When Your Reality Seems Unreal

How does an adult child of abusive parents approach life and her perception of reality?  With great agony and skepticism.

She told me that I was a liar.  She taught me that I could not be trusted. She taught me that I was evil.  This schema that drilled into my mind about my perception of reality served them well.   If a child cannot trust her experiences, then she will never disclose the reality that she is living.  She will never trust herself enough to risk the reputation and lives of those that she loves.   If you teach a child self-doubt and extreme loyalty, then you will never risk exposure.  You can get away with anything.  If all that you care about in your narcissism is your own self-preservation, then this strategy is win-win.

But what of the life of that brainwashed child?  How will she grow up? How will she ever come to terms with reality?  She will for the rest of her life question the reality of your behavior.  Oh, but it goes so much farther than this.  The consequences of this self-distrust are catastrophic.  The ripples of this early teaching touch every single experience that touch the life of this manipulated soul.

My life is currently under the influence of medical restrictions.  I am at the mercy of  individuals who are helping and caring my family.   I cannot get a drink without the assistance of someone else.  Over the last two years,  I have been piled with medical diagnoses.  It started with hyperadrenergic Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (HyperPOTS), followed by Interstitial Cystitis. A few months down the road, Gastroparesis surfaced, followed by Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.  I fear that if I allow further testing, the list would get longer.  There are a few extra illnesses that I think have been confirmed, but I am not entirely sure, so for the sake of accuracy, I will not include them in my list.  Any rational person could look at my medical history, or glance at me physically, and conclude that I am very ill.   There is no question about it….and yet….I find myself asking the question “Am I actually sick?” Every.  Single. Day.

How can I question the reality of my illness? The self-doubt undermines every recovery effort, because I question the need for treatment every step of the way.  I ask if I really need my daily infusions, or if they are placebo.  I ask if my PEG tube is absolutely necessary.   I look at my 11 medications that I take daily, in my massive pill organizer, and I wonder if the doctors are just prescribing them to placate me.  I have an epinephrine shot in my medicine cabinet for anaphylactic reactions, and I haven’t bothered to read the instructions, because I am under the assumption that when my throat is closing up, it is probably just anxiety.  I allowed myself to fall asleep last night in the midst of a near anaphylactic reaction without bothering to even ask the question if my situation could be an emergency.  It is only today that I can look at it in retrospect and see that I should have taken more extreme measures.  How can I begin to assess my situation as one that needs to be managed with care and caution? How can I ever begin to validate my bodily experience?

I feel sabotaged.  I feel like someone removed my brain, took out my ability to believe myself, inserted it back in my head, and let me loose, saying “Go on, have fun trying to live your life under the assumption that you are always, without a doubt, a deceptive, manipulative, liar.”

Here’s the catch.  Since childhood, no one has ever echoed the message that my parents drilled into my head.  No one has ever questioned the validity of my word, my experience, or my perception.  People have trusted and believed me.  Even with rare, hard to understand diagnoses that are often questioned,  I have never experienced a doctor communicate implicitly or explicitly that it is “all in my head.”

Upon communicating my doubt to my specialist this week, she responded by stating her credentials, achievements, and specialties, all of which are in my areas of diagnosis.  After asserting her qualifications and skills set, she said, “I absolutely, without a doubt, am entirely confident that you have these illnesses, and that you are incredibly sick.” I responded with a skeptical, “Are you sure?”, to which she responded with a face-palm.

I am desperately trying to navigate this path toward truth and trusting myself.  We all have misperceptions at times, and we all need input from others to help ascertain that we have a firm grasp on reality every once in a while, but it becomes dysfunctional when we doubt, question, and test every perception we have as we walk through our day. It becomes a problem when no matter how much we are reassured by loved ones, professionals, and friends, we still cannot believe ourselves.  I am so tired of this self-doubt.  The consequences of being taught that I could not trust my perception of reality are extensive and crippling.

I take comfort in the idea that the Spirit of Truth lives within me, and that I can trust that Spirit to lead me into truth.  This is a promise delivered to us by Jesus.  Sometimes I feel like I am cycling around and around, making no progress at all in my pursuit of self-validation and trust, but I am reminded of how far I have come.  I have sought treatment, allowed doctors to prescribe medications and surgical interventions.  I have surrendered my driver’s license and allowed helpers to come into my home every day to care for my children and for me.  I have recognized the cost that my body pays for doing simple chores and have sacrificed my sense of household duty for meaningful connection and relationship with my children and husband.  I have moments when I trust myself and entrust myself to the care of others because I know that I am weak and need help.  I am not a lost cause.

Where there is life, there is hope, and as long as I am living, I will continue to trust that God can rebuild and restore any and every area of brokenness in my life.  He will continue to do so until my final breath.  And as surely as the Spirit of Truth dwells within my heart,  I will continue to trust Him to re-write the messages of my childhood and to re-wire my brain.

My Companion on my Time-Traveling Train

My Companion on my Time-Traveling Train

Please note:  This material may be triggering for some with histories of trauma or abuse. I am more detailed in this piece than I am in most of my pieces.  Please take care of yourself and only read it if you are in a stable place with ample support. 

I watched a child this morning, as if from a train window. A time-traveling train. I had a tour guide and a Faithful Companion along for the ride. As I looked out the window, I saw a little girl:

The sun is getting ready to set, and dusk settles over the little dead-end neighborhood street. She puts down the Barbies and says goodnight to her friends, climbs their basement stairs, and heads out their front door. She didn’t realize that it was so late. Her mother is worried sick, and it is her fault. Darkness encroaches upon her as she marches the quarter mile home, and with a shudder, she sees her mother at the top of the driveway. As the features of her mother’s grief-stricken face come into view, the child feels as if a bowling ball has been dropped into the pit of her stomach. She sprints as fast as her five-year-old legs can carry her to her mother who seems to be overflowing with equal measures of rage and desperation. Her mother reprimands her in the public of her neighborhood community, but the consequences that lurk behind closed doors remain dreadfully looming, as she grovels behind her mother into the “safety” of her house.  The child must pay, and she knows that darkness awaits. Terror grips her heart and her body as they prepare for bath time. She can’t stop crying. Her mother can’t stop crying. “I thought I had lost you,” her mother keeps repeating as she runs the bathwater. The little girl sobs. She has so much power, and she doesn’t want that kind of power. She is just a child. As the bathtub fills up, a switch is flipped in her mother’s brain, and the monster emerges. As her own power vanishes, the child surrenders to the monster. She submits to the punishment as monster-hands hold her head and face under the water. She waits for darkness to enfold her as the monster hands refuse to let up. Lungs burning for air, she succumbs to the need, and water floods her nose and mouth. As the lights fade out, she feels sensations that she assumes accompany the process of dying. The mother-monster of Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde is her daily experience, but she only allows for conscious awareness of the overly attached, doting mother. The darker side lurks in the shadows of her experience, nagging, haunting, chasing her down every dead-end street. She feels the “not-right-ness” of their relationship. She feels the ambivalence that seems to emanate from a mother that she is desperate to please, out of dependence as well as terror. That, however, is the extent of the awareness that she has of the dark places that her mother takes her in her twists of character. Because she doesn’t have a clear picture of her mother’s illness, she assumes that she is evil, broken, and needs to be eliminated.

From the window of my train, I saw the root of self-hate, shame, and fear in that child. I saw her mother behaving like a monster, and as a mother, I despised the abuse. I raged with fury and indignation. I watched Jesus help the child hold her breath as she was being nearly drowned, and I watched Jesus firmly jerk the psychotic mother back into reality, allowing the child a chance to survive. I saw that Jesus loved this child  and wept with her horrific circumstances and loved the mother enough to not abandon her in her destructive illness.

My Faithful Companion sat beside me in the time-traveling train as I looked out the window at five-year-old me and my mother of whom I have so much fear. As He showed me Himself in the scenario, He revealed His power, love, and goodness. As the train came back to the station, and we stepped off into 2016, He said, “My child, I am redeeming you. I never abandoned you. And it is okay that you stepped away from your mother. I have not abandoned her either. You never have to feel like you have to take care of her again. Rest in me. Let me handle her. I love both of you.”

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you walk through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you… (Isaiah 43:1-2, NASB)

The Privilege (Poem)

I didn’t know if I could understand love.  When you haven’t had parents who loved you or who loved you abusively, it seems like the skill of parenting would be lost forever.  I find, however, as I have ventured down this path of parenting, that there exists within me a redemptive power that fuels a new kind of love.  This is a love that I never received from my parents, but has always been there for my own children.  I am so glad that love is not only learned.  I am so glad that I don’t have to be like my parents.  There is a power that is greater than environment, and that power is paving the way for my healing and allowing me to love my child with God’s love for me. 

I’ve never seen eyes like yours.

Two baby pools reflecting the sun.

I see the floor of the ocean,

And a million other marvels.

How can you come from me,

With your ever-growing beauty?

Infinitely long lashes and perfect pout.

And just when I think that you’ve maxed out,

A new day reveals more.

Your spirit, ablaze with fire,

You overflow with personality.

Little body can’t hold the massive heart,

Throbbing, larger than life.

As you grow into yourself, I watch in awe,

Amazed at you, inhaling your passion.

Catching your fire,

Speechless at the privilege of being your mommy.

Thank you for being.