Attachment Trauma

I usually type up my journal a month later.  Yesterday I typed this.  One of the things I’ve been learning in the work with Erica is how deep the trauma goes.  This description of feeling so alone and disconnected is pretty much how I felt as a baby when my mother left me alone for too long.

from my journal for October 10
Read over the notes I made from the phone session with Erica.  I was very upset, not feeling connected to her.  I cried and cried, sometimes in a very high voice.  I said “Someone is supposed to come!”  Erica kept being soothing and reasonable.  “I’m here with you… stay with the feeling…  how do you know that you are disconnected?”  I hated that she was reasonable.  She sounded detached.  Didn’t she care?  My heart was heavy and my belly empty of hope.  Looking back, I can see that I was feeling grief and despair and anger.  I started hitting my leg.  She suggested I hug a pillow.  That seemed so stupid, so artificial.  But I figured “What have I got to lose?”  So I got the pillow.  It helped a little.  She asked about the doll I had made, would it help to hug her?  No, she doesn’t need comforting.  Then I thought of the little dog I got at the silent auction.  He’s a beanie baby so he’s a little squishy, and his expression is one of longing.  Very easy to want to comfort him.  I think it must have been at that point that I switched from upset baby to comforter.  I wanted to write, but I needed to hold the phone and the puppy.  Erica suggested I put him inside my shirt so I did, and that felt good.  Comforting for both of us.  I think of Mother using me to comfort herself because Dad was away.  At some point I began to feel my whole body.  “How does that feel?”  I feel my skin — my whole skin — and then I feel myself filling it.  I finally stopped crying/ screaming/ whimpering.  I felt totally drained.  Erica said something about a big wave, but I didn’t feel like something came to a natural end, just that I had got too tired and despairing to keep crying.

Song in my mind:
“after all the tears are finally cried
and I am finally clean inside
the gentle winds will come and they will dry my mind…
and all that will be left for me to do is die.”

When I find a song in my mind, I look for the message.  I had to look up the exact words.  They are from Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies, a song from 1966.

Just as Erica and I were getting ready to hang up, I heard the call waiting sound, and after we hung up the phone started ringing and it was Christine. I was so glad she called. I cried for help and somebody answered.

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Running on Fumes

From my journal for September 26

I was so tired yesterday I didn’t do much of anything.  I did take a short nap, went to meditation, walked Mocha in the rain.  I had planned to do things like call the dentist, but because I was so tired, I let myself off the hook.  I notice that when I was so triggered about the lying about sexual abuse situation, I did practical things because resting quietly was impossible when I was so triggered.  That must be how I lived a lot of my life.  That’s why I balanced the checkbook every month to the last penny.  That’s where “false urgency” comes from.

From my journal for September 28

I think of the tremendous effort I made on Saturday and Sunday not to let my mind ruminate on the issue of abuse and lying.  

Notes from talk with Erica on October 30

She says it’s a big transition to the support of having people around.  It’s hard work to make new friends. I say “I shouldn’t need to get all this rest.”  She says “You were running on fumes before you moved to Kendal.”

She says I’ve been really really really tired for a really long time.  Now I’m starting to recognize collapse: after the long worry and effort when Mocha was sick, getting me up in the middle of the night, then the vet and medication, she started getting better and then I collapsed. after teaching dance last Sunday — I enjoyed the teaching, was my enthusiastic self — and then, when it was over, I could feel how totally exhausted I was.

Erica says I’m getting familiar with my limits as an organism.

Maybe I’m starting to feel safe enough to collapse.  All those years that the “tough little drip” kept going, and going, and going…   I used to say I got through depression like you get through a blizzard.  You know if you lie down that you’ll freeze to death, but you’ve forgotten why you can’t lie down, you say to yourself “now put your right foot forward, now put your left foot forward..” and just keep moving.  But it wasn’t just depression I got through that way, it was my whole life because I did not know how much pain I was avoiding.  The erasing of the abuse was worse than the abuse.”  If you don’t know the reason you are having a hard time, you think it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough, so you push yourself.

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more from my journal for Tuesday, October 16

I read some more in Krista Tippett’s book.  It is so amazing.  A lot of it feels totally beyond my poor brain at the moment.  Maybe because so much of it is about the social engagement system, which I think, is currently offline.  That makes sense of why I’m isolating.

Got up to make my second cup of tea and realized how unbelievably tired I am.  Just sitting here with my head propped on my hand.

I wanted to write down about Trisha saying that she has a hard time doing yoga exercises and she blames it on not wanting to give up her story of being a victim.  Is that what I’m doing?  For me I think it is about taking care of myself.  Things that are basically taking care of myself — yoga stretches, meditating, even doing laundry, but especially ones that require being alone with my body — are very difficult to do.  It’s so painful to have to be with myself in that way.  Maybe there’s a lot of grief and anger that I wasn’t cared for by someone else when I was supposed to be.  I want to spend my time doing something of consequence for the world, something that matters.  If I can’t be doing something like that why take care of myself?  No motivation at all.  I’m not worth taking care of.

Third cup of tea.  Still tired, but I feel totally washed out and finally ready for some kind of new beginning.  Maybe stop apologizing for not being more effective in the cumbersome bureaucratic details of living.

Three moments of beauty noticed and savored: last night, walking Mocha, all the lamp-lit windows made rectangles of golden orange; this morning, standing behind the couch, a little sun coming in the window, sun at just the right angle to make a beautiful pattern of darks and lights of trees, grass, buildings; walking Mocha, enjoying sun, blue sky, fall colors, fallen leaves.  I notice that the sun is not making me feel like I have to hide, which is how I’ve felt for the last couple of weeks.  Comforted by grey sky and rain.

I wonder if the end of a process of struggling (but I keep doing this same one over & over) and potential for new beginning and extreme tiredness is a result of spending most of yesterday working on the blog piece.  Which was also working on the whole issue of am I a failure at living? or have I done a good job with a very tough assignment?

I took notes in my journal while I was talking to Erica,  I’ve edited and expanded them here.

Talk with Erica.  I say “I’m overwhelmed,” she says what’s happening in your body?  — heart squeezed and all the tissue around it being pulled into the squeeze, torso diffuse, arms shaking a very little bit, then there are tears, and then I start to cough.  Sometimes the cough has meant that I’m angry.  Erica suggests that coughing while I’m crying may mean it’s not OK to pay attention to what’s happening in my body.  There’s a traffic jam, anger going in different directions.  The cough interrupts a state of profound flow, I went from “overwhelm” to tears, which happened because of my attention to my somatic experience.  Erica’s language is almost too much for me, so I reformulate what I have understood: “I’m not supposed to pay attention to what I’m experiencing — what’s going on for me.”  

Erica reminds me that when I was a little kid, crying, I was right in the flow of my experience.  Mother’s response was “go to your room.”  That’s a slap in the face.  She says my whole system is sputtering with shock and bewilderment/disbelief.  I start to wail about how much in me is shut down.  Erica lets me wail, and then reframes it.  She says that right below the surface the flow is fully intact.  My response to someone who’s vulnerable is instant compassion.  “The flow is fully intact.”  I had been seeing my whole life as a desert, but I’ve only been living in a desert of not being able to see the truth about myself.  “We are being with how quickly you move into your responsive flow with your own experience.”  What am I feeling now?  — relief and disbelief —  I didn’t believe my real life is still here (“under the surface”).  I had to disbelieve in my own experience, mother saying “Go to your room” erases me, Jenny.

Krista Tippett’s book is Becoming Wise, An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.  She quotes interviews with people on her radio show, On Being, who have helped shape her understanding.

The “social engagement system” is a very recent part of the brain, it tends to shut down when the reptilian brainstem is activated by trauma.

“Trisha” is in the book The Education of Will.  I say more about it in my post Struggle with Feelings of Failure.

Sun making me feel like I have to hide.

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Good for me!

I typed all that up and made a draft of a blog post.  It took me all day.  I added a part about early trauma affecting the development of the brain, how that makes it harder to heal.  When I managed to get a little more perspective on myself I saw that I had in fact taken some actual steps in a positive direction: finding out how to get the Dan Siegel course material (good for me!), putting up the poster (good for me!), signing up to write postcards (good for me!), and setting a date when I would start teaching folk dance again (even when I wasn’t feeling very excited about it, GOOD FOR ME!).  I actually did those things, despite being at the bottom of the pit of despair, and I did them without using will power to push myself (good for me!)  It’s OK to do something really tiny.  Given the weight of my despair, a tiny action is an enormous achievement.

The Dan Siegel course is in Integration, a function of the brain that is very important in healing trauma.  Introduction:

I signed up for it, paid for it, but never got any instructions for how to access it.  All I had to do was go to the website, sign in (I already had a username and password, which I had forgotten), and go to the course materials.  But somehow I haven’t been able to “integrate” these ways of negotiating around the web, so I had to call Sounds True, and have a real person walk me through it.  I’ve seen somewhere that a trauma friendly reception area has a human being in it as well as soft lighting and gentle colors.  I can’t deal with recorded voices that tell me which button to push.  Don’t know if this is just getting older, or being traumatized myself, or just being overwhelmed, as highly sensitive people are vulnerable to being.  When I was first learning the computer, things were much easier, and there weren’t a lot of windows popping up on any site I happened to visit.

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Struggle with Feelings of Failure

from my journal for Monday, October 15

I am having a really hard time.  I had planned to pick up my meds between 8-9AM.  I got up at 7, so tired, so hard to get out of bed.  Did usual morning routine as fast as I could up to feeding Mocha.  I planned to take her out, then walk her in & down the stairs, go to the clinic, pick up meds, come back by the café, attach Mocha to a chair outside, get breakfast.  I was feeling too tired & sick to cook.  I set out at 8:35.  At one point it looked like it made more sense to come back here & leave Mocha.  But when I got here it was 8:55.  Too late to do the rest.  Too late to get my meds while the morning window was still open.  So I made breakfast, settled in with third cup of tea — washed dishes while it was brewing — and finished the story of Will and Trisha.

The book is The Education of Will, and it was recommended by my therapist.  It’s the story of a traumatized dog (Willie), adopted by a professional dog trainer (Trisha).  In order to be able to help him, she has to address her own traumas.  She had 3 horrible traumas: molested by her sister’s boyfriend at 15, and soon after, she was on stage with a bunch of other teenagers, and they witnessed a man fall to a bloody death.  Finally, I think it was in her late 20’s, she was raped painfully by a date, and felt guilty as though it was her fault.  Something most of us learn early from a culture which says “She was wearing a short skirt/she smiled at him with a come-on look, etc.”   I think “what happened to her is much worse than what happened to me.”

I read the acknowledgements and saw how many many friends she had.  I saw that she had built up a business working with difficult dogs and succeeded.  After two failed marriages, with her third husband she built a life that works for her.  I feel jealous, and then I feel angry at myself for not doing better.  

She talks about working with a yoga teacher who taught her a lot.  He gave her exercises, but she wasn’t able to do them at home.  She said it was because she didn’t want to give up her story that she was a victim.  I have been finding it increasingly difficult to do the physical things I know will help — long walks, a few yoga stretches, meditating, going to back and balance classes, adding in aerobics…  I periodically feel exhausted, see that I’m trying to do too much, and give myself a break, but I’ve been wondering if I’m being “lazy,” not using will power to make myself stretch, meditate, etc.

After I finished my third cup of tea and the book, I found myself virtually paralyzed.  I couldn’t think what to do next.  I just wanted to sit there and do something distracting.  So I got the poster that I had just brought back from Staples where it was attached to foam core.  I saw that there was room to put it in my window, so I made a document that said CIRCLE DANCE and LET US JOIN OUR HANDS AND HEARTS TO BUILD A BETTER WORLD.  I printed it out, cut the paper into strips, taped them to the top of the poster, and put it in my window that faces the covered walkway.  I see that I did this instead of something more distracting — playing computer solitaire — or something more “productive” — sorting mail — because it fed my heart and soul.  To take something I love and profoundly believe in, and put it out there in a way that it can reach those people who want to be reached.

So am I lazy? am I a failure at living?  I don’t think I’m lazy so much as exhausted — I still find it hard to tell that I’m exhausted and to validate that I have good reason to be exhausted.  “What do you mean you’re tired?  You haven’t done anything.”  Mother’s voice.  What if there had been someone to say “Of course you’re tired.  Why don’t you rest, and I’ll bring you some milk and cookies/cup of tea.”  I’m also without motivation.  Everything I look at — that has to be done, like washing dishes — or that I want to contribute to, like standing with survivors of sexual abuse — just looks too hard to do, or there’s no group of people near enough to join, and trying to start something is way beyond me.

Having written and typed all this, I ask myself if I can look at myself from the perspective the work with Erica has given me.  First of all, when I look at Trisha’s sexual traumas, I compare being molested by my father at 12 and raped by a date at 17.  That’s “much less” than what happened to her.  I’m failing to acknowledge that I was also traumatized at the very beginning of my life by being left alone too much.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for an infant, who can’t get out of its crib and go find something to eat, the truth is that it will die if someone else doesn’t come and bring food.  The moment the reptilian brainstem concludes that the baby is going to die is when trauma happens.  The baby can neither fight nor flee, so it adopts the instinctive default “Freeze.”  In my case, this happened often, and I wasn’t always fed when I was hungry.  In fact, those were the days when you were supposed to feed your baby every four hours, and not pick her up when she cries because she will be spoiled.  For my mother, that was not only expert advice, but an excuse to ignore me when she didn’t want to be bothered with me. 

The fact that I was traumatized before my brain and nervous system had developed, meant that traumatic reactions were built into my system in a very deep way: an overactive amygdala, the fear detector, and a smaller hippocampus, which may have to do with memory processing, especially emotional memory.  If it weren’t for neuroplasticity, I would have been stuck with a system fixed in trauma.  Fortunately it’s possible to heal.  Unfortunately, if the trauma is that deep, it can take a long time.  I really can forgive myself for not getting better faster, for being a “failure at living.”  People who have some idea of what I am up against have said to me “What you have done is HUGE.”  But I still find it very difficult to believe it.

Most likely my sense of helplessness and despair are a result of being totally exhausted, by the political idiocy, the environmental madness, and the fact that my dog was attacked and got a bloody nose, and her behavior was very different, probably “shocked” for many days afterward.  I also have to give myself credit for: signing up to write a personal message and send already addressed and stamped postcards to people who haven’t voted very much and encouraging them to vote, going ahead and scheduling a time to teach folk dance here, and making the poster into something I could put in my window.

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Working for Peace, Justice, and Environmental Sanity

In 2004, when the political situation was not nearly as bad as it is now, I reached a point of despair.  I sent out a plea to the Circle Dance network.  (This was before facebook.)  I got lots of supportive answers — from around the world no less — and I put them together in a little booklet which I called Circle of Hope.  It’s one of the pages on this blog.

The answer I remember the most was the one from Dilys.  Her elegant phrasing and especially her commitment to the long run, were very powerful for me.  I repeat them here:

Dear Jenny,
Thank you so much for reminding us how arduous this peacework can be. I very much liked the image you drew of trying to move a mountain of sand grain by grain. In fact, that is precisely what each of us is doing, in much the same way that Buddhist monks build their sand mandalas — grain by grain. What enables them to work so assiduously is the fact that they focus not on the result, but on the process. This is a valuable lesson for the West. The I Ching teaches that we should plow our fields, not expecting a harvest. The harvest is not our concern; it is only the plowing that matters.
In response to your plea, I can offer only what I learned growing up in Friends meeting about what it means to benefit from the endeavors of an active life. Whether we succeed in our efforts depends on how “success” is interpreted. There is another kind of success outside that of seeing the result we hope for. There is the success measured by useful and important work done with devotion. There is the success of having responded to what one knows to have been the authentic call of God/dess and of having remained faithful to that guidance, whether seeing any results or not.
When society has fed and housed the poor and nursed the sick, and when it has educated the disenfranchised and offered them a useful place in the economy of mankind; when the brilliant and advantaged have been educated for responsibility rather than for personal gain; when no one is standing around rejected while others feel themselves over-entitled; when war has been renounced and its instruments disassembled, only then will it be possible for us to consider whether our struggles offer us any sense of worldly success compatible with our convictions.
In the meantime, this work we do forms us in character and conscience. We do it because it involves bearing witness to a “testimony,” which (contrary to what many people think) is not a response to an external problem. It is a leading that comes from that authentic guidance from God/dess. In that respect, we do it because to do otherwise is unthinkable. We do it because we cannot conceive of not doing it.
Of course, you know all this. I write it, I suppose, to remind *myself* of what lies behind my own peace efforts. Your plea has helped me affirm my own commitment, and I thank you for that, in addition to your having reached out so sweetly.

I repeat here my favorite paragraph:

When society has fed and housed the poor and nursed the sick, and when it has educated the disenfranchised and offered them a useful place in the economy of mankind; when the brilliant and advantaged have been educated for responsibility rather than for personal gain; when no one is standing around rejected while others feel themselves over-entitled; when war has been renounced and its instruments disassembled, only then will it be possible for us to consider whether our struggles offer us any sense of worldly success compatible with our convictions.

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“I cried and cried and nobody came…”

I finally figured out why I have been so triggered.  I was molested by my father at age 12 and raped by a date at age 17.  I never told anyone, until very recently, and I’ve never had anyone tell me it didn’t happen.  However, my basic experience as a child was that my pain was ignored, not validated, disappeared by being not reacted to, or I was told “What’s the matter with you — you don’t have any reason to be sad, upset, tired, etc…”

I started cutting myself in California when I was in my 20’s.  I mimed it on stage in Journey Into Courage, but I had no idea why I did it, I just knew that people who cut themselves had been abused.  At the end of the show, where we threw away the prop that illustrated our abuse, I threw my razor blade into the garbage can, saying “I am not a bad person, bad things happened to me.”  This script only gives the fear section, it’s not the whole script.

I remember when my brother said “Buddha says life is suffering” and I felt myself hit bottom.  It felt like I had been floundering in quicksand all of my life, and suddenly there was a solid place to land.  I began to meditate, and I remember feeling like when I was on my cushion, “demons couldn’t get my soul.”  At the time, I didn’t believe in demons or in the soul, but that was the only language that fit my experience.  After I started meditating, I stopped cutting myself.

It wasn’t until I started working with Erica, and she began to mirror me, continuously and positively.  I began to understand that I had never been mirrored by an alcoholic narcissistic mother, and so I had no idea who I was, or what I was experiencing.  I wrote about this for my Grandmother dress for a ceremony that never took place.  Except that I learned a lot from just making the patches.  Here’s what I wrote:

In JOURNEY INTO COURAGE my opening monologue was about writing in my journal all the reasons I was deeply unhappy with myself.  Finally I became so desperate that I took a razor blade and cut myself and wrote with the blood.  During the five year period in my life when I was cutting myself I made several paintings and also wrote words.  One of the pieces I still have.  It says “Who if I cried out would hear me amid the hosts of angels.”  It is the first line of Rilke’s First Elegy.

The patch with WHO IF written in very wet red paint, is about that piece of writing.  It was only very recently that I realized that I cut myself because it was a real pain, I could see that I was in pain.  My emotional and spiritual pain was invisible, no one saw it or asked about it, so it seemed that it wasn’t real.  Cutting myself was real. “Who if I cried out would hear me amid the hosts of angels” expresses very well how I felt as a traumatized infant.   “I cry out but no one hears me.”

Here is a picture of the actual writing in blood:

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Fighting Against Being a Triggered Basket Case

I’m having a really hard time today.  I watched part of a video of “Man Enough” — I think the men who are speaking, about their own complicity in abuse of women, are great.  But there were also clips from movies & TV where abuse of women was made a joke and the audience laughed.  I think that’s why I’ve been feeling nauseous all day.

Making and eating breakfast was — I want to say “a heroic effort” but I also realize that I’m angry at myself for falling apart so badly.  It’s all the stuff about women speaking out about their abuse and powerful rich white males saying they are lying.  There was another commentary by Trevor Noah on how Trump paints the abusers as victims.  He does a very good job, but the set-up is so infuriating that it also made me sick.

I had to go out and shop for some essential things: new journal notebooks – it looks like they are retiring the 70 page “wide ruled” spiral bound ones that I’ve been using for years, and I feel distressed, I’m about to lose another familiar old friend; and Xylimelts which help with the dry mouth that I have as a result of the meds I take; and some essential food items – frozen dinners that I can eat – I have to avoid dairy, gluten, and sugar – because cooking is just too hard for me, soup for today when my stomach feels so queasy, etc.  It’s so hard to keep up with all these little details, yet they are necessary, just to keep my body running relatively well.  It’s very upsetting to find these ordinary errands so very difficult to do.  Maybe I’m out of my body again.

I’m writing this directly.  Usually I do considerable editing, mostly to make sure things are clear.  I don’t want to bother with that — it’s just too hard with my neo-cortex off-line and my reptilian brainstem running the show — I’m fed up with trying to explain myself to people who don’t get it.  What I need the most is a group of survivors that I can just go be with, and know that they know and we don’t even have to talk about it.

I was going to let that be it, but then I remembered a workshop that was held after Quaker meeting last Sunday.  We talked in small groups about how the presence of God, Spirit, manifested in our lives.  I tend to think that he/she/it/they don’t manifest in my life a) because I don’t believe in “God” b) I don’t pray or do any particular spiritual practice.  I’ve been meditating only rarely though I can tell that it helps.  But I realize that I do pay attention to messages that come by synchronicity — a song that’s in my mind, a topic that’s mentioned in more than one place, etc.  I do know of times when it has been very clear that I’ve been guided — I’m hesitant to say by whom or what — most blatantly how I got to Stonehenge twice.

So I have to pay attention to something that came up yesterday.  My friend Elizabeth sent me a link to a conversation between Tami Simon and Paul Hawken.  It’s over an hour long, and it was several days before I was able to listen to it.  It gave me an amazing sense of hope.  Something I already know about is how life came into being through the self-organization of molecules, and life goes on creating the conditions that are best for it.  I have seen how the Earth regenerates faster than we could imagine when we stop damaging it/her.  I have hoped for future mutants of bacteria and algae that can process all the plastic and oil and pollution that we’ve been dumping in the ocean.  What I missed is that people are part of the system that self-organizes.  Paul Hawken showed this so beautifully in a lecture to the Bioneers in 2006?  He talks about all the small NGOs that are working for social justice, environmental sanity, and supporting indigenous wisdom.  He says this movement is “global, classless, unquenchable and tireless.”  What I hadn’t really taken in is that people, we, are part of this way that life self-organizes to make better conditions for more life.  So I spent an hour listening to this longer talk, in which he says we are already self organizing to slow global warming, and that this effort simultaneously creates better conditions for all humans.  I kept stopping it to write down his exact words.  “The climate is a complex adaptive self-organizing system.”  “There is a collective innate wisdom in humanity at work that’s hidden and occluded by the media.”  “Solutions that regenerate the planet and restore human well-being.”

The same day I watched this, I got an email of Jan Phillips “Museletter” which said:

So I’m trying to redirect attention to some good news. On Saturday, a group of us in San Diego tuned into Netflix and together watched “City of Joy.” It was heart-rending and heartening all at once, as we watched women learn how to turn their unbearable pain into power. A man risking his life in the service of this just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Karmic justice, of a kind.

I encourage you to watch this movie, and not by yourself. See it with friends. Talk about it after. See what surfaces through your emotions and intelligence. It takes conflict for wisdom to take root. There no shortage of it these days. Evolution in action.

“Evil is the statistical necessity of disorders within a multitude in the process of organization.”   from Teilhard de Chardin, Heart of Matter

That is us, We are a multitude attempting to organize.

I’ve been wearing my red and black OneBillionRising T-shirt as a protest against Brett Kavanaugh.  I got the T-shirt in 2013 when Break the Chain was written and choreographed.  I danced it in the street in St.Johnsbury.

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Early Thoughts on Dysfunctional Parents

These were all written in my journal for 1965-66.  I had travelled in Europe with my friend and classmate Bettie Cartwright, and was spending the year in the house where I grew up in Cincinnati.

Dec 25, 1965
Thoughts on relationships between parents and children.  Now that birth control is possible, the parents have full choice in whether or not to have a child and therefore full responsibility for it.  Food, shelter, even decent clothes and an education are the child’s right, and therefore he owes his parents no gratitude in return.  (“I didn’t ask to be born”)  If the parents wish, they may give the child affection and encouragement — but love asks no gratitude.  A child’s gratitude is more fully expressed and should be more joyfully accepted as his own living as fully and deeply and generously as possible.
[Added in March 1975   “so clearly a reaction to one of mother’s guilt routines.”]

Jan 3, 1966
Jesse has come back from the airport, refusing to go back to prep school, arguing with father.  Father should help him decide what is best:  “you are unhappy, let’s see what can be done…”  But instead he forces him to choose on his own and distorts the choice so that it is no true choice:  “Taft is my choice, Indian Hill is yours, therefore if you choose against Taft you are choosing aginst me.”  What is the weakness in a man that prevents him from seeing his children’s problems in terms other than as a reflection of his own selfishness?

April 10
Children — don’t push but do encourage — give them a living example of the values you want them to have — then let them grow by themselves — be there when they want you but don’t ask them to be there when you want them.

April 11
Warning from a 23-year-old girl to herself should she ever become a mother:
Don’t play the martyr.  People will be more willing to help you if you look cheerful and make the work seem fun.  (Best of all, of course, would be to know yourself that the work is fun, otherwise you are a martyr on the inside & that’s bad for the stomach.)  Encourage whenever you can.  If you catch yourself saying “no” without really listening to what others are saying it’s time for an upheaval.  If you have a problem, & don’t seem to be getting anywhere, watch out that you are not playing “yes-but” — don’t let all your energy go into finding excuses for not acting constructively.  Teach your children not only to pick up after themselves, but also after each other — as you are responsible for them, so they are responsible for each other.  Never, never make an issue out of leaving a mess until the offender returns in order to reproach him with it.  (Incidentally, beware that a criticism is not, in fact, a reproach and therefore unjust.  Criticism, to be helpful, must be in a tone of voice that says “I love you and so I am unhappy…”)  Never, never use a criticism to hurt.  Do not be so frightened, and un-self-confident, and suspicious that you must know what everyone has just been talking about.  Try to notice your children at times other than when you want affection from them or when they annoy you (i.e. when they need affection and help).  If your children seem to dislike you, ask them honestly why, but remember that this is natural during adolescence and don’t let it destroy your self-confidence so that you lose their respect.  How about a few positive examples:  Mrs. Cartwright with her amazing cheerfulness and youthful interest in everything, Aunt Sally with her sense of humor that turneth away wrath and her depth of simple wisdom, Nora Lynch with her immense fund of generosity and her ability to make the best of everything.

April 13    portrait of my mother

Portrait of my mother:  when I am talking to my sister on the phone, she comes by with a timer, as though a few words of conversation were worth less than a few pennies.  If I wash all the dishes in fifteen minutes, she will spend an hour “finishing up”, just to let me know that I’ve done only a superficial job.  When she wants my father to come to bed late at night she calls him in a harsh whining voice which sounds calculated to repel rather than attract.  In fact, whenever she wants anything she will whine and moan, hoping to get you to do it out of pity.  She took my sister’s passport “for safe keeping”, then tried to tell Jo it was in her own room, and to top it off, after Jesse and I saw Jo look through her desk drawer, Mother tried to tell us she had found it in Jo’s desk drawer.  A few days later she twisted something I had said, and then said “I don’t make things up” — methinks you were feeling guilty, Ma.  Well enough of this sewage.  I hope and pray that I will never be like her, I hope to refer to this page often enough to check any tendencies that might appear, and I hope to end this last tendency (to bitch and run somebody else down) right now.  I will never honor her by writing about her again.

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The “Colonial Dames Incident.”

Not quite sure when this happened.  I think the late 80’s because it was after my father had died.  I was down at the family summer house on the coast of Maine.  We were on the front porch, my mother, me, my sister Jo, and her friend Weezie.  Weezie was a member of the Colonial Dames, one of those status organizations, and so was my mother.  They were talking about it with some enthusiasm.  I was glad for Mom that she had something that interested her.  Suddenly she turned to me and said, in a nasty tone of voice, “Of course you wouldn’t care about the Colonial Dames.”  I felt like she had launched a dagger right into my open heart.  I was happy for her and this was her response.  I tried to rewrite it as happening because I had a patronizing look on my face, to take some of the blame on myself.

Later I thought I could have said “It’s true I don’t care about the Colonial Dames, but I am glad that you have something that interests you.”  But I knew that wouldn’t have satisfied her.  Later, I found out why.  Mother believed, and taught me, that you didn’t care about a person if you didn’t care about what they cared about.  I bought this and continued to doubt my own caring for people, in fact even now I still doubt it, having deeply internalized  from Mother that I am not a caring person.  It wasn’t until I got into a quarrel with my husband about this same issue and he said “I do so care about you, but I don’t want to plant daffodils right now.”  I realized that he was correct.

Later still, on the porch in Maine (again) the grandchildren had left towels draped over the porch furniture.  Mother complained to me that they didn’t clean up after themselves.  (They were under the age of 10.)  I said “They just got back from the beach, of course they don’t care about the towels.”  Mother said, angrily, “They don’t care about me.”

But the most important part of the story about the Colonial Dames was that I wrote about it right away in my journal.  The next morning I read what I had written and had trouble believing it.  I asked my sister if that had really happened, and she said yes.  I was stunned.  I immediately saw that I had been systematically disappearing all the cruel things Mother said to me from the earliest possible time.  That was why they always seemed to come out of left field.  I decided that I would never give her a target again.  And I didn’t.  This is a beautiful example of how “gaslighting” works.

From Ariel Leve’s TED talk:
She was told that someone who had known her as a child said: “I always wondered how that little girl would survive.  I thought her only chances were suicide or murder.”   “One of the most insidious things about gaslighting is the denial of reality. … being denied an experience you have had and you know is real.”   “I needed certainty in an uncertain world.”    “If the only options were suicide or murder, how did I survive?  “There is a third option: writing it down.”   “Telling my story was, and is, an act of redemption.”


Posted in Journal, Trauma, Writing | Comments Off on The “Colonial Dames Incident.”