I awoke sweaty, kicking off blankets, seeking cooler air. Groggy from the heat and deep sleep, I struggled to determine the source of my fevered state. A quick check to the left for the heating blanket controls next to my bed revealed I had been tricked again, the dial reading “H,” a setting I haven’t used in ages. Certainly not for an unseasonably warm February night. My little trickster usually reserves this move for the early mornings, his effort to wake me before our internal alarms say we can rise. But 2:00 am, way too early. A slow look right showed not only had Plum messed with my dials, he had infiltrated my bed and was sleeping soundly on my pillow, edging me out of my spot. Something happened during the night to send him into gran’s bed, seeking comfort and protection. How had I slept through this? Once I would have woken at the slightest noise, hearing everything throughout the night. Learning as a child that night time was dangerous and sleep made me vulnerable, I rarely really rested. Now a small child can seemingly climb right over me, get under the covers and scoot me aside and still I slept on. Oddly enough, this is a good thing. It signals a clear sense of safety.
Childhood sexual abuse carries into adulthood, alters reality so dramatically that merely sleeping soundly is a huge win. But what other effects have I held onto without really questioning, without deciding to address? What if I did alter that abuse DNA to live more wholly, more fully? The topic came up as I talked with my small group of friends and smugly spouted my stance on pain management, pain levels, pain awareness. Even as I spoke I knew I was sinking into the realm of the absurd, somehow I couldn’t stop myself from trying to defend the indefensible. My ears could hear how wrong I was, my practice and habits bespoke years of training. Maybe I unconsciously wanted to be chided, to be questioned on the validity of my long held beliefs. It worked, I am rethinking.
In order to be a good victim to an adult abuser, you must learn to ignore your own body. You must learn to shutdown warning signs and your learn that pain is a choice, one you cannot afford to experience. You must learn to be quiet, very very quiet. You must learn to escape your body. In order to be a healthy adult who has survived childhood sexual abuse, much unlearning is required. Years of therapy have gotten me about 80% there I think, on a good day. I have learned to speak up, to protect myself, to stay in my body. But that last bit, really owning my own body and caring for it, I just haven’t conquered. As I explained to my friends, I was a child who would stand outside and wet my pants, completely unaware that my bladder needed emptying. In many ways, I am still that child. Years of ignoring basic needs such as this have led to real medical bladder issues. Years of ignoring body cues to eat that for a time exhibited as anorexia, now look like missed meals and poor food choices. Lack of awareness about my body makes reporting symptoms to doctors for routine neurological appointments a nightmare. I don’t know, I can’t remember, my standard answers. For most of my adult life this has worked for me, in the sense that I was okay with what I considered my quirks and felt no compulsion to address them.
These last several months with Chef, who has felt real pain and desolation in the stripping of his identity, have called on me to be a better person than I am. There, I said it. Like waking at every creak of the house as it settles during the night, I have old thinking that is disturbing my life now. As I tried to defend my position to my friends, I ultimately decided that maybe I am just a bitch. Wow. Angry ugly labeling to describe my adult self, still it is easier than choosing to address the core. Would I rather remain unkind than own that I am removed from my feelings for good cause? Looking at the source means resurrection of the worst kind, traveling a path that is dark and scary, enough to send the child me into granny’s bed, seeking comfort and protection. But I am the gran, I am the parent, I am the one to provide the comfort to my own broken self. Not trusting that is enough, I stay entrenched in the separation, not realizing that I am no longer hurting me, a pain I don’t feel, but hurting my Chef. I think I have finally reached a point where this is unacceptable. (I suspect Chef will raise his arms in victory at the reading of this.)
I realize that I was once so close to healing, so close to joining my body. The estrangement with my daughter, a young woman who was guiding me into adulthood as much as I her, left me adrift, afraid. She was my realtime example of brave women who could feel things and do things and laugh out loud. Then she disappeared under the influence of a dangerous narcissistic man who turned her into her own cowering self. We have both shrunken. We have both hidden. We cannot find a way to connect and I stay separate from much of me. But what if God has brought new women along, put some women on my path to guide me back into me? Am I brave enough to accept the challenge to stop being unkind, to shed the label of bitch and finish the last 20% to fully inhabit me? I am convinced that is what God wants. I fill certain that is what Chef would love.
Self-care is just a phrase I speak, words I type, something I have never practiced. I know the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask. Lent is soon to begin and as always, I am giving a great deal of thought to what I will give up. More and more I am realizing I am being called to give up that last 20%. Thus Lent may not look like fasting for me but eating. Really eating. Lent may not look like solitude for me, but engaging. Really engaging. Giving up chocolate or Coke made the Easter celebration delightful, for sure. Inhabiting all of me may well please God beyond the 40 days.
I may ask for prayers along the way, I may wish I had given my M&M addiction up to the Lord for the season. I hope to share with you my struggles to keep me honest and on the path. 40 days towards 20%, starting March 1. (I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I may stay a bit aloof for a few more days.)