love poem to the monsters under my bed

I am trying to wrap my mind around an aspect of Adverse Childhood Experience Scores. Ace scores.

Raised in war or chaos or an addiction household or a crazy household, kids do their best to survive and thrive. I acknowledge that first. “You survived your terrible and terrifying childhood. You are amazing. You have crisis wiring in your brain. You had to wire that way in order to survive.”

And what does that mean? High alert, high adrenaline, high cortisol, reactive. One veteran says that the military loved him being able to go from zero to 60 instantly.

“Yes, and how is that serving you now?” I ask. “Do you want to change it?”

“No.” he says.

“Why not?” I say.

“Because I know I can protect myself.”

He can protect himself, as I can too. But being on the alert for a crisis, being good in a crisis, being able to fire up like a volcano, is that what I want and is that what he wants? If not, how do we change it?

I think of it as being able to see monsters. Other people’s monsters. My crisis childhood wiring is to pay attention to the non-verbal communication: what people do not what people say. The body language, the tone of voice, what the person is not saying in words, when someone is being polite but the body language is a shut down, a rejection, a dismissal, posturing, aggressive, they don’t like me no matter what the words are, belittling. But if I or my high ACE score patients respond to the body language and emotional feeling, we have named the monster. And the person is being “polite” and will not admit to the monstrous feelings. Those feelings are unconscious or at least the person does not want to admit if they are at all conscious.

In clinic I have learned to dance with the monstrous feelings. I don’t always succeed, but I keep leveling up. It’s a matter of delicacy, inviting the person to admit the monstrous. Some do, some don’t, some don’t the first time or second or third, but the fourth time the monsters are brought out. And they aren’t monstrous feelings after all. They are normal. All I do then is listen and say that the feeling sounds normal for what is happening. It’s like letting off a steam valve.

So how do I and my high ACE score folks learn to do this in social settings as well? When someone is talking to me with a monstrous feeling, meanly, I challenge it. Because I am not afraid of that monstrous feeling. But I have then broken a social contract and the person will like me even less then they already did. And maybe that monstrous feeling is not really about me at all. It’s about their own current life events and the feelings that they try not to feel, are ashamed of, are afraid of. It’s not polite of me to challenge that feeling in a social setting, I am not this person’s doctor or therapist and they didn’t ask me. It’s hard because I feel so sorry for the monstrous feeling and for the person feeling it. I am moving to compassion and love for that feeling rather than taking it as directed at me, taking it personally.

That is my intention. We will see how well it goes.

A natuopath told me to have the intention to release old grief. It’s not old grief though. It’s ongoing grief. Grief for all of the monstrous feelings that swirl around daily and the monsters that are not loved. Most people try to ignore them. I don’t. I love them, because someone has to and because they are so lonely and sad. They are crying. Don’t you hear them? That’s what love is, when you can love your own monstrous feelings and other people’s too.

And our own are the hardest.

ACE study: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/index.html

I took the photograph in the Ape Caves, the lava tube at Mount St. Helen’s.

cracks

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fault.

I realized last night that I had not put up the prompt, and got back up to do it. My daughter called while I was thinking and told me about segmentation faults. I wrote the poem this morning.

cracks

people talk about me

whisper gossip
social skills aren’t right

they only see now

I had to grow in cracks
hold on tightly
find nourishment where I could
not fall
survive

if they could see my roots
if they could see
where I had to grow
no choice

maybe they would be kinder

new again

I get to start again

I have always seen the monsters under the bed
I have to
to survive

you don’t tell people about their monsters

I learn that early

they get angry hit punish send away
and anyhow they leave you even if they love you

when I am alone
we play
the monsters and I

they are so happy to be seen

they cry often
why doesn’t he love me?
why won’t she hold me?
why does he throw me out?
why?

I hold them
dry their tears
cuddle them
wrap them warmly

they cheer up
and play

they never forget
they alert
their person is near
they rush back

sometimes one rejected
returns with seven friends
hoping to storm the person

that doesn’t work

the monsters never lose hope
never

sometimes I see
a person see their monster
let it be conscious
the person is grown enough
to love

I am so used to the monsters
I work with them in clinic
visit after visit
the monsters weeping on my lap
while the person refuses refuses refuses
and sometimes a crack opens
like a portal light blinding
and the monster
is loved

that’s why I am here
what makes it worth staying
Beloved

now I think
I am new again
it’s hard to date
when the monsters are yanking at my skirt
crying howling distracting
and I am hopeful
but it is not my role
it’s not ok
it’s antisocial
to ask about the monsters

I am new again
I won’t date anyone with monsters
that I can see

they must love them first


letters

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: letter.

I write a very careful letter to an old friend after my sister dies.

Not right after. 6 years after. Another friend tells me after my sister dies that OF says she will never ever talk to me about my sister. OF doesn’t. I don’t see her much.

I do not ask about it directly for six years.

Suddenly I am sick of it. For one thing, a family member of OF’s dies. OF asks me on the phone to come visit “And we’ll cuddle and talk about my family member.” I thought, how can you ask me to fly and visit and talk about your family member when you have not talked to me about my sister for six years? It brought all the pain back to the surface.

I write a very careful letter thanking OF for all the positive things she has done for me. She has known me since birth. She is a mentor for me as a professional woman. In other areas, no. I also write as a query, is it true that she will never talk to me about my sister?

She does not answer the query. And then tells me that she carries the letter around because it makes her so happy.

I think of the letter as a thank you and goodbye. If you will not speak of my sister to me, it hurts and it has hurt for six years. And I am done. I have been patient to the point of being completely ridiculous.

And I finally approach it directly on the phone, because I hate that branch of the friends and family gossip and triangulation. “Is it true that you will never speak to me about my sister? You haven’t for six years.”

Silence. Then: “I am willing to talk to you about your sister, mother and father, but only the good memories.”

And I say, “No.” I say, “Why don’t you ask me what sort of relationship I want?”

It is hard to leave family systems, even when they are dysfunctional and cruel. There is still love there even if it displayed by triangulation, gossip and mean rumors. It’s a love that is emotionally underdeveloped. We spend a long time trying to change, facing that the love is not loving, deciding that it is worth changing ourselves and leaving. I still love OF but I do not want to be in a relationship where she controls me and silences me. It hurts too much. I am still glad that I sent a letter with all the thanks, which I meant from my heart. And I am glad to say goodbye.

Mnemosyne

I am reading The Female Trickster: The mask that reveals, by Ricki Stefamie Tannen.

Regarding Mnemosyne, she writes: “The power of memory was recognized in Ancient Greece by the goddess Mnemosyne who ruled over the Elysian Fields. The nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus are the muses, with Thalia, the muse of comedy imaged with a Trickster’s mask as she playfully composed comedy and ironic poetry. The muses were women unto themselves. According to the myth, upon death a person makes a choice to either drink from the river Lethe or the spring of memory. If you drink from Lethe you forget your pain and all the lessons of your life and are reborn again on earth. Those who choose to drink from the spring of memory go to the Elysian Fields, where there is no strife or pain. The myth tells us that the path to psychological integration comes from a willingness to value and interact with memory. Those that repress memory are doomed to repeat it, over and over again.” (pp72-73)

This seems apropos both to my personal and professional life and also to US culture. Our President speaks like my stage IV substance abuse patients. He says things that are obviously lies, obviously not true, obviously refutable and yet to all appearances he believes his own lies entirely, even when he contradicts himself. He manufactures his own reality and just laughs when someone else disagrees. But my substance abuse patients crash: they eventually find that they are isolated with their own lies when they become so fantastic and bizarre that no one believes them any more. We are watching that play out.

Re my personal life, I think of my maternal aunt’s memorial. I wrote two memories for the memory book. One was about my father saying that she had perfect pitch. I did not know what perfect pitch was when I was little, but I knew from my father’s voice, the respect, that it was special and important. That he was envious. That he admired it. The second was about my aunt and uncle’s divorce, that I had seen them as a unit and liked both of them better when they turned into individuals.

My cousins wanted to use the first memory but not the second. They said that family wouldn’t like it. I thought about their request and finally said no. Use both or neither. They chose neither. And this pretty much illustrates why I have very little contact from a large part of my family. I want to remember the whole person, light and dark, love them all. And that is not what that part of my family wants. An old family friend has not spoken to me about my sister since my sister died 6 years ago. I asked her directly about it a few months ago. She wants to talk to me “only about happy memories of your mother, father and sister.” I respond, “Why don’t you ask me what sort of relationship I want?”

She was and is silent. So I am too.

It’s not a lack of love but it’s a difference in philosophy. I think it is crazy to whitewash the dead: how will our children understand their own dark feelings and impulses and mistakes if they think that their ancestors, grandparents, parents are angels? Why aren’t we honest as a culture? How can we expect our children to be honest with us when we lie to them? The curated lives on Facebook are an abomination, false, lies and look what we have in the White House.

I like the dark as well as the light. If we truly love everything in the universe, how can we not love the dark as well as the light? If each of us owned our dark sides, our dark impulses, the myth says that we will not enact them over and over each generation. Owning the dark, acknowledging our own dark does not mean that we have to act it out in the world and then lie to ourselves and others.

And now I want coal for my stocking: just a small piece, to remind me that I have not always, or will I ever, only be good.

the virtue of the disconnect

the virtue of the disconnect
learnt early
as a child

they say we are broken
wired wrong
enduring horror

he wakes at night
sleeps lightly

what was your childhood like?
how did you sleep?

it was not safe
we had to get up
leave in the night
gunshots

you survived your childhood

yes, I did

sleeping lightly saved you

yes, it did

you could rewire that
it takes a lot of time
to change the childhood wiring

or you could just
be ok

with sleeping lightly

the dark things in the world

When my son was about 12, a friend called and asked if he could babysit.

I froze up, silent.

He got it very quickly. “Um, we often come home really late, staying out until 3 am, so would it be ok if he stayed the night and we brought him home in the morning?”

“Yes,” I said, with relief.

What was I worrying about? Alcohol. I knew he and his wife drank far more than I approved of and the thought of them driving my son home drunk was NOT ok. I think that sometimes they took a taxi home. I hope so. I suppose they could send my son home in a taxi, but by having him stay the night, he would sleep too. Their children were five and six years younger than my son.

So I would take my son there, or they would pick him up, and he’d go to sleep when the kids did. I don’t know how late my son and the kids stayed up in that house. I do know the household reminded me of my childhood home, where the adults stayed up and partied. I did not party in high school at all. I didn’t want to. I was not interested in drinking alcohol illicitly. I could perfectly easily have drunk it at home: my parents were too tuned out by then to notice. I knew what people were like when drunk: why would I explore that with my peers? My father would break things in the house when he fell, there were burn marks in the floor from cigarettes, my parents would scream at each other at 1 am. I kept my head down and did very very well at school: I wanted out, even though it was not conscious. I loved my parents. Home was chaos and I escaped into books and schoolwork.

Parents need to think carefully about babysitting. Do they know the family? Do they need to drive their child to the house and pick them up? Once I went to babysit and the family had two enormous St. Bernards. The male growled at me. The owner said, “Don’t worry, he will attack anyone who tries to get in the house.” I was quite terrified of the dogs, and the male trailed enormous strings of drool into my lap. That night at 1 am I found Monty Python on cable and wondered if I’d wandered into another universe. We didn’t have cable, so it was surreal. I didn’t tell my parents about any of it. These were not people we knew: friends of friends.

Parents need to be careful as well to tell teens that adults can behave inappropriately and that a normally nice adult might behave badly when drunk. Many babysitting friends told me about the father of the kids they were sitting making sexual comments or putting a hand on their knee driving them home. This is not ok and teens need to be warned. They also should be warned about signs of drinking and inebriation and have taxi money or be able to call for a ride if they are not comfortable with the adult driving them home. And if the adult makes any sort of inappropriate remark or touch, they should NOT babysit there again ever. I would tell the offending adult why, though I think that would often get an angry or denial reaction.

I have various friends with 9 year olds. One parent made a comment that they don’t want their children to know anything bad about the world until they are ten. Another didn’t want their child to know what the term domestic violence meant.

I disagree. I would respond saying, “If your mother doesn’t want me to discuss that, then we will leave for her to talk to you about it later.”

How can we shelter our children with the magical childhood until ten and then send them to babysit at twelve? How can they recognize an adult is impaired or inappropriate behavior unless we talk about it? I have been asking adult smokers what age they started smoking for years: most of my older men started at age 9. The other day a woman said she’d tried cigarettes by age 7. Our children are not stupid, they hear things, they try to puzzle it out with each other: they deserve honesty from the start.

For a small child, that may mean a very simple explanation. My mother died of cancer when my daughter was two years and six months. By age four she had processed it to where she asked me “How old was grandmother Helen when she died?” I said that MY grandmother was 92 when she died, but grandmother Helen was 62. She asked, “How old are YOU?” I said, “I am forty. I hope to live as long as my grandmother, but none of us know how long we will live.” She studied me for a while and then went off.

They say that small children can’t process death. Clearly my daughter could! Maybe children can’t because we do not talk to them about it. We aren’t respectful. We try to hide all the dark things in the world, we try to keep them in a fairy tale. I feel angry on behalf of our children. To me it feels like parents lie: they will not tell their children what is going on. It’s not okay. And how can they handle the dark if no one will discuss it until they are ten?

 

Adults can be pretty weird sometimes, right? The photograph is from this year’s Kinetic Sculpture Race.