Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Half-truths and sugar-coated memories

I said something out loud recently. Something I hadn’t had the guts to say to anyone before. Not even to myself. I may not have even realized it until the words left my mouth.  

Saying this out loud not only took me by surprise, it shocked the hell out of the imaginary voices in my head.  The conversation went something like this:

#1: “OMG, did she just say that?”

#2: “Yeah, she did. Is she crazy?”  

Me: “I’m not crazy… Nooooo... Shhhhhh!”

#3: “Shut up and let her talk.”

While having dinner with a friend, I said: “I’ve never been completely honest in my journal.”

Say what?

I continued: “I never honestly documented what was really going on.”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

While looking back at old journal entries, I realized that, in some cases, I had only scratched the surface. In others, I had so drastically glossed over the truth; I had to double check to see if it was actually my journal. 

It’s as if I was afraid to “go there.” The pages were filled with half-truths and sugar-coated memories.

What was I afraid of? Why couldn’t I be honest in my own journal?

Upon the realization of this, I became increasingly pissed off at myself. I’m talking chicken-neck, finger-wagging, “Oh no you did-ent!” pissed off. That’s right. I wanted to go all “Jerry Springer” on, well, me.

But there I was in a restaurant, surrounded by strangers, confessing this to a friend. Not a close family member. Not an inner circle girlfriend. But a friend/colleague who was hearing for the first that I was getting divorced and that I had committed a journal-listic no-no. 

I was guilty of fudging.

Why so pissed off? Because I lied to myself, and by lying to myself it kept me from seeing the real truth about my marriage, about my ex and about myself. It kept me from seeing the damage that was being done to my daughters. 

I don’t think I can ever forgive myself for that last one.  

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I started writing a journal in early 2005. Ironically, it was late 2005 when I realized my marriage was in trouble. I spent the next five years trying to save it, with no luck.

My initial intention was to honestly document family events and life lessons for my daughters. Something they would read when I was long gone – mentally or otherwise.

“I dedicate this book to my girls… Never forget that my love for you is absolute.”

Aw, how nice…  

“I also dedicate this book to the love of my life …”

Wait… What?

“I can’t imagine my life without you…”

Someone please make it stop!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

 Suddenly, on Nov. 25, 2005, I got real. There was some truth. Finally! Unfortunately, after this journal entry, the truth faded.

“I’ve never hurt like this before… The thought of my marriage coming to an end knocks the wind out of me.”

Even now as I write this, I have to catch my breath.

“But I love you enough to let you go…”

And I did. I let him go. By doing so, I set myself free. 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Once I set myself free I saw the real truth. However, with real truth comes real pain, and that kind of sucks, to be perfectly honest.

Haven’t I been through enough pain? Isn’t divorce painful enough?

Apparently not!

OK, so setting me free has a price. But it’s one I’m willing to pay. I have to. If I don’t, I’ll end up in the same boat of lies and half-truths that I was once in and I can’t – I won’t – do that again.  

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Now, for a chuckle, at my expense… I can’t help but cry-laugh (that’ when you laugh and cry at the same time) at the following, mostly because I’m not into horoscopes and because I found it by following a link on my oldest daughter’s Facebook page. (Snooping? Me? Nooooooo!)

So here goes…My horoscope for the upcoming week.

“Your mind will touch on emotional events that you may not have fully dealt with at the time they happened.”

Do they know me or what?

“Old feelings that you thought were gone could well up and bring tears to your eyes.”

Pass me a tissue, please…

“Honestly face these feelings now instead of stuffing them back down for another decade.”


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My relationship with God is complicated

My relationship with God is complicated. Or simple, depending on how you look at it.

Although it’s been a while since I’ve been to church, I talk to God every day. Some days, I talk to God all day long

If God is truly present everywhere and at all times, then based on that logic, I don’t need a church or an appointment to talk to Him.

Am I done with formal religion? I don’t know.

What I do know is that my life, in its current status, is not welcomed in my church. I’m breaking a sacrament. I’m considered somewhat of a “giver upper.”

The last time I went to church, the sermon almost brought me to tears. It was my first time attending since the separation and I went alone. 

With my lip quivering, I listened to the scolding lecture. I braced myself as each word smacked me square in the face. It was as if the sermon was written exclusively for me and because of me.     

Leaving your marriage is wrong.  

Breaking up the family unit is wrong.

If you give up on your marriage, you give up on God.

I went to church looking for strength and left feeling as if I had failed as a wife, as a mother and as a Christian. It was a theological punch to the gut.  

Despite the rules of my religion, I know God loves me. And He’s been there during the deepest, darkest moments of my life. 

He was there in 1996 when I had my first seizure. He was there in 2001 when the epidural sent me into cardiac arrest; then later that night when my body hemorrhaged from the emergency C-section. And He was there in 2010 when the doctor said the tests were negative for cancer.

So it’s been a very personal relationship, this thing between me and God. One-on-one sessions, kind of like therapy, but free!

Unlike the not-so-free therapy, our sessions take place wherever and whenever I need Him. In my car, as I sit in my big chair or in the back patio.

His voice and presence is unmistakable during the most tumultuous times. The days that find me balled up on the bathroom floor, crying and praying for the strength to make it through another day is when I feel God’s love the most. 

Without fail, He extends his hand to me and I take it.

These days, our sessions rarely take place in a cathedral-like building adorned with beautiful paintings and saints. Yes, it’s a beautiful church. Yes, it’s a beautiful religion. But my relationship with God is so much more than that.

My relationship with God can’t be contained inside this church or that church. And it can’t be restrained within the rules of this religion or that religion.

To be clear, it’s not my intention to use this space as a forum to debate religion. You can take that somewhere else. This is merely a self-reflection at the highest level about my own spirituality and discovery on this new journey. 

So I ask myself again: Am I really done with religion? I don’t know. 

But this I know: I’m not done with God and He’s not done with me.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The day I made my therapist cry

How my trauma egg brought my therapist to tears

Draw an egg, she said.

"You’ll be writing all the traumatic events that have ever happened in your life inside this egg,” my therapist explained.  

I better draw a pretty big, frickin egg, I thought to myself as I stared down at the blank canvas of white paper in the middle of the floor.

“Do you have a bigger piece of paper,” I asked, half-joking. 

So I had my instructions. Draw an egg and list all the trauma I’ve experienced in my life. I had two hours. I was afraid we’d need more time. A lot more time!

The concept of the “trauma egg” was introduced to me a few of weeks ago during one of our sessions. According to the pamphlet, the trauma egg represents the “Original Feeling Child.” Inside the egg, you list events which caused pain, fear, rejection and so on and so on.

The pamphlet included examples of traumatic events.

“My dog died.”

“My best friend moved.”

If this is what my therapist was expecting, she was in for a shock.

When I first asked why we needed two hours, my therapist explained:
- The first hour will be used to list all the traumatic events
- The second hour will be used to analyze them 

I was to start by listing the earliest memory of trauma at the very bottom of the egg and work my way up through the years. The greatest hits, so to speak. (Pun intended.) It was a way to establish my trauma history so that my therapist could better understand my make-up.

This is going to be so awesome! (Not!)

But first a warning from my therapist! She said some people, as they remember the trauma, are so overcome with emotion, that they break down and relive the emotions they felt at the time it happened. She assured me that she would help work through these emotions in the event that this happened to me.

Yeah, more awesomeness! 
Doing this exercise was supposed to help us identify patterns of trauma and coping mechanisms. So I grabbed the black marker and started writing.

Age 5, my uncle dies…

Age 8, the abuse starts…

Age 9, abuse continues…

Age 10-17, still getting abused over here…

My therapist asked questions specific to the event each time I added a new line. I answered every single one of her questions in a very matter of fact way as I wrote them down inside my newly formed “trauma egg.”

Meanwhile, my therapist was puzzled.  

“How are you not falling apart?”

“How are you keeping it together?”

“Why aren’t you in the corner in a fetal position sucking your thumb?”

Kidding! She didn’t really say it like that. 

On a serious note, she was concerned by my lack of emotion.

“I just don’t understand what’s holding you together. At some point, we need to look into your cultural make-up.”

Ah ha, the race card! There it is!

Again, kidding… But, yes, Latinas are strong women. That stereotype is true, folks.

Well, with the exception of one of my aunts on my dad’s side. She cries if you use your outside voice inside. She married into a family of loud mouths. Good luck with that…

So my therapist was puzzled. In her eyes, I was an enigma. In my eyes, I was a survivor. 

“But as you remember these events, how does remembering them now make you feel?” she asked.

“It happened. I survived. Life goes on,” was my response. And it was true. These events happened. I survived all of them and life continues to go on.

And then I continued…

Life doesn’t stop when something bad happens to you. You deal with it at that moment, figure out how best to handle and move on. (And then you cry yourself to sleep after the kids have gone to bed. See! Problem solved.)

Then she asked: “Do you ever find yourself dwelling on any of these experiences?”

I laughed with a hearty, “Ha!”  

I quickly explained why this was funny to me, mostly so she would stop staring.

“I don’t have time to ‘dwell’,” I said, using air quotes. “I’ve got way too much shit to do. I barely have time for this. But I know I need to do this for me and for my daughters. ”

In other words, let’s keep this party moving, shall we?   

"Can I get you some water?"

As I continue to list each trauma and give a brief summary of the actual event, I can feel my therapist cracking.

It started with some sniffling. Next came the covering of the mouth with both hands. Then there was the shaking of the head with the “you poor thing” look on her face.  

I eventually grabbed the tissue box and handed it to her as she wiped her tears from the corner of her eyes with her fingertips.

“Are you OK? Should we take a break? Would you like some water?” I asked her.  

We were only halfway through this trauma egg business and here I was comforting my therapist. I started to wonder if I could bill her for the session.

“Again, I don’t understand how you’re holding it together,” she said, in between wiping her tears and blowing her nose. 

Great, I think my therapist needs a therapist. And it's all because of my trauma egg. 

I shrugged my shoulders and kept writing and writing and writing until the session suddenly came to a halt. 

Sorry, but we're out of time... 

“We’ll have to stop here,” my therapist suddenly announced. “We’re out of time.”

As I stare at my half-empty egg, I realize that we didn’t even get through the 80s, which causes me to blurt out, “But we didn’t even get through the 80s!”

That’s OK, she said, and then explained our new game plan. 

1. Schedule a two-hour session to work on the 80s to the present.. 

2. Then schedule another two-hour session to analyze the trauma egg.  

3. Then schedule another two-hour session to work on improving coping mechanisms in order to deal with future trauma.

Let’s see, that’s two, four… six hours! Are you frickin kidding me! Six more hours of trauma egg!

But as quickly as the panic sets in, the control and the calmness take over.

Alright, let’s do this. I’ll survive. Let’s move on.