Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The (belated) birthday breakdown -- double entendre intended

After declaring last year that I would treat my birthdays a la Merrill Markoe's "It's My F---ing Birthday" heroine (see here if you missed it and are bothered by said missing), it seems I totally blew it on the first chance I got... oy!

Well, better late than never, right?

So... Part I is the birthday recap, Part II will be what have I learned this year and what do I hope to learn in the coming year.


Birthday Recap

The birthday week started out quite well, with Therapy Monday (yay therapy day!) being followed up with our FINALLY having a fully-functional kitchen for the first time in almost a full year.  (Yes, I said it with my outside voice, so you just know the gas stove is about to explode... send hunky firefighters!)

My BEST GIFT EVER wasn't even a birthday gift, as far as I know.  On Tuesday, our friendly neighbourhood postal worker (no, she really IS friendly) knocked on the front door with a large-ish package for me.  I will admit, I was more than a little apprehensive, after the last very-large package delivered to the door (see here if you don't get the reference), but... I didn't recognize the handwriting as anything familial, so started to breathe again.  And then I noticed the "Official Gate-Keeper Survival Kit" printed in red along the bottom of the envelope...  Mwahaahaaaaa!  Friend and fellow survivor DVS, in her forever-creative way, had sent me a care package.  Inside was a card with a chocolate bar taped to it and the instructions "Step One: EAT CHOCOLATE" on the envelope.  I pulled out the remaining package contents and read the card, which explained it all:

Gate Keeper Survival Kit

Just add Alcohol
(preferably in a sippy cup so pudding doesn't get in it)
  1. Chocolate -- eat first to set the mood
  2. Pudding, chocolate of course and apparently fat-free so eat as much as you like!
  3. Shower Cap -- so you don't get said pudding in your hair... that might be nasty.
  4. Nourishing mud face mask -- looks like chocolate pudding and deeply cleanses
  5. Softening body scrub for when you want to sit back & relax
  6. Scandal survival handbook... how the rich & famous handle it!  AKA National Enquirer
(If you don't understand the pudding references, visit the bottom of this post.)

This was totally unexpected, and had me hooting and laughing for hours.  Then Don came home, and I hooted and laughed some more.  I seriously needed some hooting and laughing this month...

Later that day, once of my cello students also gave me an awesome birthday gift, without realizing it.  She bashfully came into her lesson, admitting she hadn't really practised in the past week, because she was too busy trying to figure out how to play two of her favourite songs.  I asked if she'd had any luck, and she produced HER OWN HAND-WRITTEN MANUSCRIPT of the two songs.  I asked her how she'd figured it out, and she said she'd listened to the songs a few times and tested things out on her cello to make sure she'd written them down correctly.  I withstood the urge to burst into happy tears and hug her on the spot, but did tell her what an amazing thing she had just been able to accomplish, especially when she's only been playing cello for two years.  And then I did my best to not grin and blubber like a crazy fiend throughout the rest of her lesson, as she played her arrangements and tried to figure out how to make them better.  ONE PROUD MAMA, let me tell you.  :-)

Wednesday was another musical gift, although one that did remind me of how much I've been missing since leaving the musical metropolis.  I'd been asked to sub in on a chamber music concert, and had half-heartedly said yes, because I didn't really know anything about the organizers and, sorry to say, this is an area where volunteer community orchestra members are considered "pros", so my expectations are not terribly high.  Well, those expectations were blown out of the water, as I found myself playing with people who ACTUALLY WERE pros.  First music high I've had since playing with Victor freakin' Wooten in Feb.'11 (see here for that reference) -- and that was just the rehearsal (the concert was Friday).  Granted, the majority of the players had been imported from further south, but it was so refreshing and revitalizing to be able to play a concert with only one rehearsal together and have it not suck, to work with players who spent the rehearsal discussing phrasing and dynamics, instead of just trying to get the right notes, who actually gave a crap about the music.  I was finally excited about my chosen profession again.  Halle-freaking-lujah!

Perhaps it was this newly-reawakened longing to live closer to potential musical collaborators, perhaps it was the cumulative effects of this past month, perhaps a bit of both, but on Thursday -- the actual birthday day -- I was fighting one nasty bitch of a depression.  To the extent that I caught myself staring at the paper-slicer / guillotine in my office and fantasizing about what might happen if I used it to slice my fingers down to the first knuckle.  Fortunately, the majority of me thought that this was a bad idea, but the bit of me that came up with the idea did take quite a bit of talking down.  Which freaked me out a little (!), because I haven't had any self-harm ideas since my high school years -- in which I would flatten myself against the back wall of the subway platform (and preferably at the front of the train), just in case a part of me decided to jump, as I hoped that would give the other parts of me time to talk that bit out of it before the train came.  I imagine this finger-slicing bit of me was at least closely related to that bit.  I suppose this self-destructive fragment could have been triggered by this month's goings-on, although it seems rather strange that she would re-appear just when I'm more determined than ever to stay alive, be fully functional, and shout my story to the rooftops.  Maybe she's still terrified of that concept.  Or maybe, as with all the other dissociated bits that have taken their own sweet time to make an appearance, she now knows it's safe to show herself, to become integrated with all the other shards, where she'll be loved and protected, at last.  I will go with the latter for now, barring any future finger-mutilation urges.

Suffice it to say, my fingers are still fully intact.  Hence the typing.  :-)

And I managed to get my public face back on again in time for my sweetie to take me around the corner to Era 67 for dinner.  There, we were greeted by my birthday twin, Cory, who made sure we were treated right.  :-)  That's me and my birthday twin below (he's the one with the Movember 'stache, in case you were wondering).

Regular readers of our Brights blog are probably clamouring for the food and beverage report.  I'd hate to disappoint!  We'd brought a bottle of our favourite Amarone, but wanted to give it a chance to breathe (nice excuse, huh?), so Cory decanted the wine while I had a Cosmopolitan and Don a rye & water (Cosmo is so much prettier!).  We usually split an appetizer, but Cory said the shrimp appetizer only had 4 shrimp, so we figured we'd each have an order.  He failed to mention that they were MUTANT shrimp, however.  Yes, that piece of battered yumminess that resembles a turkey leg below is actually a shrimp!  Note to self: go back to sharing an appetizer.

A (slightly inebriated) woman at the table next to us and her husband were enjoying an anniversary dinner together, and we got chatting away -- they made fun of Don for taking pictures of food, but they obviously don't understand that sometimes the most interesting things we have to say are food-related.  ;-)  (Seriously, I've actually had readers of our Brights blog COMPLAIN when I forget to include the food and beverage report in our tour reports...)

My main course was maple cranberry salmon over a bed of wild rice.  Maple cranberry salmon is almost as good as wine.  Almost.  Sadly, I was so full from those Pterodactyl legs shrimp that I could only make it partway through.  Don also had to take home a doggie bag (very rare occurrence!) for his breaded pork chop on a bed of garlicky mashed potatoes.

Just when we thought we could eat no more, Cory presented us with a special birthday treat: a warm butter tart on creme anglaise, garnished with fresh fruit -- we ordered some Dalwhinnie to wash it all down.

We waddled home, painfully.  Where we decided to have some more birthday single malt and stay up talking until the wee hours as we digested.  This might have been a mistake, as I had a 10:00 cello student the next morning!  (I did manage to wake up, and be vaguely coherent for said student, although promptly went back to sleep and didn't wake up until it was time to get ready for the chamber gig!)

Fortunately, our stomachs and livers had recovered adequately for the Birthday Dinner Party / Sleepover (kind of like when we were kids, only this included wine and boys).  Seven friends and one Chocolate Lab (the canine, not edible variety) joining us for another night of too much food and beverage.  It started with champagne and a toast to moi that had me already teary (and I hadn't even drunk the champagne yet), with some antipasto appetizers that Lisa & Paul brought.  Then Don headed to the barbecue, Lisa and I headed to the wine, and everyone bustled around to get the rest of the food ready.  First, Ray custom-mixed salads for each of us, then we had Ali's creamy roasted red pepper soup, then steak for the carnivores and maple-teriaki salmon for the pescavores (if that's not a real word, it should be).  For each course, Ray played sommelier, pouring (lots of) wine to match each dish.  Once again, we were rather stuffed.  But wait, there's more!  Roy and Sue had brought not one, but TWO birthday cakes -- see the dessert picture from Thursday.  Much chatting and laughter into the night.  Lisa was the first to change into pyjamas, followed closely by Ali.  I went to change into mine, and my body said "jammies!  bed!  they won't notice..." so I never returned downstairs.  Apparently they sent a scout to make sure I was OK, but I was already fast asleep.  Most of the others filed off to their respective beds shortly thereafter, other than my beloved hubby and Ray, who were reportedly up until 5:45 drinking scotch and talking.  So, for once in my life, I was actually the first person to wake up the next morning!  (Other than Ali, who had to head to the farm to play with horses.)  Don made us all breakfast, and everyone was on their way home before he realized just how hungover he truly was...  Other than the hubby's hangover, it had been the perfect Birthday Weekend, surrounded by people who love me and support me, and who have stuck by us both in some pretty trying times these past couple of years.

I spent the afternoon in joy-filled, feeling-the-love bliss.

To quote myself:  Do you see where this is going?  Because I did not see where this was going...

Yes, friends, there was one birthday present left to be delivered: a brand-new cannonball-to-the-gut, courtesy of the Gate-Keeper-of-the-Month.  Perfectly timed, perfectly aimed.  As one friend (and cannonball recipient) commented: "of course, she KNOWS it's your birthday weekend, so... why not piss on the parade?"

You see, after her previous cannonball -- in which she attempted to turn my husband, best friend, and various other friends, family and supporters against me by saying I was lying about my childhood sexual abuse, but if it had occurred she hadn't known about it, gaslight, lie, deny, denydeny, denysomemore...  I had, in a weak moment of believing she might still have some semblance of sense and reality about her, sent her a "cease and desist" letter, including some samples of evidence I had on hand (from the oft-mentioned two filing cabinets, ancient hard drives and basement full of boxes) to disprove just one of the lies she had consistently been including in her e-mails to my friends and family -- said lie being that she had never known of the abuse, and we had never spoken of it before.  Thinking, of course, that being able to back myself up with hard evidence -- including her own damned handwriting -- might appeal to some hidden logical side within, or at least scare her self-preserving side out of being caught in more bold-faced lies in the future.

She did not reply to me, of course -- I'm still non-existant for her.  She completely avoided me, and once again turned to my friends and family, to once again try to convince them I'm a lying piece of shit.  Completely ignoring the documentation dealing with my 1983 disclosure and her own actions (though mostly inactions) upon said disclosure, later (witnessed) discussions with her about my past abuse, and even later written correspondence to and from her.  Attempting, in fact, to use one of those pieces of her own correspondence as proof of her original point that we had never discussed the matter before.  Which makes about as much friggin' sense as... well, I can't even think of a good simile for such a bizarre thought pattern, so my fellow writers are going to have to chime in here.

And I will admit, I should have known better, but there was still a little part of me that had been hoping that seeing but a smidgen of the (two filing cabinets, etc.) evidence I have of my story would have shocked her into an "aha! I should stop abusing her over her abuse story" moment.  Yes, foolish in hindsight, but I won't be holding out that candle again, never fear.

In fact, I had had very little hope she would "cease and desist" for my sake -- because, seriously, what kind of person reads the diary of a little girl who wishes her father would stop raping her, and then sporadically and unpredictably goes on the warpath against that girl for the next 30+ years over it? -- but thought she'd at least go into self-preservation mode once she knew that I could back up my story quite easily, and it was really her own credibility she was destroying.  But... sigh... I guess even saving face and keeping things quiet takes a back seat to roiling around in the same old patterns she's been employing since... well, probably before I was even born.

Which (finally) brings me around to Part II:

What Have I Learned This Year?

A. Lot.

First of all, there's the purely practical.  In beginning to research for this book-I-promised-my-nightmares-I'd-write (read here and here for that explanation), I have learned far more about childhood sexual abuse, incest, codependence, enabling, toxic people, domestic abuse and family dysfunction than I really ever wanted to know (but everyone really should know).

In that research, and in diving in deeper to my own story and opening up more about it, I have met some wonderful people, and joined forces with some amazing dragon-slayers.

I have learned, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am not alone.  That none of us are.  That, while each of our stories is unique, there are common threads running through them.  Common patterns that we all thought were ours alone.  Ridiculously, depressingly common patterns that I so wish had been explained to me and my brother and sister survivors, victors and thrivers when we were kids.  "Survival Ed 101".

What a different childhood (and resulting adulthood) we could have all had if, instead of teaching us "don't take candy from strangers", we had been taught "no adult should tell you to keep a secret", "nobody else can tell you what your feelings are", "trust your gut",  "nobody, even the people you love, is perfect", "if you're afraid of something, there's probably a good reason for it", "you have the right to say no to anything that makes you uncomfortable", or "you deserve to feel safe and secure and loved, no matter what."

In reading these case studies, and my brothers' and sisters' stories, these messages were all lacking.  Yes, there are a few lucky ones whose caregivers learned of the abuse and stood up to fight FOR them, and did whatever they could to get them out of harm's way, and provide them with the necessary tools and resources for healing.  These seem to be the minority, unfortunately.  (Or, at least, they didn't end up so messed up as adults that they needed enough therapy to turn themselves into a case study!)  The majority of folks -- at least those who needed therapy and trauma counselling in later years -- are the ones who had nowhere to turn, either because of family dysfunction or organizational dysfunction, or perhaps even a bit of both.  These are the kids who weren't taught it was ok to say no, they were taught they didn't have the right.  That they shouldn't ever say bad things about Uncle Fred or their baseball coach or their pastor.  That they should never question anyone in authority (i.e., a grown-up).

I have learned that we all have internalized and externalized these messages in very similar ways.  That these messages have continued to be reinforced in very similar ways.

And yes, the similarities are more than a little bit on the depressing side, but it's also really great to be able to sit back and say "oh yes, you're currently re-enacting case study L -- this really isn't about me, is it?"  I've FINALLY learned to not take the Gate-Keeper-of-the-Month's -- or any of the Gate-Keepers' -- antics personally.

I have finally learned that there is absolutely nothing I can or ever will be able to do to stop those antics.  I have learned to save my energy.  I have learned to hug and squeeze and love that little girl inside and give her the things she was never able to receive, to remind her that she won't ever be able to get those things from the people she was supposed to get it from, but that there are literally hundreds of people in her life now who are ready, willing and eager to give them to her, and she doesn't have to tap-dance up a storm to get them, they're just hers.

I have (again, finally) learned to give up hope that these Gate-Keepers are capable of change.  As one friend recently said: "She's never going to be able to see your truth.  She's never going to want to see your truth.  This is how she treated you 40 years ago, this is how she treated you 30 years ago, this is how she treated you 20 years ago, this is how she treated you 10 years ago, this is how she's treating you now.  She is still denying and fighting your truth, and in doing so, she is very clearly showing you hers: this is who she is, this is who she was, this is who she always will be.  You need to believe her."

I finally do.  We went through this whole scenario ten years ago (minus her trying to drag family and friends into the cyclone I refused to step into this time) and I had to shut of all contact.  After a while, toes were dipped, cyclones remained calm, and I went back in, thinking we had graduated into a state of at least agree-to-disagree.  I was wrong.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me for forty-plus years... well, I finally got the message.

I laughed with Don last night -- there are a number of friends for whom I lament that they keep ending up with the same kind of partner, and it keeps ending the same bad way.  But geez, at least they're falling for DIFFERENT people -- I've just been falling over and over again for the same patterns with the same damned person!  How many people have been breaking their hearts and tearing out their hair watching me do this?  (Don't answer that, the guilt might slay me!)

I have learned that it's my right -- and probably responsibility -- to protect myself from and stay away from the toxic people in my life.

I have learned that there are lots of non-toxic (and probably free-range organic) people ready to take their places.  I have learned that I don't have to tap dance to make them love me (which is good, because I was never meant to be a dancer...)

As others from the past learn of my story, I have learned that I don't remember as much as I thought I did -- there are apparently some fragments still missing.  One friend recently recalled watching in horror as my father ripped off my clothes and beat me mercilessly with a hairbrush in front of her when she came home for lunch with me in grade 3.  (I do remember being afraid of his spankings, but didn't remember the hairbrush part, nor that he did it in front of friends.)  Another who remembers feeling terribly uncomfortable around him, but didn't have the knowledge or vocabulary to put her finger on it as a kid.  Another who felt it was her duty to stay with my sister at all times, although she didn't really know why.  Another who recalls a super-inappropriate incident with him when she came to visit, that scared her into never coming back to the house (even after hearing her story, I have zero recollection of it myself, though I do remember thinking I had done something wrong and she didn't like me anymore).  There are many little pieces to keep gathering in -- my work is nowhere close to done.

But I AM in a safe place in which to do it now, so I imagine these memories will come back more and more quickly, once they see it's OK.

2-4-6-8 Think it's time to integrate.  :-)

I have, or at least started to, absorbed the lesson I wanted to learn last birthday -- that it's OK to meet my own needs, that it's OK to look after myself, that it's OK to be me.

Mission accomplished.

What do I hope to learn in the coming year?

Well, I want to learn more about these hitherto-unknown bits and pieces of fragmented-little-kid me.  What shattered them, what they have to tell me, what they have to teach me.

Although what I most want is to DO.  To do something with all this information, with all this learning, with all this barfing-up-of-my-intestines.  To dig myself out from this legacy and, in turn, help others with their shovelling -- or, EVEN BETTER, to prevent them from needing a shovel in the first place.

I want to learn my passions.  Not my reactions, but my passions.  Because I'm a bloody passionate person, let me tell you.  :-)  But I feel I've been reacting for so long, doing what has to be done and what I figure ought to be done, that now that I'm without a life-and-death situation or a particular crusade, I've been feeling a little aimless.

And yes, I realize it's kind of silly for someone who's starting up a charitable organization and writing a book and running a performance career and might-be-about-to-be-talked-into-another-solo-album to feel aimless, but... maybe I just have to get used to the fact that doing the things I'm passionate about is actually an aim... not to mention a passion...

Well, click my ruby red slippers together, we're still in week one and I just gave myself the answer to the thing I wanted to learn...

OK, I guess I need to re-learn a couple of the things about meeting my own needs and being me being enough.  Positive reinforcement and all that...  Maybe I should give myself a follow-up exam.

I would love to learn how to not let the Gate-Keepers send me into a big barfy braincloud -- although I have a feeling that the events of the last month have taught me that already.  The braincloud came in the beginning, but the more recent attacks sent me more into the "this again? give me a break!" mode.  Of course, I could see the more recent ones coming -- guess we'll have to see what happens when it comes out of the blue (because you just know it will...).

Gotta learn how to run a charitable organization!

Can't wait to learn what kind of nutbars are willing to read a darkly humorous book about child abuse!

But, seriously...

I guess what I really want to learn is how to take care of that little girl.  To make sure she has all the tools in her toolbox, yes, but to make sure she knows they were supposed to be hers all along.  And that the reason she never got them isn't because she didn't deserve them, but because there was nobody around who had them to give.

She doesn't need a hammer to change a lightbulb, and she really shouldn't stick a screwdriver in the toaster unless it's unplugged, because it's not as much fun as it looks (although her tap-dancing might improve...).  That she doesn't need to earn or find justification for being loved.  That being loved is a lot less scary than the toaster scenario.

That there is nothing wrong or shameful in being true to herself, or her story.


  1. And belated birthday wishes to you. I did wish you HB on FB I think. In any case that was quite an amazing and diverse blog read. I haven't been around for a while, and please forgive me. I've been negligent in blogging interaction lately. And your dinner sounded marvellous.

  2. Thanks, Ian -- both dinners were great!

  3. It sounds like you had a lovely (and YUMMY!) birthday celebration. Happy birthday!

    You have learned some very important things in the past year...but I especially love this, "it's OK to meet my own needs, that it's OK to look after myself, that it's OK to be me" that is huge!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. You may absolutely post my graphic on your blog. Thank you for asking. It is nice to "meet" you too.

  4. Thanks so much, Tracie -- on all counts!