Shake it Off
This blog was written by Adults Sexually Abused by Priests (ASAP)
There is a saying that you are what you eat. I believe that to be true. Some people are sensitive to certain food groups. Some even to the point where consuming certain foods could put their life in danger. We may feel that we are our bodies and therefore we know them well, but do we really? Our bodies can be our friends or they can betray us.
Food, environment, emotions, age, physical activity, heredity and the thoughts we think….these can and do affect the bodies we are born with and can change them for better or for worse.
But just how important are thoughts and feelings when it comes to our health and well being? As children, we are taught the important of getting enough sleep and eating our fruits and vegetables ad brushing our teeth and getting enough exercise, as well as the importance of doing well in school and excelling….but that is only part of being healthy and successful in life.
The truth is, we take in more than just food and drink and oxygen. We interact with others….some of whom may not be so nice….and we process feelings and thoughts and emotions….and the only feedback we get as children or as adults….is how to act politely and appropriately. Nobody really taught us what to do with the leftover emotions. We just learned that it was wrong to lie or to hit someone or to be mean. We learned how to act in order to be loved or to survive as children. And that meant something different to each of us.
There are people who have been physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually abused as children who grow up to carry those scars within them. The body remembers and stores those thoughts and that energy and although some of the memories have been blocked from the conscious mind, those feelings get embedded into who we are.
I’ve always thought that the brain was fascinating. Do you know that it is said that when we access a memory, we aren’t really remembering the actual event but the last time we thought about that memory? And each time we access that memory, it gets a little bit more distorted and faded, like if an original print were to be reprinted many times, it would eventually end up a faded reproduction of the original print. Yet, the memory can still bring up strong emotion. And emotions however long buried, can resurface when something triggers them. We may not even be conscious of what is going on within ourselves. Emotions get triggered. The brain remembers. The body reacts.
It happened one time not so long ago that a middle aged couple in the area was asleep in their beds one night when they were attacked viciously by an intruder trying to kill them with an ax. Neither one of them died immediately. The wife actually survived the attack. The man, however, got up the next morning, despite being severely wounded, and began to get ready to go to work. Heavily bleeding and on the verge of death, he began to make his lunch and to put things in the dishwasher before he ended up finally collapsing and passing away. I doubt he was consciously aware of anything but he was going through a routine that he had done many times before just out of habit and brain memory. It’s morbid and fascinating at the same time.
Conscious memory may be faulty, as anyone who forgets why they walked into a room can testify. But cell memory? Unconscious thought? They are the Uber drivers in our lives and we are along for the ride.
I never had an extremely traumatic childhood memory. My parents were alive and nobody ever physically attacked me or neglected me. However, mixed in with the message to always behave correctly and to never lose control and to fear the fires of Hell should a bad thought even cross my mind, there was always high energy and drama amidst emotional neglect, betrayal and role model dysfunction.
Everyone….my father, my mother and my brother….everyone but me had an extremely high level of energy. My mother never stops moving and her mind is always on 50 different things at a time. And nothing has ever been right and needs to be done now or redone. If I didn’t complete something right away, I would go back and it would be done. She would redo things I had done. I couldn’t be babied….I had to take care of my own emotions, but I was also considered too young….for most of my life….to make any decisions on my own.
My dad, too, was always in a state of flux. Nobody ever spoke at dinner except my father, who would rant about the state of the world, neighbors, the bible, politics, whatever. I don’t think I consciously remembered eating dinner until I left home. My dad was either extremely up….making up silly songs and dances and teasing everyone with high energy….or very low yelling, and upset and totally unable to handle social functions beforehand. I know this now to be called anticipatory anxiety….we didn’t have a name for it then. But once around people and with drink in hand, he was loved by all for his social skills and sense of humor. Ironically, my dad would say that women were inferior because they could not handle their emotions. More mixed messages.
My brother was handsome and smart. Very smart. And I had to follow him in school. And I watched as we got to be teenagers and he was always drinking or getting caught doing something. And I was his protector and confidant. And in return, he would betray my trust in the worst ways possible. And I loved him fiercely but found that I could never be vulnerable or close to him. I could never save him. And I would need to protect my children from him.
My family told me that I was the quiet one, the calm one, and I was indeed many times the one who held it all together. I didn’t know then there was also a name for that in a family. Scapegoat. The one who has the emotion misdirected at them.
It’s called being an adult child of an alcoholic and supposedly there are more mental health issues with these adults than in the “general public”. All I do know is that for me, all of the energy that was stored inside…absorbed over the years, seemed to come at me whenever there was a conflict. Maybe as an adult without the rest of the bunch to be calm for, it all kind of let loose.
After I left my husband….the first time….the storm hit. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, inability to sleep followed by sleep paralysis when I finally did sleep.
And this frequently happens to children who have grown up in alcoholic homes, homes with incest, homes with mentally ill parents, homes with hypochondriac parents, or homes that are very strict or physically abusive.
Despite living in a state of self-imposed Hell, I didn’t miss work, I supported and fed and took care of my children, and I never drank or did drugs in order to cope. I’m not saying that to imply that I felt any stronger than anyone else or better than. I was just lucky enough not to fall into that trap. Maybe it was because I had seen what that could do. Maybe because I was already in therapy….basically the only one in my family to go….and I was able to get help there.
And I thank God that I did because I had no one. No emotional support or anyone who really understood. And it was not something you talked about. And I didn’t even know what was going on. What’s a panic attack? The thing is….I believe that so many people can identify with my family and with the stumbling blocks in my life.
What’s ironic is that my brother lost his children, called in to work frequently, and partied quite a bit. And caused tremendous upheaval in the family. And yet, he went to rehab for a month or so, did not work during that time, got everyone’s attention and support and that was okay. But I was chided for being too old to fall apart.
Another thing that was ironic is when I had treatment for cancer I remember seeing my mom crying when they took me to surgery. And I thought…..this is nothing. This is so simple. Why would she cry? The answer is because that’s the time she was raised in. You held a stiff upper lip until your body fell apart and then everyone cries and they cry again if you die. But no nonsense in between. Cut that crap out right now, sister.
After I got fired for not having sex with the priest (and that is the way I am going to phrase that from now on, thank you, M.) I ended up in the E.R., twice in six months. The first time for gastrointestinal issues and the second time because I thought I was having a heart attack and I still don’t know what happened except for working in the basement moving stuff for someone to move in and then sitting down to watch tv and having a pain climb up my back and into my chest like I was trying to pass a golf ball. It was not a blood clot, it was not a heart attack, but my markers were very high for a heart issue. So….stress I guess. I was working two jobs and trying to recover from what I thought happened to just me because I did something wrong.
So, yes, emotional stuff can come out in many ways. But I don’t regret anything at this point. I think healing is a lifelong journey. And I don’t apologize for seeming a bit angry. It is good to acknowledge a problem. Not to be a victim, not to carry around blame, but to know and to understand.
And they say you really begin to heal when you begin to help others. So, experience be damned. Here I am torn apart and pieced back together. In the company of other survivors.
Be good. Take the survey. Yes, I’m looking for advice. Asking for help. Another sign of strength, right? Have a great week.
Read more and take the poll at Adults Abused By Priests.