At 3 AM, she burst into my brain like a prizefighter after the first bell. She’s usually there every damn day, and I’d gotten used to her almost constant harangues about my faults and failures. Yesterday I managed to shove her out for a while. But, man, she was angry – who the hell do I think I am, posting a picture of my smiling face and giving the impression that I’ve got my shit together despite battling with bipolar disorder. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, I had the audacity to actually think it was a pretty picture of myself.
She moved in shortly after I escaped from my domestic violence situation. In the absence of an abuser, the abused becomes adept at picking up the slack. Until I met another person who actually hears voices, I didn’t realize I did this to myself. I mean, come on, the things I tell myself…never would I say them to another person. Nobody deserves to be screamed at, torn down, belittled, discouraged, or beaten. So just stop, you might say. Sheri, you wouldn’t talk to anyone else like this, why not accord yourself the same respect? But I can tell you, after a lifetime of this crap it’s hard to fight back.
Somedays I think it’s too late for me, after decades of this I just can’t see it ending.
During the few times I allowed myself to think of a future as a parent, I never imagined that imparting wisdom derived from my experiences would include how to survive abuse. Nor did I picture myself and my future child having discussions about psychiatric medications.
My mother taught me how to sew intricate Vogue patterns, and then accessorize my outfits with the right shoes and jewelry. She instilled in me the importance of a Chanel black dress, and the need for it to be worn on the perfect body. In addition to an appreciation of the fine arts, I learned the appreciation of fine dining. But all her wisdom was not superficial, I went with her to meetings of the League of Women Voters and Another Mother for Peace.
Not once did we discuss how to cope with mental illness, either my own or that of others. She did not tell me that I was entitled to be treated with respect, nor did she instill in my psyche the importance of “No.” We talked about medicines for birth control, acne, and cramps. Frightening side effects of psychotropics were never brought up, I don’t even think there was a need for this sort of discussion at that time.
I had no idea parenting could be both heartbreaking and heart-enriching. Visiting my child in a psychiatric ward or talking about how to deal with a narcissist were not in any book on parenting. Yet here I am, about thirty years into this adventure, finding myself grateful that none of that came up during my upbringing. Would I have been scared off? Might I have chosen not to have children? I’d like to think that I would have been brave and willing to take on the challenge; but even though I wouldn’t give back my daughters, I’m not really sure I would have been strong enough to say “Yes, that’s something I’m sure I could handle.”
Almost 20 years ago, I filled a few suitcases full of my daughters’ clothes and comfort items – toys, blankets, etc. Threw a few of my own essentials into a bag, and escaped to safety. Once the dust settled, memories of baby books and other special items would fill my heart with sadness. I would find myself thinking “Where did I put that?” then remember that I would never again have what I was looking for. A program about a family that had lost everything in a fire gave me an idea for how to deal with my missing treasures. “It was lost in the fire,” became my coping metaphor. And of course, my children and I were safe. That was, by far, of utmost importance.
Then the most ridiculous thing happened, I thought of my beautiful Kelly green grosgrain pumps that had a bow on the heel. My heart broke and I began to cry. “Are you kidding me?” my brain screamed at me. For days I lamented those shoes, not the Steiff bear, not the girls’ pictures, not my books, or anything else of sentimental value. Those damn shoes haunted me. The reasoning behind this never did become clear, but I can only imagine that it was easier for me to deal with a silly pair of shoes instead of the heartache of leaving behind important mementos.
The Things We Leave Behind
The following are not my words, but they struck deep into my soul. After escaping the prison of abuse, anxiety and fear may govern the survivor’s life for a while. This plea for understanding exemplifies these overwhelming feelings. The simple fact that we feel we need to explain ourselves is evidence of the trauma we have experienced. We should know that the people who love and care about us do so unconditionally; but unfortunately that is a concept we’ve never been able to grasp.
I feel like I need to explain something to my friends. So listen: I love you all and I want to hang out with all of you. But on top of my kid schedule, my work schedule, my finances, and I’m trying to get back into school right now, I have my dumb mental health to deal with. Understand that most of my life, out of circumstance or not being allowed out, I have not ever had very close friends that I see in person very often. It’s a thing I have never ever experienced. So I love people, I love having friends, but sometimes they really really scare me and I run away. I’m like a skittish cat. I want to be pet, I want to connect with you, but it can take a while to coax me out from under the bed. And sometimes I can come out and then I need to run back under the bed again. You can lay there and stick your hand under the bed and talk to me, but who knows when I’ll come out again. I’m unreliable. And I hate that about myself. And eventually you just have to walk away from the coaxing, and I’m so sorry and I understand. And sometimes trying to coax me out makes me go deeper under the bed, away from you. And sometimes I come out. It’s impossible, I know. Talking to me through text helps me though, and eventually, sometimes I can make it out. It’s just going to take me a long time. Sometimes I’ll only see you twice a year when I really want to see you more often. And I’m so sorry. But I do love you, I’m still here under the bed, trying to figure out how to get out of here and be the kind of cat that loves all the guests and greets them and sits on all the laps and purrs. But I’m just not that kind of cat yet, and I’m so sorry that it’s so disappointing. That’s all. Hang in there for me, or don’t. Just know it isn’t you.
“How can you be so stupid!” – shrinking
“You’re imagining things!” – shrinking
“You’re not wearing that.” – shrinking
“You’re an embarrassment.” – shrinking
“Your children are afraid of you.” – shrinking
“You need to find somewhere else to stay when you get out of the loony bin.” – almost gone
[whispered] “Mommy please come home.” – sprouting
“Just get here, we’ll help you.” – growing
“I’ve got you.” – growing
“You’re so brave to have survived.” – growing
“You don’t have to do this alone.” – blossoming
“This is amazing.” – thriving
Written for The Sandbox Writing Challenge #45 – “What makes you feel small?”