Safe, Not Sorry | Part 2 of 2

by Elouise

I’m feeling raw today.
Best to start with
A Reality Check

Me:
It’s easier to write about
my childhood and early teenage years
than later years.

It’s easier to understand and forgive a child
or young teenager suffering from trauma
than an adult survivor of trauma.

The Voice:
“Yes, I know you’re a diagnosed PTSD victim/survivor.
However, you’re now an adult
and must put all that behind you.
Thankfully, you’ve done tons of work
in 12-step programs and psychotherapy.
It’s time to move on.”

Me:
I’d love to move on!
But trauma is trauma, right?  

The Voice
hastens to answer:
“Yes, but now you’re an adult
and must accept full responsibility
just like everyone else for
everything you do.
No excuses!”

Could this be true?  Is the shattered plate so easily put back together?  Are re-wired emotions, thoughts, behaviors and vulnerabilities so quickly reset?  Will I ever be completely free of old survival instincts, anxiety or fear?  I rather doubt it, though I would hope such a day might arrive in my lifetime.

What seems easy for some is difficult for me and others with similar trauma.  This is reality, not an excuse.  I am a mature, responsible adult woman.  Ironically, super-responsibility is one of my problems.  Thankfully, I’ve made progress.  I’d like to believe The Voice is working as hard on his or her issues.

Why this matters
I’m about to talk about regrets—yes, I have them, and I’m finding it challenging to write about them.  You see, hardly anyone I now know saw or was aware of the trauma of my childhood.  When people meet me, they assume I’m a healthy adult woman.  Most also assume it was a great privilege to be a preacher’s kid.

I kept family secrets for decades–chiefly to protect myself.  I didn’t think anyone would believe me.  Or worse, they would decide I deserved my father’s beatings and humiliations.  Even after I confronted my parents in 1993, I didn’t tell the complete story about my childhood and how it affected me later in life, including how it affected my professional and public life.

Some of you have known me for years.  Others are new friends.  For those who’ve known me for years, I want to say this:

  • I rarely regret relationships I enjoyed in my professional, church or community work.  Most were life-giving, and preserved hope in me for something better.  I have nothing but gratitude for them.
  • I don’t regret meeting and working with people I found challenging.  They taught me about myself, about life, and about how to get along in challenging relationships.  I’m grateful that most of these sometimes painful encounters grew me up and grew me out of myself.
  • I don’t regret times when my decisions caused anxiety, disappointment, or anger.  I’ve been on both sides of the fence and understand fully that I don’t always get it right.  I’m a learner.  Sometimes a beginner.  I make mistakes and have to evaluate, reconsider and decide what to do next.

My regrets aren’t about other people or about decisions I have made.  They’re about me.  Not so much about what I’ve done as about what I haven’t done, and why.  The last posts on Dreams and Daydreams, and Part 1 of this post put it right in my face.

My Regret: 
I have played second fiddle all my life
when I might at least have tried out for first fiddle.
If not conductor!
  

As Part 1 says, I had no clear, compelling dream for my life.  I set and completed many challenging goals and objectives.  Yet not one of them was the result of a compelling dream that would help me make decisions about becoming who I was meant to be from the inside out.

As a stenographer, church musician, student and educator I wore various outfits and hats quite well.  But not one of them was comfortably ‘me’ from the inside out.  My years as a professor in the classroom came closer than other roles.  Yet even then I didn’t get up each morning excited and joyful about my work and where it was taking me.  Many days I wanted to just stay in bed and go back to sleep.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love a challenge!  This is isn’t about finding something easy.  It’s about knowing that what I’m doing fits me and is moving me toward my personal dream.  Furthermore, it isn’t about figuring out what God is going to make of my life.  Thankfully, God can use or discard whatever material I offer.

I think of my dreamless situation like this:  I had no personal compass!  No clear guidepost at the end of that row I was plowing.  Nothing to keep my vision (endpoint) clear and focused.  On track.  I had no north star, no true north!  Instead, I focused on scores of near-at-hand deadlines, goals and projects.  Good things.  And yet…

Having no north star is like having no compelling boundaries.  Boundaries help me clarify decisions, behaviors, attitudes, how time is invested or not invested, when to say Yes and when to say No, how to accept No from other people, how to create or at least enhance safety in any given situation, what is and is not allowed, where I will and will not go and why.

It also includes taking the risk of living this out.  It’s one thing to know in my head that I can say No.  But am I able to say No?  To leave the room?  To leave the door open or shut or locked?  When I don’t practice personal boundaries I leave myself vulnerable to coercion, including flattery and false promises.  I know this.  I’ve been there.  It’s all part of my childhood legacy.

Boundaries don’t guarantee that I won’t be hurt, or find myself in difficult situations.  They do, however, help me listen to my body, emotions, heart, mind, faith and experience, and then take steps that move me steadily in the direction of my true north.  My dream.

In the end, if my boundaries are good for me, they will also be good for you or for the group, organization or team I’m on.  The boundaries may not feel good, and may even raise hostility and anger.  Yet it will indeed be good.  For all of us.

Postscript
I have a dream!  I’ll talk about it in a future post.  Also not yet answered:  questions about my sometimes confused and confusing history with men, and my early patterns with gifted women.  I won’t forget.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 October 2014