Who I am vs. who I think I should be

Imagine a large wall painted with a picture of two rooms.  I am standing next to it looking down its surface as though it were one side of a long corridor.  The room closest to me looks like Picasso’s Guernica minus the animals.  That represents my life with my mom, dad and sister.  The further one is dark and slightly out of focus as though viewed through a foggy, distorted window pane.  Vague shadows emerge and melt back into the murky gloom.  That represents life with my granny, grandpa, dad and sister.  I am plastered to those two scenes face forward and spread eagle with my torso, left arm and leg glued to the Picasso and my right arm and leg glued to the darkness.  When I try to pull away my body resembles a sling shot and the adhesive stretches with me like gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe.  It is impossible to remove myself.

I carried this image with me when I drove to my friend’s house for prayer.  As we fell into discussion I also shared with her my quandary over blue vs. orange, yellow and green.  Our Lord gave her an interpretation consisting of sharp contrast between darkness and life; my family of origin was the darkness and the bright flowered wallpaper in my teenage closet was the life for which I always yearned.  Her discernment rang in my spirit like a bell.  My young life was so frightening and hopeless that I had created an image of what I perceived would be a place of happiness, a place radically different from my current existence…and I hid it in the closet of my soul.  There I could be everything my parents weren’t: outgoing, fun loving, popular (preferably famous), rich, entertaining, energetic, productive and care free.  Pursuing and accomplishing that representation of perfection became my life’s goal.  The alternative threatened to envelop me like a yawning black hole in outer space.  I had to try to escape. 

There was and is one problem.  My genetics.  Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, cites studies by Jerome Kagan from which he concluded that approximately 50% of our makeup is based on heredity (nature) and 50% of it is based on our experience (nurture).  This information confirmed what I already suspected; I was running from who I was created to be.  I am wired to be a strong introvert: a person who thrives on quiet and going deep with a few people, a homebody who can sometimes be intensely thoughtful and serious but still enjoys life and has quirky sense of humor, someone who likes working carefully to produce quality results and therefore may never be prolific in achievements.  The list of similarities to my parents goes on.

I continue to find myself drawn to a life of “bright colors”.  Within the past few months I have brought home two different quilt sets each printed with red, orange and yellow flowers.  When I spread them out on our bed, my husband and I were overwhelmed by their vibrant busy pattern.   After the second purchase, I asked myself why?  Why did I repeat the same mistake?  The colorful closet of my past converged with the lively bedspreads of my present and an “aha” moment came.   Part of me is still trying to be that for which I had longed.  Yet when the fantasy world of my youth jarringly collides with present reality, I am startled by the realization I am not comfortable with the old imagined persona.  Trying to put it on feels like attempting to squeeze into clothes that are too small or pound the proverbial square peg into a round hole.  Pleasantly surprised, I realize I am beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin.

And God is rejoicing because of it.  I am His work of art.  “Oh yes, You shaped me first inside, then out; You formed me in my mother’s womb.  I thank You, High God – You’re breathtaking!  Body and soul, I am marvelously made!  I worship in adoration – what a creation!  You know me inside and out, You know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.”  (Psalm 139:13-15, The Message)  Also, through two interesting books on introversion, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D and the one I mentioned earlier, I am learning to appreciate the many positive aspects of the temperament I have been given.  Yet doubt still niggles; a nagging fear still pierces my heart.  Somehow I remain clinging to that family wall and stuck in my teenage blue bedroom.  

I yield to my God for His power and ability; He will help me separate and turn away so I can further embrace the life He intends for me.

Blue vs. yellow, orange and green

I’m swimming in blue, inundated, drowning.  Bright blue on the walls and a blue flowered bedspread suffocate me when I walk into my room.  Mom almost growled at me when my mind froze, as it usually does, trying to come up with how I wanted to decorate my bedroom after we built our house, so I shut down and let her decide.  For me decision making is kind of like struggling to dig my way out of a hole and then having someone come along and stamp the dirt back down on top of me; I don’t know if I’ve ever known what I want.  My Granny’s favorite color is blue, and as a little girl I always agreed when she asked if mine was the same…sometimes willingly, sometimes nodding in silence.  When you are a kid you do that kind of thing.  I’m sure that is why Mom assumed I liked blue.  Here I am a teen, and I’m still doing it…nodding my head when someone tells me what they think they know I like.  It’s much easier to give in.

There is one place in my room I think I like.  My closet.  Its walls are covered with bright orange, yellow and green flowers.  The paper was put up by me, myself and I.  No one helped; no one else decided.  I painstakingly cut around the brackets and became a contortionist to glue that stuff up.  In spite of being laughed at (which always happens), I did it.  I’m proud of it, and nobody can take it away from me.   It’s also not so scary if I just see it once in a while, so putting it in the closet works out very well.

For the second time this year I have brought home a bright orange, red and gold flowered quilt and accessories to update our bland bedroom.  Funny thing…the second time our reaction was the same as the first.  The colors and pattern still seemed to shout and assault our senses when we spread it out on our bed, hardly creating the environment our quiet introvert souls crave.  OK, said I to myself, why have I repeated the same mistake?  Then I remembered the above story.  Definitely a connection, don’t you think?  My guess is part of me is stuck back in that blue room and bright closet.  How do I get out?  What needs to change?  Do I need to forgive?  Does a pattern need to be broken?  All of the above?

Right now I want to slam the door (interesting wording considering I am talking about my bedroom and closet) on this process and walk away.  I have had it up to my eyeballs with past pain.  Maybe that is one of the reasons why I haven’t written for about 2 weeks.  And, why life has felt so dry.  But avoiding never brought healing.  It’s like putting off necessary surgery; the problem only gets worse or the infection just festers.

So God, help me to continue on.

Do or die

I felt some angst after reading an email.  Why, I questioned, does my perception of people’s responses to me or to situations affect me so much?  Depression dogged me the rest of the day. 

The next morning I contemplated my reaction again.  And an answer dawned on me.  I define myself by people’s reactions.  That is why I have difficulty with opposing viewpoints or a lack of acceptance from others; these things become personal threats.  Not only that, but I always assume I am in the wrong and must therefore change to suit the person or circumstance.

Two events from the past rose to my mind: one a defining moment and one a reflection of my anxiety.  The first took place when I was six years old after my mom returned from her 6 year stay in a mental hospital.  I screamed and cried and clung to the front porch of my grandmother’s house when it was time to get in the car to move to our new home.  Not only had my Granny been my mom and her home my home, but my biological mom was a very scary person.  My first memory of mom is her throwing up in her napkin at the Thanksgiving table after having too much to drink.  She was a ghostly figure who came in and out of my life at various times (when she would try and come back)…I didn’t like her and the instability she created.  I also had overheard my grandmother call her a drunken slut; even though I didn’t know what that meant I did understand the hatred behind those words.  Now I was to live with her and the man who did very hurtful and frightening things to me.

I used to stand on the couch in the living room of our first floor flat and stare out the picture window in what I believed was the direction of my grandmother’s house.  In my mind’s eye I can still see my mom passed out on the floor, and my inner ear can still hear her derisive screams that I look just like “her” (my grandmother whom she hated).  She embraced my sister, talked with her and appeared to care for her.  I was on the outside, and internally I was dying. 

One night I awoke, and my sister was not in the bed next to mine.  Fearfully I groped down the dark hallway and found no one.  I was alone.  Panic enveloped me; it was then my needs unconsciously shifted.   I could not allow this emptiness to happen again.

I changed from a girl who did not fit into a new situation and with a “new” mom to a girl who needed to adjust or die.  When sick, I found mom expressed care toward me.  I learned that neediness got her attention.  I learned to let her do things for me because she smiled and seemed to enjoy it.  I learned to pretend to love her and stand in awe of her.  I learned her ways and conformed to them.  And, the abandonment never happened again.  I was in.  I was no longer who I had been, but that awful circumstance did not happen again. 

The second flashback was setting the table in the kitchen of the house we built when I was a teen.  I would agonize over who’s untensils to arrange first, my mom’s or my dad’s.  I felt the order in which I did that would influence their behavior and love towards me.  Who needed to be placated; who needed to be appeased?  Who was the most unstable; whose wrath did I need to assuage?  Who needed my affirmation most; who needed to be pandered to?  Who would hate me most for not paying attention to them first?  I lived in dread of their anger and chastisement; their disapproval had to be avoided at all costs.  That usually happened when I did something on my own, when I did not figure their responses into the equation of my decision.

Following those memories, I became aware of an emptiness in my chest.  I recalled the picture of me running between my mom and my granny (described in my last post, Running in circles and set on a rock), and I remembered the image of the metal sheet locked and embedded in my torso (described in Taking it).  Those visuals and these flash backs certainly help explain my overwhelming desire to conform to people and situations.  Do or die.  Conform or be abandoned.  Adapt or be hated.  The choices were clear.  Perhaps they will also provide clues to the vacuum around my heart.

Oh Lord, help me get beyond this mode of functioning.  I no longer want to be in this place.

Running in circles and set on a rock

After almost a week of slogging through life as though partially immersed in a quagmire, this picture went through my mind when I lay in bed reflecting on the day.  I was running on a small, oval dirt track set in small, slightly unkempt grassy field.  Directly across from and facing each other on opposite long sides of the oval stood my Grandmother and my Mom; my racing feet were carving the elliptical pathway as I frantically sped round and round from one to the other.  Along with that image came interpretation.  I was surprised to find I was still living life trying to please them, torn by each one’s demand for loyalty, their extreme dislike of each other and the fear of losing either if I did not conform to their needs.  It was clear I would never reach my goals while continuing my hopeless circular journey.  I needed to break away from the gravitational pull that kept me in their orbit; then I would fly on a straight trajectory toward the dreams of my choice.

That visual then morphed into a slightly different take on the same theme.  The track changed to an old fashioned firefighter’s life net with my grandmother and mom holding either side.  As I sat in the middle, they jerked the rigid oval frame up and down making the inside canvas behave like a trampoline.  There I flopped and bounced at their whim, completely under their influence; the only thing I could do was feel nauseated, disoriented and miserable.  Again, understanding came.  At alternate times in my young life I experienced each as my safety net.  This was essential for me when they separately functioned as my care givers, but I no longer needed them in that capacity.  Now God is my safety net.  After this realization, I saw God reach for me and lift me from my unhealthy status and draw me to Himself.  Holding me close in an upright position, my feet and legs dangling, He hugged me and as though assimilated through osmosis, His power calmed me.  Gently and slowly He set my feet on the rock on which He stood.  My weak legs wanted to collapse, so He supported me, but I was sure the longer I stayed the stronger I would become.

I was reminded of Psalm 40:1-2:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

I have long considered these my life verses (except for the waiting patiently part; that I have not done well).  Time and again I have experienced God lifting me “out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire”; always I assumed I was placed on the Rock.  I may have been.  But, I have never before been given a clear indication that it actually happened.  Now I know; it is done.  I am on the Rock.  And, I will learn how to stand.

Taking it

The last couple of weeks have been a mish-mash of dreams, images, thoughts and feelings.  But, there is an underlying theme throughout which leads me to conclude God wants to free me from the need to be controlled by other people.  Here is a summary:

Within the last two weeks I have recorded 10 dreams; five of them seem to apply.  Here they are in very condensed versions: smearing my own poop on myself because someone else is defecating, agreeing to continue to work for a cause even though I perceived it as doomed, letting my escape plans be foiled by another’s ego, submitting to my grandmother and mother’s desires at the expense of my own and dragging my dad at my side trying to make him part of my fairly healthy life. 

After I awoke one morning following those dream filled nights, this image materialized in my mind’s eye.  A thick, shiny metal rod, similar to the hook on a padlock, was hanging around my neck.  To it was attached a large, rectangular steel plate covering my torso.  The plate’s back was embedded in my body; the front was exposed to the world.  People hit it, kicked it and beat on it.  With head bowed, I took it.  I stood stiffly as my body absorbed the blows.  (This is particularly interesting because I have been extremely tense the last few days.)

An event I attended has aroused reactions that are akin to the image and dreams. Although I am still processing the information I received (some of it was good) and my reactions to it, I have felt beaten, oppressed, depressed and discouraged.  My immediate, instinctive response was to surrender my new found goals and dreams and conform to that which I was told…or another interpretation could be what I perceived I was told.  And, it has been a battle to resist. 

Certain words leapt out of the page as I read these Bible verses:  “For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ.  Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.  Can’t you see the central issue in all this?  It is not what you and I do – submit to circumcision, reject circumcision.  It is what God is doing, and He is creating something totally new, a free life!” (Galatians 6:14-15, The Message)  (This was written to the church in Galatia as they struggled with conforming to people who wanted them to embrace Jewish laws and customs as additional requirements to having a relationship with God…thus the circumcision reference.)  Can you guess to which part I responded?  If you thought “…set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate….It is what God is doing, and He is creating something totally new, a free life!” then you are correct.  And, I believe that is exactly what He is working in my life right now.

Hello blog friends

I’ve missed you.  And, I’ve missed blogging.  I’ve done some book writing (I thought I had three chapters, but now I think I need to start over), but that is not at all as therapeutic as spilling my guts here.

So much has happened in the last two weeks, and so much is unresolved.  I have dreamed almost every night and have faithfully recorded each one (at least the ones I remember).  I have guessed at their implications and yet have not experienced the fulfillment of their purposes.  My introverted personality has lately been exposed to much stimulus, and I am feeling exhausted, battered and discombobulated (what a great word).  In short, I am starting to bump along the surface of life without making time to visit those deep places that are so important to me.  The solution?  I think I may need to start posting again to work through the things God is digging up and bringing out into the light.  What good is it to have half-finished thoughts purposelessly floating around in your mind?  They need to be connected with truth and planted in your soul in order to bear their intended fruit.  So, I am back.  Now the million dollar question is (and no, if you answer it, you will not receive your reward) can I blog and write a book at the same time?  We shall see.  Only God knows…and guess what?  I am going to find out.

What’s next?

That is my question regarding this blog.  While unburdening myself to two friends regarding the emotional stress of simultaneously writing a book and a blog about abuse, one asked, “Can you do both at the same time?”  Stopped short in my tirade, I have been tossing her question around in my mind for a few of weeks.   This is the scenario:

When I am writing the book I am reliving the past; when I am blogging I am reliving God’s healing work in the present.  Both are intense, require extreme focus and deep thinking, and can be quite emotionally and mentally draining.  Thus, it is hard for me to jump from one to the next; in fact, I have not found that possible.  It seems to be all or nothing, one or the other.

What does this mean for the blog???  For one thing, I know I need to focus more on the book which will result in fewer posts on the blog (which I have begun to do already).  Will I stop blogging entirely?  I don’t know.  I’m going to have to see where God leads. 

So the down the healing path I will continue to go.  To all my faithful friends, thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement and support.  Don’t stop; I still need all of that!  I will try to keep you updated on the process.