestic Violence, EMDR, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Onsite, Sexual abuse, Tom Petty, Uncategorized

Decade Review: 2010-2019

The beginning of a new year brings lots of thoughts about the past 365 days. As I started to think back over the last year, I realized not only did January 1st bring a new year, it also brought a new decade. I tried to think back to the start of 2010, and where I was in my life, and I couldn’t believe the changes that had taken place. So many so that it is hard to remember who I was. A stranger in a strange land.

2010 brought with it the continued grueling, agonizing grief that came from the loss of my grandmother. It would bring the year anniversary of the most painful loss of my lifetime. It would also bring the push I needed to seek counseling when the pain became too much to bare. unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at what followed, the counseling did not help. It was the reminder I did not want that I could not trust counselors, and the reason I had not stepped foot in an office since the court order had ended when I was in foster care. By the end of the year I knew if I wanted help, I would have to learn the skills to help myself. I met with admissions counselor at Springfield College to talk about the Masters in Mental Health Counseling program…and applied.

2011 began with an acceptance letter into the graduate program, soon followed by a full-time caseload of classes, because my motto has always been “Go big or go home.” Chaos was what I was used to, and this sure helped fill that requirement. Receiving As in my first few classes gave me the reminder that I was good at something. The year also brought hell to my son as the bullying continued. He started to get physically sick when we took the road that led to our house. No one wanted to help. The way out was found with the loss of our home; taken by a fire that destroyed everything we owned. Life had to start over; there was no other option. The insurance company gave the option of rebuilding in the same spot or finding a house somewhere else. The choice was an easy one, and we found a house down the road (less than a half a mile) from where some of the worst physical abuse of my life occurred.

2012 brought strength. As the kids’ lives started to settle down in school, I began to find myself. For the first time in my life I was able to see how I had been treated. The fog from the gas lighting started to lift. I took the new found strength and purchased tickets to see Tom Petty live in concert in Orlando, Florida. My first time to see him and my first time on an airplane. I didn’t know it then, but this would be one of the major stepping stones of my healing journey. If a lifelong dream could come true, anything could. I held on to that belief as the journey continued. The year also included a shakeup in my career. As my degree was getting closer and I learned more about ethics, I knew I did not want to stay somewhere I felt like I was settling. I left a job I held and had loved for six years to pursue something more; more money, more responsibility, more chaos.

2013 changed my life, maybe even saved it. As I learned who I was and what I didn’t need to deal with I knew what and who I didn’t want in my life. The year brought another Tom Petty concert, this time in Saratoga Springs, New York. It brought new friends, courage, and more strength than I knew I could handle. Three days before graduation my now ex-husband was arrested and removed from the home for physically assaulting me. The arrest gave me the protection I needed to get the divorce papers started, and set the motion for a safe life for my kids, pets, and myself. Safety did not come right away, but I knew I never had to allow him to put his hands on me or the kids again.

2014 was the year I got my name back! The divorce was finalized on May 30th. My first time at Fenway Park happened on August 31, 2014 to see my third Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert. This was the year I also started writing my memoir. I wrote 25,000 words and had to stop. I knew I couldn’t write my truth while my mom was alive. It had always been my job to protect everyone else’s feelings…this was no different.

2015 changed my status from lifetime Vermonter. A move I never thought I would make moved me across the river to New Hampshire. This was the year I started on my healing journey. A friend told me I needed to clean my third eye…I didn’t know what she meant, but I knew who to ask. I met with Sali Crow, which started the process of uncovering years of my buried trauma. Through this process it made sense to meet with a therapist. There was way too much to leave unattended. This was also the year my world went black, crashed around me, when my youngest daughter told me her father had been molesting her. Suddenly, I was that seven year old girl who was being molested again. While I protected my child, the hurt, anger and rage seared my skin as I thought about my seven year old self, and how my mom blamed me for the abuse…how she watched the abuse happen right in front of her. This nightmare sent me into a deep depression, and brought back every unresolved issue I ever faced in life. This was the year I found out what I was made of.

2016 put me in a position to learn Reiki, so I could continue on my healing journey, and help my children with theirs. It was the year I was able to see and acknowledge the abuse and trauma my mom caused me. I took a step back, and put some distance between us, so I could began healing old wounds. It was also the year I felt at peace with my gram’s death. On April 20th, ten days after the seventh anniversary of my gram’s death, my mom took her last breath. I was able to be by her side when she left this world. I was also able to tell her that I forgave her (and I meant it). The last words she spoke to me were, “I love you.” And for the first time in my life, I believed her. After my mom died, I sat at my computer and wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I finished the first draft of my memoir by June, submitted it to an editor and waited. When it returned I read through the corrections, but I didn’t have it in me to go back to those places I needed to go. I was emotionally exhausted. My reward for completing a life long dream was an overnight trip to New York City to see Mudcrutch. I was the closet I had ever been to Tom Petty, and the night was magical. A small venue with acoustic music, that was a trip I am grateful for.

2017 brought the time I needed to rewrite my memoir. It also brought a trip to Nashville, TN to see Tom Petty with some online friends I had been talking with for years, who understood my love of the band. It also brought four more concerts. Two of them with front row seats, and a few guitar picks from the band (and Dana), one tossed right from Tom’s hand after he finished playing Free Fallin’. My memoir was published in September, and my book launch party was scheduled for October 20th, Tom’s birthday…October 2nd brought heartache when we learned Tom passed away. I was not sure how I would get through the event, but I pressed on, and honored the man who help save my life so many times with his words. The year finished out with a proposal from the only man who had ever shown me love and respect.

2018 was stated off in an airplane headed to Los Angeles, California to appear on the Dr. Phil show. I had been lead to believe we were going to be talking about my memoir, but soon learned that not to be true. My sister, step-father and I talked about the sexual abuse we experience as children. He admitted the abuse he had done to my sister, although in a twisted, victim blaming way, but denied what he had done to me. This experience brought many things with it. Clarity, healing and understanding. It also brought a trip to Tennessee where I spent a week at Onsite in their Healing Trauma workshop. This would not have been something I ever would have been able to do for myself, and it gave me the understanding of how many people there are who know what it’s like to live a life of trauma. I understood that I am not alone. And for the first time in my life, I understood my strength.

2019 introduced me to EMDR therapy, and helped me process many of the traumas that left me with PTSD. Luckily, I responded well to this type of therapy and it helped mend many years of hurt and self doubt. I had many break through in my sessions. It was the year I married a man who has loved me and never hurt me emotionally or physically. It also helped inspire me to help others share their stories and bring awareness to domestic violence. The year ended with the loss of our sweet dog, Belvedere, who taught me that the love was worth the pain.

After going through the years and events, it is easy for me to see I am not the person I used to be. I have learned so much about myself and the world around me. The healing journey is one that does not end as life twists and turns. I look forward to the years ahead to see what adventures and lessons they have in store. Here is to the next ten years.

Depression, EMDR, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Uncategorized

Where to Start?

I met with my therapist again this week, and we talked about how I handled Good Friday and Easter. Days that for the last ten years have brought pain and suffering for me. This year, sandwiched in between the days was the third anniversary of my mom’s death.

I didn’t flinch. I didn’t shed a tear. The pain was gone. I didn’t reminisce over what could have, should have or would have been. I didn’t put my thoughts into the dark hole of grief. The days came and went without the heaviness they usually carry. I told her I was amazed at how effective the EMDR therapy had been in such a short amount of time. Two sessions took ten years of pain, possibly more. She said we hold memories in networks, and related thoughts can be healed, even without focusing on them. So, being able to work through my mom’s anniversary was an added bonus of the work we did on the loss of my gram. As she told me that, I thought about the possibilities that are in front of me. There is so much work to be done, but where to start? We talked about where to go next, about the top issues that cause me distress. My mind went in circles. How could I pick the top issues? What was really causing me distress now? My healing journey has been pretty complete. Most days are OK, with days of OK with a side of sadness. Knowing that memories are stored in networks, and connected in a web, woven together by similarities, I thought about the root of my suffering. My mom. I always feel a little guilty or cliche about blaming my mom. That’s the joke of all counseling sessions. “What did your mom do to screw you up?” For the longest time, I wouldn’t let my thoughts take me there. I didn’t want to be one of them that blamed all of my problems on my mom. I was so adamant that she was not my problem that I brushed off the first notion of it. It was only after acknowledging it, and working through it that I was able to start the true healing. When I told her I wanted to work on some memories of my mom, she asked me which one? I didn’t really know. There were so many. She suggested I close my eyes and see what image comes to me. It was fitting, that the title of my book was the image projected on my mental movie screen. I pictured my three-year-old self, pleading with the monster to give me back my mommy. The terror from that moment flooded me. When I was asked what thoughts this image brought to mind, I responded, “that I am annoying, an inconvenience, not worth people’s time, not good enough.” And there we have it. The root of my self-sabotaging behavior and thoughts, the feeling that my presence is not worth any one’s time, the feeling of being inadequate, of never being enough was programmed into my tiny, little, 3-year-old brain. All of the healing in the world would not work if this block was not removed. For close to thirty-five years I have held this block in my mind, stopping short of true healing. Each and every time I get close to tackling these thoughts my brakes instantly go one, and I am stuck in tar, unable to move forward, or to shake these thoughts out of my mind. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what. All I knew was the same terror that came as that 3-year-old filled me when I came close to working on these thoughts. Frozen. Through the process of the EMDR therapy so much happened, in such a short amount of time. As we worked through the memories, a vision of my gram came in. Her smiling face, and a bright, yellow light surrounding her. The anxiety and terror I had been feeling was lifted, and in it’s place warmth and love filled me. I saw my gram take the hand of my child-self and take her out of that bedroom with the monster. We walked away, and slowly my mom disappeared. The bed was empty, the blankets pulled up and straightened. When I was asked what I saw, I said that my gram was going to protect the little girl, and keep her safe. Visions of my child-self and my gram playing together came, and my whole body shifted. In the past I had been told to take care of my child-self. The idea of it sounded far fetched, and honestly, a little crazy. I was told to give that little girl the love and support she was longing for. Let her be little. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. A burden was lifted when I saw my child-self was in my gram’s hands now. I wouldn’t have to care for her, but I knew she would be safe, and happy. When I was asked to do a scan of my body from head to toe after the session, I felt something I had never felt before. A clear flow of energy. No blocks. No tension. Nothing in the way of the energy circulating throughout my body. A notable thing to mention is that as I was doing the scan of my body, I said that I felt like I was finally inside my body. With the damaged little girl in the way, I was never fully able to experience life as me. I had never thought of it in those terms before, but as I finished up the scan, I noticed that I could actually feel my feet on the floor. As in, I have never noticed that sensation before. When I shared this with my therapist, she smiled at me, and said how exciting it will be to get to know myself. The thought brought tears to my ears. I never expected to get to a place in my life where the pain and thoughts were not overwhelming. To think that this can happen for all of the areas of trauma in my life is beyond exciting, I don’t even have the words to describe how this all feels. As we talked at the end of our hour together I told her how interesting it was that we had worked on the loss of my gram first, because without that work being done, seeing her come to take my child-self would have been crushing. It would not have worked, because the emotions tied to that loss were so intense. Also, the timing of this all worked out well. The groundwork for the foundation of my healing had been laid. I was ready. There is nothing left to do now, except heal. Who am I to question how all this works? Be kind to yourself. We are all healing from something.
Depression, EMDR, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Onsite, Uncategorized

April Is Almost Gone

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.