July 3, 2010
When you hold on to your past, you impede your progress.
The greatest thing you can do for yourself is to forgive yourself and to let go so you can move forward. This often the hardest and last step. It was for me.
Ultimately, you make the choice of how you want your life to be. No matter what has happened in your past, you can change your life. Make the decision. Right now. Decide to take responsibility from this moment on for who you become.
Start where you are. This moment. Stop waiting for a miracle.
I realized it wasn’t God that was punishing me. I was punishing myself for things that had happened and things I had no control over. At least not anymore. Living in the past does nothing. So I let it go and chose to begin a new chapter.
I gave myself the power back. I took the power away from my past, from my mistakes, from my abusers, from depression, from BPD, and gave it back to myself. I chose to rise above. When you accept what has happened and relinquish yourself from undeserved blame and guilt, while taking appropriate responsibility for your actions – you become empowered again. You are able to let go of the burdens of the past. You are able to forgive yourself and move forward.
This is what happened for me, after years and years of blaming myself, of striving for unattainable perfection, of feeling guilty for everything I did.
Now I am moving on. Putting my past behind me, only taking what I have learned so that I may use it to bless my life and those around me.
I can allow myself to be happy now. To live, freely.
I can be me.
Day by day, step by step, I’ve become a little more unbroken.
And though sometimes I fall… I’m forever falling forward…
July 2, 2010
A really strong woman accepts the war she went through and is ennobled by her scars. ~Carly Simon
I remember one morning, about two and half months ago, that I stood in front of my closet staring at the long row of twenty-something sweatshirts. Even though the the weather was starting to get warmer, calling for shorter sleeves, until that day I had refused to show my arms because of my many scars. I was ashamed of them, not wanting to be stared at or judged. I was deathly afraid of being asked questions and hated feeling self-conscious. Hardly anyone in my life knew I was a cutter, and the scars were too deep to use the “cat-scratch” excuse. So I used the easy way out and just pretended I was cold-blooded.
However, something changed that morning. For the first time, I didn’t care what other people thought of me. I had finally gotten to the point in my recovery where I was open enough to accept myself with my flaws and let people think what they may. Perhaps it might even give someone else the courage to not be ashamed of their battle wounds either. I made the decision that morning to love my scars. I closed my closet, walked over to my chest of drawers, and pulled out a t-shirt. That day, I walked around with bare arms, my struggle with depression and BPD exposed to the world. Sure, I got a couple of glances, I was a bit uncomfortable, but in the end… I was ok. No one asked any questions. I didn’t break down. I didn’t panic. The world didn’t end. I was fine. And everyone else was fine. I was just me.
Perfectly imperfect me.
Now, my scars have faded quite a bit, but they’re still there. I’m getting married tomorrow. They’re not that noticeable anymore, but I will still have to use some cover-up for pictures. But I’m fine with that. To me, they are just indicators of where I have been and the things I have overcome. They are my battle wounds…markers that I have fought… And that I have won. That I am a warrior. The most important scars are the ones you don’t see… The emotional scars. And I am happy and relieved to say that those have been healed. Through therapy, time, commitment, and love… Those have been healed. And that’s all that truly matters. It IS possible. I can testify of that.
Healing is possible.
Hope is real.
Love is attainable.
Believe in yourself…
Keep fighting your battles.
And be proud of your scars.
They mean you’re strong enough to survive it all.
June 7, 2010
I am sitting in the large living room window of my uncle’s beach house in Sea Ranch on the spectacularly beautiful California coast. The sun slipped below the horizon half of an hour ago, yet the waves – only a hop, skip, and a jump away from the house – are still clearly visible as they push and pull against the shore. A curious little fox just peered through the glass sliding door, probably hoping I had left him another orange to much on, but finding no such tasty morsel prepared this fine evening, scampered away to search for meatier prey. It has been a while since I have really sat down and written. I’ve made a blog post here and there, but since my engagement I have been quite preoccupied with wedding plans and more overwhelmed than I’d like to admit about this impending life transition.
And what a transition it is. From single to engaged. From engaged to married. It all happened so fast my head is still spinning. Don’t get me wrong… it is wonderful. Exciting. Even fairytale-like you could say. But… overwhelming. So… So… Overwhelming. To the point where I feel like I’m just an auto-pilot most of the time. Floating through a dream. That I’m going to wake up and realize that none of this is real and that I’m still in the hospital. Sometimes I’m afraid that my emotions haven’t quite caught up with me yet, and that when they do, I’m going to crash and burn. But then, I realize that my emotions catch up with me every day, that I have my “break-downs” every day… That hardly a day goes by where I don’t cry for some reason or another, that hardly a week goes by where I don’t feel like I’m going to snap… I’m still me. I still have BPD. I’m still fighting depression. I’m still on medication. I still have demons. I’m still living one day at a time.
But…I have a very real life I must live. I have dreams to chase. A wonderful man to marry. A home to build. A world of my own to create. I must move forward. And I am. And I will. Doesn’t mean I’m cured. Doesn’t mean I don’t struggle every single day. Doesn’t mean I still don’t have my insecurities, my fears, my nightmares, my urges. But I have to be bigger than this monster that tries to convince me to give up. To run away. That says “All of this is just too much for you. Getting married? You’re not ready. Run. Run while you can! Or better yet. End it. End it while you can. You don’t have to do all this. Avoid the hassle, the pain, the risk… The risk you may fail. The risk you may lose everything in the end. End it. End it now….” The voices are real. The demons are real. The dreams are real. The depression is real. The BPD is real.
But I am real too. And I am stronger. My will is real. My spirit is real. My daydreams are real. My happiness is real. Todd is real. Love is real. Hope is real. Faith is real. Beauty is real.
I am real. I am strong. I am stronger than what seeks to destroy me. And I will win. Every time. Again and again and again and again and again… For the rest of my life.
I don’t know if this will ever leave me completely. I don’t know if the thoughts, the feelings, the fears, the insecurities, those things that torture me and haunt me will ever go away… I hope so. Maybe. Someday. But if not… It’s ok. I’m at peace with that. I accept it. Because I know I’m stronger.
Someone asked me today… “Are you sure you have BPD? Because you never complain.” I said, “Because I know… That this too shall pass.” Radical acceptance of what I cannot change, at least not right away… What I cannot change, but what I can conquer, moment by moment, day by day. I could complain. I do. Sometimes. What holds me back? Guilt. I don’t want to be a burden. There are a few people I feel comfortable letting go with. And that’s ok. I don’t need to try and be strong and positive all the time. I guess that’s part of leaning on other people and letting them be there for me. But for the most part… I want to focus on the positive and what I’m doing right, not what I hate about myself. But no one’s perfect, and we all need to vent once in a while. That’s what friends are for. I am grateful for my friends.
These days, I don’t really know what I’m feeling from one moment to the next. Thank goodness for Todd, who helps me to figure it out. I will begin to cry my eyes out, and I won’t even know why. It is so confusing and frustrating to not know why you are sobbing, why you feel you are falling into a dark pit and can’t get out. It seems if you could just comprehend the reason why you felt something, then you could solve the problem and all would be well. You feel that if you cannot even understand your own emotions, how in the world can you be expected to navigate your way through this crazy, confusing, terrifying world? The world becomes a monstrous place, a labyrinth of mysteries, gray-areas, and paradoxes where nothing is clear and everything is seen through a kaleidoscope of criss-crossed emotions.
At the same time… deep down… I know that everything is going to be ok. That I won’t run away. That I won’t die. I do not have a sense of impending doom, because I know that, when all is said and done, I will be getting married to Todd on July 3, we will go on our honeymoon, we will move into our new apartment, and we will begin a new life together as a married couple. He will continue to work at the air force base, and I will begin school to get a degree in music and theatre. No matter what happens with my mind and my emotions, those things will happen. And that brings me a measure of peace, of predictability, of stability, of structure. And I need that… desperately.
A plan to keep me going, to keep me grounded when my mind is miles up in space or in the darkest recesses of the earth.
This too shall pass.
Moving forward is the most important thing.
One step at a time.
We rest here while we can, but we hear the ocean calling in our dreams,
And we know by the morning, the wind will fill our sails to test the seams,
The calm is on the water and part of us would linger by the shore,
For ships are safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
May 25, 2010
I wrote this about four years ago for my little sister, then eight years old, during a time where BPD had a very strong grip on my life. I had been away at school, so she did not see much of what went on, but when my parents decided to bring me home in an effort to help me get my life back together, the sometimes harsh reality of what it meant to be my sister started to take its toll on her impressionable mind. For this I felt guilty… And still do. She has seen so much more than a little girl should…been faced with much more worry and stress than she deserves. All because of me… Or maybe I should say… BPD. I still feel badly about it. I still wonder if there is ever anything I can do to make amends. I wonder if I have scarred her for life. Anyways, back in 2006 I had hopes that this mysterious force that led me towards something resembling insanity would somehow disappear. That I would be made free. That I would wake up one day and all of this confusion and misery would be gone. That I could just say to it “Go away!” and magically it would vanish. I suppose this story reflects the hope I still clung too as well a hearty dose of naivety. Little did I know that it would be years before I would even identify, let alone begin to heal from, this monster that terrorized my life and the lives of those around me.
This story is called “The Princess and the Snake”…
Once upon a time there were two beautiful princesses. One was almost grown-up and the other still quite a little princess but very grown-up in her ways. They lived in a beautiful castle with their loving parents, the King and Queen, and their two silly prince brothers. They were all happy and had lots of adventures together, and the two princess sisters were the best of friends.
One day the oldest princess, whose name was Princess Edde, told her younger sister, the Princess Emily, that she was going far, far away to the land of Provo and would stay there for a long, long time. Princess Emily was sad. “Why do you have to go far away?” she asked. “So I can go to school and learn about how to be a Queen someday,” said Princess Edde. “But I will be back in the summer.” She hugged and kissed the little princess and rode off in her carriage to the faraway land.
Princess Emily missed her big sister and best friend. She thought about her all the time. She thought about her when she put her dolls to sleep. She thought about her when she watched her favorite movie, The Little Princess, and when the Queen made snickerdoodle cookies, which were Princess Edde’s favorite.
Princess Edde missed Princess Emily too. Even though her school in the faraway land kept her very busy, she thought about Princess Emily all the time. She thought about her when she walked through the children’s section in the library. She thought about her when she ate lunch at the cafeteria. She thought about her when she dressed up for a dance, and when she saw pretty girls with blond hair that looked just like Princess Emily.
Finally, summer came, and Princess Edde returned. Everyone in the palace was so happy! “She’s more grown-up and busy a lot,” thought Princess Emily, “But she’s still fun to play with!”
Summer ended, and it was time for Princess Edde to return to the land of Provo. “I’ll be back in summer again! Be good Princess Emily!”
So another year passed, and the whole time the two princess sisters thought about each other. Princess Edde came home again the next summer, and it was a lot like the summer before. Everyone was happy, and they had many adventures.
But the next time Princess Edde came home was very different. As she stepped out of the carriage to greet the King, Queen, prince brothers, and prince sister, everybody gasped. Around Princess Edde’s neck was a humongous snake. Its green scales glittered in the sunlight, and its eyes were like two big red rubies. It looked at everyone, one at a time, and hissed a loud “HSSSSSS,” its long slimy tongue going in and out. Princess Emily screamed, “Get it off! Get it off!” But Princess Edde sighed and said, “Oh don’t be such a scaredy-cat. It’s a nice snake. It won’t hurt you. Some people I met in the land of Provo gave it to me, and I like it. I feed it and take care of it, so its getting even bigger and stronger—soon I won’t be able to carry it anymore! Then I’ll be sad, because my snake and I are the best of friends.”
As Princess Emily listened to her sister, her face got sad. She had a feeling Princess Edde wasn’t going to be much fun anymore. But, she would try to be happy anyways and have fun with her sister… but, she didn’t want to go anywhere near that ugly snake. She wanted to scream really loud and scare it away, but she kept her mouth shut. Princess Edde liked it, and Princess Emily knew that nothing she could do would make her give up the snake.
But she sure wished her sister would. The snake was nothing but trouble, and Princess Emily couldn’t understand why her sister wanted it. It would slide all around her and whisper things in her ear that made her sad and angry. Sometimes the snake told her to do things that the old Princess Edde never would have done—like getting frustrated at everybody and even yelling at Princess Emily sometimes. It made Princess Edde sad and very upset at herself, but still she wouldn’t get rid of the snake. She did everything it said and believed everything it told her. Her eyes became sad, and she walked slowly because the snake was so heavy on her shoulders.
The Queen worked especially hard to convince Princess Edde to kill the snake. Sometimes, Princess Edde would listen to her and understand that she needed to get rid of the snake once and for all. So she would throw it on the ground in front of the Queen and kick it. But, when the Queen left, Princess Edde would feel bad for the snake, and pick it up again.
One day, the snake was tired and wasn’t whispering very much in the Princess Edde’s ear, so Princess Edde wasn’t feeling too sad. Not having to worry as much about the snake, she walked around the palace looking for the Princess Emily. Hearing her voice in the royal kitchen, she poked her head in the door. Standing with their backs to the door were Princess Emily and the Queen. “Mommy Queen,” said Princess Emily, with tears in her eyes. “I miss Princess Edde. I wish she were happy.” “Me too,” said the Queen, “But she won’t be happy and fun anymore until she kills that evil snake.” “I wish she would,” Princess Emily replied, “Then we could have fun again and the palace would be a much happier place for everybody.”
Princess Edde, after hearing this, walked to her tower in the castle and looked out over the land. She looked and she thought for a long, long time. As she stood there, the snake started to whisper again. The whispering got louder, and the snake became heavier. Princess Edde thought of Princess Emily. She thought of the Queen. She thought of the King. She thought of her prince brothers. She thought of her friends, the ones in the kingdom and the ones in distant lands. She thought about books, and music, and dancing. She thought about everything really hard. Suddenly, with a tremendous shrug, she threw the snake onto the floor.
“What are you doing to me?” the snake hissed. “I am your friend. I tell you the truth about yourself.” “You are a liar,” said Princess Edde, “And everything you tell me are lies. They make me sad. I want to be happy. I want to play with Princess Emily again. And you are not going to stop me.” The snake’s eyes burned bright, and it coiled as if ready to strike. But before it could, Princess Edde grabbed it by the tail and threw it as hard as she could out of the window—the snake fell, down, down, down and hit the ground. It was dead.
Princess Edde had never felt so free! The heavy, horrible snake was no longer on her neck. She could run and play again! Quickly she ran around the palace calling “Princess Emily! Princess Emily!” Finally she found her putting her dolls to bed. “Princess Emily!” she exclaimed, “The snake is gone! I killed it!” Princess Emily jumped up and down for joy, and both princesses danced around the room and sang. “Does this mean we can play again? Does this mean you’ll be happy again?” asked Princess Emily. “Yes!” said Princess Edde, “What will our next adventure be?”
So peace and happiness returned to the castle. And the two princesses were once again, the best of friends.
Me and Emily… 2004
March 30, 2010
It was an interesting day… I feel a bit uncertain about it. Some parts were fabulous, some parts not so great. It may be just the fact that I am becoming more acutely aware of my quickly changing emotions and what brings them on, or perhaps today was just particularly emotionally volatile…. But whichever it was, I felt like someone was playing “tug of war” with my mind. I felt great this morning. I woke up early to help out with a service project at my church. It was so great to do something “outside” of myself, and I felt more comfortable around other people than I have in a long time – probably because I was thinking less about being watched and judged than I was about getting the project done. It was a nice change.
However, it seems like Newton’s Third Law of Motion – every action has an equal and opposition reaction – is actively at work in my life. As soon as I had come down from the “high” of the morning, painful thoughts began to push and shove their way into my mind. How frightfully inconsiderate! Here I was, having an near perfect day so far, and then my mind takes a 360 on me! Even my mom (who was with me at the service project) noticed a change. I had developed a bad case of what I call “Velcro mind” – when thoughts get “stuck” in my brain and drive me to the point of despair and/or neuroticism. I did my best to fight it despite my stomach knotting and anxiety threatening to creep in. I tried listening to some upbeat music, but it didn’t help. Baking is an effective distraction for me, so as soon as I got home, I went straight to the kitchen. Desperate to keep myself from slipping, I vigorously whipped up a batch of snickerdoodles. I don’t think anyone has ever baked cookies with such great drive and purpose I did today! I wound up with about four dozen to, and baked goods are a dangerous thing to keep around the house, so I decided to share the bounty by delivering most of them to friends (which activity also helped me escape from my mind, at least for a while). I owe a lot to those little savory morsels of buttery, cinnamony sweetness…
So everything was again right with the world. My mom, my sister, and I ventured to Coco’s for dinner. I decided to let myself splurge a bit and ordered shrimp pesto pasta with garlic parmesan bread. It tasted so good and before I knew it, I had completely obliterated the thing. Almost immediately after putting the fork down, I was hit by a tidalwive of shame and self-loathing. Even though I had decided that I wasn’t going to purposely “diet” today, I still felt disgusted with myself, and that familiar gut-wrenching anxiety set in full force. Every sound in the restaurant seem amplified, and the lights much too bright. I covered my eyes and tried to breathe but the feeling persisted until I was back in the car. Thoughts of self-harm fought for dominance, and I was tempted to just give up and give in to the negative emotions sweeping over me. Instead, I asked my mom if we could stop at the bookstore. One of my favorite hobbies is creating collages from pictures I find in magazines, so I thought that working on that tonight might help keep my mind off what I was feeling.
Now what I’m dealing with is a guy that just won’t get a clue. I started to talking to him on Facebook (big mistake) and became so fed up that I literally screamed with frustration. No matter how clear I have tried to make it, no matter how many times I have said, “Sorry, I can’t see you” or “Sorry, I can’t talk” or “I really need some space right now,” he has kept pushing and pushing and pushing… Finally, he said something tonight – the straw that broke the camels back… “So, when are you coming to visit me in San Diego?” EXCUSE ME?! How dense ARE you?! Then he started to say how he’s tried to be understanding and be a good friend even though I kept pushing him away, etc. Now, this is a person that I became “friends” with during a time in my life where I was completely fake. I put on a different mask for each person. So the girl he got to know is not the girl I am today. I said right out “I don’t know how much more clear I have to be that I’m not interested. I’m not the person you once knew. I have changed. I have different desires, a different direction, and a different outlook on life. I really don’t believe we have much in common anymore. And I need to stop being pressured. I need to move on. This will be our last conversation.” As I wrote it, my heart was pounding and my anxiety level through the roof. Confrontation and directness is the hardest thing in the world for me. It makes me feel like I’m somehow “bad” or “mean” or “unfair.” But something inside me snapped. I couldn’t take it from this guy anymore. NO means NO! For so many years I have let people walk all over me. Rarely have I ever stood up for myself. But I did. And I know it was the right thing to do… But I still feel so awful. The voices in my head are saying “You were too harsh,” “How could you be so mean to someone who tried to be so nice?,” “You can’t even have a normal friendship,” and “There’s something wrong with you.” I feel like crap. Did I do the right thing? Did I handle it the right way? …
Why does this keep happening to me?
How did I develop so many unhealthy and even poisonous relationships?
Am I right in eliminating them now?
Who do I let in, who do I keep at bay, and who do I shut out forever?
Am I thinking black-and-white again, or is this simple self-preservation?
I can’t handle this right now… That one conversation shot me down into a complete emotional mess… I feel sick…
March 28, 2010
My therapist once gave me a list called “My Bill of Rights.” It was during a time when I was struggling with inappropriate guilt and lack of assertiveness in relationships. She said to keep a copy in my car, in my room, at work… Wherever I would see it often. I had actually forgotten all about it until the other day when I found it in a random pile of scrap paper. I still have a difficult time with some of these things, so it is good to be reminded.
MY BILL OF RIGHTS
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY NO AND NOT FEEL GUILTY.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXPERIENCE AND EXPRESS MY FEELINGS.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO CHANGE MY MIND.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK FOR WHAT I WANT.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO ASK FOR INFORMATION.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE MISTAKES.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO LESS THAN I AM HUMANLY CAPABLE OF (seriously!)
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO ACT IN WAYS THAT PROMOTE MY DIGNITY AND SELF-RESPECT AS LONG AS OTHERS ARE NOT VIOLATED IN THE PROCESS.
Virginia Satir said the following, which I think goes right along with the concept of our rights as individuals:
I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it — I own everything about me: my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or myself. I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know — but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me. However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me. I own me, and therefore, I can engineer me. I am me, and I am Okay.
March 2, 2010
One of the books I’m reading as part of my therapy is “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Itbasically teaches you about setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with yourself and other people, and addresses issues that arise when boundaries are not maintained. It helps you learn what you are responsible for and what you’re not, and when to say “no.”
The lack of boundaries has always been an issue for me, and until I started therapy, I really had no grasp of the concept. I didn’t understand that I wasn’t responsible for everyone else, and that others did not have a right to invade my “space,” in a sense. I didn’t even understand that I had the right to say “no” without feeling guilty, or that I could be in control of what (or who) does or does not have a place in my life. This book has been very educational and has helped me to recognize the need for boundaries in my life and the tools to create them (and stick by them despite pressure from others).
Last night I read the chapter on “The Ten Laws of Boundaries.” The principles described here really hit home with me, so I wanted to write about them and how they apply in my own recovery:
Law #1: The Law of Sowing and Reaping
Basically, this is the law of cause and effect. This is simple reality. You can’t avoid consequences. If you overspend, you will most likely get into debt. If you eat right and exercise, you will have better physical health. Obvious, right?However, in human relationships, some people try to save others from this law by stepping in and reaping the consequences for someone else. For example, if every time you overspent, your mom stepped in and covered for you, she would be keeping you from experiencing natural consequences, and you’d never learn anything. You would do it over and over again.
I’ve found that I have a tendency to “step in” when it is not wise that I do so. Sometimes I have this “savior” mentality where I feel like I want to save those I love from ever being hurt. I’ve gone to great lengths to “fix” something for someone else, but by doing that, I not only drain myself, but I take power away from them – I keep them from experiencing the consequences and learning from them. This is called codependence. I have also been in relationships where my partner attempted to do the same for me – to “rescue” me from pain naturally occurring from the choices I made. In those relationships, I never really grew… I assumed that whenever I “messed up,” my partner would step in and “save me” (usually in an emotional sense).
Law #2: The Law of Responsibility
Cloud and Townsend write: “We are to love one another, not be one another. I can’t feel your feelings for you. I can’t think for you. I can’t behave for you. I can’t work through the disappointment that limits bring for you. In short, I can’t grow for you; only you can. Likewise, you can’t grow for me… You are responsible for yourself. I am responsible for myself.”
This kind of goes right along with Law #1.We are responsible “to” people but not “for” people. This was an important thing for me to learn, as I have always felt responsible for other people’s happiness. I felt if I couldn’t make everything all better for them, I was failing them. In reality, they are responsible for their own feelings. I am ultimately responsible for mine.
Law #3: The Law of Power
Under this heading there is a Bible verse that really hit home with me. It expresses my own feelings about my struggle with the thoughts, feelings, urges, tendencies brought about by depression, borderline, etc:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keeping doing…waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members (Romans 7:15,19,23).
This is a state of powerlessness, a state I know very well and fight against every day. Though I do not have the power in and of myself to overcome these patterns, I do have the power to do the things that will bring the fruits of success later on:
- I have the power to agree with the truth about my problems.
- I have the power to submit my inability to God. (I cannot make myself well, but I can call the Doctor! I can ask for help from my therapist and those I trust.)
- I have the power to search and ask God and others to reveal more and more about what is within my boundaries. (Communicate and be open to evaluating myself).
- I have the power to turn from the negative I find within me. (Not that I’ll be perfect, but I can recognize that those things aren’t good and take the steps I need to replace negative behaviors with positive).
- I have the power to humble myself and ask God and others to help me with my developmental injuries and leftover childhood needs.
- I have the power to seek out those that I have injured and make amends.
The serenity prayer says: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In other words, “God… help me to clarify my boundaries and to know what I have the power to overcome myself, and what I need to turn to You and others for help with. Help me to know what is me and what is not me.”
Law #4: The Law of Respect
If we want people to respect our boundaries, we must respect theirs as well. Hearing “no” has always been hard for me. But if, we love and respect people who tell us no, they will in turn love and respect our no. “Freedom begets freedom.” When we accept that others have the right to set boundaries with us, we feel better about setting our own.
Law #5: The Law of Motivation
We fear that other people won’t respect the boundaries that we set with them. This is quite an issue that I struggle with. I’m afraid if I tell people no, or be specific about my needs, they will be disappointed, angry, or hurt (I’ve learned to fear this from past experiences). I’m afraid I will be abandoned. Sometimes we do a lot for other people, not out of love, but out of fear. Fear that we will not be loved anymore if we confront them or say no. This is a false motive that keeps us from setting boundaries, and it includes:
- Fear of loss of love, or abandonment.
- Fear of others’ anger.
- Fear of loneliness.
- Fear of losing the “good me” inside. (“I’m being selfish/unloving”)
- Guilt (When I say no, I feel bad)
- Payback (You receive things with a guilt message, so you feel obligated to give back)
- Approval (The other person becomes a symbolic “parent”)
- Overidentification with other’s loss. (Haven’t dealt with their own losses so they feel someone else’s sadness to a much greater degree)
If I do things for others for any of these reasons, I’m not really free. I’m not doing it out of love and being a good person. I just get bogged down more and more. “Let God work on the fears, resolve them, and create some healthy boundaries to guard the freedom you were called to.”
Law #6: The Law of Evaluation
Sometimes we assume that if we set boundaries, we will get a negative response. Though this is sometimes true, that doesn’t mean we should avoid boundaries. Ultimately, when we set boundaries, the result is good for both you and the other person (in the long-term). It leads to honesty, relief from guilt, and better communication of who you are and what you need. Though it may be difficult because setting boundaries sometimes requires confrontation and hurt feelings, if we do not do this, anger and bitterness will set in because we are not being open about our own limits and needs. Doing so also gives the other person permission to be honest as well.
Law #7: The Law of Proactivity
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Cloud and Townsend give the example of someone who has spent years being passive and compliant, and then suddenly exploding out of nowhere. Though this reactive phase of boundary creation is helpful (especially for victims) and frees that person from a feeling of powerlessness, being stuck in this phase does not allow for the development of proactivity. “This is where you are able to use the freedom you gained through reacting to love, enjoy, and serve one another. Proactive people show you what they love, what they want, what they purpose, and what they stand for. These people are very different from those who are known by what they hate, what they don’t like, what they stand against, and what they will not do.”
I went through my own phase of “reactivity” and “rebelliousness,” in a sense, where I felt like I was fighting against people and ideas all of the time. While it made me feel powerful, it was also a very negative place to be. I started to pass off judgments about people without even really thinking, and I just felt like arguing all of the time. I eventually realized that’s just not where I wanted to be and needed more positivity and love in my life.
Law #8: The Law of Envy
Envy focuses on what others have or have accomplished, or in other words, outside of our boundaries. It can lead us to neglecting our own responsibilities can become a destructive spiral downward. Instead of envying what someone else has, look at yourself and figure out why you feel like you’re lacking so much. Why are you resentful? Do you really want that? Then you need to work on yourself, instead of focusing so much time and energy wishing you could be like someone else. Comparing yourself to someone else never leads to growth. Taking inventory of your life and your desires does.
Law #9: The Law of Activity
God gave me the ability to take initiative. He will match my effort, be he doesn’t do my work for me – that would be an invasion of my boundaries. Passivity and “shrinking back” never pays off. I am supposed to try, to put the effort in. I’m going to fail and make mistakes, but at least I’m trying… And that’s what’s important. The “trying” part is completely my responsibility. When a baby bird is ready to hatch, if you break the egg for it, it will die. The bird needs to peck its own way out of the egg. This strengths the bird and allows it to function in the outside world. If you rob the bird of this responsibility, it will die. If God or others “hatch” for me, I will ultimately fail. I won’t have my own strength to get through life. That’s why problems and struggles are so important, and why God doesn’t fix everything for us. If He did, we would never learn and grow.
Law #10: The Law of Exposure
“The Law of Exposure says that your boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them.” Because of the fears described earlier, we set “secret” boundaries. We withdraw, resent, or experience the pain of someone’s irresponsibility instead of being honest about how they effect us. If boundaries are unexpressed, relationships suffer. Nothing good ever comes from lack of boundaries. If they’re not exposed directly, the will be communicated indirectly (passive-agressiveness) or through manipulation.
We need to make sure people can see us clearly. Boundaries help us to be seen and heard. If we do not communicate our needs, desires, things we are uncomfortable with… we hide parts of ourselves in the darkness. “When our boundaries are in the light, that is, are communicated openly, our personalities begin to integrate for the first time. They become ‘visible’ and then they become light. They are transformed and changed. Healing always takes place in the light.” This was incredibly eye-opening to me. It helped me to understand at least part of the reason why I struggle with feeling like a real person and why I’m different depending on who I’m with or what situation I’m in… It’s my lack of boundaries and communication. I’m so afraid of “losing” people, of being rejected or abandoned, I “hide” myself and allow anything and everything into my person. My personality is not integrated. Once I start setting boundaries, being honest about who I am (my needs, wants, beliefs, values, etc), I will start to feel “real” and I won’t “lose” myself around other people. And this will allow myself to heal and discover who I really am. Amazing!
I wanted to share all of this because it has taught me so much. My goal is to work on having healthy boundaries with other people, so I can feel better about myself and have successful relationships. This is just one chapter of the book… The rest talks about boundary myths, boundary problems, how boundaries develop throughout your lifetime, etc… I might be writing about this book again sometime soon. There’s just so much information to process… Wow, I just pretty much wrote a book of my own. They’re going to kick me out of the library here in a minute so… Goodbye!
March 1, 2010
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog post are very personal and the purpose of writing is it cathartic. While I do not intend to divulge any sordid details of my childhood experience with molestation, some things here may still be disturbing, and possibly triggering to someone who may have gone through something similar. However, I find it necessary to share that I may finally give a voice to what has been silent so many years.
The night after I talked with my therapist about my childhood, I went in my room, closed the door, and wrote everything I was feeling. I’m going to share part of that now, here.
January 28, 2010
I know I have to do this no matter how much it hurts. And it does hurt. Excruciatingly. Rooting up and exposing feelings I’ve suppressed and avoided for so long. But I have to do it if I’m ever going to heal and move on. If I’m ever going to get past the child mentality I’ve lived with my whole life, with all of the problems accompanying it.
Today in therapy we went back to when I was molested at 4 years old. My issues with my body and self-esteem stem largely from that. I wouldn’t say all of my issues, but the ones that have to do with my loathing for my own body, my deep down abhorrence for anything carnal or sexual, my disgust with my own physicality and the physicality of others. My feeling of victimization and lack of control. My lack of assertiveness. The shame and guilt that plague every waking (and sleeping) moment.
Until that moment, I had no idea that I shouldn’t be trusting of people. No idea that people could and would take advantage me. I know why I feel guilty. I feel guilty because I still believe it was partly my fault. No, I didn’t force his hand… I didn’t even know that was a possibility. But I’m the one who shut the door. I shut the door. I asked him to read to me. I sat in his lap. I got close. I set up the situation to be hurt. Innocent as I was, trusting as I was, I set up the perfect circumstances for him to hurt me. And I hate myself for that. Even at four years old, shouldn’t I have known better? Shouldn’t a gut instinct have told me to do otherwise, to protect myself? No. I didn’t have that. I was four years old. I had only been in the world four short years. How was I to know what perverseness and evil lurked? Especially in someone who had gained my trust, who I looked up to as a brother? I couldn’t even fathom that anyone would hurt me. I didn’t know anything but how to trust. And still I am plagued by that voice that says “You should have known, you should have stopped.” You should have stopped him. Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you run away? I think I might have said “What are you doing?” I just watched it happen and didn’t protest. I didn’t understand what was happening. What was he doing? Why? Did I even feel it was wrong then? Or only later, when I had time to think about it? I must have felt something was wrong about it, or I wouldn’t have told my parents later. Why didn’t I do something about it then? And after it was over, his reaction to me? “Ew. Gross.” And that is how I have felt about my body since. Ew. Gross.
He was reading out loud to me, holding me, being nice and then… that. And then, “Time for ice cream!” And I was off. Like it never happened. Either I hadn’t processed it yet, or it was too much for me to deal with in the moment. And then when I did deal with it, when I told my parents, I pretended like it was all a big joke. When they confronted him, it was a big joke. I think I did that because I knew it would hurt my mom, and I didn’t want to see or feel her hurt and pain and disappointment. I was making her hurt. So I was going to act like it didn’t bother me. It didn’t affect me. It didn’t change me. It was just something that happened. And I had to tell her and dad because… well, didn’t I have something to do with it? I must have felt responsible, I must have felt guilty, or I wouldn’t have said anything. It was my need to confess. A confession. Mommy. Daddy. He touched me. I’m sorry. I know that even at that young age I blamed myself. I was very smart and, by looking back, I could see how I could have stopped it from happening. Ever since then, I have been paranoid about being in rooms with people with the door closed, no matter who they are. I feel it’s fundamentally wrong. And you don’t sit on boys laps. And you don’t let anyone touch you. And you don’t trust men. You should have known better.
Then came the question of why? At that age, I couldn’t understand why someone would do that unless I did something to deserve it. I must have brought it on somehow. And I would punish myself for it. And anything else that I perceived as my fault. Or any thought that was dirty. Or any behavior that was sinful. Punish yourself, exonerate yourself, get rid of the shame. But the shame and the guilt never go away. And the things to punish yourself for never go away either. The list keeps building and building, and yet you’re not finished clearing yourself of the previous “sin” yet. One on top of the other. Loads and loads on your back. Crowding your heart, your mind, to the point where you can’t breathe because of the pain, the ultimate pain caused by guilt and shame.
I repeat that exact same scenario over and over and over again. I set up the situation. And I let it happen. Give up my power. A compulsion to repeat the trauma. Again and again. More to punish myself for. Building up and building up.
To the point where I’m ready to end my life.
I hate my body. I hate everything to do with sex. I hate my sexuality. I hate men. I hate being close. I hate intimacy. Or rather, the inability to have it.I hate myself for the things that I have done.
I hated myself at 6 and 7 for allowing the victimization again, this time with my cousins acting out their own sexual trauma on me. I hated myself at 10, when, after 3 years of suppressing the guilt, trying to punish myself and redeem myself from what I had done. I hated myself at 12 for the sexual thoughts that plagued me. Even acknowledging body parts filled me with disgust. Imagining naked bodies filled me with horror. I punished myself. I was racked with guilt and torment. I trained myself to push away those thoughts. I had to, or I would have died of utter shame and self-hatred. I kept that up for 8 years. Even now, sometimes I wake up at night, with just one old plaguing thought, and a wave of shame washes over me once again. And I push it away. I can’t feel that again. But it comes back in other ways. I do whatever I can to avoid it… Even if it means desensitizing myself to it. And so life becomes a game of “How far can I make myself go?” My body and sex disgusts me. So I’ve forced myself to desensitize my mind and body to it. So I don’t react with so much shame and guilt. Now I don’t care. I don’t care what happens to my body. I hate it. It is merely a tool of destruction. I use myself to destroy myself. And to repeat the trauma because… well, don’t I deserve it, especially now? Haven’t I asked for it?
I’ve asked for it. Bottom line. I felt like I asked for it at four, though I really hadn’t. So let me recreate the situation and then, for real, ASK FOR IT. There. I’ve made an illogical feeling an actual reality. Now I DO deserve it. Now the confusion is gone. You’re hurting me because I’ve set up the situation for you to. See? I’m in control now. I’m hurting MYSELF. You’re not hurting me. I’m doing it myself…. Who is hurting who now? Are you hurting me? Who are you anyways? And why are you doing this to me? Oh, I must deserve it. I must have done something wrong… Oh I DID do something wrong. I came here. I closed the door. Brain turns off, victimization mentality kicks in. I don’t want this. I don’t want you to do this. I hate this. I don’t want you to see my body or touch it. Are you going to say “ew. Gross” too? Are you? If you won’t, I will. I’m apologizing for my body. I’m thinking, I’m too fat. I’m too this. I’m too that. I’m not good enough. Nothing you can say will make me think otherwise. Go away. Leave me alone. Don’t touch me. Please.
As a young child, I couldn’t understand the things my body felt and did. And I hated it. I couldn’t understand this THING I was living in that wasn’t me, but controlled me. That others could so easily control.
At some point I disconnected myself from my body. I wasn’t my body, my body wasn’t me. As such, I stopped responding to its needs and it stopped responding to mine. I think that finally happened after I broke my collarbone at 15 and for a while, lost control of it completely. That was the last straw. I have been disconnected ever since. No wonder I feel outside of myself, looking in. I’m watching myself do things, never fully part of what I’m experiencing. My mind is out here somewhere, my body is down there, being stupid as usual.
I wish I liked myself. I wish I felt like an integrated, whole person. I wish I was comfortable with my body in all its physicality and sexuality. I wish I was comfortable with the physical presence of others. I wish I was ok with being touched and being close. I wish didn’t loathe myself. I wish I cared about my health and well-being. I wish I could stop taking out my anger and hatred on myself.
It’s almost as if I resent my body. Maybe if I hadn’t been so small and vulnerable, if I hadn’t been so cute and pretty, this wouldn’t have happened. Even now I think, if people didn’t think I was so pretty, if men didn’t find me attractive, they wouldn’t touch me. Yet, at the same time, I don’t believe I am pretty or attractive. I hate it when men give me compliments. They make me feel like, once again, I’m just a body that can be used and objectified regardless of how it may make me feel.
A body. That’s all I am. Something I loathe so greatly. That’s all I am. No wonder I disconnect myself. I’m split. There’s my body. Then there’s my mind. Then there’s this in between place where everything is lost and dark and confused. Where’s… ME? Lost in some kind of strange limbo and I don’t know exactly where she is, where she fits in, where my body and mind play into her being. I feel like a hollow shell. Nothing filling me up inside. That thing that should be filling the space should be ME, but I don’t know who she is or where she is. There is this empty shell. Then there’s my mind, hovering. Then… me… where?
Even now I’m still in denial, trying to downplay what happened as a child so I can PROVE once and for all that all these things I’m going through are MY fault and in no way connected to those experiences. I keep thinking “Oh, you’re making this seem worse than it really is.” Or “This happens to lots of kids.” Or “You’re going to start using this as an excuse now, are you?” Even now in my mind I’m making excuses for him, astonishingly Downplay. Downplay. Downplay…
Since I wrote that, I have come to terms with the fact that the abuse I experienced did, in fact, affect me and some of the symptoms I deal with today. I have accepted that it was NOT MY FAULT. I realize that there is no need to feel such guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Now, knowing this intellectually and knowing this emotionally are two very different things. I have developed habitual ways of thinking about myself that are hard to break, but I am getting closer. I can now talk about and face what I experienced. I have allowed myself to bring everything out in the open. No more secrets. And I can recognize that those negative thoughts about myself are not warranted, that I do not deserve to feel that way. It will still be a while before I can truly feel wonderful about myself, but at least I know that I don’t need to feel this way. I don’t need to keep punishing myself for something I had no control over, and that I don’t need to repeat the trauma.
I’m starting to learn how to love myself and my body again. And to stop hurting it. It is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, but I’m determined to do it. I want to know what it feels like to have high self-respect, what it feels like to love myself. Someday…