A letter to my dad

It’s Mental Health Awareness week here in the UK, and also locally there’s a festival Pushing Up Daisies: http://www.pushingupdaisies.org/ creating conversations around death, dying and bereavement both of which inspired me to write this letter to my dad today. He died a few years ago. I cried a lot when I wrote it, which is new for me and feels healthy and healing.chasm

Dear Jim, my dad,

Four years ago, when I found out you’d died, I was visiting Karen in France with my 2 kids. I was confused when we got there, because despite the anticipation it was clear she didn’t really want us there. We stayed in a caravan with no windows adjacent to her’s in a dilapidated, once upon a time, barn and she would drop us off by the nearest river where we would entertain ourselves as best as we could for the day while she went about her usual routine. It was isolating and stressful and I felt angry with her for inviting us when she so clearly couldn’t handle us being there. As the days unfolded, she told me you had prostate cancer and on the day before we left, she got a phone call from mum to say you had died. She couldn’t look at me. I tried my best to be there for her, to offer my condolences as angry tears spilled down her face. I felt like a hypocrite and she assumed the same and could take no comfort from me. There was just hot spiky anger and I felt like an intruder as she blanked me and I disappeared and tried to explain to the kids and keep them quiet.

 

Karen’s friends gave us all a lift to the airport the next day and they hugged and kissed her and told her how sorry they were. With the wind blowing in my face in the back of the car, I was struck how no one had ever said sorry to me for the things you did and it was like the cultural silence once again deafened me. She was relieved to say goodbye as we were dropped for a long wait at the airport where I tried to answer the kid’s questions about you – a man they’d never met but were intrigued about.

 

Back in the UK, I started to sift through my feelings and watch as new ones arose over days and weeks. I had been estranged from you and mum for over 20 years so I didn’t expect to feel much, as cutting you out of my life had been a very positive decision and one that was no doubt easier for you too. Without your hatred and your blame, I had been able to grow stronger and healthier, but you were harder to banish from my head and lived loud, doubting everything I did and telling me how crap I was. Initially, after your death, I felt a massive relief, a liberation that I would never have to fear you again, a sense that I could move on, that this was a new chapter. And then came an unexpected grief as I realised a hope so dormant it had long been forgotten. It was grief from the tiny child part of me, the one who had left those scribbled love letters by your bed telling you how sorry I was for being such a bad girl, and how I would try harder to not make you so angry. I thought she had been killed off by your beatings, by your hateful insults, by the hopelessness, but she was still there. At some deep down level, I still hoped you would tell me that I was ok, loveable even, so that I could have that voice inside me too and start to believe it. I grieved the loss of that whisper of hope.

 

I wish the things you said to me in anger and hate were as easy to lay to rest as your body must’ve been, because although it happened so long ago they stay with me, are part of me like the blood coursing through my veins despite years of therapy. You broke me Jim, and it is hard to believe I will ever mend. For the stuff you did to me, and the stuff you let others do to me I don’t blame you for, I blame myself. I still believe if only I’d have been better behaved, been more compliant, been less compliant, I could’ve stopped those things happening – I could have stopped your prodigal son, my brother from raping me, etc etc. I know you had a cruel and loveless childhood and were the scapegoat in your own family, and I know how that feels and can understand how hard it is to parent after that. That’s the bit I can’t forgive you for – how you have impacted my beautiful innocent kids, despite them never having met you. Parenting with PTSD brings up your voice loud and clear, the one that says I contaminate everything I touch, that whatever I give will never be good enough. Triggers spin me out less and they get older and I have had years to acclimatise, but still I hate you for handing me this legacy, for the way that despite my best efforts and conscious parenting, I know that my trauma runs through them in a more diluted form. I will have to hand the baton of “breaking the cycle of abuse” onto them as I have not entirely managed it. At least I’m trying though.

 

I have no doubt you rest in peace, if there is such a thing, and I wish you no less. I do wish we’d been given the opportunity to have a better relationship though, and that is what I mourn, rather than the one we actually had. Through you, I have learned determination – to keep trying when I fail – because I want more for my kids, and I am in the position to commit to that. I traverse the chasms, cling on by my finger nails, at times frozen in cowering terror, at others putting one foot in front of the other left, right, left, right; still trying to silence your voice in my head.

 

From your daughter, Ruth.

Posted in healing, mental health, parenting, ptsd, sexual abuse, trauma, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

My ideal mum

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I’ve been really struggling again recently, like existentially. I find it so difficult to find any peace inside myself and life feels like a perpetual slog to the next bedtime. A few weeks ago I was thinking about how I am not suited to life, how I’ve rarely found a comfortable place to sit within it. And that’s the crux of it – I just want to feel ok, to feel relaxed and at ease and like it’s ok to be me and be here. I’ve been reflecting a bit on my relationship with my mum recently and realising the impact of not feeling welcome. I’ve always been resistant to mother blaming as it feels so unfair and I’m by no means perfect, but here are some of my thoughts if you’re interested.

 

I grew up in a dysfunctional and abusive family. My mum wasn’t able to mother me. She was no narcissist, she was emotionally absent, overwhelmed by the demands of life and occasionally cruel. I would sit dutifully on her Dad’s knee on our Sunday visits whilst he drooled with his hands down my pants and she sat opposite talking about some crap with the air spiky with tension. She would quickly walk out of the room and shut the door when my dad came in to punch and kick me for some invented crime and I felt a sense of gratitude he beat me and not her (or my siblings) because I knew she wouldn’t cope with it. I learned she couldn’t cope with me either, my needs or demands and over the course of my childhood I learned to turn my yearning for her into hatred, because that way I was the one doing the rejecting and there was a comfort in feeling more in control.

 

When I was 21, during another suicidal crisis which landed me in psychiatric hospital, I cut off contact with my family. I was tired of being laughed at and humiliated for being the odd one out, the mad one, the one who failed to cope. It was a tangibly liberating and empowering decision and one that I have never regretted. I have pushed down any sense of neediness and instead focused on my strength and independence, but there have been times I have longed for the comfort of the mother I never had.

 

I have had a fantasy mum for a long time. She is bulky and strong and she sits on the floor and holds me in her nest of legs, hugging me in her strong arms rocking me and singing and stroking my hair. I feel very alone in the world and sometimes this image makes me want to cry. The time I have most grieved my mother who never was was when I pregnant with my first child. Out of the blue one day came this deep need to feel held and wanted and nurtured. It was hard to put into words, and confusing, because I knew I didn’t want my actual mum, and it was hard to let myself feel needy, but that deep unmet yearning was full of grief. I have felt guilt for my children not having grandparents or extended family, especially when they have expressed curiosity. I am 44 now – a single lesbian parent to 2 boys of 13 and 10, whom I love more than I thought possible. Parenting with PTSD has by no means been an easy ride but in my love for them, in my determination to provide some basic sense of security, I realise how lacking my own childhood was.

 

The other day, I was prompted to write a letter to my inner child about my responsibility to parent them which gave me some more insight:

 

Dear Little One,

Theoretically, I can imagine you exist, but find it hard to get any sense of you, and my immediate response is anger and hatred, so I’m going to talk to you as if you are one of my own children and see where we go from there.

I am gonna feed you and give you snugly blankets and a nice soft bed. A torch you can reach easily should the monsters come. I’m gonna build a barricade in front of your bedroom door and stand there feet apart, daring anyone to come near (just like you tried to do yourself that time you spent ages sellotaping your bedroom door shut), but this time you don’t need to wait in fear of the inevitable because I am there and no-one will cross me. I’m gonna hold you close on my knee, or you can use me as a chair and we’ll watch TV together and eat crisps. I’ll strap a hot water bottle to your belly and you’ll have the softest fleeciest pyjamas and you will know you are loved, because when you are scared or needy, I will not turn my back.

I’ll help you find your place in this world – show you the seat that is yours at the table, equal to all the other seats. And I’ll ask you what you want, encourage you to have your own thoughts and be interested in what you think. I’ll make space for you, want the best for you. I’m gonna stay until you feel safe and you understand that there is a space for you here – show you how to inhabit it and feel comfy there. Let you know that all that is wrong with the world is not your fault. And I’ll stay until you fully believe it.

Love from The Big One.

Posted in healing, mental health, parenting, psychiatric hospital, ptsd, sexual abuse, trauma, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

My week at Heal for Life UK

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This is a mug I bought on the way back to remind me of my week at HFL

 

I finally feel like I am resurfacing after a period in the depths. I just got back from a week at Heal For Life http://www.healforlife.org.uk/index.html , a programme run by and for survivors of childhood trauma. I’ve been wanting to go for ages after a friend enthused about her experience of the programme, but fear and practicalities of work and parenting kept me away until now. I booked it about a year ago and in the couple of weeks leading up to it I felt in fear and dread and wondered why I was doing this to myself. A lot of my life is spent on that precarious knife edge of just coping, with wobbles feeling like they could descend into full on break down at any time and it almost felt inevitable that this would be the outcome of any in depth explorations of past trauma. I’ve done a fair bit of therapy over the years and spent long periods feeling stranded scared and stuck, and berated myself for not being able to let go and move on. Most recently I had some brilliant psychology support where I came to understand that the main thing I need to do to heal is forgive myself but that’s so much easier said than done. I feared that a week at HFL to focus on myself without the pressure and distraction of having to keep all the other life stuff of kids and work together would mean that I would fall apart.

I’ve not done much conscious processing since I’ve been back, it’s like I’ve slammed the lid back on that box for now in an attempt to re-orientate and adjust back into my home life, but the week, it spoke deeply to me. There is so much I could say, but I’ll try and stick to the headlines. Firstly (because it’s the most straight forward), the setting was idyllic in the grounds of a massive estate far from civilisation and other people. There were trees in the woods I’ve never seen before, magnolias in flower, cherry trees laden with blossom, the rich purple, green and white of bluebells and stitchwort, abundant cowslips and primroses, and hidden away, the biggest badger set I’ve ever come across with their amazing excavations out of the chalk and flint. I saw hares, deer and a fox. Wondering amongst that generous beauty was a great source of comfort and felt like a gift.

On the night we arrived, we were given an overview of the week where one of the team said it was basically about love, to which my automatic cynical response was “yeah right” and I had no concept of what that meant. But the love that was offered over the week was consistent, open hearted, boundless and profound. I have never known or experienced love like it – total unwavering acceptance from each member of the team throughout the week – they were really there for us without agenda other than to support. Love indeed was the key and it moved me deeply, was something I had never imagined possible, and I feel so so privileged to have experienced that. It questioned my fear of people and made me wonder about the possibilities if I could allow myself to be more open in my wider life.

The week was long and full and structured and held. I realised that I have been locked in a battle between my wounded child and punishing parent since my kids were born. I was able to tolerate listening to a bit of what the child part of me had experienced all those years ago and understand the importance of being open to listening more and experimenting with some compassion towards her and to allowing her to have a voice. I need to work a whole lot more with breaking down my resistance to that, but I have some great models from the love of the team to help me internalise. We learned about practical ways to de-trigger and were shown ways to become better parents to ourselves. We were given space and structure to explore our pains and remember our strengths – it was great to remember what a feisty rebellious girl and young woman I was because she has somehow been forgotten and to remember that fearless spirit surviving however she could gives me hope that there must still be some of that fight in me somewhere.

There’s lots more to say, but I’m going to leave it there for now. If you are still battling your demons though, I would say that going on a HFL week might be the greatest gift you ever give yourself. And we deserve it. We deserve to be deeply moved by love and acceptance, and support in finding ways to move forward….  Love love love. Love love love. Love is all you need.

Posted in healing, mental health, ptsd, sexual abuse, trauma, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

#FacesOfPTSD not all wars take place on the battlefield

 

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#FacesOfPTSD not all wars take place on the battlefield

This is a post in support of the #FacesOfPTSD campaign challenging the idea that most people suffering from the effects of PTSD are survivors of military trauma. You can find out more about it here:   https://www.wevideo.com/view/653873758

I am such a techno dinosaur that I’ve spent ages trying to insert the image I created but have still not managed so this will have to do.

For me, living with PTSD is the electric shock jolt of an over active startle response to any sudden noise or movement, it is shouting at my kids when they think it is funny to make me jump and feeling like a fool in the park when I drop to my knees with my hands over my head because a tiny dog has suddenly come from nowhere into my line of vision. It is my kids having to repeat something simple to me 3 times before I can hear it because I just can’t focus. It is shaking and sweating in the dentist chair. It is the inability to filter our unwanted stimuli so I get sensory overload in many situations, but most annoyingly in the supermarket sending me into panic even though I tell myself nothing is wrong. It is the nausea caused by full on smells you know cannot really be here now in this moment. It is the difficulty managing everyday stress like the dog barking and the kids trying to tell you something whilst your head feels like it will explode. It is me berating myself for being triggered again.  It is the unpredictable dark shadows and the dreams that mean sleep is not your friend. It is having a very small life because it takes all your energy just to manage that. Generally my PTSD is at medium volume,  on rare occasions low volume and at times of stress so painfully loud it feels like my skin is peeled back.

 

Posted in mental health, parenting, ptsd, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Body Remembers

Trigger Points: Childhood Abuse Survivors Experiences of Parenting

the_body_remembersThe Body Remembers

Just get over it.

Why can’t you just get let it go?

Because it has not gone anywhere. It is still here.

The first time I did yoga I cried.

And every time after that for six months.

At the mat, I came face to face

with my self hatred.

At the mat, I discovered the way

I hold my trauma in the space between my pelvic bones.

Some people brought towels to class

to wipe away their sweat.

My towel wiped away my snot and tears,

as a lifetime of holding trauma was released,

in sudden waves that washed over me,

salty memories licking my skin.

The body remembers.

I have a safe home now.

I have a gentle, loving husband who adores me

and would do anything to protect me from harm.

But I still have to ask him not to stand in doorways

that…

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A Sneak Peek at the Survivors Empowering Survivor Series.

Really looking forward to reading these real life stories…

Trigger Points: Childhood Abuse Survivors Experiences of Parenting

You’re not going to want to miss what we have in store for the month of February! The Survivors Empowering Survivors series is shaping up to be no less than awe-inspiring.

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Here’s a sneak peek at just a few of the survivors you’ll be hearing from:

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Amy Oestreicher – A PTSD peer-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for The Huffington Post, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright.  As a survivor and “thriver” of nearly 30 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse, organ failure and a decade of medical trauma, Amy has been challenged with and continues to overcome extreme circumstances she calls life’s detours.

byron hByron Hamel – An award-winning Canadian journalist, television producer, author and blogger at Trauma Dad. Despite being raised by a violent man who got the death penalty for torturing and killing a baby, Byron is a loving father dedicated to fighting child abuse and empowering others to heal.

liz mullinarLiz Mullinar A woman…

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Responses to a journal prompt from Trigger Points Anthology

Source: Responses to a journal prompt from Trigger Points Anthology

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