Until recently the two words Connected and Safe were mutually exclusive to my traumatized mind and heart. For as long as I could remember, I either felt safe and alone, or connected and hurt.
I never stopped longing to connect with my family of origin. But connection came at the heavy cost of feeling scared and hurt by them, and disconnected from my self.
The reality of feeling either connected and hurt, or safe and alone, affected all of my closest relationships, especially my relationship with myself.
When I connected with myself I experienced unbearable fear, shame, and pain. I would be aware of what happened to me, know the unspeakable sexual violations of my father and my grandfather, and I would want to die.
I would connect to the knowledge that my family, every single one of them, heard what I said, saw my pain, and instead of helping me, turned their backs and walked away from me.
The reality was unbearable.
When it became too much to bear, I disconnected, dissociated, from myself and joined my family again in my mind. In order to reconnect with my family, I had to accept how they see me. I had to believe that I was bad, sick, crazy, lying. I had to cut off important parts of me in order to exist among them. I had to butcher myself, pick and choose only the parts of myself that are permitted by my family. I always felt vaguely lost, confused, and hurt as a result. Parts of me were missing. I did not feel real.
I had a family, but I had no self.
Connecting with my husband and children was scary. The closer they needed to come to me, the more I expected to get hurt. I could connect only in small doses. I would quickly become overwhelmed and have to leave, emotionally or physically. Sometimes both. My physical and emotional absences took their toll on my husband and children.
I remember watching a three-year-old , wondering at her ability to feel safe and connected. How is it that this very young child knew how to do something that I was just learning about at the age of forty?
Where and how did she learn this?
Where do any of us learn to feel safe, connected, and real?
As babies we learn, when caregivers respond to our cries, that we are real. Through consistent love and care, we connect with our parents and feel safe. Any kind of abuse and neglect can interrupt this important learning. The sexual abuse I endured as a child destroyed my ability to form normal healthy relationships. The experience ripped holes in my body and soul.
I had repair work to do if I wanted to be a whole person. For my sake and for the sake of my family, I had to learn to feel safe, real, and connected.
This became my new mantra:
I want to feel safe.
I want to feel real.
I want to heal.
Feeling safe, connected, real, and healing, means staying connected to all of myself. It means experiencing the fear, the shame, the pain inside. Knowing and accepting where these feelings are coming from, without walking away from myself, like my family does. It means embracing myself even though my family can't.
It means saying goodbye to my family.
It means a lot of sadness.
I lost my family because I broke the rules by owning the pain that my family says is not real.
I lost my family because I broke the rules by owning the abuse that my family says never happened.
I lost my family because I broke the rules by speaking the horrible words that go with my very real, horrible, experiences.
The reality is excruciatingly painful.
By allowing myself to know what happened to me in my family, and what is still happening to me today, I lose them all.
I have to find the courage every day, to sit with the pain and the horror of it all.
I have to grieve my lost family, and my lost self.
My self I can recover.
My family, I have no control over.