Monday, April 19, 2010

Climbing Out of the Abyss

It has been a long 11 months. I'm not sure what happened to me... Well, that's not quite true because the trouble started when my older brother died. Something went out of me. I knew then and know now that I wasn't grieving. Phil and I were estranged and had been estranged for more than 20 years. I had spent almost 20 years - my 30s and 40s - doing a lot of care taking (Phil had Parkinson's Disease) and trying to work through the gradual realization that he was not my friend in any way. In fact, in may respects, he was the seed of my agoraphobia. Unlike many agoraphobics, my "I can't breathe" panics happened at home, in my apartment. It took a while for me to figure it out, but contact with my brother was often the underlying source. I had adored Phil from childhood on. I'd been taught to make excuses for his cruelty and to blame myself for my hurt feeling. I had spent a life-time swallowing hurt and anger and directing it at myself instead of where it should have been aimed. Anyway, I think I can call the 10 years of therapy, trying to work through things with him, my mourning period. There was nothing left to mourn by the time he died. Besides that, his physical condition had deteriorated to a state where he was not really living. There's nothing sad when someone is freed from that kind of bondage. At least not to me.

So if I wasn't grieving, why did I pull into a cave for eleven months? It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure it out and a while to process it after that. I'm just totally pissed off. I don't do well with anger in general. Even though I know better intellectually - the relentless training (from a group of really angry people) that forbade me be angry still rests deep in my bones. I can override it intellectually. I know better than to think anger is a "bad" thing. It's an uncomfortable thing, but it's a human thing. Anger isn't bad. It's what we do with anger that can make it negative. It's just a feeling and if we let our angry feelings move through us as we would our happy ones, life would be much easier. So if I know this, why did I fall into an abyss for almost a year?

Well, when I have feelings, I tend to get disembodied. I kind of leave the planet. Used to drive my therapist crazy. One minute he'd be talking to me and then I'd be gone... sitting there, smiling, talking, but emotionally far, far away... Ooops a feeling... gotta go. Until he died, I don't think I had actually realized the depth of my rage. Maybe I hadn't realized it until right this minute. You see, I always try to take the high road. Damned, bloody high road. So there were my sister's children. He was their uncle. I wished he wasn't, but he was and they had lost their mother. They knew we were estranged, but I tried to keep the details from them and tried not to influence their feelings about him.

And he was very ill. My mother's family seemed inclined to buy his lies about me.... that I was cruel and had abandoned him. This hurt me profoundly, but I decided that Phil (who was headed to a nursing home at 50 something) needed their friendship more than I did. Let them believe what they chose. I had shopped for Phil, called him daily- and sometimes twice daily to make sure he was ok, watched over him, invited him to every gathering I ever had, given him my time and energy for 15 years and then when I recognized how toxic he was to me, had still spent years trying to work things out with him. I had been his punching bag for my whole life. It cost me nothing, I deluded myself, to let him lie. That others chose to believe him said as much about them as it did about him. Or so I told myself. He had nothing. I had reasonably good health and friends. Let him have people who would believe the worst of me after I had sacrificed so very much taking care of both him and my parents. I would tell my story when he was dead and beyond hurt.

And then he died. The friends who had watched over him (as his sister had abandoned him) wrote to me about his death. Whether it was there or not, I read coldness and judgement in their emails to me. We're letting you know that your brother died. Please put us in touch with your nieces and nephew. Cold. That was the start of my seeping rage. I wanted to defend myself. But they had loved him. What would it serve to try and take that away from them? What did it matter to them how cruel he had been to me for my whole life, how he had poisoned my self-esteem and even my relationships? What did it matter to them that he had spat on what was originally supposed to be my life's work to such a degree that I was unable to pursue it? What did it matter to them that he might have raped me when I was a child? What did it matter that he had tried to make me think that my parents didn't love me, wanted me institutionalized? It wasn't their fault. But it felt like my childhood revisited. Poor Phil. To the lawyer, I wrote a pathetic email saying that I was glad Phil had had friends, that I would not give any details, just saying that it was hard to be painted as the villain when I felt like the victim. Not surprisingly, I didn't get an answer.

And how do you explain the kind of damage growing up the victim of a psychopath causes? How do you explain - when it took 40 years to even begin recognizing it - the slow drip of emotional acid on your psyche? How do you explain how frustrating it is to always have that pain turned against you? To have every cruelty rationalized away, every small accomplishment poisoned because your brother was jealous of any praise sent your way, any love given? How to explain the pain of watching him hurt others you love? Of having him tell your 18-year old nephew that his late mother had "complained" about him, a cruel lie designed to make himself important and to hurt someone he viewed as a "rival" (the only other male in the family). How do you explain the wound of endless, diminishment disguised as kindness? How to explain coping with someone who could tell a lie in such a way that he let you it know it was a lie, but so cleverly done that you couldn't prove it? How to explain the kind of slimy sadism that responds to a question like, "is it possible that you molested me?" with the response. "It couldn't have been me. I think I'm gay and only sadism turns me on." How to explain all that hurt? How to cope with all that repressed rage and pain?

Clearly, I didn't have a clue. It probably didn't help that almost immediately after Phil died, hordes of people descended (thank you very much, Delaware Opportunities for the awesome gift of my bathroom, kitchen and ramp) on my house for three months of pounding and sawing and painting and.... I had to process all that stress and unusual human contact too.

And then months passed a tiredness I can't describe came over me. Somehow every time I thought about posting I just felt too tired to connect to other human beings. I would try. Sometimes I would start a post and it just seemed like too much effort to follow through, too much effort to visit and leave comments. I just couldn't. I felt bad about it, but I just couldn't. I'm sorry about that, because I have missed people and a few have been kind enough to hang in there anyway. Thank you for that. It has meant a lot to me. Well, that's my story.

Anyway.... I think maybe three weeks without a computer followed by a week and a half of flu gave me the necessary time to process more deeply. While I was sick, I did a lot of reiki and healing work on myself. You'd think I'd have thought of doing that sooner, but I guess everything happens in its own time. At any rate, I feel like I have returned to planet earth for the first time in ages and it feels good to be back. Hopefully I will be able to stay.


sgreerpitt said...

welcome back.

quilly said...

You may not have been grieving Phil, but I do think you were grieving any chance you'd ever have of vindicating yourself. If it helps, I have known people like Phil. My step-mother was one. She beat me with a cast iron frying pan, and I am evil because I ran away from home afterward.

It boggles the mind. You did what you had to do to physically survive, but your soul still bears the wound.

Janie B said...

Oh Raven, it's so good to hear that you are back. I've missed you. Your time to process and heal has been such a blessing to you. I hope you will continue to gain strength and self-esteem and find your way out of your house. This is the start of it all. Keep breathing and know you are loved and priceless.

Carletta said...

It takes courage to put that all down and present it openly.
You are strong. I hope you believe that.
It is so great to have you back.
Please stay. :)

Argent said...

I can only agree with the others. I feel quite privileged that you have shared so deeply with us here. I hope that this sharing has been cathartic for you too and that it's a step on the road to putting Phil and his ghost to rest out of your life.

All my best thoughts are heading your way.

Elle said...

The universe has a timing that I can conclude is only kindness...I know how very much your post has touched me today. Thank you for the honesty to be vunerable. I have spent many of my days (especially the last 11 months) in many of the same places..greiving for the loss of what should have been while smiling too much too often and not really healing. Your honesty has encouraged me to dig deeper. IT is time for wellness inside and out. Blessings to you as yours comes.

San said...

Welcome back. I've enjoyed reading these honest reflections. It's been kind of like sitting with you, listening.

I read a Gibran quote earlier today. Something to the effect that we need to let sorrow carve deeply into our being, so that there will be more room for joy. Here's to joy!

Finding Pam said...

I feel your pain and I am sorry for what happened to you. Go forth and live the life you so richly deserve.

Welcome back.