Remember the last time you bought a new (or new to you) vehicle and then suddenly everywhere you looked you saw this same vehicle on the road? Same make, same model, same color. Obviously there weren’t suddenly more, simply you were now more aware of them.
This is how I feel about “counting the cost” of my abuse. It is not something I do intentionally, it’s just there. It’s there in the triggers that blindside me…like scissors and red rugs. (You don’t want me to explain that…) It also comes in more subtle ways, and sad: “I get it now” moments. I’m wrestling with that tonight.
One of the painful wounds from the past is about housecleaning. (Make no mistake I say wound instead of scar intentionally. A scar would mean it has healed, and this is an open wound.) I am not a very good housekeeper. My house is cleaner now that I have three teenagers to help with the work, but it is still a source of embarrassment for me and always has been. What I didn’t really understand until this week…one of those blindsided moments…is WHY this is such a difficult area for me to master. And why any discussion of it is so painful for me. I won’t go into the details (so you can stop shielding your eyes…its safe) but cleaning house is directly tied to my abuse. To me housekeeping is not about love, but something unthinkable. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
So as an adult this is a never ending source of pain for me. If the house is “too clean” that makes me uneasy. I get this intense desire to hide. If the house is “too messy”, I freak out. Yelling and crying are usually involved. The very act of cleaning makes me very uncomfortable. Every nerve comes alive waiting for danger. I can only do it in short spurts. If someone offers to come over and help me clean…well, Heaven help that poor soul for they have just stepped on my emotional landmine. I assume the worst about their intentions and fall apart while they try to figure out what went wrong.
This difficulty is further compounded by the fact that I live in a religious culture (I am LDS) that puts tremendous value on work and service. Not having an immaculately clean home makes me feel separate and like a failure. Earlier this evening I was reading a blog from another LDS person who wrote about a friend who had experienced something terrible. What was the first response of the LDS friends? To go in and clean the suffering one’s house “top to bottom”. Just reading that, imaging receiving that kind of service myself brought me just short of a panic attack. I’m not kidding. I wish I could explain the anxiety and fear that swelled up inside of me. It has been a couple hours and I still feel a sense of unease…a fear that someone in a spirit of love might want to come over and clean my house. I can’t breathe.
Just last week in therapy, I was telling my therapist how I feel so utterly uncomfortable and out of place at church…a place that was once a source of peace and solace. “I’m not like them.” I had said with tears springing to my eyes. He got that compassionate look that he gets sometimes and said, “But Leslie, you are like them, you have the same values, the same beliefs.” All I could do was shake my head no, and try to fight back the tears. Even in therapy, I hate to cry.
Unfortunately, the housekeeping is just part of the problem. Another thing that sets me apart from other LDS women (who are good, loving people) is that once they clean the house of someone who is suffering, the next thing they do is bring meals. I have been the recipient of many such delicious meals after delivering babies, or having health issues. Even I can’t complain about being on the receiving end of that service. BUT…it is a service that is nearly impossible for me to give.
I don’t cook. Again culturally, in my church, homemaking skills are emphasized. And so again, I find myself lacking. I used to cook…never very well, but I could do it. Now, however, as the memories I have so long kept tucked away in my mind are creeping towards my conscious mind, I find the kitchen very uncomfortable. I cannot be in the kitchen for any length of time. Two of my worst nightmares involved kitchens. Thank goodness my husband doesn’t mind cooking. If I am asked to help out by taking a meal to someone, I turn to my husband…
And that is not all, no that is not all. (If I sound like Dr. Seuss, it’s because I am a fan, and this post is too depressing…) LDS people are counseled not to watch R-rated movies. No one is going to come beat you with a stick if you do, but it is good counsel. The reason is simple; Gandhi said it best, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with dirty feet.” So, I sit with these lovely women at church who do not watch R-rated movies, knowing that my nightmares are R-rated and my memories are X-rated. How can I NOT feel different than them??? Sometimes I think I should carry a bell and cry out, “Unclean, unclean…”
The housekeeping and cooking are not new problems, only the awareness of why I have these issues is new. I used to compensate for these differences by teaching. I was given many opportunities in the church to teach and I loved it. I am a good teacher. But I can’t teach right now because the storm cloud of memories pressing on my mind makes me feel different, apart…like a hypocrite. So now, I have lost that as well. I hope it is a temporary loss, but right now I don’t know.
As the “casualties” from the abuse continue to mount, I find myself looking for some sort of silver lining. I can’t help it, something good has to come from this! I am a Pollyanna, and though that term is often used in a negative sense, I wear it proudly. The best thing I can say about this situation is that I am learning a deep sense of compassion. Where others see struggles and think, “What can I do?”….I can boldly step forward, because I am well acquainted with pain. It doesn’t scare me. I have learned that when someone is suffering and you don’t know what to do or say…don’t SAY anything. Just listen and validate. “Listen” and “validate” are my two favorite words. It means the world to me when someone simply listens (or reads my blog) and says, “Wow, Leslie, you are going through a hard time.” Yes, I am. Thank you for understanding.
And thanks for listening and reading; it means more to me than you know.