My Father's Regret

I didn’t really intend to write this down or share it, but honestly it’s touched me so much that I feel compelled.  

Most of my readers know I come from an abusive home, and my dad in particular has shown more cruelty and unnerving violence than I’ve ever seen from anyone else.  Physical, emotional, mental, he had it all covered, and his favorite way to teach me lessons was either by inflicting massive amounts of pain and suffering on me, or on another person or creature that I cared about.  Most of my friends know this as well, though none of them really know the whole story, you can gather enough from the bits and pieces to see just what a viscous person he was, how badly he damaged me.  

I think most of us from abused homes have a touchy spot for loved ones calling our parents negative names.  It used to infuriate me when my friends called my dad a jerk, or mean, or made threats against him.  People never try to reason out what he’s done to me, they just abhor his actions and make that clearly known.  This does me, someone who has spent her entire life questioning her father’s motives, and his hatred both of life in general and of me particularly, absolutely no good.  I know he is bad. I can’t explain it, I just don’t want the pity.  I don’t want the negativity.  To most people in my life, my dad is a villain.  I deal with this the best I can.    

Years ago, I went to Tennessee and visited my lifelong neighbor, Phyllis.  Phyllis had two sons, both older than me, who both died--one in a car accident, one from drug usage.  She and I spent time catching up on her front porch in the humid Appalachian summer, and she asked me--had I tried talking to them?  (at the time, my mother was still alive.)  I could look through the treeline and see my old house, I knew my dad was standing outside listening to our conversation, but he’d made it clear that he didn’t want to see me.  I told her I had tried, to no avail. 

She began to cry and I’ll never forget what she said.  “I don’t see how any parent could ever not want to see their kids.  I’d give anything to see mine again.”  

It was the closest thing to understanding I had ever heard, someone desperately trying to pull reason out of my parents action.  It was because she was a parent.  And she was sad for me.  She didn’t demonize my parents or anything...she was just sad.  And she reminded me that not all parents are so quick to hurt their children.  I respected her so much for that simple comment.  

So the other night I was talking with a friend, who is himself a parent, and the topic turned to my dad’s aggression.  I was really taken aback when he said, “I can’t imagine the guilt he has.”  I rarely hear people speak about my dad as though he could have that complex, and gentle, of an emotion, especially toward me.  I immediately deflected the remark with some sarcastic “Idk man he’s pretty ok with it fhfhfhfhfh” but my friend was adamant...he believed my father felt guilt toward his actions, even if he didn’t show it. 

It made me think back on all the millions of times I’d wondered myself over the years if he ever regretted the way he treated me,  if he was ever sorry.  He showed so much cruelty toward me, but what I hate sharing because of the skeptical looks I get-- he also showed the softest and kindest love--I know it sounds ridiculous to people, but he did.  He was my protector, on some days.  He was my hero, as a Dad should be.  He loved me, and I know that he loved me more than he loved my siblings.  And that may be the exact reason he treated me worse.  He may still even love me, if he thinks of me.  I never share this, but it is how I feel.  

So anyway, a long time ago I stuffed the “is my dad remorseful” feelings down into a box and hid them away, because I realized I didn’t want him to feel guilty, or need him to be.  Isn’t it easier to call something black and white, to say my dad was just shitty and nothing else?  To hope for some reconciliation where he admits how wrong and how mean he was is to set myself up for false hope and failure.  I know it won’t happen, so why dream about it?  He’s my dad.  He’s cruel.  Easy.  

My friend said one other thing.  “You don’t have to believe me.”  But he made it clear that he felt certain.  And I suddenly felt so much gratitude that someone on this earth finally said something about my dad that wasn’t negative or pitying or painting him into a villain or a monster, or worse, blindly defending him in his horrible actions....I felt like someone else, other than myself, had finally humanized my dad.  It’s something that I have only learned to do after years of despair and hatred and self-loathing and every other cynicism in the world.  And hearing someone else do it made me love my dad even more.  I am so lucky to have a friend like that in my life.  To state what he stated, and not try to convince me of anything for some agenda or reconciliation or church service.

When my mother died, my very first reaction was to be stoic.  I remember thinking, “She wouldn’t have stopped what she was doing if it were me.”  And I went on making my Christmas cookies.  This of course was followed by the most intensive meltdown of my entire life, and she had died without me knowing if she loved me.  At the time, I didn’t have the slightest indication that she did--it had been years since our last, broken conversation.  

I remember days later, making the decision to believe that she had in fact, loved me.  My evidence was meager at best, because my mother had all of the animosity toward me that my father had, but on an entirely more cruel and vindictive level.  I don’t “choose to believe” requires faith, and I have so, so little faith in anything, especially my family.  I wished I could choose to believe in god when she died, so I could feel some connection to her.  I wished that I could choose to believe she would hear me when I cried for her, thousands of miles away from home.  But I couldn’t believe it, I still can’t.  

Despite my disdain for baseless faith, I somehow I made the decision soon after she died to choose to believe that she loved me.  And that decision was rewarded a week or so later.  In the month before she died I sent off a generic, empty Christmas card from Sweden.  I expected nothing of course, it was just the normal effort I put in for my parents that they never reciprocated.  I heard nothing back.  She died. My sister mentioned offhandedly to me after New Years that my card was on the wall with the other relatives and neighbors.  

My mother had decorated with my card.  I was on the wall.  
She had thought of me.  It was more than I ever thought I would receive. 

So after my recent conversation about my dad, I asked myself, “Do I believe him? Is he right? Is my dad guilty at all?”  And I realized it was one of those rare, shining circumstances where even I, as a very cynical atheist, could choose to believe something.  And I do believe it--I do believe my dad is sorry for what he’s done to me.  I doubt I will ever get any vindication or proof of that and I’m okay with it.  Just the belief brings me so much peace, it has changed a lot of my thinking process just in the last day.

PTSD and Dissociation

I've been meaning to write about this for awhile; sometimes I just think this blog gets so heavy (if you think that's bad, imagine what it's like inside my head.)  But it's important for me to talk about these things for a few reasons: one, it removes the stigma and explains so much about those of us dealing with mental illness, and two, it's something that people really do need to know--I had no idea, for years, how my 'mental fog' wasn't just me being stupid.  It was my brain's response to years of trauma, both physical and emotional.  Keep in mind I'm not a professional here...I'm just trying to help make sense of this from my own point of view.  I love learning about why my brain does the things it does.

It's defined very simply--a "disconnection."  You hear all the time about people, specifically in sexual assault situations, saying something along the lines of "I felt like I wasn't even there.  I was a spectator/I was out of my body/I couldn't say no or fight back."  This is a pretty severe example, but it's nonetheless a good example of what it means to dissociate.  Maybe you've been drooling at the wall during a lecture and somebody says your name, and you snap out of it, realizing that all noises for the past five minutes were a dull roar?  You were dissociated.  And it happens to all of us, and it doesn't only happen in traumatic situations.  After a long hard day at work, you might hop in your car or on the train and then end up at your house without remembering the steps it took you to get there.  Again, you've experienced dissociation.  I like to use "detachment" to explain it--you can still operate or function in some way (you're still breathing, possibly seeing, etc) but whatever is happening around you, you are detached from.

Everyone, even those lucky enough to be far from the grimy hands of PTSD and other disorders, have heard "fight or flight."  We have little reptilian almonds (amygdalae) far in the back of our head, and they rule our fear response.  When a zebra sees a lion attacking, the zebra's heart begins to pump blood faster, supplying the muscles with oxygenated blood so the animal can run as fast as possible.  Blood vessels dilate.  Muscles tense.  Adrenaline helps with fast decision-making, and a whole bunch of other hormones are pumped out including cortisol and testosterone--"hyperarousal."  All this, to help save the life of the zebra, whether it's outrunning the lion or kicking its teeth in as hard as possible.  But what happens after fight or flight? What happens when the lion tackles the zebra and sinks its teeth into its neck?  That's where dissociation comes in.  The animal goes limp, its eyes glaze over, it looks drugged or totally out of it--"hypoarousal."  Our best theories are that the brain recognizes there is a threat and our other coping mechanisms aren't going to work, so it does what it can to protect itself.

So, now that I've explained the gist of it, I wanted to explain something else that a lot of people have been confused about.  Firstly, as I said before, you don't have to be in a traumatic situation to dissociate.  In my case, it's a response to my PTSD.  Something that throws me mentally back into the past will either put me into hyperarousal or hypoarousal, depending on the situation.  But what I really wanted to say is, dissociation has different 'levels', it's not always a blank, thousand-yard stare.  I dissociate really easily so only the slightest perceived connection to trauma has me slipping into a trance.  And that's what it can feel like, but every stimulus is different.  For example, months ago a situation with a coworker had me so stressed I couldn't be in the same room with her without fully dissociating.  I was out of it and felt drunken, but managed to talk and walk and nod and smile as usual--there was only a mental disconnect, unnoticeable to others. Other times (particularly if someone is touching me) I can become completely catatonic, and can't even speak, or open my eyes (or if they are open, I can't see.)

My therapist pointed out recently that I spend more time on some level, dissociating, than I spend in my own body, and it's sadly true.  Any social situation, any time I'm making eye contact with a patient or an employee at work, any wrong word or triggering smell or sometimes for no discernible reason, and I shut down on some level.  It doesn't take a lot to make me uncomfortable considering that I'm only perfectly comfortable when I'm home, alone, with my cat and pajamas.  Anything outside of that and I will (unknowingly) dissociate in order to start protecting myself.  I was confused about why I could live like this and not know it, but according to her, that's par for the course in heavily traumatized patients.  You learn to fake normalcy while being disconnected in order to appropriately interact with people (because that catatonic stare is not good in job interviews...)

So in my life, it has its positives and negatives.  Dissociation allows me to function despite my hypersensitivity to just about everything and everyone, it is a way for me to shield myself against what my poor, confused PTSD brain thinks are major threats.  It's a cozy blanket of dumb that I feel I have no control over, most of the time.  There are obvious downsides.  I can't remember good conversations with friends.  I have a hard time connecting on a deep level to events, people, and places.  I am not processing my traumatic experiences and instead, numbing them so that I can get out of bed like a functional person.

I was pretty upset when I learned about dissociation and its role in my life, its HUGE role in my life, but I've chosen to be thankful for it.  I don't know that I would be able to do a lot of things without that ability to mentally unplug, and for all intents and purposes I'm a very functional person on the surface.  Any time I get angry for being so forgetful, or for freezing up, or yet another babbled conversation I sound idiotic in, I try to remember that my brain is trying to help me, to protect me.  Maybe it has ill effects, but it has good intent, and that means a lot to me.

Autumn in Utah

I keep meaning to write about dissociation, and also finish my 28 Lessons list, but I can't help it, sharing pictures is easier to talk about and they're so gorgeous I just want to see them on my blog.  Can you blame me?

Nine Year Anniversary

Conference weekend, (aka "Mormon superbowl weekend") has come and gone again, which means I have now been (mostly) in Utah for nine years.  It hasn't been extremely constant, I've come and gone, sometimes to very far places, but I always come back here.  It is my home, and I feel so proud and privileged when I get to say that word.  I don't have family here, I don't have the childhood experiences a lot of my friends have, but as an adult I still have this wonderful place to feel safe.

And when I feel safe, I get to go do things that are completely out of my comfort zone.  This weekend, that consisted of doing the thing I've wanted to do for years and actually put one pinky toe into the pinup world, and go to a car show.  I think everyone who knows me knows my affinity for the Atomic Age (let's not lie, that's Fallout's fault pretty exclusively) but I never had any idea where to go or how to get started.  Back in April one of my sergeants made a comment to me when I wore my hair in a bun with a flower, "You should do pin-up modeling.  You have the face and body for it."  I was shocked and thought it was a sweet and extremely inaccurate comment, until I talked to a few other coworkers and they all vehemently agreed.  So, with that kind of support, what else is there to do?

Then I somehow miraculously found Lacey Chiffon, who lives in my area, and she was right in the middle of making a brand-spanking-new pinup girls group, the Beehive Betties.  A few emails later and I was scheduled to go to my first event!  It was a blast, the girls were absolutely sweet and gorgeous, it was all-around wonderful.  Despite my horrific social skills and uncertainty in front of a camera and strangers (and strangers with cameras) I think everything went great and I learned a ton, plus I got to see all of the pinup culture I've been quietly involved with on my own for years.  My only question was, why didn't I do this sooner?

Before I show off photos, I have to again thank my amazing support system.  I wanted to take pictures of the two bouquets I received since I've been in a big lonely slump at work.  I know people say that flowers are redundant, but to me they are everything--they make a world of difference.  One was delivered to my work and I insisted on carrying it around like it was a baby.  Some girls really like flowers, okay? What do you want from me.  Anyway, look at these flowers.  Tell me they wouldn't brighten your life.

Derik: "This lighting makes you look like you're in a soap opera."
Me:  "...the lens is dirty."
Derik:  "...oh."

Then my cat had to wander into the picture to remind me that he makes me happiest.  But he knows I know this, he's just pompous.

I love you guys, you know who you are.  <3  And now, onto the show!!


This is not a sultry face.  This is my "why is my burger not out here yet?" face.  

Ghost Rider!!! My dad would be so proud of me right now.

This was when I broke character for a super authentic smile.  Makes me happy.