Tag Archives: trauma

To Infinity and Beyond

I think my notions of who I’m supposed to be are too grand. This weird body quest of mine, part infinity because I have officially lost count (maybe 8?) continues…maybe as far as it can go in its current form. I’m not sure. I can’t tell if I’m just sad that today hurt or if I’ve really gone as far as I can go.

I got kicked by another dancer in class today. Hard. It will leave a lovely bruise to remind me for at least the next week of that moment when I thought “well what am I doing wrong that I got kicked?” Life lesson number 999,999: I didn’t do the kicking; the other dancer wasn’t watching where she was going. But it was automatically me that was wrong, at least in my head, and I think that’s the theme song of my life. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s always me.

I hold on to things too tightly–not a musing, but a fact. I hold on too tightly and I can’t let go. I see why my therapist thinks pole dancing class is the best thing ever for me now, louder than ever. We worked on a wrist sit up in the air today and I couldn’t even focus on doing it precisely right (my general MO for all things pole) because I was too busy worrying I might plummet to my death. The teacher told me to lean and my internal dialogue kept saying “you want me to lean IN to the fall feeling??” along with a few choice swear words. I can’t do that. That’s giving up control. I don’t fly that way. Therefore I don’t fly at all. If I could let myself go, even just a little, it would be so much easier. But I don’t know how. I’m too regimented, too set in it all being perfect.

Do I want to fly? Fuck yes I do. Do I accept the fact I won’t? Should I? The voice in my head screams that I’m a fat ugly bitch, and I try not to listen most days, but today it’s hard. Today I cried on the train on the way home because I felt like I wasn’t good enough, because class went too fast like it always does at this new level–too much choreography, too many steps, not enough room in my head to hold it all for the five seconds it take to replicate it when that voice is too damn loud–and I couldn’t keep up. And every time I fall behind I hear that I’m not good enough. Every time.

His voice. Not mine. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s still there. Why he appears in this life I’ve built now, so far beyond him. Why he permeates everything.

I write this not in search of a pity party, but rather to share that it’s not all flowers and unicorns all the time, yet I still get up and try again. I write this to remind myself that I’ll get up and try again. My bruised feet, however, may have something to say about that…

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PTSD: The Ultimate Bitch—or, My Body Quest Continued

When I was in sixth grade, my school did a drama production that was a hodge-podge of many different productions. It was my first experience in drama, one I never even intended to audition for, and it was a blast. Minus one number. I don’t remember the song anymore, but I remember we were scientists in white lab coats and there was a modicum of flirting involved. It was the most frustrating experience at the time, because I didn’t know how to use my body that way. I remember the confusion that flooded me with the directions we were given. You want me to toss my hair? Bend and snap? What?? I wasn’t more than twelve (is that how old sixth graders are??) but I already knew I didn’t want my body to be on display. I already knew my body was an object to be used, that I didn’t own it, that I never would, and to act that way would illustrate some connection to my body that I absolutely did not feel.

To this day, whenever I watch the VHS tape of that number and I can’t help but cringe at how awkward I am. I never learned these skills, and I’m almost 35 now. I learned different skills–how to cover a bruise; how to placate an angry man; how to pretend I liked sex until I didn’t care enough to even pretend anymore. He took, and he took, and he took, like so many before him had, and sometimes I gave because that was what I was supposed to do, and sometimes I didn’t, because that was just the way it was.

Sit down. Be quiet. Do what you’re told.

I don’t know what it’s like to enjoy being touched. I hate being touched. I don’t know how to display my body, and I don’t want to. And I hate projecting an aura that says I may want that. I don’t do sexy.

It has always been important to me to do the right thing, perfectly, the first time. This bleeds into everything I do. I don’t share my first book with anyone because it’s not perfect. I’ve struggled with submitting writing work and missed deadlines because I can’t get the words just so. I show up to all of my clients at the precise time I am expected even though I have an arrival window. I wear clothes that disguise my body and its myriad of imperfections 99 percent of the time. I don’t do things where people can see if I’m not confident I can do them correctly. Hell, I don’t do those things where even only I can see. They taught me my body was a temple, but they didn’t teach me how to use it, how to worship it. They didn’t teach me how to own myself. After all these years, I am still owned by the world around me and how I appear within and to that world, and it’s scary to think of things being any other way.

Last night was round four of this weird quest I’m on to get in touch with my body. Pole class, but with a different instructor. A man. I worried it was a mistake signing up, but I let my therapist push me. I found myself very up in my head about it once in the studio. He was very sexual, more so than the usual teacher we’ve taken class from. And it caused a fairly immediate shutdown in my brain because I’m not that. At all. His way of teaching was so different from the first instructor we had, as were his expectations. I couldn’t do the things he could; I couldn’t make my body move and look that way, and I knew it. He came up behind me at one point to give me a spot, and I was very much done after that, at one point even uttering that I wanted to leave the studio. I knew then he was watching me, and that the more mistakes I made, the closer he would get–and he did. It got to the point where I didn’t want to take the pole when it was my turn; I scoped the room out to see where he was and would do a single sweep before hopping off in the hopes he would not approach.

My head told me my body is not mine. It’s everyone else’s. To be looked at. Gawked at? Used. My head told me I am incapable of executing any move that might look good or beautiful. Elegant? Worth looking at. My head told me I could never put myself on display, that that would give too much of what’s left of me away. My heart cried as that old tape wound its way through my brain of the same insults I had learned from the negative people I had in my life, and I couldn’t do a single thing on that pole without imagining everyone looking at me. He told the entire class that we could never bail, to always look like ‘we meant to do that,’ to always end with our sexy push-up (which, might I add, I still have not mastered). But I did bail. I quit without finishing move sets. I walked away after every skill to stand in the corner.

I turned to the wall and I almost started to literally tear up right there in the studio. And in those 90 minutes, I ruined a new hobby I’d just started to really enjoy. I didn’t thank him as we left. I didn’t say goodbye. I’m pretty sure he told me to smile and I wanted to smack him because I didn’t feel like smiling in the slightest.

PTSD is a bitch. But it’s more than just that. It’s a lifetime of habits, of thought patterns about myself, that I am worried I’m too old now to change. I’m worried it’s too late.

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On Being Present

I’ve been working more this year on being present in my body. I think I largely tend to operate in a manner where my body is secondary to everything else, a means to an end. I think I blame my body for a lot of what’s happened to me, and I seek to rectify that. I want to get back in touch with it, remind myself that I am strong and powerful and badass, and that I survived a lot of shit.

How do I plan to do that, you ask? Well…I’ve gone to a couple pole dancing classes. It’s not what it sounds like. I’m not sure why I signed up initially. It sounded fun? I was curious? I had a lot of misconceptions prior to actually going, but the focus is very much on being present and aware of your body. Arm up, shoulder down, toes pointed, do something with that spare arm. It’s a lot of instruction and a lot of information. But it’s using my body in a way I’ve never let myself. I’m not used to using my body for ME. I’m used to it being used for other people. I’m used to catering the way I present myself to accommodate their needs and expectations.

The first class was not easy. I was frustrated within minutes because I couldn’t follow the warm up precisely and I like to do everything perfectly the first time without help. And I needed so much help. The instructors kept coming over to spot me, and the first time that happened I jumped away. I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t control my body, couldn’t do it on my own. But by class two, I began to understand the mechanics a little more, how my body could operate for ME rather than how to mirror what I saw the instructor do in the mirror. I got better. Not great, by any means. But better. I felt myself connect to my body more in that second class, but it also scared me a bit.

I’m afraid of sex. I can say that solidly, I think. I’m afraid of the word sexy, of anything related to sexy, of using my body in a way that could be construed as sexy. My therapist tells me that I hear the words sexy pushups (because that is what they are called in pole class) and I panic because I don’t think I’m sexy. She says I am scared because I think that ability has been taken from me by my trauma, that my ability to connect in that way and present myself as sexy and not be ashamed is impacted by the person I have allowed my trauma to shape me as. She told me that I survived being raped and I survived having my body ravaged and I survived a lot of bullshit, but my body is mine now to do with what I please. She told me that I need to give myself permission to rediscover it now, that it’s been long enough and that I can do that.

So I will keep going to these classes, for now. Maybe not forever. But for now. And I will work on being present in my body, being grateful for how strong it is, for how it allowed me to survive. For the idea that it can be sexy, when I am ready for that, and for the idea that I someday may be ready.

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A Life Not Lived

I think of my son, Carter, as a whisper. A glimpse of something in the wind that my mind, in the grand scheme of life, barely got a chance to capture. I have to paint his life in my head, every year, a portrait of who he might be.

I picture him as dirty blonde. I don’t know why. In my memories, his hair after he was born is gray, almost translucent. And my hair is brown. B’s was brown. But I picture Carter’s as dark blonde. For the longest time, I pictured him wearing suspenders, one side on properly and one dropped off the shoulder just so. I think I wore suspenders as a kid. Maybe. Or I just wanted to. When he would have been younger, I’d picture him finger painting. Napping. Eating graham crackers. Now I picture him as he’d be, nine years old. Maybe playing sports. Soccer? Soccer seems safe, so far as sports go. Musically inclined, a trait I’d be much more likely to encourage.

I picture Carter as my everything. My entire world. I think I’ve been looking for him, looking to fill that hole, for all this time. I tell my therapist that I want kids, desperately. There is nothing I want more. I tell my therapist I will never have kids. I don’t want the kind of relationship that creates them. I’m not even looking. She tells me to put my big girl pants on and get to a point where I can foster. Adopt. I look this up and I know that I don’t qualify, that she is hoping and believing in something for me that I will never hope nor believe in for myself. She tells me that the point of all our work is so that I WILL qualify someday. I don’t argue. Can’t.

It hurts sometimes to think about Carter, to realize that I’m getting older and I could be nearing the end of that time of my life. I’m just a girl with two unsustainable careers who goes home at night and reads and plays video games and watches tv because that life she thought she’d have, married with kids, is unattainable. It is harder this year, as I watch the people around me procreate, as I realize it’s been almost ten years and I am really the only one who remembers him. There were no music lessons, no sports. No snacks. No naps. No finger paints. That is all in my head. He lived a life not remembered. And this year, the ninth year, I wish more than anything that I could change that. Because it hurts more than anything.

Carter’s whole life can be summarized by the few minutes I got to hold him. I can see it in photos, the way his fingers curl around mine, the way he fit just right in my arms. The way his eyes never opened, but I knew, just knew, that they were like mine. He was beautiful, and I’m the only one who knew him. And I know that even though he was gone by the time he rested in my arms, he knew he was loved. I know he knows it still.

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Life Update

One year ago today I had a day that changed the course of my life. I mean, if we’re being real, I’ve had one hell of a YEAR. But we aren’t talking about that today. We’re talking about a dog.

One year ago, I was mauled by a client’s dog. Really no other way to put that. You can’t make being used as a dog chew toy sound nice. And quite honestly, as angry as I was at the rescue, it was largely my fault. I touched the big scary crate the dog broke out of. I should not have done that; I should not have gone to where the dog broke out of. I know that now. I didn’t then.

I walked away that day with a torn up coat, shredded jeans, a bloody leg and back, and a massively bruised dignity. It’s still bruised. I don’t like when dogs I don’t know run at me. I try to avoid situations where there’s potential for a bite to occur. I used to have a passion for working with dogs labeled aggressive and I don’t have that anymore.

But what I will say for that day is that it woke me up. The idea that that dog had me so firmly I could have died if I hadn’t gotten out of the apartment…it was the catalyst to many things.

I was wallowing in the past. So I got a brilliant therapist who I have an amazing rapport with. I’ve done things with her that I never would have thought possible.

I was fully immersing myself in a career that wasn’t going to get me anywhere further. So I began to write, in earnest. More than I’ve ever written, which says a lot. I sent out essays. I got published a few times. I finished a second book. I’ve been more honest in my writing, but scared to share that here.

I was not happy with my life. So I began to change it. And I’m still not happy with it, but I am making strides towards where I’d like to be.

I have new goals now. I’d like to publish more. I’d like to change my career slightly. Own my own business maybe. Still with dogs, but more training. I’m most interested in service dogs right now, specifically psychiatric service animals. The real kind, not the fake I want to bring my dog on a plane kind. I might not know how to start a business completely on my own, but what I learned this year is that I can, if I so choose.

I came to New York City for grad school, and I love this city more than anything. I have no desire to leave it. But grad school cost me a huge portion of myself at a time when I’d barely begun to get to know who I truly was. I forgot what I was really all about. And I’m finding that out again. I’m a writer first. An activist. A speaker, even though it scares the shit out of me. I love dogs. I want to help people.

I want to do for other people what’s been done for me.

So one year ago, I got mauled by a dog. And I woke up.

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The Chair

I threw the chair first.

I’m not proud of that fact. But it is. A fact.

I remember precisely how the fight started. I was 200 miles away from home doing a store changeover, I didn’t mind the traveling. My hotel room was great. I got a king size bed all to myself, and there was even a jacuzzi. When I got the phone call, I was standing in the battery section fixing a merchandise diagram to the empty gondola with masking tape.

“S wants me to travel with him,” he told me before I could even say hi. No ‘I love you/I miss you/hi.’ Just ‘S wants me to travel with him.’

I fingered a torn package of Energizer AAs. “Where to?”

“On their tour! It sounds exciting, right?”

“That’s one word for it.” It didn’t occur to me as I replied that maybe he needed to leave home for a while just as badly as I did. That maybe he too sometimes pretended he was single.

“We’d be gone for a year. Maybe two. All over the country. I’ve never travelled. I’ve never seen anything.” His words were rushed, almost frantic in their excitement.

“What would I do?”

He was quiet. I knew then he hadn’t thought of me at all. After a minute he said, “You don’t want me to go.” It wasn’t a question.

I hung up on him. I didn’t know what to say without being angry.

I finished the merchandising job I was on a few days later and headed back home. It was a Friday night; where else would he be but his parents house? The family was watching a movie in the basement when I came in, sat on the stairs. No one said anything to me at all. I knew what that meant. If I couldn’t be happy for him, couldn’t celebrate his success, I didn’t matter.

After the movie was over, he walked up the stairs and into the kitchen, gestured for me to follow. And I did, because he was what I had.

“I told S I couldn’t go.” He sat down in one of the dining chairs and looked up with the expectation I’d do the same. But I didn’t. Couldn’t.

“You want to leave me that badly?”

“It isn’t–”

“Stop!” I interrupted with a double slap down on the table. “Just stop! Neither one of us is happy and you know it.”

“You aren’t happy?” He stood up, leaned towards me as he pressed both palms flat against the table in a match to my posture. “How long have you not been happy?”

I just shook my head. “You…You didn’t even think of me.”

He grabbed my arm then, his fingers sinking into the tender flesh, pulled me towards him until we were eye to eye. “I’m not happy either.”

I looked down to the basement. They weren’t coming. The “family.”

“You’re hurting me!” I tried to pull my arm back, but his grip only latched on tighter.

“You hurt me when you wouldn’t let me follow my dream.”

His dream? He had never once told me he wanted to travel with a band, not in the entire time I knew him.

“You stole mine,” I whispered before I realized what I was saying.

I had had dreams. I’d dreamed of owning a house with a white picket fence, of having a little boy and little girl, of owning a golden retriever, of not having to work so hard any longer in a job that I hated. I’d dreamed of being loved, of loving back. I’d dreamed of a happy marriage, a storybook marriage. I had had dreams. But I settled. I settled on him, and I gave those dreams away.

When he gave up his grip on my arm and slapped me, I stomped on his foot, in tears. And then I threw the chair, hard, right at his chest, and I wished that he would die.

I threw the chair first. Not him. And this memory, this time, is the one I always forget–because it was my fault. Because I went first. And because, I believe, it led me to believe I deserved everything that followed.

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The Next Woman

Dear A,

You don’t know me. I don’t know you. I’ve looked you up online, of course. Who wouldn’t in my position? I wondered what it was about you. Were you prettier? Smarter? Better in some way I couldn’t see? Or was it that you were available? I’m not. Not anymore.

I wonder if you’ve looked me up too. I would, in your position. I’d want to know the crazy I came after if I was you. But note, I’m not crazy. He just likes to think I am.

You’re not either.

I watched an episode of a tv show last week where a woman had to deal with the fact that her rapist raped another woman after she didn’t report him. Silence is more comfortable, sure, but it comes with its own set of ramifications and that is one. You don’t know who will come after you. You don’t know who else will get hurt.

I didn’t think about the possibility of you at all. Not until I saw you that day in Subway so many years ago, holding his hand, waiting in line to get a sandwich like it was any other day. I realized then what I had done. I’d spent my entire life thinking about others before myself, but I never thought about you. And I’m sorry.

I considered emailing you. It would have been easy, what with your contact info on the website, to send you a message and tell you to drop his hand. To run. Now. I never did. It’s a few years later now and I saw this tv show and watched this character cry for the thing she did that was both her fault and not at all her fault in the same breath. And I wanted to cry for you. But I didn’t, because secretly I’m glad it’s not me. And I’m sorry for that too.

See, I have power now. I didn’t want to give that up. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. I hope you understand. I didn’t set out to hurt you. I honestly just never considered you.

Stay safe. Watch for the ticks. When he pushes his glasses up his nose and turns away for a beat before suddenly turning back. When he sits back in his desk chair and crosses his arms over his chest by spinning around. When he leans against the doorframe/wall/counter just a hair too close to you so that you feel his breath on your neck. When he takes one too many beats to stare out the window. When you ask him a question and he closes his eyes before answering. Watch for these things. Watch for more things, because I’ve begun the process of forgetting and I know there are more.

If he ever brings you flowers, writes you a sappy love note in the most ridiculously cheesy romantic card ever, think twice about why.

And remember that this is him. Always him, and never you.

Never apologize.

And please tell him I’m still writing, and I’m coming for him.

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The Quiet Game

I started playing the quiet game when I was really young. I remember this one way I used to play where I would ride my bike up and down the sidewalk in front of my grandma’s apartment building and pretend the bike was a horse. The handlebars were the reins; the seat was the saddle. I’d had my first taste of riding real horses that summer I think, and I was greatly disappointed I couldn’t ride them every single day. So I made it work with what I had.

The point of the quiet game was, obviously, to be quiet. It was a silent purple and pink horse, probably a unicorn based off my knowledge of my obsessions at that age. I was a silent rider.

There were other variations of the quiet game. Sometimes I made up imaginary friends as I lay on my bed with hands on my chest and my eyes closed in the posture of a corpse, characters with awful lives that I would then write stories about. Sometimes I played the organ with headphones in and mouthed the words to songs. Most of the time I just read books.

I taught myself to talk when necessary, and it was hard because I wanted to talk all the time back then. But it wasn’t always right. That was a painful lesson to learn. There were some things not meant to be spoken out loud. I had to swallow them. I had to be quiet.

The quiet game proved useful in adulthood. Our marriage counselor told us to “never let the sun set” on our anger, so every night my then-husband would spend his traditional twenty minutes in the bathroom doing skincare and teeth cleaning before getting into bed and waiting, quietly. He too played the quiet game, only he played it differently. He played with expectations. I played for protection.

“I’m sorry,” I told him automatically, every single night. I knew what he wanted. I knew what would happen if I didn’t say it.

“Good,” he would smile, nodding his approval as we clasped hands resting on the mattress between us. The same routine every night before bed.

I never knew though what I was saying sorry for. I just knew that I was. Sorry. Or rather, that I was supposed to be.

I went to that other place in my head, to that little girl riding the bike-pony, that little girl playing organ and mouthing the words while everyone slept, that little girl who dreamed up fictional characters just to solve someone’s problems, even if those problems were only on the page and not in real life. I became that woman who would do anything to be quiet and I stayed her, because I had so damn much to say and none of it could ever be said.

There was so much I never said to him, so much that wasn’t appropriate to speak out loud, not then. Why was I always the one to say sorry? Why did he never apologize? What exactly was it that I was so sorry for, every night? Why was I automatically less than he was? Why did he claim so hard to follow The Bible in public but yet he never prayed a single time in private the entire duration of our marriage? How could he claim to be ruling me, controlling me, biblically when he never, ever prayed? What kind of person was he?

What kind of person was I for staying quiet, for playing the game, for never saying a word?

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The Leaving

The night I left the husband, I sat in the Walmart parking lot, slid my ring off my left hand, and dropped it into the car cup holder that was slick with spilled energy drink. It was an act of freedom, in a way. I had been bound for years by something I didn’t understand. We didn’t care for each other. Not really. When we said our vows, we quoted the Bible verse about love being eternal. Love was not eternal. Love was not real. Love was a piece of shit.

The next day at work, I punched the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom so hard that it came off the wall and sliced my hand open from ring finger to wrist. I told my coworkers it had fallen and I’d tried to catch it; this seemed like the right thing to say. The cut was so deep I should have gotten stitches, but I didn’t. I wanted to see it, the blood. I wanted to see that reflection of my pain. I wanted to see that punishment, the sentence handed down by the universe for forgetting my vows and removing my wedding ring. I wondered if he’d taken his off yet. I wondered when he would.

I’ve worn no rings since on either hand. Some days, like today, I’ll be walking and the sun will catch the aged scar, a few inches long and curdled white, and I’ll remember how much it bled. How much paper towel it took to stop the bleeding. That was the real act of freedom. The bleeding. I’ll look at the scar and I’ll think about how much my heart bled. How much effort and work and writing and pushing myself it took to stop that bleeding. How he made me feel worthless. How I needed to let that go.

I’m glad to carry this scar. I pawned my ring the first year I was in the city to pay my rent. I wasn’t sad. My heart didn’t bleed. That wound was already scarred.

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What I Didn’t Say

I had never been to the baseball diamond in our town before. It was a night right before our wedding, and reaching backwards in memory, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been on any baseball diamond. Except for one time, in seventh grade…

His hand was in my pants.

In seventh grade, my gym teacher tried to teach our class how to play baseball. I couldn’t get past learning how to grip the bat, and I never hit the ball that year, no matter how hard I tried. I was that kid nobody wanted on their team; I was the one who got booed every time I went up to the plate.

He wanted me. His hand was in my pants, and I didn’t know what to do, and all I could think about was standing on that baseball field in seventh grade. He felt his way inside of my underwear. Yes? No? Other? I didn’t know what to say. I never knew what to say.

The more I got booed in gym class, the less I wanted to play. I sat on the bench behind home plate, and I cried because I knew my turn was coming and I would have to do what was expected of me, but I didn’t know what that was.

One finger grazed my skin, pressing down, and it hurt. I wondered offhandedly if it was supposed to. I did not say yes, but I did not say no. Was there something wrong with me? Had my childhood irrevocably fucked me up in terms of liking sex?

No, I knew what to do, I just wasn’t an athlete. Stand behind the plate. Plant my feet. Grip the bat, not too tight, not too loose. Swing. Hit. Run. I knew what to do, but I couldn’t do it.

He wanted to touch me, but I had no interest in touching him. I became certain that I was broken. I did not say yes, but I did not say no. I didn’t know I could say no.

I wanted my classmates to like me, but I wasn’t good enough and I never would be. I gave up. I took detention after detention rather than go up to that plate. I almost failed gym. I didn’t care.

“Why don’t you ever do it back?” he asked quietly. “Don’t you like me that way?”

I didn’t know what to say; if this was how love worked, I wasn’t sure I loved him back. But I needed to. I needed him to stay. So I did not say yes, but I also did not say no.

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