Being “evil”…

A couple of months ago, I agreed with Allison that it was time to focus on my disordered eating… Little did I realise, that by agreeing to talk about my eating, it would open the floodgates to my past. Almost as if the agreement was an acknowledgement, or the permission needed, to really start addressing what happened to me…

I’m still trying to comprehend what I’m learning… and it’s not that what I’m sharing in session is necessarily new information, but it’s from a different perspective… I’m not sure how to describe it, other than that there is an emotional connection to those events… That seems like a simple line to read/write… but it’s not… I’ve been left at the end of sessions reeling from the emotional impact of what I’ve just realised…

Some of the realisations are heartbreaking… like discovering that part of the reason I doubt my abuse, is because the different abuse survivor biographies that I have read in an attempt to understand what I experienced, described certain abusive events in a similar way… but, that wasn’t how I experienced them… The literature talked about “fearing death” during the event and provided enough detail that there is horror for the reader; but, it didn’t capture my experience… I wished for death… my body shook, no matter how well I managed to stop the tears, I couldn’t stop my body shaking… There was such confusion over the disconnect between what I read and what I experienced, that I took it as a sign that what I experienced didn’t really happen. I realise that if anyone attempted to publish a book with the details of an abusive event from a visceral perspective, that it wouldn’t be published… no one would be able to read it… the trauma involved in the act of reading the details would be too much…

One of the realisations that I’m really struggling to make sense of, is what it means for me to be evil. I was told from a young age that I was evil for making my abusers do these things to me… so young, that the word became part of my identity… I saw myself as being evil in the same way that I had blonde hair… But, whereas I could see and understand what having blonde hair meant, I couldn’t understand what it meant to be evil, other than it was really bad…

Throughout my childhood, I became more familiar with what being evil meant… Adolf Hitler, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot… were all examples that I learned about at school. I’m still struggling to comprehend what that meant to my young mind, but I seemed to link the idea of being evil to the ability to “make” other people do bad things… This makes sense, from the perspective that I was “making” the abusers do things, seemingly against their will… I know it doesn’t cover so many other areas of logic, but I was young and trying to make sense of the world around me…

When the rather warped religious messages that I was taught about evil are added to the mix, a huge source of confusion is created… I now wonder if this is part of the reason that I slowly withdrew from people over time… Why I can’t touch anything that is clean, new, or “perfect”… Why I need to have a clean house… I know it’s not a simple cause/effect relationship, and that there is a myriad of factors which influence my actions; but, are these attempts to combat the dirty evilness that is considered to be within me?

In many ways, I see how I’ve attempted to reject the evil label from my identity, and that I don’t really see it as “fitting” with my identity as a whole… But, the label has been a part of me for so long, that it feels like it will be there forever… A part of me strongly identifies with the concept of being evil, and wears the label like a badge of honour…

This conflict seems to be driving so many of my actions and reactions within the context of my disordered eating… the need to rid my body of the evil… the problem is, I’m trying to rid my body of something that is considered to be part of my identity…

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Now playing: Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars – Safe & Sound

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

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.

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Now playing: Taylor Swift – Safe & Sound
via FoxyTunes

Amazing Grace

It’s considered to be one of the most recognisable songs in the English-speaking world.  It’s also the only song that is almost guaranteed to make me cry.

If you’re not familiar with the origins of Amazing Grace, it was written by John Newton, an English poet and clergyman, and is a song of forgiveness and redemption.  It is considered to be a Christian hymn, and is sometimes played at funerals, often by a solo bagpiper.  John Newton was involved in the slave trade; but on a particularly rough voyage, he began his spiritual journey.  Amazing Grace was written for a New Years Day service in 1773; and has been known to be sung to over 20 different melodies, as it is unknown if the there was any music to accompany it on début.  It’s now most closely associated with the tune “New Britain”, and can be sung acapella, with music, or as an instrumental.

What I find interesting about this song, is that despite it’s Christian overtones, I still strongly identify with it.  I don’t believe that I will ever be forgiven for what I have done, or that I will ever be redeemed; instead, for me, the song is about grief.  It’s about pain and releasing that pain.  It’s about death.

There are many versions of the song available… some of the more popular ones on YouTube are by the Celtic Women, Elvis Presley, British Airways Pipe Band and Hayley Westernra (a fellow kiwi).  One of my favourite vocal versions is by LeAnn Rimes…

I’m unsure about the reasons why I am seeking this song out at the moment.  I’m still in a very bad place, and this is one of the songs that I want played at my funeral – another is by ABBA, just to make people laugh.  So am I adding to the pit that I am in by listening to this, or am I releasing the grief and pain that I feel?  I’m not really sure.

There are so many thoughts floating through my head, that it’s difficult to make sense of them.  I know that I’m sucked dry.  I’ve been running on empty for about four months now, and it doesn’t look as if it’s going to improve any time soon.  I know my safety is a huge issue, and I was expecting Allison to send me to hospital last week… instead there was a misunderstanding, and I shut down.  Any glimmers of trust that were starting to be built, have gone.

I’m trying not to be reactionary, but it’s difficult.  After the session on Friday, I created this Polyvore set…
No one is perfect
What’s interesting, is that the rabbit is looking in a mirror… is the set saying that Allison was at fault, I was, or we both were?  Is this about me seeing the reflection of my dysfunctional behaviour, and not liking it?  Or is it a cute graphic about no one being perfect, no matter how hard we try?  I wish I knew…

Confused religion

Please note that this entry might trigger due to the issues of child abuse and religion being discussed.

Over two years ago, I wrote the post Religion and Karma.  In it, I shared some of my confusion around religious concepts.  Since I wrote that piece, my confusion has, if anything, deepened.  Conflicted and distorted messages about religion, and my self worth, have driven much of my dysfunction over the last two months.  I have been bombarded with messages about being evil and not worthy of being here, or of this healing journey.

To give a bit of background as to where much of the distortions come from, my father is Roman Catholic and attended a Catholic school.  It was a strict (or traditional) school, with his left handedness being beaten out of him, and intimacy a taboo subject.  In contrast, my mother based her religious affiliations on which church had the best outdoor basketball (netball) team – Baptist won.  When they married, my mother converted to Catholicism and regularly attended church.  My siblings, and myself, were all christened, and my brothers confirmed.  The families pathway through Catholicism ended after my mother had me.  She was advised that if she had any more children, she would probably die in childbirth.  When the church heard of my mothers decision to use birth control, she was asked not to return.  As she was the driving force behind our going to church, this meant that none of the family returned.

This is what I now know of the families leaving the fold.  But, as I was growing up, my brothers told me that we were asked not to return to church because I screamed too much during the service.  Being a sensitive and trusting child, I took those stories, and internalised them.  I became convinced that I was the reason that the whole family was going to go to Hell for eternal damnation.

Later, I had several encounters with religion…  My sister attended an extremely devout and divisive youth group… I attended religious camps during the school holidays; where, along with John 3:16, we were taught Matthew 25:46 – my sensitivity meant that I took both as signs that I was a sinner…  I later joined Rally (similar to Girl Guides), which had a strong religious basis.  It was here that things became very confused, as I was old enough to be aware of the messages and expectations, but failed to live up to them.  I was told that I needed to pray for God to come into my heart, and I would know that this had occurred when I felt a warmth and peace.  Well, I was so disconnected by this stage, that there was no way I was going to feel any warmth in my heart, or anywhere else.  This was the final blow, and I turned my back on any further attempts to connect to a higher power.

Throughout all of this, I was being abused.  Some of the abusers used phrasing with religious connotations as part of the abuse.  I now realise that this had nothing to do with me, but I still internalised it at the time, and took it as further proof as to why God had turned his back on me.  I was evil and a sinner.  I was beyond salvation.

One of the system, W, has great problems with anything religious.  I had never really understood why this trigger was so big, when I had never been abused by a religious figure.  Then, last Thursday, Allison asked W what her role was within the system… her answer “to pray”.  To pray for forgiveness.  To pray for help.

When I was eight, I was abused by some teenagers in the school grounds.  The location of the event is significant, because on the rise, about 50 metres away, was a church.  About 3 metres away from the structure I was being abused in, there was a thoroughfare for pedestrians and cyclists.  It wasn’t busy, but there were usually some people walking by.  As I was being abused, W was created within my mind to pray to the church on the hill… to the God she had heard about… she prayed for help from the people walking by… she prayed for salvation from what was happening.  When no one answered those prayers, she saw it as proof that we were evil, and therefore not worthy of God’s help.

I was never really exposed to the positive side of any religion.  It was all doom and gloom… damnation… selfishness, and selfish acts.  My God was a very fearful, vengeful one, and he wasn’t pleased with me.

As I learned about God, I was getting hurt, as were millions of others in the world.  That didn’t seem fair, or just.  I never liked the overly simple explanation of free will.  I still don’t understand how such evil can be in this world.  Then, if you have evil, then surely there must be a counter balance to that; and what is that counter, if not a God?

As you can see, I’m still very confused.  I initially made this private because I don’t know if I can handle comments on this issue.  But, after a couple of people read what I wrote, I realised that maybe I need others reading this in order to challenge my thinking around all of this.  I still don’t know what I need to help me understand all of the distorted and confused messages in my head, but this post was one step in trying to sort it through.  I don’t know how much help Allison is going to be on this, as when she was questioned last week, there was a sense that she wasn’t firm in her beliefs, so therefore can’t be believed.

I do know that they seriously effect my self worth.  The messages about not being worthy of being here, are tied to the messages about religion.

I finish this post, not knowing why I wrote it, let alone published it on the blog.  Maybe to show you how bad I really am.

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Now playing: Sarah McLachlan – Angel
via FoxyTunes

Red dog

“You sure know a lot about being dirty, bad and evil, don’t you?”

This statement came near the end of my time with the work place therapist (WPT) today.  To put this into context, we’d just been talking about safe internal places and stuffed animals…  We have two internal safe places and both are fairly barren.  WPT asked if there was anything that we wanted to take into the safe places… something like a stuffed toy perhaps?  A young ones immediate response was that stuffed toys weren’t allowed in the safe places.  You see, we are so dirty, disgusting and evil that if we touch a toy, it’s soiled and ruined.  She explained that we can go into the toy store, touch them to check how soft they are, purchase the one we want; but then it’s put on a chest of drawers or on our computer desk (with the price tag still on) and left to never be touched again – except for dusting or photography purposes.

To us, this makes perfect sense; but it confounded WPT.  He asked if the toys ever get lonely… well, aside from the fact that an inanimate object can’t get lonely, we have lots of stuffed toys.  To ensure we won’t be tempted to pick up the toys, they’re placed in groups so they’ll never be lonely.  He then asked about HIS stuffed bear… one he’d had from childhood.  It was well worn, with an eye missing and some of the stuffing leaking out.  What do we think of his bear?  Well again, it makes perfect sense to us… his bear is well loved, beautiful and clean (unless it’s really nasty and needs a wash).  It’s only when we touch it that it would become dirty.  We never touch other peoples stuffed toys, unless forced.

The cause for this thinking could be for a number of reasons – OCD, perfectionism etc… and while I think these are contributing factors, I think the real reasoning goes back to what Katie said in her comment to me in a previous post.  She quite rightly, pointed out how flippantly I assign negative labels to myself.  I know I do this, and have done so since I was a child.  I am/was sensitive, and remember the negatives said to me over anything positive.  When I was called the “mistake at the end”, “strange”, “odd” or “difficult”, that is all I hear.  I take those words into the system and hold onto them.  They define me.

However, the most damaging use of the negative wording, were associated with the abuse I was subjected to.  The abusers said that I was “evil for making [him] do this to [me]”, “a dirty little girl” or “a naughty little girl”.  When this was combined with the mixed religious messages that I grew up with; it resulted in parts of me firmly believing that they are evil, dirty and anything they touch would be sullied.

We are our harshest critics.  We believe we are stupid, useless, ugly, dirty… the list goes on.  We try not to make it too obvious that this is how we view ourselves – we learned very early that some people enjoy playing with those who have low self esteem.  So, we usually present a façade of calm confidence.  We were so good at this during our teen years, that our aunt considered us a stuck-up perfectionist… Our protection system failed us…  We’d taken it too far.

Couldn’t they see we were just trying so hard to make up for our dirty, evilness?  We had to be perfect in order to try to counteract all that had happened.  We had to be perfect to try and ensure that no one would see us…

You have to be invisible
If you’re invisible, no one can see you
No one can hurt you if you aren’t there

This is an enduring message that I have lived with for most of my life.  It comes from a young one, and has been one of the driving influences in my life.  During my healing, people have tried to point out to me that by being invisible, we are also invisible to those who want to help us.  I think this new way of thinking is starting to sink in.

At the moment, I’m getting lots of little pieces of the puzzle of my life being thrown at me.  It’s difficult to put them into a place or context.  But I am becoming increasingly aware of how they have impacted on my thinking and being.  Some of the enduring patterns of thinking are starting to be identified, examined and questioned.  I’m both excited and terrified…

And the red dog… I found out today that one of the young ones used to stare at our red stuffed toy dog while we were being abused.  She could look, but not touch…

Another reason why we find it difficult to touch stuffed toys.

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Now playing: Sarah McLachlan – I Will Remember You [Live]
via FoxyTunes