Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Skype and the Family That Never Was

I don't write much about my family of origin.  It's a mostly irrelevant subject; I have been completely without any support from them in any way since I was seventeen years old.  You can read about the day my mom kicked my twin sister and I out of the house (with the complicity of the elders of the church in a religious ceremony) here: Bill Gothard has negatively affected my life part two

Still, it's on my mind a lot these days.  Just now I was watching an ad for video chatting.  I'm not sure it was Skype but it was something like that.  Family and friends were shown joyfully sharing life together, though separated by distance.  The laughter, smiles, playful teasing and sheer happiness of sharing life together was beautiful to watch.  It is what I strive to share with the people in my life today.  I want to create a place- a home, a friendship- where there is always welcome and good will.  Watching the ad made me feel good inside, and made me feel good about my life today.

Until it struck me.  I never once experienced anything like it, not even close, in my family of origin.  There was not one joyous exclamation of glee at an accomplishment of mine.  There was no levity.  There was no laughter. I don't mean little, I mean none.  Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Even if my mom did something that appeared to be a gift of some sort, cook a meal or take us shopping, it was done without joy.  There was an expectation that she should be lauded for any effort she put into being a parent, and in fact, I am pretty sure that was her only motivation: it affected the way she felt about herself, and in every instance I can remember, just became another excuse to blow up at her ungrateful, selfish children.

My older sister was merely an extension of my mother.  I don't know if I've written here about the time I almost died of an asthma attack. My mom was leaving the house for the day, putting my older sister "in charge".  We were commanded to clean our rooms.  My room was very messy.  I had no parent teaching me to make my bed, spending time in my room with me talking, laughing or playing.  Not. Ever.  I was mostly unparented, except in these spurts of domestic dominion which I suppose came about because my mom felt shame at the messy house or the truth that she was no parent.  Anyway, the edict had been given: clean your rooms and don't go anywhere else until it's done.

I have asthma and I am allergic to dust.  As I started in on my room, I began to wheeze.  These were the days without inhalers, so when I noticed I was actually wheezing (you'd be surprised how detached I was from my body), I had to go take a theophylline pill and get away from the trigger and wait for the pill to take effect.  I left my room to tell my sister I was wheezing.  In my mom's stead, she simply became my mom to me.  She called me lazy and a liar and accused me of just trying to get out of cleaning my room.  I protested my innocence and that I needed to get away from my room and rest.  She ridiculed me and berated me further.

Defeated, I went back to my room and, though I was wheezing loudly and couldn't breathe, I began moving stuff around.  I started crying, which only made it worse.  I was terrified and I knew I was going to die.  I also knew it was imperative that I stop crying and calm down as much as I could.  I told myself that dying would be like getting on a bus.  If I could just fall asleep, I would wake up in a new place, heaven.  I was parenting myself as always, and this time in the acceptance of my impending death.

If I could convey what it feels like to be dying of an asthma attack, I would.  I could not get breathe into my lungs.  I was sitting up, leaning forward, every muscle in my rib cage contracting, trying  to squeeze out the carbon dioxide to make room for oxygen.  The medical term is "contracting" I think.  It was an impossible task. Oxygen was not getting through.  I could hear the loud wheezing of air trying to get through swollen, mucus-filled airways.  It wasn't going to happen.  I knew I was dying.  That is no exaggeration.

The pain of my heart at being called an evil, lazy liar and being sent to my death by my sister, in spite of my pleas to be heard and loved and helped, was just a radical manifestation of a daily reality.  I was not loved in my family.  I never had been.  My twin and my grandmother were my only true family, and they were also abused and rejected.  My older sister did not love me; had never loved me.  Her survival demanded she be an extension of my mom, and my mom fully and completely rejected me and my twin sister.  My older sister did the same.

I think Jesus looked down at me like God spoke about looking down at Israel as a rejected newborn, left to die of exposure in an open field (Ezekiel 16:4-6 ).  That's my explanation for why my grandma just happened to stop by right then.  She came into the house and asked for my mom.  My older sister explained she had gone for the day, and then told her that we were to clean our rooms but I was being "rebellious".  That was a perjorative often used to describe me.  My grandma opened the door to my room to check on me.

She freaked.

The local "ambulance" came, which in this small Great Plains town meant a van with a siren on top.  The funeral director drove it, and he drove like a mad man the twenty miles to the hospital.  I remember him telling me not to die on him, to hang on.  He repeated that often.  I remember getting to the hospital.  I remember the beautiful color of my crimson blood squirting a nurses white uniform  when they put in the I. V. line.  I remember other terrifying aspects of my admission: the battleaxe nurse who kept pushing me down when I tried to sit up.  I couldn't breathe at all lying down.  She kept telling me sternly that I needed to rest, push me down and immediately I would pop right back up.  I couldn't easily tell her that I needed to breathe more than I needed to rest.  I could only get out one breathless word at a time, with great effort, and I needed that effort to breathe.

I remember the panic and feeling of suffocation when they put me in the oxygen-tented bed.  My mom had met us at the hospital.  I remember screaming for her to help me, and her walking out as I cursed and cried while medical people (as far as I could feel) tried to kill me instead of helping me breathe.

I fell into a coma.

I was in a coma for five days.

When I came to, the doctor was so happy to see me. He was a great man.  He had no idea what my home life was like.  I thank God his was the first face I saw, and his words of encouragement were the first words I heard.  He told me that he was scared they had lost me, and he was so glad I was alive.  There was no more oxygen tent.  Instead I had a mask blowing oxygen directly into my nose and mouth.  He made me feel like my life was worth something.

As soon as he left, my mom, who had been sitting vigil at my side (only while she looked a hero for it) began gathering her things to leave.  I asked her to stay.  She refused. I asked her why she left me when I needed her and why she was leaving me now.  I told her I needed her.

She lectured me for embarrassing her by cussing out the nurses when I was in a panic and making a fuss, when people were only trying to help me.  She told me how selfish I was to ask her to stay, after all she had other kids besides me.  They needed her too.  And, with that final berating, she turned her back on me and walked out.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Both Hope and Regret:How is that possible?

I feel both hope and regret today.  It is the weirdest thing.  I don't feel them both at the same time, but I do feel them both within the same ten minutes.  I think EMDR is working, as before I would likely just be crushed with guilt and shame, and only be able to cultivate hope through a lot of tears, bible reading and journaling.  Now I just feel hope.  It's totally cool to be hopeful without extensive work to get there.

So here's the deal: I was a sorry ass mother in many ways to my little girl.  The irony is that my number one desire was to be a good mother!  It was both my deliverance and my curse.  My deep, deep desire to be a good mother is what led me to buy all those Christian books, go to all the seminars and Bible studies, put my kids in all the children's programs and include such a huge dose of "wholesome morality" in my home school.  That is the curse part.  The true sincerity of my longing to love my children in the way that was best is the deliverance part.  Isn't it ironic that what I meant for good turned out to detour me in the wrong direction, and actually put up a barrier between my daughter and myself?

You know the saying "better late than never"?  I really hope it turns out to be an absolute truth. My daughter  needs it to be,  and I need it to be true for her.  Yesterday in tears, as I was making these confessions to her, I apologized for not being the mother she needed me to be.  She, also in tears, replied to me that I was the mom she needed me to be NOW and that she loved for me that.  (Okay I'm getting all misty-eyed again now. Deep breath.  Exhale.  Carry on.)

I feel like I should reiterate here that I love Jesus still and always will.  I don't find fault with the Bible as much as with the way it is used.  Lewis Wells calls it "bibliolatry" and he is so right.  I was hoodwinked by the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.  It is a heresy, in my opinion.  The Bible is a record of people whose lives were affected by the Divine, and while it may be a true record of what they experienced, believed and taught (my opinion) none of those people are/were Divine themselves, except for Jesus.  Proverbs are just that, proverbs: generalizations that are true much of the time.  The history books are just that: a historical record of what people thought, did, said, felt and heard.  They are not encyclopedias of fact.  Whoever wrote Genesis was recording the stories of early Judaism.  It is not eyewitness testimony, and if it were, we would still have to consider the character and motivations of the witness.  The poetry is poetry; the gospels are four written records of what was remembered of the life and words of Jesus in the decades after his death (and resurrection!  Yes, I believe in the resurrection.); the epistles are letters written to congregations of the early church and the book of Revelations is apocalyptic writing meant to encourage the persecuted church.

But when my daughter was growing up, I thought I believed in the inerrancy of scripture, and I went to churches that taught the Bible from that perspective.  I listened to nice, wholesome, middle-class Christian teaching- nobody who dressed funny (like Mennonites, the Pearls, etc.) or acted too strange (IBLP, for example).  Nope, the people I associated with and to whom I listened dressed like everyone else and was appropriately integrated into the culture at large.  You could wear makeup and dress nice, as long as you didn't show too much skin.  You could watch television and movies, as long as you were selective about what you saw.  You couldn't cuss or drink, though, and of course you should go to church every Sunday and, generally speaking, seek moral perfection in all you do.

Ah, and therein lies the curse.  Do you know what moral perfection is, boys and girls?  It is when you look, act, talk and feel, in a word, Christian.  In order to become that kind of person, everything has to be a moral lesson.  One should be appropriately emotional- cry at the right times, smile at the right times, all that sort of outward proof of your inward transformation.  You should feel the right feelings and if you are a good Christian you will feel these right feelings at the right times.

For example, really holy people will cry at the showing of mission films.  How can you not feel despair and sorrow at the nice people on the screen who are all going to hell?  Also, you should choke up with regret and remorse at sermons calling for repentance.  If you are unfeeling, you must be some kind of amoral monster, though no one will come right out and tell you that.  And if you are reading all those family devotions, you know that these moments calling for appropriate emotional responses happen all the time.  Good Christian children will respond in the good Christian way to the sermonettes popping up in all those "teachable moments" that good Christian parents are forever alert to recognizing. Not to mention the extras the church throws in unintentionally, like athletic prowess is godly (Awana) and being beautiful is also godly (check out the casting on those plays and musicals, we all know it's true).

So here I am, earnestly wanting to be the best mom ever to my children, relying on the Christian parenting industry because I could not rely on experience, so grateful to have married into a truly godly Christian family, because in my naivete, I thought Christian was synonymous with love and nurture.  For the record, I do believe that Christ is synonymous with love and nurture, and that it is possible to be a good and loving parent by putting into practice the commands of Christ.  My mistake was in thinking that the evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity being marketed was at all about obeying the commands of Christ.  Not even close.

See, I bought into the line of reasoning (insane that it is, in my now much more humble opinion) that since the Apostle John called Jesus the Word of God made flesh, and since Christians called the Bible the Word of God, that following Jesus meant trying to obey everything in the Bible.  That is insane, because Jesus actually gave precious few commands in his life on earth, and all of them centered around empathetic love for others.  The Bible, on the other hand, has commands out the wazoo about everything from what you can eat, to how to greet people, and everything in between, much of which are contradictory to one another and very few of which actually involve empathetic love for others.

So, my daughter was pretty much screwed from the get-go.  If she had been a neurologically typical child, she might have been better able to comply.  But, unbeknownst to me for many years, my daughter is Aspie.  She doesn't feel things like other people. She doesn't experience life like other people.  I might have known that if I had been asking her questions about her experience of life, without a mental template of what was good and acceptable with which I measured everything she said and did.    If I had been parenting with the idea that there is a wide range of human experience, and all of it is acceptable, I might  have learned much earlier what kind of mom she needed me to be.  As a Christian mom, I was never encouraged to ask that question. The Bible had the answer to that question, and there were plenty of Christian authors to explain it to me, should I need more than the weekly sermon and a good look around to get it through my thick skull.

I didn't need to try to empathize with or understand my daughter: I needed to demand that she empathize with and understand others.  If she couldn't (when she couldn't) do that, it was plain enough what was going on.  She had a sinful, selfish heart, and was in rebellion to the Word of God.  There is only one right way for a Christian child to be: cheerfully obedient, appropriately compliant to whatever was expected in the moment.  Everything else is rebellion, and can be trained out of them with the right effort.

I am ashamed to admit that I punished my daughter for being who she intrinsically was.  I shamed her for being who she was, as who she was did not fit according to the template of acceptable evangelical Christian thoughts/feelings/actions.  If I could go back in time and change it, I would.  If I thought there was any depth of remorse I could feel that would undue the damage, I would dig deep into depression and regret and stay there as long as it took.  Since that won't help at all, I won't go that route, though that also is an unhealthy ideal I picked up along the way in Christianity.  Sackcloth and ashes- if you are really, really sorry enough, long enough- moves the heart of God like nothing else, at least according to some Old Testament stories.

Thankfully, I didn't have the stomach to keep it up forever.  When I saw my daughter hurting so badly in middle school/high school, I backed the hell off.  I was willing to suffer the shame (yes, I wrote shame- sad but true, it's how I internalized it, and that's how the Christian community dished it out, too) of allowing her to be herself, because it was plain that she needed that freedom in order to know she was loved.  In my evangelical delusion, I thought that such sacrifice on my part would result in healing for whatever hurts she was suffering, and THEN she would transform into the perfect Christian girl!

Little by little, over the last eight years, I have come to understand who she really is inside.  She is beautiful, inside and out, just as she is.  She does not need to change.

She doesn't need to feel anything she doesn't authentically feel.  Not feeling on cue does not make her an amoral monster.  She is as loving and sweet as anyone else, just not on cue.

She doesn't need to clean up her artistic bent.  She is an amazingly talented artist, and while her style isn't as dark as it used to be, there was nothing wrong with her earlier darker images.  She was expressing dark truths, which do also exist you know, as surely as sunshine and rainbows.

She does not have to become an athlete.  She will never be very athletic, and who really cares?  Adults aren't put into high pressure athletic events against their will. Awana is over, finally and forever.  I just wish I hadn't made her try to fit in there as a child.

There are ways in which her neurologically atypical brain will always be at a loss.  She will always have trouble navigating through space in an absent-minded professor sort of way.  She will dress in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing to her, and if it burns someone else's moral or fashion sensibilities, they had better not tell me about it.  I think she is freaking amazing, and I will back her up to anyone, anytime.

I hate that she smokes, because I love her fresh pink lung parynchema and want it to be nurtured forever.  But since she likes it, I accept it.  I refused to feel shame for anything about my daughter ever again.  I am proud of her in every way.

Thank God (literally) that I quit trying to make her into something she is not when I did.  I just wish I could have back all those early years to enjoy her for who she is, and be better equipped to help her find her place in this world without all the shaming and yelling and frustration on my part.  I don't have a time-machine, but I will pay for her therapy, and pray that somehow the love of God can heal the damage I did back then.

She'll never be evangelically fashionable, which was what I was striving to produce in her all those years.  Nope, she is much better than that.  She is authentically who she is, and I love her for it.  Shine on, beautiful. Someone cue up Katy Perry's song "Firework".

Friday, December 16, 2011

Depression sucks

Things are going a bit better this morning, though depression never plays fair so that could change at any time.  At least there were large swathes of uninterrupted sleep last night.

I spent a lot of time researching depression yesterday, specifically, major depressive episodes.  I am also doing my best to encourage and love on my husband as much as I can.  It's tricky, because when he needs it most is when he is most cynical about my sincerity.  That is a hallmark of depression.  Depression sucks.  I hate it.

One of the articles I read yesterday was this:

Ability to Love Takes Root in Infancy

This particular paragraph jumped out at me:

“Before you can remember, before you have language to describe it, and in ways you aren’t aware of, implicit attitudes get encoded into the mind” about how you’ll be treated or how worthy you are of love and affection, he said.  While those attitudes can change with new relationships, introspection, and therapy, in times of stress old patterns often reassert themselves, the researchers note. A mistreated infant becomes a defensive arguer; a baby whose mother was attentive works through problems, secure in the goodwill of the other person.

A mistreated infant becomes a defensive arguer.  It  is a most apt and succinctly put description of my husband's communication style when what I have called "an abusive episode"  is taking place.  I have my own grandmother (and the great good fortune to have been born a twin, so that my mom sent us away to live with my grandmother as infants!) to thank for the reality that I can even attempt to "work(s) through problems, secure in the goodwill of the other person."

Yet another reason that the Pearls and Ezzos of this world should be shouted down so strongly by civilized society that they spend the rest of their lives hiding in obscurity, making bonfires of all their published works as an act of penance in hopes that they will find mercy at the end of their lives.

Anyway, it's certainly food for thought for me.  I have a lot of IRL work to do today, so I won't put out all my comments on the subject right now.  I have my own  comment on yesterday's post which shares a bit more, if anyone is interested.

Peace and good will, SS

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Depression is Getting Worse

Yowch.  On the heels of yesterday's post, my husband is sinking deeper into depression again. I have absolutely no idea what to do.  He woke up at 2:30 and "couldn't" get back to sleep (I don't know if it is couldn't literally or was too sad in his thoughts so he wanted to try to distract himself with television?).

This worried me greatly, as insomnia is often a precursor to an abusive  incident.  I am starting to think the abuse is a manifestation of depression.  He cried all morning, came home, cried all lunch.  In between the crying when I hold him are the angry accusations that he was happy until *I* started talking to him.  Not true of course, and in his more lucid moments he is really grateful for my being there.

He seems to be sucked into a vortex of shame.  I am unable to help him.

I'm at a loss.  Anyway, those of you who pray please pray.  I am safe and so are my kiddos and I just got my grades back for the semester, 4.0 again.  A ray of sunshine to close out with: I got a 96 on my Physics final exam.  It took me four hours, but I pulled it off.  Yay me!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Confession is Good.

Hmmm, blogger changed the user interface and I am having a very hard time navigating the new layout. I am trying to publish drafts I left unposted at the time, but it's not working. I am not sure what the problem is, but I hope to get it figured out soon.

I have been refraining from posting about my reforming Crappy Home School Marriage for a couple of reasons. The number one reason being that my husband now reads here occasionally, and I don't want to offend or discourage him. The second reason is that if my anonymity is ever breached, the highly personal nature of my blog could affect my family in ways I never intended. That explains my caution. But I owe it to my readers, especially other home school moms in crappy marriages, to be honest about the whole journey. Trying to heal an abusive relationship is hard. The road is not a freshly paved express highway to fulfillment and happiness. It is under construction, and we all know what that means: delays, rough conditions, and sometimes debilitating collisions that don't always end well. It looks so far like I am going to be one of the lucky ones, who makes it through to a whole relationship without irreparable,permanent loss. That does not mean it is still not a rough go.

My readers deserve to know that this Thanksgiving, I spent with my husband overnight in the Emergency Room. Howie Mandel's horrible show was an extreme trigger for my husband, whose missionary parents also want to be hailed as heroes when they are in reality abusive, self-centered asses. Though our entire family showed him much tenderness, compassion and understanding, he still could not break through the devastation of abandonment that viewing Mobbed brought out in full force. The evening ended with a suicide gesture.

When I figured out what was happening (he went missing for a bit) I went looking for him. He came home on his own accord while I was out, but we took him to the ER anyway. He stayed until morning, when a psych eval ruled that he was no longer in any danger and he was released. He followed up with a new appointment to check his meds and continued with his weekly counseling sessions. As distressing as this was, a friend pointed out that it could be a personal turning point. He took his anger out on himself instead of on his wife.

Maybe. I hope so, although in his depression, he tried to pin it on my preparing to be financially self-sufficient (and therefore preparing to also abandon him).  Once he recovered he was able to ascribe his painful feelings of abandonment to his own inner state, rather than anything I had or hadn't done "to him". This is a huge breakthrough.

Also, it was that very evening, while he was out of the house, that I discovered the Date With the Family video clip. It explained SO MUCH about my husband: why he accuses me of not caring about his thoughts or feelings (not allowed by his family of origin) along with why he was so innately misogynist (in that video, the only good woman is the silent woman- every time a woman speaks it is allowed as an example of UNACCEPTABLE SPEECH/BEHAVIOR and the men are shown as IN THE RIGHT when they roll their eyes at the speaking women and share knowing glances of disgust) in spite of intellectually rejecting misogyny. The MST3K version is so spot-on about everything wrong with that 50s scenario.

The kids and I watched THAT version with him a few days after Thanksgiving, to hug him and tell him we think it sucked eggs that he grew up in such an emotionally abusive environment. Insisting on taking him to the hospital was key to taking this suicide gesture and making it his bottoming out experience. If we as a family had blown off this gesture, or been cynical about it, he would not be healing. If we had ignored it or dismissed it as overly-dramatic or mere foolishness, he would have continued the downward spiral. He needed to see that we CARE, that we take his life seriously. He did not need to be shamed, which is all he would have felt if we did not treat it like a medical emergency. The only other choice- to treat it as a moral failure- would have hurt him further. It was also have encouraged future repeat events, as we would have been saying it was no big deal if we did nothing in response.

As it is, he told me that when he opened his eyes the next morning and saw me smiling at him, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He was not actively trying to kill himself, though he could have. He committed the cardinal sin for a missionary kid: he got drunk. He got miserably, embarrassingly, in-a-stupor-vomit-fest drunk. And since he is on anti-depressants, that made it a medical emergency. His meds are clearly labelled "do not drink alcohol with this medication".

I called his doctor for advice and was told to take him to the ER, so I did. In treating this as a medical emergency instead of a moral failure, we not only saved his physical life, we honored his heart. We also kicked denial right in the teeth as well. No one could just pretend nothing happened the next day. Something big had happened, and we treated it as such.

The very good news is that my husband is talking now. He talks about his unhappy feelings, his happy feelings, his bored feelings. He has FEELINGS! And he is dealing with his parental issues, instead of making everything about me. This is progress.

We are three years into my five year plan, and I am right on schedule. If I get accepted into the school to which I have applied, I will be able to work in the field in thirty months at the earliest. I can be proud of that. I should be done with my own EMDR therapy by summer, if not before. I read my print off from Youarenotcrazy.com every day. I am so much happier and confident about the future, no matter whether my marriage works out or not.

On my spouses part, he has been steadily working at getting his own life together since I shared my plan with him. He completed the 20 week Life Skills program, and still refers to the notebook when one of us (usually me) calls a time-out. He also reads a copy of my print off from Youarenotcrazy.com every day. He went to the sleep clinic and his sleep apnea is now treated. He is in weekly EMDR counseling. He saw a doctor about his depression and is on medications. He is exercising regularly and eating more healthy. Things are looking better for his future as well, no matter how things turn out between us.

It really looks like things are going to turn out good between us, I will cautiously admit. He regularly thanks me for being his friend these past two weeks. He is talking more and about more personal stuff than ever before. We are both pretty happy.

And none of this good- not one bit of it- would be happening if I were still silently suffering in submission! So, to all my readers, don't take any more Poison for your marriage. Stand up for yourself and in doing so, begin an end to the abuse and a start on a life of peace and good will. It won't happen overnight, but it will never happen if you don't start standing up for yourself.

Merry Christmas, SS