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.”


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Noticing how badly I am doing — on Monday, struggling to deal with practical matters, I wrote this in my journal:

Right now I’m feeling totally blank, like my brain is full of kapok.

The angry phone messages from B reminded me that she had told me something about my friend Eleanor that I was pretty sure wasn’t true, but I doubted my own knowing and had to ask Eleanor what had really happened.  This made me think about the term “gaslighting.”  I looked it up:   “Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.”   Wikipedia  

Then I watched several YouTube videos.  The best was Ariel Leve, TED talk
My notes from the talk:
Gaslighting — when someone manipulates you into questioning your own sanity
“the erasure of the abuse was worse than the abuse”
There will never be accountability.
Let go of the wish for it to be different.
Stop engaging and develop healthy detachment.

“The erasure of the abuse was worse than the abuse.”  This is what I suffered from as a child.  My pain was not acknowledged, not validated.  This is why I cut myself (also called “self-mutilation”) because the blood let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I had reason to feel pain.  For an illustration, see the post on Grandmother Patches.  Go down to the part about the WHO IF patch.  I don’t think this is true for everyone who self-mutilates, but it was certainly true for me.  I did not begin to understand this until I started working with Erica and she gave me positive mirroring.

“There will never be accountability.”  I saw this with B, who continued to argue with what I told her.  I also saw it with my mother, in particular her use of the passive voice to avoid responsibility.  When I rewrote the 4th of July Monologue is when I first saw this dynamic.

“Let go of the wish for it to be different.”  Actually, I knew from the beginning with my mother, that it wasn’t ever going to be different.

“Stop engaging and develop healthy detachment.”  When I got the angry phone messages from B, I knew immediately that the relationship was finished.  I didn’t even want to argue.  Perhaps, again, I had learned this from my mother, at the time of the Colonial Dames incident.  I haven’t told that story, I’ll tell it in the next blog post.  

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Badly Triggered

I was badly triggered by all the news about Kavanaugh and the abuse that was being denied.  Saturday I talked to someone I have a business relationship with, and she told me something that involved a dear friend, something about being worried that she would be alone in the house with a man.  I felt worse and worse as the day went on, and I could feel that my brain wasn’t working very well.  I couldn’t remember the exact words that were used, and I got angrier and angrier about the idea of a woman lying about abuse.  For all the women who have lied — and I’m sure there are some — there must be at least 100,000 women who were assaulted and never said anything.

From my journal for Sunday

Because of all this, I went through yesterday in a world totally without spirit, filled with people who were without soul, greedy and malicious.  All the faces looked ugly and suspicious.  I isolated the rest of the day, ate at the open table, did not engage in conversation, left as soon as I was finished eating.  Called Christine right away.

Christine is a supportive friend who I knew would listen to me while I tried to figure out what was going on.  I got clearer about my thinking and what action I wanted to take if what I thought was true.  I wrote a couple of angry emails to my business friend.  Written in longhand in my journal, I knew I didn’t want to send one without editing.  The one I finally sent was not so angry.

[Actual email]

I’m getting increasingly concerned and upset about the suggestion that [my friend] might lie about a question of sexual abuse.  Both she and I are baffled by where it is coming from.  It’s true that abuse issues are all in the news right now, and a lot of people are claiming that the women involved are lying.

What is your take on the issue?  Do you think a woman would lie about such a thing?  Please give me a call so we can talk about it.

At this point I was feeling pretty shaky & off balance.

At Neskaya, I was worried about my ability to teach. Practicing the dances I felt really wobbly.  Once I started the program itself, I felt a lot better.  In fact I felt like I had re-entered my body.  I have never felt that so clearly.  It’s a sign of how badly I was triggered.

When I got back to Hanover, I got two unpleasant angry phone messages from B claiming that she did not trash my house, and I periodically go off into fantasies of meeting her and her saying a lot of the same shit, and me just feeling sad.

I knew I was going to have a difficult conversation on Monday.  I asked for help on Facebook.  Posted on my page, the Circlework Graduates page and the Kindred Spirits page.  I got a lot of supportive messages, from friends and from people who don’t even know me.  It really strengthened me.

So when the call came, I was in a mindset of open curiosity instead of angry confrontation.  I asked questions about what had actually been said, and found out that I had misunderstood.  My trauma, already triggered by the Kavanaugh stuff, misinterpreted what I heard — hijacked my reasoning brain.  When it was over I felt such enormous relief.  I feel like I can go on with my life now.

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Profoundly Discouraged

from my journal for Saturday, September 8

In my session with Erica we didn’t talk much — I didn’t have a lot to say.  I told her about the odd blank times — how sometimes it was a relief, and sometimes it was scary.  I’m so afraid I will forget something important.  Because of all the times Mother expected me to know things I hadn’t been told?  Erica said the blank times were scary because the ego dissolved.  Wasn’t sure what that meant, but thinking of it now I see that it’s a kind of constructed identity that dissolves, and I am not that.  In fact all this recent work has been to dismantle the constructed identity, maybe the blank times are an indicator of success.

I think that what’s being so confusing about this time in my life is that I’m having to deal with a lot of bureaucratic details, and at the same time I have this very deep process going on.  I can see that it would be much easier to do the deep work if I were in a hospital, asylum, nunnery.  Supported by having people around me, and a day structured around meals and simple activities — exercise/yoga, meditation/prayer, therapy.

I am so profoundly discouraged.  I want to cry.  I want to crawl into a hole and pull it tight behind me.  If I could have anything at all it would be to have a soul conversation with someone.

I was typing up the notes from the session with Erica on August 10.  Revisiting them I see why this time in my life is so difficult.  Because I have enough support — Kendal is providing a really solid container — the earliest issues, the youngest parts of me are coming up to be processed.  But I don’t have enough of the kind of support I need to do the processing.  The baby part of me is desperately confused and scared about all the bureaucratic details — one example is: I signed up to be able to connect with the Hanover Friends on the internet, but it looks like there’s more I have to do, and I don’t understand what.  My baby part can’t handle it, but the energy of this very young part of me is so big in my life that my adult can’t block her off enough to function in the bureaucratic world.  My adult is also distracted by wanting to facilitate this deep process, but finds it very difficult because the baby can’t communicate verbally.  I wish I had something like family group to go to every day.  It would help move the process along a very little at a time.  If I’m struggling so hard just to explain what I think is going on, and I don’t really expect anyone to be able to understand, how can I possibly find help?

Once again I’m expecting myself to do something that is much too difficult, would be difficult for most people, not just me.  I’m angry at myself for not doing better.  I want to be able to explain it to people so they can see why I’m not succeeding at the things I think I should be getting done.  But they don’t even see me this way.

I called my friend Carolyn, to see if she wanted to go for a walk, and she was struggling with the same kind of petty bureaucratic issues.  But she’s a person with some success in navigating the social world.  That helped.  And then we got laughing hysterically, which we often do, and that helped enormously.  I stopped feeling like I was weird.

But I also think that my analysis of the problem, that my baby part and my adult part are finding it difficult to work together, is correct, and the answer is I have to be much more patient with myself.  It’s taking a long time to get through this because it’s HARD, dammit!

The comment about “family group” — the family group is part of the structure of the Kindred Spirits Gathering.  Everybody there is assigned to one of six family groups, so there are about ten people in each, including two staff people.  We have two hours every morning, to talk about what’s going on for us, and ask for what we want, usually help with what we are struggling with. The usual format is to go around the circle and each person has a short time to say how they are doing.  Then the time left is divided up, there’s usually about 7 minutes a person, and we each get that time to talk about what’s up, emote about it, scream, yell, cry about it.  One person in my recent family group, after they had been triggered into being very upset, laughed and said “Triggers are good!  this is Rowe!”

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Wanting to Die

From my journal for Tuesday, July 31

Feeling pretty lost.  Still very tired.  Woke up OK, but then started thinking uncomfortable thoughts.  Thought about — of all things — that detox foot bath that will probably not find a good home and will have to be thrown away.  Now I’m sitting here feeling like a profound failure because I haven’t been able to live up to my values.

I also feel terrible about what happened with Eleanor.  I went down to give her a hug before leaving for the chiropractor.  She immediately began to tell me that there were wasps in the corner of the garden shed on the deck.  She went on about five stings on her arm, how her arm swelled up, and her face, and how she could have died.  She went on & on about it finally saying something about if the realtor was showing the house and someone got stung there would be a lawsuit… at about that time I broke in and said “I’ve got to leave soon,” and she jumped back and said “I try so hard and everyone’s always getting angry at me, you get angry and Chris gets angry and Jane gets angry…”  She was shaking her hands, she was obviously very upset.  I just listened, and started crying.  I told her I was sorry, I don’t remember what she said.  I asked for a hug, but I’m not sure how present she was.  She wouldn’t look at me and when she did her eyes were so cold.  That was what was most painful.

When I got back there was an apologetic message from her saying she would not show her emotions any more.  I called and apologized for not saying right away “I’ll do something about it as soon as I can.”  I was thinking that if I had said that firmly enough, she would not have kept on trying to convince me that it needed to be done.  I told her I had got distracted thinking that I couldn’t get ahold of Ron right away, but she took that as meaning I thought she wanted me to do it right away.  I thought about trying to explain “false urgency,” but was afraid she’d hear that wrong.

So I’m feeling like a total failure at living.  I keep seeing things I should do something about, and I feel too tired and discouraged to even begin.  I have no sense at all of a kind and loving spirit who holds all of us in compassion.  I feel so utterly defeated.  I wish I could just die right now and be done with the struggle.

If I knew absolutely that I was going to die tomorrow I would feel such relief.  I could even feel my shoulders relax.  And then I would wake up and think “O thank god it was just a bad dream.”

I’m even feeling a little distant from Mocha, not sure she loves me, not sure I love her.

My concern about “finding a good home” instead of throwing something away is because I felt that my mother had thrown me away, and I wanted me to find a good home.  I remember once I made up a whole story about one of our cars that had been traded in for a new car, and how that car was found by a family who really wanted it.  I had no idea at the time that the story reflected something I believed about myself.

What happened with Eleanor triggered my responsibility wound.  I’m feeling a despairing agony because I can’t do anything to make it different.  This is a place in my life where there should have been a responsible adult, and there wasn’t.  My wish to die is a result of my utter helplessness to do anything about what has gone wrong for someone I care very much about.

This has happened many times in my life.  Something goes wrong, or someone tells me that I should get a job, or think positively, things that are irrelevant to my life, things I have tried that haven’t made any difference.  Because I can’t/won’t do them, I see that I am failing to prove that I deserve to live, and I might as well die.  Typing this up, I see how a “relatively trivial” thing — something that I actually was able to do something about — quickly led to wanting to die.

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Seeing my Life as a Task

From my journal for Monday, July 30:

In Franconia.  I look around my house and see things that need to be dealt with and my heart hurts.  Why would my heart hurt when I see something that needs to be dealt with?  Something I’m responsible for but don’t want to deal with?  Maybe it’s just the thing of feeling responsible for finding good homes for everything.  There’s also pain for the things that got lost along the way.  I think of Thomas Merton in the monastery, no longer responsible for anything except his own soul.  And I feel like I can’t begin to come close to my soul with all these practical fidgets demanding my attention.  Maybe that’s why my heart hurts.

Yesterday, driving up, looking at the trees, the clouds, the sun, it was all so beautiful.  I thought of “god” as “source,” the source of all this beauty, as the life force moving through everything, keeping it in being.  I think about whole paragraphs by Merton where he talks about grace, and consolations, which are sometimes “vouchsafed.”  You can’t get them by trying to get them, you have to live in the “right” way so you can be open when they come.  But it’s not like a somewhat capricious god giving you something wonderful as a reward for good behavior.  Bliss and understanding and complete safety are always available when we can open to them.  I don’t know why some people are lucky enough to spontaneously break through — I think this is what happened to Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle — and others of us have to work very hard for a long long time.  I think of the “days of grace” that I experienced for several months, and then they never came back again.  I think of my struggle now, to somehow let go of my old conditioning that makes me so unhappy.  It’s not my own inborn defects that are the problem, it’s what was done to me at a very early age.  I think of Merton’s struggle with self-will, with wanting fame and fortune and pleasure and all the rest of it — though he did come to see the emptiness of all that.  I remember having fantasies that my book would be a best-seller, but I usually saw through those right away.  I don’t know if I was born without those tendencies, or if they were all ground out of me by pain, by never getting what I wanted, believing I was defective, believing that I had to “prove that I deserve to live.”

I’m not saying this very well.  I feel like what happened to me, trauma and abuse, left me with wounds that prevented me from finding ordinary happiness: marriage, kids, satisfying work…   I don’t blame Mom & Dad, but I guess I am angry at the universe — I could have done so much more with my life!  I could have spent my life in service to other people and been happy in their growth and happiness.  Instead I’ve had to focus on myself, work on myself, trying to understand what happened to me, and then trying to unlearn it, to undo the deep conditioning.  Why have I been given this task?  Or why did I take it on?  Looking at the this way, seeing my life as a task, as an assignment, I can see that it’s a huge tough piece of work, and that I have done well with it.  I’m also grateful for the help I got along the way: family wealth, good schools, good therapists, good friends…

I sit here and look out at the green leaves, the sun on the trees deeper in the forest, and I feel sad at how little I’ve been able to enjoy the gifts that I have had.  I think of skiing, the good days, sun & snow & rhythm of movement.  I think of being unable to sleep in the apartment at Jane’s house, and not feeling that I could stop the clock…  so much pain.  Somehow the little joys never built up into a sense that joy was real and solid and available.  But the moments of pain weren’t just moments, they were in my body, a weight on my heart and triggered by new pains…  Am I choosing not to enjoy? I don’t think so.  I do find it painful that I can appreciate the good things but only rarely feel the joy.

Note: I have been reading The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton‘s autobiography about how he entered the Trappist Monastery.

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Process of Understanding What I’m up Against

This is what I wrote in my journal this morning.  It shows how I actually use writing to understand myself better.  This process began with a realization that “I’ve had the sense that reading thrillers addictively was in an attempt to avoid something.”  Written on my journal on July 6, and quoted in a blog post.

Friday, August 10

My heart is sore.  Yesterday, trying to back into a parking space in Montpelier, I bumped the car next to me and left a scrape of white paint.  I kept going up the path to Karen’s.  But when I got inside, I started to feel guilty, and realized I had to go back and leave a note.  When I got to the car, the woman was there.  She hadn’t seen the bumper, she’d approached from the back.  I gave her the note with my contact info, but she wanted my insurance info too.  I had to go back inside twice to get the right key.  By this time I was crying, but I brushed the tears away and unlocked the car to get the paper from my glove compartment.  When I got back to Karen I just cried and cried.  Sitting here writing, trying to figure out why I’m so upset about such a little thing, I realize I’m angry at myself.  Furious with myself for such a stupid little mistake.  I can’t find any softness or forgiveness in myself, toward myself.

I guess I’ve been angry at myself all along, starting with the internet scam.  Angry with myself for not handling this whole confusing painful time better.  What do I mean by “better”?  “Dealing with the practicalities efficiently and correctly, not getting all emotional and upset.”

What do I value?  Are efficiency and correctness more important than the underlying psychological / spiritual dynamics?  I can see, what Erica perhaps means, that I am engaged with everything that’s going on.  That I value honesty and integrity. over correctness and efficiency.  Yes, it’s taking me a long stumbling time to deal with a lot of stupid little things.  Because it costs me so much, I don’t have time and energy for more worthwhile things.  Like what?  like meaningful conversations with friends, long walks with the dog, exploring and visiting Howe Library, Montshire Museum, Garden of Life…  Even making sense out of some of this and putting together blog posts.  It’s all so confusing.  I am so fragmented.  Yesterday it was a struggle to write in my Fidelity check register, recording all the checks I wrote for medical expenses from my household account.

Second cup of tea.  While I was up I had a sudden image of Little Jenny, seven years old, struggling with all those checks.  My heart softens.  It’s not important that she be correct and efficient.  I think she’s participating much more in my life than she used to, and I can see how wrong it is to expect her to do things that she’s simply not old enough to do.  But that’s what my parents expected, so I continue to expect impossible things of myself and then get angry at myself when I can’t fulfill them “efficiently and correctly.”

I am so sorry Little Jenny.  You were doing the best you could do.  I should have been taking better care of you.  I remember how I had a similar accident after Shenanigan died.  That time, the woman was kind and said not to worry about it.  I imagine someone coming to me, in tears, because she had scraped my car, and me saying “Don’t worry about it.”  Then I have a hit of fury at the parents who are expecting far too much of this seven-year old.  I also think of my father, scrupulously making sure that mother is recording the checks and marking the ones to charitable causes — and he’s essentially on his deathbed.  What a waste of his last days.  Then I see another scrupulous child, trying to get everything taken care of before he leaves.  I feel grief for him and anger on his behalf.

“Grief and anger.”  That’s what I told Elizabeth I was feeling.  What a confusing tangle.  Such opposite emotions and yet both appropriate for loss.  So many different ways they could be aimed.  I can be angry at myself, or at my parents for teaching me to be angry at myself.

Thank god I talk to Erica this morning.  She’s the only one who can offer balm to my wounds.  O but Laura did a pretty good job, and Elizabeth and Karen.  I think of the line from The Secret Life of Bees, which describes a “time out” from your life.  I hope Kindred Spirits will give me that.

I had to write checks from my household account because my Fidelity account was frozen because of the scam.  First I had to get more money into that account which didn’t have enough money in it, and that was a complicated process.

“Feeling fragmented” was described in a talk by Dan Seigel, on integration.  He talks about “developmental trauma,” a new description for very early trauma while the nervous system is still developing.  He says that trauma prevents the brain from developing integrative circuits.  I found that comforting but also scary.  What does it take to repair that?

I was also told, in a workshop with Bessel van der Kolk, that they had tried to get the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to recognize Developmental trauma as a separate diagnosis.  The DSM refused, as of 2009.  As of 2017, things had not substantially changed, except that a lot more research had confirmed the problem(s) and the extent of the disorder.

My father, trying to make sure checks are correct.

One of the reasons it was so hard to recognize that I was angry at myself is that I never experienced feelings of anger.  Instead I felt sad, despairing, or sore as I say here.  I did not experience actually feeling anger.  Instead I began to realize that my feeling of soreness, sadness, hurt were because I was feeling “angered at,” instead of angry.   Only once did I actually experience a feeling of anger toward myself.  http://jennydeupree.com/?p=323  I also had a therapist who often asked me “Are you angry at yourself?” when she could see that I was.  This helped me to begin to tell when I was angry at myself.

A “time out”   The first week at August’s was a consolation, a pure relief.  The world will give you that once in a while, a brief time-out; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody else dabs mercy on your beat-up life.”    p82  From The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Kindred Spirits is a gathering at Rowe Camp & Conference Center.

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I wondered yesterday if the effort to heal from PTSD could itself be a vocation.  That my work to heal myself is significant and meaningful.  That the point is not to be healed, and then to do what would be living a good life, but the work on healing itself.  Thinking about vocation leads me to get out Stephen Cope’s book “The Great Work of Your Life.” 

He talks about vocation and passion.  Discovering your “dharma” which is about finding your own unique gifts and living them.   “Actually, you can only expect a fulfilling life if you dedicate yourself to finding out who you are.  To finding the ineffable, idiosyncratic seeds of possibility already planted inside.”   p23

Cope tells of the lives of both great and ordinary people.  The first is Jane Goodall and he talks about how her gift was named and supported from a very early age.  Her gifts were “named, celebrated, cherished, and nurtured.”  p30  That brings up enormous grief for me, that my gifts were not named and supported, but ignored and trashed.  Mis-represented.  My enthusiasm for teaching, sharing and giving what I love to others, was called “thinking you’re so great.”

He talks about his own effort to write books, and how it was the struggle, the work itself, that was meaningful, not the finished book or its reception.  I think of my blog, and how the satisfaction is in putting it out there.  That helps me see that it’s the process of sharing the dances, of designing and carrying out seasonal celebrations, of decorating the building, that feeds my soul.  There is no finished product, nothing that lasts.

Cope says it was the struggle that was meaningful, not what the struggle created.  Reminds me of David Whyte saying that success or failure is irrelevant to the soul, what is important is that what you do be your choice, an active expression of who you are, and not someone else’s idea, or even your own idea of who you “ought” to be.

If it’s the struggle that counts, and not the result, then working on healing can be my dharma, my vocation.  I can see that my commitment is not only to healing, but to the question of truth.  In fact maybe it’s always been more about Truth than about me.  I was always willing to believe that criticisms were true, and tried to change myself.   I think of Bettie, in 1964, telling me I wasn’t interested in people because I didn’t ask them questions.  I saw that I didn’t do it, assumed I was defective, tried hard to do what I should — because somehow I knew that I was interested in people.  I didn’t understand why I didn’t ask questions until I rewrote the 4th July monologue and saw how I was invalidated by my mother when I tried to ask questions.  When I finally got on anti-depressant medication, I discovered myself being spontaneously friendly with all sorts of people.  It was because of depression, not who I was, that I didn’t want to afflict my “black cloud” on others.  What I see now, is that I was willing to accept unpleasant “truths” about myself, as long as I believed they were true.

The quote from David Whyte is on one of his Cds, probably the one on self-compassion.

Posted in Healing, Present Day, Vocation | Comments Off on Vocation

Issue of Control

July 10

Fear came up.  The cold vibration in my diaphragm.  It didn’t fade so I stayed with it.  Tried to meditate — actually maybe I did finally hold on to the lovingkindness prayer for myself.  Somewhere along the way I realized that the fear had been triggered by being invited to join a facebook group called Being my own Best Friend.  I went to the page and scrolled down and got to one about “Falling is an accident, staying down is a choice,” and one about “I can choose to not let my life be dominated/controlled by the past.”  I immediately feel guilty.  I’m unable to make that happen, so I must be choosing to let my life be dominated by the past.  I feel totally judged and found wanting.  It’s the old old “I’ve worked so hard for so long.  Why am I not feeling better?”  It makes me just want to quit.

Went back to check.  One entry says  “Let go  Release the stress.  You were never in control anyway.”

The other says “Don’t allow your life to be controlled by these 5 things:
1. Your past 2. other people’s opinions and judgements 3. Your own limited beliefs
4. relationships  5. money” 

That left me feeling like I was failing.  It’s an invalidation just like “If you really wanted to, you would feel better.”  I’m starting to suspect that this feeling of total despair may be depression, and that depression may have more to do with how trauma affected my developing brain and nervous system than with psychological factors I can change.  This depression may not be amenable to neuroplasticity (changing my brain through deliberately not thinking certain things, and forcing myself to think something more positive).  Or if it can be changed, it may take a long time.  So I’m going to go back up to 100 mg imipramine & see what happens.

Looking at this today, I see that the two messages from the website contradict each other.  “You are not in control,” and “You can choose not to be controlled by…”  “You are not in control” is absolutely true.  It’s the basis of AA’s first step: Admitted that my life was unmanageable.  

“You can choose not to be controlled…” is much trickier.  Whether or not you can choose “not to be controlled” depends on how the controlling functions.  If you are being controlled by your thoughts, you can change your thinking.  If you are being controlled by your emotions, you can take a pause, breathe, and then examine what’s going on.  Marshall Rosenberg pointed out that someone does not “make you angry,” you are angry because of what you think about the other person.  On the other hand, if a car nearly runs you down, you are not in control of your fight/flight/freeze response.  If someone bigger and stronger drags you away to jail, you cannot choose not to be dragged away.  You can choose not to be intimidated, to start doing (or continue doing) your spiritual practice.  You can choose to feel angry at yourself for what you did to get dragged off, or for not being able to stop them.  If you are a veteran, and your body dives behind a couch because a car backfired in the street before your brain has time to say “That’s a car backfiring,” you have no choice to not be controlled by your reptilian brainstem.  After it has happened, you can tell yourself that the gunshot happened THEN, even though it feels like now, but you can’t stop your body from reacting the next time.  That takes one of the new trauma healing methods, of which there are many right now.  Somatic Experiencing and EMDR are probably the best known, but there are more.

Posted in Depression, Interesting link, Journal, Present Day, Somatic Experiencing, Trauma | Comments Off on Issue of Control