(Skillet – Not Gonna Die)
I’m not sure where I am going with this post, but I know there are a lot of one to two sentence mini-posts on shreds of paper in my pencil bag, so I can feel like I am accomplishing something by cleaning them up if I write it down here so I don’t need the paper reminders anymore.
I heard an advertisement recently…that is probably not great advertising because I haven’t got a clue what they were trying to sell me…but anyway, it said “Mountains: they’re like treadmills that go somewhere.” I really just liked how that sounded…but after more thought, it also seems really true about where I am in life. It feels like I work and work and work at achieving my goals, but I look down and am basically in the exact same place I started. Like turning on the treadmill I want to be making progress, but I am still standing in basically the exact same spot…but mountains can be really big and really hard to climb. Maybe if I look a little closer I am not really in the exact same spot, but it just looks that way because the mountain ahead of me is still has so far to go so the distance I’ve climbed just in comparison is harder to identify. You can’t climb Mount Everest in a single day. You’d get altitude sickness before you reached the top probably even with prophylactic medications. And you can’t climb the roadblocks in life instantly either.
Another thing, I have listened to “The Healing Path” by Dan Allender more times than I could possibly count. I can pretty much recite maybe even the majority of the book. So you might think I really couldn’t get anything more out of it than I already have…but Wednesday I gained some new understanding while listening to the book. Dan talks about how when someone initially comes into contact with an abuser they tend to feel uncomfortable, but the abuser hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong yet, or if they have it isn’t obviously abusive and isn’t really *that* bad, so the victim doesn’t realize that anything is actually wrong and doesn’t run away, but that feeling of discomfort makes us feel like we should have known better. I was listening and realized that is exactly what I had said to someone the day before. “I should have known better.” The words I said to this person were so similar to the words Dan said that we often say to ourselves to blame ourselves. I never realized how normal that was to have that nagging feeling that some of this was my fault. It was a healing revelation to see, first, that I am not alone in feeling that way, and second, that it really is not my fault even if there was some discomfort prior to the outright abuse. Yes, I felt like there was a problem on the “meet (name here)” day second year, but I mean it was easy to write off what was said or not said with the simple explanation that she just was new-ish still and didn’t know how to interact in the environment at our school. Looking back, yes, it was a huge waving red flag, but I have to remember that at the time I had no way of knowing what would be coming next, so I can’t judge past-self based on what future-self knows. Past-self was a compassionate and forgiving person who saw the good in every single person and had no context for understanding what was really going on.
In this section of the book, Dan goes on to say that the abuser *intentionally* involves the victim and makes them feel like they are part of the process and tries to make them feel pleasure at parts of the process to make them feel like they enjoyed and wanted the treatment they received. I guess I had never really paid all that much attention to that part. It was eye-opening to realize it wasn’t just frustrating to me that I sometimes felt like it was my fault because I was involved but that it is actually planned to make me feel that way in order to ensnare me more deeply. A victim is never to be blamed for the abuse. Yes, if I had recognized it for what it was and had been able to figure out how to break free sooner I could have stopped some of the harm from occurring in the first place, but I was doing the best I could with what I had. I have to remember that I was a girl who spoke very few words and my abuser used that to her advantage; she was supposed to be helping me learn to speak but knew it was to her advantage to keep me silent. When on my own I did gain further ability to express myself it made it worse because it upset her plans and she then had to find a way to keep me quiet despite my growing ability to communicate. While an ethical counselor teaches that it is not shameful to have a mental illness, she taught shame to her clients to keep the abuse more hidden. That is an area where I threw a wrench in her plans in that I had already conquered the fear of shame and was very open about things so she had to put her eggs mostly in the silence basket at first. I’m guessing it was difficult and scary to teach someone shame who has already been taught to feel no shame, so it was dangerous because there was always a risk I would share enough that someone would find out what was going on. When I did start expressing myself more she really picked up the shame agenda with more force to ensure her continued safety a little longer and pushed harder on her other agendas to make sure if somehow things didn’t slip she’d be able to make me seem less credible. And yeah, I did learn shame. Unfortunately, she couldn’t take away my compassionate personality. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt – at first not even her – so I stubbornly refused to tell the whole story. That is another place where I inaccurately place a lot of blame on myself. Yes, the way I got out was not following the rules, but I was in survival mode and getting where I needed to be the only way I knew how. I didn’t know what I was doing. God knew and God protected me. I blame myself though, that she is still on campus in a position to hurt more people and also that my punishment was so harsh rather than being protected and helped through the abuse. I feel like I will always have the nagging at the back of my mind that maybe if I hadn’t been trying to protect her and had explained all the things that had happened up front that maybe things could have been different. I guess even now I am afraid though that if I’d done that she might have hurt her girls if they hadn’t already been hurt. I also can take a step back and realize that even if I had said everything right away there is no guarantee I could have really changed anything.
Anyway, shame is something no one should be taught. Humans are made for connection, yet shame leads us to hide. And then there were the stupid rules prohibiting me from sharing anything or sharing that I wasn’t allowed to share anything, so I had to put on the mask and be okay all the time. If the mask slipped I was at risk of being kicked out of school, and that is terrifying for someone with few to no transferable credits who has been in school for a few years working towards the degree she needs to do the only thing she wanted since early childhood. If the mask slipped, someone would want to know why I was upset, and this girl is way too honest for her own good. It killed my heart to at most be able to vaguely express that there were just some things going on. I was too honest to pretend it was just academic stress, and I sure wasn’t going to lie and say I didn’t want to talk about it when there was nothing I would rather have done than talked about what was going on. I so desperately wanted to talk about it, yet I could not. I looked forward so eagerly to graduation when I would finally be able to say whatever I liked. I was thrilled…and then I didn’t match and my grief outweighed that excitement. What good was it to be able to talk about my past when I felt like I had no future? I was still happy to no longer be under the oppressive restrictions and the gag order, but it wasn’t at the top of my every waking moment like it had been before. But anyway, the shame and then the imposed silence when I was learning to speak kept me the girl standing in the pouring rain with a smile on my face saying “I’m dry, really, I’m dry” when clearly I was anything but dry. Yet I’ve continued that to today when I no longer risk being kicked out of school for expressing myself and sharing my story. I am learning to be more open, but I still do spend much of my time professing that I am dry when it doesn’t take a genius to realize that no, I am not…especially when my walls start to fall. I am not really sure why I am hiding how I feel. Maybe it is the shame. Maybe it is a result of responses I’ve gotten in the past to sharing that make it scary to let people in. Maybe it is because I barely had gained my voice when it was taken away for that type of communication and so I never really had the opportunity to learn those skills. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I need to change that. I don’t know how to find safe people though.
After being abused, it is really important to find safe people, because trust is super hard and you have to learn how to trust again, and every setback with a less than safe person makes the climb to regain the ability to trust that much more difficult. I had after the overtly abusive relationship, a few other mental health “professionals” who were anything but professional and used their position to inflict further harm. That made it even harder to believe that it really could be good and safe to trust people and let them in. My experience told me that people were going to hurt me so I might as well give them as little ammunition as possible. Trust is so incredibly difficult after being abused, especially when it was inflicted by someone who should have been protecting me, but instead used her power to cause harm. Like it says in “The Healing Path,” betrayal hardens the arteries of trust.
In the book, it also says that no victim ever remains solely a victim. This is not to heap blame on the victim, or to pile on more guilt, but to say that in the abusive relationship it is inevitable that at some point the victim will act in such a way that the abuse is perpetuated, and that in other relationships the victim may develop a tendency to disengage or take flight from risk. I love the reminder that because of sin entering in the world, it is impossible for the victim to ever truly be completely innocent…and oh how true it is that the abuse in one relationship affects others. I think the people that I was close to probably got a really good picture of that. Things that should have been little and hardly even worth notice became mountains dividing the relationship at times because my ability to trust was so tenuous, or because that really was just the one last drop causing the cup to overflow. Which reminds me of an analogy I saw recently. It was describing that sometimes what we see as bad behavior in certain kids is really just a product of their environment. Some kids come to school with a cup that is basically empty, so any hardship that adds a little water to the cup is easily held and contained, but other kids come to school with their cup nearly to the top because there is a lot going on in their home. For those kids even a minor inconvenience can add enough to the cup that it spills all over the table. I feel like I have been living with an almost full cup for a long time. Skipping over some of the issues is high school, name retracted started my second year, and started causing trouble then, which led to on and off issues. Then third year the entire year I was in relationship with her which meant I was basically in survival mode the entire year. Then the next two years the restrictions and the continued abuse left me in survival mode most of the time. I got a reprieve for at least parts of sixth year, but then I failed to match and I was back in survival mode…and I failed again and I was finally doing at least a little better when I lost my pediatric job…and then almost got it back but lost it again…and then failed to match again last year…and then failed to match this year. No kidding my cup is full, there has barely been time to sit the cup down much less to let any water evaporate. It seems rather like the water just keeps pouring into my already overflowing cup and all I can do is just watch the water run down the table onto the floor just soaking everything.
I also am realizing though, that I have made progress even if it sometimes seems like I am right back where I started and maybe even moving backwards. If I look now versus a month ago, it is hard to see much change…I am still really struggling. I am still fighting to get enough food and water in my body. Sleep is still a struggle. I am still fighting back tears on and off all day. But if I compare to two years ago I am doing SO much better. Two years ago at this time I had lost nearly 50 pounds in about a month and was doing everything I could to gain back some of the weight or at least not keep losing, but it was such a struggle and I was still spending much of every day crying – I couldn’t just keep it in whether I was alone or with people I was falling apart. And I was taking every waking moment to be as active as possible even walking in the pouring rain in puddles up to my shins because when my body was in motion was the only time I was able to still my mind enough to even feel moderately kind of sort of okay.
On phase II match day I posted something that in retrospect I should not have posted. I was not very respectful in declaring what I had learned in the past few years, so I would like to re-visit that topic. So, like I said before, a few days before match day someone asked me what I had been learning and I had no idea what to say because I knew it was not the appropriate time to crack a negative joke, but really the pain in my life and the fear of the potential upcoming devastation was clouding my ability to think of anything appropriate to fill in the blank…and really, I say I used to have social anxiety and potentially selective mutism, but if I am being really honest, I still have tendencies that lean towards social anxiety. I still feel at times like words have dissolved and are running in rivulets into a raging river far away from my grasp. So, I think I am learning that it is possible for people to want to be nice to me not to get anything from me or as a form of grooming or out of feeling obligated, but because they actually care. That might sound like duh, but in high school it was painfully obvious that I had lots of people interested in being nice to me when there was potential for us to be partners on a project because they knew I would get it done well, but as soon as there wasn’t anything else I had to offer they weren’t interested in me anymore. And when you have been through what I’ve been through, not only do you start to believe that you really are undesirable, but you also learn to be cautious, always analyzing what this person is going to want in exchange for their kindness.
So yeah, I am still feeling angry and frustrated and lost. I don’t know where to go from here. I am not stupid, I know my chances go down every year and I have very little chance at this point of reaching residency if I didn’t get there this year. I also know without residency that I most likely can’t ever have a job I don’t hate, much less an opportunity to get a job I love. I don’t know what to do. I’ve thrown my whole life at this goal. I’ve thrown my energy and time and effort and money at it and just gotten rejection. It feels so true that no one will want me. That I can’t do it. I am angry that God won’t help me and let me have a residency. I am frustrated that God just leaves me alone until I totally crash before he bothers showing up again later. Like sure, I appreciate the help getting through the grief, but if you’d actually helped me sooner I wouldn’t be here in the depths of grief in the first place. I probably shouldn’t say stuff like that. I’m supposed to know that God is good and is omnipresent and omnipotent and profoundly caring, but it doesn’t feel like that is true. And maybe I will regret posting this, but y’know, judgment can be a little skewed when your current thankfulness for a better night’s sleep was maybe 4 hours. I am so exhausted. I’ve been running on fumes for a long time.
I was never supposed to be here. This wasn’t part of my plans. Nothing in life has gone according to my plans. I was supposed to graduate at SSEFC. I was supposed to be one of the people giving the seniors a gag gift but explaining why it was super meaningful – h**k, I’d even picked out the gift and thought about what I’d say, and that was still probably 5 or more years away at the time I had to leave. I was supposed to go to the school I had tailored my high school curriculum around and had repeatedly visited and stuff. I was supposed to transition from intern to PGY-1 resident. I was supposed to be dead before I ever got to where I am living now…basically everything I have ever planned for my life has been turned on it’s head. Sometime in the past few weeks, the desk I like best in the ED has been turned into an extra social work workstation. I figure I can move if someone wants to sit there, so I have continued using it, and found a pile of cards that say something like “in crisis? text Hello to #######.” I really liked how friendly that sounded so I put the little gray card in my pencil bag. But yeah, I could be described as in crisis, but I am not brave enough to text that number. #socialanxietythings… Another thing I am not brave enough to do is kill myself. People think suicide is a weak surrendering way out, but it takes way more courage than I have to kill yourself, because you are going to hurt someone.
Totally changing gears, but I started thinking about forgiveness, and I don’t think I know what forgiveness really is. I know a lot about what it is not, but I don’t really understand what it is. I know it isn’t believing that what was done was okay. I know it doesn’t have to mean that you ever want the other person in your life. I know the other person doesn’t have to be sorry. Wait a sec, I do have the google right in front of me…lol…google says that forgiveness is the deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment and vengeance towards a person that has caused you harm. Umm, okay, so now I know what it is, but thinking about that, I have no idea how you do that. How do I not feel like that? Today I was walking home from work and there was someone driving a car who had a similar hairstyle to (name here) and I stopped in my tracks and had to calm myself down and breathe because the fear overtook me. If I have that much of a physical automatic reaction to someone who honestly wasn’t even *that* similar to her, how am I supposed to not have negative thoughts about her? I don’t understand how that is possible. I want that. I really want that. But I don’t know how it is possible to get there.