The Suitcase was a personal journal I kept while unpacking childhood trauma and learning of new trauma I was not even aware of. The blog where I kept this journal was called The Suitcase. The journey detailed here is part of the catalyst for my transformation into a full-throated advocate for the vulnerable and traumatized.
The Suitcase, March 20, 2019
*Trigger warning: child sex abuse*
I’m an inappropriate discloser. I don’t mean to be, but I’ve spent so much time trying to forget much of my painful history, and sometimes it just pops out before I know it. Example: Recently, on a work trip, we were discussing losing our virginity over drinks after. I disclosed that I “really” lost my my virginity at a certain age, insinuating that there was more to the story. Of course, questions ensured and I’m as honest as the day is long, so I disclosed that I was raped at age 4, and my virginity was stolen from me via that act. Talk about a conversation killer.
Nobody, but nobody ever wants to hear about or talk about child sex abuse. And yet…when it happens to you at such a tender age, it really frames your life. And I just don’t know how or maybe I don’t want to be discreet about it. How can we ever resolve problems if we never discuss them?
Anyway, I’ve decided that the only way I can get past this stuff popping out is to confront the entire story of my childhood with its complicated and complex trauma, thus this blog. I will not be using my real name, or anyone else’s real names, but I will be telling the truth, the whole truth, so help me God. This blog, and anyone who reads it (if anyone) will be my witness. Perhaps by getting it down, I’ll be able to get past it. Wish me luck!
My Earliest Memories March 22, 2019
*Trigger warning: Child Sex Abuse*
I have been blessed and cursed with an excellent memory. My earliest memories revolve around trauma. In my last post, I discussed being raped at age 4. A lot of people like to use euphemisms when a child is raped. They don’t like to call it rape. They call it child molestation or child sex abuse. But when a man or adolescent boy puts his penis into another’s vagina without consent–or the capability of consent–it is rape, pure and simple. We’d all be better off if we called it that. We might actively want to do something about it if we were honest about it.
As I mentioned in that post, I was four years old the first time I remember it happening. It’s possible it happened before that, but I don’t think so. I doubt it so much because I recently had another memory about it, my first memory of how I felt at the time. Before I could only remember actions. Here’s a snippet I’ve written about it before elsewhere:
I was four years old when sadness first seared my brow. It was not the first time I had been raped; it was actually the second. I had managed to somehow survive the first assault, and with the resiliency that only an infant can muster, had blocked it out and continued to love—and trust—my paternal uncle. That is, until he took me to the abandoned house again. In that empty space, he had erected 2 sawhorses and a long board to make a makeshift bed. It was when I saw that awful contraption that I remembered what had happened just days before and I physically felt my heart sink for the very first time in my life. Because I was four. I can’t get over that part. There’s so much more that I can’t get over, but the impact of that gut-slug of betrayal hitting me is what caused the gray circles around my eyes, and they are still there today, 43 years later.
Here’s how the trajectory of my memory went: I blocked it all out as much as I could until I was molested in the park at age 11. At that time I started to have memories of the earlier abuse–and get this–I thought I was the sick one for making up such a crazy story. I thought there was no way my memory could be correct. But memory is a funny thing. It will lead you down the right path if you let it. And with that willingness, my web of memories began to assert themselves.
I began to remember this one time when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and the abusive uncle had married for the first time. He and his family came over one day during the summer for a barbecue and his wife, heavily pregnant at the time, got herself into a bikini and laid out a silver reflective sheet to sun herself in the front yard. It was truly a bizarre sight. I guess I was curious about her bulging belly and so it was explained to me that she was pregnant and all the sudden my young mind was able to connect the act of sex with pregnancy. But I was too young and uninformed to understand the biology. I only linked the sex act with pregnancy. And since my uncle had raped me so many times, I assumed I was pregnant and would need to explain it soon, before I looked like her.
We were not a religious family, but my parents did send us on the Sunday School bus every week to get some alone time. And of course the narrative of Mary’s immaculate conception was one I knew well, and seemed to offer the only hope of explaining what I was now sure would happen. I must have spent a month worrying about this.
As little kids often do, I had a pretend boyfriend who was also my age. I approached him and explained that God had graced me like he had Mary and we would soon be responsible for a baby. I remember now so clearly sitting in the grass of his front yard and earnestly telling him this, hoping he would be my Joseph. He did not decline, but he did not accept, and I now realize he avoided me as much as possible thereafter. We moved shortly after that–my childhood is filled with the reactive mobility of poverty–and I soon blocked it all out until that fateful day in the park when I was eleven. After that I could not stop the assault of memories, but I also did not feel I could tell anyone.
So I held it close for a long time. I was probably about 15 when I mentioned it to my sister in a rare moment of sharing, and she confessed that he had done it to her too, many, many times. We checked our details: Abandoned house, check. Vasoline, check. Tiny dick, check. Thank God for that, check.
My parents split up when I was 10 years old. We lived in Houston at that time, and my mom was from Louisville, KY. She took us kids back to her hometown. But that summer of my fifteenth year my mom also took us back to Texas to see family in the wake of my paternal grandfather’s death. We saw my aunts (whom I loved very much) and my grandma (whom I never cared for because she was so heartless). Thankfully the uncle was not there, but I later learned that my mom and dad had planned a second family gathering at which he would be in attendance. I knew I had to act. I could not and would not see him.
I remember being so very scared about telling them. I did not think I would be believed. I was quite surprised that I was. I don’t remember much after that, but I now know that my telling ripped my father’s family apart. I don’t give one fuck about that. They deserved it. That whole family is a hotbed of dysfunction–but so is my mother’s for the record. But my father’s family didn’t even try to do the right thing. They just tried to hide shit.
I think back to all this and I know there is no way, ever, that people didn’t know what was happening to me and my sister–and possibly my brother. I have a vague memory of something having to do with this uncle babysitting my brother and I one day and making us look at Playboy and them forcing us to simulate sex for him. My brother and I have never discussed this and we never will because he is dead to me. But that’s another story for another blog post.
I can’t get past that my mother, as she cleaned my young body and the clothes I wore every day, did not see the evidence. There had to be Vasoline evidence–he used great big gobs of it. I remember quite clearly having irritation down there all the time, and my mother putting it down to me not being able to wipe correctly, which I had done fine before. I am still so mad at her and so many members of my family.
We lived on a dead end street at the time with maybe 10 houses on each side of the street, and he would take us to these abandoned houses at the end of the dead end. He would tote us on his bike handlebars, smiling the whole way, until he got us inside the house. People had to see and question. If they didn’t, that’s a level of denial I can’t begin to support or explain away. It’s not something I would ever be able to do, to dismiss any and all evidence that something like that was happening to a child. I don’t care that it was a different time with different standards. I only know that I was a beautiful young child, barely out of infancy, and I should have been better protected. That his criminal acts framed my whole life, and I have never gotten justice. I don’t know that I ever will…
I guess that’s enough for now…until next time.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Finding Out, March 24, 2019
When people move into that age of life where memory loss and dementia begin to set in, they forget what they swore to keep secret. My mother’s big secret in (her adult) life was that she almost aborted me. I found this out with just a few basic questions about how my mom and dad met, from which she began to unwind my personal history from conception.
I think it’s important to understand why she felt she had to, so here’s a little history from her life: Mom was the only girl among five kids who grew up in her house. She was sexually abused for years by her own dad. As is common with children who were sexually abused, she was pretty promiscuous in her adolescence, at a time when promiscuity was not as common as it is today. She became pregnant right after she turned 18.
This was 1965, so there was no easy access to abortion like there is now. And I believe she wanted to keep the baby, my sister, who is five years older than me. She will tell you how her mom tried to get her to give the baby up for adoption, and how my mom–a lifelong passive-aggressive–waited out the orphanage for six weeks until everyone consented to her keeping her baby. That wait, that inability to feel like she could say what she really wanted and needed–her baby–was to become the central trauma in my mother’s life. To this day she pines for that baby, and she expresses it with her need to constantly have a pet she can cuddle.
Flash forward to four years later, and my mom and my dad meet as he is furloughed and then discharged to Kentucky from Vietnam. She will tell you now–though she never mentioned it before–that she used sex to meet her need to be loved, and her relationship with my dad was just that–a months-long casual, sexual relationship. Then she found out she was pregnant with me. This was 1970.
Given the times and all she had endured, I can’t say as I objectively blame my mom for what she did next, but I also can’t ignore how her choices then colored our relationship forever. That passive-aggressive women began to plan a way she could be rid of the problem–me–and she did not share these plans with anyone. She took out a small loan and booked a flight to New York, where she could legally have an abortion. This is no small feat in 1970, and not something that could planned overnight. She was about 3 months pregnant as she planned to leave, and just days before she did, she met up with my dad per their usual arrangement. They met at a women’s house where my dad was basically flopping.
Apparently I get my gregarious personality and my deeply empathic abilities from my dad. According to my mom, he could tell something was going on with her, and he pressed her for the reason. He would not relent. If he had done so, a few days later I would be so much medical garbage sitting in a landfill or donated for scientific experimentation. She finally confessed to everything, and he told her she could not go to New York to get the abortion, because they would get married instead. I can’t imagine how my mother felt at that moment. This is the stuff movies are made about today.
She will tell you today that she wanted to keep me, that he gave her permission to do what she wanted, and perhaps there is some truth to that. But so, too, is there truth in the fact that I was always her problem child and so much of my childhood is wrapped up in her constant attempts to exclude me from the family, and thus her life. She might have wanted me in an emotional sense, in some ethereal way, but the fact is that her decision to attempt to abort me placed a permanent barrier between us, one that is still not overcome to this day. And she will not ever admit or own that piece of it. It’s still my fault that life didn’t turn out like she wanted it too, and I still became her passive-aggressive target, her way to control our family life.
It was not until just a couple of years ago that I learned all of this, and that I began to connect the web of my life experience and the choices I was making to this moment in her life and the choices she was making. Because I didn’t know. She was sworn to secrecy. They never told anyone. And so it became my habit to blame myself for all our family’s troubles, and later for all the ways in which I could not seem to unify my interior life. I had no idea I never had a chance, that I was broken from the moment I was conceived.
Now I know, now I know what it means to be broken
Now I know, now I know what it means to be bared
You in the chair perceptibly sinking
I’m on my knees once again made aware
Of the world out there
My Father, March 26, 2019
My dad was four years younger than my mom. My own spouse is also four years younger than me. I recently found out that my paternal grandmother was allegedly older than my paternal grandfather, but I’d have to request the documentation to prove it. Still, it always astounds me how much behavioral repetition there is built into a family’s history. They say history repeats, and so I guess it does…with wars, genes, and dysfunctions.
My father, and all that he was and was not, has been the great tragedy of my life. As we discussed in Finding Out, he was also my greatest salvation. I would not be here, quite literally, if it were not for him and his sudden flash of wholeness in the midst of his brokenness after Vietnam.
My dad was raised worse than I was, and way worse than my mom was. At least my mom had one person who was willing to lay everything on the line for her and her siblings–my maternal grandmother. My father didn’t even have that. His father was bona fide mentally ill, likely bi-polar with additional tendencies, and he terrorized his family for his entire adult life. My paternal grandmother told stories before her death–but after her husband died–of having to chain him to the bed to prevent his wild and aggressive tantrums. He was institutionalized more than once, so aggressive was his behavior. As for paternal Grandma, she did everything she could to protect the family, especially him, and she was ruthless in her defenses of him. She would actually pit her own children against one another if it served her needs, which it often did.
When my dad left for Vietnam he’d been drafted, but that doesn’t mean he went unwillingly. He was happy to break away from his family. He despised his father, and thought very little more of his mother. In my memory, both my paternal grandparents were dangerous people, to be avoided at all costs. My paternal grandfather was a violent tickler who insisted on pinning us kids down and tickling us long past the point of pain. He called me Monkey and every time we went to their house after we moved to Texas, he would order me to climb up into his lap. He did not dote. He tortured.
When my parents married the deal was they would never expose the children to his side of the family. My dad quite naively thought he would never see his family again, and that he could protect his kids from their toxic influence. Mind you, I only know this because of questions I asked my mom. I’m thankful that, though she had a poisonous intent with regard to my father and I, she told the truth about these things finally, after the onset of dementia had eased her mental defenses.
My memories of my childhood are mostly of violence, much of it inflicted by my dad or members of his family, though occasionally by my mom. Less than a year after they married my parents and my sister and I all moved down to Houston, Texas and reconnected with his family. I don’t know why, now that I know of his vow. He’s dead, so I can’t ask him, and I only trust half the story from my mom. She says they moved to Texas because he could not find work in Louisville. I would not be surprised, though, if she had needled him into it as a means to escape the influence of her own family on her and us. She was wily that way.
I do have a few memories of joy seeing my father come home from work, if he did so in a good mood. He was a drinker and an alcoholic. It was a coping mechanism many vets fell into, especially those with chronic symptoms in the aftermath of Agent Orange use. My dad was one of the many Army infantrymen exposed to it in the jungles over there. But when he was happy, my dad was an exuberant extrovert, a joker, a player of pranks. His smiles and laughter could light up the house. When he was at ease, he was just a regular working class happy-go-lucky kind of guy.
More frequent were the times he would come home sullen or drunk, and the abuse would start almost instantaneously. I went to school frequently with the marks of his rages. If I were a child today in my parents house, CPS would get involved over his abuse and my mother’s chronic neglect. It was different in the 70s, and my mom put on a good face for the school, so no one was ever called.
I remember going to sleep many nights after his episodes wondering why my mom did not leave him. I wished that I had some form of formal disability–a wheelchair, or crutches–so that people could more readily see the pain I was in. I prayed God would save me and my siblings. These are not normal thoughts for a 7 year old, but I had them. I felt entirely invisible, and dared not share my experience with anyone, not even anyone in my family. Us kids just basically watched each other get beaten, and were thankful it wasn’t us that time. I got it worse from my dad, I think, because I was so much like him. One of the dominant narratives I’ve been told in life, starting with my mother, and later from countless therapists, is that it was because I was the middle child. But I was his first child.
One of the dirty little secrets in our family–one that my mother will admit to us kids but not many others–is that she’d told him very early in her marriage that if he ever struck her, she’d leave him immediately. And yet she watched for 10 years as he beat us routinely and never budged. Let that sink in before you read on.
My parents split when I was 10. A series of catastrophic events forced her hand. First was the fact that she had to be hospitalized for gall bladder surgery, leaving us unprotected and in his care. In his defense, he was pretty much on his best behavior while she was away. Though we came home every day filled with terror and dread, he did step up, remained sober as far as I recall, and made sure we maintained the loose routine my mom had established–daily meals, baths, and bedtimes.
The second was that my sister, just 14 years old at the time, ran away and stayed gone for 4 months. I cannot tell you how heavy having a missing child is on the rest of the family. Time slowed to a crawl. Every day was agony for my mom, and out of sympathy for her, my father relented with my brother and I for a while. It was, though emotionally oppressive, some of the most physically stable memories I have from my childhood. When the police finally brought my sister home my mother immediately shipped her up to Kentucky, and we followed about a month later.
My world shifted at the worst possible time. I’m a social worker today, and I know how influential that 10th year is. It is during that year that children suddenly develop the first inklings of their adult mindset. In that process, the events around them get stuck. Give a child support and a violin at this age and they will likely develop a lyricism that permeates their soul for the rest of their lives. Give them another smack, change their environment substantially, or separate them from those they love and that too will be sown into their souls.
While I was physically safe(ish) in my mother’s care, I was not able to understand how much of her anger and resentment over her failed marriage she poured into my brother and I, but mostly me. Because I was and remain much more like my father than I am like her. My brother, on the other hand, is her made over, thus he got far more favorable treatment in our childhood than I ever did.
Upon leaving my father, mom went into overdrive. It seemed than like every other word out of her mouth was a verbal blow aimed directly at our love of my father. Child abuse is complicated. You can feel the pain and fright, you can see the bruises, you can pray for relief, but you love your parent no less than any other children.
Now I can see clearly that they were both deeply flawed, traumatized by their own childhoods, and they are both to blame for the disaster that was my childhood. He may have beaten me, but she nearly killed me with her neglect, sending me to the hospital with a massive bacterial infection and dehydration over spoiled food when I was about 8 years old. So that’s twice she almost killed me, including the planned abortion. The problem was, in her constant verbiage she always presented herself as our saviors, and my young mind started to believe her version of events. That childish belief cost me everything with my father.
Despite his flaws, my dad was a man worth basic dignity, and he certainly had his strengths. Her successful attempt at parental alienation kept me away from him long after the danger had passed, even after he was old and wheelchair bound. I never saw him again after that one trip to visit him in my 16th year because of the narrative she fed us. Now he’s dead and I never will.
He died in 2014 just a few months after I decided to find him and placed a first, tentative phone call to him. We talked just twice before he died, both brief phone calls due to his poor health and my reluctance. On the phone he exhibited his strengths, and none of his violence. I hadn’t forgotten the abuse, and so I was slow to warm up to him. His 2nd wife and I began the slow process of opening up, sharing pictures and the like. My own daughter, his first biological grandchild, was an adult by this time. My brother’s kids were still young kids then. I’m happy that I was able to send him pictures of his grandkids and that he got to see them before he died, to even learn of their existence. I’m so, so sorry we never got the chance to connect in person. I just thought I had more time…
It was after he died that I finally dealt with the truth of how successful my mother’s manipulations of me regarding him were. It seems so ironic now. She always worried that I was so much smarter than her, but in the end, I wasn’t. If I was, I’d had seen her machinations much sooner than I did. She exploited every opportunity she could to drive a a lifelong wedge between us, to ensure that I in particular never turned to him. A major step in that process was to put me–and me alone–into foster care at age 13. I would not be discharged until I was 18, and by that time she’d marshaled all her resources, including seeding her preferred narrative into the system to which she had corralled me. I had no hope of overcoming that until just a few years ago.
Loss, March 28, 2019
My last post was a lot of scattershot. I’m sorry. Avoiding doing that is one reason I started this blog. Sometimes the intensity of my internal thoughts and emotions surrounding my persistent evaluation of my life and how I can become a better, more integrated person results in in a lot of chaos. I’m trying to overcome that chaos by organizing my experience, thoughts, and feelings and by telling. Keeping all this inside only hurts me and has unhealthy consequences for the family I’ve built.
One of the main areas I am working on is loss. When my father died in 2014 something happened inside me. I guess I reopened the door to my own truths, instead of taking for granted my mother’s story of her own absolution. I was 43 years old in 2014 and because I had so readily accepted my mom’s narratives, I’d never truly allowed myself to be angry with her. I saw her as my savior, and that just wasn’t true. In fact, just the opposite.
My mother has always been overweight. I mean literally since she was a baby. There’s never not been a time in her life when she wasn’t chubby at least, and for most of it she’s been clinically obese. As you can imagine, she’s suffered a lot for that, not only with the personal consequences of her eating / lifestyle choices, but also with the judgment of society in general. But her weight also operates as a metaphor for her influence on those she calls close and claims to love. She’s very heavy emotionally, almost smothering in her need to control the lives of her children. Here’s a quick example: My sister had 4 children and my mother named 3 of them. My sister only had the guts to assert her own will with her last child.
In this space I am allowed to talk quite openly about my perception of my mother in ways I can’t with anyone by my spouse. As much help as the support and active listening of my spouse is, it is not ultimately enough to resolve my pain or turmoil. I have a friend in NYC who counsels me frequently to let go and love my inner child, and I know he’s probably right, but I hate that model of recovery. When I reflect now, I know that this model would not have worked for me previously, because of this treasure chest of pain my mother had buried deep within my psyche.
Don’t mistake me, dear reader–I don’t know, feel, or think that she did this to me purposefully. Rather I think this is just a product of her survival in her own dysfunctional childhood household. If you discern resentment in my tone, it’s because my mother knew her family’s dysfunction had left a mark on her, she knew it to the last detail, and yet she never wanted to or tried to make wholeness her goal. She wallowed in her dysfunction, and in doing so she perpetrated further, and to an extent worse, that dysfunction on me and my siblings. Is that an unforgivable thing, dear reader, to know the right thing to do and yet refuse to move, even if it hurts your own children? It’s not a choice I could ever make. I have scoured my soul to find and eradicate dysfunction like the Sentinels in Matrix Reloaded tunneling for Zion.
My mother leaves the evidence of her dysfunction everywhere she goes. I sometimes refer to it as her alien sludge, the emotional sliminess she leaves in her wake. So my father died in 2014. My mother was living with my brother at the time and in 2016, through certain events I’ll save for another blog post, he and his wife lost their house, leaving them, their children, and my mother homeless.
Remember that at this time I still believed her to be my savior. I did not yet know of her plans to abort me, or my father’s act of salvation. So naturally I stepped in to catch her. She moved in with me and my spouse in May of 2016 and that facilitated my learning certain key facts that completely changed my view of her. Once that shift happened, I had to deal with the loss of her as I had envisioned her, which was as some kind of rock that anchored me in this world. Now I am completely unbound and untethered, and I believe it is this loss and listing (as in a ship) that I am now dealing with.
I’m going to stop here a moment and inventory via the following bulleted list the losses I’ve experienced that are both unnatural and traumatic:
- The loss of security from being raped repeatedly as a child, starting at age 4
- The loss of the father I could have had if he could have become the man he clearly wanted to be
- The loss of protection my father should have provided to me and my siblings
- The loss of family unity as my parents split
- The loss of familiarity of environment stemming from my parents divorce
- The loss of my household from being placed in foster care at age 13, and the loss of relationships with my mother and siblings that accompanied it
- The loss of protection that my mother should have provided to me, which she did provide in some ways to my siblings
- The loss of my mother a second time as the actual truth of our history became evident
I said in my last post that I am a social worker now, and I work with foster kids who are aging out of care. They are aging out of care because their parents either failed to make the necessary changes to provide the safety and security their children needed to survive, or because their parents died while they were in care (most frequently from drug overdose related the addiction that saw their children enter care), or because of the perspectives and choices of social workers who really have no idea what they are doing because they have not experienced the kinds of trauma the kids on their caseloads have.
Here’s the one true thing I know about these kids: Every single one of them want to be with their parent or parents again, despite any trauma those parents might have inflicted upon them. Many of them choose to sign themselves out of care as soon as they turn 18 so they can do so, even though the law allows them to remain supported in care until age 21.
Before my mother moved in with me, I would frequently wonder what made these kids want to go home to people who didn’t care for them and wouldn’t protect them. I no longer have that question. I know now that there is deep yearning for the familial connection in every human on earth, save perhaps psychopaths. I could have learned this lesson as I aged out of foster care myself if I had not been so thoroughly caught up in this need, and ensnared in her manipulative web. It seems so ironic to me now.
I was in foster care because I was a persistent runaway from the age of 13. I was no average runaway. I didn’t run away to go party down the block with my teenage friends. I ran away and hitchhiked across the country to Houston to see my father. Four times between the ages of 13 and 15 I did this. Four times. It seems so unreal to me now. I remember so much of it, but it feels like it happened to another person.
With my social worker eyes I can now see that this thing that everyone at the time saw as a flaw–me running away–was actually a manifestation of strength. It was the instinctive, intuitive part of myself telling me what I needed to do to keep myself safe–which was get as far from my mom as I could. I just acted on it too early. Perhaps my destination choice was flawed. I’ll give you that. But I was whole and integrated at that point in some ways far above what I am now as I deal with the aftermath of my father’s death and mom living with me, which, by the way, she no longer does, though she’s still alive.
She lives with my sister now, the one she pined for as my sister languished in a Catholic orphanage in 1966. (We weren’t Catholic, for the record.) My sister has suffered profoundly from her inability to attach to my mother after her birth, and so did my mom. I know that them living together now is having consequences for my sister as it did me. Ironically, they live in an apartment right beside the building that used to house the orphanage she languished in. They can see if from their porch. Before my mom moved in, my sister did not know that was the building. I suppose mom’s life has come full circle in some ways, as she ends up where she began. And so has my sister’s.
My mom is actually the only one benefiting from this because she’s the only one who embraces dysfunction and pain. She picks at her old wounds like a child with a scab. She wallows in the blood and puss that spills from her psychic wounds. She never wants them healed, and even if she did, it’s too late. At 72 and with a diagnosis of encroaching dementia, the process of unpacking her own suitcase would destroy what mind she has left. I never want to find myself in her shoes, and that’s another reason for this blog and this process of healing.
So one of the things that might happen if you decide to open your own Pandora’s box of childhood memories is that all the hope flies out first. If you do it right you’re just down in it with the rawness of truth. Most people expect things will get better if they confront their demons, but it’s likelier to get much worse before getting better.
This is the story of how I came to know–just yesterday–that this dad you see me write so much about, is not actually my biological father.
Some things you know if you’re reading this blog: My dad died in 2014, setting off a chain of events which have lead me here. I was abused both physically and sexually as a child, and subjected to significant life-threatening neglect as well. I was a long-distance runaway as a teen. I ended up in foster care and aged out of that system. I am now a social worker trying to give back some of the precious saving grace I received in care.
In December of last year I finally made the trip back to Texas that I was so desperately seeking as a teen. I was 47 years old. I had cousins there that I had not seen since they were little children, and a couple I had not even met. I came after Christmas and we truly had a grand old time together. They were really great people. I also visited the house where my dad had died while I was there, and several landmarks important in my memories.
Also significant is the fact that I gave my mother a 23andMe kit for Christmas last year. I had taken the ancestry + health the year before, and she liked seeing my results. There was one fascinating detail in my results, however, and that was that I was connected to a first cousin I did not know. I know all my mother’s siblings and their kids, and I thought I at least knew who all the cousins on my dad’s side were, but this person did not match. Before my mom took her test I did not even know which side of the family she fell on.
We had speculated several scenarios. Some big family secrets have come out over it. My mother thought this cousin might be a baby born to one of her siblings, a story no one has talked about before. Once mom took the test, it was clear this cousin came from my father’s side, though, so that couldn’t be right. At this point, I did not suspect a thing. As little as a month ago I was still listening to my mother frame this narrative for me.
So one day in a lengthy conversation on a long drive home my mother told me a story about my paternal grandmother, my dad’s mom. My mom said that paternal grandma told her a story only once, about a child she had before she met my grandfather. According to my mom, grandma had lost the baby to the child’s father. She speculated that that might be the origin of this cousin.
Following this lead, I talked with one of the cousins I had gone to see in Texas about her taking the test, and she did. She called me yesterday with the results. We are not related.
I do have to say, this cousin was really great about it. She called her own mom and just had a candid conversation about her own parentage and came away satisfied that her mom was telling the truth and she was her father’s child. That left only one possibility. I am not my father’s child.
And all the air is sucked out of my life.
Just. wow. It feels like coming to a full stop in hurricane force winds. You’re aware of the tunnel of wind, but you still float silently through the middle, dropping right to the ground. You don’t know if or when the rules of physics will work again, and you will be sucked into the violent cyclone again.
I did not know when I started this process that I would uncover all of this. I knew I was feeling disrupted and unbound, but I honestly had no idea it could get worse. I thought I would feel things I had been avoiding feeling for decades, and that would hurt, but not that I would learn of new trauma to process. Never. I thought I had the whole story.
Empathy & Intuition, April 13, 2019
I’m still reeling from the fallout of April 10, 2019, a day that I will now forever think of as my anti-birthday. This was the day that I found out my dad, who was the source of much fear, anger, sadness, and even some joy in my life, was not my biological father. I am 48 years old and even now, after talking with my mother–who was not surprised at all by this discovery–I am divided between empathy for her situation, and anger at her lies.
It is amazing how much immediately occurs to the person finding out this piece of information. On the one hand I’m looking at all this unpacking of childhood trauma from suitcases and I’m wondering why the hell I even had to go through that? My sister’s reaction was more stark: She simply did not believe it at first, but once she accepted, she, too, immediately started to question why we had to endure the pain and suffering we did for basically nothing.
And all of the sudden I am aware that all my life I have had this giddiness inside at the fact of a known, quantifiable father. My sister didn’t have that. She only had a name and the known rejection of her own father at court proceedings surrounding her birth. Now, for me, that giddiness is gone, like a soldier who just missed the first shot fired at him, but could not dodge the second shot. I don’t even have a name. I have a first cousin on 23andMe who may or may not want to help me.
I was not even aware this mooring existed until I became untethered from it. In this unbound state, free floating thoughts emerge about how badly you predicted your own life, and then even more thoughts emerge about how you had it right, and now you know why you felt so strongly about certain things all your life.
I remember being about 8 or 9 years old, and as you may recall from My Earliest Memories, this is a period of my life where my rapidly increasing intellect is allowing me to figure things out a bit, to draw certain conclusions about the past. One of those things was the intuitive knowledge that I was an “other” in my family.
I began to speculate that I was adopted. I remember talking openly about how I was not like anyone in my family, how I didn’t look like them or act like, or even think like them. I clearly remember walking around the house talking about this, trying to ask my mom the questions that would reveal my truth, but she held fast. I clearly remember her dismissiveness about my questions and my thoughts about this.
There are some memories that people carry that they know have significance, but not really why. I hesitate to even record this thought here, because if this is not the significance, I don’t want my mind making that connection. But, from an objective point of view, it does fit. So here goes…
It’s a known fact in my family that my father beat me more than the other kids. Many of the facts of my childhood that I tell when discussing it are the facts framed in those introductory meetings with therapists my mother would tell. I started therapy in elementary school in Houston, but I don’t remember much about it other than that at the very end of it, Reagan was shot and we moved about a month later. This has to be during the time my runaway sister was gone. She was gone for 4 months according to my mom (though I suppose I should check that out ffs).
Somewhere in this time that my sister was gone and the house was filled with such sadness and darkness all the time, my mother made a weird pitch to my dad to bond with me. I can’t tell you why I call this a pitch; maybe I overheard something they discussed in private, or maybe it was discussed in one of these therapy meetings where they would occasionally have her attend. What I do know was there was this active effort for a while to promote the bond and one day it lead to use stopping to shop at a clothing store, something we never did. Almost all our clothes were bought at thrifts shops or garage sales, and we rarely got to pick them out. This time there was one shirt selected and it was for me.
It was a beautiful baby blue t-shirt with the words “Daddy’s Girl” emblazoned on it in pink and purple sparkle. I loved that shirt so much. I wore it as often as possible. I wanted to be my daddy’s girl, and I could not understand why I wasn’t. Now I realize HE couldn’t understand why I wasn’t. But he knew–he knew as intuitively as I did that I was not his child. And despite countless therapists suggesting that it was my status as the middle child that made me a target, it was this lack of biological connection that was likely the motivating factor. Now I know.
I don’t know why it should seem crazy. There is literature on the books about some women being able to tell you that they felt conception in their own bodies, they knew the moment it happened. How does the lion father know not to attack and kill his offspring at the watering hole? He just intuitively knows this biological connection exists, and he will kill every other lion at the water’s edge, except those related by blood or with whom he is mating. Such was my father, apparently.
Stages of Grief, April 15, 2019
When I started this blog I was just coming around to the first feelings of anger I had allowed myself to have for my mother since I was a teenager. When I was a teenager I was explosively angry with her. I hurt myself just to get her sometimes, and I would do anything at all to be free of her, including take risks I was in no way mature enough to calculate.
My mom was always trying to triangulate what was wrong with me. I’ve told you about the myriad years of disjointed therapy I’ve had in life, starting in elementary school (about 4th grade) and continuing into my 20s. In addition to individual therapy, she tried allergy testing with a grueling elimination diet, school services, and group activities. As we’ve discussed before, she tried foster care and group homes and residential treatment facilities. That might seem like she gave a lot, and for many years that’s how I’ve interpreted it, because I didn’t have enough information to question the narrative.
Oh God, how I used to read those Victorian lady’s narratives (Virginia Woolf, anyone?) and wished I could get a first-hand look at how people managed their lives for them, diminished and confined them, to see if it was all as bad as they thought. Well, Virginia, this daughter had a room of her own, but not the room you envisioned. I realize now, painfully, that people are still busy making so many choices for us, and trying to confine us in different kinds of institutional prisons, keeping us there with naked emotional manipulation.
Now that I have been groomed by the narrative and flown so close to the sun in my questioning of it, I am burned. It only took 48 years, but I have uncovered my own underlying need. My father is not my father. I hope this is all. Please let this suitcase be emptied out, leaving only the tasks of sorting, eliminating, and condensing it all to a manageable size.
I continue to cycle through the stages of grief, but it’s mainly anger right now. I’ve taken to asking myself, “What would it take? How bad would it have to be for you to permanently sever the tie I have with my mom?” I can’t tell you for sure, but this feels like enough. The inventory of acts that she is guilty of and has taken absolutely no responsibility for is not only great, but this is just such a big deal to keep secret for so long. I mean, I am a month away from graduating from law school and this huge bomb has been dropped in my life, and honestly, sometimes I just can’t breath over it.
I am so sad AND mad. I do recognize her essential humanity and I know that she is blameless in so many things that she herself went through as a child. I can recite her life. Only girl in a house of four boys. Sexually assaulted repeatedly by her dad as a teen. Alcoholic father, harassed, overworked mother. Physically abused, verbally assaulted, taunted for being fat her entire life. Serious and chronic poverty. I know her crosses. I helped her tend the field where they stand. The empathy is there.
I just keep coming back to those family secrets she so casually threw out trying to explain this unknown cousin. If not for her interference, I might have to come to this moment sooner through critical thinking. Or, better, she could have fucking told me when we were discussing her planned abortion of me and how she met my dad, and all of that. That would have been the moment to tell your own questioning daughter that you were not quite sure about her paternity, either. And I know it was her own ferociously deep denial coupled with the onset of mild dementia that prevented her from doing so. But this is unbelievable psychic pain I’m in.
Sometimes I feel like God is saying, “I TOLD you. Can you hear me now?” I missed the message, maybe. Will I miss it again? I’m not even that deep with God, but I’m inching closer to needing to be.
She Writes Letters, April 18, 2019
Writing letters in my head is one of the oldest coping strategies I have. I don’t remember exactly when it began, but I do remember writing letters in my head to President Reagan praying for protection and relief nearly everyday in 6th grade. I must have been 11/12 then. I roller skated to and from school every day, 13 city blocks each way, and as I did I would get caught up in these internal pleas. I guess I felt like the President was the only one big enough to protect me from all the threats I was not allowed to talk about locally. I never actually wrote him.
My mom and I had a pretty big blowout when she went to live with my sister. I was the one to request she leave, a reversal of our roles. I called for it because she was very manipulative while she was here, especially about getting a dog my spouse and I didn’t want, and because I could no longer watch her wallow in her dysfunction. It was bringing me down to her level, and nothing I could do could bring her up to mine, or even just level her out. It was a whirlwind of round-the-clock TV, consumption, 5,000 calorie days, general moodiness, silent treatment as a form of manipulation, refusing to bath for weeks at a time, etc.
This is when I realized that my mother had always used her mood to have power in the house. As the only girl in the home with four boys, it was probably an effective strategy. She was never consistent with her own hygiene, and I would guess this, too, is a carryover from the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her father. My mother has never been one to directly challenge people; she will either wait the thing out, or she will “manage” the events in such a way that she gets what she wants. She can be stone cold and heavy so much of the time.
All Spring long I was writing a letter in my head. I was going to start it like this:
I have much to thank you for. It is because of you that I know what a redbud is and to look for it as an early harbinger of spring. I can identify many birds and flowers because of you. I have the gift gardening because of you.
You get the idea. Kind of a Walt Whitman-style catalog of all the little things I have to thank my mom for. And then I was going to tell her that while I know things are tense between us, I love her and will never abandon her. I was going to talk frankly about holding her accountable for certain choices and for the information she’d withheld from me with regard to her planned abortion of me, and the parental alienation I felt regarding my dad. I felt her manipulations effectively kept me from reuniting with my father long after he was any kind of threat, and too late because of his early death.
All Spring long I looked for those redbuds to pop. They are beautiful trees that first show themselves entirely in purple flower, and then after they shed their flowers, they sprout these bright green little heart-shaped leaves. You can see them by the roadside all over Kentucky and Indiana each Spring. I was going to actually write the letter and send it once they bloomed. And this year they came late. I saw my first one today full out and showing, as if the blossoms appeared overnight.
I actually laughed at it. The irony of it all is just…stupid. Obviously there’s no way I can even write this letter right now, let alone send it. I’ve decided to tell my mom not to come to my graduation next month. I needed to do that just to get through these two critical weeks, and because I’ve worked hard for my law degree. I don’t need her spoiling it.
Instead my spouse and I are going to spend the Easter weekend in Corpus Christi. We will actually be “in the body of Christ” for Easter. The symmetry is quite appealing to me. Maybe a little escape can help me heal as I push on into finals.
Forgiveness, April 24, 2019
On Easter Sunday I chose to accept Jesus as my Savior. If you’ve been reading here you know that I’ve clearly needed one. I took several weeks to really dig deep and decide if that was the path I wanted to take. I was an early believer in my childhood, later a teenaged atheist, and later still a lifelong agnostic with an interest in “spiritual” matters. I was satisfied that I had given it a good search in my young adulthood and came to believe that there may be a God, but I could never know Him or Her, or It. I reasoned that the human mind is incapable of actually knowing what God might be like, and thus efforts to do so were futile. I was definitely taking Pascal’s wager.
I was considering doing this even before I found out through DNA testing that my dad was not my biological father. Obviously finding that out propelled this process even faster still. Because I have a large personality and tend to exuberance, I intrinsically resist reading signs. I was burned in my youth with zealotry and cultivated forbearance as a result. But I had resumed praying several weeks ago, maybe two months even. It just happened. But my prayers were like they were in my childhood, filled with an urgent need, and this forbearance I’d cultivated really helped me get past that childishness and see what I needed to see. If that’s not God’s hand at work, I don’t know what you’d call it.
Looking back I can see now that there were many signs. All that my siblings and I suffered, my feelings of alienation, the decision to embrace a process leading me to this fundamental truth about my own life, both in the physical and metaphysical worlds, have been punctuated with the truth of my knowing, or being shown. Yesterday I had another revelation as I searched for Bible verses and this mandate to forgive kept popping up. I’m listening.
After finding about my genetics, I desired to identify and locate my biological father. I had no idea how to do this. In the days after finding out my research led me a to a Facebook (FB) support group. There are thousands of people like me, and it helped with feeling alone. But they also exist to educate people in the process of connecting with family if that’s what they want, and I asked about the appropriateness of messaging my unknown first cousin on FB. I was encouraged to do so and did. My cousin responded immediately with the name and location of her only uncle, my probable father. She’s agreed to discuss with her family how to proceed. I’m cautiously optimistic. And again, this lightening speed seems like something given.
I talked to my sister afterwards. This blog, and sharing it with the world, has really opened up some relationships in my life. My sister and I have talked about it, and have compared her experiences to mine. There are some differences, but more commonality, and I think much healing will happen between us in the future. I hope so. She confided some things to me that are hers to share, so I won’t be blogging about that process. Other’s have contacted me confessing of their own journey, their own pain, and I have received those messages with so much gratitude. I want us all to feel as though we can be who we are, fully, without having to hide our pain, trusting that other humans will be there to catch us if we need it.
Today on the ride home from work there were so many redbuds, I could not ignore them. The featured picture on this post are the nearest redbuds to my house, and you can see the two big redbuds in the foreground. What you can’t see is the tiny little sapling in the background, no doubt spawned by one or both of them. They looked like a little family and I had to stop to take the picture.
I have been thinking about forgiving my mom since Easter. I have always understood her, but I know that to live my truest self I will have to forgive her. If I want to really be in this Christian life, that’s a necessary step. In my earlier praying of a couple months ago, I was praying asking God why I couldn’t heal my relationship with my mother. I have given it a colossal and lengthy effort for my entire adult life. It may be, in the end, the thing I need more than to be with my father, whoever he was and whoever he turns out to be.
This isn’t the end of my processing my childhood. This is not a complete record. I will continue to write as long it serves me to do so. I hope to see you along the journey.
All of this churning and craziness these last few months may actually be good for me and mom and our relationship. I am beginning to see that this burden of alienation I carry is a direct inheritance from my mom, who inherited it from her mom. Featured exhibits in the evidence are the records of genealogy that my maternal grandmother started late in her life, but was never able to finish. I have reviewed these records from time to time since her death. Yesterday I was reviewing some of those records again when I noticed a startling detail for the first time.
Before I go there, I want to share some of what I know about my grandmother. She was a twin, one of nine children all born before the Great Depression. My grandmother would share stories of her life from time to time with her children. I don’t recall that I ever heard her tell any stories, so know that this is filtered through my own mother, who has a writer’s heart and a Christian’s forgiveness, so she has made lore of many “facts” which are not exactly true. Some of the details I have collected from other family members as well.
Grandma was the least favored child of her family. Somehow I have the story in my head that my grandmother’s grandmother went out of her way to treat her twin extremely well compared to her. I remember this as a cross my grandmother used to bear. I’m not going to get into all the different family values that were pervasive at that time, but I do know that certain events in my grandmother’s life, including the disintegration of her first marriage surrounding the death of her first son, marked her for life, and within her own family. There was much judgment. But I think there was also much love between her and her siblings.
My grandmother’s first son died at the age of two, and her daughter was born just two weeks later. Her first husband denied this new child was his because she was born with red hair. A couple of my great-aunts also had red hair, so this was a miscalculation on his part, though he was never a good husband or father according to my grandmother.
My beautiful red-headed aunt was miscast, and cast out, from the time of her birth until this day. She is not particularly close with any of her siblings. I have often felt bad for her, even as I refused to break the chains that have bound her as an outsider myself. She is truly a resilient woman, and despite her pain, she has always held her head up and moved forward. I admire that she lives her life out loud.
My mother was the only other girl my grandmother had. Watching how my grandmother would treat her children and grandchildren based on their gender has always been a feature of my life. My grandmother loved her boys. She would do anything for them. But even though I knew of this gender-based habit grandma had, I did not understand how much she had pushed out my own mother until I saw those genealogical records yesterday.
I have been reviewing them more carefully in the wake of finding out that my own legal father is not my biological father. I have joined Ancestry and am attempting to build a family tree. I was using my grandmother’s documentation when I got to this page of her typed family tree.
I have scratched out all the names of the living. What stuck out to me is that all of the cousins I have, even the adopted one, even step-cousins, even those born well after me and my siblings, are all listed on this page. What’s missing is me and my siblings. We were all in our teens or young adulthood as she created this family tree. This is ghosting before there was such a thing as ghosting.
My mother, though she was born second in this particular family unit, is listed last. I can’t even imagine, as I search for the accurate records of my own genetic history through time, not following every relationship in order, and wholly. It’s just how my mind works. It is very ordered and evidence-based. That was true even before I started law school. As I reviewed this record yesterday, it occurred to me that all this processing of shame and otherness with regard to my mom and me is just part of a larger story of family alienation that started many generations ago. It started at least with my grandmother, and now I know it involved my mom too.
My mother and I have been having some conversations since I learned about my birth father. I appreciate so much her willingness to talk honestly about these things, and I have told her so. I have also told her, as I have admitted here, that I do not judge her for certain acts, such as teenage and young adult promiscuity, How could I with all I know about the internal workings of her family and the larger cultural morals of her time?
What my mother has now confessed to, and which we have not discussed before, is exactly how alienated she felt in the wake of my sister’s birth. She has said that lots of her friends ended up pregnant and most of them got married in the wake of it. She does not understand to this day why she was left by the wayside to suffer with her illegitimate child alone. This is a core pain she has, and underlying need if we are talking in the language of social work. When we had this conversation, she put it in the plaintive language of a needy child: No one wanted me.
I can’t tell you how much that pierced my soul.
The forgiveness I talked about in my last post, which I was no where near at the time I wrote that, has suddenly come cascading down upon me. I want to gather my mother’s inner child into my arms and love her with a fierceness she has never had the comfort of knowing. I realize now that she, in her own imperfect way, loved her children with all her heart. It was just a broken heart.
Permanence, May 22, 2019
Wow. A lot has happened in the last month. I graduated law school, and celebrated with a group of individuals who were instrumental in assisting me while in foster care, and long after. My mother and I have begun to talk more, and I am becoming increasingly aware of the extent of her own feelings of alienation in life, and the depth of her own trauma and I do thank God for that. And I think I have hit upon the reason I have been brought to this place of painful growth in my life: my next step is permanence. It is something I have always longed for and looked for, and it is only now as this emotional and spiritual clutter is cleared away that I can see it.
I have been throughout this time that we’ve been having these discussions, dear reader, searching for the next step. Many years ago I wanted to have a sense of purpose in life, and so I became an educator and later a family case manager. I’ve always wanted a family of my own, so I waded through the garbage that is modern dating until I found the man who would accept me for all my intensity and flaws, see all my internal gifts and passion, and I found him. Years ago I wanted a resilient daughter so I built her little by little to be the strongest person I know. I have it within my grasps to move to the next level, to achieve excellence and serve at a higher level, but how–and where–to do that?
I do realize this is a critical juncture in my life. I need all my goals to align with all my needs. My goals are to serve abused and neglected children, to find a way to make a better system for them. My need is for permanence. To commit to a long-term goal and a place where my marriage can thrive and we can both, as individuals, leave our mark on this world. I admit, I have not been very good in life with that kind of thing. I was a runaway after all. And even if I haven’t committed that status offense since I was 16 years old, that doesn’t mean I ever stopped running.
Yesterday I went to a big fundraising luncheon in my hometown that they do with a residential facility I was at, where the people who came to my graduation have dedicated their lives to helping children in need. I was recognized for finishing law school and continually striving to engage and pay forward what I consider to be a large debt to their efforts and to this world. I know well how my life could have turned out without their guidance.
Afterwards I stopped to visit my mom and sister, and though it was a short visit, we talked more openly than we ever have, and I do mean ever. I was able to tell my mom that I know she was a good woman and that she did the best she could with the lot she’d been given in life. I really needed to have her hear that, and I think she really needed to hear it.
When I was in the depth of my pain after finding out about my father, I had considered walking away forever. I wished so hard that we could find a way to be like some of the stories you read about on the web, where damaged daughters and mothers take a road trip or do yoga together and find healing. I didn’t know if I could have that with a women whose strongest coping skill is not budging. I still don’t know if I can have that, but I think I’m going to try.
Little by Little, June 7, 2019
Little by little, you will be completely transformed. ~St. Mary Euphrasia
One of the keys to my suitcases came from a very special residential treatment facility in Louisville, KY called Maryhurst. I was placed there at age 13. The Sisters of The Good Shepherd founded it, and have overseen it for over 175 years. The woman who started The Sisters of the Good Shepherd was at that time known as Sister Mary Euphrasia Pelletier. She is now a saint.
As I have turned my eyes toward Jesus since Easter of this year, I have looked for what there is to learn from this new spiritual journey I have undertaken, along with my emotional and historical journey of excavating my childhood trauma, and unearthing new adult trauma as a result of finding out who my biological father is. I have relationships with people at Maryhurst to this day, and naturally I turned to them in my need and listened. I don’t know that they knew I was paying such close attention, and storing the seeds they continue to plant within me to this day.
In our conversations we have talked about Maryhurst and the Sisters. A couple of years ago I attended a fundraising luncheon they do to accept a scholarship, and I met a young women who was also receiving a scholarship. I have thought a lot about this woman since I met her. All of Maryhurst’s daughters have experienced trauma. St. Mary Euphrasia has been described as the Mother of the Brokenhearted. This women from the luncheon had been a cutter, and on her cutting scars, she’d had tattooed “little by little.” I asked her about it and she gave a quick description. I had asked about her in one of my conversations with these wonderful and influential people from Maryhurst. They told me it came from St. Mary Euhprasia, and I looked it up. Here is a larger quote from the material:
And we, for many years, have had the most intimate relationship with him; we touch not only his garment but frequently press him to our hearts. He is united so closely to us that, according to his own testimony, we are one with him; and yet we are not cured of our spiritual ills. We receive within us Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world, the God of strength and power, yet we often remain in spiritual darkness, and we are as weak as ever. We receive within us this God whose heart is a furnace of love and our hearts are still as cold as ice.
“What causes this strange state of affairs? I will tell you. It is caused by our hidden attachment to our faults, because we cherish, almost unconsciously, certain weaknesses, certain imperfections. That is why our prayers and Communions are not fervent and why we are so miserable and imperfect. Get rid of everything in your soul which could be displeasing to the eyes of your beloved and you will experience grace flowing abundantly upon you. You will see more clearly your inmost self; special strength will be granted you to resist your faults and overcome
yourself; and little by little you will be completely transformed.
As I read this last night, it occurred to me that perhaps this is one purpose for my current journey. This thought fell on me so hard I had to stop: If I had started this blog because I had so much unpacking to do from a long-abandoned suitcase, perhaps the end of this journey is me relinquishing my exquisite pain. I am so very attached to it. I know that. My story has consumed me, as it probably should have, but perhaps there comes a time in life when, to truly reach the next level of contribution, of purpose, we have to set aside the little crosses we’ve born for the sake of new crosses, and the crosses of others.
Issac Hayes once said, “Trauma gets frozen at the peak.” That speaks truth to me, and it has certainly been my experience. I think that part of me was healed through my experience at Maryhurst, but that my trauma was so frozen, it took many more years to thaw. I think my friend from NYC was right, and I do need to take those children within me, the almost aborted baby, the raped 4 year old, and the runaway teen, into my arms and love them fiercely, without judging them or whoever made them. If it is trauma that gets frozen, it is release, and perhaps forgiveness that can thaw it into a salty sea of tears.
I feel like this is my next step. I’m working hard at it. Pray for me, as I pray for you.
Willing and Able, June 8, 2019
I’ve been crying all day. I’ll stop crying, get involved in the tedious activities of life–eating, for example–and then suddenly I’m tugged back into the world of sorrow and regret I’m living in since finding out that I am not my father’s daughter. One would think this is a blessing, considering what a violent and angry man my dad was, but I’ve found my actual dad, and he’s not much different. Maybe even less of a man, because he did not even hang around to parent the children he produced through marriage.
But it’s not my fathers I’m crying over. It’s still my mom. I want so badly to have that happy ending, to get back into my comfort zone of loving her and needing her that perhaps I’ve jumped the gun on this forgiveness piece. Leave it to me, the people pleaser, to want to please God with my ability to forgive. But honestly, I don’t know if I can do it. There are three events that stick out to me and are the barrier to my forgiveness. I don’t know how to get past them. And of course there is the fact of how she is–all of which I’ve described elsewhere on this blog. Is God’s guidance and my own unsettled heart telling me it’s time to cut and run, for my own future protection?
The first thing is the most obvious thing–the secret she kept from me my whole life of the question of my parentage. We have not had this conversation yet, but I believe she knew, and I also believe that if I find out when she met my dad, I’ll know for sure. I need to request his military records. Remember that she was at least 4 months pregnant when they married, and that whole thing went down in just 2 days. She told him, he offered his hand in marriage, and they immediately eloped the next day. She’s even said in conversations that she and my dad both knew it was a possibility, but neither of them ever shared that fact with me in 48 years. I don’t blame him because we were estranged for over 20 years when he died. We’d not had time in our brief phone conversations to delve into the past at all.
The other thing, and the thing that hurts the most, is that I only had one child because of her lies. When I was in foster care, she’d told them that my paternal grandfather had had bi-polar with schizoid tendencies. She knew even as she told them this that he might not be my real grandfather. Thankfully this was before the clutches of pharmaceutical psychology had dug so deeply into the world of foster care, and so it was just noted in my file. I thank Jesus for that now. I can’t imagine what years of psychotropic drugs might have done to my fragile and developing brain as a teenager and young adult.
But it came up again later. As my daughter approached the age when I was first sexually abused, and after I had started using minor physical discipline with her–something I struggled mightily with because of my own experience with extreme physical abuse–I had a break down. Major depressive episode. In the midst of all this churning of emotion even then, I’d had to relinquish a relationship that I valued very highly when my boyfriend moved across the country to attend graduate school. All of these factors moved me to take a trip to the emergency room one night when I’d been crying for days, unable to sleep or eat for most of that time. And my mother, “helper” that she is, was there to fill them in on my family medical history. And again with the paternal family history of bi-polar.
These less sophisticated medical professionals in the local community poor hospital were all too willing to use the history to lead them to the diagnosis they thought fit–and so I was labelled with bi-polar. I accepted it for a few years, until I got frustrated with the language and futility of seeking psychiatric services while poor. I was tired of being called “non-compliant” because I could not find time between mothering, working full-time, and going to school to make appointments every month. And I was tired of their inflexibility in scheduling. So I walked right away. I figured I would try on my own to address my needs as best I could. My original breakdown happened at age 27. I was 31 when I walked away. But I still believed the diagnosis was accurate.
So I did a lot of reading and basically taught myself cognitive behavioral therapy. I established boundaries that would keep me in the margins. I created a sleeping routine, and ate at mealtimes even if I wasn’t hungry. I resolved my heartache through the failure of another go in the relationship. I focused on my daughter and all her needs, saving my self-care of smoking pot, writing poetry, and keeping diaries until after she went to bed. I built my life up around me as a protection for myself and for my girl. And, after much consideration, grief, and sadness, I decided to have a tubal ligation later that year because I never wanted to have another child who might have to go through this. I had wanted more, maybe two more if I could find the right man.
I did meet the right man about 2 years after I had the tubal ligation. We were both lower working class–living paycheck to paycheck–so getting it reversed was not an option we could afford. I almost declined to marry him because I felt like that was too much to ask–to forgo having children because you love someone? My understanding of love at that time was that it was so temporary, and I feared he would look back and regret making this choice. I loved him so much, I felt like a little short term pain for him would be better than committing to such a damaged–and now barren–woman. He insisted and we did marry, but it has remained the regret of my life that we could not reproduce. We are both such stunningly intelligent people, and with such good moral character, so much deliberation in our choices. It is exactly couples like us who should be contributing children to this world.
And I don’t know if I can ever forgive her for that. I feel as though if she had been honest with me, I would not have resigned myself so to the fate of being genetically linked to such a flawed family. Yes, I realize now that my biological father is not much better, but there is nothing in the genes to justify cutting off your own Fallopian tubes to avoid passing on such a risk to a child.
And of course, now I have a different view of such parents and children, after finding out I was almost aborted. I’m so happy to be alive, and I think that all the pain and hardship I’ve faced in life was worth it to be alive. I no longer believe poverty and lack of personal control are enough to justify snuffing out a life in the womb, nor is terrible parenting. All these aborted babies deserve the chances that I’ve had. And I know now that for every John Wayne Gacy aborted, so is a Dr. Martin Luther King.
But I digress into political territory, and that is not my purpose here. Here I explore my trauma, and what lessons I should take from it, and how I can accept the Grace of God in dealing with it.
We’ve had an extended winter and spring here this year. It has just warmed up in the last 3 or 4 weeks. Before that it was chillier than usual (but not freezing) and very, very rainy. When my mother lived with me, my daughter gave her a little rose bush for Mother’s Day, and we planted a little Mother’s Garden under my mom’s bedroom window. We complimented it with petunias and herbs for my cooking needs. Petunias, and in our zone herbs, are annuals and they don’t come back. But every year this little rose bush comes back, roaring into blossoms of large, red tea-style roses for months on end. This morning I noticed that this rosebush was dead. It is still brittle and brown, with not a piece of green on it. But the thyme I planted last year survived the winter. It is even blossoming with little light purple flowers, and smells of lemon all around the garden. It’s the only plant left. It should be impossible for these two things to happen, but they have.
And I wondered…is this God’s guidance? Is this why I’m crying over my mother and her acts of deception that have cost me so much, because I know I have to walk away? I need so much to be guided right now, and I don’t know how He could make it any plainer. And I also don’t know how much longer I can resist.
My husband and I were talking this morning, and in my helplessness with what to do with my own mom, I wrote a letter to his mom, who is also not the world’s greatest mother. We don’t speak because she is so hurtful. And he wanted to know where all this was coming from and why I would waste my time with a woman who was not able to analyze her own actions or hold herself accountable. “Why are you wasting your time?”
I tried to explain to him how I had worked so hard to learn vocabulary and writing and how to engage people because I was always looking for the right combination of words and circumstance to communicate to people that they were mistreating me so they could hear it and stop. I knew even as a child that people were not treating me right. And I believe so fiercely–with or without God–that people are capable of redemption. I know when people are able, and I’m just trying to move them to a place where they are willing. I don’t know why God has surrounded me with people who cannot hear me and are not willing, but He has. Maybe that’s the light I need to step into–those who can and are.
I mentioned one more instance with regard to my mom in this essay, but it’s very painful and embarrassing, and this is already too long. I’ll save that for another day.
Reluctance, June 10, 2019
This weekend I decided to pull that old rosebush out of the ground and put in a full herb garden. I’m tired of decorating my own soul. I want a life with meaning and purpose. Beauty is so fleeting and overrated. But when I pulled the rosebush out of the ground, it had just the tiniest spring green shoot coming off the root ball, no bigger than a new baby caterpillar. So I put it back in the ground. Maybe God wants me to forgive my mom after all, and maybe I just have to wait for that to happen.
This is the story of the thing I don’t want to talk about because I am so ashamed for my mother, and for me and my sister. I don’t know why it should be so hard to disclose; I actually disclosed it to a journalist when I was very young for a story she was doing on me for the local independent newspaper, and it ended up in the article. When I look back at that now, I can’t imagine how my mother’s heart broke having everyone in her hometown who looked at that paper know about a choice she made that is so painful in hindsight. But when she made that choice, she really did not know about a lot of what had happened to me and my sister in our childhood. And I was young and still so angry. I regret my choice now as I’m sure she did then.
Let me back up a bit here. When I was talking to the journalist, I was also seeing a therapist who was encouraging me to be loud and proud with my trauma. She didn’t think I should spare anyone. This was before my daughter was born. She wanted me to confront my mom, and even advised me to walk away from her forever for the protection of my daughter, who was growing in my womb. And I almost did. Maybe I talked to the journalist because I was hoping my mom would walk away from me forever, so I wouldn’t have to take my therapist’s advice.
I also wanted to write a letter to my aunt, who was married to the uncle who raped me and my sister when we were so little. I knew she had 2 daughters with him, and that a step-daughter had come with him after my uncle’s earlier divorce. I spent a great deal of time at this point in my life worrying about those girls of theirs, and all the girls in the world. I feared he would do those things to them, and that his wife would not see it due to her love for him. My therapist asked me why I wanted to send it. I said because she should know so she could protect her children. My therapist advised against it and I followed her lead, as was my habit at the time.
If I seem less forthcoming than usual here it’s because I shared this blog on Facebook when I first found out about my dad, declaring that I would no longer keep family secrets. On that day this blog received almost 200 views and it is likely that these girl-cousins and their mother have read my stories here. If they have, I’m sure they’ve been hurt finding out about what my uncle did to us. If the circles under my most resilient cousin’s eyes these days are any indication, they have and it’s been bad. I did not start this blog to hurt them, and I am cognizant that I may have. I hope they can overcome this, because truly, they need to protect their own children.
So, reluctance and all, here is the story:
Regular readers know that my parents divorced when I was 10, and that my mother moved my siblings and I to her hometown in Kentucky in the wake of it. We had been reasonably safe from family violence since departing Houston.
My paternal uncle was a trucker at this time and somehow when I was 13 years old, he got in contact with my mother. He arrived at our house without notice to us kids, but Mom knew he was coming. He spent a couple of days with us, days that every single muscle in my body clenched themselves as tight as they could. I felt like prey, trembling in fear, unsure what move to make. I was trying to wait it out that first day.
The next day I came home from school to find my uncle and mother in her bed, lying down, his skinny arm draped across her massive body. The smell of sex was in the air. I instantly knew that they had done it, and whatever is inside me that is me started wailing silently, like that Edvard Munch painting The Scream. She didn’t stop screaming until I talked to the journalist 9 years later. She could be muted, but her face was always there, contorted with horror, outrage, and grief.
I don’t remember much that happened right after this, or the exact order of details of my life at that time. I think it was after my first runaway experience, when I hitchhiked to Texas to find my Dad, and after I had been initially placed in foster care. Maybe I was sent home, attempted reunification that failed, and maybe this is what propelled me to run again and cemented my place in the annals of foster care history. I perceived it as such a betrayal by my mother. Now that I am 48 and do remember so much of my history, I know that at age 13 she did not know about the sexual abuse. I didn’t disclose it until I was 15 or 16 on that trip to Texas we took.
There are parts of me that are still bitter. Some trashy part of myself is disgusted that he got to all three of my legal father’s girls and ruined them, like my uncle was keeping score so he could win. I know how some men are with their notches. While I was so mad at my mom at the time, I see clearly now that I should have been mad at him: mad for his wife, mad for his children, and mad for us. He is such a disgusting man, even to this day. One of his daughter’s has shared her own sense of having to overcome him and his dysfunction, but has not disclosed to me that she was sexually abused. I pray that neither she, nor any of her sisters, were sexually abused, and if they were, I am so, so sorry I wasn’t that brave at age 22 to reach with my voice into Texas to save them.
I don’t know that I would have been heard–again with the unheard–but I think I should have at least tried, and I do regret that I was so easily persuaded against it.
Motherhood, June 14, 2019
Because I had taken the time with all my crying this last weekend, my heart was empty enough to receive new insights. And between my church, my husband, my sister, and my psychic brother from NYC, Tuesday was a day that I received many revelations about what needs I have that are beneath all this searching I’ve been doing for so long.
On Sunday I had gone to church with my husband and the sermon was on forgiveness, with scriptural recitations from Ephesians. This was my husband’s first time attending this church and he was gobsmacked. He’d spent the better part of the day before propping me up after I admitted I was too lost to even care for myself. He was exhausted, and this sermon energized him and lifted him a little.
I was also exhausted and gobsmacked over the sermon. Seriously, God?
I’m not the best church attender yet, and had only been to this church once before, about a month prior. In the meantime the church had switched pastors as one retired, and a new one stepped up into his role. He’s really good; not that the old one wasn’t. It’s just that the only sermon I’d seen was the retirement sermon for the former pastor, in which he reflected on his own conversion to this faith and this church that he and his wife had built from the ground up. It’s definitely a happening church, with over 4,000 members, I think. He definitely deserved to have the sermon for himself, but it didn’t move me that way Pastor Dan’s did on this Sunday.
I started crying early and by the end of the sermon was pretty much blubbering like a fool. They have this thing they do in this church called The Porch, and if you need to have a direct conversation one-on-one while the sermon was still going on, you can just step out. I grabbed my friend who invited me to this church and took her with me to confess my pain. I was advised to schedule a care appointment, which I did and had Tuesday. In contemplating my own skills and process, I’d decided before I arrived that, because I’ve already had soooo much therapy in life, I had the therapeutic tools I needed to work through this process of recovering from this suitcase unpacking, and that I was seeking help with the spiritual tools. Those are not so developed in me.
For my care appointment, I met the same lady who I’d met on The Porch. I didn’t know it would be her. As I’d waited for her in the reception area, a woman with my mother’s uncommon name showed up to meet someone else. As The Porch lady and I entered the room where we talked, I saw three stacks of old suitcases used to decorate the room. I felt the Holy Spirit in this synchronicity.
I summarized the whole thing to The Porch lady (TPL)—everything from learning of almost being aborted to finding out this year that who I thought was my father is not, and the lies my mother told me to obscure my knowledge of this. TPL helped me to see how much the hand of God had already been guiding me, even since my conception. He did in fact know me before I was born.
She was very kind and discussed with me different life groups that the church coordinated that may be helpful. I had heard about these groups and was interested, because I want to experience the community of Christians with my faith, and not just the consolation of Jesus. I don’t want Him to be my cuddle toy. I want to live that Christ-centered life I’ve heard people talking about for so long. She was very helpful in this effort, offering plenty of suggestions for life groups dealing with various kinds of life trauma, and we had almost settled on one when she mentioned this concept of a couples group called Rooted. I instantly knew that was what I wanted to do. I want to grow in this new spirituality with my husband, and I want to develop those relationships with others in the church. So that’s what we decided.
But seriously, the great revelations of the day came directly before and after my care appointment.
Before I got to my appointment, I talked with my NYC brother. We are very aligned in resolving our similar traumas these days. We’ve both felt excluded from our families of origin and have fought hard throughout our lives to demand the world accept us as we are. And we’ve both known that this trauma has played a role in the development of our relationships in life. He’s been having a hard time lately with someone he loves, and we processed that in our conversation. He’s in a great place because he’s getting the answers he needs via reflection. In fact, he’s doing so great that he was able to untangle a HUGE truth in my life and my sister’s life in this conversation.
I explained to him what I wrote about in Reluctance, and how I had talked to my sister afterwards about it. She had not known about this event of me seeing my uncle with my mom, and in fact did not even know my brother and I were aware he came to see her. That’s one of the benefits of this blog. As I share my unpacking process, my sister and I have the opportunity to discuss and compare notes. We’re talking in ways I would never have thought possible. And I had asked her in our conversation on Sunday afternoon why it was that she could forgive mom for her choices when we were children when I could not. My sister explained some details of her life that line up with mother’s experience and choices. I won’t disclose those details, as that is her story to tell. But suffice to say she could see how my mom could find herself in certain circumstances because she found herself in some of those circumstances as well.
My NYC friend had warned me that my feelings might change for my sister, but I stopped him cold. My sister and I are bonded for life not only because we share common childhood experiences—we are bonded because of an event that happened some 17 years ago when she was using some pretty hardcore drugs to cope with all her pain. She’s pretty open about this experience, so I think it’s okay to share this here.
My sister suffered from substance use / addiction for a long, long time. This is common in survivors of sexual abuse, and the risks are increased when physical abuse and neglect are present, which they were. Being 5 years younger, and subject to my mother’s and grandmother’s tongues, and all the different experiences I had because of my life in foster care, I was extremely judgmental about her. She had kids and it broke my heart to see those kids go through some of the things we went through.
I tried to help her when I was very young by moving in with her, but my own baggage got in the way. I was not very helpful at all as I made my own choices that were not that great. I was drinking some, smoking pot occasionally, staying up way too late, and seeing an older man I knew had been charged with child sex abuse with his own kid. He denied he was guilty, told me it was a manifestation of his divorce, and because he expressed grief over the loss of his son, I believed him. I still to this day do not know if he molested his son, but I do know he had an unhealthy obsession with women who looked very young, or older women who had girls just on the cusp of adolescence. And I know that marriage did not deter his attempts to gain access to such families. I met him as I turned 21 and our relationship lasted for several months. I moved out from my sister’s house during this time as it was clearly not working out like we planned it.
Flash forward to this day when I was right at 30. Maybe I’d just turned 31. I had a “boyfriend” at the time and we’d planned to see a concert the day before Valentine’s day. A “friend” who was not closely tied to my circle gave me something he called “speed.” I have been very naïve my whole life, I do know that. I thought “speed” was like a peptab kind of thing, some legal substance you could buy in a store. My “friend” promised it would be a great time and improve the concert experience. What he actually gave me, and what I took without even knowing it was crystal meth.
So yeah, the concert was greeeeeat. The sex was better. The high was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I stayed up for 3 days. On the second day, I thought I had had an adverse reaction and was about to take myself into the ER to get checked out when another friend stopped by. I told him my story and he asked me what the substance looked like. I told him it looked like large wet sugar granules. He said, “Oh, baby. That’s meth. You won’t sleep for 2 or 3 days.”
Even before he’d identified the substance I was on I felt this pull from my belly button. It was like a string that was pulling me outside my house, and I knew its purpose was to get more. It was a completely physical sensation. I had thought my sister’s struggles were mental, and that she just wasn’t strong enough to overcome them. Mental work I could do all day. But this physical thing was something else. It was very strong and powerful. When my friend left, I put myself on lock-down and refused to leave my house. And I called my sister to apologize.
I told her the whole frickin’ story, start to finish, much as I have done here. I told her that I was very sorry for having judged her, and how I understood now that her battle was much more than the mental fight against addiction. That act of apologizing, and the exchange of forgiveness between us that happened on that phone call changed her life forever. That was what she needed to hear from her family to give her the courage to get clean. Every year around her clean date she calls me or sends me a text with her appreciation for it.
My NYC brother explained to me that I had become the mother she needed in that moment. Our mother couldn’t provide that to her, but I could. And I could do it because of the honest and empathetic way of expressing myself I had learned through my experiences in foster care. I thought about all the times I had tried to use the skills I gained in foster care, or the expertise I’d gained working for CPS to help my siblings. It’s why my brother and I do not speak to this day, because I tried to be that for him, and he didn’t appreciate it, and/or I didn’t execute as well as I thought I could. I thought about all the kids I saved working for CPS, and the kids lives I changed working with older youth and training new Family Case Managers.
I understood, finally, that God just wants me to be a different kind of mother. He denied the dreams of my womb so He could make me that different kind of mother. And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to embrace that and become the best mother I can be to the people in this world who need it the most, whatever that means. Even if I flub it up sometimes, I know there will be many successes. It’s a privilege to be able to change lives like I have and will. I hope I never forget that.
We’ll have to save that other revelation for another blog post. This one is huuuuuge, so I’ll end here.
Waiting and Watching, July 5, 2019
Miraculous things are happening in my life. All this rummaging through luggage has been earth-shaking, and of course I should have seen this earthquake coming, but I didn’t. But first, the miracles.
3 weeks ago I went to my second hometown of Louisville to talk to some of those good folks at Maryhurst about a job. I’d told myself I would fling all the doors of opportunity open after graduating law school and see if this God I’d found could show me the way. My plan prior to that had been to finally use my strengths as a runaway to get away from all this for good. I told myself I was doing it the right way. It was and is a good plan, one that is still on the table for me as I continue to watch and wait for the people around to let this new me and these new truths settle around them.
As much as I love Maryhurst and those folks who’ve been so influential in my life, I’m not going home to Louisville. I perceive that as going backwards in life, and that is something I will not do. If Jesus wants me in Louisville, he’s going to have to find a way to have me confined there. There is nothing for me there, and I already know that culture–it’s a wasteland of people who’ve quit trying, don’t want to try, or who exploit people just to entertain themselves as they stay in their same stagnant space. It’s a very incestuous city, in the second meaning of the word incestuous, which is excessively close and resistant to outside influence. It’s just…very small. I’m far too large for that now.
But while I was there, I stopped to see my mother and sister. This is where the miracle happened. I have seen my mom a few times since all this paternity business came out, but I admit I was always ducking in and dodging out as soon as I could. We’ve talked on the phone; I feel an obligation not to abandon her, especially because so much has been taken from her in life. And I have had questions about my paternity and nativity that I believe she has answered as honestly, if as succinctly as she could. But this Friday night I decided I would stay, and I would try to honestly express to her what this tornado of pain has been like for me. And she heard me.
For about two hours we unpacked my suitcases together. I knelt at my mother’s knee as I had done so often as a child, but this time I didn’t get to hear her stories; she got to hear mine. My sister witnessed all this. She had tears streaming down her face as she did so.
I told my mom of my pain over so much of my life, the specific incidents I have detailed here in this blog. The conversation culminated in me expressing my deep, deep pain and regret that I expressed in Willing and Able about feeling robbed of my opportunity to have more children over her lies, lies which I certainly understood, but that cost me so much. And even as I said that I did not have to cut myself off from my own fertility because the medical condition her husband’s father had would never apply to me, she tried to defend herself by pointing out others in our family who she believed were bi-polar. She was pointing the blame away from herself like she always does.
It had to be done, so I broke her heart and just said, “But mama, I wanted to be the mother of many, like you, and like [my sister].” She got it then. And she cried, finally. The tears that had been brimming up during much of the conversation finally spilled over.
I told her I wanted very much to be reconciled with her, but that I was not willing to do that unless it was honest and real, like this conversation had been. She agreed we could try, and I promised to visit her more this summer. Whether that happens or not, I got the closure I needed. If I ever do decide to leave the Midwest and regulate communications with those still here, she will know why it has to be that way. If she can follow through, perhaps we can develop the relationship I’ve always wanted with her.
I was letting all this ruminate, to see how it and everything else changed me, and I got my answer yesterday on the 4th of July. I had been thinking I would turn my gaze to the family I have made, rather than the family I had come from. I’ve been waiting and watching to see how they are handling these events and this new me. The family I have made has it’s problems, as all families do. Yesterday I wanted a simple family holiday, and I did not get that, but I did get a glimpse into how this family might function now that I am so changed. We’ll talk more about that, and why I call it an earthquake, in our next post.
The Father I Never Met, July 23, 2019
So the earthquake story is going to have to wait, y’all. Another fault line has erupted as I knocked on my birth father’s door and got no answer. A kind neighbor shared that he thought he had died and sure enough, when I got home I found his obituary, complete with the first pictures I have ever seen of him. I do look like him. Even the neighbor said that. He also said he was a cloistered mean fuck, so I guess that’s why my mom hooked up with him. Two broken people without the will do anything but fuck to cope. I guess I’m grateful I’m alive.
I was just a month too short getting there. If I hadn’t danced that delicate dance around my relatives and his, I might have just gone on and gotten to meet him. I have no regrets, though. It’s done. It’s beyond my control. He’s dead, and I now see him. I still know too much about the man he was to believe for a minute that he would have been a good father. He abandoned my twin boy half-siblings and their mother, and her 2nd husband adopted them. He married five times and was about to marry wife number 6. That is also my father’s story; his father abandoned them, and he and his siblings were all adopted by a step father. So, as we have discussed before, history does repeat, with genes, the indecency of parents toward their children, and wars.
I’ll be frank. I am angry, I am so angry that they circled ranks and kept me out, and didn’t even inform me of his death. I wasn’t listed in the obituary. They all knew, and they deliberately froze me out. Just like my legal father’s wife did. What is it with these damaged people and the horrible things they do to other people who innocently find themselves in this situation. I mean, wtf? If the tables were turned, the arms would be wide open. Now they’ve not only been closed to me, but I’ve closed myself to them.
Never will I put myself out there again for them, and never will I accept any invitation that may come once they come to their senses. If they come to their senses. I want no part in that extra circus of dysfunction, especially now that I’ve decided distance is what I need from my family of origin. Fuck all these monkeys,. Make your own ways. Learn what life looks like without me in it. Learn what pining need means when you can’t have what you want and need because people just won’t do what they should, what is moral and right. May they all be cursed with the karma they deserve over my whole stinking life.
I’m putting that shit to bed. I’ve cried some, and I will continue to cry and rage for the next few days, but once I’m done, I’m done. 2 weeks. That’s all I gotta get through suffering some of these fools. And then phone calls at Christmas and select birthdays only. MY PROTECTION is the most important thing now, and I’m honestly sad it took me so long to figure that out.
Underlying Needs, January 15, 2020
I realize now that I have never really left anyone. I’ve been listening to songs about leaving for over 25 years, but…what can I say? Need has been my driving force in life and that has meant that I would rather deal with separation anxiety than separation. Even with boyfriends when I was younger, I would wait until they left or indicated they wanted to. I was always devastated when someone left me, even when I knew the relationship wasn’t good for me. There was always a rebuild period.
One of the things I realize now about my therapeutic adventure through the child welfare system is that they were really, really good at teaching me how to be accountable, but they did not give me the skills I needed to hold other people accountable. No one had the real story to reach the underlying need, so it lay festering in my heart for all these years.
It has been 281 days since I found out the complete truth of my underlying need: that I was almost aborted at 4 months of gestation, and that my abusive, alcoholic father was not my father. I have spent years and years analyzing how a lot of exposure to physical and sexual abuse, and life-threatening neglect has influenced me and my decision-making process. How much of that was a waste of time? How could I truly work on myself and improve myself, overcome all of the shit that went down in my childhood if I didn’t know that I was not to blame for a scintilla of it?
Since we left the Midwest in August I had hoped things would ease up. A naïve thought, surely. I have been whacked out of the center of my own being by these late revelations in my life. The wounds I knew about before seem so minor compared to everything that came to light that day in April, 2019. I’ve slowed down on crying, yes, but still burst out in tears randomly, mostly privately, thank God.
And I am angrier than I was. People have said and done the most fucked up things since then. A maternal uncle, who is a fucking therapist, for God’s sake, left an empathetic comment here, but still will not talk directly to me about this. A message I sent about it was unreturned. Another maternal uncle, who spent more than 25 years as a foster parent, decided to disclose that he’d discussed taking me in when I went into foster care, but I guess they were going through some shit. I have no idea. All I heard is that I didn’t have to go onto foster care if better decisions were made, which they may have been if the truth had been known.
I have decided to leave them all behind and embrace this new me. I will do the leaving from now on, and people can work with everything they’ve got if they want to be in my life. Predictably, the only person making the effort is my sister. Which is fine. The truth at the bottom of this suitcase is that this family is worth walking away from. And as sad as that is, I know it’s right. I guess I just didn’t understand before how thorough this cleaning was going to have to be. Now I do. And so we begin.
It’s more painful than I could have imagined.
I’m trying to practice new skills, to act counter-intuitively instead of intuitively. I have trusted myself too much to be myself. Well, it turns out myself is not very developed. Myself is still beholden to that deep-seated underlying need to belong, to have someone outside myself see value in me, to want me. I pray every day that I am enough. I am not even looking to my husband anymore for acceptance. He is really struggling with the move, and I want to help, but I am refraining from helping everywhere except at work these days. Trying too hard is one of my deficits.
I want to make changes and I am practicing those changes. I have been very lucky because I was able to parlay my new law degree into a mid-level regional position right off the bat in my new state, and my boss and team are amazing. There is freedom here that was impossible in the micro-managed environment I came from in my old state. There is trust in my professional skills and knowledge to deliver and make things better. I try to focus all my energy into work and achieving there because that is the commitment to God that I made. I will be the mother of little foster dragons, and I will advocate for them in ways I was never advocated for. I will be for them the family I got through case workers who are still with me. I thank God there is at least that to work with. I was not so sure a few months ago…
On Being Intentional, February 2, 2020
Whew! It’s finally breaking. I was not sure I could get here this time. Sometimes people are just fundamentally transformed by the weight of their experiences, and I have not yet reached that point, thank God. But I wondered if I had. Just in the past few days I’ve felt whatever part of me that is the center of my being being restored. This is the Lola I love, the one I trust, who has great instincts and the ability to critically think rather than just respond emotionally. But responding emotionally to major life circumstances is unavoidable, and so I have tried the best I can to allow myself to feel whatever I needed to to get through this.
I’m learning and growing again because of this permissiveness with myself. I do love my mom and I have not enjoyed this re-immersion into our family dysfunction. I realize now there was no way her living with me was going to work because we are too far apart in our development, and that was the catalyst for all this coming up again. I believe God willed it because I needed to know the truth about my paternity, and there was no other way to get to that without the events happening just the way they did. Thank you, God.
For many years I realize now I have walked on egg-shells around everyone, trying to be all things to all people. Soothing and smoothing the drama was a survival skill I developed as a kid. It was necessary being the target child for my dad’s wrath. I now realize it was also necessary for my mom’s peculiar dysfunctions as well. I did not really remember her irrational moodiness or icy silences until she moved in with me.
I’m working on developing an Aikido stance within my personality. Rather than reading everything as a cue for me to adjust to people, I’m teaching myself to trust that I am right about certain things and to assert that, refusing to be moved until I can come to a rational understanding. Being intentional is hard work, but the effort is paying off. Great things happening, and more are right on the horizon.
My NPE Journey, One Year Later, April 10, 2020
Today is my anti-birthday. One year ago today I found out the darkest secret that was informing my life and finally truly understood family systems theory. I had found out a few months before that I was just a couple days and a plane ride away from being aborted before my legal father spontaneously proposed to my mother, literally saving my life. In that act, we all got caught in a web of deceit that framed our daily life for the next 10 years and provided the arcing narrative for the rest of my life.
That day one year ago I learned that I was not my legal father’s (MLF) child. I was someone else’s child. I have since learned that there lots of people like me, and we are called NPE or Not Paternity Expected.
In the weeks that followed this discovery I finally understood how my value to our family was set before I was born, and that my value was very low. I was the most expendable person in our family from the very beginning, and so I was expended at every chance. This is my role in the family, to be discarded, to be barely loved from a painful distance, misread, manipulated when a family member is in need or they want to feel normal, to be ignored by the extended family, even when I was left to languish as a teenager in foster care. I also understand why I have wanted to run away my entire life—literally starting at age 4. And I finally understand why I’ve always felt like an outsider. Most of all I understand now the head-trip that was laid on me throughout my childhood and adult life, and I am still very, very angry about that.
Let’s go back in time a bit. I’ve neglected to tell these details thoroughly, and I think they matter. I’m writing this whole blog for myself anyway, so there’s no reason not to be completely honest. Realizing my mother’s lie had continued to affect me into my adult life and had cost me the one thing I wanted most in life—more children in an intact family—is the deepest part of my pain. It ‘s deeper even than almost being aborted, deeper than the lie itself and all the suffering that came with it. I realize now I had ignorantly trusted, and I was staying voluntarily in a mental prison that was clearly built just for me.
My legal father’s father had a documented diagnosis of bi-polar disorder (BPD). He was in and out of mental hospitals for years, sometimes so violent he had to be chained to a bed. I have written about him before, but you have never seen me call him grandfather, because he never was to me. MLF was severely abused by this man, and my dad came of age by surviving a year in Vietnam as a private in the Army—the most expendable role, to be sure. MLF may have also had BPD, but he resisted finding out. There’s little doubt that he had complex PTSD, though. As I’ve discussed in other posts, he drank excessively and was severely abusive to all his kids, but I got it the worst. Both my siblings have acknowledged this. It was attributed to me being the “middle child.” What a fucking lie that was. He beat me so bad and so often because he knew.
My alleged grandfather’s mental health history was later used against me. My mother used this fact as the foundation of the mental prison. She used it to explain my resistance to physical and sexual abuse, and life-threatening neglect. She used it to cover up the abuse and explain the “behavioral problems” I presented with as a result of this suffering. As an adult, as I still struggled in my late 20s with the aftermath of this complex trauma, my mother was there every step of the way to guide doctors to the family history of BPD, and a diagnosis that could not possibly be true. I was always the problem, never her.
To this day her siblings look on me with pity, wondering if my well-reasoned choices and perfectly normal emotional turmoil upon finding out this news is evidence of the latest “episode.” I was treated for only three years, for the record, 20+ years ago. I rejected the diagnosis then and used behavioral modification techniques I taught to myself through reading and practice to shape myself into a functioning adult. As an allegedly unmedicated person with BPD, I have since gone on to raise a beautiful daughter to adulthood, married, graduated from college and law school, and I make more money doing more good in this world than anyone in my immediate family. Yet part of my family still act like that utter fucking lie was real.
But during that brief period I was suckered into, I had my tubes tied because I was scared to make another monster like me. That’s how deeply I believed my mother’s bullshit and how much I trusted the mental health industry. And there it is. The source.
My sorrow is not BPD or any other organic issue. I was not born that way; I was made that way. It was then as it is now: real pain from real actions, across 49 real years. This is what complex trauma looks like. Nothing can change that and nothing can prepare anyone for that. No one could foresee such a well-liked woman as my mother would weave a lie so tight that her daughter would later cut off her own ovaries to spare the next child down the line from living with the possibility of mental illness diagnosis that could not even possibly be true. Do you think my anger is rational? I don’t really care what you think, but Fucking YES. I lost children over her lies. I’m perfectly aware that all my anger is a front for the extreme pain I would be in if I allowed myself to feel that all at once. I could barely pick myself up off the floor for a week after I put it together. It’s been a controlled drip over this last year.
Nothing can prepare you for this kind of betrayal, or the cost of it. Nothing can prepare you for finding out that your own mother would lie to you, would lie to herself so thoroughly, or that she would use her lie to frame you as a mentally ill, addled, helpless ne’er-do-well, suffocating all your strengths and gifts under the weight of that terrible lie. Nothing can prepare you for the weight of the system she could bring down on her own daughter, giving herself a second chance at a bureaucratic abortion through complete abdication of her role as mother after I turned 13. That’s when I went into foster care and I never came out. I aged out. Like so many poor youth in foster care today who are incapable of seeing the truth of their own families, I would immediately return, get rejected even more, and spend the next 30 years trying to get back on the inside. A futile effort if ever there was one.
Every change I’ve made in my adult life I have done of my own free will, using my own reasoning skills, and my own discipline. I recovered from the scars of child abuse, child sex abuse, and neglect through sheer force of will as an adult, and I am very, very proud of all that I have accomplished. That is the new part for me, feeling that way. I have spent years repeating in my head all my mother’s dishonesty and all her flying monkeys’ imaginings of what was real and true about me. I have consistently and persistently undervalued my own abilities and achievements, and mostly seen the flaws in myself over the strengths. I have felt for decades as if I barely deserved to be walking on the planet. I have lost so much time that I will never get back.
But there are silver linings and golden parachutes. I am now, one year later, free of the prison that was both sides of my family. I’m also free of the family I never knew about, thanks to their quick rejection of me after I contacted them with the DNA evidence. Good riddance. They aren’t worthy either, and I wouldn’t want to know them. I no longer need anyone’s feedback or their emotional connection, other than my own, my husband’s, and my daughter’s. I need nothing from them. I want nothing from them. I love my sister genuinely and always will, but she’s the only keeper in the whole lot. She was also lied to about her father, as I helped her find out, so we are bonded in ways that can’t be broken.
I see now that I was an unwilling, noncompliant victim. I wouldn’t take the drama or exploitation or manipulation without very loud resistance. I refused to be silenced. I refused to avoid taking the hard looks at accountability. I refused to avoid. Always have, and always will. I didn’t ask to be made, or aborted, or born, but I will take all these God-given gifts and use them, trusting the empathetic and righteous heart I was born with and He gave me.
I spend my days now challenging these deeply rooted assumptions. It’s a tedious job of constantly being intentional. It’s a complete and constant rebuilding of myself, and it’s exhausting. When I feel myself slipping into those feelings of not even deserving to be alive, I immediately put other people in my shoes because the only way I can feel empathy for myself is by feeling it for others. It forces me to see the ridiculousness of these old thinking patterns, and to cut them off. I am slowly but surely parenting myself as I heal myself. I have a lot of hope that this will not take me 18 years to do. Once I’ve fully set myself free I intend to turn my focus to what I can get out of it. Surely there’s a book here. I had hoped to start it already, but these wounds are deep and the process goes at its own speed.
In the furious emotional swelling that followed my discovery, I fled to the gulf shore in the state I grew up in, Texas. I broke in a way I did not know I could. I had already been severely broken in my life. Severely. Read the whole blog if you want to know the extent of my brokenness. I am an Olympic Champion of Survival. On that beach I was taken into the heart of Jesus and saved. That was Good Friday, one year ago.
God is working on me and through me. That relationship is hard to maintain, but I trust it like I have trusted nothing in this life. When I felt most abandoned, He was the only one who could or would be there for me. The one thing I’m sure of is that I was kept on this earth for a purpose by Him, and that I am currently working that purpose.
I had hoped I would be able to be here today offering you an update that was positive and joyous. But they say life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, and such a report was not possible. I see now the expectation itself was a vestige of that old family pattern. I am doing much better, but there is a cost to abandoning the family that abandoned you. It has been a long, lonely year, and heightened by the fact that I moved out of the area as soon as I could. Who could blame me? It was the smart thing to do. In this state of near endless summer I am starting to see myself for who I am, not all the garbage that was projected onto me. I feel like I’m in my natural habitat for the first time since we left Texas 39 years ago. I am finally becoming who I really am. That I can live and love with.
Thank you for reading along with me on my journey. “It is finished.” —John 19:30
Can’t find what you’re looking for? Use the search form to search the site.
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.