Tag Archives: childhood abuse

Tender moments

Last night my ex husband came over to celebrate our son’s birthday. We have an amicable relationship, but really haven’t spent too much time together this year. He moved out a year ago, after a tense and difficult summer. I think we’ve learned how to co-parent without pressing each other’s buttons by keeping our distance and creating boundaries. Not too shabby for someone I cringed at the thought of last summer.

Our son opens his gift and soon disappears to his room, in his typical teenage boy fashion. My ex and I are left sitting at my dining room table alone. I can’t even remember what we were talking about initially, but the subject changed to my father. I haven’t really shared much about my problems with my dad on here, and I’m not so sure I want to start tonight, but we’ll see…

Jeez, I can’t really go on with the rest of the story without giving you some sort of background on my dad. Hmm…

OK, so in brief… my dad loves me. I know this to be true. I can feel it when I’m with him. He loves me in the best way he can. The only way he knows how. It is difficult for me to accept this way, because I crave so much more. Intellectually speaking, I understand why he is distant. Emotionally, it kills me. Hey, that summary REEKS of someone in therapy, doesn’t it??

So, my ex tells me my dad reached out to him to see the boys. Another long story about why he needs to go through my ex, but I’ll sit on that one for a while. I’m pleased he’s making an effort to see them, but the conversation leads from one thing to another to another and the next thing you know, I’m crying…pouring out a few raw pieces of my soul…to my ex husband. I just couldn’t help it. The tears were down my cheeks before I even realized what was happening. And I just kept talking. Sharing the pain of my unmet emotional needs regarding my father, with the man who also left my emotional needs unmet for the past 20 years. Crazy, huh? The weird thing is, it didn’t feel crazy. He appeared to be listening sincerely, and appeared to feel bad for me. For all I know, I could be wrong about the sincerity, but I really don’t think so. He validated a few of the things I’ve done…things other members of my family have criticized me for. As much negative shit he and I have been through with each other this past year, he still understands what it’s like to have a dysfunctional childhood. At least that’s something we can connect on.

I spent a good half hour there, talking to him about my family, my childhood, the pain, the abuse…and for those moments, it felt like we weren’t in the middle of a sometimes tense divorce. It wasn’t like we were best friends, either. It was like we were two people who understood familial pain, and he was listening to me without judging me. Kind of a big deal, now that I’m looking back on it. We had some moments of tenderness last night.

I stopped crying and we went upstairs so he could say goodnight to the boys. He checked out my drum set and listened to me play a song, and he didn’t laugh at me at all. I’m actually getting kind of decent at Creep….for a 45-year-old brand new drummer mom. We walked downstairs, while he gave me advice on fall lawn care and getting things ready for the winter season around here. It came time to say good-bye and he hugged me. Not a quick, meaningless fake hug…but a long, sincere, probably sympathy hug. Normally, that is the exact OPPOSITE of something I would want to do with him, but I accepted it. And thanked him. And meant it. While I in NO means would even consider reconciling with the man, or even want to spend another evening with him like that, it did prompt me to think of how I don’t have a man in my life to support me during all this, and that left me feeling kind of empty…

You know, even though he’s not apologizing for all his stuff over the years, I forgive him. I forgave him well before last night. That’s the reward of processing your shit. That’s how you know you’re healing…when you can forgive someone who’s not sorry and feel good about doing it. I had told him about forgiving one of my family members, one who had treated me so badly as a child and still can be quite toxic to me. I told him how even though I can’t have this person in my life, because it would just cause me more pain, I’m still loving this person, from a human standpoint, from a distance. I’m wishing this person peace, as I know it can’t be easy being so miserable and agitated all the time. I asked him if he thought that sounded crazy, and he said yes. He and I…simply not on the same energy level. He’ll never “get” me, and that’s ok. That’s why we don’t live together anymore. But, he got me enough last night to create sincere, tender moments between us. And I’m smart enough to know that when those unexpected tender moments arise with someone, I don’t ignore them.  I will heal.

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Butterfly party

 

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I can remember when we were deciding to buy this house. It was about 8 years ago, and as we toured the open floor plan, we both kept saying how great of a house it would be to throw parties in…and we were right. I’ve hosted so many birthday parties, Christmas parties, craft-night parties, baby showers… you name it. I love entertaining. If I was not out doing something fun with my friends, I was having them over to do it here. Social butterfly, always something going on. I was a good time!

I was not consciously aware that by constantly socializing and developing new friendships, I was covering up the “real me”…the me that I hoped no one would ever see. The me that was insecure, and unlovable. The me that had done so many shameful things in the past. The unworthy me.   I was desperately trying to fill the hole inside me and create that feeling of emotional intimacy I didn’t even realize I was craving. I was trying to create a feeling of being needed and wanted… “worthy”… the feelings I never felt in my marriage, or from any boyfriend, or from my parents, or really from anyone other than my children. It fascinates me that I was oblivious to all of this as I went about my socialization. I knew it was an accomplishment that I went from being that “loser me” to the “popular me”. I had worked hard on changing it, but honestly never thought in a million years it would work. I slipped into this dream role so effortlessly, no one had a clue. I was so good at it, even I didn’t have a clue.

Fast forward to earlier this year.  I started therapy and the journey of processing my entire life. Opening up Pandora’s box was painful and raw, and made me realize the role I had been playing was not the “real me”. I felt like a fraud, and knew that if my friends found out who the “real me” was, they would know I’m a fraud, too. I couldn’t imagine keeping the act up with them, now that I had acknowledged who I really was. I dropped out of the public eye for a few months. I couldn’t face anyone. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere… except my therapist’s office.  This is when I realized where I was my entire life…in a cocoon. It’s one thing to live in a cocoon, blissfully unaware. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but when it’s all you know, it’s not so bad. It’s a whole other thing to be aware… to realize you are trapped inside. It’s crazy how shame can be such a bully. Trauma causes your brain to protect you in the most bizarre ways. Blaming and shaming yourself is so much easier than acknowledging the horror of what really happened to you. I became my own worst enemy. No one could judge me harder than I was judging myself, but I couldn’t understand that at the time.  I understand now.

I understand now, because I spent the past 9 months working hard to rewire the thought processes in my brain. It took me 9 months to  crack through the layers of that cocoon and start my real life.   I’m now on the outside, with the cocoon pieces surrounding me, admiring these beautiful new wings amidst the dark remnants. I think it will take me some time to figure out how to use them to their full potential, but that’s ok…I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.

Last night, I entertained friends for the first time in over a year. I just turned 45, so I threw myself a party. It seemed fitting, as it’s been 9 months since I started this journey. Sometimes, you have to die a little bit inside in order to be reborn. I called it my “Re-Birth Party” and invited my tribe. My tribe consists of friends who have met the “real me” and didn’t think I was a fraud at all. Friends who didn’t judge me one bit (something I still occasionally have to remind myself to believe) for those horrible things “I did” over the years. Friends who saw me feeling unworthy and unlovable and instead of running away like I assumed they would, stayed and valued me and loved me. Still, I have had a hard time feeling that love, even though I now know it exists. This work takes time, I guess.  I actually have quite an extended tribe, which is pretty amazing. I couldn’t have all of them here… you gotta start in baby steps. Anyway, this party was perfect. We ate and drank and laughed and danced, and even had a disco ball! It lasted till 1am, which is pretty late for a group of 40 and 50-somethings! Everyone was happy. I was happy. I was surrounded by empowering, uplifting, loving friends, and it was real. Towards the end of the night, we linked arms and sang along with “Danny’s Song”. I ended up in the middle, with me singing to them and them singing to me. “And in the morning when I rise, bring a tear of joy to my eyes and tell me everything is gonna be alright…”  and that’s exactly what happened. I was moved to tears, but for the first time since I started this journey, they were tears of joy.  I was worthy. I was lovable. I was happy.

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Brag about Jag

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I’m attending a Halloween party tonight and bringing my signature party dish, Jag. I love bringing this to parties because I can  be pretty sure no one else will be making it.  I cringe when I show up with something that someone else brought…it always makes me feel bad for the other person, like I ruined their contribution.  I don’t like carrying that kind of guilt around all night. One time, I brought a Mexican dip to a party and sneaked it back into the car, because I didn’t want the owners of the two other Mexican dips to feel bad when they see no one eating it.  With this dish,  I know I’ll never hear, “Oh, you can just put it on the table next to the other Jags”. More often than not, I have to explain to the guests just exactly what Jag is. I live on Cape Cod, home of clam chowder and lobster rolls. Jag is a Cape Verde beans and rice dish, though often thought of as Portuguese, as it’s full of delicious linguica.  Everyone’s recipe is a bit different, but it really doesn’t matter, because on Cape Cod, in my circle of friends, you can be pretty sure no place I’m going to has even heard of it.  Mine is full of bacon, linguica, butter…(do NOT tell my cardiologist I eat this stuff!) I’m not the type to brag…unless it’s about my Jag. (Damn, the poetry just kinda flowed right there).I’m sorry, but my Jag is the bomb! My friends at this party are expecting it. I can’t show up with paltry cheese and crackers anymore. That’s so beneath me.  People are depending on me! Tonight, as I walk in, the crowd will part to create a path for us.  “It’s here” they’ll whisper. I’ll cradle the pot in my arms, smiling… holding it out towards the food table like Rashiki holding up baby Simba in the Lion King. “Behold…the Jag!” Yes, that’s right…my Jag is as good as a royal newborn son.

I wrote about my Jag once, in my journal. I know I’ve mentioned in my other posts about going to therapy.  My therapist got me started on writing in a journal as a way to process things when I wasn’t in her office. Most who know me know how fortunate I am to have found the perfect match in a therapist. Let’s be real here… she is the best therapist on Cape Cod. I know, I haven’t actually been to any other therapists on Cape Cod… or anywhere, but it’s pretty obvious. Her name is Susan and she is a compassionate, badass, confident, empowering LISCW. She’s the kind of woman who’s not afraid to tell you when you’re off track, but also the first to validate you when it’s right. She has a way of planting seeds in my insecurities that grow into confidence. It’s really hard for me to give an accurate description of her, other than to say that I am 100% sure I would have ended up stuck in that dark, uncomfortable, cold cocoon for the rest of my life if I hadn’t met her. I wouldn’t have even known I was in a cocoon. I just would have died in there, never knowing  I could have fought my way out. She’s given me the tools I needed to chip away at my shell and progress in my transformation to the butterfly. I always kind of feel bad for people when I hear them say they are going to therapy. I think, “gee, it’s too bad they are going to such a mediocre therapist”, which is funny, because I have no idea who they are even seeing. All I know is it’s not Susan, so they must at least be a little sucky. Even when they talk about how much their therapist has helped them, I think “Aw, poor thing. It’s too bad that you think this is good help. Imagine how much better you would be if you went to Susan”. If Susan ever retires, I’m screwed.

Earlier this year, as I started to peel off the layers of trauma, I started to have a spiritual awakening. It’s really a whole other story for another time. Though one interesting part of it was the synchronicity I suddenly  became keenly aware of. It felt as if the Universe was trying to show me that I was on the right path. Coincidences and signs everywhere I turned. Some major, some small, but they happened all the time. Even Susan noticed it. Guess what her signature party dish is? Yep….Jag!

The awakening came at a time when I was doubting so much in my life….doubting myself, mostly, but also the entire process of my therapeutic journey. When you start peeling off those layers you’ve been carrying around all these years, it can get pretty ugly. You begin to wonder if you are doing the right thing. “Hmmm…I’m paying Susan one hundred dollars an hour to make me feel like I’m dying inside?” It seems like the process is taking forever and you begin to think that this might be as good as it gets.

It was an emotionally charged day when I had finally mustered up the courage to tell a friend for the first time about my childhood sexual abuse. I had only told Susan and my husband, and never imagined telling another soul. I honestly couldn’t even believe that I had told them about it. I thought I was taking that shit to the grave. You don’t just go around sharing your shame with people, you know? That’s the whole reason I kept it inside me for 30 years….if anyone ever found out, they would know how dirty and disgusting I was, and realize I was a fraud. As I pulled up to her driveway, overflowing with anxiety and considering turning around and going home, a family of four deer walked out of her back yard, crossing my path on the street. NOT a regular occurrence around here! I’d never seen anything like it. I couldn’t stop thinking about those deer, and how they appeared as I was about to share the most shameful secret of my childhood. Later that day, I looked up the meaning of a deer visit. It symbolizes “the innocence of the inner child”. Whoa. I told my husband, in disbelief.  He was not impressed. How could he not see the connection between the innocence of the inner child and me telling the story of losing my childhood innocence? Come ON!! That man just does not get anything about me. Those next few weeks were dark for me. There were way too many puzzle pieces swirling around in my brain. I was confused and depressed, for sure.  I had been working hard on figuring out how to forgive 13 year old Jami (I was 13 when the sexual abuse started) and I just couldn’t find a way to do it. I thought 13 year old Jami was shameful, dirty and disgusting. I just couldn’t shake it. I was discouraged and felt like giving up on all this therapy. It wasn’t working. I was more miserable than when I started. I remember lying on the couch one day, staring at the TV. My husband and youngest son came home. I could hear my husband say something to my son about “tell Mom what happened this morning”. I pulled myself up to a sitting position for the first time in hours. I knew I was just going through the motions for my family, but it was the best I could do. I looked over at my son, who was just 3 days shy of his 13th birthday. His face lit up as he started to share with me…“Mom, I was getting ready for school this morning and I looked out the window in the back yard and there was a deer looking at me!” I stared at him. It was like I had cleaned the dirt of my glasses and could see clear, for the first time in weeks… no, months. As I stared at him, it happened. I understood the significance of what was going on. God, it was right there, in plain sight, this whole time! It just took the coincidence of the deer to get me to notice. My son was turning 13. My sweet, innocent son. The son who still gives me tender kisses goodnight. The son who plays video games and hasn’t even gotten his braces yet. The son who feels excitement about a deer being in our yard. My inner voice spoke loudly, “He’s 13, just like you were. If that happened to him, would you forgive him?” I got up and went into my room so he wouldn’t see me crying. He’s only 13. If someone molested him, he wouldn’t be dirty. He wouldn’t be guilty. It wouldn’t be his fault. I would not think he was disgusting, shameful or unworthy. 13 year old Eric is pure. So why do I feel those things about 13 year old Jami? And just like that, the dark cloud lifted.

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I just might wear this costume all year long.

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