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.

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Onward in victory – part 3

Light is absent as I stand in the hallway…alone. There is darkness inside and out; silence pounds in my ears and terror grips me. My 6 (or 7) year old feet are rooted to the spot as my fear-widened senses search for someone, anyone. But the only thing sharing home with me was the night.

Reverse time for a moment to gain a clearer understanding of the monumental significance of the above event. My sister and I had been living with my Dad at his parent’s house after my Mom had committed herself to a mental institution. Our approximate ages were two years and three months respectively. It was there the first six significant growing years of my life took place, and in my child’s eyes my granny was my mother. An addition was built once the conclusion was drawn that Mom would not be returning soon, and at two years my crib in the flower curtain draped living room was exchanged for a gray upstairs bedroom shared with my sister. My Dad also had his bed upstairs. Like the Dark Island where dreams come true in C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia), the second floor became a murky fog shrouded realm after Dad began using me to fulfill his warped sexual desires. Following the nightmare nights, descending the stairs to the sun-shiny-yellow kitchen seemed akin to entering heaven. Almost invariably, my granny, working at the sink, baking/cooking or sitting at the table would turn and greet me with a smile. Her presence became my rock in a storm tossed sea; that light filled room became my sanctuary. In the evening when Grandpa relaxed with the newspaper in his easy chair, I would crawl onto his lap and lay cradled at his side. There I found a rare place of rest and safety. Silently my depleted soul would absorb his affection and warmth as the roots of a water starved flower absorbs moisture after a rain. Both grandparents struggled with their own issues, but they were my pinpoints of calm in an otherwise tumultuous existence.

My first memory of Mom was at my grandparent’s house; she threw up in her napkin during dinner after having too much to drink. Stability was not her strong suit…she would emerge from the hospital to try to set up housekeeping with us (I don’t remember how often that happened) at which time we would move to her mom’s house until she would retreat again. Her presence became a scary shadow moving in and out of my life like a phantom silent tornado leaving chaos in its wake.

At age six my frantically sobbing figure clung to the front steps of my grandparent’s home as I was being torn from my care givers to live solely with those I feared the most, a mentally unstable alcoholic and a child molester. Across town in a gloomy downstairs flat, I would stand on the couch and longingly gaze out the picture window in the assumed direction of my lost refuge. Home had become a dirty, messy twilight place which was a horror to my sensibilities, trained for cleanliness by the obsessive neat freak who was my granny. With dark circled glaring eyes my mom would loudly accuse me of looking just like her (my granny…whom she hated). Swaying unsteadiness was often her posture and fear of her anger and unpredictability engulfed me. A picture of finding her sprawled on the floor is etched in my mind. I can only assume she had passed out from too much alcohol consumption. If children my age loathed, that was how I felt towards her. And, my sister was her love object; I was the one she disliked. (In all fairness when living with our granny, I was the one on which Granny doted at the expense of a neglected older sister.) My father travelled for his job which often left us alone with the fearful person who was my mom. My guess is he was gone when that gut-wrenching night of abandonment struck (as described in the first paragraph).

Unknowingly directed by the law of cause and effect, my unconscious mind came to the only child-like-logical conclusion it could in response to being rejected and forsaken. I was to blame. Because of who I was my mom left me, hated me and scorned me. I determined I would become whomever I needed to be to insure she would never leave or hate me again. Withdrawing from my personhood, I surrendered myself to the need to be “loved and accepted” so I could survive. The beautiful God creation that was me became a black hole of horror on the edge of which I spent my life desperately scrambling to avoid being consumed. For years I knew that abyss existed and wondered what it was…I suspected the answer, but now I am certain…it was my suffering child.

At this station in my tunnel journey, I am being called by the Lover of my Soul to finally embrace all that is me and to yield this open sore to the Great Physician for cleansing and cauterizing. When He gently closes the healed wound, it will no longer negatively influence me and will leave behind only a scar…a reminder of the miraculous compassion of my Savior who took all the pain of my suffering on Himself when He was nailed to the cross and who allowed Himself to be deeply and fatally wounded so I might be healed. (Isaiah 52)

Well, here I go…

Well, here I go….God has led and I am attempting to obey.  Where to begin????….I have been on a journey of healing from the inside out for 27 years now, beginning with the birth of our second daughter…who is, you guessed it, 27 years old, miraculously doing well (as is our first daughter) and is now expecting her first child.  Healing from what you may ask….and I answer, healing from sexual abuse by my father and alcohol abuse by my mother (among other things)…and as many of you know, these wreak havoc on the inside of your person….all of the insides…spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, soul, heart… you name it, havoc has been wreaked upon it.  Shattering, heart breaking, gut wrenching, soul destroying havoc.  But I know a Healer who has picked up the pieces and knit me back together, who has gently held my heart and taken me through valleys, chasms, caves and unspeakable darkness into openness and light.  He is my counselor and guide, as He renews my mind and changes my thinking, giving me hope instead of despair, a crown of beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning.

He is the gift I have to share with you.  He is the only One who can speak to the depth of your pain, who knows the path you need to walk to freedom and can give you the power to take that journey.  He is Jesus.