scars

Last week was hard for me. Like so many others, I was triggered by the subject matter splashed all over the media. I’ve shared my story with a select few people. It’s painful and scary and for many years, I felt like I couldn’t. But if there is one take away I acquired from last week, it is that I can speak my truth. That I should speak my truth, because it leads to further healing and further empowerment. So, I join the seemingly endless numbers of women mustering the strength and summoning every ounce of bravery and courage we have, to finally speak up; and as terrifying as it is, our stories can be told…my story can be told.

It is hard to remember and relive, hard to articulately verbalize. For a while now, I’ve wrestled with whether I can or whether I should share my story. Subjecting myself to potential ridicule and disbelief is a persistent underlying fear. Once I invite the skeletons out of the closet to dance, I cannot shove them back in. But as others have bravely bared their souls and exposed their truths, I’ve felt increasingly compelled to share mine. It is terrifying. It shouldn’t be, but it is. To crack open my soul and propel this depth of vulnerability into the universe is crazy scary; but after a lifetime of suppressing my story, I found my voice.

I can’t deny that the past week has affected me deeply and scratched at the wound I so gently and methodically healed. Every new headline brings another painful recollection a little closer to the surface. I am so grateful for those who are demanding that our voices finally be heard. I always felt like I was alone in my experience. Isolated. And now sadly, I realize that I am part of a much larger affiliation, that although my story is my own, there is a common thread that connects me with others who have negotiated this same path. It is emotionally overwhelming, this realization that there are so many of us. Voices hushed. Shoved in the closet. Brushed under the rug. Hidden in the darkness.

Truthfully, I never felt like I had a story to share. It happened to me during a time when sexually deviant behavior was a taboo subject. It simply wasn’t discussed, at least not in my family; and when I finally broke my silence, the response was not supportive. I was shut down, questioned, and ultimately quieted. Ridiculously, I felt a responsibility to protect the man who molested me because he was family; and because those closest to me didn’t support me or offer guidance, I second guessed my role and retreated under a blanket of shame. How dare I expose something that would surely cause embarrassment to my family and most certainly ruin the life of my perpetrator? I carried the weight and all the confusing, conflicting emotions that accompanied it on my own and suffered in silence. I was 9 years old. I was too young to live in that reality, but I did. Over time, the ugliness of what happened to me gradually warped and consumed my mind. It skewed my perspective on life, on love and on basic human interactions. He went on with his life, he remarried, he had children and grandchildren and lived his life absent of the paralyzing fear and anxiety I felt walking out of my front door. Every. Day. I moved through most of my life as a raw exposed nerve. He lived comfortably until the day he died, without fear.

I learned to live with the anger and pain because I didn’t know any different. I knew what happened to me was wrong, but I didn’t understand why no one else thought it was wrong. Why wasn’t anyone fighting for me? Protecting me? Anger and confusion would wash over me in waves and I continued this holding pattern for a long time; fluctuating between fleeting moments of happiness, then plunging into endless depths of depression and self-loathing. I acted out. I self-harmed. I navigated to very dark corners in my mind trying to reconcile what happened to me, to make sense of something that did not make sense. The rage that constantly bubbled just below the surface was hard to contain. I hated that I was forever linked to him, bonded to him, in such a perverse way.

The first time I tentatively uttered the words “I was molested” out loud, it felt foreign. I was so accustomed to dancing around and skirting the reality of my circumstance, speaking the truth out loud was strange. I actually researched articles on molestation and sexual assault to make sure that was indeed an accurate explanation of what happened to me. Up to that point, I never received confirmation or authentication of my abuse. I had no guide, no parameters or definition of my experience. I simply lived with this horrific awareness that overshadowed everything in my life. Everything was internalized so it felt weird to say it out loud. I did not feel strong or powerful. My self-doubt was a constant companion challenging me to minimize my story, to share apologetically and refrain from blowing it out of proportion. To act appropriately, wrap my experience with a pretty bow and place it in a box to be taken out only in suitable settings. My early attempts at sharing my story with others was awkward and uncomfortable, and eventually, time created layers of palatability. My recollection of what happened was recounted in a more acceptable manner so as not to offend anyone or create judgement and skepticism towards me.

Ultimately, I lost myself. I lost who I was. It was replaced by empty, black hopelessness. It was easier for me to detach and remain numb, than to spend one more minute living boxed in the life I felt forced to create. I wanted a release and an escape from my rage. I wanted to scream until I had no voice left and to throw things until everything was as broken as I felt inside. I hit rock bottom about eight years ago. My pent-up rage and self-abuse reached a limit that finally frightened me, and I had inched as close to the edge as I was willing to go. My internal dialogue tired of my roller coaster between self-love and self-loathing and the whisper turned into a shriek to STOP. I listened. It dawned on me that it was my life that was in utter shambles and wasting away. His was not. Even when my father finally confronted his brother, and he acknowledged his role, his perversion, it did not yield the peace I yearned for. What happened to me was admitted, accepted, then swept back under the rug, and everything went back to “normal”. He remained protected until the day he died.

I committed to finding some sort of peace for the 9-year-old little girl trapped inside me. I owed her that much. I owed myself the chance to live without constant internal turmoil. So, with professional assistance, I methodically began to peel away the layers time created to expose my truth. It was raw and ugly. I spent more than a few sessions huddled in my therapist’s chair, trapped in horrific memories long forgotten; but I faced them. I became authentic. Real. For the first time in my life, I was living outside the box. Petrifying. Liberating.

It hasn’t been easy. There were consequences and substantial collateral damage to me and the relationships around me. My marriage deteriorated beyond repair; and my relationships with those who silenced me suffered tremendously as I struggled to understand and make sense of the rationalizations I received. I could no longer make my abuse palatable and “pretty” because it wasn’t. It isn’t. What happened to me is disgusting and vile, and keeping it shrouded in secrecy hindered my healing, so I stopped hiding it. I stopped shying away from the conversation and challenged those who didn’t protect me to accept their complicity. I learned to stop accepting responsibility that was not mine to assume. I no longer reassured those who silenced me that it was OK, or that I understood. I don’t understand, and they have their own skeletons to dance with.

I’ve scratched and clawed to regain every little fragment of me that I lost. I broke free of the box I was confined to, but like any traumatic experience, there are lingering wounds. Repeated physical and psychological abuse leaves an imprint on a young impressionable soul. Consequently, there are scars. I do not fight or internalize them anymore. They are part of who I am, and I let them in and accept them for what they are. They made me. They molded me into the person I am today, and I am finally able to embrace the beauty that my scars created. I am a different person, a different shape. The pieces may be stained and misshapen from years of pain and anger, but they are also strong…whole. Sharing my story brings liberation. Acceptance of who I am. Healing. There is no underlying motive. No malice. No seeking retaliation or retribution. I’m sharing simply because…I can, and if someone reads this and maybe feels a little less isolated and a little braver, please know…you are not alone. You are loved, and you are not alone.

 

anxiety…

anxiety
C SPhotography

For as long as I can recall, I’ve suffered from anxiety. Like Asperger’s Syndrome, anxiety disorders weren’t widely recognized or prevalent in society 35-40 years ago. My parents had no idea the mental torment I faced most days just walking out our front door; and I can still recall memories of my dad carrying me into my kindergarten class unaware that leaving me with those small inquisitive humans was the most terrifying abandonment my small chaotic mind could comprehend. How could they have known? I had no means or comprehension of how to verbalize my inner chaos, and they had no inkling, no tools, had no idea the questions to ask.

 I survived kindergarten…barely. It did not bode well for the remainder of my school experience. I was labeled lazy and a loner by teachers; weird and quirky by my fellow classmates. Teachers didn’t understand my OCD tendencies or that any change, any influx of new information would cause my anxiety to spill over and affect everything in my day. How I would start writing a paper over and over and over because I didn’t like how my name looked on the sheet or I needed to cross out a word. Or if I couldn’t get assignments exactly right, my mind shut down and I’d turn in half –assed work because I didn’t care anymore; then spend sleepless nights filled with anxiety fearing the grade I would receive. My classmates didn’t understand my aversion to the hustle and bustle of school life and activities; or my need for solitary recovery. Every. Day. I simultaneously struggled and wrestled with loneliness. I longed to connect with my peers, but truly had no idea how to. I felt completely out of place and awkward trying to participate in social activities; and this social awkwardness typically resulted in a premature departure from the premises, or declining the invitation altogether. I much preferred the safety and solace of my bedroom and my books.

I did have a small group of acquaintances that accepted me and allowed me to connect and detach as I chose. Through that interaction, I was able to experiment with appropriate social interface and pushed the boundaries of my anxiety to a more acceptable level. I gained insight into which behavior was and was not accepted, and which situations caused the most stress for me. I’ve become somewhat of a chameleon, learning to adapt quickly to different social situations, but most of the time I still watch for and take my social queues from those around me and pattern myself accordingly.

I was sick a lot during my tenure in school. In hindsight, I believe most all of it was attributed to anxiety or an offshoot of anxiety. I unfortunately discovered after my schooling was completed that one of the best remedies to my anxiety and the chaos in my mind was writing it down. Every. Thing. I own notebooks upon notebooks of lists and information and journaling. I go through them periodically and destroy those that are no longer relevant, but I understand now that any pertinent information needs to be recorded outside of my crowded mind if I am going retain it. You will never find me without some sort of notebook accompanying me. It is my surrogate brain and a means to placate, to keep at bay the anxiety that is always edging forward threatening to suffocate me. It is ever present, but I keep trying to stretch my boundaries anyway. It is how I’ve learned to adapt, to survive with Asperger’s and anxiety.

365 days…

One year. One year since my world permanently altered with the news of my father’s death. Grieving took on many faces for me over the last 365 days. I was not prepared for the finality of it all…the permanence of his absence. Looking back, the shock of my new reality was surreal. I floated through those first few weeks in a haze of jumbled mixed emotions; anger and bitterness masking the exquisite pain lying in wait just below the surface. When I finally surrendered my anger to the pain, it washed over me, drowning me in sadness. There was no bargaining or denial or depression, just wave upon wave of deep aching penetrating loss. To integrate back into normal life seemed silly. Everything was trivial in the wake of what I just experienced. I didn’t want the world to keep spinning. Everything and everyone desperately needed to stop so I could process this pain, this agony. But the world kept going, oblivious to my mind’s internal protests, and after a few months, as expected, the sympathy and acknowledgment of his death waned and faltered. I couldn’t let it go, let him go; and so I dug. I wanted to know who my father was, deep down…beyond the masks he so carefully crafted. I needed understanding. I needed a small piece of him I could keep with me, keep alive; for him and for me.

As I started to gain insight into my dad and my mind received the clarity I yearned for, his absence became more marked and more painful. Only then did the regret sink in. I could finally clearly and truly see him for who he was, and he wasn’t there to share in this epiphany. I couldn’t apologize for my lack of understanding, my lack of information. I couldn’t tell him how I understood how hard it must have been for him. I couldn’t tell him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him, and it broke me a little…but it also ushered in new enlightenment not only regarding him, but also me. I could not have predicted the knowledge or insight I’ve gained over these 365 days. I am still incredulous with how my life has changed as a result of seeking dad out. It was our first and last journey together. I know him and understand him now in ways I did not think possible. It is my piece of him I can keep with me, and I am so grateful.

And although it still hurts, and the void is still there, permanently…demanding acknowledgement; and the acute pangs of grief still smack me suddenly, unexpectedly at weird moments, it is…better? It’s been a year of immense pain and heartache, yes…but also of tremendous growth and insight. I have closure and peace and I know he is with me whispering he loves me, and he is proud of the person I have become.

 

 

 

 

 

wallowing…

tedalone

I am in a funk. I have been for a couple months now. It’s infinitely frustrating as I cannot adequately express the jumbled and fragmented thoughts piling up on top of each other inside my head trying desperately to escape. I sat at my computer numerous times and typed out the nonsense, the snippets of incomplete thoughts and observations absent of purpose or direction. I feel anxious. Nothing is placating or loosening the knot in my stomach and so please forgive the ramblings, but I desperately need to clear out the chaos.

Unfortunately, this isn’t unfamiliar territory. Every year, it seems, I subconsciously reserve this time to allow a penetrating sense of frustration, dread, and anxiety to seep into my psyche and play havoc with my mind. It’s been a repeat performance for as long as I can remember, and I’ve had no explanation. The record player needle gets stuck on a scratch in the record and plays the same chords over and over and over until it is gently jostled out of it. I become introspective and challenge my authenticity, my choices…my life…

This year the reflection is a bit different, but the frustration, anxiety and dread has still arrived, uninvited, at the doorstep of my mind. Asperger’s provided many answers and insights to the queries that went unanswered for countless years. So many of my irrational emotions and behaviors that were so confusing and frustrating to me are all neatly categorized and explained in detail under this diagnosis…but…they don’t magically disappear because I now know the origin. The amount of my life that is affected and touched by Autism Spectrum Disorder still dumbfounds me. It’s everywhere, in every nook and cranny. Everything that is inherently me is also Asperger’s. And quite frankly, sometimes it is a huge wad of suck. I can’t turn it off when I want to. I can’t make it stop. It’s always there, yes, to provide knowledge and enlightenment; but also frustration and unwanted anxiety and meltdowns and feeling like I am in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. The feeling of inadequacy, of not quite measuring up, is always lying in wait just below the surface whenever I feel like I just kind of suck at this whole “life” thing. It’s a daily challenge. Hourly. I know I am different. I know why I am different. It’s not always an easy pill to swallow. I struggle with authenticity. Being authentic and true to who I am is so important to me now after years of adapting to what I thought I was supposed to be; but I also need to interact in and with society and being true to who I am confuses people. I get labeled quirky or weird and get pushed into invisible corners. I hate getting pushed into corners. I hate the confusion that I encounter when I feel like I’m being crystal clear or the judgement thrown my way when my filter isn’t working properly. I must check the mask and recalibrate. I hate the mask, the façade I must wear to survive in my everyday life.

Deciding what parts of me I am comfortable sharing with the world outside my doorstep, and being true to who I really am is a balancing act that requires constant tweaking and keeps my mind in chaos. At any given moment I am trying to figure out what is expected of me, compensating for the areas I know I lack in cognitively and socially, and adapting appropriately to the situation without feeling threatened by everything and everyone around me. It is exhausting and I’ve thrown myself some pretty epic pity parties; but at the end of the day, it is me. It is who I am. Ultimately, this knowledge has resulted in less harsh and less demeaning inner dialogue. As I did with my father, I am learning to measure my behaviors and experiences not against societal norms or against those who truly do not understand and pass along ignorant and unsolicited observations; but against the barometer of what I now know. It is hard. I’ll be the first to admit that I do not always rise to the occasion and bestow the grace I should. Accepting that I have Asperger’s was easy for me. Living my life every day with this knowledge has proven to be the unexpected challenge.

messes…

175

I am a messy person. My mind is messy. My life is messy. It is my normal, and it manifests itself outwardly in messy non-pristine spaces in my life. I have tried over and over (and failed miserably) to be neat and orderly, but my mind is noncompliant. It is typically not even on my radar that the empty glass sitting on the end table should, at the very least, be put in the kitchen sink. As a result, if the people in my life were more tidy-conscious, they ended up spending a lot of time picking up after me. It caused major meltdowns of frustration on both theirs and my end. On the one hand, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t SEE the mess. I would flog myself internally and on a regular basis to try to force my mind to change, upset that I hurt someone I cared about. In the same vein, they didn’t understand why I couldn’t SEE THE MESS, and many times took it as a personal affront and attack on them because this was important to them and if they were important to me, I should, naturally, at least try to make an effort. I couldn’t argue with them. It made sense. Why couldn’t my mind comply?

A resulting effect of my messiness was a feeling of being parented, especially by my previous partners; and because I had no understanding or inkling of WHY, this also contributed to the demise of those relationships. I was branded lazy and callous to their feelings. It was a recipe for disaster and set me up to fail…every time. The realization that the common denominator of this equation was me did not go unnoticed, and I harassed myself repeatedly, raking my delicate ego over the coals, trying to figure out why. Why was it so hard for me? Why did my mind constantly fail me? I ended up believing the snarky comments that I was lazy and unmotivated. I was too afraid to voice my mind and in hindsight, was truly completely clueless how to explain the correlation that the chaos in my mind was spilling over into my every day life and exhibiting itself as a pile of magazines left untouched on the floor next to my chair for weeks at a time. The more stress and anxiety I felt, the worse it would get. I tried to pour all my effort and energy into being better. Doing better; but it was exhausting, and the eventual outcome was always the same. Failure…My mind could not maintain that singular focus over an extended period of time, and the exhaustion would give way to tears and weeping and depression and more internal flogging. This was the perpetual cycle I lived for most of my life.

Because my mind is in constant chaos; neat, orderly spaces make me extremely nervous and uncomfortable. To me, it is a sterile arduous existence; everything having its own place and spot to neatly fit in at the end of the day. The never ending cleaning and picking up and perfecting. Perhaps, it is a metaphor for my messy life; knowing I lack perfection, I am inherently drawn to the imperfect. It was and is hard to observe my friends and family falling neatly into the lives of their choosing, seemingly without effort. Natural and unforced. I do understand that this perfection is truly my perception, and nothing is perfect, but still…the life I thought I wanted eluded me, and I had absolutely no idea what formula was needed to get there. Everyone had their own spot, their own niche that they comfortably carved out for themselves, and I was still searching, still longing to belong…somewhere. Anywhere.

I did try on the role of the doting housewife…twice. My attempts were comical. I can share that now with bemusement as I understand the WHY. It was infinitely more painful and confusing living it and drowning in the seemingly overwhelming expectations I faced daily. After the demise of my second attempt at marital bliss, I began to seriously question and challenge the perceived “normal” I felt forced into all my life. A concentrated profound journey of self-discovery ensued. This wasn’t me. This wasn’t who I was, or for that matter who I wanted to be. It wasn’t even close. I was determined to stop the internal abuse I had heaped upon myself and the expectations that continually forced me into spaces that were not me; and accept the mess that I was. Perhaps even learn to love myself and my messy mind.

I started to embrace the reality that my life, my mind was a little messy, and that messiness was comfortable to me. It made me feel safe and secure; and although I was not sure why yet, I grew increasingly more comfortable in my own skin and began to like who I really was. At my core. Like my dad always did. We were so alike my dad and me. I wonder if he saw himself in my life and the decisions I made, the struggles I faced, the seemingly continual failures of trying to fit into a space I did not belong in. I noticed as the years passed, he seemed to also accept and come to terms with his messy life. He accepted who he was and even though, at the time, I did not understand why he was the way he was he did seem to find his peace. I so wish we could have spoken about these things, and shared our stories with each other. I am left to speculate with the knowledge I now possess, and while I do understand him so much better now, my heart aches that I cannot tell him this, that I cannot thank him for being who he was because ultimately, it helped me understand myself in ways I never thought possible.

Asperger’s brought me one huge step closer to loving the mess that is me. I am comfortable coloring my life outside the lines and living on my own terms, to the beat of my own bongo. This is my happy space. And because I know this, I can live my own defined version of imperfect perfection without apology or compromise. I can enjoy and celebrate my life with a partner who loves and accepts my messy quirky mind and the weirdness that seeps out of it. I can develop routines and checks to live with someone who is naturally tidier than me, and recognize and identify my triggers so I can act accordingly to avoid frustration meltdowns. It is the final gift my dad gave to me, and it is by far, the most precious.

dad pic for bulletin

changes…

letitgo

I started this entry numerous times in my head, but never quite made it to print. These past two months ushered in some pretty big changes for me and I’m not good at juggling massive change with the day to day usual channels of communication and outlets. Anytime my routine is disrupted, all my energy gets redirected to focus on rebalancing. It’s exhausting, but if I don’t I get trapped in a perpetual cycle of anxiety and stress which is not healthy for me or anyone around me as meltdowns will inevitably follow. I needed time to let the dust settle and my anxiety dissipate before I could calm the chaos in my mind enough to articulate effectually and in full sentences. I am continuing to learn and understand so much about myself!

2015 ended with very mixed emotions. It was definitely a year of major highs and lows. Christmas proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. Every year we pack up and head to my parents for a day of food, conversation, and lots of laughter and shenanigans! I now understand the intense pangs of longing and why Christmas can be so difficult. The holiday evokes such an overwhelming emotional state of nostalgia that even without sadness, it stirs and tugs at the heart. Even the most untraditional adhere to their own unconventional habits; and when those habits are disrupted by an event as significant as death, the results can be catastrophic without a solid support system in place. I am so thankful for my family. We had a wonderful day! There was an unspoken determination to find the joy and expound on it. I was so proud of us as the day could have been consumed in melancholy; but I was also keenly sensitive to Dad’s absence. So many little instances pricked at my memories and caused tears to overflow unchecked. We did carve out some time that afternoon per my mother’s gentle prompting, to acknowledge his absence and celebrate his life through any memories or recollections that we wanted to share. It was the perfect ending to our new uncertain reality, full of laughter and tears and love.

I also married the love of my life last year. I’ve never known anyone like this gentle wonderful man I can now call my husband. I feel like I have been searching for him all my life and I am infinitely grateful that I am his. He is my best friend and confidant and has only ever expected me to be exactly who I am. His support for my journey has never wavered, and my diagnosis of Asperger’s did not diminish his acceptance of me. He is a gift, and I cannot adequately express how much I love him

2016 ushered in a major life change in my little fishbowl. I left my employment of the past five years to embark on a new journey. Exciting stuff! I mean it would’ve been exciting if my Aspie brain wasn’t so freaking freaked OUT! I deliberated over this new opportunity endlessly. Agonized. Weighed the pros & cons extensively. I’m pretty sure my husband thought I lost my mind. The job was a bit of a risk…and I am not typically a risk taker. I tend to dig in and get comfortable with the predictability of wherever I am at, even if it ceased to be a healthy coexistence. I always thought it was loyalty, but in truth, it is the predictability I covet, and my anxiety riddled mind was screaming obscenities at me for disrupting my predictable life.

It took A LOT of effort to calm the chaos and white noise; but the opportunity to get back into a field that I love and am passionate about overrode all my objections to stay predictable; and I am happy to report that thus far the disruption of my routine has been well worth it! I think my Dad would be proud.

discoveries…

I wasn’t looking for it. It wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I have been focused on and reflecting on this man I lost. Discovering my dad. Delving deep into the relationship we developed, studying the nuances, reliving the conversations…I never dreamed the life altering discovery would be my own. It happened without warning, without any sort of build up or suspense. It just…happened. Mom and I were reminiscing about dad and she casually asserted her suspicions about his placement on the spectrum. The Autism Spectrum. It wasn’t the first time we broached this subject, but it was the first time since his death that I gave it serious consideration. After all, if it could assist me in any way with greater understanding and insight into my father, it was worth a second glance right?

Mom had suspected for several years that dad had Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As she relayed some of the symptoms and traits and triggers associated with ASD that she witnessed manifested in dad, all the bulbs on my brain board started to light up and blink uncontrollably, as they do when I’ve happened upon a major new discovery about myself. My stomach instantly knotted and I realized that mom was not only describing dad’s disorder in perfect detail and relation to him, but she was also describing me. I needed to know more.

Thank God for Google. I devoured article after article describing Asperger’s and autism, my mind coaxing and encouraging me onward as if it knew this was something BIG, and it was. Every article, every journal I read and re-read described myself to me in painstaking detail. This was my answer to over 30 years of silent suffering. The social awkwardness, the proficiency with which I express myself in text, the endless fascination with details, the inability to organize and focus and prioritize effectively, the feeling that my brain is always in chaos and cannot be shut off …I could go on and on. Everything in the words I’ve digested so far is me. All my pain and confusion and self-persecution over the decisions I have made in my life have an answer. An explanation! Of course, it does not absolve me from my choices, but I am not crazy. I am not crazy! My wacky weird little brain just processes information differently than everyone else. I needed proof. I needed someone to validate this self-discovery, and I was terrified that I was prematurely and erroneously hopeful. Everything just fit so well in the patterns and formulas I mentally checked off in my mind. I received an official diagnosis this weekend and the relief that flooded and washed over me was overwhelming. I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not ashamed of it. I am enormously grateful that I have answers to the seemingly endless questions that went unanswered for so many years.

Dad had it too. I am certain. There are too many correlations to ignore. Mom tried to discuss it with him, but as was typical with my father, he dismissed it. I am now reassessing everything about our relationship against this new found knowledge. I have to because my brain will not allow the pieces of the puzzle to remain displaced, and for the first time since his passing I am longing and yearning for him to be alive in this moment so I could thank him. He may not have believed anything was different about him, but he saved me a little. My puzzle pieces are slowly fitting together now. My life is making a little more sense and my dad played a role…Thank you dad.