dont be ashamed

Here’s how this goes.

When you grow up with abuse, the world does not look the same. The lens through which you view is clouded and cracked. Your perception is warped from the damage inflicted, from the weight of the pressure forced against you as you try to navigate through the murky, shark-infested waters, low on oxygen with low visibility.

When you grow up with abuse, you are forever damaged. No matter how much you heal, never will you feel quite right.  Never will you stand as tall. Never will your feet be firmly planted in the soil because you’ve learned to stay loose so when you are pulled out from your roots, the blow is less intense. When you’re already wobbly, the disruption feels less volcanic. It becomes the steady flow of your life.

When you are abused, you fall down again and again. Then you get up again and again. And each time you start to rise, you shudder as you prepare with anticipation for the inevitable onslaught so you recoil.

When you are abused, your pain is so deep that, after a while, you become numb and you forget you feel it. Until, so abruptly, someone rips at your scabs and you are startled back into reality. When you have forgotten to pay attention because you focus your energy on assimilation – trying to blend in so no one can see your wounds, your scars, your ugly scabs. Your brain is trained on looking normal. The blood flow is targeted to only one spot so that when the cleaver comes down and makes contact with your flesh, you are shaken, reminding you instantly who you really are and where you come from.

When we are abused, we wear a cloak of invisibility. We hide behind our fear and hurt and make it look like we are strong. We are actors, worthy of honors for our portrayals of functioning adults. We have read the script, we know our lines but when we trip over our mark, we fall face first and the pain is unimaginable. We scream so loud yet it is heard only within ourselves. Only those who can receive the frequency that we transmit can hear us. Only those who know the hallmarks can see us. We look like we are standing up and brushing ourselves off yet we are imploding, collapsing so deep within ourselves that no one notices until we turn to dust.

When we are abused, we turn against ourselves. We learn to abuse ourselves. We perpetuate the crime again and again. We hurt ourselves physically, emotionally, deeply, powerfully, irrevocably. We carry on the trade, perfecting our craft. We look in the mirror and set our sights on our target. We see the ugliness and shame, all fertile ground to make our mark. We remember the words, the slashes, the burns. We remember, even as it quiets down, after decades of healing, after the skin has grown over, leaving only the slightest reminder of what came before. Yet we remember, in our cells. We carry it deep within ourselves, reminding ourselves, reluctantly, begrudgingly, to never forget.

When we are abused, we close our eyes each day, trying to imagine a different life, a different outcome, a different reality. We try to put behind us the sadness, the disappointment in an effort to love ourselves and stop the torture. We cover our faces, wear our masks, don our costumes, practice our speeches, internalize our message. We beg and plead with ourselves to move beyond, move past, move away from the pain. Sometimes we break ties. Sometimes we forgive. Sometimes we suffer silently, never uttering our truth. Sometimes we shield our eyes and pretend it is all ok. Until it is not.

When we are abused, we look like everyone else on the outside. We won’t be picked out of a crowd. We are professionals. We are leaders. We are influencers. And we are broken. We never achieve in the same way for we are always filling, compensating, working around, making good, fixing up, repairing, struggling, crawling through the mud to find our way to peace. An elusive peace that we fear will never come.

When we are abused, we are alone. No one can fill the void, share our space, hold our hearts. We have a protective shell that builds up over time, gaining thickness and density becoming harder and harder to crack. It is clear and transparent so impossible to see unless you know what to look for. Unless, perhaps, you wear one yourself.

When we are abused, we struggle to help the others. The ones we can see who live our truth. We are often kind and helpful, while still needy and selfish. We atone for ourselves by attempting to heal others while we continue to persevere, turning on ourselves again and again. We are loyal and bountiful with others while we betray and withhold from ourselves. We outsource our tenderness, hoping others can bridge the gap we create when we punish and berate ourselves, desperately seeking to escape the fear and hopelessness that are tattooed on our flesh. It seems like we will never get off the ride that loops around and around, flashing visions of optimism that ultimately disappear into the distance when we return to the start and the gate never opens.

When you grow up with abuse, you are just like me. Trying to make your way in the world and struggling to find the peace of mind to ease your burden. You love with everything you have, praying that your heart won’t be ripped to shreds once again. You trust too easily, wishing that this will be the one who will not let you down. You are hopeful that tomorrow will make the crushing pain subside and your ache will dull and you will feel your lungs fill with the fresh air of promise. You smile and assure everyone that you are ok. For this is not their burden. This is not their puzzle to solve. This is not their cross to bear. You cannot be their trouble.

When you grow up with abuse, you travel the road of life on a very different path that looks awfully like the path of others except there are demons. Demons who show themselves to you. Demons who you shield your eyes from and hope will disappear before you open them once again. Demons who look just like you.

When you grow up with abuse, you are a silent sufferer for even you cannot understand how the people who are meant to love you most and provide you with the foundation for your future, so selfishly and heartlessly rip up the ground beneath you, carelessly watching you fall through the floor, crashing down cut and bruised and watch without a speck of remorse.

When you grow up with abuse, you feel like you are at fault. You never truly grow up. You never fully heal but you will try. By God, you will try. Every single day of your life until your journey ends.

When we grow up with abuse, we must tell our stories. We must remind the world that we exist and remind them that no matter how good we look on the outside, we are suffering on the inside. We must shed the shame and learn to survive.


Trapped_inside_my_mind_by_rebecki[1]“So many bad things have happened to them that they can’t trust the good things. They have to shove them away before someone can get it back.”  ― Wally Lamb

One of the things I most value about my life right now is the fact that I have surrounded myself with some really deep thinkers.  I have opened myself up to others who are willing to tilt their head, step back, walk around a little and dig a bit deeper to get a different perspective on themselves and others.  They are bold and brave and daring enough to go below the surface, knowing that drowning is always a possibility.

One of those people is my friend Kim who I met through the coaching group I started at the beginning of the year.  Kim is an outlier.  She walked into the group with her hard shell firmly intact.  No smiles, no warmth, no gratuitous platitudes to set the tone.  She simply made her way to her chair, locked and loaded, and observed.  In return, I never felt any pressure, any need to step up my game.  I soaked her up and, in full consciousness, made the decision to pull her in.

I am intrigued by people like Kim.  I am fascinated by those who have complexities and layers that allow me to go diving deeper and deeper.  Those that require me to fill up my oxygen tank for I know I will be down for a while.  The individuals who allow me to explore them in order to explore myself are the ones who catch me in their nets.  They engage me, provoke me, inspire me, frustrate me, challenge me and, ultimately, move me.  They change my life.  Always.  Unfailingly.

The first day of our coaching group chills ran up and down my spine when Kim spoke.  That is not a very common experience for me but one that I know to pay attention to.  It was not the sound of her voice, the cadence of her speech or, quite frankly, even the words.  It was the soul behind it that I was reacting to.  I implicitly understood her and my brain was sending me clear messages telling me to pay attention.  And I did.  And I continue to.  Yesterday, Kim, a reluctant but brilliant blogger, published a post that convinced me that she has a wire tap into my brain.

For months now I have been struggling to source the root of some very destructive anxiety.  It has been surfacing and meddling with my well-being.  Reluctantly,  I looked at it, invited it in and then, ultimately, begged for it to leave, to no avail.  My recent bout with the anxiety has taken many shapes and forms.  It has ranged from generalized stress, sadness, loneliness, fear, abandonment all the way to irrational conclusions about some critical aspects of my life.  It has had my mind working overtime, set it into overdrive and catapulted me into the air, soaring into the darkness with no parachute, no soft landing in sight.  The most frustrating aspect to this anxiety is that I have been working so hard to pull myself up and allow myself to be more open, to embrace vulnerability and experience a deeper level of intimacy with others in my life.  And, in retrospect, I fear that this vulnerability that I so willfully incorporated into my life has turned on me.  I suspect that allowing myself to walk around without my shield, my protective armor, I exposed myself to the elements and put myself in the direct line of fire.

It’s a complex balance for me.  Vulnerability allows me to experience the fullness of my life.  It allows me to feel my emotions deep in my bones.  It offers me connection points with others that I so desperately crave.  I feel courageous and energized by my ventures down avenues that would have previously been closed off for me.  On the other hand, being vulnerable removes the safety mechanisms I have spent decades building, keeping me safe from my own feelings, my own very fractured psyche.  My shell has allowed me to lock away all that is scary, hurtful, dangerous.  It has given me a way to live what I believed to be a meaningful life without being constantly derailed by my own self.  It has provided me with a pathway that kept the wolves at bay rather than having to run, always looking behind me to determine how far I needed to go, how fast I needed to move for safety.  Well, that all seems great but, of course, all of this is smoke and mirrors.

It’s all bullshit.

At the end of the day, there is no way to straddle the fence.  Either you are in or you are out.  You can’t be vulnerable and hang on to your armor.  You can’t really experience those emotions while quickly suppressing them, shoving them down when they disrupt your balance, sending you toppling over.   Those are the moments that count.  Failure is the pathway to success.  Falling is the only way to learn how to get up.  For me, the missing link in all of this is trust.  The connective tissue between vulnerability and solace is the trust that when you do get hurt, when you stumble, when you screw up in a way that seems so fatefully unrepairable, that you will be able to pull yourself up, stand tall and all will still be intact around you.  You will still be breathing, you will still be able to stand, you will still be loved.

I struggle to trust.  I don’t have faith.  And therein lies my battle.  Trust is my demon, the monkey on my back.  I can look you in the eye, hear your words, feel comforted by your love and then turn around, walk a few steps and it all slips away.  Then, slowly, I implode.  I begin the dreadful descent, watching helplessly as I fall, deeper and deeper, afraid to ask for help, never calling for a strong hand to pull me up.  How can I?  I do not have the trust that you won’t extend your arm and then pull it away just as I reach for your grasp.  Contrarily, how can I expect others to dive deep with me if they do not believe that I trust them?  What guarantees am I offering if I am ready to bolt at any instant, fueled by my belief that all relationships are transitory?  While I do not believe that I serve up my cold, stone, hardness for most to see, the ones that matter the most get a bird’s-eye view when I am free-falling into the abyss of mistrust and anxiety.

So, I say this.  I need to be vulnerable.  I need to experience all that life has to offer.  I need to keep my heart exposed to capture those incredible moments that come along only when you are open and willing to accept them.  Sure, that is actually the easy part.  I can do that.  It is the moments that follow, when the after-glow begins to dim, when the darkness sets in that really matters.  In those times, when there are no fireworks displays, when all I have is the distant memory of the meaningful moments, can I simply be buoyed by the trust that it was all real and not simply a shooting star to be seen just a few times in life?  Can I have faith that not everyone is going to hurt me the way I was so traumatically hurt during some of the most critical years of my life?  Will I be able to believe that I am worthy of being loved, consistently and completely?  Am I brave enough to stare my mistrust in the face and send it away rather than welcoming it in because it is a familiar face.  I know what it likes to drink and eat.  It is an easy guest.  Until it shows it true self.  Once we move beyond the pleasantries, mistrust will decimate me.  It sets out to destroy every piece of my foundation.  It takes its jackhammer and loudly and painfully drills holes through my core.  Its disrupts my footing and drops me into the hole.  Do I have the strength and courage to look it in the eye and tell it that I need to make new friends?  It is time for us to part ways?  Will I be able to see the sheep in wolf’s clothing that appears before me looking like comfort and solace, familiarity and understanding?  I know that is the true test of bravery and of willingness to change.

I have been walking around for months, for years, for a lifetime with a steel cage protecting me from the rest of the world.  When things get tough, I pack myself up and move on.  I rarely unlock the doors and let myself step outside to see what the air feels like, smells like.  From my distant perch behind the bars, I assess every situation and test the water using a long stick rather than my own fleshy toe.  The heat can never scald me because I will never get close enough to be damaged.  Yet, I am setting fires all around me, scorching my flesh.  In my locked cage, I am cutting and bleeding, safe from the danger that lies outside.  When I see smoke in the distance, I know it is time to escape but somehow I seem to miss the heat that it is right under me.

I wonder what it looks like to look inside my prison.  Can you see through the walls?  Is there a cement enclosure or am I sitting in a glass house?  Are my endeavors obvious to all who care to observe or have I discreetly masked my masochistic tendencies?  When I am in full battle with the demon of mistrust, I lose all perspective.  I have no idea what is obvious and what is happening so loudly inside my mind.  When I am kicking and punching, struggling to stay afoot, I lose all peripheral vision.

Yesterday, when I read Kim’s post, I could feel her own battle.  I heard her inner voice comforting her, telling her it was ok to be guarded, to be locked down and I felt her overwhelming desire to set herself free, to find a new pathway.  That moved me.  It hit me in the face like a wayward baseball, soaring at 100 miles per hour.  It made contact, right between my eyes, shattering my skull and opening up a new space – a space ready to be filled with love and gratitude.  A space desperate to absorb the love and support that sits waiting for me.  I can see it.  I can really see it.  But I am afraid to touch.  I am afraid to reach out and embrace it.

Because, what if….


basement windowI’m standing in the basement.  It is cold and the only light is that which is streaming in through the cellar window above my mother’s exercise bike.  I love to sit on that bike and pretend to talk on the phone.  My mother transplanted her old blue princess phone that used to sit next to her bed and was the transmission of late night calls from neighbors or sometimes the police that my father was drunk again and had gotten into some type of trouble. It was cast away in the basement so she didn’t have the daily reminder of those calls each time she lay her head down on her bed. Now, it is now part of my own private clubhouse in the basement.

The basement is not finished nor is it heated.  The walls are cinder block and concrete and are lined with cans of food in my mother’s makeshift storage pantry.  Every time she goes to the grocery store, she adds more and more to her growing collection.  She rarely uses most of the food she buys so I suppose she is preparing herself for the apocalypse.  We can go down into our basement bunker and likely last for years off the string beans, peas, carrots, fruit and tomato soup.

There are a number of doors in the basement, one leads to the cement steps up to our cement yard.  Sometimes my mother forces me to go out there because she thinks I shouldn’t be inside.  When I was 8 and my father took me and my brother to the toy store to buy us Christmas presents on a cold December day, I came home with a Barbie Townhouse. I was over the moon to have this coveted property, complete with an elevator up to the three stories. I only had a few Barbies at the time and I managed to guilt my absentee father into also buying a Ken doll so Barbie would have someone to keep her company in that large house. When we returned from the store, my mother exiled me to the concrete yard to put together my dream house on the redwood picnic table, carefully snapping together the parts with mittened fingers and bundled up in my shabby winter coat.We always enter the house through that door because the driveway is in the back by the yard and it is easier to walk down the cellar backyard steps and through the basement

We always enter the house through that back basement door because the driveway is in the back by the yard and it is easier to walk down the cellar backyard steps and through the basement up the steps to the main floor of the house than to walk all the way around the front of the house and use that door.  My mother never uses the front door.  She does not like us to bring dirt into the house.  Instead, we can come in through the basement and leave our shoes at the bottom of the stairs, never getting anywhere close to the purity of the wall-to-wall carpet or the plastic runner in the hallway.  We also have a driveway in the front of our house which leads to the garage.  My mother never uses the garage to park the car.  It’s not as if the garage is cluttered with stuff aside from a bike or two, some gardening tools and assorted other junk that I never really bothered to figure out why was there.  Sometimes we sit in the garage during

We always enter the house through the basement door because there is a driveway in the back of the house that my mother prefers over the inclined driveway in the front that leads to the garage.  My mother never uses the front door.  She does not like us to bring dirt into the house so she insists we come in through the basement and leave our shoes at the bottom of the stairs, never allowing them within striking distance of the purity of the wall-to-wall carpet or the plastic runner in the hallway upstairs.  The other door in my basement leads to the garage but my mother never parks her car in there. Even though it’s not cluttered and merely contains a bike or two, some gardening tools and a few shelves to store paper towels and toilet paper (also probably sundries in preparation for the apocalypse), my mother opts to keep her car outside.  Sometimes we sit in the garage during thunderstorms and watch with the large door open, safe from the lightning and pouring rain.  I am sometimes afraid of thunder and shudder as my small body curls up in a metal lawn chair protecting myself.  When I get older, I will watch storms with my own children, trying to make them feel safe.

My basement has defined regions that I have labeled based on their functions. The back wall, where the cans are stored is the Sundry Shop. When you enter the basement from the back door, you immediately step into the Laundromat. There is a washer with an old basin and a rickety plastic chair (presumably to sit and read a magazine or a book while your wash is going but nobody ever really sits there.  It serves mostly as a place to drop your stuff when you enter the house.  My mother insists that I leave my knapsack there after school and I will sometimes, rather than follow the rules and hang my coat up, just drop it on the chair in defiance.  Sometimes I sit in the chair to read a book while I wait for my mother to come downstairs so we can head out to wherever we are going. Usually, however, it is piled with junk and that is ok because it is in the basement and my mother doesn’t have to look at it all the time.

There is a cubbyhole space under the stairs where my mother stores her drying rack.  We never had a dryer and, whether it be a form or rationalization or her genuine choice, my mother claims to prefer the drying rack.  I suspect she pines for a fancy dryer but hardly anyone has one so it might seem a bit indulgent.  She has her Cadillac, after all.  That was a big treat from my father.  A dryer might be pushing it a bit.  My mother also hangs clothes along the pipes in the space in between the Sundry Shop and the Laundromat. It serves as a section divider and, in my mind, it separates my space (inside the Sundry Shop) from the Laundromat.  When I’m bored, I like to brush my hands along the hanging clothes and watch them flutter.  I also like to walk through the low-hanging clothes, letting my head push them aside as if I am entering through some dramatic draped entryway.

As you leave the Laundromat en route to the steps leading to the main floor of the house, there is an old dresser that once upon a time resided in my brother’s bedroom. This was before they bought him the new furniture – identical to the set my parent’s best friends bought for the identical bedroom in their matching house down the block.  I often walk through their house trying to find any differences between theirs and ours.  Aside from the color of appliances, the furnishings and some of the fixtures in the bathroom, they are twins. We have two of the dozen or so single-family row houses on the block that are built exactly the same.  My mother always says ours is best because we have the corner lot with more property.  We have two driveways and you can access our yard from the street instead of having to go through the house.  If I want to enter any of the neighbor’s yards, I have to be granted access by ringing the doorbell but, once inside, I know exactly how to find my way down the stairs and through the back door. Our next door neighbors put a gate in the chain link fence that separates our yards when we were all little so we could use their swing set. When things got ugly with my parents, I noticed that the gate was gone and was replaced with a new patch of chain link.

I spend a lot of time in my parents’ best friends’ house.  Their granddaughter is my best friend.  Well, she is probably my only friend.  I have known her since she was born and kind of adopted her as my little sister.  I love taking care of her – even if she is only three years younger than me.  I am the youngest in my family and always wanted a younger sibling to care for and have around as a surefire friend but my mother was already 39 when she had me and, being her third, there were no more babies coming our way.

The dresser that was transplanted to the basement is In the Storage Facility section of the basement.  I often rifle through the drawers when I am bored and discover partnerless mittens along with random other outerwear like my brother’s knit Jets ski cap or dilapidated scarves that were bought at Korvette’s on sale.  It is the home for unwanted items that my mother is afraid to throw away – random batteries, old tablecloths, scraps of paper. It is a perfect place to hide my own stuff or candy wrappers that I am afraid to throw in the garbage because no one ever looks for anything there.  Sometimes, I drag a lawn chair in front of the dresser and pretend it is my drawing desk because I do not have a desk in my room like my brother does.  His new suite of furniture is all dark brown wood with modular components.  My parents splurged and bought almost as many pieces as their friends.  There are book shelves on top of the dressers making up a whole wall full of furniture.  There is a nearly full set of encyclopedias on the shelves. I suspect the last installments were set to come after my father left and my mother was too afraid to spend the money to complete the set. I have to sneak into my brother’s room when he is not there to use the encyclopedias. It seems ironic to me that the books would be stored in his room when he hardly ever attends school and will drop out in 11th grade while I am a straight A student who reads all the time. All the way at the end of the wall of furniture is the desk which sits below a small window. Occasionally I will climb up on the desk to peer out and see what is going on out on the street.  I can see all the 2-family houses across the street – all of which are also identical to each other.  Almost to the end of the block is my parents’ best friends’ granddaughter’s house and I can look out this window or the one in my mother’s bedroom and see if she is outside playing.  Sometimes I see the other neighbor kids playing stickball in the street but I am hesitant to go out and play with them because they tease me a lot.  They call me fat and all kinds of mean names which makes me want to go back inside and hide.

Right next to the dresser in the basement, at the very bottom of the stairs from the main floor is a closet, the centerpiece of the Storage Facility.  The closet is more like a crawl space as the ceiling is very low – probably no more than 4 feet or so.  My mother uses this to store miscellaneous items like lawn chairs, old board games and other items that are not critically important to her.  My brother and I like to set up the chairs in there sometimes and pretend we are in a supercharged elevator or space ship.  He convinced me when I was about 5 that the closet could take us up past the roof of the house but I was not allowed to open the doors because it would kill the engines and we would fall to our death.  I believed him about this and everything else he told me.  He is 5 years older than me and assumed he must be so much smarter than me. One day when we were walking to elementary school, he pointed out some odd footprints in the concrete.  He convinced me that they were dinosaur prints that had been there since the Jurassic period.  I shared this important information with all the other kids on the walk to school who laughed at my foolishness of believing that paw prints from a dog were actually the work of a dinosaur. They teased me relentlessly until we finished up at that school in sixth grade.

I roam the 200 or so square feet of the cold, unfinished basement constantly, looking for ways to fill my time when I am exiled down there by my mother.  She rarely lets me play upstairs because she is afraid I will make a mess and suggests that the basement is a more appropriate spot.  I guess she thinks it is ok for me to sit on the cold floor or to cuddle up in a lawn chair to read a book.  I guess, according to her, it is perfectly fine for me to have to wear a coat inside my house in order to stay warm in the cold winter months in that basement.  I try to create my own little sanctuary and find ways to make myself feel safe but sometimes it is difficult.  I get scared down in the basement.  I get lonely.

Behind the exercise bike and next to my mother’s stacks of canned goods in the Sundry Shop is the side-by-side refrigerator/freezer.  Every time my mother gets a new refrigerator in the kitchen, the old one makes it way down to the basement.  Everything seems to be exiled down here when it is not needed anymore.  My mother stocks that refrigerator with more of her disaster supplies.  I never notice how the perishable items make it into the rotation upstairs but there are tubs of margarine, cartons of eggs, containers of milk that sit alongside prepared food that my mother sometimes stores in anticipation of upcoming meals or parties.  In the freezer, my mother hides all the good stuff.  In there, she squirrels away her baked goods.  She loves to bake and has a penchant for sour cream cake made in a bundt pan.  She never makes anything homemade and we don’t own anything more sophisticated than a hand mixer so, if it does not come out of a box and require minimal effort, it is not going to be made in our house.  My mother is convinced that the sour cream cake is healthier than some other options like chocolate frosted cake or brownies.  She always looks for low-calorie options in order to try to keep her weight under control and to manage mine as well.  I usually am not permitted to eat any of the cakes she makes but I have figured out how to pull back the tin foil on the ones she stores in the freezer and pick off little pieces to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I then stick my finger into the frozen cool whip and lick its sticky goodness.  I hate myself for sneaking this food but I cannot help myself.  I am sad and it makes me feel better.  I know my mother is going to find out and be so mad at me but I can’t control it. I guess I will just wait and see how she will punish me for my misdeeds. But, in the moment, the food makes me feel safe.