Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

Dinner is at 4pm sharp everyday. Just the three of us. Me, Frankie and Mommy. I’m six, Frankie is twelve. The Mickey Mouse club has just ended on TV. I have pedal pushers on and a boy’s checkered shirt and sneaks, Frankie is wearing a baseball shirt from practice and my mother is wearing her usual flowered house dress, no sleeves, raggy slippers that make her shuffle like an old woman. Her hair is set in bobby pins and wound so tight on her head, you see her pulled white scalp.
There really is nothing to setting the table, not much needed for TV dinners in the aluminum tray. Just a fork, and a knife, courtesy of White Tower cutlery, and three glasses. Soda for me, milk for Frankie, and water for my mother. We have the usual, meat loaf for me, Salisbury steak for Frankie and fried chicken for my mother. The only day that varies is Friday. Can’t eat meat on Fridays so we have fishsticks. Just fishsticks. We’re Catholic but we only go to church on Palm Sunday (for the Palm you get) and Easter. Christmas we don’t go because no one can take us.
Next to my mother’s fork is her favorite metal ashtray, my mother’s extra piece of silverware at the dinner table. My brother jumps up to reach the top of the refrigerator where the comic books are kept only to be read at dinnertime.
Frankie puts his Captain Action comic book by the left side of his plate, throws my Archie and Jughead comic book at me across the table and hand my mother her Secret Romance and Confessions comic book which she places on the left side of her plate.
She pulls the aluminum trays from the oven one by one, placing them on the formica table on top of dish towels in front of us. Opening a corner at a time, the steam leaks out and mingles with the stinky cigarette smoke already in the air.
I see her through the haze of smoke coming from the stained-lipstick laden cigarette jetting out from the groove of the metal ashtray. She likes those best- easier to clean. “The cigarette burns are hard to get off glass,” she says, and “Glass ashtrays are only for company,” she declares, which is strange because we never have any company.
Other stained butts lay amidst the ashes next to the currently lit Pall Mall. She does the same thing every time we eat dinner. She picks up the cigarette like a gangster in movie, between her thumb and fore finger, brings the nasty cigarette to her lips, sucks in her roughly skinned cheeks, and inhales and all the while her eyes are squinting as if she were looking directly into the sun. She then puts the cigarette in it’s groove, turns the page of the Romance comic book on the left hand side of the plate, and blows the smoke across the table to where I sit, picks up the fork and stuffs a piece of food inside her mouth. She looks like she’s in a puppet show and some guy is pulling her strings from on top of the stage and can make the puppet’s mouth open and close, move it’s arms with a herky jerky motion. Cigarette smoke always drifts over the kitchen table. I try and wave it away with my hands to keep it at bay, but her constant drags on the cigarette and the smoke wafting my way makes the TV dinners that much less appealing.
Often one of the butts she snuffs out, still burns. She hardly notices. “Ma” I say, “it’s still smoking”. My words seemed to interrupt the flow of her movements and the look from across the table is enough to warn me not to complain any further. The rotten smell covers everything, the food, the house, and me.
“If it’s bothering you that much, get up off your ass and move it to the sink,” she yells, "and take the glasses and silverware too.” I grab the ashtray with my thumb and first finger, careful to touch it as little as I can, as if it has some sort of contagious disease that I will catch and I make a face as I touch it . I gag and give off a dry heave. “Just get the god damn ashtray to the sink and stop being a baby or I’ll make you cry like a baby. I ask you god damn kids for nothing. I ask you for one god damn thing and you make a song and dance out of everything. Give me that,” she says angrily, “you don’t know what you’re doing anyway. Get out of the kitchen and don't bother me."
That was dinner.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

"There is no doubt that you have been shortchanged as a result of the way you were treated during your traumatic events. You deserve better than that, like any person who has been fortunate enough to have parents and friends who supported her and showed their love openly. You did not deserve to be abused, put down, humiliated, or neglected. But you were. When a person is shortchanged, particularly by someone who was supposed to love and protect them, they usually get filled up with rage and a wish for revenge. It is usually manifested by uncontrollable anger and rage attacks. That is understandable; the problem is that it leads to problems with relationships and eventually leads to isolation. If you can accept the fact that you were shortchanged and you are not to blame for the abuse, then you can forgive yourself. This forgiveness will allow you to move on, to be less bitter, and to be less angry."

Picking up a purple marker from the white board tray TGD turns to the group once again and presents her questions. The same scene from last week repeats itself. We all sit in our same chairs with the same scared look on our faces. The only thing different is the clothes we wear from week to week.

"What problems do you have with your anger and rage and could you please share with the group how it manifests itself"?, TGD scans the group and asks. Once again no one comes up with an answer. This is the moment TGD calls on a random group member to be the first to respond.
"Carla", TGD says to the student, "can you think of any of the times you've shown your rage and anger either lately or in your childhood."

Carla, munching on a bag of trail mix suddenly seems to twist like a kite stuck on a tree in the wind. The bag she is clutching seems to suddenly become a stress ball. The crackling from the bag sounds like a roaring fire in the quiet room.

"I don't know. I guess I throw things and swear. Like I had a fight with my boyfriend last night and like, he just wasn't listenting, and like I had to get his attention to like, pay attention to me, so I like threw a book at him and he got pissed."

"So your boyfriend not listening to you triggers an outburst from you, correct"?, TGD inquires. "Yeh," Carla responds.

On the board with the purple marker TGD writes the words,

Not getting attention you deserve.

"Does this remind you of any experiences in the past," TGD asks.
"Yeh, well sure," Carla adds, "my parents like never listened so I guess I would act out and do stuff that would make them pay attention to me, like break something or swear, steal things and finally I started taking drugs to get their attention and that would work."

Other members then began to respond with their experiences of how they manifest their anger. Other words and phrases join Carla's contribution to acts of rage on the spindly legged white board.

Saying hurtful things to/about others
Being judgemental
Angry at someone else's success/jealousy
Pulling back and not communicating

As the list grew I sat there and thought about my own rage and where it was. I was depressed and sad about things, but rage, I don't think so, unless it is so well hidden I was missing it.

Suddenly I heard my name. "Suzy," TGD said,"can you tell us about your experiences with rage and anger."

Shit. Here we go again.

I thought for a bit and began explaining that rage was something I tried not to have.
"All my life, my mother was in a constant rage. I spent all my childhood just doing what I was told and trying not to rock the boat. Actually I have spent my entire life trying not to rock the boat. Rage and anger are the two things I don't want to see or deal with- anything but that. I will do anything to make things peaceful at all costs."

"Suzy, can you explain to the group what experiences in your childhood led you to being the "peacemaker" that you are?"
Damn it! This was a setup. We touched upon this in therapy. Now I have to spit it out here.

As I heard myself recount these stories, a slow motion video was playing in my head, the kind that slows down when the really awful part hits the screen. What I saw was a little girl standing on a old kitchen chair,matching the 1950's formica kitchen table, cheap plastic seat and metal legs,crying, sobbing. She was maybe 6 or 7. She had her 2 arms bent at the elbow and her mother was screaming at her. "Stand still or I'll give you something to cry about. Hold your arms still God damnit!" The little girl had contacted empetigo, some sort of skin infection that kids got from playing in the dirt outside.
It had already blistered and festered. Calamine lotion had been applied to it and now it had crusted over and large scabs had formed. The mother was removing the scabs by scraping them with a butter knife. But the child was in pain and couldn't stop crying. The mother finally smacked her in the head with the back of her hand and told her now she had something to cry about.
That little girl, for the 2nd time in her short life wanted to hurt her mother back. Punch her, kick her, shove her. But she couldn't. Her rage would get her nowhere except another beating.

Interesting that this infection is known as a "trauma of the skin."

Trauma, inside and out.

The first time rage entered this little girl's mind was on Christmas Eve when she and her brother had been innocently counting the wrapped Christmas presents by the cardboard fireplace, below the white artifical Christmas tree. Santa had long since been phased out. The little girl was 6, the boy was 12. Innocent enough game for Christmas Eve, but the mother took offense.
The screams of the mother actually made the little girl jump. The brother knew immediately to run and jump into his upper bunk bed and squeeze as close to the wall as possible as to avoid being beaten.
The little girl wasn't as swift and before she knew it, she was being dragged by the neck of her pajamas, smacked and thrown into bed. All the while the mother screaming," What the hell do you think you two little bastards are doing? Not enough presents? I work my ass off for this God damn family and this is the thanks I get? I'll show you two little ungrateful bastards."
The mother picked up the presents, dropping some on the way out the back door to the back yard. Seconds later, she came back picked up the rest of the presents and went out back again.

Minutes had passed when the little girl decided to get up and go to the kitchen window and look out back. Opening two slats of pristine venetian blinds, the little girl was able to see what the mother had done.
At first all she could see was smoke coming from the 4 ft hole incinerator dug into the ground in the back yard. In the moonlight, the mother was striking match after match and throwing them in the fireproof concrete incinerator. Flames began to were leap out, with sparks flying everywhere . Her mother's face looked like one of those faces in the dark where a person puts a flashlight under their chin to scare you. The little girl wanted someone, anyone to come and make the mother stop any way they could- hit her, smack her, yell at her. But that wasn't going to happen.

The little girl went back to the safety of her bed and fell asleep wondering just what was in those presents. Christmas Day was just another day. The mother went to work, the brother went to see his friends and the little girl stayed home and watched TV.

I wonder about the irony of it all and when it will finally come to rest.

The fire has spread.

My brother, a fireman who was/is a pedophile, and me hoping to heal so many scars in this renovated firehouse.

As the forest blazes, I know that TGD has come to the rescue, like a fire fighting plane swooping over the terrain to prevent the fire from spreading.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Survival Tactics

"When shameful and humiliating experiences become part of who you are. getting rid of them leaves you empty and scared. That is why so many victims of trauma, especially childhood trauma, feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness, almost like having a black hole inside. Thus looking inside often leaves you in the dark. If you have had many traumatic experiences, then you are filled with a lot of these holes which may have developed into what is called a Personality Disorder, which can interfere with your self esteem and relations with others. Many times there is a wish to fill this hole up, in order not to feel the void. Often traumatized individuals will attempt to fill the void by alcohol, drugs, food and sex."

This is the opening mini-lecture of the third week of the trauma group. TGD then elicits examples from the group members as to how each one fills her own void and emptiness. The women in the group quietly give answers and TGD lists them on the white board with a fiery red marker.


I wonder if everyone is as embarassed and ashamed as I am to see the sins of our survival strategies posted on the white board.

I pick out my own shameful behavior and cringe at the thought of having to verbalize what is so blatantly obvious to everyone regarding the way I have tired to insulate myself from anyone. My survival strategy serves to insulate me from everyone. They see one of my many failures right before their eyes. At least if I were sexually promiscious, took drugs or was even an alcoholic, it could be hidden, but not the weight. Being overweight sends out screaming alarms to everyone. Not too obvious a visual.

The silence in the room is deafening and interminable. Guilt, humiliation, and disgust seem to spark a chord inside of everyone. Each one of these sins ignites a shame and embarassment that has stoked the fire of traumaike a joke birthday candle that keeps reigniting itself as an unsuspecting child keeps trying to blow it out.

TGD softly asks one of the group members, what she does when she finds a big dark void, a hole. When the group member responds to the inquiry, TGD then carefully probes a little more and asks, "Can you please tell the group, that when you find yourself in this dark lonely place, what usually reminds you or causes you to experience this hole? What are you thinking of?"

TGD begins to open this gaping raw wound for all of us.

As the group member relives her story of brutality and violence heaped on her by a parent, and the feelings associated with the traumas, I once again disapppear into that place in my psyche that I allow no one to enter. It's a double- edged sword- no one enters, but the memories and the perpetrators never leave- or are they memories? Is it then or is it now? The pain, humiliation and shame transcend time. The picture is clear but also cloudy. It's back to a time that sees the longing, the rejection, and the loneliness. But it's not in the past. It's still here. Still here!

At the same time, I am praying that TGD doesn't call on me to speak. Am I still a child in school fearing the teacher, not knowing the right answer and being called stupid?

No sooner do I think these thoughts, TGD turns to me and says, "Suzy, can you please tell us what images come to your mind when you look at the board and think about the various ways to fill the emptiness or voids"?

She knows me, she knows what I'm thinking and she fucking wants me to say it in front of everyone, not just in our private sessions. But there is something in her eyes, something safe, that allows me to trust her with my overwheleming sadness and not have to pretend anymore, and permits me to let her and the others in without fear of shame.

Before I know it I experience a flashback, that visual she knew I had within me, and I begin to recount to TGD and the group, memories involving food. A mother who probably didn't feed me. Memories of TV dinners being put on the table at 4pm with clear angry instructions not to talk and eat as fast as possible as my mother had to go back to bed before getting up for the all night shift. Sitting at that formica kitchen table after the aluminum tray was taken away and just feeling sad. That's all there was. No conversation, no sharing, just silence.
I have memories of going upstairs to the neighbors and knocking on their door to see if I could come in and be with someone, anyone. They would be finishing dinner and offering me their leftovers, seconds, anything that was left. "Eat it Suzy, or we'll just throw it away." The last stop before the garbage. Great, just fucking great. Seems like yesterday, and it probably was. No voids here.
I look at TGD through my tears and at once I am reassured that my "drug of choice" is nothing to be ashamed of. It was a survival tactic and I won. I am still here. My choice got me through the trauma when I could have just given up.
"If I won, why do I feel like such a loser"? I ask.

TGD explains that together we will sort through the memories, events, and traumas of my childhood and extract the past from the present and separate the trauma from the person. They are not one and the same anymore.

TGD will investigate where the hot spots are in the embers of my ashes and will identify the incendiary devices and the arsonist.

At last I feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Have No Idea What the Hell a MEME is,

but Jerri (LOVE HER) http://reflectionsonthepond,
MEME'D me who is a grownup up and I respect my elders, so bear with me here.

1.I write in long hand first, because my thoughts are way ahead of my fingers because I can't type like Superman.

2.Even though I LOVE Carly Simon, James Taylor, and the 4 Tops, I only listen to Christian music for inspiration when I write.

3.Sometimes I really don't know where the patterns of thought come from, sometimes they just appear.

4.TGD reads each and every thing I write and post (think I should pay her more????) and loves it. She makes sure she always has her reading glasses with her and with any luck I will be cured by the time we both need guide dogs.

5.The support of the writing community astounds me each and everytime. I am blessed.

I now tag Dgibbs, a blog that is just lovely. You will fall in love with her son Connor, over at

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Untying the Gordian Knot

One day, according to ancient Greek legend, a poor peasant called Gordius arrived with his wife in a public square of Phrygia in an ox cart. As chance would have it, so the legend continues, an oracle had previously informed the populace that their future king would come into town riding in a wagon. Seeing Gordius, therefore, the people made him king. In gratitude, Gordius dedicated his ox cart to Zeus, tying it up with a highly intricate knot - - the Gordian knot. Another oracle -- or maybe the same one, the legend is not specific, but oracles are plentiful in Greek mythology -- foretold that the person who untied the knot would rule all of Asia.
The problem of untying the Gordian knot resisted all attempted solutions until the year 333 B.C., when Alexander the Great -- not known for his lack of ambition when it came to ruling Asia -- cut through it with a sword. "Cheat!" you might cry. And although you might have been unwise to have pointed it out in Alexander's presence, his method did seem to go against the spirit of the problem. Surely, the challenge was to solve the puzzle solely by manipulating the knot, not by cutting it.

Keith Devlin, Mathematician

Silence numbs the small circle of women. Monica’s words have knocked the collective breath out of our flesh and bones. So many levels of pain, so many pieces of the puzzle added to the game board, so many familiar violations endured and described in one fell swoop. The words strike like a backdraft. Constantly deprived of being heard, oxygen to our souls, invisible to those who should care and with the results ending in a fatal explosion that burns everyone surrounding the fire lit by the perpetrator, the only one left standing and unharmed.

With each question TGD asks of the group members, the sadness and perverseness of what we have endured builds. “Who should bear the shame”? “Who should bear the blame”? “Certainly not the victim, but all those who took part in these heinous acts and those who stood by and let it happen.”

As TGD continues I try and concentrate on what she is proclaiming but a sorrow so deeply embedded transports me outside of myself once again and all I see before me is a circle not of women bound together, but of rope with knots representing each one of us. We are all tied together in combined terror. The only thing connecting us is the rope of our combined trauma, shame and fear . With each question TGD poses, the aggregated knots gets tighter and tighter, the silent pain being squeezed to death.
Where is my sense of humor now? Where is that escape I have used so often to disguise my real existence? As the knot gets tighter, less air and light enter and hope gives way to the encroaching darkness.
I then see my life as a succession of knots, many still intertwined around themselves, some cut off, some burned, and some festering. I am unable to get my fingers in between the thick tightly woven threads.

Someone has to help. Undo this mess, untie these knots loosen the grip that has forced me into this unyielding position I’ve gotten myself into. Whatever direction I turn, the knot gets tighter and tighter until I am paralyzed in place where it doesn’t hurt anymore. Just a chronic ache.

So I turn, in trust to TGD who has the nimble healing hands and delicate gentle fingers to help unravel these Gordian knots of 50+ years.