Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

The One Left Behind…

**Linda** (Name changed to protect privacy) said to me on Monday night, “You are always reading everything you can get your hands on. You want to understand what you did and why you did it and take responsibility for what you did, and that’s one of the things I like about you the best. But I think you might be reading too much information. I think you need to take a break and read something light. I think it’s great that you’re looking at your past trauma and abuse and searching for answers. It’s great that you want to know how you can do better. I love that about you – you always want to do better. But I’m going to send you a list of books that might be good for you to read – to take your mind off of the trauma – you are being so hard on yourself.”

I got the list of books in the email from **Linda** but when I was at Barnes and Noble last night with my 20% off coupon and my $50 gift card I received as a birthday gift, I didn’t buy one of the books.

I bought one of the other kind of books – the kind that helps me to understand – because I want to do better.

Even though it’s too late and there’s nothing I can do to change the past.

And even worse (I don’t know why I feel the need to confess this, but I do) – I sat down with a pile of letters he’d written me (two by hand, one typed from long ago), and all the cards I had (now all bound together with a rubber band) that I’d kept in various places in the house.

I started reading them. When I read the handwritten letters, I cried, no, I bawled – because of what it implied that I had done, or more specifically, what I’d said. I want so much to remember everything I said.

I can’t shake this guilt over the things I said that I did not mean, that I should never have said, when I was angry, or scared, or more accurately, in the throws of trauma – real or imagined – memory or current.

And then, there was one – one he left behind. One he did not keep:

I found the last wedding anniversary card from 2017.

I remember, now,  it was the one sitting on the table that he did not put away. And I picked it up, and I don’t remember what happened next.

But somehow, it has ended up in the stack of cards that he gave me, and I think, I must have found it, and thought, “I should save this.”

I’m glad I did.

It is the only one.

The one left behind.

The only one left – at all.

I am glad I have it, but now, I don’t know what to do, except I am glad – glad that I did not throw away mine. Glad that they are all still here. Glad that in one of the moments of deep pain – I did not suddenly throw them away.

Because when they are gone – thrown in a trash bag, and taken away, there is no turning back. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next year. Or in ten years.

If one day the sudden shift happens when we do not want to pretend we don’t remember. When we suddenly want to look back – if they don’t exist anymore, then we can’t.

I don’t want to forget the good things I did, and I don’t want to forget the bad, either.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I seem to feel compelled to understand my part in everything. I feel the need to make amends for anything and everything I have said or done, intentional or unintentional.

I realized, recently, that I had been so traumatized in my past, at so many different points, to different degrees, that somewhere along the way, I developed a fear of letting someone love me – meaning, afraid of letting him love me.

I had no idea.

And now, it’s too late to fix it.

I am having a hard time living with that. Every day feels like I am riding this wave of consequences – the pain is so heavy, it’s like I’m being pushed under the wave and can’t swim up to the top. The current is so strong. (This actually happened to me in real life when I was a young girl living in Los Angeles. I used to body surf and ride the waves and a gigantic wave pushed me under the water. I tried to swim to the top but I couldn’t. I remembered, thankfully, to stop fighting the current and let the wave pass above me and to stay still, letting it take me with it, until it was safe to paddle to the top).

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I was lucky, because people drown under waves like this one, but I held my breath, the wave crushed me, it shook me, it took control of my body, I was at its mercy.

But when it passed, and it was over, I was safe again.

I wanted so much to show him how much I loved him – because I loved him so much – he never realized how much, I’m sure. And now the cards that told him are gone.

I didn’t know how to show him, not in the way he needed me to – I thought I was, but it was not in the right way.

I told him recently that I was never able to move for anyone else.  It is true. My college boyfriend and I broke up after five years because he was moving to Phoenix, Arizona, and I did not want to leave San Diego.  Three years later, my long-distance boyfriend at the time broke up with me because I did not want to move to Las Vegas (we had never lived in the same city, we were set up by a mutual friend). He and I have always remained friends, and I’m grateful that we could eventually be friends – it does not always happen.

But, then, this was different.

In 2006, I made it back to San Diego after living in Santa Barbara for a year – it was not expected, and it was a wonderful experience, but I always knew I wanted to go back home. I’d spent that year healing from the worst breakup, the most traumatic of my life up to that point – but San Diego was home, and I had no intention of letting the heartbreak stop me from going back. I made it back, finally, on September 1, 2006.  My dad brought Toby back home to me that day, too. My dog and I had been living apart for that whole year – it was awful being separated.

I was home, and I promised myself I’d never leave again.

And then, on January 25, 2009, I met him.

One month and 3 days later, suddenly, everything changed – again.

I had a feeling, a strange feeling, almost a premonition, when I read the email he sent me on February 7, 2009, that I was going to marry this man.

I did.

And I did, because, I could not bear to live without him.

I knew I would have to leave San Diego again, even though I had promised myself in 2006 that I never would.

I really thought nothing could ever change that.

But one day, in late summer 2009, I said to him that, “San Diego is just an address. You are my home. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without you.”

I really said that.

And – I meant it.

To this day, even after losing him forever, I still feel that way.

But it was not what happened.  Or to be more accurate, sometimes, it was not what happened.

Sometimes I said I wanted to leave. Sometimes I said I wanted to go home.  Sometimes I even asked him, “When can we move?”

I thought I was ready. I wanted to be ready. I wanted to be with him. I wanted it to work. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.

But I couldn’t just do it.

I was so homesick. I felt so alone. So disoriented at times.

So locked into the head space of some long ago trauma, that I was listening, but I did not hear him. I thought I did. But then, I read the letters, and I realized, I was not hearing him.

The saddest irony in all that, is that one day, something clicked, and it changed. It shifted.

But, it was just too late.

Now I look around me and I can’t imagine going back to San Diego, or I don’t want to go back, and I think – I’ve changed too much. Being here has changed me. Living in Athens has changed who I am – for the better, oh, only for the better.

I am a creature of two places, two lives, one past, one present, and now I can’t just leap back 10 years and suddenly be the person I was as if I never knew him. As if I never loved him.

As if I could forget him.

I could never forget, and I don’t want to – it made me who I am, a better person who learned from him, from our marriage, from my mistakes – I learned more from my mistakes, than from what I feel that I did right.

I don’t know what to do with this card left behind.  I know it’s mine to keep, if I want to – but it is a reminder of the ones that are gone, the unwanted ones.

Most of all, it is a reminder of the ways I tried to say how I felt, to show how I felt, and somehow, I fell short. I must have.

I always loved him. Every minute. Of every day. Of every year. Even when I was far away, and he thought I did not want to be with him. I did.

Maybe, it’s best that I have this card, the last one, the one left behind, the last anniversary card, accidentally misplaced.

Thank goodness I found it.

I do not want to stop learning. I do not want to stop reading. Understanding. Studying.

Because although I may be the only one who knows how deeply and unconditionally I truly loved him, I know that I did. And always will.

I want him to be happy. Always.

I wish I could find that same self-compassion and forgive myself for not being perfect. For trying, and failing, to always show him and tell him exactly how much he meant to me, that I never wanted to go back, ever, no matter what.

That when I said, “San Diego is just an address. You are my home. I can’t imagine my life without you,” I meant every word. And always did.

I hope that someday, the wave stops crashing above me, that I can drift to shore, and land on my feet, stick my toes in the sand, dig in, and look out at that ocean behind me, without shame, without guilt, without regret. These waves that crash down on me – all three of them – are holding me back.

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I know this is where I am at right now, and if it is where I need to be, then I’m reading the right books, the ones I need to.

The more I read, the more I understand.  I know it seemed, sometimes, like I never knew him, but I did.

Even when I didn’t say the right things, or do the right things at the right time.

I carried him with me, everywhere – he became a part of me, and always will be.

This post is the prelude to one I am not sure how to write. I know I want to tell the story, but how to do it right, I’m not sure yet.

For now, I hope that someday, it won’t always hurt this much. I know it will always hurt.

My friend said to me on Monday, “The more the pain, the more real the love.”

This love – on that scale – was the epitome of the real thing. The most real love I’ve ever known, or ever will.

I can’t imagine ever throwing away these cards…

…I think I’ll keep the one that was left behind.

I always want to learn from this, to honor what I learned, to honor what he taught me, and to honor who I became –

For the better.

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"Me Too", ADD, Child Abuse, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Mental health, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

“Courage Does Not Always Roar…”

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“…Sometimes it comes in a quiet voice that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”

 

When I was in my late twenties, I started collecting a lot of posters from the Successories store in University Town Center in San Diego. Some of them have been destroyed in one of my many moves since then, but a few have survived and now hang on the wall in my home: “Passion: Nothing in the world has ever been accomplished without passion,” “Perseverance: Our greatest glory lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall,” “Integrity: Integrity comes when character is tested; keep true and never be ashamed of doing what is right,” and…”Courage: You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” (This last one came directly from Aristotle and the quotation from Perseverance is my signature mark on this website because for years, that quote has sustained my resilience through my life’s hardest falls and seen me pick myself up and start over again through sheer will and…perseverance).

In 2017, a therapist that I saw a few times while I was searching for the right one on a permanent basis said to me, “The only way out of the pain is through it.”

That was the last thing I wanted to hear – who among us ever wants to hear that we have to walk through the physical, spiritual and emotional feelings of pain in order to exit on the other side and start over…from the beginning…when we never wanted to lose what ended in the first place?

But that’s how it is…I am finding out…the hard way.

The only way out of the pain is through it.

During one of the last visits I had with a counselor whom I miss greatly, she shared a story with me about two arrows: the first arrow that pierces the heart is the initial pain.

The second arrow…the one that does not have to be…comes from the suffering on top of the pain that we bring upon ourselves.

I know that the cure for the second arrow is radical acceptance…and breaking silence.

There is no one definition of courage – for some, the courage to be silent is as worthy as the courage to speak out.  Life is not black-and-white.

Neither is grief. Neither is healing.

Neither is the way out of the former onto the pathway to the latter.

I have realized, or learned (or both) in the last few years, but most acutely in this past year, that trauma hibernating in the dark corners of our memory – waiting to be awakened without warning, is a silent killer – it is not courageous, however, its remedy is the epitome of courage.

The problem is that trauma is stealthier than the most silent and cunning of predators, and make no mistake, trauma is a predator – of the worst kind. It lies in wait in the recesses of your brain – for years, sometimes for decades – and strikes before you ever have a chance to prepare yourself for it, much less fight back.

Trauma’s greatest ally is fear. Its adversary is breaking the silence.

Human beings, with the best of intentions and/or the primal instinct to protect ourselves, are unwitting perpetrators of keeping the silence.

Sometimes it is the individual. Sometimes it is within families.

Sometimes it is simply our unconscious brain trying to cope.

Recently, the TV sitcom, “Mom,” has brought the silent shame of adult women with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) into the spotlight, and I am so grateful to them for bringing this into the spotlight – if nothing else to bring those suffering in silence out of the darkness and out of their prison of shame.

Just like heart disease manifests itself differently in women than it does in men, so does adult ADD.

What was even more noteworthy and a revelation to me was tackling the connection between ADD and Trauma.

When I did further research later (to confirm it was not just sitcom writing for the bells and whistles of getting higher ratings), I discovered that it is true:

ADD manifests as a coping mechanism for surviving trauma.

I won’t get into all the details in the blog, not today at least, but I do encourage anyone who suspects they may have ADD (men or women, boys or girls) to read more and learn more.

I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders when I first read this and then I could not stop reading about it – I was starving for more knowledge, more explanations, more research and case studies to connect the missing pieces of how ADD and all its life-altering symptoms go back to the brain shielding itself from feeling the agony, the abyss of buried trauma.

In my last post, I referred to my past – to my childhood and adolescence, specifically – and that I am a trauma survivor, like so many other people out in the world who hide it, or try to, behind the face of normalcy and perseverance and yes…courage.

You may have heard the expression, “Be kind. For everyone you meet is experiencing pain you know nothing about.”

It may or may not be true about everyone you meet, at any given time, but I do believe, to one degree or another, it is true about everyone.

It is one reason I live by the idea of “there but for the grace of God go I,” and try to be compassionate to everyone, for, truthfully, I do not know what sorrows and what pain they bear behind their smiles, or frowns, or words.

I recently came to some realizations about myself, some of the most painful ones I have ever had to face, and from what I am reading, and have learned so far, the source of all of it is suppressed trauma, some of which I remember, some of which I don’t – and maybe, I never will.

Believe it or not I hope I do, for as I said in my last post, I know that the trauma has dictated – against my free will – things I have done and said that I wish I could take back, now that I understand, now that I know what I know now.

I wonder, if I were to share, if my speaking out, would help someone, anyone, to have the courage to do the same.

If nothing else, I do not feel that I owe it to the memory of the perpetrators, now deceased, to protect them, or what they did.

Some perpetrators are still alive, out there, and maybe they read this blog, maybe they don’t. I don’t really care. I no longer wish to be controlled by the fear of what they will do to me if I break my silence.

But for now, I will leave them alone, except I will say, about one of them, the one from 2006-2007, whom I found out no longer lives in San Diego (thank God) that: ever since the “Me Too” movement raised its voice in courage in 2017, I have felt the guilt of the previous decade rise to the surface, and that voice, “Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you report what he did?” screaming at me again.

I know why I didn’t say anything.

I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

And I also knew, he was capable of killing me if I did.

How many women have felt that way?

How many children like me, were told, by an adult, a grown man – bigger, stronger, louder than us – that if we told anyone what he did to us, he’d kill us (or in my case, he would kill me and my mother).

I felt guilty about not reporting the man in San Diego because I knew that I was not the first and I knew that he would do it again, to other women.

When the “Me Too” movement came about, I actually tried to find out if I could report him – that’s how courageous I felt in the wake of the wave of women’s courage and their voices speaking out – and it was also how guilty I felt for not speaking out right away, when I knew where he was, and when I might have been the one to stop him from doing it again.

By the time my therapist had helped me unblock the trauma through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), the man who assaulted me in my bedroom when I was 6 years old – my mother’s boyfriend – in a home invasion – had been dead for many years.

He was also Jewish, like us. He was a doctor, a prestigious cardiologist. And he lived in Beverly Hills – a place most Americans know about because of pop culture and Hollywood.

And I was just a 6-year-old girl whose parents had recently divorced.

I still don’t remember everything that may have happened. But I remember most of it, more than I wish I did. And it’s the reason why, to this day, I’m terrified of strangers having access to my home.  Something that irreparably hurt my marriage  in the winter and spring of 2012.

But, I didn’t know I had post traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t know I was reliving the trauma of that home invasion – or, more accurately, the fear of it happening again – when all of a sudden a real estate agent threatened to give strangers free access to me and my home – one month after I’d moved to Georgia, before I’d even finished unpacking my boxes, much less gotten my land legs after the first relocation of my life, from San Diego, CA to Athens, GA.

Every day, I wish I could go back to that time and do things differently (which I would – knowing what I do now and why I could not stop the terror and the behaviors in me it triggered).

But, having opened the door to the effects of one trauma on the rest of my life, I have found the courage to face the other traumas, the ones I remember at least.

In other posts, I will speak out, in the newfound courage I am finding to break the silence, but for now, I will leave it with this:

If there are any little girls or little boys out there, who are afraid to speak out, to tell your parents, or anyone else, that someone has hurt you, please do not be afraid to tell someone.  There are people who care, who are there to help.

You do not deserve to lose your childhood, or any part of your life, to the fear of retaliation or any other abuse from someone who is such a coward that he or she would hurt an innocent child.

Trauma is the silent killer of truth and of happiness – do not be afraid to stand up to it and slay it through its heart.

Truth is your sword – trust that you are not alone.