Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: PTSD

the red cardinal revisited

the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches

When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.

How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.

But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was his first-born of four daughters. I watched my tongue constantly. Smiled when expected. Stifled tears. Did as I was told. Set an example. And took the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist.

I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.

Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.

My voice is the measure of my recovery.

Regardless of the weather, the political climate or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.

I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.

Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.

I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.

So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal sang his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.

Though I’m a follower of Jesus, this doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it’s more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

I still owe Candice thanks for this topic! Though I’ve written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging. Especially today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018, lightly edited and reposted 7 September 2020
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

Inconvenient truth

Bad timing
The look on your face
The tone of your voice
Your choice of words
What you said
How you said it
And a thousand other
Inconveniences
Called upon as evidence
Against you and your kind
Will never withstand
The strength of truth
Spoken out loud
By just one survivor
With nothing to gain
And everything to lose
Including false shame

If I had to name my greatest achievements in life they are, in order:

  1. Seeking help from a psychotherapist for unrelenting IBS, depression, shame, anxiety attacks and more. I was in my late 40s.
  2. Setting up a meeting with my parents and reading to my father my two-page statement. In short, I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated or silenced by his beatings. This meeting took place on the eve of my 50th birthday.

The poem acknowledges the excruciating reality that there will never be just the right moment to tell inconvenient truth. Or just the right way. Or with just the right looks on our faces.

I applaud survivors of life-changing events, endured at the hands of others, who do their ‘homework’ and then speak out. As many times as needed.

We are an inconvenient truth in this nation.

We’re everywhere, in sight and out of sight. We want freedom from false shame, debilitating depression, anxiety attacks, and lies we tell ourselves about ourselves.

Many of us were violated as children or babies, before we were old enough to know what was being done to us. Often violation against us preceded our own violation of others. That doesn’t get us off the hook. It just clarifies the lay of the land and what we must do to make sense of what seems senseless.

We can’t change the people who victimized us. We can, however, give ourselves the gift of facing what happened to us, getting professional help, and learning to do what we think we can’t do to make amends to ourselves and others. No matter what the consequences.

A liberated voice doesn’t come cheap.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 Oct 2018

shadowy islands beckon

shadowy islands beckon
the end of the day

promises of greatness
if not prosperity linger
dying on the surface

perhaps tomorrow
will bring clarity and color
to a world gone missing
before the first day ended

(Many thanks to my Australian blogging friend John for permission to use one of his beautiful photos.)

As each week ticks by, seconds tick down with frightening speed. Especially when we measure damage done in what amounts to the blink of an eye. For example, almost overnight our government and its officials have created conditions that ensure hundreds if not thousands more children, young people and parents will suffer from PTSD.

When nighttime falls or even when daylight breaks, the nightmares won’t end.

The photo above isn’t ugly or deeply disturbing. It’s beautiful. At the same time, it’s full of ambiguity about what’s happening, especially beneath the surface and in the distance.

It reminds me of the shadowy picture Mr. Trump projects now under the guise of Beauty. As in, ‘It’s going to be really really Beautiful!’ As though repeating this mantra will calm us down or reassure us.

Yet when push comes to shove, I don’t see evidence that Beauty is happening for everyone in this country, much less elsewhere. Nor do I see a clear and present pathway from here to there that doesn’t involve backtracking and distractions and attempts to make something really really big out of nothing.

We have deep rifts and problems that need solutions. But creating more enemies internally and externally just doesn’t add up to a good day’s work or a good night’s sleep for any of us.

I still believe Resistance is Never Futile. If it doesn’t get us killed, it can make us both softer and stronger. I consider myself part of the loyal Resistance. It would also be nice if we could all enjoy a peaceful evening by a duck pond.

Peace to each of you,
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2018
Photo by John of Australia. You can check out his blog site here.

Shaming and Punishing Women

One of my longtime followers, Fran Macilvey, left the following request in response to my recent post, Voices long silent.

I’d like to hear more about your view on “….shaming rituals and periodic public displays of what happens to strong women…” because I’m sure it doesn’t just happen to women, and I’m curious to consider why we do it. What are we frightened of? Disapproval??

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially about how things like this happen to men. At the same time, from my childhood on it seemed women and girls had to be kept in their places. My personal fear wasn’t disapproval. It was harsh punishment. Not just as a child, but even as a professional. It was important to ‘walk the line’ and remember that I was not in charge. Today I might simply walk out. But that freedom didn’t happen overnight.

In a recent telephone conversation with one of my sisters, we talked about ways young boys shamed us at school when we were in the 5th grade. Our father also shamed us at home every time one of us was beaten. I was the prime example of what would happen to my three younger sisters if they dared to live ‘outside’ the lines of what my father considered proper behavior for females.

So we shared our experiences in the 5th grade. Both involved shaming by a male classmate. There was no one safe to talk with us. Not at school, and not at home. Each of us lived with the burden of believing we were the problem. The truth, however, is that our young, developing female bodies were the problem. Not to us, but to the boys who tormented us.

Silence about things like this, when carried for decades and magnified by repeated body shaming is like carrying a dead weight in one’s body and soul. Still, the only safe way to get through was to keep our young mouths shut and just keep going.

I can’t begin to describe the feeling of release I felt because my sister and I had finally dared tell each other about this insult to our souls and bodies.

Then there’s the companion side of this dilemma. Often when women stand up and report harassing behavior, they become the subject of investigation. Maybe it was your clothes, your tone of voice, the look in your eyes, the perfume you wore to work today. Hence the silence of women afraid to report abuse of any kind on the job, at home, in schools and universities, in churches, or even in friendship circles.

I’m not saying all women are as pure as the driven snow. Instead, I’m saying that experiences like this need to be unpacked. Perhaps we can change our behavior. Not because what we’re doing is ‘wrong,’ but because it isn’t putting our own safety first. Often we need trusted friends and qualified psychotherapists to walk with us.

Reading books about how to survive various forms of shaming or PTSD isn’t a bad thing to do. We can learn a lot. Yet there’s that internal stuff that isn’t going to go away because we read a book. Sometimes we need a safe person to hear us out and help us examine our feelings and behaviors without blame or judgment.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 June 2018

the red cardinal

the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches

When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.

How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.

But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was the first-born of four daughters. I had to watch my tongue constantly. Smile when expected. Stifle tears. Do as I was told. Set an example. And take the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started when I was in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist with whom I’m still connected.

I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.

Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.

My voice is the measure of my recovery.

Regardless of the weather, the political climate, or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.

I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think that getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.

Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.

I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.

So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal was singing his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.

Though I’m a follower of Jesus, I don’t believe this makes my life easier. In fact, I’d suggest it makes it more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

Many thanks to Candice for this topic! Though I’ve already written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

yesterday’s ghosts

yesterday’s ghosts
stir in their graves
dismembered

They want to shame and blame me. Turn me into the problem I am not. Make it my fault. Or the fault of my overactive emotions or hormones run wild.

And the tears. If I would just stop getting all emotional about it. It’s over and done with, Sister. Get used to it. This is the way of the world. If you don’t like the heat, don’t stand so close to the fire.

I’m proud to be a thriving survivor. Like other women and men, I’ve been sexually harassed, humiliated and punished physically, verbally and emotionally. Sadly, the patterns of my childhood and youth didn’t stop when I became an adult woman — a supposedly mature, thoughtful, educated, gifted, responsible, compassionate, dependable, reliable woman, true to her word.

My recent nightmare with its scoffer’s row of men intent on intimidating me brought it all back. As did my recent review of private journal entries from my years as a seminary professor and dean. To say nothing of public figures coming forward to talk about their experiences.

Where will this lead? Is it simply the media event of the year? I pray it is not.

My father set the stage early in my life. He was the boss. I was not. He wore his medals proudly: Male, Ordained, Father, The Boss.

Instead of learning to stand on my own two feet without apology, I was subjected to formation in unquestioning submission to men (unless they were obviously ‘bad’ men), submission to my teachers, submission to my employers, submission to the governing powers, and submission to God as a disobedient, rebellious, stubborn and angry little girl.

My father also formed me in the sick opposites of these submissions. These included lack of respect for my female body, female voice, thoughts, instincts, intuitions, emotions, and my identity as God’s beloved daughter child. They also included formation in going along to get along.

  • Smiling whether I wanted to or not
  • Being polite instead of truthful
  • Not hurting other people’s feelings
  • Not embarrassing myself or others in public
  • Doing as I was told, without asking questions or grimacing

Today I’m holding out for women and men who won’t allow their ghosts to rest in peace until justice is done. Not for us, but for all the children of this world, especially those without safe allies. Otherwise, this will indeed become a passing fad–for all but the powerful few.

I’m in this  for the long haul. How about you?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 December 2017
Image found at raisingintuitivechildren.com

Working on My Nightmare

This morning I poured creative energy into rewriting a nightmare I had over a week ago. In the dream I was in charge, and found myself suddenly in a situation of growing danger. Yet I couldn’t speak directly and clearly to the danger. Not just danger to me, but to others.

This inability to speak clearly and directly in situations of danger is the most difficult damage I carried into my adult life. I don’t like the physical, spiritual and health fallout from being abused in body and spirit, but I can handle it.

Yet when it comes to my voice, whether written or spoken, I sometimes flinch when dealing with difficult issues. Or I speak out, followed too often by loss of confidence and the urge to sit down and shut up. Or stop being so emotional.

We live in a shrinking world tormented by personal, familial, national and global horror. It stares us in the face every day. Almost like a nightmarish taunt that won’t go away.

So I had this nightmare that began badly, became even worse, and finally woke me with my heart pounding, afraid for my life. It was all about threatening men, or so it seemed.

Since then, I’ve thought about a nightmare I had back in the 1990s, after I’d begun working with my psychotherapist. In it I’m running for my life from two or three men carrying loaded rifles, determined to silence me. I’m carrying a large umbrella. Hardly a match for loaded rifles.

I run into a room with an exit door at the top of concrete steps. The men are close behind me. There’s no way I can fight them off or stop them physically. I race up the stairs to exit the room and discover to my horror that the door is locked.

Of course I wake up with my heart pounding, afraid for my life.

Back then (as now), my psychotherapist encouraged me to rewrite the nightmare. Creatively, using only the material I have in the nightmare. Which includes my voice.

I’ll never forget how excited I was when I figured out what to do. I was at the top of the steps. Suddenly I turned around and pressed the button on my large umbrella. It flew open immediately, and I danced and, as I recall, sang my way back down the stairs and into the small room. The more I danced, the happier I was. I even invited my pursuers to dance with me!

The men were so flabbergasted they didn’t know what to do next, and I was suddenly in charge of my voice and the situation.

That’s the kind of ending I want for this nightmare. And I think I’ve got it! Which is for another post.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 November 2017
Image found at bgartshop.com

A gaping void

In the beginning
there was before–
now there is after–
nothing between

A jagged rift
runs through me
marking me for life
despite all things beautiful
that whisper of something better

No path however enticing
takes me back to before
Nor can my fingers find
notes adequate
to mourn the loss
or soothe my aching soul

Yesterday’s maps
fade in dying light

I wake,
longing to shed this dusty self
and be born—
yet again

About 4:15 this morning I couldn’t get back to sleep. I wasn’t restless; I was sad about the distance that lies between my life before and after trauma.

I began this blog nearly 4 years ago. It was my first attempt to write openly about my childhood trauma. As a preacher’s daughter, oldest of four daughters, I always put on my happy face.

After beginning the blog, I discovered Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I love reading it, puzzling over it, making connections between her cryptic words and images, and life as I know it.

Yesterday I read an article sent by a friend who follows this blog. The author, a medical doctor who understands trauma, confirms and gives evidence for the strong possibility that Emily was a survivor of childhood trauma. I found her convincing. If you’d like to read the article, here’s a link.

I don’t know all the secrets hidden within Emily’s cryptic poetry. Yet I understand the need to cloak my language so that truth is told slant. Told in ways that don’t implicate others or me, yet invite us to think about ourselves and the worlds in which we live.

The author of the article suggests that writing poetry was Emily’s way of talking about the unspeakable—whatever it was. A way to stay connected to herself when there was no one around to help her, and possibly, no other way out.

The trauma done to me began before I have memories of it. I don’t remember life without it. Writing poetry has become a lifeline to creative sanity instead of depression. It helps me know and accept myself, just the way I am. Hence the poem above, jotted down in its first version at 4:30am this morning.

Thanks, as always, for reading and listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 September 2017
Photo found at pixabay.com

Upside down and inside out

The glories of being intuitive do not include being correct. As I’ve noted before, intuition is as flawed as any other remarkable gift. My intuition is prone to wander, prone to read things wrong, prone to finding a way to make it all work out so I’m still on the ‘right’ side of things.

I didn’t choose this. It’s how I survived childhood and youth as the first-born daughter of a clergyman who believed he was right and I was wrong.

My instincts back then were correct: I was NOT always wrong. Not that I could do much about it back then except pray for the day when I would be an Adult Woman. An Independent Agent living by her own instincts, not yours or anyone else’s. And, of course, with God’s blessing.

I had no idea what it would mean to live according to instincts and intuitions shaped by years of resistance to homegrown and social trauma. Even so, I was often on target, especially when I was dealing with other people and their situations.

Going through old notes from 1994, I recently discovered a small phrase I used in a forum. The phrase is simple: ‘upside down and inside out.’

The notes referred to Karl Barth, German theologian of the mid-20th century. He wrote and taught during Hitler’s reign, the Holocaust, and in the aftermath of World War II. Plenty of trauma going on there, don’t you think?

In the 1980s, when I was a graduate student, Barth invited me to turn my mind ‘upside down and inside out.’ Not to play tricks on reality, but to discover a different way of discovering and naming truth.

He argued that because of human confusion in and around us, we cannot trust our instincts. His theology is a grand effort to show how this works—turning our minds upside down and inside out. So that what we call good or even ‘normal’ is not necessarily that.

So today I’m back to thinking about my instincts. Instincts honed and shaped by what we now call childhood PTSD.

Back then it was all about survival. Getting through without falling apart (even though I fell apart regularly, especially on the inside). I dreamed of arriving at the magic moment when I could live without threat of imminent punishment or humiliation.

I left home at 16 years of age to go to college, never dreaming what my lifetime learning agenda would be. Especially about myself and my instincts. I thought thriving meant living on my own, having a job and maybe even a boyfriend.

Yet thriving isn’t about having a life or even letting go of things programmed into me as a child. It’s about welcoming, affirming and living as the woman I already am.

Put another way, it’s about living on the other side of letting go. I want to name and own what I love about myself and about life. I welcome this opportunity to turn my let-go thoughts and feelings upside down and inside out. I have much to put to rest, and much to bring back to life. Just like those beautifully upside down, inside out flowers and plants in the artwork above.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 March 2017
Lovely artwork found at akiane.com

Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Instinct

Death

Elephant in the room cartoon

The elephant in the room.
What I don’t want to talk about.
Especially with people I love.

Mortality sounds better.
Not so stark and final.
Wiggle room between now and then. Read the rest of this entry »

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