Faded memories…

In a previous post, I mentioned how few memories I have from when I was a child. As I pondered the meaning of family over the past week, my attention once again turned to these memories as a way to weigh my feelings against reality. The more I thought over things, the more I realized there was only one truly happy memory of my bio father before the age of six.

I know he worked days, so his time with us was mostly limited to nights, but I don’t even remember him in the time between work and bedtime except on three occasions. One I remember because I was embarrassed that everyone was laughing at something three year old me said. The other, I could only see his legs and shoes because I was a baby and sitting in the floor – not a memory of him in all reality. Take away those, and the only memory I actually have of him that is a good one is when I was standing beside him in his favorite recliner watching football when I was four.

The simple truth is, to me, there were only six years of my life in which I actually remember him being there. As I have written previously, in those memories he was mostly tearing my mother down, overbearing, extremely distant, or punishing me harshly. This means for me, I never really felt like he was my father. I felt a sense of duty because he told me that’s what family is, but in truth, he wasn’t my father just because he put a roof over my head and met the bare necessities for clothing and feeding me.

When talking to my brother last week, it hit home when I told him our “father” hasn’t been a part of my life for 28 years. Suddenly, I realized I am 40, and six years does not qualify someone as a parent, especially when a large portion of that time was punctuated by emotional abuse and neglect, endangerment, and physical abuse. He was a tiny blip in my timeline, one I think is hardly worth continued concern.

I don’t say these things to be harsh, hurtful, or vengeful. I do say these things, however, to be honest, open, and real about where I am in my life. It’s time for me to let go of the things that have held me back, to honor the ones who have supported and loved me by moving forward with my life, and to no longer feel like I should keep secrets and protect people out of some misplaced loyalty to a family that never actually existed.

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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.

Balancing the evil with good…

Sometimes I just wish that I could say their names out loud.  I wish I could just point them out to others and say, they are the ones who abused me.  Sometimes, I just wish that the rest of the world knew the kind of people they are.  Yet, I still hold back.  Why?  I am not sure.  At times, I think it is self-preservation.  I fear that if I speak their names publicly, then I will bring their wrath, opening myself and my character up for more abuse.  Yet at other times, I wonder if I am still doing it to “protect” them from my anger.  I still worry about skewing the perception of others against them, I feel like pointing them out would be asking others to judge them.

Then I have to ask myself, why do I want to say their names out loud?  Most times, I just want to say them because they are a SECRET that burns inside my mind.  Other times, I feel that, although I know they will never admit to the wrongs they have done, I would like for them to still be responsible for them.  While I keep their names secret, they go on with their lives.  They do not have to live with the burden of having done something wrong, because no one is openly telling them they did wrong. Maybe sometimes, I just want them to feel a fraction of the pain I have felt.  Maybe I would like for them to feel what it is like to be shunned, misunderstood, and disliked. Yet, the one reason that concerns me most is, how many other children have been/are in danger because I have not spoken the names of my abusers?

While this conflict tears me apart at times, I think about my list of abusers and their enablers.  It is a fairly short list.  It amazes me to think how such a few people could have had such a negative impact on my life.  Their actions have haunted, hurt, and tormented me for over 20 years, and it has taken twice as many positive people to overcome the damage they have done.

Positive people.  I can list those.  There is no stigma attached to the people who have supported me, nor is there shame in saying their names out loud.  Saying their names reminds me that there is hope, and it also reminds me that there is good.  With that said, here is a list of the people who were a part of the major turning points in my healing journey:

John*
Paulette*
Ott*
Kim*
Sandy*
Lisa*
Gary*
Lynn
Brittney*
Denise*
Matt*
Mike*
Bryan*
Ryan*
Ronnie*
Horace*
Carol
Bill*
Kyle
Alana
Natalie
Michael
Sharika
Joanna
Karen
Anne
Erin*

While those listed may never have known what I was going through, I can remember exactly what they did to change something in my life.  The ones who are starred, either were the catalyst for one of my blog posts, or have been mentioned anonymously in the posts or journal entries that I have shared. Whether it be linking me to new friends, giving me a chance to express myself, giving me the courage to speak up, or fueling an emotional breakthrough, they have each done something extremely important in my life.  I am thankful for their presence, and I know I would not be the person I am today if it were not for their support.

Inspired…

Earlier this week I wrote about being inspired by a group of youth to share more of my journey with the world. Although it has been somewhat scary to share this, it has also been inspiring at the same time.

Through my late teen years and early twenties, I spent a great deal of time learning to express myself through poetry and prose. Since I began writing, precious few have seen my works, as I always felt they were deeply personal. Because I felt so many things in my life had been taken without my permission, I viewed my poetry and journals – my thoughts – as one of the few things that I truly owned.  I have always been weary to share them with others for fear that they would be stolen or ridiculed.

In spite of those fears, I finally published my first book this week.  After editing the text and designing the cover, I felt a great sense of accomplishment once I saw the finished product posted online.  Yet, even with that wonderful feeling in my heart, there are still moments when I look at it on Lulu.com and wonder, “Am I really doing the right thing?”

In those moments of doubt, the words of my high school literature teacher come back to me.  On the last day of my Senior year, she said to a group of my friends, “Be good to her because one day, your children will be reading her poetry.”  While I do not hold lofty aspirations, and it is well past time for many of those children to be reading what I have written, her words remind me that someone cared.  Someone believed that I had something of value to share with the world, and even though there are times that I want to take my poems and hide, I should do my best to live up to that belief.

On that note, I should get back to work – I have 10 years worth of poetry type up.

I’m Not Who I Was…

While putting together my book, I spent a bit of time revisiting the person that I was during the time period that the selections included were written.  I can vividly remember the feelings and thoughts, and often events, that prompted me to write each entry, and unfortunately, most of them came from a very dark place in my mind.

However, a few years ago, I finally reached a point in my life where I was able to begin living in the light.  While there is still a great deal of darkness inside, I am now able to keep it from overpowering the light that I have found.  I see the world much differently, and I am thankful every day that life is about change.

In honor of the person I have become, I am revisiting an old post from my Btrflywngs (Kylee Jones) MySpace blog, entitled “I’m Not Who I Was.”  The “friend’s profile” I mention in the first line was my real (Erin) profile (see, now I do not even have to be anonymous anymore).

July 19, 2009

Recently, I was checking out the music list on a friend’s profile and ran across the song “I’m Not Who I Was” by Brandon Heath.  This song is such a wonderful expression of transformation and healing and it reminded me once more of the beauty of the transient experience.

Many times, I have said that I have been shaped by abuse, but I refuse to be defined by it.  Yet, that is not the way I have always seen myself.  There was a time when I believed that I was an abused, abandoned, emotionally-scared, unlovable, unforgivable, worthless being.  As you can imagine, it was often very hard to live with myself knowing that these things defined the person I was and who I would become.

Somewhere along the way, a beautiful thing occurred – I learned that there is a difference between who you are and the things you have experienced. Labels are the words people (including ourselves) use to define what they do not know or understand.  However, once you look deeper, you will find that labels are superficial and can in no way fully describe the person inside.

Another beautiful truth I learned was that experiences are transient.  Yes, I have been abused, but I am no longer abused.  What does that mean?  It means that I was an abused person, but now I am a person who has experienced abuse.  However, even that statement is incorrect.  Even while I was being abused, abuse was the experience, not the definition of my inner being – I was a person who was experiencing abuse.

In the moment that we learn to separate the actions and circumstances outside of ourselves and our control from the person that we truly are, we are made whole.  We no longer see ourselves as incomplete, but as fulfilled.  Our perspective changes, and we begin to understand that while we may have experienced many things, the most important part of the experience is the journey to find who we are.

Who am I?  I am Kylee Jones, someone who as experienced abuse and emotional abandonment.  I am happy to say that these experiences have been transient, and while I may have experienced them in my past, what I do with today and tomorrow is what matters most.

Remembering…

Sometimes it is so scary to remember what it was like the day someone finally convinced me to speak up for myself.  It is terrifying to put myself back in that moment, that week, or even the month that followed.  Yet, for the sake of helping youth find their voices, it is something that I must do.

I remember how I used to hide in my closet just so I could feel safe…how I thought that, as long as I was in there, I would not be found.  I remember how it felt to know that no one would come looking for me if I made myself invisible, as well as how if I was invisible, I could do no wrong for which I could be punished later.  I can also remember how afraid I was that because I told someone I did not want to go home. I can feel the fear that the consequences of my actions would be worse than the little bit of safety I afforded myself for just a moment.  I remember how it felt to know that my parents were sitting at a table with a lawyer, someone I had never met before, and talking about my fate day in and day out for what seemed like an eternity.  Although it was probably less than a month, it seemed like my life was hanging in balance forever.  Every day I dreaded my mother coming home from these meetings because I was scared that she would tell me that I had to go back to my dad’s.  I can remember feeling like he held all the power in our lives.  He was the one who always had control, and I just knew that no one, not even a lawyer, was going to be able to take that away from him…

I say all these things, bring back all these memories because over the past week, I have had the privilege to be in the presence of some very amazing youth. These young people have expressed openly in words so many things that I have been afraid to even think about for over 20 years.  Their courage has inspired me to once again dig down deep, to remember the things that as adults, most would prefer to forget.  It reminds me that it is important to keep children and youth informed, that every youth deserves the right to be involved when decisions are being made about their lives.  Not only this, but it also reminds me that no youth should ever have to feel alone and out of control because they made a choice to tell.

I’m ok…

There was a time when it took everything I had just to get through the day.  When I would wake in the morning and hope to get through just one day without having flashbacks on continuous loop in my brain. When I would simply just blank out and shut down because I couldn’t take the overwhelming feelings of disgust, hatred, and betrayal.

Before I learned about grounding and redirection, I learned to tell myself, I’m ok.  At first it was a way to remind myself that, while for that moment I was in a state of panic, I was really not losing my mind.  It helped to quell the attacks by grounding me more in the reality that there was not anything wrong with me, but that I was momentarily experiencing something that was hard to deal with.  There were times when I could be heard repeating to myself over and over, “I’m ok.  I’m ok.  I’m ok.”  I’m sure I sounded a bit crazy, but it was all I could do to regain some control over my run away mind.

Over time, however, “I’m ok.” became a personal mantra.  It became my way of saying to myself, and to the rest of the world, that there was really nothing wrong with me as a person.  By saying these words to myself, I learned that  I wasn’t crazy.  I wasn’t wrong for feeling the way I did.  My inner being wasn’t misshapen, disformed, or unlovable. I was really ok.

Sometimes it is important for us as survivors to remind ourselves the fundamental things like this.  Even though we may not really believe it at first, in time, if we say it enough, we start to open up to the possibility.  For me, “I’m ok.” was just the start.  Over the years, I have learned to tell myself quite a few things – such as I am a beautiful person, I am worthy of love, I am not unlovable, I AM good enough.

Some people may think that a bit silly, but abuse teaches us that we are not any of these things, including ok.  Sometimes it is our abusers who say these words.  At other times, it is the perception about ourselves that their actions leave behind.  Whatever the case, the lessons we learn from abuse are hard wired into our brains.  We believe them because it is what we have been shown.  We, in many ways, have been brain washed, and in order for us to break the never ending stream of negative thoughts we have learned to repeat to ourselves, we must train our brains to question everything we have ever learned…even if that means we have to start with saying, “I’m ok.”