Trauma Therapy

I’m working through a part of my trauma therapy workbook that deals with having resources in place when I am feeling hopeless, like my life is not worth living. It asked me to write a list of reasons I deserve to live, and said if I had trouble coming up with reasons, to ask trusted friends. So I did, and I’m putting them all in one place here.

E.S. : “Deserve to live” is tough for me to understand a little bit…like everyone who lives, lives. Deserving it doesn’t really factor in to me I guess? That’s why I don’t really understand he question “why do you deserve to live”. Do you deserve to be loved? Have a life full of love? Yes. Your life hasn’t been easy. You didn’t deserve that. And if you hadn’t ever lived, none of this horrible shit would have happened to you. but you do deserve love. Yes, Everyone deserves it, but you deserve it specifically because you’re one of the most selfless people I know. You get up every day and make peoples lives better just by showing up. You’re unbelievably smart and level headed but soft-hearted and even light hearted at the same time. You approach life with a pretty magical combination of creativity and level headedness that surprises most people who meet you.
   I think you deserve to live because you’re one of the rare people on the planet who can take bad shit and make it better. Like one of those machines that sucks co2 out of the air and then uses it to fertilize heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers. You’re a human emotions recycler. You’re the link in the chain that stops the evil so it can’t be cyclical.
   You’re pretty fucking important and thats why you deserve to live.
L.B. : First of all, you are an amazing mom to Annaliese and work so hard to make her life free of hardship and hurt. You are so thoughtful and you reach out to people when they really need it. You are an incredible encourager and you have guts, girl! I am often in awe of your ability to just get. stuff. done. So many people love you (including us!), and you light up any room you enter. We’re sending you love and praying for you during this process. Love you, friend!
J.Ben. : Well, my first thought is that you deserve to live because you’re a living human being, made to bear God’s image and not beholden to having to prove your worth to anybody. So that whole idea seems a bit weird to me. But past that, I could write a book about what’s wonderful about you, and why I’m glad I know you! You have wisdom, understanding and self-reliance that has always been well beyond your years. You treat people like they don’t inconvenience you. You look for the best in people, and when you find it, you’re not slow to tell them about it. You take care of your family, both the one you were born into and the one you’ve made with your own sweat, sleepless nights and conviction. When things get tough, you don’t hesitate to lean a little on the people who love you rather than distancing yourself from them, and it’s an honor when you do so. I would rely on you for almost anything, Caitlin, because I know you’d be there for me and my family in a heartbeat. You’re gracious, generous, kind-hearted, hilarious, badass, ornery, take-charge and tender, and if more people in this world were like you, that would be a very good thing.

 

J.Be. : I’ve thought about this a lot: if you and I aren’t here anymore then all of the shit that’s landed on us wins. I don’t believe in anything bigger than us and if we stay alive and stay loving then that’s the goodness of the world beating the bad with every breath we take.

R.C. : I think a good reason is Annaliese. She loves you and looks up to you and I know you love her. Another reason is you have so many friends who care about you and want the best for you.
A.R. : You have so much life ahead of you. Your daughter who adores you, and friends like us who love being with you. Whenever you come into a room your brighten it up. You’re an amazing person.
M.M. : You deserve to live because you are an incredible woman. You make other people’s lives better by showing them and pointing out the good in themselves. You remind me everyday that I am worth more than I give myself credit for. You deserve to live because you have a daughter that needs you. She loves you more than anything in this world. You deserve to live because you have her prom to take pictures at and her wedding to go to. You deserve to live because you brighten everyone’s day with a smile and you believe in others when they don’t believe in themselves
J.Br. : Your daughter, your friends. You give them hope. Honestly you have helped bring peace to my life in some ways about my mother and helped me move on to do work helping others I want to do. Your friends. It’s always hard to see from your own perspective but we relish the times when you are around. Your family, they went through hard ships but are still by your side. The future, you have a incredibly kind heart and I’m sure you’re not done doing great things to help people. I’m sure you’re daughter also looks to you more than you know. I felt no more trust and safety than the trust I put in my mother when I was little. Other reasons, to see the world, to learn something new, to build another snow man.

 

 

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I Cry.

When I first cried for you
It was from a place of compassion, helplessness.
You never knew true peace.
Everyday you were haunted by what you were put through;
What you survived.
My mommy sobbing loudly behind a locked door,
My only childhood memories.
 
And I cried for you
For what we never had;
A lost chance at a reciprocated loving relationship;
At the empty feeling that sinks in my stomach
When I see a child laughing with her mother,
The way the mother rejoices in her child’s laughter.
I cried because young soul had a craving you never satisfied.
 
Then I cried for you
Out of anger, out of frustration that your past had such a hold on you
That it kept you from loving us the way every child deserves;
That it made you hurt me, despise me even;
That it made me feel I deserved it;
That I still feel unworthy of love because of you.
Bitterness consumes me each time I utter your name.
 
Now I cry over you
Because the very crimes that destroyed your life,
That took your will to live,
Were being committed by your own husband
Against innocent children;
Children that could have been saved
Had you just spoken up.
The same terror that consumed you
And concreted you to your bed in the darkness
Could have been spared for these victims.
But you stood idly by.
 
And now I cry for me
In fear that I will become you;
Paralyzed, unable to do what’s right;
Consumed by depression, leaving those I care about
To question my love for them.
Will my daughter’s memory of me be cheerful?
Or will I leave her thinking she wasn’t enough to bring me joy?

Resemblance

The process of working through the fear, anxiety and lingering pain has been a long, winding road… with a lot of stop signs. There is just so much I don’t understand about what happened to me that at times, it’s easier to ignore it than to address it. But it eventually rears it’s head in the ugliest way.

I’ve written before about the horrible childhood my mom had, but I didn’t go into much detail. She was adopted when she was a baby. Her birth father served in the Vietnam War and had PTSD. One night, while her birth mother was holding my mom’s younger brother in her lap, her father had a flashback and shot her in the head. She survived, but was left with serious mental deficiencies. My mom and her sister were adopted together, while her brother was in and out of different foster homes most of his life.

The home my mom and aunt were adopted into should have been a peaceful, loving place where they could heal from the trauma. But it was anything but. My mom was sexually abused from a very young age until she moved out at 17. My mom took the brunt of the abuse to protect her sister. Her adopted mother and brother both knew what was going on, and would even set these situations up for her adopted father, telling her: “It’s time to go give Dad a massage.” But they knew what it really meant and did nothing about it. The abuse did not end when she moved out. He burnt down the tiny shack-like house she was living in. She eventually got married to my father and moved out of state to escape.

This past July, her birth mother, Judy,  passed away. My mom did not have any contact with her birth family, except when we drove to St. Louis when I was in fourth grade to meet her birth brother and his wife and children. I made the 8 hour drive to Kentucky by myself to meet her birth family for the first time. I wasn’t sure if it would bring closure, bring more questions, deepen wounds, answer questions, etc. All I knew was that I had to go. Most of my family back home was not very supportive. And I understand, this was a huge deal. I was going out of state to meet strangers. I was uneasy, nervous and full of doubt about my decision to go. I tried not to have any expectations on how they might receive me or what they may be like. My mom’s sister decided not to go, so I was totally alone.

I stopped at my grandmother’s (on my dad’s side) for a couple nights on my way to Lexington. She told me stories of my mom from when I was a baby. I wish I could say they were happy stories. She spoke of my mom’s deep depression, which wasn’t news to me. But she told me of when she had to come to our state to help my mom with me because my mom was locked in her bedroom refusing to hold me. How she eventually went and placed me in her arms and walked away, forcing my mom to hold me as she cried for my grandma to come pick me up. She wanted me to understand that having a baby brought up a lot of pain for my mom. She wanted me to understand that these people may not be great people, that I need to proceed with caution, that I was stepping into a dark story and I was stepping in all by myself and how sad and scary that could be. I know she was trying to give me insight, but how I wish I could unhear the story of my mom refusing to hold her first born baby.

When I arrived in Lexington, I met with her brother and his family for ice cream. I felt like I fit right in. They are funny, sassy and humble. I went back to the hotel feeling more at ease and was ready for whatever the next day would hold.

We arrived at the funeral home the next morning and I was shaking as I walked through the double doors into the sanctuary. No one had told me that it would be an open casket. I walked in and saw the spitting image of my mother laying dead in a coffin. I immediately ran to the bathroom and fell to the floor, sobbing. It felt like a scene from a movie. Between sobs, I was choking out the words, “God, I can’t do this. You need to help me. This is too much for me to handle.”

When I had composed myself as best as I could, I returned to the sanctuary. Shortly after, Judy’s sister, Brenda, walked in, whom my mother was named after. Again, another person that could have passed for my mom, only she had died her hair pitch black. She looked back at me with disbelief, too. The resemblance runs so strong on that side of the family. We hugged and I broke down again as I apologized for my tears.

More and more family members showed up. Some knew I was coming and said, “You must be Brenda Ann’s daughter.” My mom went by Brenda her whole life. It felt weird that they were calling her Brenda Ann. Some family members who hadn’t heard that I would be there just stared at me for an uncomfortable amount of time, almost like they were seeing a ghost, until I awkwardly uttered, “I’m Brenda Ann’s daughter.” Each time I was met with a tight embrace.

It wasn’t until I got to the funeral home that I realized this was a big deal for them too. Judy’s children and her grandchildren are missing links in their family, who were taken because of a tragic situation, and here I was, on my own 800 miles from home to attend my grandmother’s funeral whom I’d never even met. I’ll never forget when my second cousin’s wife looked me in the eyes and said, “You are so brave for coming here. This means so much to us. I know this must be so hard.”

The second most meaningful conversation I had was when Judy’s two nurses from the nursing home came, where she lived the rest of her life after the incident. They made their way through the rows of family slowly, as I eavesdropped on their conversations. Even while talking to other people, their eyes kept meeting mine like they recognized me. I listened to them recount stories of Judy’s orneriness, her obsession with Mountain Dew and her love of coloring, which are really the only facts I learned about her during the trip. When they got to my row, one was too broken down to speak and just held on to the arm of the other nurse. Without waiting for her to speak, I said, “I’m Judy’s granddaughter. I’m Brenda Ann’s daughter.” They each let out audible sobs, followed by my own. I remember her following sentences word for word: “I remember when we got the call that your mom passed away. We were all trying to decide if we should tell Judy or not. We decided she needed to know. You could hear her crying down the hallway for days, saying ‘Oh, my baby. My baby is gone. My Brenda Ann.” This was both heart warming and heartbreaking. I previously had no idea of Judy’s mental or emotional state, nor her attachment to her children, and it didn’t feel right to ask under the circumstances of the trip. But here are these two nurses giving me the deepest insight into my mom’s mother who indeed did love her and lost her 3 children under tragic circumstances. That was her baby, her Brenda Ann.

I think it’s been hard for me to keep her birth family and her adopted family separate in my head. Both are tragic situations. Both caused so much heartbreak. But with this nurse’s words, it was cleared up in an instant. This family lost three children to this situation. And although her brother eventually got back in touch with Judy, the girls never did. Again, it hit me how big of a deal this was for this side of the family, not just for me.

The rest of the visitation, there were several questions about my mom. It was apparent that no one knew of the horrible abuse she went through. No one knew of her mental illness and resulting emotional and mental abuse to her children. No one knew she was adopted into pure hell. I kept my answers pretty vague, which felt inauthentic, but felt like the right thing to do. I wanted to protect my own story and my mom’s story.

After the funeral and burial, we went to Brenda’s house for food. Again, I saw that these people are so much like me and my brother. They’re sassy, sarcastic (in a good way), funny and seemingly genuine people. Several people offered to let me stay at their house instead of leaving to drive home right after the reception, but I just needed to be alone and process. I cried a good portion of the way to St. Louis where I stayed the night before returning home the next day. The tears changed back and forth from originating from pain, semi-closure, questions, aching, wondering if I’d ever see them again, and a lot of other emotions I probably will never find words for.

It was hands down the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, but I would never take it back.

 

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Harshly Loving.

Recently I was at a bar with my friends discussing some personal problems I am going through. Without going in to detail, I was feeling like things were over for me. Like my life was not going where it was meant to go and that it was hopeless that it ever would again. I am distancing myself from everyone because I have so much baggage. So much emotional damage to work through, so much harm done by my mother’s abusive words and actions that I have been wondering if my life would ever be uncomplicated again. So much fear after finding out about how scary my stepfather really is and not knowing his whereabouts after finding out this information. Will I ever be able to answer a question about my life and have the answer not be dark? Would I ever be able to say, “I’m good,” and mean it? Will I ever stop having to leave details about my day, about my life, out of my answers so as to not overwhelm or scare my friends? Will the platitudes ever stop?

One of my friends looked me in the eyes and said, rather firmly, “Cait, you don’t get to decide what other people can handle.”

Tears. Relief. I can’t put in to words the feeling I got when he said that. But the impact of that statement has not left my mind since.

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Motherless on Mother’s Day

{ I’m just now getting back to writing publicly after dealing with some pretty dark feelings and writing privately. I wrote this one on Mother’s Day and never posted it. }

Mother’s Day has been hard in recent years. The last two years, after my mom’s heart attacks, were when her mental illness hit it’s extreme (it had been at that extreme before, but this was the first time I was grown up enough to realize what was going on, and that it wasn’t normal.)

My mom died on Valentine’s Day, 6 days after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. The day she was diagnosed she was talkative and alert. Over the next few days, I watched her physically deteriorate and mentally deteriorate even more. My daughter was 7 months old when my mom died. Throughout my entire pregnancy, the relationship with my mom was almost unbearable. I had to distance myself for my health and the health of my unborn baby. Having to nurture this new life while watching the life of someone you love spiral out of control was a difficult situation to be in.

This will be my first Mother’s Day as a mom, and also the first without my own. I know that my mom had a mental illness. All the terrible, terrible things she said and did to me were coming from her mental illness, not her heart. I know that. I know it with all that I am. I know that my mom loved me. And I know that she endured unspeakable pain growing up in a sexually abusive household, which left her unable to show me love at times. I wish that knowing this would take away all the pain that’s left from the things she said to me, but the truth is, it just doesn’t. There is still hurt. I am mourning the loss of my mother, along with the loss of any chance we had to reconcile our relationship, any chance she had to get help, to have hope. I have carried her pain my whole life knowing what she went through and knowing that I couldn’t help her.

Although there are feelings of hurt, the most overwhelming feeling is one of helplessness. I feel so devastated by all the hardships my mom went through. I feel like she never found hope. I know she was terrified during her final days, and the last conversation I had with her is forever etched in my mind, along with the look on her face. (Read about it in Part 2). It’s utterly heartbreaking knowing how terrified she was. It happened so fast after being told she had months.

There’s a quote that says, “No one told me that grief felt so much like fear.” Fear of dying myself and leaving my daughter wondering if I loved her. Fear of being so terrified in my final moments the way my mom was. Fear causing me to ask my husband to make sure my daughter knows I loved her best. Fear is crippling.

Suck It Up, Buttercup.

It’s almost been a year without my Mom. They say grieving has no timeline. But man, people sure know how to make you feel like it’s time to suck it up when it hits 6 months, a year.
This last year has been full of grieving and empty of resolve. Full of grieving for the physical loss of our mom. Full of grieving for the mental loss of our mom long ago, even when we didn’t realize that’s what was happening at the time. Full of grieving and longing for the love she didn’t show and now never will.. grieving for what never was and what never will be. Grieving over the fact that my Mom never had peace, that she suffered physically her entire childhood then mentally the rest of her life.
Most of what I’ve come to understand about my mom and her mental illness, has been only been discovered in the last year and a half… the understanding that how she acted was not who she was in her heart. She had a mental illness and did not see things as they were. I wish that just simply knowing she did not mean the hurtful things she said and did was enough to make the hurt go away. But there seems to be something permanently damaging about hearing  your Mom say that she hates you… that she hopes she dies and that it will be your fault when she does… that you betrayed her by letting the medical team save her after her heart attack… that you deserved the miscarriage you had when you were 19. Logically, I’m able to separate those hurtful things from her heart but it’s not enough to let the emotional pain go. I’ve been so terrified to ride the emotional pain to try to get through it, because having these types of feelings and hurts regarding your own mom makes you feel guilty. But, I can’t keep ignoring it. I want so badly to remember a good memory… to be able to choose what I share with my daughter and have plenty of good to share with her. I don’t want to ever run out of stories that are appropriate to share with her. But, I know there will be a time when I’ve shared all I can share with her… there will be a time I run out of positives.
It will be a year on Valentines Day. And although I will inwardly roll my eyes at anyone who says “It’s been a year. It’s time to move on”, I have to dive in to this. It has to get ugly before it’s going to get better.

 

Half a Year Without You

6 months have gone by since you’ve been gone. It seems like such a monumental benchmark, half a year. But grieving has no timeline. There are days that I call the ‘good days’, days where I’m still aware of the absent space in my heart where you should be, but I’m still able to go about my day and I don’t have to be afraid that I’m going to break down in the quiet moments, and I know that although I miss you, I am okay. But there are still moments where the heavy weight of you being gone hits me all over again. Sometimes these moments can be predicted. Your birthday, family events, my brother’s graduation. But sometimes these moments come from nowhere. When I see the car you drove, a piece of me wonders if it could be you. When I see someone that resembles you from behind at the grocery store, I have to catch my breath. There’s a quote I came across that says, “Grief is like an ocean, it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”