Saturday, January 23, 2015. I had no context for and no perspective about the horrors that happened to me during the first 18 years of my life until I was 29 years old. At that point someone in AA had “12-stepped me” by telling me her story. I entered a 7-week in-patient alcohol treatment program October 1980. Treatment for marijuana addiction did not yet exist. I was able to “translate” into AA terms what I knew about my own life.
It was in that treatment program that I first told ANYONE ANYTHING about what happened to me as a child. I did not know I was abused. I did not know I was a victim. I did not know I was “depressed.” (I know now I was using pot daily to self-medicate that depression.) I knew NOTHING about these concepts.
In essence, I had no information to use to begin to understand anything about myself until “that story” was told to me and some kind of resonance began to reverberate within me.
I only mention these aspects of my life in passing today because there is one point I am pondering at this moment. Through over 25+ years of healing work on my part I ALWAYS insisted that there was no active alcoholism or any other “substance” addiction to explain the insanity within my home of origin.
It took all of these 25+ years for me to figure out on my own that my so-abusive mother was severely mentally ill. It has only been in the past two years that I also learned on my own that she was severely PSYCHOTICALLY mentally ill. And – in my life – that might be THE MOST IMPORTANT point for me to come to understand.
This morning my thoughts seem to be tapped by a rivulet of awareness and memory that I can only think is coming to me by my “nerves” that have been touched this week with a commenter’s mention of addiction (Adult Children of Alcoholics – ACoA). A piece of information is coming clear to me out of the fog of memory stored away where I do not usually go. The piece is coming to a new look.
I have sorted and transcribed volumes of my mother’s writings that came into my hands upon her death in 2003. Among those years of diaries and letters I found a description of her diet pill (speed) use during her pregnancy 1960-61 as “samples” of the drug were pushed upon her by her doctor during her prenatal clinic visits. And I mean PUSHED as in “You are FAT! Do something about it! TAKE THESE PILLS!”
I was 8 years old when she became pregnant with this, her 5th child and 9 years old in 4th grade by the time she gave birth. For some interesting reason I can’t quite track right now (nor does that matter), today memories of that year’s time are coming back to me in a new context: My mother was not only psychotically mentally ill during this time, she was ALSO under the influence of powerful drugs.
This means, I see at this moment, that her psychosis-driven terrible abuse of me during this year was AMPLIFIED not ONLY by her pregnancy but ALSO by the speed she was consuming. (And, yes, I believe this child of hers suffers from life-long effects of her use of those drugs during her pregnancy.)
We moved down off of our Alaskan mountain homestead during these months and were living in an apartment building in Anchorage. This gives me a kind of enclosed circumstances for memories so that I have them placed along the chaotic time-line of my childhood. I know WHERE we were living so I have a context for certain “bunches” of memories that belong in this time frame.
Some of the memories are HORRIBLE!
They haunted me this morning like tendrils of really toxic smoke leaking out around a formidable closed door I keep so many of my memories sealed behind. For my own good. For the good of everyone around me. So I can keep on going.
Well, I was gifted with being able to spend a couple of hours this morning visiting with some women friends of mine and from this venture another set of my memories from this time period came back to me. I can hold those up like a lighted liberty torch and this fact makes it a small bit easier to tangentially think about the horrific ones.
The horrible ones HAPPENED to me. Bad things were DONE to me. Those actions hurt me but they did not originate within ME. Only goodness came from within child-me. As I have written before on this blog, being able to locate OUR perfect child SELF in our abusive childhoods is essential to our degrees of well-being – both as we consider what we lived through THEN and absolutely necessary for us – NOW!
(See earlier posts: +THAT MESS – WAS NEVER MINE; +WHEN THE GOODNESS APPEARS IN SPITE OF THE TRAUMAS)
I just had another train of thoughts appear connected to what I planned to say next. It has yet again to do with my internal arguments against current use of the concept of “resilience” as it tends to be applied to survivors of truly HORRIFIC early trauma. People also use the words “protective factors” in their thinking along these lines. HUH? I am asking myself what exactly ANYTHING “good” in my life did to protect child me from ANYTHING that happened to me?
But before I get lost in THAT train of thought let me return myself to saying this.
On the bad memory side of what I suffered during my 4th grade year was escalated insane abuse having to do with Mother’s obsession about my washing and drying the family’s dishes. NOTHING I tried to do right protected me from Mother’s abuse.
She had created a list of 100 steps to doing the dishes RIGHT! The list began (although I never have tried to remember all of those steps and never will) with the exact order that the table was to be cleared, continued with emptying dishes from the table of their condiments and returning those food products to their original jars and bottles MAKING SURE to meticulously clean the openings of those jars before I put them away.
Then there was an exact series of RULES about how to pre-rinse and stack the dishes, the order they were to be exactly washed: first plastics, then glass, then silverware, etc. on down the line to the dirtiest pots and pans which had to be scrubbed every time to return to them their as-new pristine condition, on through steps of washing the stove top, refrigerator door, all cupboard doors, cleaning the floor, and wiping the dishes and putting them away.
I could NEVER NEVER NEVER do this job right! NEVER! No matter how HARD I tried.
I did not KNOW there was no hope for reprieve for me. There was no way I could avoid the storms of abuse that continually surrounded and engulfed me.
One of the very creative special kinds of abuses (besides the beatings, etc.) Mother designed for me the winter of her speed use was to make me take any “free” time I might have had – in between all kinds of other household chores she assigned me – to sit at the table to write the entire list of 100 steps over and over and over and over again.
If I tried to “get it all right” after a meal then I was “in trouble” for “being too slow.” If I tried to work faster I was equally in trouble for “making too much noise.”
My life was HORRIBLE with Mother and I was helplessly hopelessly in my childhood to SUFFER. I know now that this was the specific design of Mother’s psychosis as her mind broke during her birthing of me to make her believe I was not human, I was the devil’s child.
All that aside….
On the good side as I was reminded of it in conversation with friends today….
I LOVED SCHOOL!!! I had an excellent teacher. Miss Evans creatively assigned projects to her pupils that made MY heart shine! She gave me an outlet for my SELF to exist in my otherwise HORRIFIC life.
I have never forgotten my pure absolute JOY in learning about musk oxen for one report for this class, or the report I did on tomatoes where I learned they are a FRUIT, a BERRY and NOT a vegetable!
And most importantly I have never forgotten the in-depth report I did on Jane Addams who founded Hull House in Chicago. I even made a puppet of her, carefully wrapping papier mache over an old light bulb and hand stitching her a dress so that SHE rather than I could tell her story for my in-class presentation.
Today I know it was MY SOUL who was so attracted to my heroine Jane. It was MY SOUL that so delighted in learning, in beauty, in creativity.
Was it a “protective” factor that Alaska had the best schools in the nation back then and that I was allowed to go to school? Was it a protective factor that my mother came from a Boston family that HIGHLY valued education so that Mother allowed me time to do my homework?
That other train of thinking lies outside my thoughts for this post. What I do know is that I – as a person in my own right whose existence had to essentially – and I mean ESSENTIALLY be hidden from Mother due to the kind of psychotic life she lived in her mind regarding me – as a person in my own right I DID exist. Among the darkness of the memories of horror that exist in my entire childhood I CAN find my shining self there. (Today I am grateful for the help I got to be able to do this. I am out of practice as on the whole I LEAVE MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES ALONE at this point in my life.)
There were MANY other insane abuses that Mother did to me this year. But I am now free to think about my new-found piece of information that at least at this time ‘drugs’ did complicate Mother’s illness right along with something GOOD and not just along with something BAD.
This matters to me.
NOTE on memory work:
I find that the nexus (center, focus) of any “work” I might do regarding the abuse of my childhood has to be located exactly in the nexus of me as a child during time when I was momentarily living my own life. In other words, I have to look carefully to find moments BETWEEN direct attacks on me by mother in order to find my balance point before I approach a memory.
When memories are “accidentally” triggered it is hard to be able to stop from looking at the memory IN ANY WAY until I have located my inner — non-suffering — child-self first.
Due to the severity of Mother’s illness and her abuse of me I was hardly ever safe from her attacks at all unless I was at school. Yet because of the amount of work I have done on re-membering myself in my childhood I can usually find my “islands of self” at times when I was just being me and NOT suffering.
The LIGHT was in ME during my childhood. All of the darkness was in Mother.
But if something happens to trigger my sadness, my sorrow, my suffering “out of the blue” it is essential that I DO NOT in any way “go into” those trauma memories (if I can help it) unaccompanied by my inner-light-child-self as I existed all the way through my childhood – simply because it was MY childhood and I WAS in it!!
I had to look very carefully in order to find this me-self I am describing because my childhood was unbelievably bad and there was VERY little time when I was not actively being made to suffer. I trained myself, is what I did. EVERY early trauma survivor can do this if I can!!
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