Triggered

Maybe my expectations were too high. I thought that my dysfunctional family of origin could handle being functional for a couple days. Is that too much to ask for? Apparently so.

It started out okay. I headed up north with Angel after she was done working on the Thursday before the 4th. We were jamming to our favorite tunes that were cranked. A couple people waved as they passed us on the highway. People everywhere were excited to celebrate the first big holiday after COVID. The weather was going to be absolutely perfect. Who could ask for more?

Thursday went well. Angel and I opened up the cabin. A couple hours later my brother Luke joined us with his family. But after that pretty much everything went downhill. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. I had a plan for everything. The plan was if my mom slept well, she would drive up with my brother Matt. If she didn’t sleep well, they would hitch a ride with my husband Paul.

It looked like my mom left the house, so I got my nieces all psyched up for her to visit when my mom called me and said she wasn’t coming up. My brother Luke and his family were leaving later that afternoon for family camp which meant my mom wasn’t going to see them since she was feeling tired and anxious. This was really triggering since a couple weeks before my mom left my brother’s house right before my niece had her dance concert. Now everyone was angry and hurt. My nieces were so incredibly sad saying that grandma didn’t care about them. I was furious because I already had contingency plans A through F in place in case something like this would happen.

The new plan was that my brother Mark and his wife would pick up my mom after driving 5 hours. They were going to spend some time with my dad because Angel and Luke did not want to see him. Luke ended up going to pick up my mom instead. Everything got all messed up and everyone was upset.

Eventually on Friday afternoon almost everyone was up north. I thought the problems would end there, they didn’t. Arabella called to tell me that her car wouldn’t start and how was she going to make it to work the whole weekend. I told her she could use my car. Another problem solved.

My husband decided to help out by mowing the lawn since my dad doesn’t do anything to get the cabin ready for us. He is terribly lazy and now that he has this new heart condition he does absolutely nothing. He won’t even take out the trash now. He expects everyone to take care of him. But I digress. Since my dad didn’t mow the lawn, Paul did. The grass was so high that Paul did not see the metal line that the dog was tied up to and hit it. It got all twisted up in the lawnmower. Worse yet, it yanked the dog so hard that his collar broke. Originally Paul had him chained to his choke chain and I put him on his collar. Good thing because it probably would’ve killed him otherwise. I was very angry that my dog could’ve died.

That evening my brother Luke and my daughter Angel left. Angel was very upset before leaving. My brother Mark’s wife Carla did not congratulate her on her engagement. She made passive aggressive comments about Angel sleeping in their bedroom. She also said how she couldn’t wait to have steak with my dad. Angel took this as an attack. My brother Luke does not want his daughters around my dad nor does my daughter Angel after she found child porn on my dad’s computer and turned him in to the police. Angel felt like Carla was blaming her for this. After Luke and Angel left, my dad showed up which is another stressor. Matt and my dad are very difficult people to be around.

Carla screamed at my brother Mark the whole weekend. She yelled at him for everything like eating his cheese separately from the burger she cut the cheese for. She is incredibly controlling and verbally abusive. At one point she yelled at him so much that I was even shaking. It triggered my husband because his mom was the same way. He wanted to tell her off but we didn’t want to make things worse for Mark. Carla offered to take care of my dad and Matt so my mom didn’t have to. She was taking it out on Mark.

Paul and I tried to spend as much time outdoors away from everyone as we could. Sunday morning I suggested to Paul that we go kayaking. Then everyone wanted to go kayaking. Carla yelled at Mark that she wanted to go and why didn’t he plan that for her. Since the kayaks were Mark and Carla’s, we decided to pull the canoe out of the garage. My mom wanted to go too. We didn’t get far before she wanted us to turn around since she can’t swim and is afraid of water. Then she wanted us to take Matt so he wouldn’t be left out. Matt is worse on the water than she is so we said maybe later.

There were some good things that happened over the 4th. The fireworks over the lake were absolutely awesome. My aunt Jan came out with her husband and my son came up for the fireworks. But for the most part, I found the weekend with family to be very triggering. My anxiety was through the roof. I fell into a deep depression that took almost a week to pull myself out of. I felt like I was a child trapped in despair. It dragged me back to that feeling again. It was hard to see others triggered by the events too. I always liked being up north. As a child, it seemed like a safe and special place. But then I started to remember times when it wasn’t that way. It ruined my memory that there was any safe or happy place in childhood. The things I clung to were remarkably but unbeknownst flawed.

I really think that I need to limit how much time I spend with my family of origin. I didn’t realize how much it would negatively impact my current state of mental health.

Isolation

I felt very isolated from my family. My brother Luke’s wife Emily gave me a call several weeks before Christmas. Their household had COVID in November so no one was concerned much about that with them. They were planning on renting a place close by and visiting for the holiday. Before that, I didn’t talk to my brothers much about what was happening with Arabella. I hate being the person who only calls with bad news. My brother Luke pretty much has a panic attack every time he sees my number on his caller ID as it is.

We set up a date to get together. Then I told Emily about the struggles I’d been having with Arabella. A week later my mom told me they decided not to come for Christmas. I can’t be sure, but I think it had a lot to do with Arabella. My mom said she wasn’t going to come over here for Christmas because of COVID, but she still could’ve spent time with my brother and his family because they were no longer a threat for her. The other issue is that my brother will not step foot in my parents house with his children as long as my dad is alive or living there. I respect his decision, but it still hurts. I can’t help but think that some of the reason he wasn’t coming home was because he didn’t want his children around my daughter.

I felt very isolated at a time when I could have used the support of friends and especially family. I don’t particularly care if I ever see my dad again either. My kids want nothing to do with him. The relationship with him was strained long before my daughter found child porn on his computer.

There was also a time when my brother Luke and I wanted nothing to do with our brother Matt either due to his mental illness. When he was hearing voices to attack/kill our children, we had to keep them apart for the safety of our children. But I never quite knew how it felt as the mother of someone who is severely mentally ill. It is painful and isolating to feel like we had to handle this by ourselves. I haven’t seen my brother Mark since 2019.

When I was a teenager, my brother Matt was so violent that he was homebound from school. They sent a retired school teacher out to our house. Because of this, I was homeschooled in almost complete isolation from 8th to 10th grade. My brother Matt was psychotic and my dad was always this greasy guy. How many friends do you think I was able to bring home?? Plus we lived in a hoarding house. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t a pleasant place to live and I couldn’t stand it. I literally wanted to die and childhood couldn’t end soon enough for me because I was so miserable. I lost a lot of friendships because my brother attacked pretty much everyone who was in our house or who came to it.

I am no stranger to isolation. It was different back then. My family were the only ones that lived in isolation. Everyone around us had relatively normal lives. Kids went to school. Adults went to work. The world moved on without us.

When I heard my brother changed his mind about coming to visit for the holidays, I was heartbroken. When Arabella’s friends dropped like flies I felt a crushing sadness because I knew the isolation that was to come.

There is a difference in not being able to visit and not wanting to. The sense of abandonment in that is hard to overcome. But yet I understand it because I’ve stood on both sides of it.

Right before the pandemic

Maybe she was crying out but I wasn’t listening. Her problems seemed so petty, like the fight with Estelle. I had given her everything I wanted but never had as a child. In my mind my problems always trumped hers because I was shielding her from life’s real problems. I didn’t listen to any complaints about how hard she had it for anything.

But in reality I really was trying to protect her. She just didn’t know about it. I didn’t tell her anything about my dad. I didn’t tell her that several weeks back her older sister found child porn on their grandpa’s computer and turned him in to the police. She was a child. I wanted to protect her from that. She seemed so innocent, carefree, and happy. Why take that from her?

I developed a plan. Arabella was going to be a foreign exchange student. Maybe she wouldn’t find out about her grandpa until it was all over. But I was worried. There were a few problems with the plan for the children in my house to have the perfect childhood. The police could arrest him any day and then the world would know what kind of monster my dad is. Our foreign exchange students might get sent home. Their parents might not want them here although they would have nothing to do with my dad.

Then there was the part about me being a complete and total mess. I fell into a downward spiral of depression and despair after I heard about my dad. I suffered greatly from the blow and the trauma I experienced as a child resurfaced in the worst way. I knew I was suffering from Complex PTSD. But that knowledge didn’t stop me from going through what I did.

I pushed everyone away. I pretended everything was okay. But I wondered how anything could ever be fine again.

I experienced moments of extreme anxiety and hyper-vigilance. One day I thought I could try to calm myself by listening to music in my earbuds. Arabella came up behind me unexpectedly to give me a hug. I freaked out and screamed at her to not touch me and get away from me. I was horrified. I apologized and tried to explain to her not to touch me if my back was to her. But I could tell she didn’t understand. She felt rejected and I blamed myself for it.

After Arabella’s suicide attempt, we had a long talk. I decided to tell her everything that was happening with my dad. I told her that I was having a hard time with it and me pushing her away had nothing to do with her. Together we cried.

Inside, though, I was furious. If my dad didn’t screw up my life once again I would’ve noticed that my daughter was depressed. I didn’t call him on his birthday. I didn’t even send a card. I blamed him for what happened with Arabella. I was so focused on his mess that I didn’t even notice my own child was suffering.

I wasn’t doing well before the suicide attempt and I certainly didn’t do well after. I suffered severely from insomnia and nightmares for over a month. I thought I was going to lose my mind. That all happened right before the pandemic.

Finding God?

Something else strange happened. A couple weeks after the police came, old friends of my parents showed up at their door. They hadn’t seen each other for about 10 years. The couple said they were sent by God. The man reached out to my dad and my dad accepted.

A couple months previous I told my dad that I hope he finds God before God found him. At that time my dad smugly laughed and said it was unlikely that would ever happen. Apparently he had a change of heart.

It was an especially confusing and difficult time for me. If my dad truly accepted Christ then I expected my phone to be ringing off the hook from his contrite heart asking for forgiveness. It didn’t happen. I had this salvation fantasy that we would have this new relationship and he would be the dad I always wanted him to be. My mom was terribly excited, but I wasn’t convinced.

My mom said that he reads the Bible and prays with her. Does he really read the Bible? Well…he listens to it when it is read. Does he really pray with you? Well…he says amen after I pray. Or is he just doing what you want so you don’t leave? My mom believes that my dad has faith. Now he is finally the man she wants him to be. She believes what she wants to believe despite evidence to the contrary. It’s helping her to love and live with him again.

You see, I think I wanted my dad to find God for me. Then everything would somehow be magical and perfect. I wanted to feel happy, but instead I felt betrayed. God loves my dad but he surely doesn’t love me. Look what happened.

I can be a fair weather Christian at times. When things are going well, I am pretty happy with God. When things aren’t going well, I don’t go out and seek God more like some people do. Instead I get angry. I shake my fist and ask God why he would do something like that to me. Why are you punishing me God? If you have complete control why did you allow this to happen? Are you even there? Don’t you care about me? What did I do to deserve this? Why? WHY???

I didn’t feel like God could love both my dad and me simultaneously. In fact, God was one of the few places I could find solace from my dad as a child. He mocked and laughed at my mother for going to church. I wanted God more because my dad wasn’t there. Faith was almost an act of rebellion.

I question if my dad has real faith. But that isn’t for me to judge. I have a very limited capacity to trust both God and man which makes me more skeptical. I didn’t expect my dad’s crime then his subsequent faith would shake my foundation to its very core. I had to go back and examine my life. Part of my foundation was held together with childlike beliefs which held no merit. I had to re-evaluate what is truth versus what is just a coping mechanism. It was a process I had to work through. I had no idea it would leave me questioning everything I ever believed in.

I had to separate myself from my parents and find my own way.

Self-diagnosis

24 Dec 2019

If you are reading this, it is over. I have nothing left to live for. My whole life has been a joke. Hell couldn’t be any worse than living at this point.

Why? Why did it have to end this way? There isn’t a day in my life that I feel joy or peace. It’s just un-relentless pain. Why would I want to continue down this path of suffering? I just want it to end. Every day its the same struggle to place one foot in front of the other. Every day I fight against this meaningless existence. I don’t want to do this anymore. I feel like I have nothing left here for me.

It took months to get over the initial blow. It was months and months of insomnia and nightmares like the one I described the last time I posted. I was having flashbacks of the abuse I suffered and oddly enough images of things I didn’t remember, fragments of dreams you could say. These flashbacks were incredibly painful and the urge to destroy myself in the process was overwhelmingly powerful. In some ways I was already gone, stuck in my own head. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but hopefully it will be the last.

I decided to write my way through the process. I was only functioning on one cylinder, but I was functioning. How could I tell anyone that I wanted to kill myself because my daughter found child porn on my dad’s computer? It wasn’t logical or rational anyway. Why destroy myself over a crime I didn’t commit? I was sticking to the cover story of my parents getting a divorce if people noticed something was wrong. They could find out the full story later when my dad is in prison.

I couldn’t live this way. I started researching PTSD when I found out about Complex PTSD. I found my home there. Everything I was going through started making sense. What happened with my dad was very triggering for me. I had to fight through this to get to the other side, healing.

How was I going to get through? I already was embracing a holistic approach to healing. I started seeing a therapist to start working through the trauma. I was working with a wellness nurse to heal the trauma that ravaged my physical body. I was seeking solace in spirituality. I was writing my way through the experience. I was doing what I was supposed to do to heal, but this was a huge crater in the road. I couldn’t trust anyone or any God. I never could and honestly don’t know if I ever will be able to fully. I’m even afraid to share with you because I don’t trust you either. I’m not even sure what compels me to share this in full honesty.

I diagnosed myself with Complex PTSD. Part of me is in denial of this. Maybe I didn’t have it that bad. You see, my dad never sexually abused me. The few people I’ve told about his crime assume this though because they have outright asked me. Instead my dad treated me like I didn’t exist. He didn’t hug or hold me. He didn’t protect me from the teen boys when they came knocking. He didn’t tell me I was special or that he was proud of me. He didn’t protect me from my psychotic brother’s physical attacks. Nothing. That is how his addiction robbed me. He mainly made lewd comments to me and my children.

I tried to act like he was a good man. I didn’t tell my children much about my childhood. I tried to protect them from that. Maybe I was wrong. Angel found out the hard way by finding porn on his computer. I can’t imagine the images she saw or how damaging that was for her. I couldn’t even help her. She was a senior in college 4 hours away. She found this right before finals. She was struggling and I couldn’t help her. Thanks a lot dad.

I’m thankful I made it through and am ready to share my experience with you no matter how difficult it is.

Nightmares of my inner child

Alissa came to me in a dream. She told me she was very frightened to go back into the camper. She had to go before and she doesn’t want to go back again. She can’t go back anyway. If she tells anyone, the cat will die. She shows me an image of a black cat with its neck cut open. There is dried blood matted on its fur.

She said she could tell about things outside of the camper. She showed me an image of herself naked on the rope swing that hung on the big tree outside of the camper. Her long hair was in piggy tails.

She told me that she was me. She said I might find pictures of me.

I felt disgusted with the girl but I left her alone. She was crying and felt like she was in trouble for what she did. Maybe she is the reason the cat died.

This was just one of the many nightmares I had over the next couple months as I processed everything that happened with my dad. I wrote this dream down immediately upon awakening. It was especially horrifying as I awoke in a state of panic with tears streaming down my face. It felt incredibly real.

The men in the camper

I was having nightmares again, that is when I could sleep. I felt anxious, hypervigilant, and swept the bottom of the depth of despair since I heard the news about my dad. My husband wasn’t sure I would make it through this time.

I felt triggered. Ancient memories were stirred. I couldn’t outrun my demons. The old coping mechanisms didn’t work. I started thinking about things that I didn’t want to think about. I was drowning in the flames. Nothing made sense.

I remembered the camper that was parked under the big tree next to our house. I remembered a man saying if I was a good girl I would get a soda out of the camper fridge. I always remembered something bad about the camper. But I didn’t want to think about it. If certain bad things happened, I wouldn’t have the will to live and I wouldn’t survive childhood. So certain bad things didn’t happen.

The camper under the big tree had a screened in porch. It sat on a big concrete slab. There were other things inside the screened porch such as firewood and bikes. It was only there for a summer or two. Around the time I started kindergarten only an empty slab remained.

I knew the men involved. There were snippets of blurry memories. One of the men I rather liked. He is dead now. The other man I secretly hated. There once was a picture of that man in a frame on the dresser with the fish tank. I hated him so much I crumpled up the picture and threw it behind the dresser. My mom would think Matt did it because Matt always wrecked things. I will never mention his name because I don’t want to make accusations of things I am unsure of. Maybe nothing happened. Or maybe I’m in denial. I can’t remember clearly, nor do I want to.

Then there was my dad. I think he might have been there as well with a camera. I was afraid when the police searched my parents house that they would find pictures of me. But what was I paranoid about? Nothing ever happened. Right? Were my fears irrational or grounded in some warped reality that I could barely remember? I couldn’t understand why I was so worried about it. It was similar to feeling guilty for a crime I didn’t commit.

For some reason, though, I couldn’t rest until I heard what my inner child was crying about. The more I tried to hide, the more it assailed me. I had to accept that maybe something happened to me in there. But there will always be a part of me that doesn’t believe any of it. I was too young to remember anything in vivid detail. Decades later I’m not even sure why my mind wanders back to the camper that was only there for a summer or two.

I don’t want to remember, yet somehow I can’t seem to forget.

Activated

I had a really good appointment with my counselor yesterday. I posed the question to her about how come I feel more anger towards my mom than my dad. After all my dad could be described as cruel, mean, and at times a downright evil man. My mom has nothing but good intentions and most would view her as a genuinely good person. What was wrong with me? It just didn’t seem right.

I was starting to do a lot of healing work before my daughter turned my dad in to the police. After that I was a real mess. I really didn’t know if I would get through it. But here I am today not all that upset with my dad anymore but still angry with my mom. Why is that?

My therapist said I did a lot of healing work. Some of the healing work allowed me to de-activate my triggers. The memory of the trauma is still there, but the buttons don’t work anymore when people try to push them.

When my daughter turned my dad in to the police, it re-activated my dad button. It’s taken me almost a full year to de-activate it again. Here’s the thing. After I moved out of the house, my dad was no longer cruel or mean to me. My relationship with him went from horrible to neutral, from hatred to pity. But once my daughter turned him in, the switch was re-activated. I remembered every terrible horrible thing he did. It even brought up memories protected by my inner child deep within. Then everything started back up again with the insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, hypervigilance, and depression. It was like I was stuck being a kid again and it was very frightening.

But since everything has happened with my dad, I’ve only seen or talked to him a handful of times. He seems sorrowful and downright pitiful. He lost weight. I can only view him as a weak sad old man whom his family has pushed away as a result of his own behavior. You can’t outrun reaping exactly what you sow. I’ve seen it tear him down into a broken elderly man. As a child I hated him so much I wanted him to burn in hell. Now that he is in hell, I don’t seem to want it as much.

But with my mom, I’ve tried to turn off the activation switch while she is using all her strength to keep it turned on. She has been a manipulative controlling martyr my whole life. Whenever I’ve tried to set boundaries she has marched right over them and made me feel guilty about it. She never liked my choices in friends, boyfriends, music, clothing, goals, etc…then she would take it a step further and try to change me into the person she wanted me to be. So of course I am angry. Her behavior has not changed. She is pushing all my buttons and I haven’t been able to de-activate the mom switch.

My parents are toxic people. They have always been toxic people. At this point I am not even sure what to do going forward. Therapy every day??!? I don’t want to cut them out of my life. I’ve had to take a few steps back though for my own sanity.

What my therapist said was profound to me. Now everything makes sense. I had to write it all down before I forgot about it.

Gratitude week 51

  1. Paul started working for a small family business. They had their office party at a hibachi grill this past week. It really was a nice time. Afterwards, Paul and I drove around to look at the Christmas lights.
  2. I finished reading a book on boundaries. I found out I have a lot of work to do. I find that I feel guilty setting boundaries with certain people (like my mom). Even blogging at times makes me feel guilty. Guilt is a feeling I need to work through to set boundaries and write about my life, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve done something wrong. I never realized that before.
  3. This is a big one. My mom apologized to me this week. Last Sunday she came by my house, even though we can’t have Christmas and she doesn’t ‘visit’ because of COVID, and asked me why I didn’t answer when she tried to call me. She has a tendency to call at the worst times like when I am in the middle of making supper. She said she was having a hard time and thank God her sister Jan was around to help her through it unlike me. If she left a message saying she needed to talk to someone, I would call her back. This time she came over and angrily asked me what I was doing that was so important I couldn’t take her call. Her visit left me angry and upset for several days until she apologized.
  4. Christmas lights! I love them so much I might leave some up year round.
  5. Baking Christmas cookies. Yesterday I made roll out Christmas cookies with icing. Today I made Amish sugar cookies. I found some of my grandma’s old recipes that I will also try out in the next couple days. We are getting together with Cindy’s family on Christmas Eve and I am planning on bringing a lot of the food.
  6. It’s only 5 days until Christmas and I am pretty much ready for it. Now we just need some snow!!
  7. Our investment from selling our business finally came through!!! The dividend check should get us through for awhile! I’m grateful to not have to worry so much about money. Arabella just got on the waiting list for residential mental health treatment. Unfortunately it looks like our insurance will not be covering it and it is very, very expensive. It will be worth it if she gets the help she needs and her quality of life improves. It helps to have options available for financing it if we need to. I was really stressing out about it.
  8. We went out to eat this week to celebrate the investment. We had a really nice family time with our two oldest kids. Of course my mom tried calling while we were out to eat and I didn’t answer. Can’t win them all I guess.
  9. I’m grateful that I now have over 900 followers. I never thought I would get to this point when I first started. I read a book a couple years back from a blog of a lady that was training to run her first marathon. I thought, wow, I want to try blogging and running a marathon. Now here I am writing about personal things I never thought I would be writing about. And here you are right with me!
  10. I never thought I would be saying this but I’ve reached the point in my life that yoga and meditation sounds better than pounding my body by doing marathons. While I still want to run, I have no desire to race anymore. What is one more medal anyway? I no longer want to be on stage. I’ve had my lead roles. I no longer want to sing in front of people. I no longer long for high stress hobbies. My body is tired and wants rest. My mind is ready to embrace a slower pace. It’s time to try something new. I’m grateful to be ready to accept the aging me.

Safe at shore after the storm

I had just clung to a lifejacket that was thrown in to help me out. Getting used to living with childhood trauma was not living for me. But I was being dragged underwater again. Were all my efforts up to that point for naught?

I was drowning but I didn’t know if I wanted to swim any longer. It took too much effort. The ocean was too wide, too deep. I lost the lifejacket in the waves that slammed down on me. I couldn’t see beyond the next wave that hit me taking away my breath leaving me gasping for air. I was frightened this time it would kill me but part of me didn’t care.

I was pulling you down trying to stay afloat with the weight I was carrying. Maybe it would be easier if I didn’t fight against the chains of the anchor that bound me. Why keep struggling with not even a rescue boat in sight, not to mention the safety and calm of a lighthouse ashore.

I didn’t care. I went back into the safe place of old inside of myself where there was no joy but most importantly no pain. I was so drenched and shivering that I didn’t notice your tears for me. I didn’t notice as you tried to set me free from the chains that shackled me. People marveled at how I was entrapped so. But their kind words and murmured whispers did nothing to set me free. They couldn’t help you help me.

If you couldn’t help me you might as well drown with me in the drink. Your cries never reached my ears in the eye of the raging storm. Yet somehow I remembered how to keep safe like I did so many years ago. Though trapped, the wall I built around myself was high enough to keep the storm surge out. Yet the water trickled in around me reminding me I couldn’t stay safe inside forever. I kept sheltered in its womb until I saw the clouds part. When I trusted I was safe enough, I pulled myself out of it.

You were waiting for me in your boat. The water was littered with lifejackets surrounding me. I knew how hard you were trying to reach me but I could not see it then. The sun shone on the distant lighthouse as we slowly made our way to shore.