January 30, 2013 – On loss, hope and new beginnings

This isn’t exactly a journal entry.. It’s more of a reflection on things and where I’m at. I saw my therapist tonight and as part of the narrative therapy, she wanted to me write about my life now. Given how much things have changed in the last six months, now is a good time for reflection.

My youth was unpleasant. There were many, many years of various forms of abuse. It was constant and unrelenting. When I left home I had a lot of trouble adjusting to life that wasn’t full of conflict. I had started dating at 12, which may seem early to many, and it wasn’t an innocent cute sort of relationship, but rather one of all of the things that teenagers often wait to experience. This girl and I would end up staying together for nearly the entirety of the rest of our school years, only splitting once for about 6 months when I was about 15. My girlfriend’s life was different than mine. She grew up in a loving home and wasn’t abused. She was an only child and she wanted for very little in life. Her father was good to me, and frankly, was more of a father to me than my stepfather ever was or would be. Visiting her house and family was in such sharp contrast with my life at home. My stepfather was especially cruel. He had had something against me from the first day that we met, and to be honest, I don’t know why. I was a quiet child. I was shy and reserved. I was a good kid. My father was an alcoholic and my parents split when I was 5. My stepfather came into the picture what I was 8 or 9. He was an imposing figure standing at 6′ tall and weighing about 210lb. He was a mechanic whom had grown up on a farm. He was an intelligent man, didn’t drink, but his temper was horrible. He was full of anger and hate. With me in the house he had something to focus that anger and hate on. Of all of the things, the psychological abuse and persistence of it had worn away any shred of humanity I felt for myself. I felt less than human. I believed his words. I believed that I was stupid, worthless, a failure, a mistake, that I was less than nothing, that I’d never amount to anything. In my teens he used food as a means of control. If I somehow slighted him or didn’t do something exactly the way he wanted he’d withhold food. Most of the time I hadn’t done anything. Not to sound like I was an innocent little angel or anything, but I rarely ever did anything to provoke this man. He kept tabs on everything in the cupboards and the refrigerator. There was hell to pay if anything was missing, even a glass worth of milk. Yes, he was that anal, and yes, he’d go into full meltdown-mode if anything was missing at all. At 16 I was 6’1 and 145lb. I have broad shoulders and a large frame. I was borderline emaciated. I only say all this to give context to the situation at home.

At 15 I met this girl in our Spanish class. She was quiet and meek like me. There’s something unspoken among kids who are from abused homes. It’s something you just pick up on. Maybe it’s from having to look over your shoulder all of the time for even the slightest hint of something in the look or actions of an abuser, but you’re hyper-sensitive to every little thing all of the time. We exchanged glances for weeks, sometimes even sitting at lunch without talking directly to each other given we had mutual friends after a couple of months into the school year. Eventually we became friends and would write each other often. We only had that one class together, so we wrote often, passing notes between classes or though friends – that sort of thing. It wasn’t intentional on either of our parts, but we fell in love somewhere along the way. This went on for a couple of months before I broke things off with the girl I had been seeing. When I did, she was devastated. I was heartbroken too. She had been nothing but kind to me. The relationship with the girl from Spanish class was different. It wasn’t sexual, for one. Aside from opportunity being slim, this was more of an intense emotional bond. It was beautiful.

Some days my girlfriend would miss a day of school, then would be there the following day and would be clearly traumatized. I knew that look. It pained me to see it. I tried asking once and she just wept. I didn’t ask again, not because I didn’t care, it just seemed cruel to bring up something so clearly painful. The frequency of her missing days was increasing and she was becoming more and more withdrawn. She wrote often about wanting to die. I did too, for that matter. I’m a person of action. I may be quiet, but in the right situation, I act when others can’t. This was one of those times. I talked with her and told her to come home with me, that we’d go. I looked older for my age and had worked odd jobs for a roofing company now and then for money under the table. In the short term we could stay with one of my brothers, for a week or two at most. It wasn’t a half-assed plan – rational thought went into it. Our biggest challenge was getting the bus driver that day to agree to let me girlfriend on the bus. I was on a rural root and she didn’t know my girlfriend. I convinced the bus driver to let her come home with me without getting into too many details, but given the looks on our faces, she could tell that this was probably best. In hindsight, she took one hell of a personal and professional risk in doing this.

We got to my house and we went to my room. I started packing up clothes quickly as we only had about 45 minutes form when I got home from school to when my stepfather arrived home from work. We were only home 10 minutes when I heard my mother’s car pull in. She was home early that day. I don’t know why – I never asked. Stranger still, my mother felt the need to go to my room and ask me something, which she’d never do. That’s when she saw my girlfriend there. We argued. I told my mother that we needed to go, and to get the hell out of the way, basically. I continued packing. My mother called the police who arrived only a few minutes later. My girlfriend and I were both crushed. She’d end up being taken away by the police that night and I’d have hell to pay when the police were all gone. A week would pass before my girlfriend returned to school and she refused to speak to me. Not in a cold way.. She said she just couldn’t. A few months passed and I got back together with my old girlfriend. We would marry after I graduated high school.

As I mentioned earlier, I had trouble adjusting to a normal life. My girlfriend came from a traditional Roman Catholic family where people didn’t live together prior to marriage. She didn’t have any idea how bad the PTSD was before we were living together. After several months of that she demanded that I get help. I agreed and found a therapist who dealt with trauma and recovery. My new wife demanded to know exactly how long before I was cured. Her words – “how long before you’re cured? how many weeks?”. We were off to a great start…

This was about 15 years ago now, so the internet was still in its infancy in many ways. One thing that was popular then that is kind of regaining some ground now in certain circles were IRC chat rooms. I found a couple of chat rooms (channels) that were for survivors of abuse. I needed support more than once every couple of weeks – which was all that I could afford at the time to see a therapist. I became friends with a few people there, in particular a woman who was about 5 years older than me. Her name was Dee. We had a very similar past and I could talk freely with her. At this point in my life, my mother had betrayed the trust of a parent by not protecting her child, my wife had rather strong conditions for us to stay married, my brothers had all left home at young ages prior to my stepfather being in the picture, and the girl I was going to run away with effectively rescuing both of us from a bad situation left rather abruptly without explanation. The only other person in my life that I talked to about what was bothering me was my therapist, and not to minimize her role in my life, but I paid her to listen. Dee was someone who had nothing to gain and accepted me as I was. We both struggled deeply with the past. The nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks were constant and terrible. Work was my escape – I could distract myself there, so I worked a lot. As Dee and I grew closer, in spite of my best efforts to keep things good between my wife and I, we continued to grow apart. Almost three years exactly from being married my wife would ask me to leave. At that same time I started a new job at a large company as director of a new department. Professionally I was very talented and was on the cutting edge of technology as the industry transitioned to being computerized. I moved into my new apartment and started the new job a week later. Exactly one week into the new job I received a call at work. It was a collect call from England. Dee and I talked every weekend. We never missed a call, but that Sunday night before my second week started, she didn’t pick up. I tried every couple of hours until going to bed around 3:00am. The voice on the other end of the line wasn’t Dee. It was a girl whom had been staying with her for the last couple of months while she sorted her own life out. Through the sobs I made out “she’s dead! she’s dead! she’s fucking dead!”.. Dee had taken her own life in the night.

The years that followed – years.. I couldn’t get close to anyone. I never let anyone in. That visceral pain of losing someone so close to you is beyond words. My belief that was strongly formed at that point: Everybody leaves. They either aren’t really there to begin with, or if they are, they’ll leave. It took years of therapy to get to a better place with my life at home before moving out, let alone Dee’s death. I never dealt with her death in many ways. It was brought up in therapy, but I couldn’t speak about it without breaking down uncontrollably. We had made a deal, me and her. If it ever got too hard for one of us, we were to call the other. We’d get each other through, no matter what. I made that call a couple of times, and so did she. I spent so long trying to figure out why. What happened? How could she do this? I was hurt. I was angry at some points. I was lost. I felt an emptiness that I had never felt before. To this day, even as I write about it now, tears well in my eyes. I still can’t say the words out loud without crying.

During the years that followed I’d meet someone, spend 3 years with them, get married and divorce a year later. We were both people of similar backgrounds. Though we both had significant problems with PTSD, we were just bad for each other. We were poorly matched. I had another two year relationship in that time with someone who was working out her sexuality, namely in that she wasn’t into guys before she met me, was while she was with me and struggled with it again later. I may post someday about that relationship. It wasn’t all bad and it wasn’t all good. Like most relationships, I guess.

A few years ago on a whim I moved with a girlfriend from another long-term relationship to the coast in New England. I was ready to shed my old home. Most of what I had there was bad memories and contact with some family members that just wasn’t healthy for me at the time. 800 miles is a good distance in that nobody can drop by unannounced, or if you simply don’t pick up your phone for a few days. I found myself in that time. The woman I moved here with and I would split after 3 years of being together. The last year that we were together the relationship was basically dead. She had been laid off and wasn’t seeking work elsewhere. I had moved on from the relationship months prior to our splitting. I didn’t cheat on her, but I had hoped that she’d get another job so I could split with a clear conscience. To this point, I had still kept everyone, including her at bay. Nobody knew much about me and what made me tick. I didn’t let anyone in.

A week after the split I got an email from a girl/woman that I had seen at gatherings of my ex’s family. She was a friend of the sister-in law. We had never spoken directly, so I was surprised to get an email from her. We exchanged a few short emails and agreed to hang out the coming weekend to go to an art museum. That was the extent of what we knew about each other – we both liked art. We’d ride the commuter rail into the city and talk along the way. We walked the city that day for hours, just talking. By dinner conversation had moved to deeply personal things that we wanted, needed and wouldn’t put up with in a mate. What our values were. What our goals were. What happiness meant to each other. There was a long pause. She said “You know, this has the potential to get very serious, very fast”. “I know”. I hadn’t intended to ever have a serious relationship again. I had certainly intended to never get married again. A month after we met, we married. That was 3 1/2 years ago. We went through a terribly tough time last year, but we’re on the other side of it. Out of respect for my wife I won’t get into the nature of those problems, but will say that it wasn’t directly either of us, we just had some bad things come up at the same time.

I’ve always felt to some degree like I’m damaged goods. Because of the environment that I grew up in it’s hard to relate to most people to begin with. The things that I value and care about are often far removed from what’s deemed important in Western culture. I’ve worked incredibly hard to build a good life for myself on every level. I keep people that aren’t on the same level of loyalty and commitment to friendships out of my life. It’s give and take with me. I’ll accept nothing less. I have a wonderful, caring, loving and supportive wife. She has her things she’s working through too, and that’s ok. I’m here for her in whatever way she needs me to be. It’s going to be ok. I’ve had to tell myself this over and over again, but for the first time in my life, I feel it. My complete collapse last year was both the worst and best thing for me. I was forced to be honest and upfront with people about what I was going though. It was so relieving to be able to say the words out loud that hadn’t crossed my lips for more than two decades, but were always there. to be able to say that I’m so depressed that I want to die to end it. That sounds morbid, but imagine walking around with that nearly every day for more than half of your life thus far. I had barely told anyone outside of the mental health community that I was depressed, much less how depressed. I had never guessed that I’d find strength and connections with people at my lowest and most vulnerable point. For all of the years hiding from everyone so close to me, I’ve taken a risk in letting them be close to me. Some have walked away. A couple of them that have really surprised me.. I hadn’t expected them to go. Two friends also surprised me when they stepped up and got closer. It’s possible to get to the other side of horrible things. I’m not all about the glass being half empty or half full – it’s just half. It’s not good or bad. Both ends of the spectrum are there. We see largely what we want to see. If you think the world is shit, then look around you and you’ll see lots of shit. If you think it’s great and people are wonderful, then look around, you’ll see wonderful people. I see both, and I think it’s great. The world would be boring if everything were perfect. The loss of Dee… I’ve learned so much from that loss, it just took me a long time to learn it. I’m so happy to have known her at such a fragile point in my life. Her death was tragic. The only person who knows why she chose to end it that night is her. I can’t assume it did or didn’t have anything to do with me. It was her choice. No more, no less. I learned to tell those that I care about that I care for them, and often. Not to hold grudges. We did tell each other that we loved one another on every phone call. I’m grateful for that. Those words fell on her ears before she left. I hope that in her darkest hour that it offered her a glimmer of comfort. The main thing I’ve learned from all this? For all the times I felt weak, I was ignoring how strong and resilient I am. That’s a choice too – I could look back and see weakness or failure all the way. It is what it is – I can choose how I handle myself now.

My girlfriend that left after the police showed up? We reconnected about 3 years ago. She found my old myspace profile and sent me an email there asking if I remembered her. I replied, but didn’t hear from her again until recently, this time via facebook. She thanked me for taking her with me that night. She told me that her stepfather had been abusing her for years leading up to that point. She had always been too scared to tell anyone. Too ashamed. Too worthless. It’s horrible how abuse and being violated time and again wears at the very core of your being. She said that by my taking such a risk that she felt like she was worth at least something to one other person who didn’t have ill intent. She talked to the police that night, then child protective services, then her mother. Her mother left the stepfather, charges were pressed, and she started the very long journey to get to a better place herself. She’s till fighting to find resolve, but she’s still here. She gave other details about her life then, too. It’s bitter-sweet knowing that I played a role in getting her out of such a horrible situation. I’m glad that I did, but wish it never had happened in the first place.

A few weeks ago my now ex-stepfather requested me as a friend on Facebook. Really?! I didn’t dignify it with a response.

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3 thoughts on “January 30, 2013 – On loss, hope and new beginnings”

  1. I too had a jerk of a stepfather. Facebook gives people courage that they could never have in real life. I can’t relate to the feeling of losing someone who takes his or her own life, but I can empathize. There’s no doubt that such a beautiful, caring individual like you made her life better, even though her demons took over in the end. Keep on blessing others ❤ Megan

    1. Megan – Thank you for taking the time to read my mini-novel of a post. Loss of loved ones is something that we all have to face at some point in our lives. For me, this was at a terribly delicate time. I know that I gave her a little comfort amidst all of her pain, just as she did for me. I’ve found the trick is to do what we actually can do, and not take responsibility for the things we can’t. I offered her all of the love and support I was able to. It took me years to figure out that I hadn’t failed her – that her taking her life wasn’t about me. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t change it or take it away. I’d walk through fire with my loved ones, but ultimately, unless it’s something within my absolute control, I can’t change outcomes. I can’t make or force feelings in others. Anyway.. Thank you for taking the time to read my entries here. I enjoy reading yours – you are a very honest and thoughtful person. Those of us with various forms of mental illness need voices such as yours to keep us from being marginalized, dehumanized or simply ignored. We’re people too, but sometimes those labels seem more like the mark of the beast in the eyes of others. Please keep speaking out. It’s for the better of not only those that suffer from mental illness, bot for those striving to understand.

  2. You say you feel like damaged goods at times, but if people gave a crap half as much as you do, then the world would be a much, much better place. Losing someone dear to tragic circumstances is hard. There is no set time for grief to have finished its course. 🙂

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