Badge of Honor, Badge of Pride Part II

Badge of Honor, Badge of Pride Part II

Here is the amazing KillboX made for me by Leonard Ikeda & Derrick Obatake at Steel Flame, imprinted with the letters P for pain, F for fear, S for shame and A for anger. These are the four stages I went through as a victim of abuse. The letters are imprinted on sterling silver and then the square was shot through with a .45, symbolically killing the abuse; a badge reflecting my growth from victim to survivor.

Thank you, Leonard and Derrick and everyone at Steel Flame for this amazing reminder of my strength and courage.

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

 

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There is a saying, erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein, that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That was me for years and years and years.  Now I’m finally starting to change.  It has been a few weeks since I posted, and I am seeing myself making some small changes, yet in many ways I continue to do the same things again and again.

I have become stronger, mentally.  I no longer have so many fears, especially as surround my parents.  While I have neither seen nor heard from my abusive stepfather since the wedding that kicked all of this off and forced me out of the shell I had safely occupied for years, I have since resumed cautious, cordial email exchanges with my mother. We even spoke briefly on the phone the other night.  I was actually supposed to see her today, but a change in my schedule made that impossible.  I know she is disappointed, and I am as well.  I just celebrated a birthday, and it is the first time I have celebrated without a visit with her.

I have remembered a deeper, darker side to my abuse, one I never thought was there but one my therapist believed all along would surface.  It is unspeakable, and it shakes me to the core, but it explains a lot about my behavior during high school and college.  I am getting to know myself and my deep, dark corners much better.  I’m trying to embrace it all, my inner beauty and the ugly places, every bit of me.

I have begun to stand up for myself more often.  This does not always mean that those around me are comfortable with that.  When for years someone you’ve known has apologized for every little mishap, her fault or not, has reacted with unending sympathy and patience and never questioned or opposed hurtful speech or attitudes and suddenly this new person does just that, it is unsettling for those around her.  It can be like your old, faithful dog, no matter how many times you spoke harshly to her, she wagged her tail and came for a pat, but today she barked and bared her teeth.

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I used to apologize for EVERYTHING, anytime someone was unhappy, discontent, bored, you name it.  Truly, it was rarely if ever something I had done, or even something I had any control over, but I somehow felt guilty for the displeasure or unhappiness of others.  Husband has a bad day at work?  “I’m sorry.”  Daughter can’t find something?  “I’m sorry.”  Brother in law slept poorly?  “I’m sorry.”  My life was an endless litany of “I’m sorry”.  I was a pleaser, trying to keep the peace for everyone, because in my youth, if someone was displeased, I might get hurt.  When tissue damage is involved, your desire to keep everyone around you happy and content is ingrained in your psyche, entwined into your soul, so deeply.  You feel as though “I’m sorry” is tattooed over your heart or on your forehead.  

No more.  I am now only sorry for the things I actually cause.  If I neglected to do something I had committed to doing, yes, I am and can be legitimately sorry.  My apologies are only for things I have done or things I have failed to do.  My apologies are never for me and who I am.  I refuse to be sorry for who I am any more.  I was a victim, and that was not my fault.  Nothing I did could justify what happened to me.  This is a huge leap for survivors of abuse.  Many times, as it did with me, this realization takes decades to come to fruition.  It can take forever for the survivor to really believe this in his or her heart; for so long we were told it was our fault and we caused it.  Not just no, but HELL NO!

This is not always a comfortable thing, I do not wear this new “it’s-not-my-fault” face easily yet.  In many ways it is like learning a new makeup technique.  I’ve viewed the video on You Tube a gazillion times, and I’ve put the makeup on this way for a little while, but the technique is not yet natural.  And that’s okay.  Change is never easy, even when for the better.

is this the real life, is this just fantasy . . . caught in a landslide, no escape from reality

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have always been great favorites of mine.  I still have the copy my dad had when he was young, passed down to me at some point when I was young.  The version I have has both books in one volume, with the ink sketches that so define Alice for me.

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In both books, young Alice finds herself inside a world that is much different from her own, where what she believes to be true may or may not be.  Reality is altered in these strange worlds, to a point where Alice has to really question her own concept of what her true knowledge really is.  While this question is the central concept of epistemology, it can also be disconcerting, even frightening, to have one’s reality questioned, or to question one’s reality one’s self.  

An interesting phenomenon that began to appear in the 1990’s is one called “False Memory Syndrome”.  Research supports that it is possible to plant a memory in someone’s head that is actually not true.  In abuse cases, this concept of false memory surfaced most often in psychological patients who were in what is termed “Recovered Memory Therapy”, in which they were led through “rediscovering” things they had forgotten about their abuse.  In fact, many court cases have hinged on whether or not memories were actually true.

One thing that all false memories have in common is that someone suggests them to the victim.  These memories do not just pop into someone’s head and become reality for them, except in cases of truly delusional individuals.  Another thing that researchers have found is that false memories are generally very narrative in nature and tell a whole story, from start to finish, as is Loftus’s “Lost in a Shopping Mall” studies (1994), which have been said by many in the scientific community to be unethical.

That being said, research also shows that traumatic events may be remembered little by little, over time.  According to Vander Kolk & Fisler (1995), 

When people receive sensory input, they generally automatically synthesize this incoming information into narrative form, without conscious awareness of the processes that translate sensory impressions into a personal story . Our research shows that traumatic experiences initially are imprinted as sensations or feeling states that are not immediately transcribed into personal narratives, in contrast with the way people seem to process ordinary information. This failure of information processing on a symbolic level, in which it is categorized and integrated with other experiences, is at the very core of the pathology of PTSD (van der Kolk & Ducey, 1989).

I do not have full-blown narratives of my abuse that I could share with you or with my therapist.  My memories of the things that happened are flashes of insight, sparks of memory, such as my stepfather kicking my cat across the kitchen.  My memory of that moment is very detailed.  The kitchen had the stove and the refrigerator on one side, the sink at the far end and countertops and cabinets across from the appliances.  The dishwasher was on the same wall as the sink.  When he kicked my cat, she slid across the linoleum floor towards the closed door to the basement which was across the entry hallway from the front door.  I was thankful that the door was closed so she did not fall down the stairs.

I remember my mother crying and pleading for him to stop hurting her; I remember laying on top of her trying to shield her from him–I was face up and could see the rage in his blue eyes.  The bedspread was sort of patchworkish, in browns, and their bed had a wooden headboard.  The bathroom door was right next to where I was laying on top of my mother on her side of the bed.  Her dresser was to the left of the bathroom door.

I remember her taking his gun out of the closet where he kept it and threatening him with it once when they had a huge fight.  I remember how crazy she looked wielding it in front of her.  

I remember being almost completely flat chested and when my stepfather saw me naked, he pinched my nipples, laughing and saying, “Button Pinchers!”

I remember April 2, 1982, when I drank a huge bottle of wine after school with a friend.  I remember watching her take out the mailbox as she backed out of our driveway when she left and thinking of how upset my stepfather would be by that.  I was supposed to work in the coat check room at the country club that night.  I remember him coming home and finding me drunk.  He was so angry that he shoved me; I ended up falling down the stairs to the basement, breaking the middle knuckle of my index finger in the process.  I remember they dropped me off at the ER and told me to call when I was finished.

I remember him coming home from work one night in 1985 and being angry with me about something (I honestly do not remember what; I may have not folded the laundry as I was supposed to, or any of a million things I could have done wrong).  He came at me with those eyes so full of rage and something inside me snapped.  This time, I was NOT going to be the victim.  And so I fought back.  I fought back so hard that we ended up on the slightly-Middle Eastern themed ceramic tile foyer floor, me straddling him and holding him by the shoulders, slamming his head into the floor over and over, yelling, “YOU WILL NEVER TOUCH ME AGAIN!”  And he didn’t. (This is how most abuse ends, when the abused actually fights back)

And I remember the wooden handle on the small kitchen knife as I sawed at my wrists, trying hard to stand the pain of cutting myself open long enough to get to the vein.  I was sitting at the butcher block table in the kitchen, sawing away at myself, sobbing, until I finally gave up and wrapped my damaged wrists in paper towels and tape.

Why is all of this so important?  Why do I share all of these fragments of memory?  Because they are NOT false, they are 100% true.  I am no Alice to question my reality.  This are my real memories, not imagined.  The bruises, the treatment, the abuse, all were seen by my friends.  I’ve asked–they remember too.  And as my therapist tells me, “Why would I make this shit up?”

I had a message from my mother last night.  It came in about 9:35, so I am pretty sure it was bourbon enhanced (note capitalization and spelling errors–something a perfectionist like my mother would not normally tolerate).  Apparently she saw my blog about seeing her at the mall the other day.  Here is her message to me about that, about me, and about my reality.

Yes, I walked away… but first I had to walk TO you! Had our roles been reversed I doubt that you would have taken that walk TO me, but would have run like a mad woman to avoid confronting the woman about whom you have leveled so many false accusations. You would not have had the courage to confront me. But I did the right and courageous thing. You must have seen me, because you were not at all surprised to see me! You said to me ‘We both need help,’ and I responded ‘We don’t BOTH need help — I am not an alcoholic or any of the other things you have falsely accused me of — YOU need help.’ You sobbed. No I did not reach out to touch you — nor did you reach out to me. How would you have responded to a hug, a touch…? What was I do to if not walk away? Crawl on my knees? Rant and rave? if you are so sure that your accusations are correct why did you ‘dread’ seeing me — or why were you ‘afraid’ I would find you there? if you were so sure, you would have welcomed confronting me with even more lies and delusional memories. You will always be my daughter — your heart and mine beat in synchronicity for nine months and that will never ever be taken from me. I love you and cherish you, but I will no longer insinuate myself into your life. You have chosen to sever our relationship, and I will accept that. I am here if you need me, but I doubt that you would ever admit any need. it is interesting how different the perspective is when viewed from different sides of a coin! You write well — even though what you write is in accurate and biased with the animosity you hold toward me. I feel sorry for you — it is so hard on one’s emotions to hate.

How do I know for sure I am not delusional?  Here’s some good, hard evidence.  This is my left wrist, some 30+ years after I sawed into it there at the butcher block table.

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Scars fade over time, but they never fully disappear.

from out of nowhere . . .

I ran into my mother today while I was at work.  I am temporarily working at a store in a mall where she shops; I have been very afraid of this happening, to be honest with myself.  The other day at another mall I thought I saw her, but it was not.  The sudden sight of this person put me completely off balance, and it wasn’t even her.  I reacted with a mild panic attack, but was luckily on the phone with my best friend who was able to quickly calm me down, especially once it turned out to be a complete stranger.

Today it actually was her.  The woman I have not seen nor spoken with or had any contact with since she stormed out of my daughter’s wedding in early August.  The mother who allowed her husband to abuse me; who denies it to this day, even though the first, most violent act I remember between us occurred when he was trying to hit her and the zipper on the back pocket of my jeans cut her leg badly while I was trying to protect her. 

She was surprised to see me;  I was of course surprised and yes, appalled, to see her.  But I was much calmer than I thought I would be in the situation.  I think that perhaps the dread of it and the “close call” the other day numbed my reaction a bit.

I told her I didn’t think she’d recognize me from the back with my new hair color.  She responded,”Well, I AM your mother.” She got a little choked up I think, when she said that, and I did too.  I said, “I know, Mom, but you need help.  I need help.”  She cut me off, saying, “I don’t need ANY help.  I am not an alchoholic.  I am happily married, I have a busy fulfilling life and I have a lot of friends.”  I said nothing.

She began asking about my children.  Of my eldest, she said, “How is San Diego going?”  She did not use my daughter’s name once.  She mentioned the younger two by name.  It is only the eldest that sent my mother a letter similar to mine, calling Mom out on her behavior, not only at the wedding, but also towards my daughter’s new husband, towards my husband and my other children.  She did not ask about my husband at all.

She asked how I was doing, and I told her things were going well.  I told her my husband and I have never been happier together and that these tough times have made our marriage stronger.  She rolled her eyes and grimaced.  I told her about  his new job, which she appeared pleased to hear about.  She asked about my job and I told her I was enjoying it, though it has been very stressful.  I spoke a little about my staffing problems, I believe.

She asked about my father, telling me how awful she thought he looked at the wedding.  She does not know that I know she sent  him a letter telling him he looked “like a broken man, because of all the burdens and stress” I have put upon him.  I told him how much  better he is doing with the adjustments to his medications. 

All in all it was a conversation that I could have had with anyone of slight acquaintance.  She made no move to touch me, to hug me, to even shake my  hand.  I am probably lucky she did not tell me how awful I look.  She stayed while I helped two customers, but finally left, headed back towards Barnes & Noble, where she had come from..  I felt sick to my stomach.  I felt like crying.  I thought of the many things I could have said, and in fact wish I had thought to.

“Glad you have so many friends, since you have ‘no close familial relationships’.” (referring to her recent “endorsement” on my friend’s LinkedIn page, where she spoke of his help in setting up “various charitable trusts to dispose of [their] assets upon [their] deaths, since [they} have no close familial relationships.”)

“It’s good to have friends, especially when you have alienated your only child and her family.”

About my father, I should have said, “Contrary to your belief, he is not a ‘broken man’ because of tjhe ‘burdens and stress’ I put upon him.  Not only has his health improved, but he is incredibly supportive and proud of me despite my flaws and problems.”

I should have said, “If you’re not an alcoholic, then why do you run through a third of a bottle of bourbon a night?” 

“If you don’t need help, why do you think you are estranged from me and my family?”

“Did you actually READ my  letter?  Do you still deny that any of that happened?”

But perhaps most of all, I wish I had said, “Mom, I love you, but I need you to love me differently than you have these 49 years.  I need you to love me unconditionally, to believe me, to hear me, and to stop writing off or complaining about everyone I love.”

“Mom, I really want to have a relationship with you again, but I can’t until you are willing to be the mother I have always needed and never really had.”

Instead we wished each other a happy holiday and she walked away.  She just  . . . walked away.

 

 

suicide is painless

I have tried to commit suicide at least three times that I can remember, all during my adolescence.  I tried drinking myself to death ( I can’t drink that much, I guess), I tried mixing pills and booze, and then I tried slitting my wrists with a kitchen knife.  I knew enough to “go down the road and not across the tracks”.  But the knife I chose was not very sharp, and mostly I just sawed at myself.  I bled a lot, but not enough.

The next day at school, a teacher noticed the bandages on my wrists and sent me to the guidance office, where they called my parents and told them to come in.  They did so against their will.  I told the counselor about the abuse going on at home, I told her about it all, but when my parents arrived, they denied everything (they continue to do so some 30+ years later).  

The counselor suggested I be put into inpatient therapy until I was emotionally stable and “safe”.  My parents said they would think about it and we all left.  On the way home, they told me that such therapy was very expensive, and that I was not worth the expense. I think they meant that they did not think I was really in as bad of shape mentally as my actions indicated, but what I heard was “Your life is not worth saving”.  

Given that my sister died at 18 months of age, just 8 months before I was born, I have always been troubled by the way I was allowed to feel worthless and without merit.  It all started in 1975, when my mother remarried, and my life changed forever.

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Badge of Honor, Badge of Pride

My husband is a big fan of a jewelry company out of California called Steel Flame.  Much of their jewelry is quite masculine and massive, such as the 2″ long dagger inscribed “VIRTUS” [Virtus was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth, perceived as masculine strengths (from Latin vir, “man”). It was thus a frequently stated virtue of Roman emperors, and was personified as a deity. (Wikipedia)] that my husband wears daily, or the massive Archangel Michael shield pendant our son wore while on tour in the Middle East.  but they also make some feminine pieces, like the clover shaped “key to his heart” pendant my husband had made for me some years ago.  But now for me, they are making a different piece, a piece that uses their trademarked KillboX design, but inscribed with the words that define the cycle of abuse for me:  pain, fear, shame and anger.  This pendant design features a .45 caliber bullet literally shot through the piece after it’s been made.  In my case, the piece will be inscribed with the letters P-F-S-A before it is shot.  This is the letter I wrote to its creator at Steel Flame, Leonard Ikeda.

I would like [my KillboX inscribed with]  the letters in this order P, F, S, A.  Pain comes first, as the physical blow shatters your body. Then comes fear: when will it happen again? This is followed by shame–the abuser convinces you it is your fault. And finally, finally, when you are stronger, when you can fight back, you feel anger. White hot, all consuming anger. Purifying, saving anger. The kind of anger that saves your life.

 

Many say, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” For me, this is true. My abuse tempered me like a fine steel blade. I am the stronger for it; I will not shatter due to a hard blow. My ductility is greater than the average person’s–I perform even better under stress. My resistance to outside factors is greater. I can handle more than anyone I know. Nothing, literally nothing, can make me crack. The anger that tempered me was literally white hot–a flame too hot to actually see but one that can still be felt to this day.

 

I am ready for my KillboX.  It is ready for me.  I want it forged in the hottest heat you can and infused with anger and hatred.  I want whomever makes this to be filled with rage at the man who abused me for ten years. His name is [  ].  I need the KillboX created full of rage and anger at him.  I will send a picture if it can help keep the maker focused on the rage. Then, when shot, I want it shot with love, kindness, humility, thankfulness and caring. The shooter needs to understand that he or she is acting on my behalf, is an 11 year old defenseless girl who was hit, a 15 year old who was touched inappropriately, a 21 year old who finally snapped and beat her abuser’s head into the floor, scramming “YOU WILL NEVER TOUCH ME AGAIN.” For in the love of the shot, the shooter will undo the hate of the abuse, the anger infused in the box. The shot, through the pain, the fear, the shame and the anger, will complete the cycle and allow my soul and my heart to rest peacefully. The shooter is symbolically saving the life of that abused child.

 

In this KillboX, the power of the woman  I have become will protect and save the child that I was. And in doing so, I will move on faster. This will be my badge of pride, my sterling proof of my value, my strength, my resiliency and my courage. Nothing can harm me. Nothing can make me weaker. My husband  makes me stronger, but I have in my own self become stronger than I ever thought possible.

 

And this, my friend, is the story I want told in my KillboX. I am happy and proud to share it with others.  I am not alone. [This KillboX will serve] to honor and uplift the abused child and to celebrate the strong adult.

 

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