So, I’ve been quiet. It’s because I haven’t been in a shiny happy place – in fact I’ve been in the Leave-me-the-hell-alone-so-I-can-wallow-in-my-misery place. Not a pretty place – and I’m not terribly proud of myself for staying there for so long. But I’m walking out of it now, and that’s what counts, right?
It started Labor Day weekend, with a trip to Merced to visit my mother-in-law. It’s something we’ve done dozens of times since we moved away almost 20 years ago – and while it’s never been my favorite thing to do (my relationship with my mother in law? That’s a post or five for another time) it’s been manageable. A little anxiety, a lot of irritation, and a touch of the Merced Miasma*, but nothing I couldn’t shake once we crossed the city limits out of Merced and into Atwater. THIS time… well, this time I was flooded with ugly memories and anxiety that ramped itself up into near-panic in the 4 hours we were there. I managed to hold myself together until we left my mother-in-law’s house, but by the time we hit the freeway I was crying and felt physically ill. And for nearly the entire time since, I’ve been down in a very ugly hole. I felt as though every shred of progress I’d made over the past 4 months was gone and I was right back where I started.
I realized yesterday – during another of my therapy sessions in which I cry and babble incoherently for the first half hour and then figure out what the real issue is in the last 20 minutes – that I have been keeping myself stuck there. I was embarrassed and ashamed of those memories. I was afraid to talk about them to anyone but my husband because I feared judgement and abandonment by the people who loved my mother and didn’t know her spiteful abusive vindictive side. I didn’t want to be one of those cliche’s – sitting in therapy crying about how my parents ruined my life. And I didn’t want to speak ill of the dead because really, what good would it do?
Turns out, it was doing me no good – and a lot of harm – to stay silent. I was letting DEAD PEOPLE hurt me again. I was PROTECTING them again at my own expense. And I am SO tired of keeping secrets that keep me from healing myself…
Some of this I’ve shared here and elsewhere. Some of this I’ve kept to myself out of a misplaced sense of shame and perverted familial duty. It’s what I’ve been choking on for the past 3 weeks and it’s time to spit it out:
My mother abused me verbally and emotionally from the time I stopped being a cute toddler until shortly before she died, when her mind was too far gone to remember how much she enjoyed hurting me. She protected the sibling who was verbally, emotionally, and eventually sexually abusive to me, and tried to kick me out of the family. When I married a man whose skin color was too dark for her liking, she cut me off completely for 3 years until my sibling – the abusive one – was broke and had no food and could I please give him dinner and some extra groceries to tide him over til the check she had mailed him arrived? When I was homeless (because husband number 3 ran off to join the army and left me with no job, no home, and no money), she refused to allow me to move home – while giving free room and board to the sibling who abused me. When I was diagnosed with cancer, her first words were “well, don’t expect me to pay for your treatments. I’m not going to lose my home because of you.”
There were many, many other things – but I don’t know that specifics matter at this point. Maybe it’s enough to say that every time she had a choice to make about me: to be loving and supportive, or to be cruel and hurtful – she chose to hurt me. And my father, for the most part, chose to look the other way. When he DID help or support me, it was behind her back or in a way that wouldn’t make her angry at him (small amounts of money or a bag of groceries were okay. Love wasn’t).
What does this have to do with Merced? Everything, and nothing. It’s a place I lived for a while, where some really good and really awful things happened to me. So is San Francisco, and Modesto, and Stockton, and every other city I’ve lived in. So why now?
My therapist says it can be like that – something triggering the PTSD and depression for no apparent reason. What matters is to figure out how to get through the episode and not stay trapped there. Sitting and wallowing hasn’t been working. Neither has spending hours a day playing my computer games to avoid thinking about it. Drinking and binge-eating and binge-spending are right out – I know where that leads. That leaves writing, or finally letting myself feel and forgive ALL of it and let it go.
I’m afraid to let myself feel all of it yet – I am SO afraid it will sweep me back down into the hole and that this time, I won’t be able to climb out. So here I am – writing semi-coherently with the cursor hovering over Publish, trying to trust that Telling will not hurt me any more than I already hurt. It’s a choice – and making a choice means I’m not stuck anymore.
*Merced Miasma: a creeping fog of mild depression and apathy that overtakes most people who live there for more than a few months