Growing up, I knew unequivocally that my mother loved me. I knew that according to her, the sun rose and set with me. But I never felt it. I didn’t feel like I was a good person. I certainly didn’t feel safe. I was a shadow of a child, a shell of a human who looked and acted mostly normal. But I wasn’t normal and what happened to me was far from normal. The abuse I experienced was severe enough to make me fear for my life. I never thought I’d live to grow old, to like, say, thirty. It’s almost funny, what I thought was old. But it isn’t funny that I didn’t expect to reach adulthood.
These days, there are different kinds of safety that I must achieve. There’s the daily safety of moving through the world, not fearing the people around me. There’s the safety and comfort of my marriage and children, which exists simply because of the commitment my husband and I share. Then there’s the safety of the therapeutic environment, where I must dredge up and face the aspects of my abuse and subsequent identity. The safety of the therapist’s office is crucial to my healing process. I need to feel that my therapist can figuratively hold me and anything and everything that comes up while I muck through the wretched past. It is the therapeutic safety that I treasured at PCH. It is the safety I am currently working towards in my Kaiser therapist’s office. Suffice it to say, this is not easy.
Safety is created for me in a number of ways. Consistency of action by the therapist is one. Willingness to accept responsibility for their actions is another. Wanting me to discuss times when the therapist is wrong or has said something that hurt me is a huge way to create safety. Regular meeting times over a significant period of time is another. Making me feel like I’m important and cared for also goes a long way to making me feel safe. I have found that without these factors to rely on, I do not feel very safe in my therapist’s office.
With Kaiser, I have not been able to rely any sense of consistency of meeting times. Our meeting times have not been consistent for months. The establishment thwarts my therapist Frank’s attempts at providing me with regularity. His schedule is not his own. There have also been times where it’s hard to distinguish where Frank ends and Kaiser begins. On the other hand, Frank has been open to hearing my troubles with feeling safe with him. He always listens with compassion. He makes me feel like he understands, even if he can’t change the situation.
Last week, when revealing again that I felt unsafe and unsure in his office, Frank reassured me. The next day, he called in sick.
Logically, of course I don’t fault Frank for being ill. But the little kid inside, the vulnerable and scared part of me that is still looking for plain regularity of appointment schedule, had yet again to be disappointed. Yet again…
On Saturday, though, Frank wrote me a short email. He apologized for missing our appointment. He also did some rescheduling so that some of our future weeks will not be too adversely affected by the holidays. In that small moment, I felt warm. The little kid in me said, “Frank cares about me. He’s trying not to leave me. He thought about me when he called in sick.” With the short email, Frank helped establish just a bit more safety for me. A bit more safety is a lot more good for me.
I rarely admit it and then only to my closests. I don’t want to admit that I am weak or that I am still needing so much help. I don’t want to admit that although I had many months of intensive treatment, I feel far from done. But it’s true. I’m not happy and hunky dory and oh so so grateful for the sun to come up everyday. I am thankful for my life. I recognize that I am better now than I was a year ago. But. But, I am still having a hard time.
I spent much of the weekend crying or forcing myself to stay out of bed. I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that no one will care for me like they did when I was in treatment. There is no one place where I will feel so special and important and interesting and valued, specifically acknowledging all that I deal with and honoring the pain and suffering. Simply, I felt cared for. I won’t be able to replicate that again.
Now this doesn’t mean that my husband doesn’t care for me, or that my best friend Miriam doesn’t hold me, or things like that. I know I’m cared for in my adult life. My husband truly does much more than I ever give him credit for. Somehow, it still feels different.
I have to get to the core of this. Logic tells me that this issue most certainly feels so vast and painful because it’s from my core. When I was a child, I tried to parent my mother and was abused by my father. I definitely didn’t feel cared for. I definitely didn’t get the care I needed. As a result, I have spent my whole life, even now, pining after good parenting. But only now are the feelings of grief surfacing. I did not get cared for the way I needed. Nothing is ever going to change that. No matter what I do now, my childhood was messed up. I think that if I can learn to come to terms with this pain, allow the tears their rightful place, maybe I won’t feel so ambivalent or anxious about taking care of myself. Maybe I won’t feel selfish. Maybe I’ll feel like I have a right to exist.
I don’t want to let you down.
But I feel you holding me down
With your disappointment in me.
I’m a broken person.
I’m woven with the fabric of your opinion.
What you think of me
Defines what I feel about myself.
I know with my brain this is not healthy.
I can’t make my feelings learn
What my brain tells them.
Logic is a mathematical language
That my feelings don’t compute.
Growing up in an abusive household helped forge the kind of person that I am. This kind of person is always watching what other people are thinking and feeling. This kind of person is always in fear that someone I care about will be upset. I wrote this to describe what happens when I feel that someone is unhappy because of me. Logically I know that other people’s emotions are not caused by me. The child in me, that has yet to grow up, still sees herself as responsible for making sure everyone is happy (with me). I’m sorting out how to feel that I have a right to be. That my existence does not hinge only on making other people happy. That it’s okay to exist. I’m not there yet. But I think I will be.
I received the answer from the California State Department of Managed Healthcare. They partially overturned Kaiser’s decision to deny my request for extra treatment. This means that I won’t get as much therapy as I had hoped. But Kaiser is now required to give me more than they have been. Kaiser thought that they could get away with the minimum amount of treatment. The State said no. Once again, the State is forcing Kaiser to provide me more appropriate treatment. I’m pleased. I feel vindicated.
Last week, Rabbi Shifman’s shiur (lesson) left me feeling uplifted and motivated. The meaning we derived from Parshas Noach (The story of Noah and the Flood) was purpose and motivation for our lives. It is our job to have purpose, to be motivated to be a shining example, to help unify the world. I felt that part of my job, making meaning from my abusive childhood, was to help get rid of the silence, and do so in some public manner. I wanted (and still do) to be an example of someone who survived and didn’t let the abuse destroy life or my ability to make it beautiful. I felt positive about doing that.
This week, with the decision of the State Department of Managed Healthcare looming over me, I’m fearful, anxious, angry, and depressed.
This morning, Rabbi Shifman’s shiur was just as wonderful and moving. But this time, soon after Rabbi Shifman began teaching, my eyes welled up with tears. That is not usual for me. While trying to engage my brain to capture the multilayered lesson, I also tried to figure out why I was having such a strong emotional reaction. I think that part of the reason I started to tear up is that Rabbi Shifman’s way of teaching and the values he imparts resonate very strongly. Rabbi Shifman’s lessons, his words, go straight to my feelings. My brain is left chasing the words to try and understand them and record them. This morning’s messages about Gd/Hashem cut deeply. I apologize in advance for not explaining Rabbi Shifman’s shiur very well.
The message of today was the challenge of Avraham’s first of ten life tests. The first test was to leave his family, his homeland, and to make a new life where Hashem asks. In turn, Hashem promised that Avraham will have many children and will be well known. How is this a test? It sounds like a blessing. The test part was that Avraham had to figure out how to maintain a relationship with Hashem. Hashem gave Avraham the challenge of having to maintain the relationship with Hashem even though he, Avraham, didn’t “need” anything anymore. All the material aspects were blessed to him. Avraham was challenged to figure out how to daven (pray) and develop the relationship even though he had “nothing” to ask for.
Hashem gave Avraham fame and fortune so that he could learn how to continue a relationship without the usual gauges. We normal people use financial stability, health, and other things to gauge how our relationship is with Hashem. We use prayer to connect and ask for what we need because we haven’t been given everything. The fact that we do not have everything we need is actually a blessing. Rabbi Shifman explained how that can be. But as I try and write it out now, the information comes out somewhat muddled. I can’t do his explanations justice, but i’ll try.
The primordial snake (Nachash) of the first story, Bereshit, who fed Eve the apple, is punished by Gd with losing his limbs and is given a curse. The nachash’s curse is that food will be where ever it needs. How is this a curse? Rabbi Shifman told a story he heard from Rabbi Zev Leff. Rabbi Leff’s story was of a boy whose father wanted to remarry. He gave his son an apartment, a car, and a credit card. The father gave the son everything he would ever need, on one condition. The father wanted to never have contact again. The gifts of sustenance were not actually blessings. There were the father abandoning his child. The gifts were actually a curse.
The same was true for the Nachash. Hashem said to the snake that he now has food where ever he needs it. The snake will never have to worry because food will always be available. This way, Hashem doesn’t need to have contact with the snake anymore.
How does this relate to us normal folk? One answer is that we haven’t been abandoned by Hashem like the Nachash in Bereshit. We have a relationship with Hashem and we can continue to develop it throughout our lives. We have things we can ask for and we can also simply talk to him. But really, I apologize that I’m not giving over the lesson so succinctly and clearly. What was most clear to me was my emotional reaction while listening to the shiur (lesson).
I’m not on such a level that this lesson of Avraham enhances my security in Hashem’s love and benevolence. I’m questioning if Hashem loves me or is happy with me. If I’m gauging my relationship with Hashem by the blessings as well as all aspects of my life, I’m not so sure. I don’t know what my purpose is. I’m guessing it’s to continue the healing in the way I think is best. But in order to do that, I need to change the treatment program. It’s not sufficient for where I’m at psychologically. Continuing healing with the current treatment plan is not working well. It’s not a sustainable model bc I still need to shut down emotionally in order to take care of my familial responsibilities/obligations. On the other hand, changing the treatment program requires money. Hashem is not blessing us with money enough to cover extra expenses. Incurring more would put even more stress on the marriage and family. I feel like I don’t know what Hashem wants me to do. I’m on the slow spiral downwards and I’m doing everything I can to hold it together and even try to get better. How can this pathway be right when I’m still spiraling down?
My faith is shaking with confusion and fear. Maybe Hashem isn’t happy with me and how I’m living my life? How can I find out? When Rabbi Shifman said that we use things like parnassa and health to gauge our relationship, the tears welled up in my eyes. In my fear of being out of favor in Gd/father’s eyes, I hear the message with only one meaning. That if Hashem is happy, he’ll make the situation work so that I can get my treatment and not hurt my family in the process. If Hashem isn’t happy with the way I’m living my life, this may be why he’s not providing the finances to help. This is scary and sad and makes me cry.
Intellectually, I know that there are more spiritual meanings and messages available. I soothe myself somewhat with knowing that I’m human, not Gd. He has all the meanings and sometimes, life doesn’t make sense. I suppose that I need to find a way to live with the discomfort of not knowing, to accept the fears. It’s okay to have these feelings and to be uncomfortable with the present day. It’s just okay.
You know when you feel the need to listen to a certain song or artist but until you hear the lyrics, you weren’t actually sure why? Then the lyrics wash over your senses, flooding your mind with their uncanny accuracy. The lyrics feel like your mantra of the day. Or maybe they act as your anchor as you drift amongst the waves of trials and tribulations. Maybe it feels like the songwriter was sitting in your seat that day. I’m having another one of those days.
Today is an Indigo Girls day, though to be honest, it’s only their first years, their first albums.
Make It Easier
“I got a chip on my shoulder about the size of a mental block.”
Closer to Fine
“Well, darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable. And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.”
“I wrap my fear around me like a blanket.”
“Secure yourself to heaven; hold on tight the night has come.”
“What you give for you kid fears?”
“Replace the need with love. Replace the anger with the tide. Replace the ones, the ones, the ones, that you love.”
Prince of Darkness
“The words of my heart lined up like prisoners on a fence. The dreams came in like needy children tugging at my sleeve. I said I have no way of feeding you so leave.”
The last line is really where I’m at right now. I keep telling my thoughts and feelings to leave. I don’t have the energy to feed or care for you. So leave.
Too bad they don’t listen.
In therapy, I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the anxiety that is making every day a painful challenge. On Monday, I started tearing up in my session with my Kaiser therapist Frank. I felt like I just wasn’t good enough, in anything. I hate being me, on some deep level. I feel like I’m never good enough. I’m not successful enough, I don’t earn money, I can’t make my house look clean and neat enough, etc. etc. I engage in a multitude of irrational attacks on myself.
To combat these internal messages of self hatred, I try to do what I’ve learned. I tell myself that it’s okay to be in the process. It’s okay to have all these roller coaster moments. It’s okay to not know how to relax. It’s okay to fail miserably. It’s okay to still keep trying. In fact, it’s actually beneficial to continue to send positive messages to myself.
But some weeks, these messages sound so false.
I discussed this issue later that day with my somatic therapist William. He suggested we try a little experiment. Turns out that if felt like I was in the movie “Good Will Hunting”. William told me I was perfect. I am perfect just the way I am. I’m perfect where I’m at in my healing. I’m perfect. I’m good enough. I’m perfect.
The first few moments of the experiment made me a little emotional and then everything just went flat. Guess I’m not Matt Damon and not quite ready for the emotional break through.
Seriously though, as William has also seen the movie, William did not mean for some earth shattering moment to occur. He also said that those kinds of moments are the start of good therapy, not the end where the person feels all better and can go on living their normal life.
Whatever did happen for me wasn’t very effective though. We plan on trying some other ways of allowing some self compassion to seep in. In the meantime, I can laugh about my un-Hollywood moment. And I can keep trying to remember that I am better than last year. I will keep telling myself that my irrational thoughts are irrational. The reasons I feel so much self hatred are because I internalized the early messages. I will deprogram myself. I’m doing the right things in therapy and in my head. I will learn to like myself. Not everything is my fault.