Finding the Lost

I’ve been feeling old, lately.

Ugly, aged, and… 2 dimensional.

So much has changed in the 3 and a bit years since my mental health crisis. I’m an entirely different person with an entirely different life. In so many ways that is a positive result, but there’s one long-standing aspect of that recovery that has really started to get to me.

I don’t have an identity anymore.

I think many addicts go through this when they step into recovery. You mourn the loss of your chosen substance(s), and the people who came with them. Addicts design their entire lives around their ability to get high so when they take that requirement away from themselves it very quickly becomes apparent just how substanceless their lives were when they lived under the influence.

There was a lot of catching up with the world to be done when I quit Escapism.

I suddenly had all this time. Hours of it that I had to actively fill with something. I very quickly realised that I’d only ever written whilst high or drunk and that attempting to do so whilst sober only worked while I was still raw inside recovery; when I had emotions to expunge.

The moment that I felt like I was getting “better”, like I was managing my life in a healthy and positive manner, I lost the desire to put words on paper. I lost the desire to overshare myself with the world. After three years of not writing, I’ve now lost the talent, as well.

I think the loss of my identity has much to do with it.

For the vast majority of my life I was “that weird goth girl”. I stopped being her when I moved back to this little town and there wasn’t much of a call for clubwear. I also wanted to be someone different, someone healthy, someone fixed.

I figured that fixed people don’t wear demonia boots and teenage angst… but in some ways, while I seem to manage life in a healthier manner – healthier for the world around me – it’s not necessarily healthy for myself, and I am reconsidering my stance very seriously.

I’ve gone from one emotional extreme to the other. I went from overcaring to indifference. My daughter breaks through that, of course, but basically everything else that exists in my world, does so on my emotional periphery.

I feel less than whole. I feel like a cutout, a silhouette, something that is substanceless and has nothing of any depth to offer the world. I feel that my opinion is worthless; just one more stupid voice bleating into the ether. I don’t care enough to put any conviction into anything I say, because there’s nothing besides my daughter that fills me with any kind of passion.

The only time that I feel remotely like my old self; the me whose corners are filled with meaning and life is when I’m drinking.

I don’t “drink”  anymore, I normal person drink. The demons that caused me to drown myself have been exorcised, so for the most part, I don’t “drink”, I just socially acceptably sip with friends. I mean, the edge is a very fine line and I’ve slipped over it a few times, but even when I’ve had more than I should, I haven’t turned into that angry, dangerous girl I used to become every time.

I have turned into one of the girls I used to be, though. The one who listened to music, who had opinions, who … got involved in life. I guess I just haven’t worked out how to reach her without drinking.

I think it’s because I felt that everything about the old me was wrong. It was trouble, it was broken, it had to apologise for existing. I was very compartmentalised; very dissociative. There were distinctly different me’s that occupied this body at any given time and they were sometimes so different to each other that I never got anything accomplished because they kept swapping who was in control.

I think that maybe I’m so ashamed of all the me’s that I used to be that I won’t even let the healthy aspects of them out. None of them were inherently evil; they were just always too amplified because I manifested them separately.

The experiences I’d been through in my life had taught me that to survive, I had to become what someone wanted me to be. My personalities were definitely compartmentalised and my worlds were NOT allowed to intermingle. During my Sydney days, my work people thought I was a non-drinker, despite being an alcoholic, and my friends didn’t interact with my boyfriend unless the metal and goth worlds crossed paths.

I had been taught from the age of 8 that I wasn’t entitled to my own feelings. I’d been taught that my emotional responses to situations weren’t appropriate, or they weren’t the fault of the person who caused them. I was told that my recollection of the events had been wrong.

That’s the result of gaslighting – it makes you question your sanity and grip on reality and you always come out of it doubting yourself, rather than the person telling you that you’re wrong.

The consequence of this was that my emotions had to be carefully stored and sorted individually so that I could take them apart later, when I was alone, in front of a notepad or a computer. I would write out the scenario step by step, in an attempt to convince myself that I was right. It didn’t matter though. Unless the other party relented and told me I was right, I’d never believe myself, despite clear evidence and occasionally witnesses.

The self-doubt was so extensive that little by little, the whole, full person that I was began to be eroded away until all that was left was a quiet little blank canvas, always alert for signs to tell me how I should act to avoid displeasing that bully.

So those hidden emotions created all those different me’s who only came out one at a time, in amplified doses, and because I learned to be who I needed to be for the person I was with, I never actually established who I was as a real life person.

I think the only time I have ever been close to being “myself”  was the tiny little year when I was 13 years old and started high school. I left the bully behind and hadn’t yet started real life relationships with boys who taught me that my only worth was between my legs.

Once that happened, the effects of the PTSD caused by the bullying began to kick in and the social chameleon was born.

I escaped through my clothing and music and internet friends – and that’s where I first learned how to have completely separate worlds. Internet friends have always been safe, the one place I was able to be my real self because they couldn’t touch me, I didn’t feel threatened by them. They were my confidantes and probably my life savers once I began that emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship at 15.

Moving back to this little town as an adult meant that I no longer had the luxury of compartmentalising my life. I didn’t have the escape of a metal gig or club, where I could listen to the music that speaks to my soul and calms me down and makes me feel light and good.

When I binged, work knew about it, because it usually happened with them, or within their sight at one of the few pubs left in town. I couldn’t run anywhere anymore, there were no hiding places, and the walls kept falling in on me. I just broke beneath the pressure and the weed-induced paranoia.

So now I feel that to avoid that ever happening again, I’ve got walls that are so big that even I can’t get into them. Walls that I didn’t actually realise I’d put up. I will never run the risk of falling apart again, of becoming all those different people if I simply don’t allow myself to feel the emotions that breed them.

The only person who is safe for me to experience unconditionally is my daughter, because she loves me with everything that she is. She doesn’t have an agenda, an ulterior motive.

To protect her, and keep her safe from the other me’s, I just exist as this safe, but unfulfilled shell.

The unfulfilled part is starting to make me not quite as safe anymore, however, and old emotions are beginning to creep in.

Depression, ennui, futility, apathy and a big fat dose of self-disgust. I avoid mirrors at the moment – not because of my weight, but because of my face. I hate what stares back at me. Those big teeth, big gums, pale lips, old skin, empty eyes.

I see the passage of time on that face and it reminds me that I’ve accomplished nothing in life besides the basic evolutionary function that all organisms instinctively perform to ensure the continuation of the species.

I’ve whinged a lot on the internet, but that’s basically it. I mean, I don’t even have a hobby. I can’t even answer the question “what do you enjoy?” because the answer to that is “nothing”.

I enjoy not being present.

Despite a diagnosis, therapy, and feeling that I’ve worked through the traumas that caused my need to escape into a mind-altering substance on a daily basis, I still find myself drawn to pursuits that allow time to pass without me engaging with the world – reading, television, movies – sucking in someone else’s creativity in an effort to avoid doing anything myself.

This? This isn’t creativity, it isn’t writing. This is doing what my tagline says – using blogging as a cheap form of therapy.

And I’m not sure whether I have the energy or even the inclination to do otherwise.

Something’s gotta give, I know that.

My family is about to make some big changes, which I think are probably long overdue, and that’s as good a time as any for me to implement some others.

I might spend my non-smoking money on a new pair of demonia boots, or a corset. I might set up a media centre in the new house so I can listen to my music again, instead of The Wiggles or the countless nursery rhyme playlists my daughter watches on YouTube.

Maybe, if I reach in and pick some of the parts of the old me’s that felt good and pair them with the aspects of the new me that bring me peace, I’ll manage to cobble together some sort of epic goth/martha stewart Frankenstein that brings me fulfillment.

In fact, to get me started I might just buy myself this pretty Skull Apron.

classy_cook_aprons

and these boots.

demonia trashville - beserk

and I need to stop looking because I’ve added $568 worth of things to a wishlist and I’m supposed to be packing boxes for moving…

 

 

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When Bullied Children Grow Up

It’s been about 4 years since my diagnosis of Complex PTSD following severe psychological childhood bullying, and subsequent domestic violence relationships.

I was diagnosed a full year before I accepted that diagnosis. I left that therapist the moment she suggested the PTSD, and that it began with the bullying, because I had never associated the way that “friend” treated us as bullying. I’d merely seen it as one girl being a real bitch.

My counsellor came to her conclusion by asking me to detail my early childhood experiences. She had suspicions that the symptoms I was displaying were related to early childhood trauma, but I think that initially she suspected some sort of family abuse, until she heard about the loving and accepting and nurturing environment that my family had given me.

That’s when she began asking me about my experiences with friends, with school, and then with men.

That bullying label she applied to that girl.. it came as a shock. Through our sessions, I began to detail specific incidents; and in doing so, remembered more of them.

In order to explain the specific type of bullying I experienced, it’s probably easiest to liken it to a domestic violence relationship.

That girl started out sweet, and friendly. Within a very short period of time, she changed direction and would cast one of us out every couple of days, forcing the rest of us to go along with it under threat of being the outcast; the girl who nobody was allowed to speak to, the girl the group would whisper about behind their hands, the girl who would be laughed at and humiliated and occasionally pushed around the playground.

At 8 years of age, it’s a very scary and confusing experience, to have people that you love treating you in such a manner, with absolutely no explanation as to why.

What was more damaging was what happened when she decided your time as an outcast was over – she asked you why YOU had ignored THEM.

I now know that there’s a term for that behaviour, and it’s designed to make you question your own perception, to take the power away from you, the power that allows you to stand up for yourself. It’s called Gaslighting.

She began to control every aspect of our lives, both in school and out of school.

She decided which boys we should have a crush on. The boy she picked for me was a boy I actually had a crush on. She told me to ask him out, I did, she then became jealous when he bought me a gift, and she told me I had to break up with him. I did that, too.

None of us were allowed to have sleepovers without her being present. If we did, we had to keep it secret, so we couldn’t go back to school the following Monday and laugh and giggle about the silly little things we’d done. We had to tiptoe around each other and pretend nothing had happened.

It was rare for us to dare her wrath because inevitably, the girl you’d invited over, when she felt she was next in line for being outcast, would dob you in to protect herself. We all did it. It taught us that we couldn’t trust anyone, especially each other. We learned to keep happiness a secret, in case it was used against us.

We all discovered quickly that none of us were allowed to excel in anything. Some of us deliberately failed exams, others held back their sporting potential, and each of us tried desperately to become her Best Friend; the one afforded protection over all others.

She constantly accused us of having a secret.

Have you ever tried to prove you don’t have a secret? You can’t. You simply get accused of lying, regardless of what you say, and the conversation goes round in so many circles, with them suddenly changing direction, or throwing in another accusation, until your brain is so confused, and exhausted, and too full of anxiety over the consequences of this conversation that in the end, you just admit to something to make it stop – the punishment is preferable to the interrogation.

My first romantic relationship was practically identical to my relationship with this bully. He employed all of the same tactics, and threw in a whole bunch of cheating to go with it. The gaslighting, though. He was a master, and the end result of all of that relationship was a girl who didn’t believe in herself, her memories, or her own feelings. Everything I thought, felt, or saw was incorrect, so I lived a secret life on the internet, with friends he was unable to touch. It was the only place I had ever been allowed to learn who I was.

A year after that initial diagnosis, I went back to my therapist. I finally believed her.

From then, my mind was a place I didn’t recognise. All of the barriers I’d created over the years had been broken down, but life itself hadn’t stopped to allow me to process it. I didn’t know how to cope. It was touch and go for awhile there, with so much rage exploding onto the people I came into contact with, and the destruction of some dear relationships.

But I learned how to cope. I learned how to process it, and I learned how to put the pieces of my past together with the reactions of my present. I healed, I became a more productive member of society, I lost all that rage, the self-hatred, and a fair chunk of the shame I’d been carrying for the majority of my life. I don’t have panic attacks, I don’t react to current situations in a manner affected by all of my past. I can quite confidently say that my C-PTSD, while it will always exist within me, no longer affects my daily life.

It’s been a good four years.

I had a beautiful baby girl, who had some physical challenges in the form of Developmental Hip Dysplasia, but my therapy and diagnosis gave me all the tools I needed to get her and ourselves through it unscathed.

She’s recently started a couple of days a week at Day Care. It’s an exciting opportunity for her to socialise with other children.

While it’s a wonderful opportunity for her, I’ve found that it’s been quite triggering for me – I wasn’t expecting that.

My daughter is pure sunshine. She’s friendly, and happy, and loves to share. She adores other children, and gets so excited to spend time with them. What’s triggering me is the fact that at the moment, it’s her chasing after them.

It’s a silly thing to be hurt by.

I only see her at drop off and pickup; an emotional time for all of the children. It shouldn’t affect me that those children stick to the kids they already know, but it upsets me to see my daughter on her own so much. If she engages with another child, it’s because she initiated it, or she sits on the periphery, smiling or laughing at what they’re doing, just waiting to be invited to play.

This is most definitely a situation where only time will help. She needs to settle in to the environment and the concept of being away from her family for hours on end. They all need time to get to know each other. I know that once they’re comfortable, they’re going to adore her and she won’t even need an invitation to play.

I know that this is a situation where I need to remember that my experience is not her experience. I’m desperate for her to know something that I never did – the pure, guileless love of a friend you can trust. A friend who cares for you enough to stand up for you. A friend that you can spend time with, without worrying that the fun moments you’re sharing are going to be erased the very moment they dob you in for inviting them over.

I’m not worried that I will taint her experience with my own. I know that I can keep my hurt from clouding her life, because I was given the tools to do so.

I am just surprised by the extent of the damage done to me by one little girl, over a period of five tiny little years. Experiences that ended 20 years ago but are still resonating within my subconscious, despite therapy and all the work I’ve done to heal from them.

I’m not angry about it, I’m not hurt by it (anymore). I am aware that her behaviour had to have been due to her own experiences in her own life. I can’t blame an 8 year old girl for not having the tools she needed to deal with whatever traumatic situation she was experiencing. Her behaviour ended up putting me in that same position, years later.

I am just… surprised. I am in awe of the power of the brain, and of the consequences of traumatic childhood experiences.

I am also now more prepared for the future; for the days my daughter comes home crying because someone was mean to her. They’re going to trigger me. They’re going to make me angry, and they’re going to *hurt*. I am determined, however, to encourage my daughter’s natural empathy for the suffering of others, whilst helping her to cultivate a healthy self-esteem.

That’s far easier said than done. My own parents did exactly the same things for me, and I still fell into this trap. I refused their help when they tried to intervene. I forbade them from contacting the school or her parents because by that time, the damage had already been done. Just like with that high school boyfriend, I needed that bully to love me. I believed both of them when they told me that nobody else would want me, so I did all I could to become what they wanted me to be. Of course, what they wanted me to be was broken and in their control, so nothing I changed about myself ever made a difference, except in the damage it did to me.

For now, I’m going to work on putting my own feelings aside, and focus only on the positives that this new day care experience is providing for my daughter.

Hopefully, by the time bullying starts, I’ll have developed a strategy for helping my daughter through it.

You know, that… or schools will have actually done something to address the epidemic.

When Old Becomes New

For many years I had a secret dream. A dream I wouldn’t even voice aloud to myself, not even in the voice that lived inside my head. 

I felt so undeserving of this dream that I brushed it off when it came up in conversation and made self-deprecating jokes about my inability to handle the task purely to hide just how vulnerable it made me feel to want something I felt so incapable of doing.

It’s been two months since my dream came true with the birth of my daughter, and what began as the most terrifying journey soon became a pleasant and happy experience as I grew with confidence in my own ability and in my relationship with my baby.

As weeks went by I began to miss my autonomy, my friends, my ability to just unwind and not be thinking about sterilising bottles or changing nappies, so last Friday my parents watched our daughter and my partner and I joined my friends on a night out – a night that began in all the ways my drinking history has taught me to avoid.

Unsurprisingly to many, I ended up where those historic sessions always found me; 20 odd vodka redbulls later, not able to tell you my own name – In fact, I was probably in the worst shape I’ve ever been, and that’s coming from someone who has given themselves pancreatitis from drinking. 

The day that followed was the most heartbreaking of my life.

It’s a day of new feelings, and of meeting old ones long buried and long forgotten.

I was dizzy, weak, unable to throw up but unable to keep anything down. I couldn’t pick my daughter up without the fear of dropping her. She cried and my partner was the only one who could help her. I couldn’t feed her, change her or bathe her. I couldn’t comfort her and I probably terrified her with the amount of alcohol that was steaming out of my body. My skin was grey, my eyes were bloodshot and my body shook.

I cried most of the day.

I felt physically better the next day (though by no means what you would call “well”), but mentally, I was beginning the sharp descent into the boozeblues.

This is where those old feelings brush up against new feelings.

It has occurred to me in these days that have followed that mentally and emotionally, I am back where I began in motherhood. I don’t have a single ounce of faith in my own ability as a parent as a result of ending up in that same boozetown I swore I had left behind. 

If I fell this far already, when I was enjoying our life so much, what am I going to do when we have actual challenges to face?

It seems my confidence is intrinsically linked to my control over my drinking – when I fail at controlling that, I lose any shred of faith in my ability to function anywhere else in life. All I see is how worthless and useless and selfish I am to not be able to stop, even when something so perfect is waiting to see me the next day.

I’ve spent the past few days with my old friends regret, fear, self-loathing and The Whisperer – she’s the one who speaks to people when they’re at their lowest, looking for ways to stop feeling those ugly feelings about themselves – she sits on your chest, fills up your veins, squeezes your lungs and tiptoes through your mind, kicking dust all over the things you find most precious. 

Now, when my daughter cries, I can’t say what she needs. Until Friday, I was okay with guessing. Now it feels like everything is a guess. It makes me feel small and not good enough for her.

We’ve been talking a lot the past couple of days, my daughter and I. She’s been smiling at me and laughing. Until Friday, those smiles and laughs were just that – a baby’s smiles and laughs. Now part of me aches because she’s too beautiful for me. She’s two months old and I’ve already let her down.

And now I remember why she was my secret dream, because this is what I knew was in me. This is why I knew I’d fail. 

So this is it. This is the memory I need to keep each time I take myself to the bar to buy a drink. I need to remember how this feels, rather than try to forget it.

It’s in the forgetting that we end up having to remember.

The new, shiny leaf on which I now sit

Hello everyone.
It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?
The three of you who read this have most likely stopped checking your reader for my posts, so… surprise! I’m not dead!

In fact, I’m more alive than I’ve been my entire life. A very, very lot has happened since I last wrote and it will be a real task to condense it, but here goes!

Almost a year ago, during The Giant Breakdown of 2012, my psychologist said she would be inclined to diagnose me with PTSD from childhood bullying.

I, of course, thought that was a load of horseshit because I’m not a soldier, wasn’t in an horrific accident, and I wasn’t bullied – I just went to school with a mega bitch.

Fast forward 12 months through the absolute mess I made of my life, and I found myself in deep contemplation over my past, my future and the stress that was my present. What I discovered was a small fire that was lit under that concept she had mentioned.

I began to believe her. And then I began to remember.

There is little point to rehashing the torment that bully put us all through. It serves no-one but the curious. Suffice it to say, she came to our school when we were 8 years old, and she turned our happy group of girls into one whose members spent every morning almost vomiting before leaving for school, stress and anxiety working its way through tiny little bodies and minds far too young to understand what was going on or how to deal with it.

What she did to us, if it was done to a spouse, would be considered domestic violence; mental and emotional torture.

She bullied the way only little girls are capable of.

I thought I had made it through unscathed, in fact I stood up to her a fair bit and could be quite the defiant little thing when I needed to be. What I didn’t realise was that the things I was experiencing were wiring my brain in such a way that as time progressed, those feelings would constantly reappear despite the present circumstances being completely different.

I’ve always known there was something wrong with me. Something wrong with my brain, something that made me confused, constantly, about my own feelings – something that alienated me from even my closest people. I thought it must have been mental illness of some description, but I was looking only at the symptoms, never even considering that the source could be something from those days in primary school.

Well, the good news is that I now know where my brain started going a little bit wrong, and it seems that that’s all I really need to know in order to take control of it.

My psychologist explained that PTSD doesn’t make you feel like something in the past did. It feels exactly the same now as it did back then, only it’s a totally different scenario and thus, my reaction can be entirely inappropriate – and confusing as hell for everyone involved.

That explains my entire life, from high school to today.

To today.

That’s the big thing here, guys. It seems that simply acknowledging her diagnosis was all I’ve needed to do to give myself back the power I relinquished to that little girl all those years ago.

I don’t hate her, I don’t even blame her. She must have been going through something terrible herself to need to force people to like her, to play with her, and to control their every move, even their thoughts. She was also 8 years old, and clearly too young to process her own troubles.

In a short two weeks, I’ve managed to acknowledge that diagnosis, and as uncomfortable and weak as it makes me feel to be almost 31 years old and still deeply affected by being picked on, I don’t just acknowledge it, I accept it.

I’ve begun to remember things, and not only remember them, but find the connection between that feeling from then, and the present day scenarios in which that feeling repeats itself. It’s like finding a skeleton key to all the locks in the city – all those secrets, they aren’t secret any more. I finally understand myself.

Already, with reactions that I’ve had for years, while they still rear up instinctively, I am able to put them in their place as a “then” feeling, not a “now” feeling, and in doing so, I am finally able to say what I want without the crippling fear of it being the wrong thing, and the reason I get left alone on the seat under the tree.

To me, it finally feels that I am allowed to have the future I’ve dreamed of, but not felt worthy or capable of attaining.

I was a beaten down 8 year old’s emotional mind, trying to navigate an adult world. A world in which I created even worse problems to overcome. PTSD tends to lead its people into abusive relationships.

I once had the opportunity to date a man who spent his time at art shows, surrounded by long-legged women in slinky dresses and heels. With people who didn’t have trouble talking, people who knew how to exist amongst others. People who were worth his time and his attention.

People who weren’t worthless like me.

I was conditioned to accept abuse and mistreatment, disrespect and violence from people who claimed to care about me. Strangers, even enemies have treated me better than the people I actively chose to bring into my life.

So whose fault is it? I was the one who chose them, and the one who stayed.

Well, thankfully I don’t think it’s my fault any more. I also don’t think I’m worthless.

Which is why I am now able to envisage a future in which I really am a mother, a driver, a wife, and maybe even one day, a writer.

Until recently, these were all things that I wanted, but felt that I didn’t deserve, or that I could never pull off. Now I know better, and I’m finally taking the physical steps required to make life happen.

It’s never going to be smooth sailing, and there will most definitely be obstacles for me to face, but for the first time in my life, I feel capable of doing just that. The fear of failure is gone. It’s actually okay if I make mistakes – it isn’t going to see me left alone under that tree.

I will never be left alone under that tree again.

And this time I didn’t run from a man who was promising me the world I’d glimpsed in my dreams. This time I am walking alongside him, not trailing behind, letting him do all the hard work for both of us in case I fuck it all up.

No. This time we’ll fuck it all up together and he can hang out with me under that tree playing Mario Kart.