Have you ever thought you had something figured out, or knew how something was going to go, only to find out you were wrong? Well, that has been my past 14 months.
A year ago September I had taken an Outward Bound Women of Courage course, and as always, there was great growth, discoveries, and realizations. I came back from that course, worked with my therapist on what had been discovered and realized with regards to my past and trauma. I figured fine, that was good, time to get back to my life.
This has been the well-known pattern for me when working on my trauma stuff. Well, it seems, life had a different plan for me this time round.
I had dealt with what I needed to, but things did not seem to be going as planned. It was like something was just not right and I could not put my finger on it. So I thought, “oh well, it must just be me”, and I decided to carry on as usual. Well that did not go to well.
Others may not have noticed but it was getting harder and harder for me to keep up with my usual things like ringette, golf, and hiking. It just seemed to take so much out of me. I enjoyed it while I was doing it, but the recovery time-physically and mentally was taking longer and longer. I also noticed the same was happening with regards to socializing, I enjoyed being out with my friends, but once again recovery time and the energy it took to socialize was taking more and more out of me.
So, I did what I usually did, take a week or two off of any commitments etc., and have some down time. I call this my mental health break. It gives me time to rest, focus on self-care etc., so I can recover and restore and then get back to the things I love. This didn’t work either.
As Robert Burns said “The best laid plans of mice and men go often askew”.
So I fumbled my way through the next few months, but things got harder and harder to do. I was not enjoy much of anything, and felt like I was losing ground. To say I was getting frustrated is an understatement. I had worked too hard to get this far, I was going to keep going, it would sort its self out.
During all this time, every once in a while there would be this little inkling in the back of my mind, like a very soft whisper floating on the mist, trying to tell me something. But I was not listening, not until hiking in Cape Scott Park.
My friend and hiking partner Sherry, had asked me earlier in the year if I wanted to backpack into Cape Scott Park with her, and after some thought I foolishly said yes. Actually it was amazing 3 days, It was hard, but we are still laughing and talking about it, and yes we are still friends.
So, I, my friend and her 14 year old son- brave soul- load up an away we go. It is magical up there. It was hard for me, and I know some people have no problem with it, but they are not me. But we made it, and like any good hiking or backpacking adventures there was laughter, there was tears, there was swearing and bitching, and moments of absolute awe and wonder.
And as often happens, growth happens during the difficult times.
We had hit a difficult part of the trail, I was tired, cranky, had been challenged and I hit my wall-which is usually 6 hours in- and I was ready to throw it all in. I knew I hit my wall, and I also knew if I kept going I would get through it. Of course there was a ton of inner dialogue and one thing I kept telling myself was “at least it’s not as bad as The North Coast Trail”. I had done another Outward Bound course the year before and we had done a section of that trail, it brutal!! So I carried on, and we made it there and back safely, sore as hell, but safe. This was also my 1st unguided hike, I was the only one with any experience, so I guess you could say, I was the leader.
A couple of weeks after we got back I had an appointment with my therapist and I told her about the trip, the good, the bad, the amazing. As I’m telling her about the inner dialogue about the trail “not being as bad as the North Coast Trail”, I realized I had yet to say it was hard. I found this interesting and wondered what that was all about. I knew if I was open, gave it space and listened to that little whisper, it would tell me what it was about. And I was right.
I have come a long way since the beginning of therapy. I have worked hard at it for years. People ask me why I am “still doing this and why is it taking me so long?” fair question.
Without going into too much detail, I tell them that for the first 20 years of my life I experienced such horrific abuse, trauma, lived in an environment that was so dangerous and harmful that I learned at a very early age to dissociate to help survive. This abuse and absolute abject poverty and neglect started so young in my life that by the age of 3, I learned that there was no use crying when in pain, because my caregivers were not able to care for me, or do anything about it. Besides, my caregivers were often the one causing the pain or neglecting me, and my siblings.
None of us 9 kids came out of that family undamaged.
If someone who was in the, military, did a tour overseas and saw war, battles, where their very life was in danger and they thought they may die, would you begrudge them help for their PTSD, depression, anxiety etc., no matter how long it took to get better? Of course not, they should get as much help as they need for however long it takes.
I have had so very many tours of duty in my own war zone, and there was no R&R, no one looking out for me, and my siblings, there was nowhere to go, no backups, and those in command each had their own undiagnosed mental illness. There was no support and it still amazes me we that we all survived.
We all had/have our own coping mechanisms, mine was dissociation.
Now, because of very hard work and the amazing professionals who have, and continue to hold space for me and help guide me, my amazing husband and son- who have been on a huge learning curve- and friends and teammates who support and love me for who I am, I no longer dissociate on a daily basis, and in fact rarely dissociate at all, even when I am under pressure or feel stressed. I have never been so mentally healthy in my life, and life is better than it has ever been.
If you think about it, this IS pretty amazing.
So, back to therapy and trying to figure out why I had to keep saying the trail was not as bad as the North Coast Trail.
If I have not mentioned it before- my trauma therapy is like peeling an onion. You start on the outside and work your way in, and like an onion, every level will most likely make you cry, and the closer you get to the core or root of the onion, the more potent the onion becomes.
So, I am working, thinking and wondering what the issues are around the trail and not being able to admit how hard it was. I thought “maybe it’s because I feel like a failure if I admit I struggled?” but that did not seem to fit.
So for the next week I spent a lot of time on my own, went for solitary walks, had a lot of quiet time, sat in the garden, read, and purposely took it easy. I mean that I was not busy with other activities, socializing etc. Working through trauma is anything but ‘taking it easy” as it takes so much energy and can be exhausting. In time, as I was being mindful of what I was doing, and spending quiet time on my own, I begun to hear this very quiet, light whisper. It would not last for long, was not loud, but it was there.
When I talk about this whisper, I mean my intuition, my inner knowledgeable voice. And this is what it told me. “You can’t admit that the trail was hard, because it’s a defence. A defence to help you avoid the realities of the times in your past when it was not safe to admit when something was hard.”
Here is another of the layer of the onion.
So, I go back to therapy and we explore this onion, this protective layer and what it is protecting. As we gentle and slowly peel it away, the realization comes to me. Growing up, I was always put down if I ever voiced a concern about anything. I would be told. “What makes you think you’re so special” “Who the fuck do you think you are”? And the all-round favorite...” If you’re going to cry I will give you something to cry about” etc.
I’m thinking, “I already know this, have talked about this before, this is not new”. I am left wondering what this is all about. For the next week or two, I once again have solitary quiet time, sit and listen, and once again, the whisper speaks to me.
I need to do the work around my mother, and her omission in my childhood. If you google omission you will find the following.
a failure to do something, especially something that one has a moral or legal obligation to do.
Synonyms: negligence, neglect, neglectfulness, dereliction, forgetfulness, oversight, default, lapse, failure.
I have worked on tons of stuff around violence/abuse of pretty much every kind and how it affected my life. But now I need to work on the quieter acts of omission on mom’s part. This is hard, but it needs to be done.
This is also hard for society to deal with. I have had many people say to me, ‘well, your mom was in an abusive relationship, and probably thought her life was in danger” etc., Yes, this is true, and I understand that this is them trying to digest and figure this out. I did the exact same thing for years, telling myself “she did the best she could with what she had at the time.” etc.
But, the reality is, she didn’t and I have to deal with that.
I have to deal with the fact that she chose not to leave, even when she had opportunities, I have to deal with the fact that her omission and lack of parental instinct was so damaged that she was very rarely there for us kids. I understand the fear she must have had about what would happen if she did leave dad, I understand she had very little control over him and what he did to us, but I am now trying to understand how, she was never there with a hug, or time,or help, or connection of any kind. I am just in the process of working on this, so it’s hard for me to explain.
I also want to make clear this is NOT about blaming mom. This work is about holding up to the light, the reality, look at, and acknowledge what was not there, never was, and the little kid that kept hoping it would be there, because to face reality of it not being there would have been too much. This is about compassion, giving mom compassion while making her accountable for her lack of action on so, so, so many levels.
This is about understanding on a much deeper level on my part, and in the process grieving the fact that by the time I was 3 years old, I no longer cried or looked for help when hurt or upset. I had learned, if I cried or needed help, it would not arrive. My little brain had learned that I could not face the reality of it all, and would dissociate, or tell myself that things could be worse. Just like in Cape Scott, “at least it was not the North Coast Trail” I could not admit that the trail in Cape Scott was hard because if I did it would trigger me back to that time, and that realization.
I have a lot of work ahead of me. Not everyone does this stage of their work, and that’s fine, I respect that, but I need to do this work. I am going to need a lot of quiet, solitary time and be very careful to not get “to busy” which is a great way to avoid those pesky things called emotions. It’s amazing how those old ways of coping still show up.
Yes, this is very hard, and painful work, but each time I work through something I get a piece of me back, and it frees up energy for me to do other things.
Last month, I was at The Child and Youth mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative in Vancouver. I was 1 of 12 parents and youth speaking at the opening plenary, to over 600 service providers, about connection. It was amazing, I rocked it, as did everyone on that stage, and since I have come back, been doing my work, my advocacy voice has become so much stronger and sure!
Because I listened to the whisper, I am stronger.
Those are my thoughts for today, I hope you find a place and time where you can hear your whisper. It, like you, is sacred, it is worth hearing.
Cheers and be well