Hello darkness, my old friend…

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Until today, these lyrics from the song Sound of Silence had a completely different meaning to me. I’m not sure how I could have listened to it a million times and related it to PTSD, but I completely missed it. This morning, however, the first two lines came to me as I started thinking of a moment I had last night before bedtime.

I have been living in recovery with PTSD for almost two decades now, and for the most part, it has faded into a light haze rather than a menacing darkness.  Still, there are moments that always catch me off guard and and make me worry about what is to come. Last night, something triggered a thought, a question of when something happened, and even though, as most of us do, I immediately told myself that’s not something I even want to know, the fear crept up that my brain would not let go.

Sometimes I feel like my mind and my trauma scarred brain are often at odds. My brain says it needs to tell me things, while my mind says I really don’t want or need to know. All these years later, the two still fight like children about who gets to sit in the front seat of the car. This struggle between the two left me wondering before bedtime if I would have a nightmare about what I didn’t want to remember, or if I would wake up with a new memory. It was so unsettling that it was hours before I could make myself try to fall asleep.

Fortunately, I woke to find my fear had not come true, but there is still this nagging feeling that my brain is just dying to tell me what it knows. I know the longer I ignore it, the more horrifyingly dramatic ways it will present my story when it finally breaks out into it’s performance though. So I wait for a moment when I can cuddle up quietly and allow it to speak softly with me about the things it needs to tell me. I will listen and allow it to get all the negative it’s been holding out, and I will grieve anew and give myself time to accept the feelings that I should have felt and dealt with long ago…

Hello darkness, my old friend…

Remnants

The past week has been challenging to say the least. I lost my dad on Oct 25, and a cascade of unrelated events followed. The details are unnecessary, but to say I am tired and worn would be an understatement.

After receiving a message shaming me for the pain my bio father and his wife are going through, I wrote a long letter. In it I let out the hurts and heartbreak they dealt to me over time, and for the first time, publicly told my side of the story.

One of the things I mentioned in the letter was how I used to hide in my closet because it was the only place in the world where I knew I couldn’t be “in trouble.” As I started my day today, I remembered that, even after I left his home, I still found the need for that safe space. Even though my room at my mom’s was a safe space, I still needed a sanctuary, somewhere I knew I couldn’t be found. So, in the only corner of the closet that wasn’t exposed with the folding doors were open, behind the long dresses I hung up to shield me from prying eyes, I made a little nest where I could hide.

Until this morning, I had completely forgotten about my hiding place. Now, however, I remember going there several times. I’m not even sure I needed to when I did, but it the only space in my tiny world I was certain I could control. It was dark and silent, in it I could find peace and release the anxiety that would build up.

What I also didn’t realize was that over time, I have continued to keep my little closet space, but I’ve expanded it a bit. My home is now my safe space, my sanctuary. It is the place I go to hide – it’s the only place where I have complete control. When people come to it unannounced, I feel that same sense of anxiety that I had when I would hold my breath, hoping no one would find me in my closet when I was hiding from the world.

Eureka!

I minimize my feelings because my father minimized them first.

Minimizing. It’s something I often do.  Although I do it less often than I used to, I am sure I still do it far more than I should.  I’m not sure what brought me to the thought because I think about so much.  I analyze my world and everything in it.  Every single thought, I have to fully explore it.  I’ve known for a long time that part of this was a coping mechanism.  When I was little, analyzing every movement, mood, tone, look, action, and reaction was essential to my attempts to keep the balance and strive to live in a happy world.  I learned to watch everyone else to be sure I was prepared for what was coming, but I also learned to watch myself, just in case any little thing I did might set a new chain reaction off.

Along with the running analysis of my environment, there also came another coping mechanism – the art of staying small.  Until tonight, I did not realize just how much of my minimizing actually developed as a reaction to my environment. Yet in twenty-one minutes, I realized how years of emotional guilt and shame all come down to that one little sentence.  In just twenty-one minutes, I understood so much more about my life.  This is what I learned (forgive me if it is a bit fragmented, it was a continuous stream of thought):

I’ve spent my entire life feeling guilty for feeling anything – feeling like I was wrong or bad for having emotions…like I shouldn’t ever be angry or hurt, like I’m a bad person when I don’t like someone for [hurting] me. When I say guilty, its not like “I ate that ice cream, I shouldn’t have” guilty, but seriously guilty – not owning things emotionally because my father’s (and now other’s) feelings were more important, and my feelings didn’t matter.  What he wanted or needed came first, so I learned to protect myself.  I had to make me small, and to protect people I loved, I had to not feel anything at all.

I didn’t tell about my abuse because my father taught me that my feelings did not matter to adults. My grandmother reinforced this when she basically told me that what my grandfather did was my fault. I also did not tell because I did not want my mom to get hurt. Years later, I don’t tell people when they make me mad because I don’t want their feelings to be hurt.  It is safer to absorb the negative feelings I have than to risk the added emotion and guilt from creating a negative reaction in someone else because of course, negative reactions are my fault. I’m a bad person if I make others feel bad, and its all because that’s what i was taught…I just didnt realize that’s what I was taught.

It makes a little more sense now – that man and all his guilt…

Something else I realized was that I’m shy as a result.  My mother tells stories of when I was little, before she and my father divorced.  Back then, I wasn’t shy at all.  I never met a stranger, and I loved everyone in the world.  Yet, after she left, and it was just my father, brother, and I, I learned fairly quickly that it was really important not to show how I felt.  I had to process my thoughts before speaking, and analyze my actions before following through.  It was important that I did not act or speak in a way that would anger my father, or “hurt” anyone else, thus I turned inward and became very shy.  After years of coping this way, it kind of just became a part of who I am.

And then…I realized something else. This is why, no matter how many times I speak in public, or how comfortable I am with a crowd, I always become unbearably nervous while in the midst of my speech. My voice wavers and I start to shake, even when I know the content and the people extremely well.  I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to keep myself calm and not let it get out of control, and yet now, I realize it is because I am not supposed to let others see my emotions. There is a recording in my head somewhere that says, “Stay quiet.  Stay small.” and by speaking to others, I am going against that thought.  My fear of being heard, or doing something wrong, of making others upset takes over – even  when I am not worried about these things at all – my brain remembers all the lessons I have been taught and it tries to take control.

My Own Little World…

“Now it makes sense!” He said that the only thing he had remembered about childhood was that he seemed always to be alone. “Now I understand that being alone was when I felt safe. There was no one around to hurt me.” 1

This quote struck a chord with me.  It resonated deeply, and it brought everything about the few good childhood memories I have into perspective…

As a child, these are a few of my most vivid memories:  riding my bike for hours, searching sandy terraces for quartz crystals, exploring the woods near my home, playing in my room, sitting in my closet in the dark, reading under the covers after the lights were out, fixing meals, eating dinner, playing board games.  Most of these memories are after the age of nine.  All these memories are peaceful, and in every one, I am alone.

I have other memories.  Memories of school, memories of being at my mom’s, memories of staying with my grandmother, In some of these memories, I am solitary, but never totally alone. Most of them are vague, the ones that are more clear are generally punctuated by fear, anxiety, or hurt (emotional or physical).

I have some memories of my “family,” as it were (dad, step-mom, brother, and me).  I am not sure there are more than a couple that involve all four of us.  Most of the memories are from trips to visit family or go shopping. I remember the parts where I was alone more vividly than the rest.  The remaining vivid memories I have from that time are negative ones.

When I was alone, I felt safe.  When I was alone, I was sure of myself.  When I was alone, I was not doing ANYTHING wrong.

It makes more sense now why I prefer to be alone.  My world has perspective when I am not anxious about someone else.  I deal better with people when the situation is one to one because most of my positive interactions as a child were exactly that.  Just me and my mom, my friend and I, etc.

My world was, and always has been, very small.  I like it that way because it is all I have ever known…


1. Cecil Murphey. When a Man You Love Was Abused: A Woman’s Guide to Helping Him Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation (p. 43). Kindle Edition.

Who Is Responsible?

As a child, I learned to take responsibility for a lot of things.  Sometimes, these were the things that most youth learn in order to become responsible adults.  Yet, there are other things that I learned to take on that are clearly not my own – or at least it is becoming more clear that they do not belong to me.

I remember thinking that it was my responsibility to protect my mother from the wrath of my father.  He said ugly things, lots of ugly things, about her, and I did my best to hide them from her.  Not only this, but after I was molested by my grandfather, I remained silent because I wanted to protect her.  I knew that if my father found out that her father molested me, he would find a way to blame her – even though it was his fault for leaving me with that man instead of with my mom.

As a teen, I took on a new responsibility, that of the secret keeper.  I kept the secrets of my grandfather locked away inside because I was afraid that if I told, I would bring someone else pain.  My greatest fear was that someone else (especially my mother) had been molested by him, and sharing my pain would bring back ugly memories.  I knew what it felt like to remember, to loathe, to feel shame, so I did anything I could to shield others from the past.

What is even worse is that I even learned to protect my abusers from their own shame. For many, many years, I protected them out of respect for what is most people call “family.”  I felt it was my duty not to sully the family names by bringing out the ugly secrets that lay within.  I believed that bringing their offenses to light would destroy the world that family members considered safe.  I even felt, and still to this day somewhat feel, that to point out their shame would somehow be unfair because, they are “family” after all…

In my blindness, I enabled my family to pretend that nothing was wrong.  I was, and am still, fairly certain that my father would not believe that anyone in his “loving, Christian family” would be capable of causing such harm.  I believed that my mother’s family would turn a blind eye to the ugly truth, because they have a history (in my opinion) of sweeping things under the rug.  “Talking” is something they never truly do.

Where does this leave me?  I have not the slightest clue.  Sometimes, I want to call them all together and lay it all out.  I want to tell them about the dark and ugly secrets of which they are not aware.  Yet, my mind keeps coming back to the question, “What good would it do?”  I fear that my voice would not be heard – that their collective propensities for blaming someone else would end up making me look like the bad one and once more minimize my experiences.

I guess deep down, what I really want is for someone else to shoulder the responsibility for this entire mess for a while.  Yet all my life, all I have received from others are excuses.  Excuses as to why it is not their fault and why they should not be expected to bear the burden as well.

So, I keep shouldering the responsibilities, even if they are not my own.

Afraid to Dream… *Trigger Warning*

I’ve been here before.  I’ve felt these emotions, and I’ve fought to quell these fears. Yet, knowing I can overcome it just is not enough.

I went to sleep last night praying I would not dream of questions that are on my mind. Somehow, it seems it would be more terrifying to remember in a dream.  I really do not want to travel down this path.  I’m not even sure there is anything at the other end, yet the possibility of finding something terrifies me.  I’m not sure why it still scares me so much.  Haven’t I been dealing with flashbacks since I was fourteen?  Shouldn’t I be prepared for that queasy feeling that everyone gets when approaching the dangerous unknown?

In my mind, the answer is, “No, Kylee. No matter how long you are on the path, this part of the journey will always feel the same.”  Still, I keep wishing there was a different answer.  I know I have the tools.  I am strong.  I have conquered the darkness many times before.

I guess, even though the memories are mine alone, I’m just a little afraid to do this on my own…

Something I Can’t Remember… *Trigger Warning*

Have you ever had something that you just cannot remember?  You know it is something you need to know or say, but for some reason, no matter how long you wait, it never comes to mind?

There is this memory – one I cannot shake.  I am not sure how old I was, so I cannot place it on a time line.  All I can remember is taking a bath at my grandmother’s and being afraid.  You see, there was an older man there (my step-grandfather), and I was anxious that he would come in to the bathroom while I was alone.  I am not sure if this is a normal fear for most children, as it is something I was always afraid of as a child.  Since I cannot remember how old I was, I am not sure if this moment came after my grandfather molested me or not.

There are a few memories I have of this place where my grandmother lived.  I am not sure how many of them are from separate times, and how many were from the same visit. What I know is that I remember every place I have ever slept, except that one.  For some reason, I have always memorized every room, even if I only slept there one time.  Yet, I spent the night at this place, and do not remember a single thing about it.

Those two puzzle pieces, coupled with one other, make me feel as though something more went on.  One afternoon, after my grandmother, aunt, cousin and I had been on an outing (this I do not remember either), we returned to the house to find the door locked.  When we tried to get in, this man came to the door and told my grandmother to leave and never return.  He was angry and he was accusing her of something.  I was confused.  I did not know what was going on.  All I could think of was that my doll and my clothes were in the house.  I begged and pleaded with him to let us come in and get our things.  The memory fades from there, but I think he might have set my things outside the door.

Honestly, if there is more, I do not want to know.  Yet there is this nagging feeling that I cannot escape.  It is a very uncomfortable feeling that I wish I could just ignore.