Shoplifter??

Shame is a challenge to talk about.  Shame is about Being wrong.  Shame makes you feel you shouldn’t exist.  So, how did I talk about it?
 For me, it required therapy, group therapy, and, especially, journaling.  Extensively.  Trying so hard to get to the root of things so that I could tell my therapist. One of those stories is about a time I shoplifted. Funny, it was almost 40 years ago and the shame of it still wants to rip me apart.

I must have been 10. Every day I walked my sister and a little girl from our building to and from school. There was a five and dime on the way home.  Most days we stopped there.

I was hungry for something.  Not the candy bar.  I had the money in my pocket.  Not for the trinkets, pencils, and erasers. The simplest way to see it is that I was stealing attention, maybe even love. 
In my family, as, perhaps, in most, grandparents and other adults would use things (presents) to show they cared.

I had a younger cousin.  I loved her. However, I was also frequently jealous of her.  She had lots of things.  Tons of stuff.  In her father’s eyes, she could do no wrong. My father’s brother.  I had been his favorite person in the world. Until one day I wasn’t.  He dropped me like a burning ember.

So, I felt deprived. I felt anger I dare not express. Most of all, I felt abandoned. By so many people in so many ways.
So, back to the five and dime.  I knew the store, nearly, by heart.  I would gaze longingly, at the same silly trinkets.  Day after day.  Week after week.

I had this big, billowy reversible cape my cousin’s mother had given me.  I wore it all the time. It was the perfect way to disguise my movements in the store. A slight of hand that made the cheap piece of silliness mine. I could never use or enjoy the items.  I also couldn’t throw them away.  So, they sat at the back of my desk.  Hidden.  So that I could see them and burn with shame all over again.

The day I got caught I knew there was something wrong.  I felt more nervous.  I kept looking around. My hands were clammy.  I wiped them off with my cape. I felt an anxious urgency. I was hot.  Yet my insides felt like ice.

 After picking up and putting down a dozen different things I settled on a pencil. While I stood in line to pay for it, I snuck a candy bar under the cape.

Still, I knew something was wrong.  I felt nervous and scared.  Not in control and victorious as I usually felt.  No doubt, that is the reason they caught me.

I had just paid for my trinket, with my candy bar safely inside my cape, when a security guard came up to us.  He asked me about the candy bar.  I immediately handed it over.  Tears instantly fell down my face.  I told him I could pay for it.  But it was too late for that.

He took me to a room above the store floor.  For a time, I sat there, alone.  My mind screamed danger.  I wanted to escape.  But this was not inside my mind. No amount of dissociating could make this end.

 I had been carrying my clarinet with me.  I had put it down at my feet.  The guard noticed it. 
He chided me, telling me that band kids were good kids.  He was disappointed in me.

 After anther break, he asked me for my mother’s phone number.  That is when I started to cry pitiful, hiccupping sobs. 

I told the security guard my sister and the little girl were outside waiting for me.

 He sent them home.

 I felt sure her mother would never trust me again.

In the meantime, a police officer had arrived.  He told me that he was going to give me another chance.  I was to go home and tell my mother what I did.  Then she could call the station and they would decide what they were going to do.

I quickly walked home.  My head was low.  I prayed no one would see me.  I was sure, if they looked at me, they would know what I had done.

 Which only made sense, since I believed there were invisible people watching me all the time.  There were no secrets from them.  So, of course, I believed I was transparent to others, as well.

I sat on the sofa at home, waiting for mom to get home.  When she did, she was surprising calm.  She was upset she had to come home from work.  She asked me what I had been thinking.  Then I told one of the more egregious lies I had ever told.

I told her that I knew my father had shop lifted when he was young. So, I wanted to know what it felt like. I wanted to know if I could do it. Conjuring up my father brought me sympathy.  As I figured it would.

  I could hardly tell her it had been going on for a while.  That jealousy and resentment had led me to a sense of entitlement.

That night I lay in my bed and cried.  When I got up in the morning, I was terrified.  I couldn’t face school.  I couldn’t cope with people knowing I had been so bad.  Surprisingly, she let me stay home.

For one day.

It was such a kind thing. So empathetic.  If made me feel good, and rotten.  Apparently, who I was wouldn’t garner me love and attention.  But dragging my father into it earned me a reprieve.

I balled up my cape.  My beloved cape that had brought me so much enjoyment.  I threw it in the back of the closet and tried never to see it again.

The shame of my discovery cut deep.  I didn’t tell the story, except to my husband.  In all those years. It never came up in therapy.  Until this last time.

Until then, I couldn’t admit it.  It illuminated a vicious black side of me I couldn’t bear. I felt flayed open.  I honestly believed people would see the evil inside. That all the good I had poured into my persona would be washed away.

Anger and Shame

The shame that I felt over the things I did, the things that were done to me, morphed into anger. But not anger at my father, or even my mother. There was anger at Them. But mostly, it turned into anger against me. There was this violent feeling that I was desperate to alleviate. I felt darker than a black hole.
While I was there, I expressed that rage by forcing myself to approach them. I purposely encouraged sexual activity as a preemptive move. But, I think, that meant that there were times there was sexual activity when there might not have been, if I hadn’t teased, touched, and generally initiated it.
My therapist insists there is no way I child can be held responsible. And I understand that. The fact that I physically touched them. That I teased and aroused them should not have mattered. Even if I did all that, they should not have responded. Most adults would have pushed me away. Put up limits.
Except that I knew they would respond. They started it. They showed me their buttons. Fairly demanded that I push them.
It was what my father wanted me to do. No question. He taught me the skills I used to seduce them. He taught that sex was this wonderful, wholesome thing. For children and adults. For every- and any-one.
There was no question in that little Me’s mind. I was the problem. So, I kept trying and trying. Not only to be safe. Not only preemptively. I wanted—I needed—to master this. Why couldn’t I be the person he wanted me to be? What was wrong with me that these things made me want to die. Made me want to punish myself. Made me run away into that swirling colored spot way deep in my mind.
There was anger. And fear. Focused on my father. I would never have admitted it. Would ever even had dared think it.
I didn’t let myself remember the violence from when I was very small. But whether it was the anger in him or the anger in me, every so often that fear reared its head.
One day, in Shirley, my father decided we were going on a family outing. For reasons lost to the vagaries of time I did not want to go. At some point I ended up under his desk. He was yelling, I was screaming.
He stood there in the doorway, sternly demanding that I put on my shoes and get in the car. Under the desk, I sat holding my breath. I started to feel lightheaded, and no less angry, or scared. To defy my father meant defying his perfection. A belief I had to believe.
I sucked in a deep lungful of air and scooted out from under the desk. Before he could move or react, I was out the door and down the stairs. I ran out the front door. The tiny rocks biting at my feet. I could hear him behind me. My heart was throbbing in my ears. I reached the barn. And impromptu haven. I found myself up in the hayloft, looking down from the open doorway to the gravel filled area below.
Then I heard him coming. Up the ladder. For the briefest of moments, I hated him. Within that moment I felt my full fear of him, as well. The certain knowledge that I was not safe. I simply did not know what he would do should he catch me. I was unwilling to capitulate. So, I stood in that doorway, surrounded by hay bits. I held onto the side with one hand. My screaming had turned into growls of rage. Where there words that he could decipher? I don’t know.
I do know he backed down. He was cooing calm words that I was in no frame of mind to decipher. Finally, he left me alone there. Without further conversation, demand, or request, he packed everyone up and drove off.
How long did I stay there? How long were my mind and body numb? How long did I stay abandoned there?
I know, eventually, I came down. The house was empty and quiet. I knew I had won, but I felt no elation. I felt certain there would be a price to pay.
The cold yet burning knot inside me turned it all on myself. I had been wrong. I had betrayed him. If I were just a better kid, it would not have happened. What if he didn’t love me anymore?
I had exposed a moment of impotence. What would happen if it caused someone else to deny, or defy him? And, tiniest of all, what if he never came back?
Though I didn’t remember it then, there was a reason for a fear so profound I would jump put a hay loft to avoid him. When I was quite small there was a day when I went to my daddy’s den to say good night. I’m sure I bounced in there in some cute little night dress. When I opened the door there was something wrong.
He didn’t smile and hug me. Instead, he seemed to growl. When I moved, said something, he turned. Another tentative step and he stood up. Some tiny voice in my tiny head yelled run. So, I did. Towards my mother. She grabbed me and threw me into my room, demanding I stay put as she slammed the door.
I was confused. I was scared. I could hear my daddy screaming. My mother’s voice softer, cajoling. I could hear things breaking. Finally, there was a dull thump. Then, nothing. I didn’t dare move. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. How could I have understood about drug use and violence. I couldn’t.
I don’t know how the story ends. It is simply a little vignette floating around free. I know the thump was my mother’s head sitting the hearth. Other than a confirmation that it happened; I have nothing to connect it to.
Does that violence explain the fear I felt that day in the barn? Is that little girl’s belief it was her fault what caused the shame I felt that day?
In both there is a sense of betrayal. Of causing my father to do something bad. That ever-growing shame. I was, simply, wrong.

Pursuing a life

Although I feel I have barely scratched the surface of the variety of…. Incidents that lead to a life frozen with shame, I want to talk a bit about a subject I care more about.  The things that allowed me to pull a “me” out of all the mess. A “me” who is strong, ok with myself, and resilient (or so they tell me).

I mentioned the support group that I went to.  I ended up attending for several years.  Partially to expose myself. Something I wasn’t good at yet.  Also, partially to help others.  I was able to give feed back that helped people.  Which was a lucky thing. Otherwise, I never would have stayed long enough to begin to transform.

No doubt about it, group was one of the hardest things I had ever done up to that point.  Every week I would leave with this twisting in my gut and burning iron ore in my chest. I worried—did I say too much? Did I say too little? What did the others think of me?

Did I say something that could result in my life falling around me? I had this inner censor. A little voice that went over everything I said, making sure it was safe and acceptable.  I didn’t dare say too much. 

There was a time when I was feeling angry and didn’t know how to express it.  I didn’t even know how to feel it. What I wanted to do was eat mass quantities of pastries until I passed out. When it was my turn at check in, I shared these feelings with the group. Despite the little voice in my head, gibbering, demanding I stop.  I asked for feedback. Sadly, the only clear memory I have of the conversations was when a woman who told me I was lucky.  Why would I want to feel that, she asked.  I immediately shut down.  But later, after a long therapy session, I felt a strange swelling in my chest.  My head was held up high.  I felt proud! I had exposed something I was very emotionally invested in. I had gone back the next week.  The group didn’t hate me. This thing, that was so huge for me, had left little impression with them.

Most of the memories that made me hate myself were still hiding behind my screen memory. That memory where I was frozen by the side of that waterbed. Choking on the long past odors, accosted by the moans and screams that were only in my head.

Over time, with the support of my therapist, I gained a level of equilibrium.  In the beginning, it took me most of a week to recuperate from my shame and discomfort enough to go back. 

Eventually, I could process my feelings in less than two days.

I also started making acquaintances in the group.  At the time I started going to group I couldn’t afford to keep my car on the road.  So, I was taking the bus. My very first friend was Marie, who offered to pick me up and drive me home. 

Over time, just with the little bit of private interaction, we became closer.  We talked about life and such.  Sometimes about the things that brought us to the hospital.  Sometimes about our families. Our fears.  Our triumphs. We even, obliquely, touched on sexual matters. She suffered from anxiety. I remember the warm feeling of “I matter” I got when she first called me during an attack.

For the most part, people came and left.  They would come for a few weeks, a few months, or only when they needed a little bit of extra support.  I was there regularly without fail.  I feared if I didn’t go once, I’d lose my nerve and not come back.

There were a few others who were there most of the time.  One of them had written the story of her life. She seemed so reserved, but somehow important to the therapist that ran the group.  Most of the time she talked about her children. One day, after she had mentioned her book in group again, I told her I’d be happy to read it and give her some feedback.  It was a huge risk. I was offering up a tender side of myself.  I had made an offer I wasn’t sure she would accept.

What if she said no?  I didn’t want to put her in a position that would uncomfortable. I didn’t want to get rejected. I felt my very position in the group was at stake.  It took much agonizing, especially in therapy, before I dared ask.

She said yes! She came to my house and we sat for hours, talking about the good and the less good in her story. Our relationship became quite bonded, very real.  But that was later.

As time went on some people seemed to consider me a second leader in the group.  I did get to moderate it once or twice. I learned that I was quite good at pulling conclusions out of what people said. I learned I could redirect the group, or an individual person, gently yet effectively. 

I was amazed, the first time I interjected with a comment about needing time for others during a meandering check in.  Even more amazed that no one seemed to take offense. Maybe they respected me?

Group filled a need I had forgotten I had.  A need to care about others.  A need to see clearly into their situations, and their personality, and offer pertinent suggestions.  Ultimately, the ability to share some of that I’ve been through, in a way that was relatable to them. 

So, group was the first step on my road to recovery.  While there I took other chances.  I took some photography classes.  I even tried to learn to play bridge.

 My only real goal there was to make casual friendships. I had no experience with that.  I tended to either shut people out or share too much.  Or I would end up being their sounding board.  I didn’t want more people I could help fix.  I just wanted people I could be friendly with. 

The bridge class was a complete failure.  I couldn’t keep up.  The rules, the bidding, felt beyond me. I stuck it out for three classes. Then I skipped one. Then another.  Finally, I accepted defeat.  At least I tried, I consoled myself.

I cared more about the photography classes.  I had purchased a used DSLR camera.  I really hoped I would come out if it with an acquaintance. I wanted to learn this new skill and have someone I could share with that went beyond the classroom.  Managing casual interactions across multiple meetings practically took my breath away.  Every time seemed to get harder, not easier.

Every week we printed out and shared pictures we had taken using the skills from the prior week. The first time I skipped class. Exposing those pictures felt like exposing my heart. I was so afraid I’d be told my work was “bad”.  Or even, simply, not good enough.

I was accustomed to schoolwork, where I was generally a superlative. I was pretty confident I could meet expectations there. In art classes back in high school I loved creating but didn’t think I was very good.  Would this be the same?

I was never told my pictures were bad or lacking.  Even I could see how much better some of the others were.  None-the-less, I stuck it out.  I even took another class, and another. 

I didn’t make new friends, or even an acquaintance that extended beyond the classroom. Still, people started conversations with me.  They seemed to like me.

My next step was to find a new group of people and learn to share, interact, and make friends with.  People who were not mentally ill.  I learned how to know people without needing them to know all, or any, of the horrors in my past.

But, again, that is a story for another time.

Taken part 2

First, there was food. Or rather the lack of food. As I had mentioned, my father expected us to follow a macrobiotic diet.  Brown rice, vegetables.  Plus, admonitions to eat your drinks and drink your food. One hundred chews of each bite. No liquids at meals or for a time afterward.

And fasts.  My father was a huge proponent of fasting.  Nothing but water, sometimes for multiple days.

This is one time I actually got lucky.  When I was seven my father had run out of juice in the house.  He told me to drink water, instead. I got rebellious and stubborn. I didn’t drink.  For 2 or 3 days. Finally, he became concerned I would get dangerously dehydrated.  So, he took me to the local 7-11 and got me an enormous slushie.

For that day forward, I would not drink water, no matter what.  Therefore, my father left grape juice for me to use instead, during fasts.  That juice tasted more wonderful than anything you can imagine.

It is hard to know, in some cases, whether They were too busy getting high to think about us, or whether they were simply sadistic. There would be separate food for my sister and me.  Rancid brown rice. Over ripe fruit. Rotting vegetables. Anything. I think, that they felt they could get away with.

When there was simply no food, I would scoop snow from outside and pour maple syrup over it, telling my sister and Moses (the other child) that it was ice cream.  Other times we would eat frozen orange juice concentrate out of the container. It was sticky, and very sweet.  We ate it with a spoon, on the sly.  My heart raced every time.  I didn’t know what would happen if they caught us.   I knew, however, that it would be something awful.

This alone was enough to give me serious food issues. My father added to the confusion by bringing food, especially Chinese take-out, home when he had been gone. He told me to eat my desert first because life is to be savored.  So, I would eat and eat.  Perhaps trying to store it up in my stomach for the inevitable drought to come.

He was my savior.  That food was a tangible expression of love.  I never allowed myself to think that all the deprivation was on his command.

Perhaps it seems strange that I did not question all of this.  Why I didn’t try to get help.  Why I didn’t tell someone. 
We were completely isolated.  We didn’t go to school.  We didn’t see people of any kind, other than Them and, sometimes, families having a baby.  It may as well have been a cult.

Next, were things that violated my mind and my body.

My father taught me to do guided relaxation, tensing and releasing each muscle group in succession.  He also coached me to Astral project.  To imagine myself somewhere far away.  To leave my body and fly to there.  He would have me sit in one position, either cross-legged or on my knees. To would coach me to go within.  To ignore the discomfort.  I would find a place filled with lights within me and float along with them.

That, along with the lessons on how to do sex acts, certainly served me well.  I spent most of my life blaming myself for the levels of depravity to which They sunk.  I was sure my father knew nothing.  I didn’t even wonder if it was a coincidence that they demanded or required skills he had created.

Still, it seemed he was gone more than he was there.  When he was gone it was a whole different world.  They loved to get high, drink, take drugs, and experiment with all things sexual. Between parties and overly sexual activities they enjoyed small tortures.  A soapy hot enema. Or, sometimes, as a douche. They would scream and hit. Knowing we would never tell.

At the parties I would bring a joint around the room or go fetch drinks.  They thought it was funny to blow smoke in my face.  I would try to hold my breath.  That didn’t go over very well.  Once, one of the women got tired of me holding my breath.  She forced me onto the bed and spread my legs.  She ran her tongue over what she found; then blew smoke into me.  “one hole is good as another” she fairly crowed.

 Sometimes, they would bake pot brownies.  They didn’t taste very good, being filled with crumbled leaves and the occasional seed. But they were sweet.  They were food.  They didn’t have to tell me twice.

I have this picture in my mind.  A picture of me, kneeling at the side of the enormous waterbed.  Watching the water undulate as they coupled in every combination you can imagine. That picture allowed me to survive.  To pretend that I was merely an observer.

The truth is far more complex and far more depraved.

It began with me on that side of the bed.  Watching.  But soon I was enlisted to be a part of their party games.  I would sit on the bed, in the middle of the tangle of bodies.  A touch here, a touch there. They especially thought it was fun to make me aroused, with angry shots of electricity that made me need to pee. That feeling always made me cry.  I soon learned not to give them the satisfaction, however.

It was a slow, long road to my capitulation.  To get to the point where I believed I was a black and ugly as they were. To the point where I would not just watch, would not just do as ordered.  A point where I would initiate sexual activities.  I have been assured that I had no choice.  That, in my mind at the very least, I was doing what I had to in order to survive. To protect my sister and Moses.

It wasn’t a pretty road.  I witnessed Buffalo raping his wife.  Heard him say time and again that soon I would be big enough and that would be me.  They degraded me. Touched me and made me touch them.  I don’t know which was worse, the men, or the women.

It was as if, with no contact with others, stuck there is our own bubble of a world, they lost their moorings.  Every indignity, every shameful action, emboldened them more.

I had only two choices, live, or die.  Accede to their desires or fight back.  I supposed it was inevitable that, sooner or later, Buffalo would rape me. 
The memory is fuzzy, feelings more than thoughts or visions.  I was face down on the waterbed, his weight focused in his hand on my back.  It hurt.  Of course.  But it also made it very clear that he could, and would, do anything he like. 

I decided then that I would take control.  If I initiated sex acts, I would be the one with the power.  I would be safe.  I could guide the game, keep me safe and the other children, too.

I began to push myself. To force my body toward pain.  To take joy in hurting and shaming myself. I hated me as much as I hated them. I deserved to suffer.  I wanted to suffer.

All of this was hidden, behind that frozen memory, until I was well into my 40’s.  Because I couldn’t afford to know I had been that person. 

I was already suffering from severe depression.  I spent years fascinated with death.  Longing for the release. But I couldn’t do that, either.  I knew I had to be there. There for my sister.  There for my father.

So, I did what I had been taught.  How often did I abandon my body, once I had approached them sexually?  Hoping against hope that, somehow, I would be freed.  I feared them far more than I feared death. 
I couldn’t imagine ever leaving that house. Going back to my mother was out.  Because my father needed me.  Loved me.  And because she frightened me.  Around her I feared this deep, dark blackness. Something so horrid I couldn’t even imagine it.  Something far worse than death.

Interlude

I think, when people treat you like a burden, like a throw away, you start to live down to those expectations. There were occasions, when we were in that house, of downright defiance.  Of taking my life in my hands, just to spite them. Because it was taking my life into my hands.  With the things they had done, and would do, being killed did not seem out of the realm of possible.
The physical and emotional pain was intense. There was nothing to compare it to.  There was no release.  I didn’t believe I would make it out of there, many days.

This was not one of those days.

Moses, my sister, and I were thrown in the bathtub.  Something that was not, sadly, a daily experience.  Still, we were children, and even in the middle of any horror children will find a way to be children.  We were splashing and laughing. They were no where around, so we were ignored.

Moses got out of the tub to go to the bathroom.  After he had sat there for a few moments he stood up with a mischievous look in his eyes.  He put the seat up and reached down into the pot.

We shrieked. He laughed and put his hand down into the water.  Amid the squeals and laughter, he covered his belly in the stinky. When They still didn’t appear, we also got out of the bath.  Still dripping water, we all reached into the bowl, using every bit of the stinky. We covered ourselves as best we could.

Someone used a handful to wipe it on another.  Soon, we were laughing and chasing each other around the upstairs. 

Of course, that much fun could not go unabated. Soon enough, an angry mother came up to see what was going on.  Somehow, we decided we would not stop.  We ran from her.  Down the staircase and out the door. An act of defiance that usually would be far beyond me.

They were dangerous, there was no question.  Any such display should have been impossible for us. Normally, we were too cowed for such behavior.  Perhaps it was because he had joined us.  Perhaps it was so outside the expected that she didn’t know what to do.

Soon enough, the laughter and fun were going to have to end.

In that moment, however, we had the upper hand. A feeling I was going to transfer to other, far more dangerous, situations before too much time had passed.

Taken

So, I talked a little bit about the shame I experienced as a little girl.  It left me feeling that I was defective.  I didn’t have a right to be here.  I wanted to not exist.  That feeling continued through most of my life.  Although there were plenty of things that happened in-between, next I am going to tackle the precursors to the biggest contributor to my toxic shame.

When I turned 9 my father took my little sister and I on a visitation. (My parents had separated when I was 6). We went to Florida to visit my Great-grandfather.  On the way home my sister got sick from flying, so his girlfriend was with her in the bathroom.

It was New Year’s Eve. While he and I were sitting, waiting for them to come out I was thinking about my mother. There was this hard lump in my chest and I could feel the prickling of impending tears.  I turned to him and said something to the effect of, I don’t want to go home.  Or maybe it was, I want to stay with you.  My mother frightened me.  She always had.  But since the separation it was worse. She was intent on preventing me from growing up to be like my father. I read it as more proof I was Wrong.

Anyway, my father looked at me with an inscrutable look on his face.  “Well,” he told me “it isn’t in my plans, and it will be very inconvenient for me, but since you asked, I will keep you.” Did I see a flicker of triumphant glee?

That hard lump plummeted to my feet. I had been looking for attention and approval. To remind him I was on his side.  Now, instead, I had a premonition of bad things to come.   Because of that very brief exchange, I blamed myself for everything that happened in the six months that followed.

Much of went on before we ended up in the house where we would eventually stay is fuzzy in my mind.  I remember sleeping on someone’s floor. I remember visiting several houses, mostly of pregnant women.

 My father, a MD, had forgone the head of surgery appointment in exchange for working as a home childbirth practitioner.

When we finally arrived at Shirley (the name of the town where the house was) I remember being tired and scared.  The house was supposedly haunted.  The first night there, while my father made whatever arrangements he made for them to care for us whenever he was busy catching babies.  I remember playing with the fire in the fireplace.

The logs sputtered and spit out plumes of sparking red embers. Then there were the candles.  I would stick my finger in the gooey wetness, then watch it harden into a slippery tip.  Only to melt it back down in the flame.  I would slowly run my finger through the flame, thrilling in the possibility of pain, of damage. 

So, for the first time I can remember, I sought pain to comfort and ground me.  To make the inexplicable somehow not.  I was going to live in this big, beautiful, but haunted house?  At least I’d be with Daddy, I told myself.  He would make everything ok.  That was his purpose.

Then I met Them.  There were five adults in the house, a single man who lived in the attic and two married couples who each had a 6-month-old baby.  One of them also had an 8-year-old boy.  I say Them because they became largely interchangeable in the light of everything that was yet to transpire.  

The women are a blur.  A flounced skirt, perhaps?  A sense of hippies. A thick smell of marijuana smoke.

Buffalo stood out in sharp relief. A huge presence with a scraggly beard and nauseating body odor. I could tell I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.

I longed to run and hide behind my father.  However, thanks in part to my mother, I was adept at suppressing fear.  Never let them see you blink.

I was shell shocked by the entire situation.  I wanted to be with my father desperately.  I knew I would have a great deal of autonomy.  By which you should read neglect. My father tended to treat me as an equal.

He was secure in his imagined role of savior to society. At home childbirth.  Macrobiotic diet. Free love.  Hyperactive sexuality. Part of that role involved documenting for posterity every precious thought.  Sometimes he would take me out.  Though I don’t know where we went, I remember him recording his conversations while he explained it all to me.  I felt honored. I felt scared.  Some of it didn’t make sense.  Other parts did.  I felt this awesome responsibility as his protégée.

I felt responsible for the other children in the household. Taking care of the babies was fun, initially. Eventually, however, if became simply a chore shoved at me by parents that had better things to do. Or worse, depending on your view.  They all were heavy pot smokers, and other things I don’t know for sure what they were.

  I know one of the things they liked to use was LSD. I know because, much further into this journey, my father taught us to finger spell the alphabet.  He spelled out the letters, and when I repeated them aloud I though, for a moment, he might actually kill me.

He was severely paranoid.  Later diagnosed as schizophrenic or severe Bipolar 1. People watched him.  Went through his things.  The government was out to get him because he was changing the status quo.

The adults in the household were in a band. My father loved to play guitar and write songs.  It was up there with practicing medicine, for him.  They would take us out on gigs.  I remember one time when they played in a hotel.  They got a room for us kids. When the babies were asleep the rest of us snuck upstairs to listen to them.

overall, it wasn’t too terrible—yet.

The more my father was away the more they came to abuse me. They were cruel in both big and small ways.  They took away our stuffed toys to give to the babies.  One day, one of the women was mad because our room was a mess. So, she took away my precious baby doll and my tattered security blanket. It was a later incarnation of a small, pink checkered crib quilt. I curled my 9-year-old body up into a tight fetal ball and slept each night with it pulled around me.  It was a magical protection.  A thick layer of cloth that made me invincible while I slept.

It was my blanket, and not the heavy dresser that we pushed against the door each night before we went to sleep, that allowed me to lower my alert enough to sleep.

 My father got Heben (my doll) back for me.  The blanket had gone directly in the trash.  All that remained was the ribbon that had gone around the edges. I feared I’d never sleep again.  I feared someone, somehow, would find me in the dark of night and destroy me.

That was not nearly enough for them, however.  There were intrusive actions, like giving us hot water and soap enemas. There were also thigs that are harder to define.

One of the women would make me stay in the bathtub after the other children were done.

I had to lie in the bathtub with my butt against the front of the tub and my legs straight up in the air.  She would run a thin flow of hot water over my genitals. It made me feel like I had to pee.  It also made me angry. I couldn’t afford to be angry.  There was no question in my mind They could cause grievous harm.  The squirmy feelings I got made me want to explode.

Meanwhile, my father was teaching us lessons. With his girlfriend showing us the exact steps and actions, we learned how to perform oral and manual manipulation of his genitals.  I can’t really express how bad that made me feel.  I was responsible for us being there, after all.  I knew it made me feel awful, it was one of the first times in my life when I dissociated.

However, my father was all knowing, to me.  So, logically, I believed the bad feelings I felt were the result in something wrong with me. I couldn’t think anything bad about my father.  I needed his “love” to survive.  I was 9.  I knew, despite all the responsibilities they placed on me, I could not survive on my own.  So, I decided that what he did was good, and natural, and right. The problem was with me. If I could just feel the way he said I should, everything would be ok.

All of this is simply the prelude to the true horrors.  The days and nights that left me owning evil as my own.  The horrors that left me feeling so black, so fundamentally tainted, that I was sure there was no possible coming back.  I thought me behavior was up there with people that had become cannibals to after an airline crash to survive. Feelings that frightened me so I would do anything not to know they were there.

All of this was like a kindergarten education to the PhD level experiences that were yet to come.

Eventually, They upped the ante.

Willingness

Why willingness? I have the good fortune to be part of a wonderful weekly support group. Over time, I realized that I was resisting making the very changes I desired. Although I desired that change, there was something that I was not ready to give up. I wanted my life to be different, but I didn’t want to suffer through the process of change. A lack of willingness was, as much as anything, the result of the desire for comfort. I wanted change to be comfortable. I wanted to recognize whom I saw in the mirror. At the same time, I wanted to change.
Changing my beliefs about myself was, and is, one of the hardest things I have ever done. Willingness stripped me of my excuses. I wanted to change, but I was not sure I was willing to give up my former patterns. I would have to face my demons head on

The only way to do it is to do it.
There is no magic answer, no special pill, no tool, no word, no original technique that will make changing our lives easy. Reading a book, talking to friends, attending a seminar can’t guarantee us success. We’re looking for guarantees, but we will never get them. We cannot achieve our dreams through the work of others. There is never just one way to do something. We seldom have the comfort of a road map. Even when we do, the first move is always hard to take. You have to start at the beginning. You have to do something.
Change is hard. Often all we have is faith that it will work out. All too often, we are a little short on faith. We want to hold out for the sure thing. Seldom do things worth doing come easy, however. There is always the chance that we will fall down on our faces and break our noses. It doesn’t matter if we believe. To change we have to try. That can be the most frightening thing of all. There must be 1000 ways to say it, but in the end, the only way to do it is to do it.

So, you haven’t gotten started. Not to worry, most people haven’t. We are all full of excuses. It’s too hard. I don’t have enough time. I’m not strong enough. I’m not brave enough. I’m not smart enough. We will keep having excuses, until the pain of not doing something is greater than the pain of doing at. Excuses are irrelevant. When we are ready to do it, we will find a way, but as long as we listen to the excuses, as long as we shirk behind the fear, we will keep treading water.
We may say, “I don’t have excuses, I have reasons”. Yes, they are reasons, but they are also excuses. It may be hard, it may be painful, it may require great sacrifice, but when we get the point where we want it badly enough, we will find a way. The excuses are simply our reason not to try.
To “do it” we have to put ourselves out there. We have to be willing to look stupid. We need to be willing to have the people we love disapprove of us. We have to keep trying in the face of failure. Taking action makes us vulnerable. When things fall apart, it hurts. It can hurt financially. It can hurt our pride. It can do damage to our lives. When we live our dreams, we are showing people where to hit, if they want to hurt us. Making major changes isn’t for the faint of heart.
The problem with “the only way to do it is to do it” is that it is so easy no to do it. There may be a great show on TV, a new neighbor down the street we want to meet. Some people hide in an addiction. So long as we drink, or smoke, or obsess about food, or any of a myriad of vices we don’t have to think about what we really want. In fact, obliterating that addiction may be what we need to do. Just as long as we stay unwilling to give up time with the family, money from our pockets, or the same old comfortable way of thinking about things we stay stuck. Everyone would be his or her ideal self if it came with no cost.
What we need is permission. Permission to be selfish. Permission to fail. Permission even to try. We need to know we can’t be everything to everyone, and that is ok. We need permission to say no, sometimes. We even need permission to whine and complain, sometimes.
So, I’ll bet you’re thinking this sounds like a rotten deal. Why would anyone want to put themselves through all that mess? Once you realize that the only way to do it is to do it, you create a whole world of possibilities. From the very first step, fear becomes something controllable. Fear hides in the shadows, the unknown spaces in our heads. Fear tells us that first step is far too risky. Take the step, and you strip away that illusion. I won’t suggest that everything will be easy from that point forward. Because that is simply not true. But taking that step is the only way to create change. The only way to do it is to do it.
This concept will help reduce your regrets in life. Wondering what may have been can stay with us for a lifetime. Failing or being embarrassed, while not fun. Does not hold the same sting. When we face challenges in life, rather than procrastinating, making excuses, or finding excuse after excuse, we don’t have to wonder about what we could have done. It takes courage to take action. When we do, we answer the question “what if”. We can live life looking forward, rather than trying to forget what is in the past.
Often times we know we have to take action eventually. When we spend our time making excuses, we waste our precious time. When we (metaphorically) spend our time walking around in circles we tie up time and energy. We may take time away from our family or from fun activities. We may find ourselves up against a dead-line. We have to scramble and rush to meet our obligations. The quality of our performance may suffer. We may find we are constantly letting people down. There is no magic formula for getting started. The only way to do it is to do it.
All of this is nice and good, but how, really, does it apply to the real world? I am going to give you examples. Real examples from my life, in the hopes that you come to agree with me. These are powerful ideas. I must say I spend much time walking around in circles, learning and relearning these lessons. Life is a journey, and I learn more every day. I continue to relearn these concepts. When I live by them, I am happier and more productive. I was an expert at putting things off. Most of my life involved not feeling, not doing, and not facing my limitations. At times, I found the pain and fear of moving toward my goals overwhelming.
“The only way to do it is to do it” can be so empowering. For most of my life I suffered from terrible shame. It got to the point where I suffered from shame every time I was less than perfect. In other words, most of the time. This shame seriously hindered my efforts to develop relationships.
All of this is a lead-in to this brief synopsis.

Willingness

  1. It always comes down to “just do it”
    No matter how much support, stability, or relief you have. No matter how small the first step is, it still requires you to take it
  2. Realize you’ll have to make healthy choices over and over again
    What you intend to do, or have done yesterday doesn’t really count as progress today
  3. All you need to do is get it right more often than not
    Perfection is impossible. Setting a goal of getting something right at least 51% of the time enhances the power of the smaller, beginning steps. Progressing even very slowly is better than not at all
  4. Change can feel really bad
    Do it anyway
  5. You must give up something to grow
    Change will never be easy, painless, and have only positives. Often the cost of something becomes its value
  6. Actively challenge “absolutes”
    Pay attention to the language you use to define your own expectations
    “Can’t” usually means “won’t”
  7. Expect setbacks, back slides are part of the process
    They are a chance to practice
  8. Whose fault it is doesn’t matter
    Self-esteem comes from how you respond to what happens to you, not what happens to you
  9. It will never be easier then right now
    Maintaining bad habits only reinforces them
  10. There will never be a better time than right now
    Waiting for better conditions is procrastination
  11. Be selective about “support”.
    It is usually the people who challenge you (rather than the people who understand you) that most help you to change
  12. Insight alone does not create change
    Understanding can only take you so far. Eventually you must act