TSA & choices…

This past weekend, I flew to America… It sounds surreal to be writing that… but, I did… I flew internationally for the first time in about 20 years… and I flew alone…

I was incredibly anxious about the trip… I worried that I’d get lost; not be able to cope on such a long flight; and the big one… I was terrified of the authority figures associated with the trip – in particular the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I have seen the videos, and read the blogs about some of the horrific encounters that people have experienced with TSA over the years… The inappropriate pat-downs, the x-rays, and the arrogance of the officers were all mentioned to varying degrees… I’d managed to reality check some of these stories by talking to Allison and the friend that I was going to visit; but, the fears still lingered.

My trip started out really well… I made the trip to Auckland easily, making it through customs and the departure process as if I’d done it before… It’s easy to forget that the process is set-up to keep the flow of people moving, so there were lots of signs and people available to help. The flight from Auckland to Los Angeles was great… I watched movies (The Intouchables was brilliant), and I even managed to get a bit of sleep. When I got to Los Angeles, things again went smoothly… I cleared customs, found the area to forward my luggage to the next flight, met my friend, and took some photos…

Theme BuildingThen, it was time for our connecting flight… We found the terminal, and despite the best efforts of a very slow elevator, we arrived on the right floor for our departure… All we had to do was get through a TSA checkpoint… The queue of people seemed to be moving fairly quickly, which gave us hope that this would also be an easy process… I cleared the identity check, and emptied my gear into the trays to be x-rayed… It was all going smoothly… The person in front of me had to go through the scanner twice, but that didn’t bother me, as I knew I had nothing to hide… Then it was my turn… I stood on the foot markers, raised my arms into the air, and was scanned… I exited the machine, but was immediately sent back into it due to some “anomalies” that were detected… the scan was repeated… Again, there were “anomalies”… Then I heard the words I feared the most… “We need a supervisor for a female pat-down…”

I couldn’t believe it… I stood in mute terror… My friend gathered my gear from the luggage scanner and stood waiting on the other side of the barrier… Then, we waited…

And waited…

And waited…

My anxieties sky-rocketed… I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking…

My friend asked what the problem was… but, all the TSA officer would say, was that there were “anomalies”…

What seemed like hours passed… but, I now know that it was about 20 minutes before the TSA supervisor arrived. Two female officers escorted me to a small curtained area in what appeared to be a staff locker room. They asked my friend if he wanted to go with us, and he thankfully agreed…

He mentioned that I experience anxiety and didn’t like to be touched…

We both repeated that I experience anxiety when the supervisor asked me if there was anything that they needed to be aware of… I think they were wanting to check if I had anything on me… but, I knew I didn’t…

I was told to face the wall and hold my arms out… She explained what she was going to do, just before she did it…

Did she pat down my arms first? I think so… I don’t remember her touching near my neck, but I think she did… I think that’s when the tears started…

She asked me to turn around…

She patted down my legs…

I remember looking straight ahead… trying to stay present so that I didn’t make things worse…

I remember my friend telling me that I was doing really well… that it would soon be over…

It seemed to go on forever, but I know it was quick and efficient…

After she finished, I followed them back to the check point where the supervisor tested her gloves for substances…

It was only then that I was given the all clear…

I was vaguely aware of the other people in the queue looking at me… all I could manage to do was pull on my shoes; and, at my friend’s insistence, sit down on a bench nearby…

This is where I finally collapsed… I couldn’t stop shaking… I took some anxiety medication and waited for that slow easing of the pain wrapped around my chest… the tingling in my face and hands… the hell of the panic…

I don’t know how long we sat there… I remember being doubled over, worrying that my obvious agitation might make the TSA people uncomfortable… I didn’t want them to feel bad for doing their job…I didn’t want anyone to feel bad… all the while, the internal chaos kept escalating…

I felt so violated… I had been touched against my will… my friend had told me that I was doing well for allowing that touch…

It triggered memories of the past… of people touching me against my will… of people who should have protected me, ignoring what was happening… It was all too much…

I questioned my friend… a part of me felt betrayed by him… lost… confused…

It wasn’t until the next day that I could stand back from the situation and look at what really happened… In the past, people made the choice to hurt me, others made the choice to turn away from my pain, and I became lost within their choices…

In the TSA situation, the officers were doing their job without the intent of hurting me… they did everything possible to make the process easier for me… My friend did everything within his power to make the process easier for me by reassuring me… by standing with me… by being present with me during my chaos…

He was my anchor…

I lost that distinction for a time… my hurts overwhelmed me… the pain was too great… But, the motivations of the choices that the people who hurt me in the past, were very different from those made by the people around me in the present…

For that, I’m very thankful…

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Perfection…

I used to define perfection as a set of behaviours that would allow me to be invisible.  I thought that if I was quiet enough; got good enough grades; was plain enough not to attract attention; and so on… then I would be free of abuse.  No matter how hard I tried, I never reached this perfection…  I didn’t realise that it was an impossible goal… Part of me still doesn’t…

During the past few months, I’ve experienced another kind of perfection…

  • Seeing a friend smile, and realising that I am part of the reason why they are smiling.
  • Laughing at a joke over dinner.
  • Watching a brilliant red sunset.
  • Walking on the beach, feeling the cool sea breeze, and tasting the salt in the air.
  • Swimming in the ocean for the first time in over 20 years.
  • Aimlessly walking around shops with a friend.
  • Playing on a park slide at dusk.
  • Talking with a friend over coffee about life, meaning, and reality.

These events were all perfect, not as “events”, but because of how they made me feel – seen, safe, at peace, alive, appreciated, loved, connected, … “worthy” …

None of the events were without problems… The dinner with a friend was a shared pizza, where my slice of pizza was more like the enemy, than food… I felt incredible anxiety on the beach, as I wore a swimsuit for the first time since my weight loss… After the brilliant sunset, I became so disconnected that it created a gaping chasm developed between my friend and I…

There were problems, and some of them were quite big… the thing is, I felt able to explore those problems – either through my own reflections, or talking about it with the people affected.  It became all about that old saying ~ “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”.  The quote is a bit eye-roll worthy; but, it also seems to hold some truth…  The problems became part of an ongoing conversation – with myself, and others; rather than the anxiety inducing, end-of-the-world events that they sometimes feel.

I’m not sure why things happened like they did…  Was it because of the friend I was with?  My holiday from work? That amorphous thing called “healing”?  Or, was it all of those things, and so much more?  I’m really not sure, and part of me doesn’t want to analyse it too much, in case I decide to make some rules around it all, or negate the positives that I experienced…

The thing is, even with those positives, I’m still struggling… I seem to have drifted through the last four months of my life, with little awareness of anything going on around me.  Yet, within those four months, I had these amazing experiences of connection…  It makes no sense, and total sense…

I wonder if the connection that I experienced, scared me…  Whether the visit to my home-town and ongoing work stress, has combined to create the need to compartmentalise even more of my life…

It’s funny, in a sad way… I started this post intending for it to be positive; but now, all I feel, is fear…

—————-
Now playing: The Fray – You Found Me

A day of clarity

It feels as if I woke up this morning with a sense of clarity and grounding that has been missing for months…

In some ways today has felt no different – there are still urges for disordered eating, and there was a dissociative panic when I went out for a walk… But, in other ways it has all felt very different – I’ve managed to resist those urges to engage in disordered eating, and I went for a walk during the day (I usually walk at night so no one can see me).  This may not seem like much, but it’s so different from what has been happening over the last few months.

I know that one of the reasons for the clarity, is the passing of Christmas and New Year.  These holidays are particularly difficult for me… they’re associated with triggers from the past, and societal expectations in the present day.  That potent combination has meant that for the last few months, I’ve been a dissociative mess.

Adding to my anxiety, has been the knowledge that I would be staying in my home-town for Christmas…  For the last few years, my mother has come up to stay with me for Christmas and New Year; but this year this somehow got reversed, and I travelled to her.  I know that when I made the arrangements, it was with the thought that being in my home-town would be safer than being alone.  I say “safer”, but I realised that the balance between the safety provided by being with someone during the holidays (with all of the associated structure that provides); and the potential triggers of being in my home-town, were debatable.

It was an “interesting” visit home… being around someone else for such long periods of time provided a stark reminder of how much I dissociate – for example, I apparently went for a walk at 2am one night… I found that if I didn’t sit in the aisle seat at the movies, I become so anxious that I basically shut down and nearly fall asleep… I proved to myself that I could go for days on end without one form of disordered eating; but there seemed to be a trade-off to other forms taking over… When I did engage in the disordered eating, I hit new lows – something that I’m not proud of, but am trying to learn from… I found that I could cope being in my home-town, as long as I didn’t visit the satellite town where I spent most of my childhood… I found that I liked the peace associated with living in a retirement village – although the residents do tend to be in everyones business! … I discovered that I could sit with my aunt and mother, and we could talk about real issues…

In the past, my relationship with my aunt has been strained… She seemed to see me as this “perfect” person, who never did anything wrong, and resented me accordingly… considering how much I strived for perfection, I find this rather ironic.  But after we’d been to see the movie Quartet, we had a rather raw and honest conversation… my aunt was in an abusive relationship for several years, and my mother was married to my father (enough said).  We didn’t talk about the respective abuses we experienced; but instead talked about its effect on us… how my aunt tried to encourage her abuser to take responsibility for his abuse, by forcing him to pay for the plastic surgery on her face after he pushed her through a pane of glass… how my mother has purposefully forgotten chunks of her life, just so that she can cope with it all… how the abuse caused all of us to doubt ourselves, our truth, and devastated our self-esteem… and one thing that my aunt observed, was how much my behaviour is defined by my abusive past.  I found my aunt’s statement to be interesting, as she is not aware of my childhood abuses, just my marriage.  It was also a little scary… is my dysfunction that obvious?

As for my relationship with my mother… well, that had its ups and downs.  She was incredibly accepting of my odd habits, and even suggested ways that I could do things in a similar way to I did them at home – I’m still not able to do simple things like hang clothes out on the washing line.  But in other ways, she showed how unaware she was… I was talking to a friend via video on Skype when she came home, and she basically took over the video call.  My mother can be larger than life, especially when she’s trying to impress someone – and she was trying to impress my friend.  I get so overwhelmed by her personality when she is like this… I become this small, vulnerable being, who is unsure of how to react, except to play along… So I smiled, laughed, and played the game… anything to make sure that my mother doesn’t get her feelings hurt…  The call ended soon after my mother walked away from the computer… but what was interesting, was that while my friend also played along, and interacted with my mother; they noted my distress… a distress that I wasn’t aware of showing. They asked me how I was, and I admitted that I was close to tears… it wasn’t that I feared my mother trying to “steal” my friend, but that I felt so overwhelmed by her personality, and became so lost as a result… who was I???  I no longer knew…

Despite these ups and downs, I do think that my visit home was a positive experience.  I learned new things, made connections (internally and externally), and was able to keep promises that I’d made with myself – including attending Midnight Mass…

I’m not sure how long this clarity will last… but, I’m glad I experienced it…

And now for a random photo I took while away…
Sweet pea against the sky

—————-
Now playing: Tracy Chapman – The Promise

Hurt and go

As a warning, the following poem could be triggering because of abuse and suicidal ideation related themes.

I’ve had a few rough weeks – visiting the town where my ex-husband lives, work related stress, inconsistent messages from the Eating Disorder Service, and an emotionally traumatic assessment by the Eating Disorders psychiatrist… It has stirred up so much in me, that I’m barely coping. Well, to be honest, I’m not coping…

Hurt and go

Hurt and go
Hurt and go
Hurt and go
That’s all they ever did
Even when they were smiling
Hurt and go

It was worse when they smiled
You knew it was going to be bad, real bad
They wanted you close
Relaxed
Then
BAM
It was all on

They taught me my worth
No matter what anyone else says or does
My worth was proven long ago
Everything since that time is an illusion
A pretense
A play on words and thoughts

I am nothing
No, not nothing
A thing
An object
A toy for amusement
An aberration
Disgusting
Stupid

If I was anything else
They wouldn’t have done those things

If I was anything else
It would’ve mattered

If I was anything else
It would hurt so much I’d rather be dead

Oh wait, it does.

My neon sign

I’ve often joked about the figurative neon sign above my head that reads “Go away!”…  But, those jokes cover a variety of issues that I experience – an inability to trust, be vulnerable, and basically experience any emotion without dissociating.  My past has taught me that people were unreliable, likely to hurt me, and best be avoided.  However, I’m also very human; and as such, crave human contact; this creates a dynamic I experience over and over…  I do things which I consider to open the door to communication, but also look for any hint that the person isn’t genuine, interested, or able to reciprocate in any way.  Depending on the level of involvement that I am expecting to have with the person, I then decide how much energy, and risk I’m willing to take.

Sometimes this has worked out well… for example, my cynical work friend and I get on well.  We’ve formed a good working friendship/relationship, where we can share different aspects of her life, and I share more with her about my life than anyone else around me… it’s a very guarded sharing, but it’s still sharing.

Sometimes this has been a disaster… for example, when I was talking to a mental health nurse this week, I basically set her up to respond in a way that would encourage her to tell me all of the negative aspects of her job.  At the time it was almost automatic, but it was also something that I wanted to explore as a way of finding out her thinking and approach.  It sadly turns out as if my fears were correct.  It came about because my mother had a scathing attitude towards the “manipulative young girls with eating disorders” that she encountered while a nurse… so, when the conversation during my ED appointment turned to online support, it was easy to talk with the nurse about the “destructive, manipulative” behaviours supported through “negative ED sites”… To the nurse, this was probably a conversation about how I was not going to those sites; but to me, this was about her having the same disdain and lack of empathy for those young girls that my mother exhibited.  In my mind, that has totally changed our working relationship… trust is non-existent, and I am feeling the blocks of resistance when thinking of doing anything that she suggests…

I have basically set us both up for failure.  I will go back next week, having been unable to do either of the things that she took for granted were going to happen, and it will reinforce the notes that she has now read from the Mental Health Crisis Team, which say that I’m difficult.  She didn’t hear, or dismissed my concerns about expectations for this week… so it will come back to my difficult nature and resistance to treatment.

But, the situation where this dynamic is most challenging, is when old patterns of dysfunction are involved… for example, the relationship with my mother.  My mother has shown the willingness to be supportive… she has travelled to stay with me after the last attack by my ex-husband, and when I was hospitalised.  But, while she has done these physical acts, there has been a barrier to any emotional connection.  I realise that the barrier is our past… the hurts, misunderstandings, defensiveness, etc.  We continually seem to approach each other from a place of hurt and confusion.  Neither of us understands the other, and we don’t know how to begin a conversation that would ease that position.  A big factor in that, is the neon sign that I wear above my head… my mother helped me build that sign through her actions towards me in the past, so why would I want to change that now?  At times, I don’t.  I want to keep my distance from her, and everyone.  But, at other times, I see the vulnerability; the attempts to reach out, and I wonder if things could be better.

The problem, is that my pattern of taking care of those around me, has meant that I have often been the one to reach out first.  The flip-side of that, is that my “Go away!” sign, means that people often don’t see my distress, or don’t want to reach out first, for fear of being rebuffed.  My mother described this dynamic a few years ago when we saw Bob… Bob asked my mother what she wanted in regards to me, and my mother’s response was that she wanted me to let her in, to let her help.  I remember being stunned… she wanted to help now… after all these years… oh, please!  The thing is, she was genuine… she wants to help, but she doesn’t know how.  When you combine this lack of knowledge, with my defences, you have two people stuck, circling each other…

Last week, there was a small communication between us, which made me think about the dynamics with my mother.  I’m arranging to go to my hometown for Christmas, and the only day that I can arrive is my sister’s birthday.  Considering that my sister and I haven’t talked in over 10 years, I thought this might be difficult; so sent a number of texts and a phone call to my mother before making the bookings.  This small interaction made me wonder about the role, or power, that I play in the continued tenuous relationship with my mother…

A few years ago a very good friend told me that I would need to make the first move in rebuilding the relationship with my mother.  At the time I baulked at that thought… she’s the one who hurt and neglected me!  Why should I make the first move?  But now, I can see the position that has put me in… My mother knows that I am the child she didn’t see.  She knows I’m hurt in ways she doesn’t understand, and that hurts her.  Yes, her pain is about herself, rather than me… but, unless I communicate with her, she will never understand my point of view.  She may never be capable of fully understanding what occurred, and the implications… but the current situation isn’t working either.

There are situations where it’s best to remove yourself from the family group for your own safety… I’ve done that with my sister and father.  But there is a possibility that I could form a better relationship with my mother.  I don’t think it will ever be perfect, as she has so many issues of her own… but, it’s worth trying… I think.

—————-
Now playing: REM – Everybody hurts

The fallout

In my last post, I sound as if I had “dealt” with the visit to my hometown… I was wrong.  What I’d done, is stuff it all in a rather large room in the back of my mind, and closed the door.  My main thought was that I’d gotten through the past two weekends, and that was all that mattered.  I had expected that once those weekends were over, then the anxiety and dissociation would magically disappear… because I wanted that so much, I started to live it.  The trip became a “good, healing experience”, and I couldn’t even remember the weekend of the conference… they became like another couple of headlines in the newspaper, nothing more.

On Thursday, the little fantasy that I had created for myself, came crashing down.  I saw Allison, and we talked about the trip.  She didn’t force anything, but it ripped open the door that I had firmly shut.  We talked about my family not recognising me as I got off the plane… my sister-in-law who talks about her abuse history as if it’s a badge that everyone has to see, and know about… the doubts created when places weren’t exactly as I remembered them…  The session was “intense” according to Allison’s parting words.  So intense, I had to sit in the car for over an hour, talking to a friend in order to ground myself and stop the shaking.

This was when the real fallout began… flashbacks; lost time; constant internal chatter about how bad I am; images of self-injury; and so on.  Intellectually, I decided that the main issue was the denial created when details of the pub weren’t exactly as I remembered; so decided to do some research.  The pub has a history page on their website.  When looking for old photos of the building, I found a photo of my father.  I also found out he’d been given awards for his input into the organisation.  Again, denial slammed into me… was I falsely accusing this man, who was respected in his community, of horrors that had never happened?  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t accusing him in court, or that I have no intention of doing so… all that mattered was whether it happened or not.  I’m used to the dance of denial… it’s one I’ve experienced throughout my life.  In some ways, it’s comforting to know that the denial and doubt touch every single aspect of my life… it’s not just the abuse that I doubt, but everything.  At times my life just seems to be a big question mark.

I realise that I’ve already glossed over the impact of seeing the photo of my father.  I remember seeing the photo as a child… one of my brothers is also in a photo nearby.  It’s disconcerting to see those two, who look so similar, so close.  To say that it’s disconcerting to see how much I look like my father, is an understatement.  I hate genetics.  I hate knowing how much I look like him.  That’s part of the reason I can’t look in the mirror… I see his face and the cross that he wore around his neck during my teens.  Yet another reason to hate how I look, and who I am.  When I see him in my reflection, I become him, and part of the things that he did – not just to me, but to the family, and community.  He is an alcoholic narcissist, and has left a trail of destruction behind him, fitting of such labels.

Sorry, I know this is becoming disjointed… I need to write it out.  I need to try to make sense of it.  But, I don’t know if that’s even possible anymore.

Thursday night, I decided to clean out my wardrobe.  During the clean out, I found jewellery that my father had given me, as well as the lingerie purchased for my wedding night…  I don’t know how these items had lasted so long.  But there they were… a cruel reminder of my doubts, pain and confusion.  If you’re wondering why I doubt the abuse from my father, yet still react to him… well, apparently I’ve always reacted to him.  My mother once told me that one of the factors which caused her to separate from my father, was talking to me in the kitchen when he arrived home… she said that as soon as I heard his car, I looked to confirm it was him, then my face changed, and I walked away to my room without finishing the conversation.

While my reaction to finding those items didn’t help ease any denial, it added another layer of stress and provided more fodder for flashbacks…

What does all of this mean?  Well, the short version is that I’m a mess… the long version is that I’m a total and utter mess.  I’m reacting to the slightest of triggers… unable to concentrate on anything for even moderate timeframes… want to go out and get totally drunk… the list goes on.  I’m trying to remember that the world keeps turning, and that means that this turmoil will pass… please, pass soon… please.

Visiting the past

This past weekend, I visited my hometown.  It’s the first time I’ve been back in over five years. Being back there was awful, healing, confusing, and so much more.  I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but need to write something down in order to start the reflective process, and ward off it being lost in the dissociation.

There were some beautiful moments, such as going down to the beach near sunset.  There was humour, with my mother, brother, and I talking about movies we’d seen… it soon became obvious that our respective approaches to movie going is very different!

But, there were also endless triggers…

On Sunday morning, my mother met my sister to go to church.  I had never connected it before, but this reminded me of when my father decided to “find God” when I was a teenager.  This was the final trigger that prompted me to visit places of importance from my past.  The main place I wanted to see was the bar associated with my father… the place where I have different memories that are so disjointed…

As I drove out to the bar, I passed a factory filled with bad memories… or rather, where the factory once stood.  There was a wave of relief to see that it was now totally different, filled with various industries and businesses.  I passed my old high, and middle schools… and again, so much had changed.  They were still recognisable, but it was obvious that 20+ years had passed since I walked across those fields.  Even though the suburb that was my home for so long has changed dramatically… new roads and malls; it still has the same feel.

Then the bar itself… The first thing that threw me, was that the entrance had changed.  I can now see where the extensions were added; but at the time, I was totally disoriented.  As the place was closed, I could walk around and peer through windows undisturbed. I started off by looking through the main entrance windows, and saw the short corridor that had the toilets going off each side…  That was enough to create a sense of panic, and an immediate free-fall into dissociation.

I walked around the building in a depersonalised state… looking at the different parts of the building and clinically ticking them all off on my internal check-list.  When I got around to the changing room entrance, things shifted… it was locked, and I was unable to see down the corridor.  I could tell each room based on the windows outside, but this wasn’t enough… I needed to see down that corridor.  But, it was impossible.

I looked into the main hall, and saw so many changes… some of them were about perspective (the hall looked so much smaller than I remembered); but other things such as the new carpet and different tables, were more tangible… But then, I saw the kitchen area, and it acted as a grounding moment.  I snapped back to some sort of awareness, and started taking pictures… I took pictures of all of the areas that I remembered, then wandered around the streets, trying to ground myself.

During my walk, I found this mural…

At the time, I called it “Don’t Speak”…  There seemed something fitting about the red being painted over the mouth.

After the bar, I visited my old elementary school, the kindergarten, and a couple of significant houses… Again, there were so many changes.  I found one of the houses, only to see that the wood shed was being pulled down.  Another now houses a charity; and while it still looked the same, the entrance was totally different… where there was once an opening in the fence for the driveway, framed mosaics are now hung on a continuous fence.

In so many ways, these changes were disorienting… But, there was still enough of the old elements present, to allow me to see the historical context.

I know that memory is not an exact thing… I know it can be influenced, and change over time… So, in many ways, going back to these places was meaningless.  But, it was also healing, in that many things were confirmed, and I could also see how time had changed the places which once housed so much pain for me.

As for the rest of the trip… well, it had its ups and downs… I had a panic attack in McDonald’s, and had to go for a walk to try to calm down… I did some dissociative shopping, and had to return some rather odd clothing choices…  I had a fun birthday evening with my brother and mother…

But, probably the most important thing happened on my last morning there…  My mother and I went to have a coffee, and started talking about my sister.  It seems she has moved past the idea that I had the best childhood known to mankind, and has instead started seeing things in a different way.  My mother relayed how much sorrow (guilt?) my sister feels for “abandoning” me when she moved out at the age of 16.  This seemingly simple admission stirred so many emotions… a feeling of validation, that I wasn’t imagining how bad it was growing up in that house…  compassion for my sister, who was burdening herself with responsibilities that aren’t hers to hold…  compassion for my mother, who was obviously now looking back on the damage done by the past…

There is nothing simple about a trip down memory lane… but, it can be healing.  It helped me to see that, although I live with the effects of those events every single day; the events were a long time ago.  That doesn’t make what happened right, nor does it allow me to forgive, or forget… but, it does mean that I can help ease those fears when I’m caught in the flashbacks…  If nothing else, that knowledge made the trip worthwhile.

—————-
Now playing: Taylor Swift – Safe & Sound
via FoxyTunes