My Mother’s Dowry

If I saw myself as my mother sees me, my looking glass would be forever broken.

By her own admission, her heart had discarded me before I came out of her womb. I was her gift to my father. He wanted more children, she did not. So was written my curse.

All the days of my life under her rules and her house, I would reap the reward of that curse. I went to school as a young child with my hair so gnarled and tangled the other children made fun of me. They called out from behind me, “look at that rat’s nest.” I came home from school that day, took a pair of scissors and cut a gaping hole in the back of my hair to remove the ugliness of being unkept.

She is the part of my story I would remove, if I could.

I remember the day my counselor said to me, “Your mother hated you, Jodie.” I walked out of his office and didn’t return for another year. The statement alone was enough to shut me down. Recalling who she had been to me was a burden I wasn’t willing to bear for a very long time.

I own that part of my story now, but it was the last of my memories I retraced. Her betrayal and hatred made my life almost unbearable. She was my last hope as a little girl, so when she entered the room of incest with my father, it was death to the last fragment of strength I had.

My counselor and I chatted about why her memories were so hard. You see, the murder was something that happened to another person, away from me. Differently, my mother’s violent molestation accosted me. It was a step that I almost missed in my healing. My denial had grown a wall so thick around her memories it once felt impenetrable.

The whole story is what sets us truly free. Not just the pieces we think are presentable enough to tell. It is our whole truth that will walk us out of our prisons.

This was stitched for me by a lovely women who went to a survivor group with me many years ago. Relationship therapy in groups is such a strong wave of healing. That’s why I’m here sharing my story.

I remain forever hopeful.

I am a Warrior

Several of the women recalled lying awake, motionless, waiting for the inevitable – a brother or father coming in to molest them.

The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk, Chapter 2, Trauma Before Dawn

These were my nights. Many of them. And, I survived. How I survived is the thing to be questioned.

As a budding teenager, I found food was everywhere. Readily at my disposal and I had full access. What better way to spend your day but in pleasure. I would eat to the point of exhaustion. After a good rest, I was back at it again. Sometimes I didn’t stop until my belly threw out all that had been stuffed into its container. Addiction many would scream.

It saved me. It saved me from a complete life of despair – in those days. I would have endlessly suffered through the day contemplating ways to self-destruct. By that, I mean suicide. There was no other way out of my circumstances. I hadn’t gained the autonomy of adulthood and I was stuck. Utterly hopeless. Anything that made my flesh feel better, I honor now. It was a breath of fresh air to me. Anything but the misery of the bleak existence I found myself in.

I get all the rhetoric with stuffing ourselves with addictions to ease our pain. I call horseshit on it all. I needed something in a tangible way to sooth me. I was made to gorge on my parents’ destruction, and now I had a choice. I know. I know. Don’t hurt yourself. I wasn’t.

I am alive. I made it out. That was what mattered. Oh, sure, I made it out to another abusive relationship, and then another. And, I am standing. Still.

What matters is that each day we choose to move forward. That’s what really matters. I have found greater ways to love myself but I still will honor those days when I found what I could to bring comfort into an abyss where there was no comfort. Anything that paused the pain was a friend to me. I understand that now.

Today I am solid. I don’t care what other people think of me. I have strived. I have fought. I stand.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

Ephesians 6:14-15

The Death of My Inner Child

There has been a lot recovery work around finding and healing your inner child. If you give it a quick Google search you get about 22,500,000 returns.

I was probably five or six when my dad decided that we had too many cats in the world and he needed to rid us from the burden of these precious baby kittens. One of our country cats had just given birth to these beautiful furry babies. My brother and I adored the kittens and were outside playing with them when dad walked up to execute his plan.

He staged the scene using a large stump for his chopping block and carried a hulking wooden-handled axe. Without a word, dad reached down, picked up one of the kittens and placed its head on the rough top of that chopping block. He raised his arm up high and smashed the first little guy in the head using the blunt end of the axe. It slammed so hard into his little spongy head that blood immediately gushed from his mouth; his tongue flopped out and his little eyes bulged. I couldn’t look away. I was paralyzed.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen my father murder.

I don’t know if I watched the rest of those kitties be killed, but I certainly remember the first. When we were grown, I asked my brother if he recalled the incident. He said he did. I asked him if he was sure it really happened. My brother was short with me and said, “Of course it happened, why?” I replied, “because there’s just so much bad in my mind I want to be sure it really happened.”

This is how I healed my inner child.

I went back time and time again. Retracing the shadows of my mind. I listened intently to the echoes that came. I hunted to find my way through my innermost tragedies. I had children that deserved a mother to be present. I had a life I wanted to live fulfilled away from the ugly territory of my beginnings. I wanted to breathe without fear continually pursuing me.

I had a dream last night that was beautiful. Jesus was holding my inner child. It was lifeless. That sounds like an awful thing to say, but I knew what it meant. My inner child isn’t dead, it grew up. It became a beautiful, successful women.

I’m pleased with my progress.

I Wasn’t Born Yesterday (circa 1935)

God will always give you enough. That was my grandmother. This picture was taken of her in the early 1920s. She was born Elna Selinda, but later changed her name to Eleanor to remove some of her Finnish upbringing and become more American. It was standard in those days.

I loved her so.

There’s a book called Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Great book! The subtitle is An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson. The book chronicles their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie’s lasting gift with the world.

This gave me a brilliant idea.

My grandmother had just been moved into a retirement facility and had to leave her home of over 50 years. I knew just what to do. I would read to her on Tuesdays. I asked her if there was a book in her life that she’d read, that she would like us to now read together. She said that there was a book she read in her 20’s. It was called I Wasn’t Born Yesterday. That’s all she knew.

I found that book in an old book store thousands of miles away. It is an anonymous autobiography as told to Rivkin and Spigelgass. The woman in the story lived in Coney Island, but traveled the world and had a very colorful life. The book was published in 1935 and has a language of its time:

“Stop mooning,” Big Jerry said to me one afternoon. You think I’m going to let you sit on your big fat can while I dish out the coin? You got work to do, baby. You got to start making a living.”

While I read to my grandmother, she would stop me from time to time. She would say, “they’re talking about the Virginia Reel, a rollercoaster on Coney Island.” Another time she would tell me, “there was the Park Luncheonette on that corner.” It was a fabulous time we shared together and I learned more about her.

My grandmother had been my comfort since I was a child. A very young child at that. I remember a time being so abused I was left catatonic. Unable to respond or speak, my father brought me to my grandmother’s home. Her loving touch began to break the icy shield my parents had inflicted upon me.

She never stopped loving me all the days of her life here on earth.

One day when I was a teenager she told me I had Finnish sisu. “Inner fortitude,” she said. She had taught me that, among many other things.

My voice was the last strength I found. The courage to tell the truth.

I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.

But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased.

Psalm 39:1-2

My anguish is much better now. Now, that I tell my story. My whole story.

C-PTSD ~The Cost of Childhood Trauma

I turned 56 this July. My daughter bought me a book titled, The Complex PTDS Workbook, A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control & Becoming Whole by Arielle Schwartz, PhD. Another to add to my vast collection of recovery books like Judith Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery and the greatest book to hit the shelves, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

From the book, “Let’s look at why some people may be more susceptible to developing an adverse reaction to trauma than others:

. . .

“Children are most susceptible to the impact of such stressors during critical growth periods, such as the first three years of life when the nervous system is extremely fragile. . ..”

The Complex PTSD Workbook, Page 22

What a beautiful gift from my oldest daughter. Another flashlight to illuminate my gruesome start. It rang so true I had no choice but to reflect on those words. Haunting is a limited explanation of what it feels like to experience rape and murder when your soul is just preparing to burst forth its life. It is a strangulation of your identity. The manipulation to self that occurs is not easily undone.

Do you know what I believe magic is?

Telling our stories one to another. Setting each other free and sharing our burdens by spilling onto pages the words that have hindered our growth. Sharing our love that enables us to carry on.

“Crafting pain into power as well as transforming empty cabinets into bountiful meals. Your love erased pain like magic and slid forgiveness in its place with some slight of hand I still can’t figure out. I love you beyond measure.”

Handwritten message from my daughter in my birthday card accompanying this gift.

That is magic.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Well I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head
That didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t
Bad so I had one more for dessert
. . .
In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughing little girl
He was swingin’
And I stopped beside the Sunday school
And listened to the song
That they were singing
Then I headed back for home
And somewhere far away
A lonely bell was ringing
And it echoed through the canyon like
The disappearing dreams of yesterday
On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing Lord that I was stoned
Cause there is something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothing short of dying
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleeping city sidewalk
Sunday morning coming down

My dad loved Johnny Cash, but he loved chaos and control more. My father would drink until his legs betrayed him and he was forced to give in; subdued only until his strength returned.

Denial became my gift as a child. Trust? That’s a fucking joke. Trust lived nowhere near our street and never came inside our home. You must choose which voice to listen as a child. That’s what it really boils down to. Who do I believe? Not, who do I trust. Not in houses like mine.

The gift of denial was straight from the throne of God. I wouldn’t have survived without it. The unreasoning web that my parents had built had no consideration for it’s construction other than to entrap. It was meant to have no way out.

Lunacy is probably built in this way.

To stay out of the destructive voices I found in my parents, I used the tool of denial as a child. It was my God given right. And, I am thankful for it.

Today, I’ve learned that I don’t need this tool anymore but I certainly did at one time. I’m grateful it was available to me. The sights, sounds, smells and experiences that were in a constant projectile towards my young body made it impossible to tolerate more than simply living through the it all. To sustain the memories then, would have been a demand too tall for my little frame.

Denial was my gift to survive. Denial was my gift so I could play. Denial was my gift so I could sleep. Oh, the truth still happened by every now and again, but at least for many uncalibrated moments, I got to live.

A Suzuki 250

I am 16 years old in this picture. My face shadows hold a thousand hidden tales. It had been twelve years since the murder. I’d become quite hardened to life.

My father was born in the territory of Blount County, Tennessee. He was the walking, breathing definition of a redneck. The indelible ink on his forearm represented his curse. The tattoo was a waving confederate flag with the dark words scratch beneath his skin R E B. A rebel. It was everything my father stood for.

My father would explain that we lived in the foothills of Larch mountain, on the top Livingston. It was a perfect place to hide a body, far away from the outside world. Dad was clever. So clever, he got away with murder.

By the time this picture was taken, my mind had erased all memory of that horrific day, but for the record my body would continue to play. Over and over this would be a reoccurring theme of my life. The little boy in the picture is long gone now. I loved him so. He left with the winds of deception and was carried away by the torrential floods of incest.

My whole family is scattered now, but for those few that remain with the lie.

Am I A Murderer

When I was three and a half years old, I murdered a woman. I spent the next 50 years retracing and recovering bent memories that had long been buried by the great force of denial.

I went back and fought to uncover the truth that had been buried on 40 acres, in a sink hole, on my parents’ property. I went back because I too was a murderer. I may have been only three but I was old enough to feel the guilt when we walked out of that room alive and she did not.

I was old enough to know that I now shared a secret with my father and his friend that no one else would ever know. We three would stay connected for the rest of our lives, incarcerated together with only each other as accomplices.

Not a matter of speaking, but a matter of fact: I am guilty of murder just as they are. 

Sink holes do exist . . .

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