A big black box

There’s a blockage. I’m hiding something and I know it.

I don’t want to write. How can I write if I don’t want to hear what I have to say?  I don’t want to pick up the pen or open my heart because I know what is sitting there waiting to come out. I’ve done so much hard work to heal myself but there is one more dusty corner in my heart that’s starting to clog my arteries. I’ve ignored it for long enough. It’s shouting to be heard.

It’s a sad story. I haven’t told this story yet.  I haven’t even told it to myself. It’s a story about a little girl who was always left all alone without any food. She would shut off her body and her mind until someone would come to tell her it was time to raise the curtain and act alive for a bit. Then repeat. It’s my story. (this is hard to admit). I guess it’s my truth.

Those who were there know the basics. I was alone often and didn’t eat much. It’s true. But the shame, the blockage, the days, the part that I’m hiding because it hurts too much. The truth is that the duration and extent of the deprivation was more profound than anyone realized. And if I allowed myself to feel at those times, I would have been consumed by loneliness and hunger. I shut off to survive. And I am ashamed of all of this.

Growing up, I learned a valuable survival lesson that would have been helpful in a concentration camp: Convince yourself that you don’t really need food or love and you will be able to survive the deprivation. The problem was, I didn’t grow up in the war (and neither did my parents or grandparents). I grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood where our bank account was as full as everyone else’s fridge.

There is a lot more to say here but I’m not ready to peel it back right now. These wounds and secrets are buried deep and they are going to bleed when I take them out. So I’ll put the bandaid back on for today and take another quick look tomorrow.

Much love,

xoxo Lyla.

If you fall, I will be there. - floor.

She is not me

“Dear Diary, Have you ever had a day when you feel like you were never born? Well that’s sort of what I felt like.” -This is an excerpt from a diary I kept when I was 8 years old. (8 years old!)

My daughter is almost 6 years old. That’s dangerously close to 8 years old. …but she is not me.

I remember when she was 3 days old, I left her in the living room with my mother because I was forced to take a nap in my bedroom. I remember lying there alone and wondering if I still existed or if maybe I was my baby daughter now.  That little baby who I put on my bare chest the moment she came out of my body- so that she wouldn’t feel lost. That little baby who I was scared to take out of my sling, to let out of my sight – lest she feel abandoned. I was so scared that if I was not touching her, we would both cease to exist. I actually convinced myself that she could somehow hear my heartbeat through the walls. It was the only way for me to tolerate being in the other room. If I had to pinpoint when I should have noticed that something was ‘off’, I think it was this moment, when she was 3 days old. (I didn’t get help for another 11 months…)

I still struggle with feeling like my daughter and I are somehow telepathically connected. Last night I was reminded that my daughter has her own secrets, her own internal life that she keeps to herself, as she should.

Last night I realized that she has been asking me to tuck her in with her blanket over her nose and not calling me in after I say goodnight – because she is secretly sucking her thumb. *shocking*. Not really shocking. It actually makes lots of sense. She is almost 6 years old. Of course she is an individual with her own internal private world.  But feeling so tied to my daughter, it’s hard to understand that her secret world could be anything other than one of confusion, fear and pain.

The fears I had when I was her age are not her fears. I know that this is true. This must be true. The family I lived in, the world I knew, it is not her world. I have worked too hard to make sure that life is different for her. But then, I see that her fears include one of my daily deepest fears. The fear of “getting caught”. She probably doesn’t feel it as strongly as I did- I felt it every moment of every day. Maybe she isn’t even afraid, she was just being clever. I really don’t know.

I say my daughter.  She is not me and she is not mine, she is her own. She needs to continue to separate from me and I need to enable her do that. My role is to keep my arms open to catch her when she needs it and let her take reasonable and safe risks as she explores the world for herself.

6 years old. 6 years old is time for more independent activities, more space for herself, more unsupervised playtime. It’s time for summer camp.

But I fear. I fear that if I am not watching, if the teenage camp counselors are not paying attention, she may cease to exist. I have to clarify this. The fear is not only that she will die, it’s that she will cease to exist. I will drop her off one morning and when I come to pick her up the counselors will say “Soni? Soni who?” and that will be that. I will have to go home without her and try to understand that she was never real.

This is my own annihilation anxiety. I am projecting it onto her and I need to stop. It comes from a very real place where I used to live and feel that I would randomly become invisible. This is not my daughter’s world and it is no longer my world either.

I am not her. She is not me.

photo from my diary

Fear itself

knock knock. who’s there? Fear. Boo! Ahhh!

Having a panic attack is like a training session for not dying in the face of paralyzing fear. Having an anxiety attack is good practice in case you ever need to build a bird house in a room full of sleeping hungry lions.

I’ve been getting lots of training in.

I’ve also been reading lots. Sometimes I read books that make me want to have sex. Other times I read books that make me think. My favorite books do both. Right now, I’m reading a juicy young adult sci-fi novel (that I won’t name so that I don’t spoil it for you).

In the book, the sexy characters are training to be brave and fearless so they enter a “fear landscape” to face their own deepest fears again and again until they can figure out how to overcome them. This really makes me think about the power in bringing your fears to the surface. There is power in doing this in therapy. Once we can understand exactly what we are most afraid of, fears become like any other problem that we can work to solve.

I feel like my journey through depression and crazy has been my own “fear landscape” and has forced me to face some big universal fears like the fear of death, fear of toaster strudel, fear of losing your mind, fear of the doorbell, fear of your mother.

In the book, one of the (sexy) characters grew up with an abusive father. In his fear landscape, he sees his father beating him with a belt. Eventually he grows up, leaves the house, learns to fight and after a while, beats the shit out of his father. Then, his fear landscape changes. He is no longer afraid of being beaten by his father, instead, his deepest fear sees him turn into his father. Reading this struck me so deeply.

“I was no longer a child, afraid of the threat my terrifying father posed to my safety. I was a man, afraid of the threat he posed to my character, to my future, to my identity.”

I wonder if this is a typical emotional journey for an abused child? I spent so long thinking that my fear of my mother was normal, repressing it. Then, through therapy, I came to understand it. I started recognizing the abusive behaviours and understanding which parts made it hurt. Cutting her off put me in control of this pain. It showed me that I have power to protect myself and walk away from her attacks.

Then, I had to learn that I had the strength to fight back against getting hurt. Just like the character in the book had to find his strength by beating his father with a belt, the way he was beaten- I had to abandon my mother during her cancer journey, just like she abandoned me during my postpartum depression and all that followed.

(If you don’t really understand this, I know I sound like a huge bitch. Maybe I am, but I’m protecting my kids so I don’t care.)

After the fear of being hurt by my mother subsided, she was still in my “fear landscape”. Why? Because now I was a woman and a mother and she posed a threat to ‘my character, my future and my identity’. Instead of being afraid of her words and actions, I was afraid of becoming her. I was terrified of hearing her words coming out of my mouth. Terrified of making my children feel the way she made me feel. I’m not quite sure how I’m working through this, but I think that putting words to the fears and bringing each one to the surface is a big part of the process of getting her out of my fear landscape for good.

There is a new fear in my landscape now, the fear of losing my children and husband, the fear of harm coming to them. This is a good fear. I am keeping it. I love them.
I. Love.

breath in color

She is more sick than me.

I am not my mother. My mother is not me.

We are similar. But not the same.
We both struggle to understand this world.
We struggle to understand, give and feel love.
I’ve been so angry at her for being complacent in her inadequacies – for not trying harder.

I’ve put so much effort into fighting against my demons.
I’ve torn myself apart and worked so hard to try to rebuild myself.
I’m doing this for my kids – so I don’t hurt them.
I will help them. I will save them.
They will not know this pain.
(Is this a futile goal that all parents have… will it backfire?)

I’m so hurt that she could not have taken this bullet for me.

But maybe she really did do the best she could.
Maybe she really couldn’t get to where I am.
Maybe a personality disorder is terribly different than a mood disorder.
Maybe she tried to take the bullet for me.
But maybe she wasn’t really sure what the bullet looked like – or where it was.

I know that she always thought very carefully about her parenting decisions.
She fed me healthy food – but only sometimes, so I was hungry.
She read with me – but it had to be books that she felt were worthy.
She was active with me – but only if she got to choose the activities.
She tried to inspire me with her love of reading – but I felt ignored while she read all day.
She tried to show me that I was worthy by doting on herself – and I felt second class.
She tried to be a firm but flexible mother. She just didn’t know how.
At least she tried…?

She tried to make us feel loved and cared for.
She just didn’t know how.
She had never felt loved or cared for.
The only emotions she really knew were painful ones.
So, she tried very hard to make us look loved and cared for,
to make us look like a loving family.

She thought that if you pretended something hard enough,
it would make it real.
She was sort of right – we looked happy.
But she was sort of very very wrong.

She taught me how to belittle and manipulate people to get your way.
She taught me how to feel justified demanding anything from anyone.
She taught me to watch people carefully, analyzing every detail and judging each action as good or bad, to learn how to be.
(should red hats be worn? only if you have blue eyes. should children be hit? never- unless your sister is really asking for it. should people smile while they walk? only at me because I am beautiful.)
She taught me that nothing was ever her fault…
She taught me how she had survived in this confusing world all these years.

My father also taught what he believed would help me survive.
But he had given up hope that it was possible to do anything but just survive,
so he taught me mostly what would make things easier for him.
He taught me to drink lots of water so I won’t feel hungry,
He let me live in a freezing cold house so that I would be prepared to go without comfort.
He taught me to ignore my body’s cues so that I would be good at not getting in the way.
He was not really a conscious parent for me.
He just sulked by, mumbling, trying to avoid conflict.

At least my mother kept hoping that life would be wonderful.
At least my mother thought about what she did,
Even if her thinking didn’t make any sense.
As least she tried something

she couldn’t have given me real emotional closeness.
she didn’t know it existed.
she still doesn’t.
she never will.
but that’s okay.
at least she tried.
i can still be her friend.

she is more sick than me.

eeyore quote

Let it go

“Let it go. Let it go. Turn away and slam the door… I’m never going back. The past is in the past…” 

I have a beautiful life today. It is so different than anything I’ve ever had before. It is full of feeling and love and warmth.

Last night, after bathtime, my son took my hands and started spinning me around and singing a song, Ima Y’kara Li – my mommy is precious to me. I know this sounds cheesy but as he spun me around, everything around us started to get blurry and all I could see was his beautiful sweet face smiling at me and singing a song about how much he loves me and feels loved by me.

I realized that it is ridiculous to let myself get hurt chasing love from my parents, when I have a beautiful family right in front of me who need me at my best. I am not my parents.

And I am not the person that I used to be. I am a completely different person, living in a completely different world. I used to live in an emotional war zone and now I live in an emotional garden of eden – everywhere I look there is someone safe to love. I need to keep reminding myself that I have to leave the past in the past.

I thought that maybe now that I am getting stronger, I could have a relationship with my parents without getting hurt but I can’t. They won’t let me. It sucks. But I have to go back to no contact. It’s what my new family needs and protecting them is my Prime Directive (#startrek).

“Mommy, precious to me,
Precious mommy.
My precious mommy,
Loves me very much,
Loves me very much.

I will smile at you,
I will smile,
I will sing a little song about you,
Because I love you,
I love you.”