This post is being written directly in reply to the comment left this morning at the end of this post: +BEFRIENDING CHAOS? (EARLY ABUSE SURVIVORS AND CHOICE). In order to write this I find myself going into the proverbial ‘closet of my mind’ to look for a well-filed box that contains something I will now label (when I find that box) ‘specific resiliency factors of my survival during the years of my abusive infant-childhood’. I know that’s a long title for this box, but within it sits a massive chunk of my early experience during the first 18 years of my life.
Perhaps I’ve been watching too many Netflix episodes of the British television detective series, “A Touch of Frost’, because this morning I see an entire ROOM of boxes, files, folders and assorted collections of filed-together papers as if I am in a vault of stored police crime reports – because I AM!
Yet in this particular box I reach for today I find not only a recorded history (both remembered and forgotten) of events during those 18 years of severe abuse that contain within them both the seeds of disaster at the same time they contain an equal proportion of ‘salvatory’ resiliency factors.
What on earth am I talking about?
For the many years I have been practicing ‘recovery’ – 30 years to be exact – I have often found myself wondering what the impact of the isolation my mother forced upon me actually was. After nearly every single major physical attack on me from as far back as I can remember the NEXT STAGE of the abuse was always some form of confinement out of the ‘mainstream’ of life-as-the-rest-of-the-family knew it.
Once my mother had physically exhausted herself through her rage-filled attacks on my body, which always included massive verbal attacks of rage-filled horrible screaming, she would (these are the words that come at this moment) ‘throw me away’ (like I was being tossed into the garbage).
This being thrown away happened when she ‘put me to bed’, sometimes for days at a time, weeks at a time, as continued ‘punishment’ for one of the crimes she believed I had committed. At other times the ‘thrown away’ happened when she forced me to stand in some corner she found – again for hours, for days – often from before the rest of the family arose until long after they were back in bed at night – allowing me to leave my confinement only to sleep in my own bed until the following morning when back into the corner I went.
I can remember two far more creative confinements she invented during my older teen years – the one where she force me to spend the night sitting in the front seat of the family car with my head bent over under the steering wheel and the time I was confined in the ‘shed’.
All of these past 30 years I have wondered about the impact the thousands and thousands and thousands of combined hours of forced isolation and solitary confinement HAD ON ME. As my inner self-state begins to disintegrate-disorganize-disorient at this moment as I begin to approach the ‘too close for comfort’ region of looking back on these ‘crime reports’ I find in this box of mine, I pull myself back at this point. I don’t want the memories to awaken. I only want to look at these events and my experiences of them from a distance – quite a distance, I might add.
I remind myself mentally, “What are you looking for, Linda? Exactly?”
I am looking for NOT what these experiences did to HARM me but rather I am looking for what these experiences did – as strange as this seems to me at this moment – to HELP ME!
In response to today’s comment I mention and am replying to in this post, I know something NEW about another level of impact all the combined isolation and confinement I experienced had on me. I am beginning to understand how (and this is not a realization easily gained) that these periods of time I spent out of the ‘mainstream’ of life were physiologically times that were RESILIENCY TIMES.
These were times where the nature of the confinements themselves protected me. At these times the physical assaults (including the screaming-verbal abuse) ceased and stopped all together.
During these times I could LISTEN for my mother’s impending return to me to resume her active physical attacks. I could hear her being involved with the rest of the family. I could hear what she was elsewhere occupied with.
I did not exist as a part of the wider universe of reality at these times. And during these times of reprieve my BODY could find ways to repair itself.
Without these extremely distorted (and yes very harmful but in my life harmful was VERY RELATIVE) patterns of ‘rupture and repair’ I perhaps could not have survived my early years at all, and probably would have come out of them far more broken than I actually am! (NOTE: The cycle of trauma and of the physiological stress response patterns involved demand that at some point the trauma STOP so that the body can orchestrate some version-degree of repair. All abuse survivors have made use of whatever opportunities for ‘repair’ they could manage to find or they would NOT have survived.)
I close my inner and my outer eyes at this moment and return back into that vault of stored criminal histories of my early life. I stretch out my hands and allow my fingers to gravitate on their own to two more boxes of collected reports. I pull these two boxes from their storage spots and carry them, now with my eyes wide open, to the place where I have opened the box containing the history of solitary confinement and forced/enforced isolation.
I know that what I find as I open these two other boxes is directly connected to the first box. What is in ONE of these other boxes does not surprise me. I have never lost sight of the fact that every personal interaction I had with the mountain upon which our Alaskan homestead boundaries were contained operated for me as a powerful resiliency factor.
But in the other box I find something that again until this moment I have not seen before in the resiliency-factor light I am seeing it right now. This box contains my history of experiences of FORCED LABOR that my mother included in every abusive way she could manufacture as a major component of my childhood.
True, it has never been difficult for me to understand that my having learned how to WORK as a child included some benefits for my ongoing adult life. But never before this moment have I realized quite so deeply that during the times I was physically involved in the work-jobs themselves I was in a state of ‘protection-repair’ (from the more physical and violent attacks).
Again, I distance myself from the actual memories that are recorded in the history contained in these boxes. It is not what might have led up to (say) the meticulous floor-scrubbing and waxing on any particular day that concerns me. It is not anything that my mother might have said or done to be prior to such an experience – or anything that she might have said or done afterwards that is my concern today.
What I am understanding today is that DURING THE TIME I might have been washing the family’s dishes after a meal, or making school lunches, or making the beds, or cleaning the outhouse, or removing all the linens from the hall closet and refolding them as perfectly as a human being possibly could, or during the time I might have been doing any one of the myriad of tasks my mother demanded that I do (and that my siblings DID NOT DO) – during the performance of these tasks themselves I was NOT under direct attack any more than I was during forced confinement and isolation.
I find included in this box an interesting history that I would not have thought of as being a part of my ‘work’ history in childhood. My artistic pursuits, such as I could invent them (and also as they were on occasion provided and allowed by my mother directly) – any time I could ‘make something with my hands’ that was connected to beauty operated for me as did the calming-protected (safe) passage of time during which I could ‘work’.
I include box three here because this same pattern of being not under attack also happened at times I was in direct relationship with nature on the mountain. These times during which I could escape the house and my mother to be outside were of course very limited, but they did occur. During these times I was ALWAYS in a state of ‘repair’ rather than ‘rupture’, and these patterns were and ARE resiliency factors..
These three versions of being in a state of ‘repair’ rather than of ‘rupture’ continue for me today. Being ‘with nature’ outside, working and being alone away from people sooth me. Being ‘inside’, having idle time and being in close proximity-contact with people taxes me and contributes to my feeling ‘overwhelmed’, disorganized and disoriented (along with the ‘anxiety’ amplification).
All the histories I am describing today allowed me to in one degree or another to pull together a ‘body’ of ‘focusing’ myself that I could NOT accomplish during my mother’s frequent and severe direct assaults upon me. All of these histories COMBINED together in such a way that a very small semblance of ‘Linda separate from her mother’ could exist.
I am, of course, not describing anything ‘normal or ordinary’ here in this post. I was raised (essentially) within a concentration camp of hell. That does not mean that I was not able to obtain something I desperately needed for my survival within the confines of that hell. Obviously I DID or I would not be here today as the amazingly wonderful (though far from ‘perfect’ or ‘ordinary’) person that I am.
I am going to take a little detour here to describe the pattern of my thoughts at this point because I am specifically talking about my infant-childhood of terrible abuse suffered from my mother who I believe was a VERY disturbed woman with Borderline Personality Disorder.
THE MAJOR COMPONENT of the hell my mother lived existed in exactly this descriptive word – BORDERLINE. There were no defined BORDERLINES!
My detour is this: Yesterday I spent the afternoon with a group of very nice people I had not met before. At one point I was in conversation with a gentleman as I drew a map on a piece of paper to describe to him where I lived. I first drew the Mexican-American borderline as it exists at the back of this property. Yet as we continued to chat I began to include drawings of my adobe garden building projects.
The more I included sketches of my yard, the more my drawing extended OVER the national borderline I had first drawn. So I did the easy thing. I simply kept drawing what exists in MY life as I continued to MOVE the line I had drawn to indicate the national boundary.
I found it interesting that it was this gentleman who pointed out to me that I was ‘encroaching’ the expanding drawing of my yard into ‘Mexico’. I had not noticed!
Looking back on the history of my first 18 years I realize that as I describe the experiences I had (above) that happened when my mother was at SOME KIND OF PHYSICAL DISTANCE from me that allowed me periods of ‘repair’ time when I could focus my own self (though never consciously at the time), it was during those times that I was defining MY OWN BORDERLINE as separate from my mother’s.
Yes, to use Alaskan terms I was ‘staking a claim’ to my own homestead of my self.
In relation to the commenter I am replying to here I will say that I received a benefit from the patterns of my insanely abusive infant-childhood I am describing that someone who was continually ‘on display’ in the world of a Borderline mother did not have. Yes, obviously, I did not ACTUALLY escape into a world that was not of my mother’s making, but within the concentration camp of my time with her – even though for the most part it was HER who dictated EVERYTHING about my childhood – I STILL had opportunity to escape her DIRECT influence upon me into a (perhaps very tiny) universe of my own experience within my bigger experience. (If this makes any sense!)
So perhaps IN SOME WAY every survivor of a truly Mad Mother found some way to escape into their own reality at some time!! In doing so, no matter how we did it, WE were in fact drawing a borderline around our own self beyond which our abuser could not travel (in a similar way to how I could define MY SPACE on that piece of paper yesterday by expanding it PAST the ‘external’ boundary line).
So my question to today’s commenter would be this: “At what times and in what ways did you define for your own self some kind of space within your own self that DID NOT INCLUDE your mother? “
I never knew until I wrote this post today that the experiences I am describing in this post were extremely beneficial to me during my life with my mother BECAUSE they allowed me time to exist NOT ONLY outside the range of her direct physical (including auditory) attacks – but because they most importantly allowed me TIME in SPACE to ‘repair’ myself, to organize and to orient my own self within SOME region my mother did not penetrate.
If anyone were to describe their ongoing life in a concentration camp or in a prisoner of war confinement there would be nothing ‘normal or ordinary’ about the frame of reference they would use. Obviously.
Yet within the environment of our extremely traumatic earliest years we DID find ways to ‘consult only with our own self’ as being separate from the horrors of our environment – just as all survivors manage to do.
It is a beneficial challenge to us to find where we have stored our collection of memories that relate to THESE TIMES because within those memories lie some of our most potent and positive resiliency factors that we used to survive in hell.
True, it would be wonderful if we didn’t need to rely on memories from a life in hell to look for these wonderful factors that we found and used to survive. But that IS where they are – because that WAS where we were!
And again, I would not suggest that we dwell on any single memory. I advocate KEEP YOUR DISTANCE! Do not climb into any one of these ‘boxes’, pull the lid shut and then retreat into the memory storage vault along with the memories in these boxes and slam the door shut on yourself. That is NOT the point!!
What I look for are the PATTERNS! We do not have to become a drawing on a piece of paper to see its patterns. We do not have to become a piece of cloth or some architectural wonder to see patterns.
True, our experiences ARE a part of who we are, but when it comes to actual experiences and the memories we might retrieve/reawaken about them we DO have the power to establish our own SELF today in relationship to these memories of experience. We have the RIGHT and the ability to NOT allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by them.
What we are seeking relief FROM is the sense of being overwhelmed. Those are the patterns I looked for today – the times when I was NOT being directly overwhelmed by my mother (even though I was being punished, confined, isolated and MISERABLE during most – but not all — of the times I mentioned).
By the time my conversation with the gentleman I mentioned was completed yesterday I had moved the Mexican-American borderline behind my home and yard completely off the edge of the paper I was drawing on. What was left was my expanded and radiating visual description of MY SPACE.
We can do that today. We can move our insane abusers right off of the paper upon which we delineate and describe OUR OWN LIFE, our own self! But not only can we do that as we draw the picture of who we are NOW, we can go back and expand the spaces-places in our early life when we ACTUALLY did this same thing THEN. Those are the times-spaces-places when we actually claimed our own self and our own power – within our own boundary – that did NOT include our abuser.
FIND THOSE TIMES! I believe they DID exist and they DO exist – or we WOULD NOT BE HERE TODAY to even consider this topic.
While we may not be able to rewrite our own early history, we can sure rewrite what we know of it and how we feel about it.
It is extremely empowering to me to continue to rip the veils of darkness OFF OF MYSELF as I heal from my mother’s abuse of me. I find even more so today that the version of my own self and the version of my own childhood that I ACTUALLY wrote was not the one my mother wanted me to write. I found ways to BUILD and CONSTRUCT myself exactly within the same events that my mother used to try to destroy me.
I am no longer at all concerned with looking specifically at/for that which was intended to destroy me. I AM concerned with looking at/for the ways I found NOT TO BE DESTROYED. Those things are MINE. The rest of it belongs on the other side of the ‘borderline’ – they were and still are my mother’s.
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