Silent Centers

My father arranged me to frame despair

in the shape of a shell–

he said it

would make me look pretty

as he dropped my gutted pearl

into the water,

closed me in his palm,

and took me home for dinner.

 

I’d curl up in my empty body late at night

when the heater kicked in

and line my dolls up on the smooth

belly of the shell,

sweating and organizing and kissing them,

trying to make room, trying to love

and a forgotten piece in me would move–

like an isolated bubble, a pressure in my chest rising

until it hardened into a globe of glass,

and I fingered the marble

in my pocket each time he made me nervous.

 

My skin hardened into porcelain.

My lips a painted curve.

The girl in the womb and the doll in the house

looked at each other in the mirror,

and I was the mirror

I was a million different faces;

this cannot be explained any other way.

 

I became the dolls on my bed and

in their small house in the corner

I became their holidays and patterned wallpaper;

I became the patterns of my behavior–

trained, obedient, good.

I became the shell at the dinner table,

sucking up silence like the ocean.

 

I told myself

if I had nothing,

that’s what would come back.

And getting nothing back

meant you didn’t have to love.

And what was love to that girl

with her marble

and no pearl.

The Story of a Photo of a Soldier

This free-verse stemmed from a free-write exercise at dVerse Poets Pub and it grew into a a poem from a post I had seen at the nonprofit Facebook Page “22 too Many.” It was about a young Veteran who lost his battle with Combat PTSD. This is in honor of him and his wife, Emily.

 

Photo by Caitlin McFall

His arms look sculpted–tattooed sleeves, wrapped around
Emily. It is a collage picture, this is the one on top, in black and white,
and I wonder if it was taken before or after he returned home from service. Curtis.
Curtis Johnson, US Air Force.

In the left corner of the collage they are together again, younger, sun
in their faces. He wears shades and pinches his slim face, and she
leans into him, this Emily, with a look on her face only women who have
found their match understand—that mischievous wisdom
and peace. Tattoos and piercings.
Two forces you can tell by the looks of them—two
perhaps strong-willed individuals who found sanctuary in
each other, as if they’d been through enough.
Curtis and Emily Johnson.

The bottom right corner is Curtis, alone on his bunk
in his uniform, a healthy weight gain, his tattooed arms
stick out from rolled up sleeves. His face is somehow
childish looking, maybe because it is rounder, but there
is no expression. It’s an empty room. And him.
Curtis Johnson. US Air Force.

Scroll, scroll, scroll through my news feed. My thumb slides the screen
up and up and up, a carnival of friends’ faces, recipes,
memes and epic fails, cats the goddamned cats, news bits-
pictures of dust explosions, Arab men and women, cops,
black lives matter, white lives matter, Muslims matter
new groups fill up and rallies are happening all around us
amassing members who share one thing in common: hate.
And if it’s not a group it’s family and friends fighting
against each other on right and wrong, separating
ourselves and each other only to strengthen
a swarming media we eat up in the comments.
All are offended. All have rights. All sit and slide the screen.
“Another shooting at Planned Parenthood…tonight on…”
“A white police officer shot an unarmed young man…more…”
“…ISIS? The terrorist’s had this planned
since before they married…all messages on their cell phones
are encrypted, making it difficult for the…”
“How many school shootings are there…” Gun Control.
“Syrian refugees…” commercial commercial, “Paris…”
scroll scroll scroll
zooming through the feed past the stories I can’t
do anything about–believing that the
news–these unconnected far away stories–exist only in my
bright screen that lights up my face at night, as I get
a “ding” on messenger and hope it’s so and so. Thumbs up.
Politics. Trump. Obama. Hilary’s emails, BBC, Huff Post Weird News, scroll. Pit-bull discrimination…?

OK, time to put it down,

but then
there is a lovely picture collage of a young couple, and I stop,
because this is the “22 too Many” page—
a non-profit organization honoring fallen heroes
who lost their lives to suicide, Combat PTSD. I expect
to read a snippet of where he served from the woman in the
picture, covered in tattoos as well.
“Curtis Johnson, US Air Force,
took his life December 5th, 2015 after his battle with PTSD.
His wife, Emily Johnson,
followed the next day, December 6th.”

And I can’t stop looking into his face, into her eyes, into the pictures
of him alone on the bunk. And there are tears coming because
I don’t know what he sacrificed or what he saw over there, what he
had to do…because I am part of the generation off path pavers
for social media time wasters, because I am on Facebook reading updates and
blurbs about news in chosen flashes
Not reading, not questioning, not asking
humbled into my own opinion by a large angry crowd full of rights
and I don’t know my history, and we don’t know our present
and there he is

Curtis

who came home from a war in a land I bothered to look at once
who gave every part of himself away to be plagued and tortured
by his body memories and flashbacks.
Tears, because I look down to the right corner picture
where he looks like a child, a lost man alone on
foreign soil. Throat hurts, because he looks younger than me
and I can’t imagine his hell of body memories and flashbacks
and madness—a hell no one can enter or leave but yourself
if you’re lucky.
And Curtis couldn’t leave. In this country that opportunes me
everything I need and the tools to achieve and improve my life,
Curtis flew “over there” and fought for such freedoms, at the
expense of putting himself in the bottom of that well,
never to breathe freely again, never to feel a warm wind on his face
without slipping back into what took him, what reached down into him
and took out his insides, replaced them with a talking shadow,
and sent him home to die. And that “it” that took him,
that was Hate.

wp-1449885736829.jpeg

 

Science of Change

Mental Illness has taught me maybe a few things about grander schemes in life. Just a few. Like on my bike ride to Allison this morning and I’ve been mulling it over for a while but never worded it—there is not an end to everything. Anything. I was thinking of this because I was thinking about how I have always pushed and pushed myself to just “get better” and to make it go away and cure myself, heal, recover, that the hell would end. But the thing is “recovery” is a sinful word. Because it implies getting back what you lost. You never do. What is lost is gone, irrevocable CHANGE. But it’s like evolution. You change. You change, change, change—good or bad, your choice. Like the springs that shot from that embodiment of the death–that piece you lost– are now fueled with a new strategy, protons and neutrons and whatever-the-hell-have-you imploding your neuroplasticity, and you wake up, and one day you just know, chemically in your soul—the science of your heart–that you are of some kind of substance. So many things that kept you transparent, floating about as a million different selves, had ruptured, and made you sick. Made you mad. Made you hide from the world out of fear that you were dying, when really parts of you were. A midnight bloom. Jacynth. And like I said, you wake up, and you actually look down at your hands, your forearms, your thighs, to your words, to your feelings, to your thoughts and reactions—and they are there, you can actually feel these things as you–as your own. Your own—like living in a world where you were owned and almost destroyed by others—yourself, your one God given right, was never given to you. And one day, after what so many faiths and poets call the darkness—you emerge not in grandeur and answers, but in your own skin, under your say, your command, your voice. “I AM THE CAPTAIN OF THIS SHIP, THE MASTER OF MY SOUL.” Walt Whitman wrote something like that.
And this realization has proven wrong to me another theory of mine. Are we invincible if we are good or bad? Is there such a thing as bad and good?
We don’t recover; we do not heal because healing implies “better,” we change, and that direction is partially choice and partially what our mental capabilities will. The “soul” is not either good or bad, and neither is the body, but they are both amazing, and they are both beyond our comprehension, but they can also both be toxic, and they are not friends. But merging a mind of logic and skill and emotion and function with the destruction of its parts to the mending or altering of its parts (the uhhh fall-out of your, well, death in a way—a nuclear sub-atomic-spiritual-soul-against-the-sweating-wall-poetic-flim-flam-waste-of-a-dying-star)—change as far as we have seen has purpose, and brighter and darker things can come of it. Do come of it.

Sex, Abuse, Dreams, and Taboos

My hands are actually sweating writing this.  I’ve wanted to write it for a long time but how do you talk about it?  Well–you don’t.  So you write about it, and then no one 11111111111111111111111111111111111111can look at you.  Childhood sexual abuse, a well-known internet topic, but not-so-known is the secret many victims share–the abuse aroused us.  Maybe not all, but many, many, many survivors share this shame with me.  My therapist wasn’t surprised when I told her about it–which is the only reason I didn’t puke.

I’ve been looking around and found this place helpful–Pandora’s Project.  The opening of their page on Sexual Abuse and Arousal states:

A sexual response or orgasm in the course of sexual assault is often the best-kept and most deeply shameful secret of many survivors. If you are such a survivor, it’s essential that you know that sexual response in sexual assault is extremely common, well-documented and nothing for you to be ashamed of.

and I liked this as well:

If you were sexually assaulted as a child, you were victimized by somebody who had knowledge of how to touch and manipulate you to the ends of their own gratification, and ensuring that your shame and (false) sense of complicity rendered you less likely to tell. It is another dimension of the abuse, and not a statement of you being bad. As you heal, you will come to give the abuser back the responsibility for all of the abuse, including the responses.

However, even though knowing that this reaction is normal, I just can’t accept it, and for very good reasons.  But before I get into that awfully private shit, I want to talk about shame.  I don’t even understand what the word means and I want to know why I don’t.  It’s not in my vocabulary.  I don’t feel like I caused the molesting in any way.  I did not provoke.  I was four for Christ’s sake.  Then why do I hate myself for it?  I don’t understand.  Like this part of my brain is blocked.  I want to do more EMDR.

I have dreams where I am being molested or raped and I wake up in an orgasm.  And the worst part?  The “dirtiest” part? Is in the dream…I like it.  I wake up nauseous and cry my eyes out, wondering what kind of person am I?  And it take A LOT for me to cry.  I have nightmares all the time but these ones kill me.  And then 11111111111111111111111111111there’s the other reason I was hinting at before–my sexuality.  I am a submissive heterosexual bordering on bondage.  Utter submission.  And there are fantasies in my head I’ve only shared with one other  person, and luckily he’s as fucked up as I am, so there’s that camaraderie, lol.  OK, why am I making jokes.

I know arousal is a normal response.  I know that.  But what about now?  What about current sexual desires? –the submissive, bondage, etc.  And is it normal to be having these sick dreams at the same time that I am figuring out my sexuality?  yeah, I’m a late bloomer.  I was very…inhibited and numb until my thirties. 

Read More

EB-125

published Summer 2016 in Open Minds Quarterly

 

EB-125

 

I think I’m seeing white birds

white birds scattering away

from my window, out there

in the cold January, their wings

sound, from here, like sheets–

my grandmother’s white sheets–

on the line in June.
The light coming in is white.

Color? Or space?

Like the space we can never fill.

Like the start of a narrative.

Like the blank walls,

these hospital rooms cemented

in their smoggy halo.
I’m crouched over a puce tray,

surrounded by the others in halogens, others

that have found strange caverns to fill in

strange tongues native to disorder, asking me Read More

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Protected: I’m Fine. Really.

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Found Myself Today Singing

farmnflea2Well it’s been awhile since I’ve written just a post on what’s up with me lately.  Maybe because what’s up is confusing and yet somehow dull to me.  A couple of great things are happening–I’m seeing a new psychologist who leaves around the bend across the lake and I think she’s…brilliant.  Fucking brilliant.  The first time in fifteen years I felt like, in therapy, “this is the one.  She can help me help myself.”  It’s good dammit.  Good.  I quit smoking.  It’s day four.  My singing voice is already almost fully back!! I’m drinking tea instead of coffee to cut the cravings for a cigarette and I can’ t believe how much better I already feel.  Right now I’ve got the house to myself, blaring the blues, some Aretha, some Richie Havens “Freedom”, some OneRepublic, quite a mix.  I feel so damn good today.  So calm.  Even with the cravings.  Maybe I’ve been so much more at peace because I’m on a right path–my path–and I’m ready for whatever happens in therapy.  I’m stronger now.  I’m willing to get rough.  After the first session I went home and cried so hard I was actually doing that embarrassing hiccup thing, because I felt so exposed and vulnerable to myself, not to anyone but myself.  I have this steal shield I use in the mirror to keep me from believing shit is hard, to keep me from believing I can’ t do it, that I’m weak.  I ask for help from no one, and I just can’t change that.  My sister was crying and asking me why I don’t open up, because it’s too much and too hard alone, and I love her dearly for it, but I just can’t.  It’s not my…style.  You get so used to handling the hard shit alone, pushing down your shoulders and making you sink a little, so you take bigger steps, you gain more muscle in my opinion.  I want to rely on myself, and learn how to do it better.  I was also crying so hard because she got so much out of me and i don’t know how, but I looked at myself, really looked at myself, and i was disgusted by what I saw.  So disappointed, yet I’m so used to disappointment that it wasn’t too much of a crusher.  What she’s doing with me is instead of me blathering on the same tired old story about what all happened to me, is we’re dealing with (first) how I’m dealing with it all in the present.  She’s taken me back to such basic steps I was

HelenMPhotography
HelenMPhotography

blindsided and felt like I wanted to hold her hand because I’d forgotten the importance of ‘the now.’  Back to building blocks, which feels good because I haven’t known up from down in a long time.

Why does it still seem I am still trying to prove myself to myself? Anyone else do this?  I think of therapy/dealing with complex ptsd/bipolar/dissociation/adhd as a challenge, and I must win.  I must defeat what has beaten me down, I must not let one person own me.  I must be the master of myself.  I can almost taste it, yet I’m so far.  As long as I keep going, I’ll make it.  The longer and harder it is, the better it’ll turn out, I know that.  It’s about patience.  I’m by no means rushing into therapy like I used to, expecting results I could hold in my hands, read and educate myself out of a hole.  Oh no.  It’s more holistic than that.  It’s a 180 from that.  Now I go in and I’m like a child eagerly waiting for guidance into what I already know but can’t tap.

Another thing I realized is when you’re in deep water long enough, you get accustomed to it, and for awhile you take the rest of the punches and hits with your chin up, you allow yourself to fully feel the swells of pain that can strike, but what is pain anyways but a tool for success?  Anyway, yeah, you get accustomed to it, but then somehow, after so long, you quit treading, and you float comfortably, until someone comes along and steals your fuckin floaty.  And you see yourself, comfortably numb to all around you, your life–stuck in this swirling eddy of memories and fears and even, at its worse and most embarrassing–self-pity and complacency.  I will not settle for this.  I will not be okay with the woman who fucking sits there il_570xN.445156906_6aipanymore.  She was begging for me to wake up.  And then I wonder–is this another bipolar mood trick?  Am I really feeling this or am I on the upside of the disorder, seeing things that I will only see and feel for a short while ?  Well, if that’s the case I’ll just keep coming back to write about it.  Music.  Music is everything.  It reminds me that I am alive.  That I have a say in things, that my emotions are real, valid things that I can feel without doubt and shame and embarrassment.  I have a say in things.  I have a say in how this shit’s gonna go.  It already went down, I swam through the murk at the bottom, I barely rose, but I’m slowly rising to the surface, its a long way.  And I can look back at the shore but I’ve come to far to go back from where I came, it’s time to swim to a new shore, a new island of Amyness.  🙂 I can’t go back to what I was, that wasn’t living, from the age of sixteen to thirty I wasn’t living, and I’m still not, but I’m trying, and I’m aware and that’s the key.  That’s living.  It may not be pretty, I may look at myself and just think “aww shit” but I have choices and options.  I remember when it all changed–a specific point.  I was sixteen (already haunted by memories of sexual abuse and living in injustices via my mother and stepfather and the lack of my real father) and I was in my room in the basement listening to “Free Bird” over and over and I was looking in the mirror and I just couldn’t see myself.  I wasn’t there.  Just like that.  I disappeared.  This is also when the bipolar began, I just know it.  I can’t explain it, it would take  to long, but it was.  I forced myself to cry and I just stared at my tears as if they were fake, and i was a fake, a fraud, who felt nothing.  I was empty.  And I would spend the next fifteen years or so trying to fill TheMapleTeaHousethat.  Until the psychosis and PTSD hit and i went to the bin–when I completely shattered.  To a million fucking pieces.  But piecing it back together—I get to create what I want to be.  Not just what i want to SEE, but I what I want to BE, because my feelings are back in full force.  I am not empty anymore.  I think all my life I waited for the break, so I could start over.

Falling Out and In

My relationship with my mother is a book in itself.  This is not a post about her or me but rather about the deep waters we get ourselves into in a desperate search for love.  All of us–my two sister, me, and my mother–desperate for love.  We fail to remember we can receive it from each other, well at least me and my mother.  You can read my poem about my mother HERE (Mama It Was Too Late) and another, HERE (70s Soundtrack).  OK, one more HERE (A Trauma Theory).  It was like so many moments, so many years, built up this moment here that happened a few weeks ago–asking my mother to validate me for her abandoning me when I was abused as a five-year-old but more-so when I was sixteen.  How she chose his side, chose to believe him over me.  I found myself pounding my fist on the table and screaming through tears “My life is fucked!! It’s FUCKED because of what you and “” did!”  After the screaming match and her denying everything, me storming out after her sarcastic apology, my sister stopped me and told us we had to once and for all, deal with this burden and talk it out.  (I was quite proud of her by the way).  My mother fell apart.  “I did the best I could! If that’s not enough for you I’m sorry but I did what I had to” (i’m summarizing).  I was so still and controlled suddenly.  “No,” I said, “It wasn’t enough.  Not for me.”  She said I hope I know what this feels like some day as a mother and I said that I wouldn’t because I would never abandon my Emma and side with her abuser.  Not a chance in hell.  She kept saying how she did her best or what she thought was best and that she was having trouble with her mental illnesses then (screaming at me like I should cut her slack for manic depression) and calmly, coolly, I said something I’d been waiting to say for years: “I don’t feel sorry for you.”  It bit at her, but she yelled “I don’t want your pity,” spitting words at me like I’m the problem, as if I’d always been the problem.  I think I’ll always be the problem.  I told her I wasn’t doing this to assign blame and hurt but that, as a part of my healing from C-PTSD and everything else, I needed validation for what I’d been through and how I’d reacted and for what I didn’t receive.  I wanted her to be there for me through this NOW and help me and try to understand what I’m going through instead of making it all about her.  “Everything is not about you, Amy!” and calmly again I said “Mom, for once, this is ALL ABOUT ME.  I’m the victim in this, not you.”  And she broke some more saying “I know, I know.”  I saw for the second time how fragile and weak she is.  I thought back to her decisions, her generation of marriage and children and abuse, her view on life, her 1970’s please-the-husband-children-come-last.  At least that’s my take.  This is the woman who, I think out of desperation, married my alcoholic biological father out of fear of being alone and unloved, always feeling like the ugly duckling, not believing in her beauty.  He was slow and a drinker.  What drew her to him?  Yet she was smart enough to leave him.  And foolish enough to marry the man that was after me from the beginning.  She was desperate.  For love.  Absolutely desperate, she was willing to sacrifice my well-being in order to maybe have more financial support and someone to “make her feel pretty” as she told me a few months ago.  Yeah, I wanted to say, he made me feel pretty too.  Ugh. I feel like she’s never known who she is, like she felt she wasn’t worth it.  Why?  Why is/was her self-esteem so low?  So non-existent?  (pause: my theme song is playing right now as I type: “Loser” by Beck, hehe).  I can’t help but feel like her spite for me is because I’m stronger.  I’ve always been stronger.  She knew I rebelled and hated me back then because I stood up for myself when “—” was sexually abusing me.  I wouldn’t have it.  Yet I was under her finger enough to promise I’d never tell anyone as she asked because I wanted her to love me.  I’ve always tried pleasing her and walked on egg shells and “made everything shine” for her and comforted her telling her what she wanted to hear because I wanted her to love me and have an ounce of respect for me.  “You wish I were dead don’t you?  Look at you!  Look at you!” she screamed as I stood there ever so calmly.  Her fears she tried transplanting on me.  She wanted them to be mine, like she wished it were true.  Why?  I said she was wrong, and that I loved her, and that all I ever wanted was to be worth it enough for her, worth saving, and I never was, and why not?  She couldn’t answer, it was too late for that answer.  She showed, didn’t tell.  I wasn’t worth it enough to save, to protect.  I was just a kid, an offspring.  I wasn’t supposed to have emotions that mattered, I wasn’t supposed to argue her values.  And if I did, shame on me.  She’s such a tough, mean, bitter shell on the outside and weak and scared inside, like a child.  And I’m trying to learn to not be so concerned about that child anymore.  She’s  a big girl.  She needs to face up to what she did and own it.  I’m not going to own her shit anymore.  And after this falling out or in, it became so much easier.  I was watching a woman so desperate for love all her life she was now angry and bitter, believing she has no choices to better her life, and she’s right back where she started as a young, weak breaking woman because she didn’t have the balls to grow up, to experience the other love in her life she was offered.  Love only meant men, as if they were the only creatures that mattered.  I don’t pity her anymore.  And she knows it.  And goddammit that feels fucking good.  A weight was definately lifted between the two of us, but there’s still so much ice in the air waiting and I don’t know why.  Maybe because I know I’ll never get what I need from her, and I’m not even sure what that is.  Love.  Worth.  Unconditional love.  She doesn’t have that for me.  Her love has conditions.  For me anyways.  I doubt she’ll ever read my essays and poetry about what I’m going through (as my sister told her to do if she wanted to have the courage enough to read it all to understand me–she said “would you read it if it were about you? and Jodie said Yeah it’s gonna hurt but she should read it if she wants to be there for me).  Yeah, she’d read it if I was worth it.  She’s so afraid of looking into the mirror, afraid enough to not put me first for once because that means facing the truth.  And living in lies is living a dead life.  I once told her when I write (she was upset because a post was somewhat about her) I told her I’m not gonna hide the truth, the truth in what happened is the reason I write, and I was in no mood for protecting her good name so it wouldn’t hurt her.  Believe me I’ve already censored myself plenty in order to protect her….from her.  My sisters and I have worked over-time protecting her from her.  She does good for a few years, and always falls apart, and we’re the ones picking up the pieces and raising her, trying to get her to believe in herself, to believe she has choices, and she hates us for it, shuns us, gets back on her feet, and is bitter.  We can’t really win.  We’re always waiting for the next shoe to drop.  Only we’re getting older.  We’re looking at our lives, and deciding for once that we matter too.  What do we have?  Fathers that left us, abused us, abandoned us, and a mother that toys with our heads and hearts but at least she never left us.  So what to do?  All we have is each other.  We have to make this work.  I have to find in myself my own mother (again) and accept who she is and what I get from her.  She’ll always think my intentions are evil for some reason, when all I ever wanted from her was to be loved unconditionally and be worthy.  I have to find my worth in myself, and that’s hard, a battle every day.

Talking with my mother now is not about me being in control of that situation.  It’s about being as honest as I can without totally losing compassion.  Back when I was being abused and she turned on me, she used to say “Amy you reap what you sow.”  Now I’m saying it to her in my head.  She’s reaping what she sowed.