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Blue Skies Over Battlefields

Life has taught me the importance of telling my story.  I can’t afford not to now. Sharing it, I discovered I had value and a purpose. A personal commitment to help others helped me learn that and in the process affirm myself. But that’s not where I started.

Out of the box at birth, I inherited a problem, pure and simple. My early life was unhealthy and unstable in many ways, and worsened as time went by.  Three fathers by the time I was 11 and 15 homes imprinted a pattern of deep instability. I adored my biological father who left and gave me up for adoption to a pedophile when I was 6.  I grew up in an environment full of trauma, neglect and sexual abuse. It continued throughout my adolescence and teen years.  My mother was extremely self- absorbed.  She came from a middle class, southern Baptist family who valued boys over girls and her feelings of being lesser than spurred her ambition to succeed.  Everything was about her and it’s crystal clear she never had any genuine compassion for me. She showed only enough interest in me to look like a responsible mother to anyone who might be looking.  Keeping up an image of what they want the world to think about them is everything to a narcissist.  I am only now finding moments of compassion for her learning that narcissism is caused by very early wounding.

From the time I could remember, I was on my own. I had no sense of personal value. I was rejected by family. I had a series of guardians that never put my well-being as important in their decisions.   The one saving grace that I am deeply grateful for was my maternal grandmother who always lived in the same house, with the same phone number.  She loved spending time with me, taught me to cook, drive the riding lawn mower and would sing with me, which was my passion. I credit her with my actually living through my teens.  If not for feel valued by her, there would have been no one. Unfortunately, we moved far away from her when I was 11 and I saw her very little after that.

As a teen, whatever support I needed I didn’t get.   Instead I was blamed, and worse, ignored. There is nothing worse than to be ignored.  A diminished sense of self left devastating scars of worthlessness and insecurity.

I was fragile but my fear kept me safe for the most part.  My outgoing personality, tall blonde looks and impulsivity would get me into trouble time after time.   I craved and received attention from boys but I was also very afraid of them.  I had no self-esteem.  So having fear kept me alive. Yet, I was confused because I didn’t feel I was in control at all. It was an emotional battlefield.

I felt helpless. It was if I was flying a plane to nowhere. It was turbulent and I had no direction. I also didn’t know how to land. No one had ever taught me. I flew until I ran out of gas and crashed. This metaphor defined my life circumstances and the situations I routinely encountered. This included my work and relationships. I always seemed to attract the people who would blame then abandon me.

At 18 years old,  I escaped to join the U.S. Air Force to gain stability and find a sense of belonging. Yes, it helped some. But the implications that had taken root in childhood and adolescence would take decades to overcome. The cascade of consequence from the impacts of abuse and abandonment would ripple into relationship after relationship. I was sent on a flight spiraling through life.

Becoming a mother was a stabilizing force for me as I was determined I would give the love and nurturing that I always yearned for.  There was also the delicious and soul warming feeling of being so needed.   The hugs and the holding on were deeply healing for my wounded spirit.  My innate upbeat personality shined through the heavy muck that covered that spirit when I was mothering.  If you asked my girls, they would tell you that they don’t have the experience of growing up with a mother who was chaotic or screaming and yelling at them.   I was so happy to love them and my wicked sense of humor kept us laughing.  I think that mattered.  Actually, the ability to laugh always made the difference.   On the inside and away from those beautiful loving moments with my kids, was an entirely different story and it usually had to do with the man in my life whom I would cling to like a life raft, no matter how they treated me. Not in a jealous, possessive way.    It was a dependent feeling.    I so deeply craved loving reassurance with acts and words of love and appreciation.  What I attracted were men who of course in the were  charming and attentive but as soon as the honeymoon was over,  morphed into neglectful and critical, triggering my worst emotions, mostly my horrible sense of shame.  My intense emotional reactions to this would escalate into extremely hurtful, raging battles.  I, being terrified of abandonment, would crumble and beg to be put back together.  Replicating trauma is part of the game.  You attract similar situations to try to force them to be different.  They never are until you heal.

My 2nd husband would be the most painful experience of my adult life as his constant criticism, belittling and gas-lighting plunged me into almost constant despair.  My self- worth was always based on he felt about me in the moment.  The better I looked and the sexier and more adoring I was, the nicer and more complimentary he was towards me.      I tried using sexuality in order to get his affection and approval   as well as taking care of all of his personal business which was a full time job.   I felt like an employee a lot of the time but still I tried hard because being left felt like it would be certain death for me and threats of divorce were held over me to keep me in control.    That’s when my girls noticed a real change in me and it really angered them.  They saw him as a villain.  They were now well into their teens and he commanded the lions share of my attention without regard to their needs which they also resented.  I was torn in half and nothing was working well.  I had no sense of self and my life was about trying to make everyone around me happy and no one was.  I felt like a complete failure.  He would pound my triggers, I would react, and he would drag me to psychiatrists who were only too happy to oblige his request to put me on drugs which made me into a suicidal zombie.  I would cry for his love which would make him more angry saying “look at everything I do for you trying to make you better!  What do you think it’s like living with a person with your mental problems?”  I would fall deep into the emotional hell hole as he continued to shame and blame me.   I could never get what I needed most.  Compassion, acceptance, genuine love, validation and a diagnosis and treatment that fit me.

Before my 2nd marriage, I had only been actually suicidal a few times in my life.  During and after, it was a constant companion.  Narcissistic abuse has that effect, especially on someone from my background.  One morning I found a copy of “Walking on Eggshells” on the kitchen counter.   The book devastated me and caused me deep sorrow because it re-enforced his  narcissistic view  that all of our problems were my fault and that he was the victim in the relationship.  The good news was that it introduced me to the concept of BPD and then DBT, the treatment that would help me start to climb out.  Soon after, when he finally did leave me, taking everything with him, I ended up in the hospital, another traumatizing experience I vowed never to relive, but that’s another story.

Finding Tami Green in the midst of all of this was the beginning of what would become my healing journey.  She was a peer coach who had suffered with BPD, lost everything and eventually gained her life back.  It was very powerful working with someone who had actually experienced it herself. After over a year of coaching and her DBT classes, I eventually took her coaching certification course and found that I had an innate talent for coaching myself and she was confident in referring her clients to me.  I have since studied under Martha Beck as well as a transformational coach master coach, all helpful in my work and healing.

Still, there was a large chunk to this which I couldn’t define and I found myself feeling like I was on quicksand much of the time.  The critical voice inside my head telling me I was worthless and that I didn’t matter.  Fear and dissociation were still my constant companions.   As I did more research and I came upon something I had never heard of.  Complex PTSD.   People would say,” it’s obvious you have PTSD based on your childhood and beyond” and I would read about it but it never really quite said it all.  I would hear things like, “I was raped when I was a teen by my uncle so I know what you are talking about” or “I witnessed my sister get shot in a robbery”.  While these are traumatic events and need healing, they are nothing like what I experienced.

Turns out, there is a very big difference.  The symptoms of PTSD do not really seem to completely describe the psychological damage, emotional problems, and the major changes in how a person views themselves and the world following chronic traumatic exposure.  Therefore, many mental health professionals believe that we should make a distinction between the type of PTSD that develops from chronic, long-lasting traumatic events as compared to PTSD from single or short-lived events. The diagnosis of “Complex PTSD” refers to the set of symptoms that commonly follow exposure to a long term traumatic event.    As I read about it, I was stunned at how it had described my experience almost to the letter.  I couldn’t believe that I had seen countless educated professionals and told them about my background,  and not one of them mentioned this. That’s why I never flinch when someone says they are self-diagnosed.  Makes sense to me.  If you can read and you are self-aware at all, who better, right?  I certainly couldn’t do worse than the plethora of licensed professionals who got it wrong for all those years.  The piece that leapt out at me and hit me in the face was the constant feelings of helplessness which I felt my whole life that I liken to being a baby in a garbage can.  If someone doesn’t come take the lid off and pull you out, then you are going to die.  That’s what it feels like and it’s terrifying.  The slightest issue can set it off, like a bad day at work, your child getting into trouble, or exposure to the people who were involved in traumatizing you.  My husband leaving and taking everything with him was almost fatal to me.  I had no support, just my dedication to my kids and the tiniest glimmer of a belief that I had something to give this world and that my existence made a difference, along with  Marsha Linehan’s hysterical quote “There is no data to support that killing yourself will make your suffering stop”.   I had no choice but to really dig in and continue the tough healing process.  DBT was a large part of helping me get my emotions under control so that I could start the huge job of healing years of trauma.

What makes it harder is when it happens to the developing brain of a child. When you think about it, abused and neglected children are like captives and prisoners.  We had no way out, especially when the adults are so completely adept at making things look good on the outside.   Our brains go into protective mode on a constant basis.  Dissociation and freezing are the mechanism for survival.  This is what the normal daily stress of life was like for me as an adult. I can’t remember huge chunks of time because I was hardly ever there.  That’s just how my brain was trained to work.

One of the most unjust and cruel parts is that people who have suffered this outrageous treatment by their own family and have all of the psychological damage are still held to the standards of normal developmental behaviors and are accused of having weak characters and/or stigmatized with the label of mental illness.  You never measure up and the shame is unbearable at times.

Ok. So now what?  Acceptance.  It happened.  You must commit to healing it.  How do you eat the elephant that grew from almost daily experiences of trauma and neglect?  One bite at a time.  Where do you start was my bigger question.  My wonderful energy psychologist’s reply was “anywhere”.  I am using treatment from the cutting edge field of Energy Psychology with a highly trained expert.  A field that even those almighty   APA traditionalists can’t ignore with all the evidence mounting that is very effective in healing trauma.  If you are curious, check it out:  http://www.energypsych.org/##.  Their courses are approved for CE credits for licensed professionals.

Recently, my life began to stabilize. I found a new runway and I’m steadily gaining  altitude.  My free spirit is shining more and more often and my wings won’t lead me to crash. This time, I’m gonna land my  plane.  I have found connections with loving, caring people and that includes the people and families I work with.   Feeling valued or being validated is essential for any of us to survive, and more importantly to thrive. That is what many of us are really looking for.  We want to know that we matter. We want to know there is meaning in it all.  We must never give up on finding that meaning.

I want to be an inspiration to people no matter how bad things have gotten for them or how long it has gone on. My message to anyone experiencing doubt and despair is this. Healing is possible. Life is worth living.  Every day is a possibility to move in the right direction. Every day is a choice.

Let’s face it. People in our lives can hurt us or heal us. For those of us who struggle with the fall out, we can either perpetuate our problems  and draw others in to suffer right along side us. Or, we can work through tough moments and times, and actually heal together. What we cannot do is heal alone.

To make your own progress with whatever issue you face, it is essential to share enough of your own personal story so others can have a sense of it. No one can help you if you stay isolated.  Yes, it’s risky and scary. Tough.  Do it anyway. Better not to sugar coat it. I will never say it’s easy because it’s not. But is it worth it.

I learned to respect myself and value my life, despite how I was raised. There came a time when I accepted that I had to take my own responsibility for my life and make a decision. It wasn’t about them anymore.

No matter what your situation is, there is a way to fly out of the negative place your in. You are not a broken person that needs to be fixed. The way you are makes total sense. You cannot change, you cannot transform until you accept what is. Period. Simply accept it and be compassionate towards yourself. Then if you need to make changes, make them.

Today, I am fortunate to interact with so many good people. Some I help. Some help me.  Through it all I have discovered that blood is the least indicator of family. Really. There are mothers out there in the world who will mother you. There are sisters out there who will sister you. Men are out there who will father you and brother you. It’s not about genetics. It’s about connection and commitment. I urge you to seek someone who can love and accept you as you are in the moment. Seek those who will listen and care.

I continue to heal as I help others. Helping others has been healing for me. It will work for you too. So come on out on this limb where the sun can shine on your darkest places.  It’s where your most amazing beauty is waiting to be seen.

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