Grief

Happiness is as Happiness does: Musings from a Bipolar Brain

Happy is a feeling and feelings are fleeting. Happiness is a state of being and takes work.

The experience of Happiness is more challenging for some more than others and may seem impossible to achieve.

That’s because Happiness isn’t a goal or destination, but a byproduct, a side effect of the combination of our genetics, circumstances, beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

For many of us coming from lives filled with trauma and/or mental illness it will look different than it does for neurotypical people. We have to work through the trauma and confront ourselves to heal and grow. These are our prerequisites to Happiness.

There is no set formula for experiencing it. However, common and necessary elements include self-care (nutrition, activity, personal hygiene, etc.), engagement in healthy community, gratitude, service, and passionate purpose.

Pain, loss, grief, and other feelings and experiences, often considered “negative,” may suppress Happiness and cause us to lose it. But, what is lost can be found again. The negative doesn’t necessarily negate the ability to experience Happiness.

Of course, I could be way off and this is hypomania talking…but, I don’t think so.

What say you?

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Writing Prompt: August Scrawls Day 7

Letting Go

Thoughts of you won’t go away
Feelings won’t be annulled
My heart’s freedom, obliterated
None of this in my control

I judged myself insensate
My obsession as obtuse
My desire for you puerile
My hope, confusing to deduce

Now I understand the truth
There’s neither fault or blame
I know it was a fantasy
Though I’ll never be the same

It will take as long as it will take
For my heart to heal and grow
I must now forgive us both
If ever I’m to let you go

Writing Prompt:

August Scrawls – annul

IG: hopelessperriott

Keep Moving: When you’re going through hell

This journey toward health encompasses so many things in my life. Basically, it’s connected to everything – my emotions, relationships, mental health, life circumstances… It’s all tied together. Especially when I’m falling apart.

As some have noted from reading my other posts this month, my plate is full.

There are many moments on many days when I feel the full weight of it all. All I want to do is eat my anger, fear, frustration, resentment, uncertainty, and a myriad of other emotions triggered by the situations and circumstances of my life.

Numbing myself with food has been my pattern since adolescence.

After years of chaotic living and trauma, my mother’s undiagnosed, unacknowledged mental illness took her life via suicide. I was 12 years old and under her brother’s guardianship.

I was dissociated from my emotions by then and didn’t realize or acknowledge the effects it had on me. There was no discussion, no Memorial Service, and no grief counseling.

Just. Move. On.

I disappeared into books…and eating even more than I’d already been overeating.

Fast forward nearly 37 years later and here I am. Working hard to get healthy in the midst of trigger after trigger for eating my feelings.

I have been doing a phenomenal job, if I do say so myself, of staying conscious and present of my eating. Using the app to keep a record of my food and staying with the recommended guidelines has felt good, but also made me make better choices, because I didn’t want to see bad ones.

Last night I lost the battle.

True confession: Two Wendy’s chicken tenders w/honey mustard, small fry, & “small” coke.

Emotions: frustration, anger

Outcome: feeling bloated & sick

😑

The win that I’m taking away from this is that I caught myself almost immediately and didn’t shove the rest of the food into my face. I faced my feelings. Most importantly, I’m being honest with myself…and you.

I’m continuing to advance. I’m going to keep moving.


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Eating Myself Sick (pt. 2)

Yesterday, I started writing about my most recent downward spiral into a binge eating episode. Now, for the rest of the story.

Two days ago was “Family Fun Friday” at my daughter’s school. Her dad decided he wanted to go and would pick us up, to go as a family, at 7:30 am. Every night my daughter doesn’t go to sleep before 10 pm, no matter how hard I try. Every morning, it’s a fight to get her awake, dressed, and out the door by 8:30 in time to catch her bus. It was very stressful knowing I not only had to have her up and ready an hour earlier, but, that I would also be in his presence, with his moodiness and anger over his current circumstances and belief that I’m to blame for the situation he’s in because I left the relationship nearly two years ago.

There was no time for a healthy or filling breakfast. So, I wound up eating two half pieces of pastry and half a muffin, along with a large cup of coffee with several creamers, while we were at the school. After we left and were on our way to where I volunteer weekly, less than two miles from his place, the arguing and criticism started. Then, he expected me to use his truck to go do my volunteering at the church. That way, I would go back with him when he picked our daughter up from school. No, thank you.

I wound up at his place, but, I didn’t take his truck. So, the angry texts started coming. Emotional manipulation and empty threats of a non-violent, but psychologically traumatizing nature started coming. Intellectually, I knew that the threats were empty, that his beliefs weren’t my truths, and that I’m not responsible for making him feel better. However, it didn’t stop the PTSD sensations of severe anxiety and overwhelm from taking over. I was jittery. My emotions were in turmoil. I couldn’t stop thinking of the “what if’s” and trying to formulate plans against them.

Anxiety at that level completely shuts down my ability and desire to eat anything. This effect results in a binge later. When I left the building and took the hour long transit trip home, I was okay. As I got off the bus and started approaching my home, I could feel the tension and anxiety rising. So, I decided that I was going to go do something else with safe people for the night, and left almost as soon as I got home. Then, something happened that triggered my sense of obligation, and my fatigue was so extreme, I just went back home.

I made a healthy-ish choice for eating, which sort of satisfied the nutritional hunger. Time to relax and self-soothe. Catch up on recorded shows and try to knit a scarf for my son’s birthday, three days away.

However, as the evening went on, both a physical and mental/emotional hunger grew. Unfortunately, I happend to have a little bit of cash. I checked the balance of my SNAP benefits. I could go get something to eat at the grocery store and make a healthier choice between Popeye’s and Safeway. I got dressed and went out the door. As I got closer to the bus stop to go to the grocery store, the aching in my thighs from all the walking I’d done this week and the overwhelming fatigue washed through me. Then I saw the bus go by.

I checked to see when the next one would come. Nine minutes. Not much time at all, but too long to sit and wait in the chilly night at the bus stop. Okay. Keep moving and walk to the next bus stop. Check the time. Five more minutes. Look up. A yellow, orange, and red beacon in the night – Popeye’s. It’s just a minute’s walk, then I can sit down. When I leave, I’ll still be close enough to walk home.

$6.99 special: Two tenders and four shrimp, a side, and a drink. Sounds good. Coke, please. Yes, honey for the biscuit! Do you have butter? Oh, it’s REAL? Even better. Cajun fries for the side. Thank you for the coupons.

Sit by myself, put my headphones on, and start watching a recorded show on my phone. A text from the ex. An update on our daughter and her complaining of a headache and upset tummy. More criticism for not updating him during the week or having her call him.

Mmmm. That honey and butter on that biscuit sure is good. The rest though, meh, but I eat it anyway.

In comes a group of women. Loud laughter and conversation. Friends having a night in on a food run. On the outside, looking in. Thoughts and emotions swirling on the inside. Calm and still on the outside. I look down and see the coupons I’ll never use.

“Do you guys eat here a lot?”

“Mmmhmm,” head nods.

“Do you want my coupons? I’ll never use them. Oh, sorry, they’re sticky from the honey.”

Home again. Anxious again. Minor relationonal skirmish. Isolation. Knit and watch t.v.

Knock, knock, knock. “Come in.”

“Here. I ordered late night pizza,” two slices of pizza and a hunk of cheese filled bread in a small, long Domino’s box.

Gone.

5:00 a.m. nausea.

When self-soothing turns into self-abuse, it’s time to admit there’s a problem…again.

“Hi. My name is Lillian. I’m a food addict.”

Now, to figure out how to unravel and disconnect the eating from the PTSD and my relationships before I kill myself with food.

Eating myself sick (pt. 1)

I guess it’s time to get back to recovery basics, when it comes to my eating.

Yesterday was hard. It was the perfect storm of hormonal cycles, PTSD triggers, and physical exhaustion. Truthfully, the eating spiral started while I was working on my food plan and trying to figure out how to make it work.

The rationalizations and justifications of, “I’m starting tomorrow, so I’ll enjoy this bacon, egg, potato burrito with country gravy and a Coke for breakfast, now,” and, “After all, you’re not supposed to go shopping on an empty stomach, right?” were the first steps on the slippery slope of my binge eating disorder.

Eating has been my consistent “go to” for self-soothing/self-medicating ever since I was a pre-adolescent. It started after I told my mom about my step-dad having molested me for the previous two years and we wound up going and living with my grandmother.

Dolly Madison Donut Gems in the morning for breakfast before school. Extra chocolate milk at school for lunch. Burger King on the way home from school with my mom. Snack or dinner while visiting grandma at the cafeteria she worked evenings at, during her lunch break. KFC when grandma got home after 9 p.m. from her job. Neither mom or grandma knew how much or how often I was eating. It was offered and I accepted. It replaced the “love and affection” I’d lost when my step-dad stopped paying attention to me  – which was the whole, warped reason I told my mom in the first place.

Getting fed was the way I felt like I was cared about and mattered…at home. At school, it was definitely self-soothing to drink that second chocolate milk. We’d moved several times during that year and I wound up in an inner city school in Houston. There was a large Latino population, a slightly smaller Black population, and a small White population. I didn’t fit into any of them. I talked White, was obviously a “half-breed” Latina, and obviously not Black. it was 1980, in Texas. Mixing races was very much frowned upon. Add into it that I was the “new kid” in sixth grade. I was either ignored or shunned, depending on which group of students I tried to interact with. So, I ate alone. That second chocolate milk and seconds on food, if it was available, filled in the interminable time between the end of one class and the beginning of the next, otherwise known as lunch and recess.

If I focused on how good the food tasted and how it filled me up, then I didn’t have to pay attention to the taunting or the isolation.

After school, mom would meet me in front and we would walk home, just talking about our days. These are vague memories, at best. However, I know that I enjoyed that time with her. Whenever, she could, she’d take me to the Burger King that was between the school and the apartment we shared with my grandma. Sitting there and eating my Whopper Jr. with fries and soda, extended my time with her. Time that was easy and uncomplicated. Time when I felt like she saw me and that I was loved.

Snack/dinner at Picadilly Cafeteria, where grandma worked, was usually an obligation kind of thing. Mom didn’t want grandma to know she’d fed me at BK. So, on those days, I’d have a snack – usally fried okra. I love the taste and texture of fried okra done right. Other days, when we hadn’t stopped at BK, I’d get a full meal. Mom and grandma, sitting with me while I ate, having quiet and easy conversation. Those were our family time meals.

Grandma LOVED Kentucky Fried Chicken, Original Recipe! My memory tells me she came home with a bucket nearly every night. My adult reasoning says it couldn’t have been nearly that often. Anyway, I was usually still awake, despite it being close to 10 p.m. If I was awake, the smell of the chicken was so good and grandma was so sure I hadn’t had enough to eat. So, I would eat…again.

So, food was how I knew I was loved. Food was how I received comfort and suffered through rejection and isolation. Eating was a deception and obligation for emotional safety. It was never about nourishment or health. It was always about emotion and relationships.

I suppose not much has changed on that front. On Thursday night, despite having eaten two very healthy and sustaining meals, one of which I stopped eating when I was satiated, that good ‘ole Southern comfort food got brought into my Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model group and I filled my plate. I overfilled it! Homemade mac ‘n cheese, homemade potato salad, greens & ham, and fried fish were irristable.

This was the fourth time I’d been in this room with these women, many of whom are African American, all of whom have experienced significant DV trauma. Some are recovering from substance addictions. None of whom did I feel a connection to. I was always uncomfortable in this room, with these women. All I could see was why I didn’t fit with them and the reasons why they wouldn’t feel like I should be there with them. I guess I was mentally back in that sixth-grade school yard in Houston.

But, that food! It was common ground. I was sitting at a table with a Latina and a White girl, surrounded by Black women. All of these women are so strong and so inspiring and I’d been so intimidated and unsure that I could be accepted by them. I ate, everything, after stating I’d gotten way too much and that I probably couldn’t finish it all.

Well, I finished it after a particular topic came up while we were eating and I got triggered into sharing a very painful memory of loss from five and a half years ago. Then, I ate a piece of homemade apple pie for desert.

Sorry this is so long. If you’re still reading, thanks for hanging in there. To be continued tomorrow.

Grief & Loss: Presence in Mourning

I shared last week the happenings in my life and the lives of my children during the month of March: the miscarriage my son and his wife experienced the week before my daughter’s daughter arrived six weeks early.

A little over two months ago, a loss so profound was experienced by two amazing people who I love so deeply, but with whom my history of being me has created a yawning canyon of separation of woundedness and lack of emotional safety.

Yesterday, they each shared their grief, pain, and loss publicly and, whether they intended to or not, with such courageous vulnerability. I don’t pretend to know what they are experiencing. I can’t possibly know. I’m not them and I haven’t experience what they have. What I do know is that we are told to mourn with those who mourn.

The fact is that in the midst of the everyday demands of my life and in the lives of those around me, there has been little time or opportunity to share in their mourning. Truthfully, my heart aches. It aches for the sorrow, grief, pain, and anger they must experience in unexpected times and ways. Feelings so desperately dark that sunshine must scorch their tears and the joy of holding their niece may be turned to ash by the bitterness of their own loss.

Their loss is also my loss. The loss of hope for who their child would become, a grandchild to hold, help nurture, and love in new ways I’ve been learning to love.

Grief and mourning feel isolating. It feels as if part of you had been ripped away, leaving shredded, shattered, broken pieces of yourself scattered on the ground, to be kicked aside and trampled on by everyone around getting through their everyday lives.

A new friend posed the question;
If your child died, how long after would you still choose to celebrate that child’s birthday? My response was however long I needed to acknowledge and honor that child’s presence and impact on me and my life.

No one gets to say when it’s time to be done with grieving. Sorrow, loss, and pain are part of our human experience and little or big things can and will flip the switch and pull the trigger on it at inconvenient times in uncomfortable ways, which may cause us to feel out of sync within our own minds and bodies and out of step with those in the world around us.

The only way to move through it is to experience it in all its discomfort and messiness and to allow those around us to be with us in it.

The only way to handle someone else’s sorrow and grief is to simply give them the room, time, space, and grace to experience it without trying to make their tears stop flowing or telling them they’ll be okay and happy again, in order to feel more at ease and comfortable within yourself.

“Matthew 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

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What I didn’t know I’d learned from childhood sexual abuse

*Warning: this post discusses my early experience of childhood sexual abuse by a step-parent. I do not go into graphic detail, however, the subject itself is disturbing and the detail I do go into may be triggering or traumatic for readers. Please practice self-care and self-love and do not read past this point if you feel you may risk your mental, emotional, or spiritual health in continuing to read.

Blog For Mental Health 2014

I had a grand plan to face and confront my past and achieve “true” healing and recovery from the codependency and self-harm of compulsive eating behaviors. I created a schedule of groups, therapy appointments, and processing work with spiritual and secular programs which serve people who have experienced abuse and neglect including domestic violence and sexual abuse and who experience PTSD and/or substance abuse issues. Six and a half weeks into 2014 and I’ve wound up cancelling more often than I have attended, for a variety of reasons (multiple episodes of upper respitory viral infections for Luna) and excuses (fear-based activation of physical symptoms associated with the fibromyalgia, depression, and codependency).

That being said, I have been in daily attendance at online meetings of Overeater’s Anonymous and have kept two therapy appointments, attended five group meetings, and followed through with two sessions with Davonna Livingston of Changing Perceptions to work on writing through my story of childhood abuse and neglect. The latter things have brought up some incredibly disturbing and intense realizations for me. Realizations I have been in denial about for at least 32 years.

My codependency is rooted in my experience of being sexually molested by my mother’s second husband.

My experience was not overtly violent or obviously traumatic – at least not to my understanding and recognition. It was indidious, emotionally and psychologically seductive and manipulative. The manner in which I was groomed and inculturated into sexual relationships between myself and men by my stepfather was foundational to my first domestic violence relationship with the sexual and social predator who became my first husband and father of my my first child at 17 years old.

My mother met and married her third husband by the time I was six years old. I don’t really remember what he was like or my interactions with him. I do remember pictures of me, dressed in pink, smiling and happy at their wedding and reception held at his parents’ home in what must have been late Spring or early Summer during my sisth year. If memory serves, I was happy and excited to have a daddy and grandparents. It looked like we might get to have a home and stay in one place for a while. “John” was going to be our hero and stabilizing force.

He moved into our apartment. He bought me a puppy that Christmas. He was an adorable little dog that looked like a miniature Lassie with a curlycue tail. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have my own bedroom and that I slept on the sofa in the living room. I had a puppy and life was good.

We were living in Houston at the time and there were reports of “streakers” in the news. Men going around town wearing trenchcoats and exposing themselves to people, especially kids. It was the era of latchkey kids and kids being free to play, explore, and congregate wherever they could to play and have fun. We didn’t have child care providers, we had babysitters who would sometimes not be home right on time to let us in when we arrived after school, but that was okay and we knew she’d be right back.

It was during this time period my initial grooming began. At six years old I was educated about sex, good touches, bad touches, and that even family members weren’t supposed to touch me in ways that were uncomfortable or in my private areas. All in the interest of teaching me how to stay safe and take care of myself.

Then, John got transferred to help open a new Picadilly Cafeteria in the rural town of Longview, TX. For some reason, we moved out in the middle of the night, leaving behind a filthy, disgusting mess of dirtied newspapers from my puppy, and discarded items we either didn’t have room for in the moving truck or didn’t have time to finish loading. I’m not really sure which. I just suddenly remembered this detail and recall feeling icky about the mess we were leaving behind.

When we got to Longview, we lived in a motel for a little while until John and my mom found us a place to live – a two-bedroom, single-wide mobile home in a mobile home park. That Summer, mom found a church and she and I started attending. She joined the choir and helped teach Sunday School. I attended my first ever Vacation Bible School, learned that Jesus loved me, and got saved. Mom got a job as a part-time school janitor/part-time school bus driver while John worked on hiring kitchen staff and organizing the kitchen he was the head cook/chef in.

I wound up spending more time with John than I had with my mom because of her work schedule and my school schedule. He helped me with homework and tried to show me how to cook. One day, he brought out the porn comics to share with me. I was excited to be treated like such a grown up and have a grown up secret to be trusted with.

One Sunday night, George C. Scott was on the television portraying Patton. Mom was in the kitchen while John and I were on the sofa in the living room. I don’t remember what John said to me, but I wound up agreeing to go to a slightly hidden corner of the living room, the entry alcove, and try oral sex on him. The sense of danger and excitement of possibly having my mom come out and catch us loomed large. It wasn’t forced and I wasn’t upset about it, that I can remember. I don’t actually remember any of this, I just know these are the facts of what happened.

For the next year and a half or two, John continued to invite and persuade me to become physically intimate with him. Each time there was a sensation of pain, he would stop and go no further. Nothing was ever fully consumated because my body wouldn’t receive it. I was left feeling inferior and inadequate. I know there were times when I chased after him pleading to be allowed to try again because I somehow felt like I was causing him disappointment and not loving him the way I was supposed to.

Then, he transferred jobs again and I had turned ten years old. We moved back to Houston and the attention stopped. I was feeling abandonded and desperate for the affection and love which had inexplicably stopped happening. My best little Lolita efforts didn’t have any effect except to be pushed away and ignored in disinterest.

I have recently realized that the way I can’t handle Keith’s silences when he’s angry or upset, or really being shut out by anyone I love when they are unable to share their thoughts and feelings with me, is reawakening that lost, desperate, lonely, and unloved little girl who has been inside of me all along.

At this point, I can recognize a response and reaction for what it is and where it comes from, knowing what it means to the me I used to be who still wants to drive the me I am now. But each and every time I’m triggered in this way, it’s like I’ve never been anyone other than that emotionally bereft and abandoned little girl with a completely distorted sense of self-worth and value tied up in my sexual performance or lack thereof. I can choose to act as if that is not who I am or how I feel, but who I am and how I feel on the inside still is what it always has been.

Maybe, one day, that won’t be the case. I can hope.

Related Article:

What does Healing from Abuse look like? Is it all about talking about memories of abuse? ~ Trauma and Dissociation, http://traumaanddissociation.wordpress.com/