The New Year

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If I said, ‘so much has changed,’ it would not begin to explain all that I feel on the eve of this New Year.  It is far more true to say, ‘so much truth has been revealed.’

Also true is the fact that, at its core, my story remained completely unchanged; I am still a survivor of child abuse that led to a psychotic breakdown five and a half years ago.  I still have Bipolar Disorder as a result of the abuse – although here I am lucky; my Bipolar is atypical, and my psychiatrist has taken me off all meds, including Abilify.  The thought of not taking an anti-psychotic was terrifying at first, but I agreed to give it a try; it’s been more than six weeks now and I am fine.  No depression. No mania.  No signs of PTSD, and no anxiety.  I have Lithium, Depakote and Wellbutrin in my medicine cabinet, and my psychiatrist’s number is programmed into my phone, but I’m becoming more and more certain these things will remain merely precautionary.

Therapy wise, I’ve learned my triggers and how to disarm them; I won’t be cavalier and say, ‘the past can’t hurt me now,’ but I will say, confidently, ‘the past no longer has the power to derail my life.’ 

so much truth has been revealed …’

Ed’s coming back into my life has given me the opportunity to understand things in ways I didn’t before; to remove him from the whole and hold him accountable only for the mistakes he made – and separate from Pat, he is merely a man who made mistakes; he had no idea what she was doing to my sister and I while he was at work …

My wife has said in recent days, ‘this all feels like a movie, I had no idea people like Pat could be real.’  I know exactly how she feels. Pat is very good at presenting a different face for different people, and very few understand exactly what she is capable of; her manipulations know no bounds, no decency or morality.   And now, many years later, she believes her own lies – they have become her truth.

My mother did a number on me, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what she did to my father; she cost him his children and grandchildren. Yes, he made mistakes – did things he should not have done, but her exploitation of his mistakes – cold, calculating and cunning was far more damaging to me than were the mistakes themselves.  She wanted me to hate my father – she didn’t succeed; I don’t hate anyone, not even her, but I did turn away and close the door … I wouldn’t even hear him out; that’s on me, but it was certainly part of her design.

When I was little, not sure how old exactly but I know I wasn’t in Kindergarten yet, I would ride my tricycle on the sidewalk outside our house.  One day, I decided to ride it to the store.  This particular store was about a mile away, maybe a little more, and it was on a very, very busy street with fast moving traffic.  A policeman saw me – at this point more than half way to my destination, and brought me home where he proceeded to chew my mother’s ass for not supervising me properly; I remember this incident like it was yesterday – he even told her that, ‘next time, I could be bringing him home in a box.’  I had no idea what that meant at the time, or even why the kindly policeman was yelling at my mother, but she passed it all off like she’d done nothing wrong.  I was, of course, severely dealt with when he left.  I never told daddy …

and all the times she would leave me – abandon me – to punish me; at home, at the grocery store … we never told daddy; she made sure daddy would never find out what SHE had done by making me fear daddy to the depth of my soul.

And when Ed was accused of sexual misconduct, Pat seized the opportunity to insist my sister had repressed memories of Ed molesting her as a child … then of course, as the story goes, Pat herself repressed these memories for a time; although I’m not sure when that could have happened, I heard about it all daily for years!

The best gift she ever gave me was that she is a living, breathing example of what hate does to people …

what hating my father and blaming him for all of her unhappiness did to her is unfathomable in my mind, life and heart.

I cannot hate, refuse to hate …

even her.

So much of what she did seems unbelievable, even to me and I lived it – know its truth in every fiber of my being.  I don’t blame people if they question my story, in fact I get it; how can a mother, any mother, do what she did to her children?

What she is still doing …

I knew when I began this blog there would be those who might use my history of mental illness to suggest my memories are inaccurate, or distorted; I even knew Pat would likely use this tactic … it’s her style to be sure.  It was a risk I was willing to take to end the silence that was making me complicit in her lies.

For the record:

I left Pat’s house because she asked me to choose between Rhonda and her – I chose Rhonda, the best choice I have ever made.

I stayed away from Pat because I quickly realized how much happier I was without her in my life.

If our relationship had been steeped in a healthy mother/child bond, we’d have gotten past the rift that caused our estrangement.

It is all that simple …

miraculously, no one has defended Pat … and only Pat has suggested my memory might be less than reliable.

But it took a willingness to look at my father, to consider him separately from Pat – from her disturbed nature and troubled life, to really understand what happened to me as a child … to end that gnawing feeling that real comprehension was always just out of my reach.

Ed did this admirably – not by denigrating my mother, but by quietly and patiently letting me know who he really is.  He did it by revealing himself – he doesn’t hate, and he doesn’t blame anyone else for his actions or mistakes.  I can, and do, respect that.

We never leave The Past behind completely, It’s always there – always part of us.  But if we’re very lucky and determined, we discover Its truth — and what follows is a way to make sense of it all …

and then we can pick up the pieces, and even those we left along the way, and go on with our journey.

Happy New Year; may it hold peace, love, acceptance and the promise of a joy filled tomorrow – a promise only knowing the truth can bring.

Thoughts on Christmas: A Place Called Home

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As a long time agnostic who embraces the validity in an atheistic point-of-view these days, I’ve been asked many times what I celebrate on the 25th of December …

There is a wreath made by my daughter in the bay window of our living room, our piano is decorated with candles shaped like Christmas trees, and tiny stuffed animals dressed in their holiday finest sit nestled under a toy replica of Charlie Brown’s tree – it’s base wrapped in Linus’s blanket for support.  The mantle of our fireplace is lit with colorful lights amid fake snow, stockings have been hung and our Christmas tree stands immediately to the left.  The outside of our house is festooned in white lights – the Mimosa tree filled with colorful balls under which stands the Grinch and a faithful Who friend.

You will find no reference to Christ among our Christmas decorations, no reminders that Jesus is the Reason for the Season.  Despite my Catholic upbringing, I don’t associate the 25th of December with religious dogma or tradition.

I am not offended by the clerk who wishes me a ‘Merry Christmas’ as she hands me my purchase, nor do I cover my ears when carols play their homage to the Christ child.  I don’t think the Nativity should be stricken from all public displays.

Religious traditions are sacred, and deserving of tolerance and respect that borders on reverence …

But my celebrations during the season are grounded only in a deep and abiding love for my family, a firm belief in the inherent goodness of man, and a sincere wish for peace on earth.

My favorite holiday music is by Trans Siberian Orchestra, and Old City Bar is especially meaningful.

My favorite holiday quote, “Christmas day will always be, just as long as we have we” — the Grinch;

And I think a part of Scrooge – past, present and future lives within us all.

My world is different than it was last Christmas; my father is once again in my life, and so is my Aunt – twelve months ago I’d have told you both of these things were impossible.

My thoughts are on my sister as the holiday draws near, my hope is that she finds peace amid the brightly colored lights and seasonal well wishes of friends.

Do we all feel nostalgic this time of year?  Perhaps we do …

We had a tree when I was a kid, and Christmas cookies and presents – although those boxes sometimes contained socks and under ware, which to my mind was a waste of a perfectly good Christmas gift, they also held the requested toys and the batteries that powered them.  In retrospect, I think Pat and Ed must have saved all year long to have been able to afford the Christmas gifts they gave my sister and I.

It’s a good memory, but the poignancy I feel is inescapable – it all turned out so tragically wrong.

It is said that, at Christmas all roads lead home … 

Home is the people in our lives – and sometimes, if we’re lucky, these same people are with us for a lifetime of Christmases; I think this is how Christmas is supposed to be, was meant to be …

it doesn’t matter what we call the holiday we celebrate in December, what our traditions are or how we keep them; we are all honoring love, family, life and the best in who we are, or can be …

And we are all remembering, longing for, or basking in the love of  home.

The Link Between Child Abuse and Mental Illness

Harvard Research Study:

Child maltreatment has been called the tobacco industry of mental health. Much the way smoking directly causes or triggers predispositions for physical disease, early abuse contributes to virtually all types of mental illness.

Now, in the largest study yet to use brain scans to show the effects of child abuse, researchers have found specific changes in key regions in and around the hippocampus in the brains of adults who were maltreated or neglected in childhood. These changes leave victims more vulnerable to depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the study finds.

Harvard researchers led by Dr. Martin Teicher studied nearly 200 people aged 18 to 25, who were mainly middle class and well-educated. They were recruited through newspaper and transit ads for a study on “memories of childhood.” Because the authors wanted to look specifically at the results of abuse and neglect, people who had suffered other types of trauma like car accidents or gang violence were excluded.

Child maltreatment often leads to conditions like Bipolar Disorder, depression and PTSD, so the researchers specifically included people with those diagnoses. However, the study excluded severely addicted people and people on psychiatric medications, because brain changes related to the drugs could obscure the findings.

Overall, about 25% of participants had suffered major depression at some point in their lives and 7% had been diagnosed with PTSD. But among the 16% of participants who had suffered three or more types of child maltreatment  — for example, physical abuse, neglect and verbal abuse — the situation was much worse. Most of them — 53% — had suffered depression and 40% had had full or partial PTSD; 38% had received a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.

The aftermath of that trauma could be seen in their brain scans, whether or not the young adults had developed diagnosable disorders. Regardless of their mental health status, formerly maltreated youth showed reductions in volume of about 6% on average in two parts of the hippocampus, and 4% reductions in regions called the subiculum and presubiculum, compared with people who had not been abused.

That’s where this study begins to tie together loose ends seen in prior research. Previous data have suggested that the high levels of stress hormones associated with child maltreatment can damage the hippocampus, which may in turn affect people’s ability to cope with stress later in life. In other words, early stress makes the brain less resilient to the effects of later stress. “We suspect that [the reductions we saw are] a consequence of maltreatment and a risk factor for developing PTSD following exposure to further traumas,” the authors write.

Indeed, brain scans of adults with depression and PTSD often show reductions in size in the hippocampus. Although earlier research on abused children did not find the same changes, animal studies on early life stress suggested that measurable differences in the hippocampus do not arise until adulthood. The new study finds that the same is true for humans.

The findings also help elucidate a pathway from maltreatment to PTSD, depression, Bipolar Disorder and addiction. The subiculum is uniquely positioned to affect all of these conditions. Receiving output from the hippocampus, it helps determine both behavioral and biochemical responses to stress.

If, for example, the best thing to do in a stressful situation is flee, the subiculum sends a signal shouting “run” to the appropriate brain regions. But the subiculum is also involved in regulating another brain system that, when overactive during chronic high stress such as abuse, produces toxic levels of neurotransmitters that kill brain cells — particularly in the hippocampus.

It can be a counterproductive feedback loop: high levels of stress hormones can lead to cell death in the very regions that are supposed to tell the system to stop production.

What this means is that chronic maltreatment can set the stress system permanently on high alert. That may be useful in some cases — for example, for soldiers who must react quickly during combat or for children trying to avoid their abusers — but over the long term, the dysregulation increases risk for psychological problems like depression and PTSD.

The subiculum also regulates the stress response of a key dopamine network, which may have implications for addiction risk. “It is presumably through this pathway that stress exposure interacts with the dopaminergic reward system to produce stress-induced craving and stress-induced relapse,” the authors write.

In other words, dysregulation of the stress system might lead to intensified feelings of anxiety, fear or lack of pleasure, which may in turn prompt people to escape into alcohol or other drugs.

With nearly 4 million children evaluated for child abuse or neglect in the U.S. every year — a problem that costs the U.S. $124 billion in lost productivity and health, child welfare and criminal justice costs — child abuse isn’t something we can afford to ignore.

Even among the most resilient survivors, the aftereffects of abuse linger forever. Not only are such children at later risk for mental illness, but because of the way trauma affects the stress system, they are also more vulnerable to developing chronic diseases like metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

We can do better for our kids.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Written by Maia Szalavitz for Time;  Health and Family

 

Wealth Found in Simple Wisdom

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Avarice: extreme greed for wealth or material gain

Finally imbued with money, the object of her covetous nature always, she may now think herself powerful.

Real power exists only in her dreams, which is a good thing; in the hands of one with such an ungracious, corrupt and immoral heart, true power is always catastrophic …

But she has accomplished the ability to buy, or at least attempt to buy, love, friendship, loyalty and affection …

I have never understood the need or desire for material gain.  Yes, I like my lifestyle, but I earned it myself, and avarice never figured into the equation …

And I didn’t take anything from anyone.

Real love doesn’t feel a need to buy reciprocity, and real loyalty is given in kind …

And understanding that even if I were the richest man on earth, if my children wanted nothing to do with me, I would also be the poorest …

makes me wealthy beyond my wildest dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Her Own Words

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As I do not blog anonymously, I receive notes and messages from people who know me, or knew me as a child, or who know my parents – then and/or now.  Sometimes I know or remember these people, sometimes the notes come from people I have never met personally.

Many of the notes offer support and understanding, in fact not a single one has been unkind or in adamant defense of my parents.  I would have to say the closest note of defense for either of my parents came from my cousin, Mina, who shared with me the kind and gentle man my father had always been with her.  And apart from correspondence I’ve had with my paternal aunt, Laura, not even one note has hinted at disbelief of a single word written here … on the contrary, most notes end with some version of, “now everything makes sense.”

Perhaps the strangest twist of all is that people actually send me notes that Pat has sent to them …

I have found in life that loyalty begets loyalty, people will respond kindly to you if you are kind to them, and we get back only what we give.  This is Universal Law, and it is a moral imperative …

so I do not wonder how it is these people, presumed friends of my mother, can share her words with me;  at some point, we all see through the mask worn by another.

So, Dear Reader, when I share my thoughts on my mother today – offer my belief that she has not changed, and vehemently denies, I am often responding to her own thoughts and words.

Excerpt from a recent note I received:

“I have also accepted the fact that Tim has Bipolar disorder.  I looked up the symptoms of Bipolar disorder, and one of them is distorted memory.  He may, and probably does, “remember” very vividly, the horror that he has printed on the internet.  There is no cure for Bipolar disorder, only meds to keep it “at bay”, and I will take this opportunity to just bow out and save myself the headache of dealing with it.”

Of course looking something up on the internet now passes for research for a lot of people, so I’ll let that go … but I will point out that Distorted Memory and Distorted Memories are not the same thing.  Distorted Memory refers to deficits in executive function, ie memory storage and retrieval – it has NOTHING to do with memories themselves.

And, she bowed out a long, long time ago – in fact as a mother, she was never IN.

Another passage:

“I have been in therapy for my alcoholic daughter, and am not interested in going into therapy for my son …”

Any good therapist would point out a couple of things here:

1.  Having two children with a serious mental illness, especially presenting as mine and Elizabeth’s did, almost certainly indicates they experienced traumatic events in childhood.

2.  If her son is sick, as she’d like everyone to believe that I am [because she feels that exonerates her – i.e. her ignorant definition of what Distorted Memory means] what does it say about her character that she, my mother, is unwilling to support me, love me, help me?

But the line, “save me the headache of dealing with it.”

That pretty much says it all.

End of the Year Thoughts: In My Life I Have Learned That …

Silence really does protect the Abuser, while further damaging the Victim.

Children aren’t as resilient as we would like to believe them to be.

Hitting and love are antithetical.

Knowing why and placing blame are two different things.

Accountability is necessary and good.

I don’t understand exactly what forgiveness is.

What I don’t know can profoundly effect what I do know.

It is OK to give my father a second chance, even though I believed for thirty years I never would.

I am a very good father, but I have no idea how to be my father’s son.

I know my mother very, very well.

There are people you simply cannot help, or save – no matter how hard you wish you could.

The past cannot be erased, but parts of it can be better understood – and understanding brings peace and the ability to let go.

It is never wrong to say, I’m sorry;  even when an apology isn’t enough, offered in sincerity and love it is something – a very big and meaningful something; it is a place to start … or end with integrity and honor.

Denial does not mean you didn’t abuse, it means only that you haven’t stopped abusing.

I had to walk away from parents, there simply was no choice.

I will always want and need to stay away from my mother, because the first rule of wellness is:  You Don’t Go Back To What, or Who, Made You Sick.

Life is worth living, and emotional wellness is more than worth the effort it takes to acquire.

My children are the best part of who I am.

I love hearing the word, dad – but I’ve forgotten how to say it myself.

People can change.

Family is everything; the only thing in life with meaning.

Although it is right to assess the character of others for ourselves, based solely on who they are to us, it is also true that considering what someone has done to other people in their lives – people they claim to love – can save us a great deal of pain; knowing how big an emotional investment it is safe to make in someone is invaluable.

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck – chances are it isn’t a goose.

Everything happens for a reason.

Eventually, we are all revealed to be exactly who we are.

Telling your story can set you free.

We should write gently on the tablet that is our child’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Clarity … part 1

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I’ve taken some time now to contemplate the meeting with my father – our first in three decades.  The shock of how things are playing out is dissipating, and I’m beginning to unravel a part of my life – my childhood, in even deeper ways than I was able to in therapy.

Our lives are not solitary, they do not exist apart from the lives of others, and we are affected not only by our own life experiences, but also by those of the people in our lives – even when their experiences appear to have very little to do with us, the impact these experiences can have on our lives is profound.

Amazing things happen when you begin speaking to people you haven’t spoken to in thirty years.  The picture of your life evolves; the colors become more defined, the image grows sharper, and the clarity runs deeper.  Gaps and missing pieces are filled in, and new understanding emerges.  The story doesn’t change, but it grows in wisdom and truth as it integrates the position of others.

Thirty years ago, I made a decision to cut my parents out of my life.  I did this based on years of abuse and a childhood experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  It was a good decision at the time, the only one I could have made and still know the outcome I have known – the good life I am proud and honored to call my own.

When I turned my back on Pat, I just did it.  I left her house and never looked back.  She didn’t try to talk to me, nor I to her.   She asked me to leave, and I did.  It was, in the end, that stark, cold and simple.  It was also one of the best decisions I have ever made; we have to get away from toxic people to fully comprehend the negative impact their lives have had on ours.

When I made the decision to walk away from Ed, he tried to talk to me – tried to tell me something – or many things, perhaps, that I wouldn’t listen to, wouldn’t hear.  I know they wouldn’t have meant anything to me at the time, they couldn’t mean anything then; I wasn’t ready to absorb his experiences as my own, nor would I have been able to understand; I was too young.   Still, today I feel something – not regret, but something, for the void he has felt for the last thirty years, a void my absence in his life has caused.  I did what I had to do, but today I recognize that my decision was based on less than complete understanding of many things.

He was far from a perfect father, he was even far from a good father – that will never change.  What has changed is my understanding of his life during my childhood.  We don’t unravel and untangle to place blame, we do it to understand – because within that understanding we find another’s truth, and in that truth the story or our own life all of a sudden makes a lot more sense.

My father has apologized for what he did to me, he even apologized to me for hurting my sister – an apology he would offer to her face if she would give him the chance.  He has apologized to my wife for all the pain he caused her as a result of what he did to me … he has taken responsibility for everything he did, and for what it ultimately caused.  He didn’t ask me to consider his life or his circumstances while he was raising me, didn’t offer an excuse for what he did – he just stepped up and did the right thing.

But now that we’re talking, the picture of my life as a child has fewer shadows – this is conversation between a father and his son, not assigning blame, but trying to understand …

I saw my parents as MyParents – one entity.  I didn’t bisect them, Ed from Pat or Pat from Ed; they were simply MyAbusiveParents.  Even though I knew from a young age there were differences in the things they did – Ed would never have left me alone in a parking lot at age 5, nor would he have intentionally left my sister and I alone at an amusement park – abandoning us was a PatOnly trick, I still saw them as a collective unit.  And together, they were mean and cruel and abusive.

What I see now is very different.  Again, he wasn’t a good father, but she exploited that.  We were afraid of Ed because of his anger and his beatings, but she used this fear to her full and twisted advantage; telling us our father had to beat us every month or so so we would behave.  She condoned and encouraged his violence toward his children; yes, he did it – and he could have, and should have, made a different choice, but exploiting fear in her children – fear she helped to create – is nothing short of vile.

I can remember being terrified, when Pat would take me to my room and then leave the house, (I was far, far too young to have been left alone) that Ed would come home from work before she came back – and I remember her telling me I’d better hope she came back before he got home so he would never know how bad I really was … of course this was because he’d give me the worst beating of my life for being so bad she had to leave me.  How disturbed do you have to be to do this to your child?  She was at once my tormentor and my ‘protector’ ….

Ed had no idea this kind of thing was happening – he worked six days a week when I was little, and I cannot and will not hold him accountable for what she alone did.

In therapy, when I once commented that I wasn’t a good person, my therapist asked me why I believed that, and I told him I had been an awful child – a bad kid my mother left alone because she couldn’t handle me, and my father had to beat the hell out of because it was the only way to make me behave – a beating was the only thing I understood.  He asked me who told me that, and I replied immediately;  “My mother.”   As cliche as it is in therapy to blame the mother, it was, in my case, true; deserved, earned and valid.  And understanding that she was wrong freed me from believing I was bad; something that was never true – never a burden I should have carried.  Not blame, understanding.

Even in an abusive home, where unspeakable things happen, knowing and comprehending who did what is so important to the story. Viewing Pat and Ed as One is unfair … to Ed.

She was cunning and shrewd.  She wanted me to hate my father, so she used Ed’s flaws and shortcomings to her full advantage; he hit me and I was afraid of him, so she used that fear – exploited it, deepened it, twisted it –  made me believe she ‘spanked’ me so much because I was bad, and if she could make me behave through ‘spankings,’ Ed wouldn’t have to beat me so much.

And then, when she wanted my (and my sister’s) unquestioning loyalty after she divorced Ed, she levied depraved sexual allegations against him — and unfortunately, he made these at least plausibly believable by committing a crime; Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Minor.   I tried to remain neutral in her war against him, but that was close to impossible given his actions and her determination.

She cast herself as the protector, always.  Justified every injustice, every vile act, every morally bereft decision by claiming she was protecting me from  someone, or something, even more terrible.  She twisted my feelings, thoughts and emotions – wrung them like a dish towel – until I was broken and damaged and had no hope of escaping the breakdown that came in 2009.

It took a long time, after leaving my mother’s house, to understand that her thought processes are flawed, her actions damaging and repugnant.  I had to separate myself completely not to have my own thoughts and behaviors reflect her’s.  I always knew she was vile, but I didn’t understand all of what that meant until I was away from it … and safe.

And I now know Ed was my mother’s victim, too …

When you take the high road – the right road in this case, and never speak ill of their mother to your children – even though you know she misses no opportunity to speak ill of you, you sacrifice yourself in many ways.  Ed offered no tit-for-tat, no opposing point-of-view, no salacious accusations to match her’s … he simply waited for her lies and warped psyche to reveal themselves.

In the first few days after our meeting, something about what was happening between Ed and I was gnawing at me – and that relentless, almost disturbing feeling, went back to the Universal Fact: Abusers deny.  He didn’t deny anything.  What’s more, he didn’t offer excuses or blame Pat … he presented himself as the man he is today, apologized to me and allowed me to reach my own conclusions.

And today I think he is just a man who made some very damaging mistakes – mistakes that deeply hurt people he loves; his children.

I can bisect MyParents, seeing them now as my parents … but I can’t give Ed back the last thirty years.  I had to be here today to give him tomorrow.  I had to shut him out, raise my family, even get sick to be in this place today … the place that allows me to see him differently than my mother portrayed him, and even separately from her.

If I hadn’t gotten sick, I would never have delved this deeply, asked the right questions, sought the truth or concluded correctly.  I would have held Ed, always, to the same standard of accountability I hold Pat – and will ALWAYS hold Pat; much of the damage is a result of abuse she alone inflicted …

What ifs are pointless, and when considering my childhood I wouldn’t know which of many hundreds of what ifs to choose to change the outcome, but … if he hadn’t hit me, and If he hadn’t been guilty of actual sexual misconduct always come to mind.  Both costly mistakes that had a profound impact on his life …

especially considering Pat was around to use his mistakes against him, to make sure his mistakes had deep, painful and catastrophic effects on me.

Ed: Thoughts About Tonight

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The last note I received from Ed prior to our meeting tonight said:

 

 

“I’m sorry too, that I was so concerned about myself while raising you and Elizabeth that I never imagined let alone considered what Pat was doing to the both of you. I never realized what was happening to the both of you until after we were divorced and I began to hear and feel some of her hate toward me. For the 7 years before I met Marie, my only saving grace was Pesh. (Pesh is what Ed calls  my sister, Janet.)

 

 

 

I’m so sorry for the pain I caused, the pain I ignored and the terrible results on both of you.”

 

 

 

And in a moment alone, away from our wives, he apologized again, sincerely, face-to-face.  I saw and felt his remorse, not because it’s what I wanted and needed to see and feel, but because it was real and genuine.

 

 

 

I said, “It’s over.”  And I meant it.

 

 

 

I’m still processing it all, and definitive conclusions will take time, but I realized tonight …

 

 

 

as the evening wore on, and everyone became comfortable and began to enjoy themselves, years and years of pain and anger were slowly dissipating.

 

 

 

I don’t know, maybe this is the phenomenon some people define as forgiveness.  I can’t claim that explanation for myself though, because in my heart and mind child abuse is unforgivable.  That said, I realize something happened tonight, something inside me shifted and changed … perhaps the man is forgivable, even when his actions are not.  Or, maybe the man he is today can be forgiven for what the man he no longer is, did. Or, could it be that today and tomorrow matter, and the past no longer does given that he took full responsibility for everything he did and for everything it caused?  I’ll have to revisit this after I’ve had time to digest and contemplate.

 

 

 

For now, it comes back to what I have always believed, and what I always will believe:  a man should not be defined by his mistakes, but by what he does to make them right.

 

 

 

He’s doing everything he can do now, he’s trying to be a good father now, and that means something to me.

 

 

 

In fact, it means more to me than I knew it could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More of Why: A Letter to my Brother-in-Law

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Another long night sparked by contemplation and difficult yet important thoughts …

My friend,

Your wife was an abused child.  She was beaten, abandoned, pinched, slapped and roughly handled.  Her thoughts and feelings and emotions were mangled and twisted by a woman with no feelings or emotions of her own, a woman imbued with no capacity to love her children, no understanding of what it means to be a mother.

Her childhood was spent dissociating from her harsh and traumatic reality.  Unlike other children, she did not spend her play time learning to understand herself, she spent it creating a fantasy world where she was loved and gently cared for – a mental retreat she could escape to to avoid feeling the pain associated with being our parents’ child.

Her fairy tale allowed her to survive, but the fairy tale, and the reason she needed it, laid the ground work for all she is experiencing today.  Middle age is a cruel time for abuse survivors, it’s when all the crows come home to roost – for many of us, breakdowns are inevitable.  Elizabeth was far too strong for far too long, her mental health collapse was pre-destined by years of abuse, it was going to happen.  It had nothing to do with you, or the daughter she loves with all her heart, despite what her reprehensible behavior suggested; the catalyst for her breakdown is unresolved childhood trauma, not what was happening in your lives at the time it occurred.

Children cannot process trauma, they bury it and dissociate, leaving the adult they eventually become with nothing but terrible memories and/or a fantasy world upon which to build their lives.  Either way, the foundation is built on a fault line, and sooner or later an earthquake will happen.

To this point, my story is built on mental health fact and Elizabeth’s history of being abused …

what follows, because you asked me what happened to your very good life, includes supposition on my part based on what I know of my sister and what I’ve been able to piece together through conversations with her, and with you.  I am not a psychiatrist, nor therapist, but I did live the same childhood she did, and I experienced the same kind of breakdown she did, so I’m not without unique insight …

Your wife kept many truths from you, and, unlike me, she chose to keep our mother in her life.  That was her choice of course, and if the relationship brought her peace and joy, it was the right choice.  I have not seen my mother in more than thirty years, maybe she has changed, but our relationship was never warm – my leaving her behind was, other than marrying Rhonda, the single best decision I have ever made.  It has long been my belief that Elizabeth kept our mother in her life, despite her willingness to kick Ed to the curb, because of the intense fear of abandonment Pat instilled in her … you have to understand, our mother demanded our unquestioning loyalty to her, and she wanted us to hate Ed; to Elizabeth’s mind, turning her back on Ed was a way of showing loyalty to our mother –  a way to ensure Pat would not abandon her after our parent’s divorce.  This supposition was confirmed to me by Elizabeth in December of 2012 … Elizabeth was recovering from a suicide attempt at the time, so I don’t know how true it is in her heart, but she did talk about it, and she confirmed all I had long suspected; I didn’t lead the conversation, didn’t suggest – I merely listened to my very troubled sister.

Our father is not dead, nor was he a saint.  He beat her, and he wasn’t terribly good at showing mercy to a misbehaving child …  and, as you know, Ed is guilty of sexual mis-conduct with one of Elizabeth’s friends.  Until this point in time, though, no one – not Pat or Elizabeth, had ever accused Ed of molesting Elizabeth – after that incident, accusations of molestation and his sexual perversions are all we heard. This is a rather complex and convoluted chapter in the story – I know what I believe, but what matters here is what Elizabeth believes; she doesn’t talk about it much, or easily, at least not with me.  She may feel guilt here, or something else, I just don’t know … this is an unresolved segment of Elizabeth’s life that I believe she finds complicated and haunting.

Her first suicide attempt was in junior high school.   She so needed love and acceptance that her high school and college years were promiscuous and often filled with inappropriate, attention-seeking behavior, some of which was illegal. To my knowledge, you are the only stable, long-term relationship she has ever had, this includes friendships.

You have said she wouldn’t allow you to accompany her to her psychiatrist or therapist appointments, and when you attended marriage counseling she monopolized the sessions … she did these things because she was afraid of what you’d think of her if you knew the truth; pushing you away was done on her terms, that she could do, she was in control, but she thought if you found out who she really is, you might abandon her – and abandonment isn’t something she was willing to risk.

I don’t know if she tells her doctors the truth either, my guess is no, or only to a point; if she was honest with them, she’d have had a diagnosis that led to effective treatment a long time ago.  I don’t know if Elizabeth understands her own feelings or emotions well enough to be totally honest with anyone.

There is a great deal of shame and humiliation that goes along with having been abused, I felt it deeply and it stayed with me for a long, long time.  Rhonda knew my basic history, and I was always truthful, but I didn’t share the painful, intimate, horrible details until I had no choice, and I’m sure Elizabeth can relate to this sentiment …

For some reason, I think Elizabeth internalized our childhood more deeply than I did; she was always troubled, even as a child.  When she first contacted me, after twenty-seven years of estrangement, I was reluctant  to get involved with anyone in my family, but her love for you and her commitment to her daughter  made me feel like she’d finally arrested her demons.  A successful marriage and career, a happy, healthy child, and step-children she loved as her own all led me to believe she was well …

Of course her breakdown happened.  Alcoholism is a symptom of something deeper; she drinks to avoid the pain, it is a form of self-medicating.  It’s what you see, but it is far from all there is … there is just so much she has never told you.

My recovery did not begin in deficit, as Elizabeth’s has; Rhonda knew the truth about my childhood – as I said, she did not know the details, but I didn’t lie to her and I didn’t omit – I just painted the real picture with broad strokes.  So, when I had my breakdown, Rhonda knew how to give me the kind of support I needed; Elizabeth never allowed you inside to begin with, so you were at a loss.  Not your fault, not even her’s really – it was something she did out of fear, and fear is seldom rational.

I don’t know who Elizabeth has in her life today … if she has our mother I hope Pat is able to give her the kind of unconditional love and support she needs – tough love and support if it needs to be, but tempered with kindness and understanding.  A kind woman is not who I knew Pat to be, but I hope she is kind to Elizabeth now.

No child can live through what Elizabeth did and come out whole – whole is a state reserved for children raised with love and compassion, tenderness and concern, not for children whose feelings and needs were never considered.

Your life fell apart because your wife was an abused child who never faced and made peace with her past.  She never learned her triggers, or how to disarm them.  She was not taught how to cope with the problems and stresses of life, she learned only to survive.  It made her strong, fearful and determined – in this case all, even strength, is detrimental; it allowed her to keep plugging along, keep putting one foot in front of the other, when she desperately needed to stop, rest and seek help …  she wasn’t taught to ask for help, no matter how badly she needed it; she was taught only that her needs did not matter.

I don’t know if there is comfort for you in knowing why; like you I always need the why of things myself, so I understand your need to ask.  I wish you and your family could have known a happy ending, I wish every word of this blog weren’t true, I wish Elizabeth could understand that although Pat and Ed are definitely to blame for her illness – they caused it, she must take responsibility for today and do the work she needs to do to get well … in the end, why matters not to place blame; why matters only because without that understanding treatment will fail. 

The last time I saw my sister, she was mean, hateful and combative – her behavior and demeanor so much like that of our mother I just couldn’t maintain a relationship with her.  She has my number, and I will never ignore her or turn her away – I have tried to get her to do what she has to do to get well, and I will continue trying if she gives me the chance … and I will always be here for my niece, and for you.

The years she was married to you, and the incredible daughter you share, are the only things that have ever made my sister completely happy.  For that moment in time she had what she needed and wanted, and her life was good.  I am comforted in knowing that whatever happens now, Elizabeth was once part of a genuinely loving, caring and supportive family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing Why

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So much of our life experience is unique only to us.  We read, research, take in and process information, but what happens to us – even when it is similar to what happens to someone else – is unique.  We all have our own story to tell …

I have an intense need to understand my story for exactly what it is; I have to know why.

Not only do I need to know why I do and say and feel and think and act as I do, but I need to know and understand why the people in my life behave as they do …

Good or bad, I realize that knowing why can never erase something that has happened, but understanding can have a profound effect on the way I perceive those events.

Knowing why is the first step toward understanding …

In therapy, I was reluctant to talk about my childhood – it was clearly the source of my pain and depression, and I accepted that, but I didn’t understand how talking about it could help; some things don’t have a why, they just are – or so I thought.

My therapist explained that events occurring in my life at that time were not what I was reacting so adversely to, that my reactions – intense and inappropriate, were actually to unresolved childhood trauma.  And these triggers could not be disarmed until I examined them and understood why they made me feel the way they made me feel …

this made sense.  It still does – in fact, now that I’ve experience first hand the difference knowing why can make, it’s even more important to me.

This blog is not some “Mommie Dearest,” expose – yes, it portrays my parents in a very bad light, but that is not its purpose.  Writing helps me process, understand and conclude as nothing else can.  Writing is cathartic, the final piece in the puzzle that is healing.

Through publishing my writing, I’ve gained wisdom from the comments of others, satisfaction from furthering a cause I believe in, a deeper understanding of my own illness and its cause, and an apology from my father – something I never thought I’d get.

And that last thing, the apology from Ed, sparked a conversation that has led to a deeper understanding of who he is, and who he was. It has given me the ability consider his story.  I haven’t made it easy for him, but I don’t think I was meant to – it is good that we, both of us, have had to struggle for the gains we have made.  Nothing worth having comes easily, and learning someone else’s why takes patience and an open mind … something I was very reluctant to show Ed.

When I look back, I see a terribly broken and dysfunctional family, but I’m no longer the little boy in the picture.  Pat is still there, just the same as she always will be, and Elizabeth, unfortunately, still lives in that house, but I am gone … and I think Ed may be too.