two hundred & twenty: closeness

sometimes, when i’m feeling really small and sad, i have this feeling of needing to be close. like, if it were possible to climb up and wind myself around someone, right up in their neck, hiding in, i would do just that. if it wasn’t weird, i would bury my face in to their softness and they would just hold me really close and we would stay there until i wasn’t so petrified, until the intense neediness for hearing their heartbeat and feeling their warmth abated.

*

i remember hugs and kisses being something that were owed to people; also something that was offered at family gatherings when people arrived or when we went to bed. it was expected. i’m sure i liked some of the kisses and hugs but really it was an assembly line, one relative after the other.

it was the same thing at home, really…before my brother and i laid side by side in his bed or clambered up into the big cushy rocking chair with a book, we’d dutifully find them to hug and kiss them goodnight, but then would tuck ourselves in afterwards.

i can’t think of many snuggles with my parents, is that weird? i do remember one time, when i had the stomach flu and was lying on my parents’ waterbed, watching tv with my mom. some awards show, i seem to recall. and i sat up suddenly, feeling horrifically sick, and threw up in a towel my mom held with cupped hands in front of me. and she didn’t get mad, she didn’t yell, she just stayed there, and held it, and that must’ve been so gross. i remember this often as an example for how she must have loved me at least a little bit.

or maybe she loved her comforter more and wanted to save it, i don’t know.

*

i do remember wanting cuddles, and getting them. my grandmother. my grade two teacher, who i loved with every inch of my seven year old heart, and who i followed like a puppy. (i adored her, i just wanted to be close to her, especially when she was on recess duty, so i could hold her hand, feel her warm next to me. she didn’t even have to talk to me. i just loved feeling her hand in mine.) a trusted family friend, who was soft all over and who smiled and called us ‘sweetie.’

*

sometimes pocketbrit takes my little one (i know i’ve said this before, it’s no surprise that after 220 days i’m getting redundant), and when she does, i often feel her leave me with an audible sort of thumping whoosh. and i don’t know if pocketbrit can feel her arrival, but her little body has the sense of being pressed so so so tight in, arms thrown around her, face pressed into her neck. my wee one doesn’t even move, it’s like she just wants to be part of someone else’s body, no space in between, so incredibly desperate.

and ugh, the hurt of it, how much we wanted closeness. how much we didn’t get it. how it doesn’t seem even possible to quench this boundless need with the love and closeness we do get today.

these are the times when i feel most tender towards her, when i feel the simplicity and rawness of her deepest desires: to be held. to be close.

and then i just want to rock her forever, never let go. poor love. poor sweet love.

one hundred & sixteen: neck

my little one’s favourite position is what i call spidermonkeying.

wrapped fully around me, legs wound about my middle, arms around my shoulders, face buried into my neck. nose pressed in tight, her warm damp exhales tickling my ears. the wanton flyaway sweet baby hairs at the top of her head blowing in and out with my own breaths.

sometimes, pocketbrit and i will ‘take’ each other’s wee ones, when it feels hard for us to comfort them ourselves. and my little one, always desperate to be held, will clamber up and do the same to her (and often, fall straight to sleep.)

and when she is held like that, it’s like an audible, tangible, palpable sigh is released from us both, i can feel it from here.

she is safe. we are safe. we can breathe. we can rest.

Patience (95)

At the moment this word is making me think of pocketcanadian, the amazing friend I’m lucky enough to share this blog with.

She doesn’t have endless patience. Nobody does (or should), but lately, she’s so much more patient than I could ever ask of her. I mean she’s always been patient, but extra lately. And the best thing of all… Its been with one of my young ones that really needs it. The little one and i have spent the last couple of days listening to pc’s voice and rereading the conversations between the two of them. Because, pc has been so gentle, so loving and kind, and so patient.

Neither of us can quite believe our luck, because here’s the thing, my little one believes pocketcanadian. She believes her words and she believes her love. She always knew that it was genuine, but she never dreamed that it could actually be applicable to her too. That somebody, actually, really, wants to fight to love her. That they care. It’s amazing. And she’ll carry on fighting it a bit sometimes, keep thinking it isn’t safe, but she also knows it’s there patiently waiting. And that’s so much more than we could have dreamed of.

eighty-four: small

this word stings.

if i had to summarize what i’m doing these days in therapy, it would be that i’m grieving. without any overt plans to do so, i’ve been in touch with a lot of the things little me felt, during the time that the abuse happened.

time and time again, i’ve thought i might die from the hurt of it. the knowledge that i, as a small child, felt terror and panic and fear and disgust and shame and self-loathing in even a fraction of the degree i’ve felt lately, brings me to my knees. imagining that any child, me, my own daughter, pocketbrit, anyone, feeling so alone…oh.

coz really, how did we do it? where do little kids put all of that stuff? how did we make sense of it then? and how on earth do we make sense of it now?

*

more so than ever before, i have been granted access to how i felt when i was small. (i say ‘granted access’ coz it’s not like something i asked for or planned or even wanted, it’s just what’s happened. like something’s been unlocked, or come undone). and the experience is not of uncovering a memory of a specific event, or being submerged in body sensations (though there have been those times, too), it’s more that i am flooded with really strong emotions, and i start to feel so, so small. my therapist has referred to it as a feeling flashback. which means that sometimes, i will find myself so so sad…unable to stop crying, and i won’t even know quite why. or i’ll be completely terrified. or edgy, or unsettled, but without the words to explain why. or sometimes, delighted (unfortunately this is less common). but the way my body feels…the thoughts that are in my head…the words i have at my disposal…belong to that of a much smaller person. it is unnerving and amazing and horrible all at once.

in the past, it has been really hard to allow myself to feel the needs of this small, young part. there has been so much shame in permitting her space in my life. but lately, like i just said, it’s like i can’t even help it: she’s there, and then i’m her. sometimes i fight it…the shame gets loud, and i feel ridiculous, and i tell myself i am being indulgent and stupid and idiotic but all that does is defer her takeover and make it even more marked and inconvenient.

being small is awful when i’m trying to parent. coz all of it hurts: our daughter’s anger, impatience, or even her normal everyday complaints, all of them feel like daggers, personal and critical and sharp. and if she is hurt or sad, her pain overwhelms me. and it is similarly awful when i am trying to be a professional, or to be an equal, adult partner to my wife, when all i want is to hide under the covers or cower under my desk; to haveĀ  people speak quietly and slowly. when i just want to be hugged and cuddled and rocked and sang to.

*

today was awful. i had been bottling up all my smallness, all my neediness, and i planned to let it out in therapy. i would let her out, and my therapist could help me to hold her, and contain her, and help her. i couldn’t do it alone and i felt so so ashamed and tired of asking pocketbrit and my wife to help me. not coz they weren’t good at it, but because they were…but because the giving/taking ratio has been so, so unbalanced this month. and, they have their own shit, their own hurt, their own pain.

and then, due to a family emergency, my therapist cancelled my appointment today. and that was that.

i spun out. fully. i was so angry, because i was reminded of how unimportant i was in her life, how pathetic i was to be so dependent on a person i paid to be present, when she had no problems dropping me with zero notice. i was ashamed of how upset i was, at how instantly tears sprung to my eyes, at how convinced i was that i couldn’t hold on (it will be three weeks until i next see her). i was terrified at having to do it alone; i have always done it alone, except now i know the sweet sweet relief of not, and i’ve come to depend on it.

and the small one could not be contained anymore. she lashed out at everyone in sight; shoved everyone away, and then when they complied, felt so incredibly bereft. the small one was panicking and the adult part of me was ashamed that i couldn’t reign her in. she needed soothing and i couldn’t, i just couldn’t, because i was furious and sad and impatient and ashamed. oh god, the shame.

i nearly let it get the best of me.

i told my wife to leave me alone, which she did, for a short while. i shoved pocketbrit far, far away. i told her ‘don’t’ when she was saying kind things, and to leave me be. despite wanting exactly the opposite of that. (honestly, no one can win when i’m like that…there pretty much is no right thing to do, ugh.) i didn’t answer when she called and i rejected her love and i ignored her. the small one wanted her so badly, but i couldn’t let her.

except then i did.

and we asked her to read.

and she did.

but not only did she read, she asked if we wanted her to read on video, and we could hardly speak to answer yes (because the answer to that is always yes). and i had to press the mute button on my end, because as she read, i was taking raggedy horrible sobbing breaths, eyes and nose streaming, i couldn’t even believe she did it never mind so easily, i don’t even know how she could, except she did.

the small one felt it, and i did too, and we were soothed. and i could hold her, because i was being held, because i was being loved, because i wasn’t left alone, despite being convinced that i should be.

and so, my gratitude for today is the opposite of small. it’s gigantic as the sea, as the night sky, as the love in my heart.

*

seventy-four: uncertain

this word makes me feel sad.

for some reason, i have in my head this picture of me, when i was fairly small, maybe it was the first day of school or preschool or easter, but i’m posing in front of our white picket fence (yes really – ha!), hands at my sides, wearing a short-sleeved white dress with a pleated skirt and a green sash, hair in matching green yarn ribbons, all of it moving slightly with the breeze. i’m squinting and smiling into the camera, i really was cute, like so so cute in this picture, and all looks completely normal. just a sweet little kid in her front yard, white knee-high socks nearly even, hair shimmering in the sun.

but look closer, and i’ve got my one foot tilted outwards, not quite standing square, and just that one detail entirely belies the illusion of fineness. it’s like a subtle shrug or something, a tiny little giveaway about how it really was, how unsure i felt, and it makes me feel so fucking sad. because i’m totally looking fine and normal and okay…but that little foot, supinating…it’s what i still do now, decades later, when i’m nervous or worried or fidgeting.

so i feel it all differently, thinking about that picture today. i wasn’t okay, then, but no one knew, no one noticed. i was on my own.

forty-nine: hidden/hiding

i struggled with this one. because it felt ugly to put the two things i thought about in proximity to each other. in any case, i couldn’t think of anything better so i published it anyway.

  • the innocence of how our daughter used to run to a tree at the park, cover her eyes and lean into the bark of the tree, in full view, entirely convinced she was hidden; also, how she used to call i’m over heeeeeere! when we ‘looked’ for her
  • how it feels like i have this massive massive secret these days; that i am hiding this huge thing about me and my identity. that i have been dirty, violated, used. that i am hiding part of my true self, the part who now, fully believes the little one who lived it first. that i exist in this multiplicitous (is that a word?) matrix, where i am a capable professional, a mother, a wife, a friend, and at my core, a survivor of horrific gross things that were done to me when i was half the age of my daughter. in my darker moments i hate myself for keeping this secret. but i can’t risk telling it, you see. because no matter how much shame i feel for keeping her to myself, for guarding her, for keeping her tucked in, i am not bulletproof enough yet. all the #metoo and the media stories and the pain in the faces of fellow survivors still bring me to my knees, still make me tremble in awe and with grief. i am stronger than i ever thought possible but i am not strong enough, yet, to resist tearing them apart with my teeth if they were to hurt her again. we’re not ready. i’m not ready.

nineteen: tiny

i am already feeling triggered just reading this word.

i tried to make the feelings go away by imagining innocuous, innocent tiny things, like an ant crawling over a leaf, or how my daughter’s soft, smooth newborn feet felt in my palm.

but what i kept thinking about was how small we were. when it happened, when we were hurt and violated and used by members of our family. we were tiny.

both hands, then, could probably fit into one of his. i still needed a booster seat on my chair, which i also needed help climbing into. i was lower than my kitchen countertops – i had to go onto my tippy-toes to be at eye-level. i believed in santa (and would for another several years). i wasn’t in school yet.

fucking tiny.

i’ve seen pictures of pocketbrit, she hardly reached his thigh.

and i just don’t understand any of it. how they could do those things. how the signs that we weren’t okay weren’t noticed. why wasn’t anyone paying attention? what was everyone else doing? were we so little we became invisible?

it’s also a shrinking sort of shriveling, sick feeling i get when i think of it now. and like i might drown in the grief of it.

seventeen: unususal

y’know what? i think i like this word.

i don’t feel like it’s used all that often in daily conversation, but i like it. i like unusual things. i like unusual people. i would be pleased to be thought of, or referred to, as being unusual. not usual, un-usual? yeah. i like that. who wants to be common? not this chick.

okay, so just after i wrote what i did up there, i did something stupid. i didn’t know it was stupid but it was, because it has ruined a lot of the good feelings.

basically, i googled the definition of unusual, and for some reason, reading not habitually or commonly occurring or done made me feel sick. coz i thought about my family, about my childhood. where what was habitually and commonly done was a father putting his hands on/in his daughter, and having her put her small, quavery, inexperienced hands on parts of him. another thing that was commonly done was for my mother to punish me through silence, for hours and sometimes days. when i did something ‘wrong’, i would have to try and figure it out…try to backtrack and review and do all kinds of detective work to discern what it may have been. or conversely, i would know very well what i had done, there would be an explosion, with screaming and spanking and fireworks abounding…followed by deathly silence, blank stares, and withdrawal. no way to make it up. no way to fix it. just knowing that i was so, so bad.

i think this is what i perhaps hate the most about my life lately. that i am constantly toeing the line between okayness and the tippiest edge. that i feel good one minute, adult, resolute, and solid, but by the next minute, the darkness is right up in my face, rattling my bones, curdling my stomach, and i’m a terrified four year old. i can’t seem to protect myself against the trapdoors before i’m dropping into the abyss, clutching and scrambling at the air as i fall…

the pendulum just seems to swing so far both ways, lately. i can hardly keep up. wondering, who am i, right now? and then moments later…who am i now? and rarely answering the same.

trauma is exhausting. i never wanted any of it. none of us did. i hate this fucking club.

thirteen: help

i’m sorry i was late for this (interruption due to canadian thanksgiving festivities, which involved turkey and a great number of glasses of chardonnay), but i couldn’t not write on it.

one evening last week, i was deeply triggered and trying not to be. i left my house, my wife, and my daughter to go to the grocery store, because i thought doing something normal might interrupt the shame and the spinning.

i got as far as a block away from my house before i recognized that it wasn’t going to work. i was driving and realized that i should not have been, because i was starting to hold my breath, i was shaking, and it felt like i was too watery inside to know how to steer.

there were two people i wanted: my t, and pocketbrit.

i had already texted my t earlier, when i first felt it getting bad, when it was all going sideways and wiggly at the edges. i could feel i was going to panic but i was just managing to hold it off. i could feel that i was small and i was young and activated, and i wanted her to hold me, even if just with her voice, over the phone. i wanted her to help me and i knew she could.

but t couldn’t talk. she was apologetic but she just couldn’t, not that night. and i believed that she couldn’t, i absolutely understood that she couldn’t, but my stomach dropped out and there was just roaring between my ears.

pocketbrit is so so trusted by my little one, but the tiny bit of me that was still adult was ashamed, and wouldn’t let me ask for her. it was late at night for her, she hadn’t been sleeping much, and i just felt i should take care of it myself. my need was huge. i was small and scared and was going to lose control, i knew i was going to, and it would be awful and triggery for her and it would be humiliating and terrible for me.

she and i had been texting earlier but i had disappeared…and just as t said she couldn’t call me, a text came from pocketbrit, asking where i had gone. i told her that i was panicking and that it was bad. and then she was there, with me, i could feel her arrival, but i needed her even closer. i begged her in my mind to call me, to just call me, i balled my fists into my eyes and sent a hundred wishes over the ocean that separates us so that she might hear and know that i needed her, as close as she could get. my heart was in my throat and the tsunami was coming, i didn’t have much time…and she wrote, in quick succession, i’m here. it’s okay. can you tell me? i’m not leaving. but i still couldn’t say, i couldn’t spell, i couldn’t find the words, i didn’t answer her for what felt like forever.

until i finally did. and i don’t quite remember doing it, but i typed help me.

(there’s still a small rush of shame – or compassion? – for that, i was so so young)

and then my phone rang and her voice arrived via the speakers in my car, and she did help me. helped me breathe and focus and weathered the storm with me. stayed steady. stayed close. i don’t know what-all i said but through all the gulping and sobbing and holding of my breath and shame she talked to me, gently and calmly and lovingly. even though i’m sure it was scary and awful, as it would be for anyone who has ever loved someone through a flashback, she didn’t leave. she helped, so much.

when i awoke on the other side, when i was adult again, i mostly felt empty but also terrified. coz oooohh, now i’d done it. she’d heard it all. but quick on the heels of that was relief, and so so much love. (i never used to feel anything other than intense shame, self-loathing and guilt for polluting the innocent people in the wake of my trauma). but that night, i was just so so grateful for her presence, her voice, and her love. they all helped.

so when i read this word the other day, i thought of what it meant to be helped. i also thought about back then, about all the things both pocketbrit and myself lacked growing up: safety. attentiveness. gentleness. affection. respect. praise. and how, like she said in her post, no one helped us, and the people who could’ve, turned a blind eye. the truth in that, and the pain of it, does make me so angry and so sad.

despite never being able to get that back…despite not being rescued, despite the wounds i carry as a result of doing it alone for so many years, i realized that last week, i actually recognized that i need help. and, i asked for it…and then received it, in such a beautiful, gentle, caring way. and there is so much healing in that.

so much sad, but so much love, too.

twelve: gentleness

over the past three years, this has been one of the words that nearly always makes me want to cry. just the idea of it, the sound of it, the feeling of the word in my mouth, is enough to get that sparkling feeling in my eyelids. but also, being held gently. touched gently. looked at with gentle eyes. gentleness in general, but especially, the idea of being gentle with myself.

i remember actually doing a google search a few years ago on how to be gentle to yourself. because i had no fucking clue. i read through it all voraciously – i really needed to understand these search results, the why of it, the how, all of it – it seemed my life depended on it. i remember this article coming up during my search, and i printed it off and carried it with me until really recently. it grew tattered, stained, with the ink faded along the folds, but even now, these words are a lullaby to my soul.

i’m marginally better at gentleness with my self, these days, and part of that has been about embracing the younger parts of me, the terrified little one who is just desperate to be loved and held and to have her big big feelings contained. who just wants safety, care, presence, and steadiness. who did not have a lot of gentleness at home. in fact, she had more than her share of sternness, brusqueness, and ‘toughening up.’ she is tough, so tough, but she just needs some softness. we all do, i think.

*

i also have my daughter to thank for helping to connect me to my wee one. for facilitating my learning these useful, life-saving skills for the child in me. for grounding me, for demonstrating how kids are, how they think, and what they need.

sometimes, when i’m able to stay adult in the midst of a difficult fury-storm with her, when i can listen to all the outlandish things she says, as she rages and stomps and pummels me with unfair words, if i open my arms, she will just fall in, limp, melting into my embrace, soaking my shirt with her sorrow.

as much as possible, i want to be her safe space to land. i want to become what i never got, both for her and for me. i want to gentle us both into stronger, softer people.

*

today, i was at the hairdresser, and at one point, in the midst of doing her job, she stroked my cheek (i think in sweeping my hair away) and tears sprung to my eyes. why would she be so gentle with me? also today, in the middle of getting a hug from my therapist, after a hard session, she said (softly, entirely unexpectedly and without provocation) that she loved me. my knees nearly buckled from the love in it.

i could listen all day to people criticizing me and manage to deal with that. but gentleness is my undoing.

*

in searching for a poem i was sure i wrote on the topic (which i haven’t found…pocketbrit, have i ever sent you such a thing, on gentleness?!), i found pages and pages (and pages) of times when pocketbrit and i used the word gentle with each other.

nearly always, being gentle with her is second nature to me. i want to be gentle to and with her, because i adore her, and it is one of the easiest things to do (especially with little pockebrit, the sweet little imp that she is, with two of the brightest, saddest eyes i know).

but just a few days ago, i was not gentle with her, nor was i gentle with myself. instead of not siding with the meanness of our pasts, instead of not contributing further to our suffering, i added my voice to the mix, helped feed Shame and Fear until they got so big they swallowed us both up. and, as you can imagine, it was fucking terrible. sent myself spinning, helped to send her spinning, both of us into orbit, far away from each other’s galaxies. into the lonely, dark depths of our pasts.

i have missed her dearly. we are making our way back, heavy with regret, cloaked in guilt, still shrugging off the vestiges of shame for the words we chose, the actions we were compelled to take, the choices we made. with oceans of sad in our hearts for the conflated hurts and traumas we carry, and how they veil our eyes and prevent us from knowing the truth.

so, i’m ending this night at the sea, alongside her slumbering form, and i’m gently smoothing the hair away before i kiss her foreheard goodnight. very quietly, nearly under my breath, i am saying my favourite part of max ehrmann’s poem ‘desiderata’:

…be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.