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…

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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

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Now playing: Tracy Chapman – The Promise

Hope is a thing with feathers

I’ve never really don’t understand poetry.  I don’t understand the hidden meanings, and I get lost very quickly.  But, as I was reading the following poem about hope by Emily Dickinson, the tears came.  I could easily see the bird as a metaphor for hope…

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson

I could do with some hope…

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Now playing: The Fray – Be still

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.

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Now playing: Taylor Swift – Safe & Sound
via FoxyTunes

Guide on the side

One of my first jobs in libraries, was working as a reference librarian in a small public library.  It was a fascinating job, as nearly every patron came in with a different information need.  There is one man whom I will always remember… he was probably in his mid to late 50’s, and very intelligent.  He approached me with confidence and told me what information he needed… “Where are your books on how to build an aviary”… taking him at his word, I showed him to the aviary construction books.  As he was enjoyable to talk to, and unfamiliar with the inner workings of the library; I walked with him over to the books.  As we walked over, we started talking.  After a fairly short, informal discussion, I found out that he’d never owned birds before, and was looking at different aviary designs so that he would know which birds to put together, and how to care for them.  I immediately knew that he didn’t need aviary designs yet… he needed bird care books, which are in a totally different section of the library.

When I talked about this incident with my manager, his immediate response was “don’t blame the customer… no matter how intelligent they are, they don’t know how to navigate our systems, or to identify what their real information need is”.

Later, when I was working in a tertiary library; I worked closely with many highly respected academics.  Despite their skills within their own area of expertise; they would regularly ask me to come in and teach their students how to find information, and for help with their own research.  One academic called librarians a “guide on the side”… that is, we were there to guide the user through the maze of information retrieval and management.  We help the user to gain skills so that they too can learn how to retrieve information… and therefore become a “lifelong learner”.  This academic was vocal that her expertise was in academia, and mine was in information seeking… she saw them as complementary, rather than conflicting, skill sets.

Why I mention all of this seemingly irrelevant waffle; is that I realise that I place absolutely no value in Allison (or any therapists) ability to be a “guide on the side” during my healing process.  I don’t trust their skill, intelligence, or abilities.  This, despite researching their qualifications, seeing their skills in action, and being nearly six years into therapy.  Part of this is because I have seen a couple of therapists whom I didn’t respect their intelligence… basically, I could destroy them in an argument.  But a greater part of the problem, is my need for control.  I don’t trust anyone else to tell me what to do – that got me into too much trouble when I was young; and, more importantly, my ability to escape into my head was my saving grace as a child.  It’s where no one could touch me, and where I could control what happened.  It became my coping mechanism… I entered school and realised that intellectualisation was something to be valued… suddenly there was something I could do that would get me approval on a grade sheet…  My imagination, coping and intellect became something that I could control, and now a therapist wants to come in and mess with that?  No way was that going to happen!

Then, last week, I had a Twitter conversation which helped me to rethink how I was viewing Allison, and all therapists… I made the leap from thinking of therapy as this thing that happened “to” people, to being an interaction that I could relate to… I put it into context of the intelligent gentleman who came and asked me about how to build an aviary.  Something clicked internally, and I could see that I was walking into Allison’s office as that man… I came in wanting to “have a life worth living”, and I was walking over to the “life” section of the library; but what I really needed, were the sections about self soothing, nutrition, boundaries, physical health, etc.  Without all of those basics, the “life” that I built would always be hollow and meaningless.  I would always be falling back into dysfunction, and struggling to find meaning in what I was doing.

What does this mean?  Well, Allison has said several times that it’s her job to guide me through the healing process… my response has been to roll my eyes, and go do some more research… difficult, me? Never!  Yes, this is the sort of thing that the poor woman puts up with every week.  I now know, that what I have to do is ease back on that control, and put some trust in her skills.  I need to realise that she is my “guide on the side” in healing… I can, and will, still question everything; but I need to listen, and have more patience.

Sounds pretty simple for a sarcastic, control freak… right?

A special thanks to my Twitter buddies who helped me realise this… probably without even knowing what you were doing!

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Now playing: Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars – Safe and sound
via FoxyTunes

Murmuration

I came across the word “murmuration” today, and stumbled across this video.  I don’t know if it’s the music, the dance of the starlings, or both… but I found it calming, so thought I’d share it.

Thanks to Frank and the @postsecret team for the tweet that piqued my interest.

Late edit: If you hadn’t already tried it, it’s great to watch in full-screen 🙂

Venturing out

Today, I ventured outside for the first time in months.  Yes, I’ve been going to work, and doing the bare necessities in the way of chores; but I haven’t been outside for anything other than that for a long time.  It was also the first time I’d picked up my camera in months.  These are some of the photos I took…

Duckling
Duckling

Ducklings
Ducklings

Waxeye
Waxeye

Lion fountain
Lion fountain

They mean different things to me… from the cuteness of the ducklings, through to the almost desperate stance of the lion.

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Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Lifeline
via FoxyTunes