Living in Joy After Abuse

Recently, I’ve realized I’ve been living my life according to some ideas I have stuck in my brain. These ideas have formed over the forty-eight years of my life for different reasons such as how I was brought up, my peers, constant media blasts, social norms, religion, so on and so forth. Truly, it’s hard to sort out what I really want in life through the many layers of ‘Shoulds”.

You need to go to college and pick a career that earns a lot of money.

Money is most important.

You need to not be outspoken or different. Follow the rules (social norms).

You’re a woman, you can’t do that.

Keep your mouth shut. Keep out of sight.

That’s a nice dream, but it won’t make enough money. You won’t be able to support yourself.

Are you crazy?

Why are you so shy? Why don’t you speak up in class? Are you stupid?

Go to church every. Sunday. Live a pious life (as the speaker does not)

Women are weaker, inferior to men.

Don’t associate with black people or people of color.

You’re a failure. Don’t do better than me. Don’t do anything that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t color outside the lines…

You get the idea. I have had so many expectations and rules (that aren’t truly rules) throw at me throughout my life, that I am just now unwinding all those messages to find my true self. All that I listed above has been said to me in some manner or another, usually out of love and misguided direction though some of what has been said to me is so that I don’t “do better” than the person giving me that message. People are threatened by you, especially when you don’t fit into a neat little box.

I’ve always been kind of the odd duck. I’m quiet and introverted; therefore, I’m either assumed to be socially awkward or shy or stuck up. I’m none of those things. I have never seen race as an indication of people’s worth or unworth. People are just people. I don’t believe one religion is ‘right’ and the rest are wrong. “God” to me, takes many forms and going to church every Sunday doesn’t make you a good person. I find “God” in nature, in people and in many places.

I don’t believe you have to be rich to be happy. I think having enough money to pay your bills and a bit extra is the sweet spot. I don’t believe you have to be what the general public deems as ‘successful’ such as being a doctor, lawyer, etc. Sometimes the people we look up to are the ones hiding the most. I don’t believe that “God” is wrathful, I believe “God” is love and therefore doesn’t give 2 shits about your sexual orientation, gender, color, if you tithe 10%, if your butt is in a church pew on Sunday, so on and so forth. I do believe “God” wants us to show each other love and kindness. I also believe that “God” wants us to find joy in our lives, not be cowering in the corner because we sinned. God wants us to feel his love not feel guilty all the time.

Over the years, I’ve tried different volunteering activities and each time, I found myself not sticking to them. I felt bad about myself, guilty. These people need my help, am I a selfish person? Then recently, I signed up to be a Lunch Buddy through Big Brothers Big Sisters for a 5th grade girl in my school district. Every other week (or more – she likes me to come weekly), I have lunch with her at her school, just listening and talking. to her while she eats her lunch. To be honest, I think I get more out of i t than she does, it brings me such joy. This made me realize that no, I wasn’t a bad or selfish person, I just hadn’t found my right opportunity. I was telling myself, everyone works with kids, I should work with the elderly or abused women, so on and so forth. For whatever reason, I was too stubborn to allow myself to do what I really wanted because I had some ideal in my head that I shouldn’t work with kids.

Where did this come from? Who knows. But that’s how I’ve treated myself throughout my life. Ignoring what brings me joy because maybe I don’t feel I deserve it or happiness. Growing up in a dysfunctional family situation, you rarely feel that you are important. The narcissistic nature of someone who is an addict or alcoholic takes over everyone’s lives and as a kid and adolescent I was lost in the shuffle. My needs were not important, I was overshadowed by my father’s issues. I’ve been essentially punishing myself all these years because of essentially what I was taught indirectly. And frankly that’s bullshit and I’m angry about it.

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and therapy to get over my past and the fallout into my adult life. The last thing that I am struggling with is anger. I am calling bullshit on every single person who ever excused my father’s behavior because he was “sick”. Sure he tried rehab a few times but he just bullshitted his way through it and came home to do the same things usually worse. My childhood, my adolescence even though my parents divorced when I was 13 was a flat out abusive mess because of his f’ing sickness. Bullshit to each time someone excused his behavior – you were enabling him to not be responsible for himself. I understand it’s a sickness and people can’t help it but it doesn’t excuse the shitty treatment of your children. We didn’t deserve it.

Bullshit to the lack of domestic abuse laws that allowed my father to hit and beat my mother because they were married. If they had not been married back then, he would have been arrested. Again, this was overlooked and my mother was told basically that you are stuck, until she finally had enough and left. She would have left years before, saving us all a bunch of heartache if it had not been for those preaching religious shit about sanctity of marriage. Really? God wants a husband to hit his wife and kids? I don’t care if he was sick or drunk, none of us deserved it. No one deserves it today. The damage from this treatment is long reaching. I’m mid-life and still struggling to just allow myself joy. This is ridiculous.

Being addicted or having a mental illness is tough. It’s a big struggle, but please don’t forget about the persons, the loved ones in the addict’s path. Don’t let the addiction overshadow the victims. In my father’s case, he was never going to get better. I wonder though, if people had stopped enabling him, feeling sorry for him, and hadn’t expected him to take responsibility for his actions. Would the result had been different? What if he went to jail for beating my mother the first time it happened? What if she left the first time she wanted to, gotten support instead of shamed and pressured because they were married? My parents would have divorced when I was very young if she walked away when it started to happen or at least separated until he straightened up his shit. If he couldn’t straighten himself up, then none of us had to live in that hell. She could have still helped him get to rehab and such, but kept herself and us out of the firing line.

I’m not saying stop caring about the person but they have to take responsibility for themselves. They won’t get better until they decide that is truly what they want. It doesn’t matter how much begging and pleading you do with them, it really has to be up to them. But this is their responsibility especially when they are an adult. It is further complicated though by mental illness as in my father’s case. There is little resources to dealing with an adult with a debilitating mental illness. When my father was in nursing care, he was this wonderful pleasant person but outside of constant care, he reverted back to how he was. Dealing with these issues are very complex and I know it isn’t simple. But as victims of the disease, we can remove ourselves and take care of ourselves even though it’s hell watching someone you love self-destruct.

So now, I’m learning what truly brings me joy. In order for me to finish healing over my past, this is a key element. Letting go of the “shoulds” and finding joy every single day. Allowing myself to be happy because I deserve that as does everyone else. We don’t have to sacrifice our joy in life. I need to stop trying to live up to old expectations that never made sense to start with. To stand up for myself when my boundaries are crossed. Granted we all have to do things in life that we don’t enjoy to survive but outside of that, we are free to find our joys. We deserve love and good things no matter our past.

Go find your joy!

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Life is So So Short… 

You hear all the cliches.  Life is short, YOLO, your health is everything, just do it, and so on.  They are everywhere you turn. When you are younger and you hear “if you have your health, you have everything”, you probably smile and nod then go on with your day.  It never really sinks in unless you are suffering some medical maladie at the time.  Most of these saying float around us, especially on social media, and we note them or ignore them but never really consider what they mean.

Yesterday was my first volunteer day at a local nursing home.  I chose the state-funded home rather than a private nursing home because they don’t have a lot of volunteers and most of their residents had no money or family to help care for them.  I’m no expert on nursing homes, so if this is ring, forgive me but that is my best guess.  My employer gives us one day a year to volunteer but while I used this paid day off to help, this is also my new volunteer project outside of work.  My therapist suggested that I was missing helping people and that maybe I try more volunteering.  I’ve been lost since my mom died and my girls are grown.  You go from being needed to being well, not needed quite as much.  And while I didn’t want to rush into something that would be as difficult as caring for a parent with terminal cancer, I did miss helping people.

I chose to try the nursing home becuase when my mom passed, we donated many of her medical supplies to this nursing home.  The lady who took them said how desperate they are in need for donations and help.  The building is an old brick building that once was an old infirmary.  The inside is a little dated and worn.  It’s not posh or set up to feel like a resident is in their own home.  It is simply like an older hospital inside.  They don’t have a lot of money to work with but the place is spotless and the residents are well cared for as far as I could tell.  When I walked in and asked the activities director about volunteering, she whisked me to a nurses station to start my TB test rounds.  They don’t get a lot of volunteers it seems.  It felt good to be needed again, even if it was for a few hours or so a week. 

People shy away from nursing homes because they seem depressing.  This is the place you go to die, confined to small areas.  And honestly, before my mom’s ordeal with cancer and her death, I felt the same.  What changed my mind was in the last weeks of her life, they had moved her to the nursing floor of the hospital and kept her there as long as they could to help us take care of her in her final days.  My mom at this point could not walk or care for herself, she was a shell of who she had once been which was a formidable force of nature who had rose through the ranks of her company to be one of the top people at her site.  Even today, people will tell me, I remember your mom.  She was quite a lady and didn’t mince words.  Yeah, that pretty much sums her up a bit.  She had spent so much time confined to her house and couldn’t do the things she loved anymore.  

For a month, she was under the care of the nursing floor.  They would have different people volunteer and come in and do crafts, or bring in a dog to visit her.  She had people around her in and out all the time.  The thing that was most surprising was she didn’t seem to want to rush home like her past hospital stays.  What you don’t realize is when a person loses their health, their world shrinks incredibly.  Suddenly instead of being grouchy that someone wanted to come sit and do a craft with her, she was excited about it.  Though it seems like a small thing, to her this person added happiness to her quickly fading life.  It gave her a way to feel productive and useful from her bed.  She crocheted up until the last few weeks of her life to keep herself productive.  She hated to be idle and useless.  I read a news story where a bed-ridden man knitted thousands of hats for people in need.  He couldn’t do much, but he could bring warmth and comfort to a stranger.  

The nursing staff became my mom’s friends and they joked with her, got to know us and even shared cake in our last birthday celebration (my husband, my daughter and my birthdays are all in February – my mom died mid-March) with her.  As sad as this all seems, they are the sweetest, most precious moments.  And yesterday, I walked the halls of the nursing home, pushing carts of presents, finding residents packages for ‘Santa’ and ‘Mrs. Claus’ to pass out to people.  Santa and his wife were telling me they do over 40 nursing homes a year and they enjoy it very much.  Watching them walk into an otherwise quiet dining room where half the people are sleeping and seeing them all light up like kids on Christmas, reminded me that it’s often the littlest things that are the most important.  

If you have your health you have everything is truer than we know.  Right now I have the world in my hands because I am able to walk and care for myself.  The people in this nursing home, the only things they own are probably right in their room with them.  You can’t take it with you.  You certainly can’t.  There is a married couple that have to reside in separate rooms.  Which I wish they had a way to reside in the same room.  I’m not familiar with why this is, but I am sure there is rules that require this.  I thought about my husband and I having to live on different areas of a nursing home and I held him a little tighter as I fell asleep last night.   

I watched the staff interact with the residents and saw very real caring.  They love the residents and watch out for them.  I’m not saying you don’t get a bad person in the crop sometimes but the people who work there aren’t doing it for the money because I doubt they get paid premium working in a state home.  I collected a lot of smiles yesterday.  I helped put a new bead on a lady’s charm bracelet, I heard how one of the residents had a sore butt.  I had talked to this lady  before when I was waiting for a nurse to read my TB test.  And just like the first time we talked, she took my hand, smiled and thanked me for stopping to talk to her.  I about cried, I should have thanked her for talking to me.  She was in the memory unit so I don’t even know if she remembered me but it doesn’t matter.  If me talking to her made her day just a little brighter, then that was awesome.

I went home feeling elated.  Yes, some of what I saw could be considered very depressing but reaching out to people, strangers, it felt very good and it made me realize that at this point and time, I own the world.  I can sit around and feel like I missing out on something, that I didn’t achieve this or that goal that in the end, doesn’t even matter.  I have my health, I have my family, I have a home, a job and health insurance, I have food and clothes and more possessions than I know what to do with sometimes (and donate a lot).  

It is easy for me to feel sorry for myself sometimes especially around the holidays.  I miss the hell out of my mom.  Christmas (her birthday) just isn’t the same.  But there are people in that nursing home with no family or friends that care for them.  The activities director was telling me that residents’ families bring in the gifts to be passed out by Santa but they also donate extra items to make sure each person receives a gift.  I recognized some of the people since it is a fairly small town.  A lady who had been a cashier for years at the small grocery store.  I never knew her whole name but I do now.  A gentleman I vaguely remember from my church when I was younger.  His wife had given me a Precious Moments figuring when my first daughter was born.  She had passed years ago and her grave is close to my mom’s.  He no longer remembers me but I said hello anyway.

Yesterday’s experience really gave me levity in this week of Christmas.  It is a tough week for me.  I want to be happy and celebrate for my grown daughters to carry on our traditions but part of me just wants to take down all the decorations and forget there was Christmas at all.  Last night I came home and felt much different.   Who knows how many Chrisstmases we have to celebrate in our life or even the choice as to where we celebrate it at all.  If our body gives out, if our mind fails, we could be sitting in a wheelchair half asleep when ‘Santa’ brings us a small gift.  

Life is so short.  Love today.  Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.  Do yourself a favor in 2017 and volunteer if you don’t already.  It is a wonderful gift.