Category: healing

Letting Go

Well, I apologize, it has been a few weeks since my last blog entry. Things have been pretty hectic in this Rambler’s world. The Rambler family just got back from a trip to the East coast, and it was action packed! What a wonderful trip. I have so much love for this amazing family of mine – and that laughing baby girl and her two sharp little teeth!

That being said, this wouldn’t be a post of mine if I didn’t include a few random segues, so here goes. Earlier today, I was driving and just feeling so incredibly blessed. Things are strange at work, sure, but that stuff comes and goes. Overall, I’m happy where I’m at, and happy to have the family and friends that I do, even if being a new mom means I don’t get to see them quite as often as I used to.

While these thoughts sort of tumbled around in my head, I started to think of this blog. Keeping a blog can be kind of intimidating. I mean – what do I really have to say that no one else can say, perhaps better? So, topics for the blog drifted in and out of my head. I am still trying to find my groove editing Waking Dreams (ie: how many times should I edit the prologue before I just move on to the next chapter?), so there’s really no news to report there. As the jumble cleared its way out, I remembered what got me into writing Waking Dreams in the first place. At first, it somehow became an exploration into the nature of fear. Me? I’ll be honest, I’m not afraid of getting hurt (well, no more than is healthy). Monsters don’t really scare me (I mean, what are you going to do if a monster rears its head and roars at you? Run like hell, sure, but what’s the point in being afraid of monsters? It’ll eat you, or you’ll get away. No point sweating the in-between, I think.)

My biggest fear had always been loss. Perhaps my ambivalence about the usual fears (spiders, monsters, fires, falling, etc) can be traced to the violence I was raised with – watching my mom get beaten, hiding my own black-eyes at school, the bruises, and explaining away the oddly headshaped holes in your bedroom wall that you try to forget happened because you looked at your parent wrong…. Surprises can make your heart beat faster, unpredictability can leave you feeling shaken, but loss… You can recover your balance, and your heart beat will usually slow back down, bruises will fade, bones will heal, but loss? Things lost don’t come back.

I don’t know why I was so morbid, even at an early age. My earliest nightmares were about haunted houses and forests, but I wasn’t afraid of the ghosts. I was always afraid of what they would take away from me. I would clutch the hands of my siblings, trying to drag each one of them to safety, only to look around and see that I had lost one or all of them. That I had let go of their hand, and they were gone, experiencing some unimaginable horror.  As a child, I used to stand on my tiptoes on a chair by the window in the living room, poking my eyes to the tall window so I could watch and wait for my mom to get home. Every night, I was convinced it would be the night that I wouldn’t see her beaten clunker’s headlights round that corner. That would be the night she didn’t come home and someone would come to tell me she was gone. I expected loss, but was so afraid of it.

I think this is why I was so persistent with my mom’s mental illness – all those nightmares of me on the outside, watching her drown as I beat against the glass wall, trying to break it and free her;  standing alone in a murky forest, calling her (or my siblings’) name, and suddenly turning to the dark part of the forest, the FORBIDDEN part, and knowing to the depths of my soul that she had gone there and that if I followed her, I would never come out… I always woke up just as I stepped into the fog, my heart racing, like those dreams that force you awake because you know you with certainty that death is approaching. I always stepped into the mist in those dreams, because standing on the outside wondering felt so much worse – I couldn’t stand the thought of someone I loved lost, hurt and wounded, and me standing idly by. It wasn’t just my mom I dreamed about – it was the same dreams over and over, with the characters constantly changing. My mom, my siblings, my husband, everyone I cared deeply about, they came to play a role in these nightmares. The House dream was one of the worst. Sometimes I lost my little brother, sometimes it was my little sister, sometimes everyone. For some reason, in the dreams where my older sister was lost, in those dreams, everyone died. I think she always seemed the most able, so if she floundered, I knew I had no hope.

The first dream about the House, it was my little brother I lost (I realize now that my little sister hadn’t been born yet, which dates this first nightmare to my being 6 years old) – I was looking for my mother in this large antique house with ornate carpeting. I went down a spiral staircase and saw her standing above a seated man, talking to him and laughing. I’m about to yell in relief at having found her but then I see the man’s face – it’s rotten and skeletal, flesh dripping and one eye hanging from its socket. I muffle a scream as I realize that my Mom is lost to this dead, rotting man. She’s succumbed to this creature’s magic and I know full well that am too little to drag her away. Then I remember that my sister and brother are in the House, too. I need to find them and drag them out the front door, before the monster’s magic somehow steals them and traps them in the House forever. Somehow, I find them, grab their hands and pull them down the hall way that seems to get longer and longer, the carpet coming alive and twisting, grasping at our ankles. Somehow, my panic keeps us going forward, and I pull and pull, trying to drag my siblings to safety until I feel hands slip through my fingers and my brother sinks into the carpet, and I watch his screaming face disappear with feeling of utter failure and loss….

That fear drove me, powered every fiber of my being for such a long time. Only now, so so many years later, do I realize that it wasn’t loss I was afraid of. It was letting go.

Luckily, with loving friends and family and a sweet husband who assures me that he is just tardy, so I don’t need to call him every 30 seconds to make sure he isn’t lying in a ditch somewhere – well, I’d like to say that I am cured of my fear of letting go. But that would make me a liar. And I hate lying. I feel heartache that my mom suffered through her mental illness so alone, but I don’t feel responsible any more. I can kiss her fingers and let her walk into that shadowed forest, knowing she could have found her way back to me. She wouldn’t have wanted me to enter the dark to find her – all I needed to do was wait at the edge for her, and she would return to me. It’s the same with my siblings and my husband – I needed to learn that I could trust people to come back, trust that they would tell me if they were hurting and alone, and trust that if I just let go… they would be all right.

And I can know, with great warmth in my heart, that I loved them, trusted them, and, even if something horrible happened, that that love followed them wherever they might go.

And that’s all right.

– The Rambler

On Darkness, Negativity, and Other Broken Things

Okay, I had intended this blog to be solely my writing blog, something to help keep me motivated in my endeavors to write… But after quite a few responses offline and conveyed to me by TMiYC (The Monster In Your Closet) about my previous post (When you know a friendship is toxic), I now realize that there may be some merit in actually posting my own personal musings. Or perhaps all that internal dialogue may be useful to others… (And, yes, I used “dialogue” intentionally – it would be a monologue if it was one voice, instead of a myriad clammering simultaneously:”Why did you say that?” “Why did you x?” “Should you have done y instead?” “What if this choice has z effect?”)

Perhaps this blog can help quell those doubt-filled voices in my head. Or air them out to dry, so they’re out in the open and I can see them for what they are and not let those niggling doubts drag me down. Especially since I am a mom and my choices now effect that precious squealing ball of happiness that is currently napping spread-eagled in her crib.

Since I posted about NPD, I have felt as if this huge weight has been lifted from my chest. But that has more to do with my being open and acknowledging that I have negative feelings about someone. And that’s okay. For some reason, I have always hated speaking negatively about anyone. Whether they deserve it or not. I do want to be really clear about something – the friends I have, the real ones who are not NPD? You will never meet a more amazing, loving, thoughtful group of people. These are the people who banded together to bring me and my family food when my mom was dying, who took me to coffee, went on long walks, or just hugged me and let me cry during that period and YEARS before that when I finally confronted the fact that my mom was struggling with a mental illness that could no longer be ignored. Some of these friends may be a generation or two older than me, but that age difference does not change the fact that they have my admiration, love, and respect. Nor does it change the fact that they rock my socks off.

My discomfort about “rocking the boat” was really my fear of making a messy, awkward situation for my friends. Combine that fear with my discomfort saying anything negative about others? There is so much darkness and drama in the world, and I hate to cause any drama unnecessarily.

Perhaps it may help if I laid all my cards on the table. I was the victim of abuse. Sometimes, it seems so long ago and far away, I feel like it happened to a different person. A different little girl.

I watched my dad beat my mom on several occasions. I hid under the bed when he broke the bedroom door down to get at her. On one occasion, my cheek got cut when my mom tried to grab a wire hanger from the closet to defend herself (and she didn’t realize I was hiding in the closet at the time). I witnessed her get beaten while she was pregnant, and only later learned that I would have had one more brother had it not been for that attack. I am 32 years old and I still cringe when I hear people raise their voices in anger. 

Add that to watching my mother slowly lose her battle with a mental illness that made her increasingly paranoid such that I often lost friends because they looked at her wrong… Well, you can bet that I will probably be the last one to speak up if something is bothering me. I am so used to compartmentalizing, because, heck, how the hell was I supposed to know what was normal growing up? I got used to playing the peacekeeper with mom – stepping in and telling her that her long-time friend and my godmother was not trying to insinuate she was a second class citizen by saying or doing x, y, or z. No, the pastor didn’t intentionally look at her at x point in the sermon. He was looking at everyone. It was gut-wrenching stress for a child, but it was what I knew.

Then there was the other thing – the thing I used to never mention for fear of people finding out just how broken I was. Starting in the 3rd grade, I was molested by a family friend. For years, I told the court and my mother that he had threatened to hurt my mom and siblings, and that’s why I didn’t tell anyone that it was happening. This man came into my mother’s house (before the mental illness had really even done more than make her unpredictably irritable) and pretended to be a friend to her while assuming the role of the gentle father to me. My mom was elated. Finally, a father figure was taking interest in her second daughter ! The daughter whose actual father never remembered her (the same father showed up on her 7th birthday to take the older, favored daughter shopping for My Little Ponies. (Thank you, TMiYC for sharing them with me!). This guy, hereafter dubbed “Pervert” (as an homage to my mom who yelled this loudly while pointing at him whenever she ran into him on the street, in the library, or at a restaurant), used my mom’s brokeness against me. After that first time, when he touched me (and I knew it was a “bad touch” because my mom had told me about it), he asked what it would do to my mom if she knew what he’d done? How would she feel if she knew just how unwanted she was, that he chose me over her? Wouldn’t it hurt her, break her to know what she had let happen to her child?

I was very good at putting on a game face. My mom didn’t suspect a thing for years. Pervert and mom drifted apart naturally, and I couldn’t have been happier. I got to be a kid and do kid things without feeling like I was living double lives. My mom had finally kicked my dad to the curb, and he had finally been forced by the State to pay child support, so my mom wasn’t terrified of losing the house.

It wasn’t until I was 10 and at the Country Fair when Mom went to go get me lemonade and returned to find me sitting cross-legged on our blanket, looking up at someone with absolute terror etched across my face. She dropped the lemonade and dragged me and all our things immediately back to the car with no more than a “Get away from my daughter” as a greeting to the Pervert. Over a course of several days, she asked me repeatedly and quietly, “What did he do to you?” When I insisted he didn’t do anything, she refused to believe me. I had no idea what to say – what was I supposed to say? When I was 7 I started lying because I was afraid to hurt you? You were happy for the first time, and dad wasn’t hurting you anymore and all I wanted was for you to laugh and smile, because when you were laughing and smiling the world could be whatever we dreamed it could be?

In the end – I broke. I told her everything, with the slight tweak on my own little lie. And I watched with a broken heart as her world crumbled and shattered around her. She had given up everything, worked multiple jobs at the same time, buckled under her own feelings and accepted food stamps (she hated charity), pushed to get each one of us into alternative schools so we could have every opportunity, and then this. The Pervert was right. Where Dad had failed, he had won. She broke and she broke hard. Did she hit me when I finally confessed, like somehow the D.A. convinced her she had? Hell, no. She held me, cried and said “I’m so sorry, my poor baby” over and over again. The crying didn’t stop for several weeks. The number of times I heard “I’m a terrible mother” coming from her room, sometimes punctuated by a dull and rhythmic thud as she hit her head against the floor, well… That broke me. For many many years, I carried a guilt around with me. I blamed myself, not the Pervert. I should have told her after that first time, my so much smarter ten-year-old self tried to tell my seven-year-old self. It was the years of letting it happen that was what destroyed her. I had broken my mom where my dad had failed. Little me and my big lies.

Counseling helped, and boy did my mom choose a good counselor. But nothing helped quite so much as the entry into my life of one person who believed in me so fully, and whose gentle support and guidance helped me learn to believe in myself.  I don’t know how a 17 year-old boy possessed the wisdom, grace, humor, and comfort to bring the solitary Rambler out of hiding, but he did.  I am forever grateful to the love of my life, my husband, for that.

As a sidenote, I never did tell my mom about that big/little lie. Even as I held her hand and she breathed her last breath., there was always that lie between us. The guilt created a huge gap that I didn’t know how to bridge. Right before she succumbed to a three year bout where she gave in to her mental illness completely, and barely recognized us, my mom had walked up to me and begged me for forgiveness. I blithely hugged her, laughed and told her she didn’t need my forgiveness. She was my mom, I loved her, and she had done nothing that needed forgiveness. She looked at me with such sorrow, that it haunts me still. She begged that someday I would find it in my heart to forgive her, and everyone who hurt me, because forgiveness was so important. I wish I had said the words she so needed to hear. I didn’t understand what she wanted me to forgive, but she needed it. How hard is it to say “I forgive you”?

Anyways, this is a rather dark post because I have, like so many people out there, lived through some dark times. It has made me who I am. Am I emotionally scarred? Sure. We all have our scars, whether we choose to hide them, bare them, or flaunt them. I used to cling to positivity like a lifeboat. I had to believe people could change.  I hated how much people talked about my mom, and rather than lending a helping hand, they pulled her down with criticism. I hate to feel like I could be one of those people, standing on the sideline and judging someone as they struggle. It just feels ugly to dwell on anything negative. Add to that all the doubt of “is this just me being sensitive because of all this baggage?” The simple truth of it is that there is ugliness out there. Just as I try to deal with in my novel, there is darkness out there. It hides within us all, and we get to choose how much of it we let in and influence who we are and who we will be. While I may often choose not to comment on those glimpses of shadows I may observe in others, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. It doesn’t change the fact that I know it’s there.

I know now that speaking about it won’t make me a worse person. If anything, it makes me a stronger person.

 – The Rambler laid bare

When you know a friendship is toxic

Now that I have just one short week until I can begin editing Waking Dreams, I have been musing on a friendship that recently ended after quite some time. I have really struggled with this decision, and it did not come lightly.

Over the weekend, I was on a hike with an amazing new friend and we began to talk a bit about our pasts. Something this new friend said really hit me. She talked about how funny it is that we women are always so concerned about the effect our decisions have on the social group, that we often sit back and take a lot of BS for fear of rocking the boat.  A light went off in my head. I have been angry at this other former friend for quite some time and my fear of “rocking the boat” in my social group has had an effect on me. I sat silently and then reacted poorly to a lot of things, but now… I just don’t care. My family is more important. And I want it to be extremely clear that I do not condone the behavior of this former friend (hereafter “NPD”).

I struggled for a while wondering why NPD had behaved in the way he did. Why did he continue to harass my husband and I, in spite of my repeated requests that he stop? Why could he not go a single conversation without implying that my husband had terrible clothing choices, was inept at taking care of himself, and me and was going to be a terrible father? Why did he think it was appropriate to then turn to making fun of my daughter, who had yet to be born? Why did he think, even after we asked and told him to stop, it would EVER be funny to joke that he was going to have sex with our daughter? And when we responded with a “WTF?! Don’t EVER say that again” – why did he laugh at our response and say “What? I’ll wait until she’s 18”? And when we said that was still inappropriate, why did he continue and say “What? I”ll have had a vasectomy by then!” Apparently our horrified response was exactly what he was looking for, since he continued to make the joke another two to three times. Maybe he would have made it again, but we stopped seeing him by then.

I will not stand by and tolerate someone who takes me aside to tell me what a horrible wife I am (while I was pregnant!), and then makes me listen to him complain about how his wife is a psycho bitch. Then, when I defend her, have him rally and tell me I am being mean. At the time, I was boggled. I had no idea what end was up or down with NPD.  Sometimes he was so nice and charming, that I forgot about all the other crud. Then it would resurface and I would feel like crap all over again. When Nick pointed out that he thought our daughter came early because of all the stress of dealing with this person – well, that highlighted for me just how unhealthy the relationship had become. Now, I just don’t care. I am still a bit angry at NPD and partially at myself for being so slow to realize how toxic the friendship had become. Better late than never, right?

I do not know if NPD behaves like this with other people, but I know that this is how he behaved with us. Given how he’s twisted what I’ve said and what others have said to suit his own version of the truth (i.e. whichever version makes him out to be the good guy), I can’t trust him.  I do not know what’s real with him, or what he says just to get attention, since he seems to want attention all the time.

Mostly – I will not gamble my daughter’s emotional or physical safety on what I already know to be an emotionally unsound person. I will not have her think it is okay to make fun of people in the way this person thinks is okay.  I have already placed my friends in the awkward position, and I am truly sorry about that. I will see NPD at social events, but that’s it. Our interactions will be minimal, and I will never leave my daughter alone with this person. Ever.

The epiphany was that I do not need to hide my feelings. I am happier when I am open about who I am. I want to put my foot down now and let my daughter know that it’s okay to cut people out who hurt you repeatedly. I hope she would have the strength to walk away if she’s ever in a relationship with someone who abuses her emotionally and/or physically. Cut and run, because YOU are more important than any potential social fall-out.

So, what do you do when you know a friendship is toxic? If it can’t be repaired – accept the loss and move on. Profit from my experience! Don’t spend months mourning the loss and wondering what went wrong! Accept the fact that just like all those other vices (junk food!), they may make you laugh or feel good every now and then, but overall, if they make you feel crummy, you should probably leave them by the wayside.

Thanks for listening, and I apologize for the high drama content of this post!

-The Rambler