Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lessons learned

M.E.M. (Moms Eternal Memories)

You can't judge a book by its cover.

I have a secret. Many actually. A lifetime of secrets.

And one day in high school in a creative writing class I decided to write a book about my life. I had a story to tell. At least at that point of time I believed I did.

It's been said, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. A lot of truth there, I can tell you. At the time I knew I had a powerful story to share. Little did I know then, what I had experienced in the first seventeen years of my life would be just the beginning. What lied ahead, waiting for me around the corner were moments that, as I sit here now I find my whole body shaking and tears welling in my eyes with just the simple thought. Memories. You just never know.

My eyes have seen things I can't unsee. My heart has felt heartbreak so overwhelmingly profound I wondered if life was worth living. My ears have heard words filled with hatred so deep that just one tone of voice can paralyze me. And my body has felt pain so intense it literally shut down to spare me from the intensity.

But through it all I found my saving grace. The human spirit. Mine.

Lessons learned.

I am a love child of the late 1950s. My parents never married and went their separate ways before I turned two. I am an adult survivor of horrific child abuse at the hands of an evil monster named Beulah. My mother trusted her, but Beulah regularly stripped me of my clothing and beat me with the buckle end of a belt until I blacked out from the pain. At night she filled my bladder with water before putting me to bed. And then beat me if I got out of bed to use the bathroom. For no reason. I'll never know why. But once the abuse was discovered mom stepped in and stopped it. Shortly after that I took my first plane ride at the age of three from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, alone. Jealousy and a lie became the wedge placed between my father and I which resulted in his complete removal from my life. I was raised by an alcoholic step-father, a man I both loved and feared. Placed in the role of father to an instant family he tried but I believe he was unprepared for life as an adult. So he turned to alcohol. More than once I witnessed him beat my mother after drinking heavily. Abuse. Separation. Abandonment. Violence. Alcoholism. Dysfunction. My life encapsulated all these experiences before I reached my thirteenth year on this planet.

They fought constantly, until she had enough and moved me and my two younger sisters from Los Angeles back to her home town of Clarkston. But this time she was unprepared for what lied ahead. Through the eyes of a teenager I watched with delight as mom found the love of her life in another man. It was short lived. Three years into their relationship he disappeared unexpectedly and mom desperately searched for him. And through those same eyes I watched my mother fall to pieces when it all finally got to her and she suffered a nervous breakdown. Our roles reversed as I bathed her, dressed her and fed her until she regained her mental capacity. Then a year later came the phone call. They found him. Hanging from a tree outside Portland, Oregon. And from that moment my mother lost all hope. Helpless against the tides of change I watched her slowly spiral out of control. We fought constantly and she turned to prescription drugs to ease the pain. I turned to illegal drugs to numb the pain. Life went from bad to worse. She kicked me out of the house, then would beg me to come back, over and over and over again. It became a vicious cycle. Divorce. Mental breakdown. Suicide. Substance abuse. More dysfunction. My life unfolded all these experiences before I reached my twenty-first year on this planet.

And then shortly after my twenty-first birthday, and mom's forty-first, she unexpectedly died. 

People can and do die from a broken heart. I know it happens. Unable to replenish her supply from the well of life, her spirit just ran out and she felt defeated. So she gave up.

I won't give up. I refuse to. Over the course of my life, yes, I had those thoughts. But I pushed them aside with a resounding NO! Not me. I have not survived all I've been through just to end it all like that. No. Not this girl. When those thoughts used to come they were immediately followed by the knowledge that I wanted to meet the woman I am learning to become. I want to know who I will be. And I still do.

You see, I have a confession. I love to read. And at some point when I began to read a new book, I'd get about twenty pages into it before I'd want to know how it would end. So I'd find the last page and read the last paragraph just to be sure it wasn't one of those stories with a bad ending, you know.

Upon hearing about my early child abuse, a good friend commented that her life was boring. That nothing ever happened to her. I had to laugh. Be thankful. If you've had a good life where laughter outweighed tears, ask yourself if you would rather trade places with me. I mean, really, would you want to? Just because you didn't experience sweeping highs and crashing lows doesn't mean you haven't lived. I'm thankful for your life because it helps to balance out mine. If not for those of you who had happy childhoods and a relatively easy life I might not have found the balance I needed to carry on. Because through it all someone was always there in my life whose eyes hadn't seen what I've seen. They bring a different perspective to life.

My eyes have seen things I can't unsee, and because of that I learned to find the beauty in everything. My heart has felt heartbreak so overwhelmingly profound I wondered if life was worth living, and because of that I learned the value of empathy. My ears have heard words filled with hatred so deep that just one tone of voice can paralyze me, and because of that I learned to dance to the music of harmony. And my body has felt pain so intense it literally shut down to spare me from the intensity, and because of that I learned coping skills that helped to compel me forward in difficult situations.

Lessons learned.

If I could have one wish, it would be that someday the memories of my early childhood will no longer hurt. That the day will come when I can remember what Beulah did to me without the pain and the tears. And then I will be free.

I don't like using labels on people, but sometimes it helps us understand. And I recently learned many adult survivors deal with something called attachment [edit: corrected to change detachment to attachment] disorder. Knowing that helps me to understand why I do what I do sometimes. And with this knowing comes awareness. So I'm working to overcome that as well.

One day at a time.

If you want to judge me, fine, judge me. But only if you can prove to me that you actually know what it's like to walk in my shoes.


Never judge your neighbor until you've walked a mile in their shoes.


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