Resting in the middle (the battle between hubris and humility)

humble

I was always taught growing up that feeling good about accomplishments was the sin of pride. Maybe not taught by words, but taught by cause/effect.

Growing up, the kids at my school were physically abused every day. I’m not saying Carlos (<—— cult leader) had a flow chart and followed our EVERY move, but the man had a freaking schedule. He made sure every one of us was punished for something at least once a day at school and then sent home with a note with instructions for further abuse by our parents.

We were beaten down physically, mentally and emotionally. Then we were brainwashed to think that life was about all the mistakes we made, rather than relishing in any achievement attained through hard work.

We learned the hard work part, but there was never time to feel good about any of it.

We were taught that feeling like shit about our lives was the essence of humility. That suffering was a beautiful sacrifice we needed to endure to make sure God loved us, and that Carlos approved of us (neither option was ever attainable).

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As a man now, I’m recognizing the truth of things, but the truth doesn’t jive with the old tape recordings. So there is always this battle going on inside, and it’s hard to know which voice to believe half the time. Of late, that battle is becoming increasingly one-sided as I realize the pile of bullshit that is my conditioned brain.

Thankfully, Carlos never did take my entire mind. Somehow, instinctively I always rebelled against the expectations. It was my way of retaining a part of ME. Unfortunately the pattern that kept me alive as a child and teenager now comes back to haunt me from time to time as an adult. And I don’t need that kind of mental protection any more.

Mistakes are part of my existence. They happen whether I try hard or not. If I based my life around my mistakes I’d never be happy. So I cling to the good things that have blossomed in my life in the midst of my brokenness. They give me hope to continue fighting hard for what I hope to accomplish.

Hands shaping clay on potter's wheel

Based on a new understanding of a beautiful Creator God that doesn’t want me to be “perfect” but that sees me as I am (and adores the entire package). I’ve finally learned how to allow myself to revel in my personal achievements. I deserve to be happy about creating something that is worth something, not only to myself personally but to other people who pay good money to broadcast my creations.

In the exact same moment of accepting the “feel goods” as something worth clinging to with every breath I take, I give a bow to my Creator God, who knows how I feel about his hand in my success. I can be myself, work hard, love my family, feel good about creating good things and remaining humble towards my God at the same time.

And in that resting place, I finally find peace.

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Time to celebrate (a word from my wife)

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It has been a very strange existence this past 8-plus months.

My experience with pregnancy this time around has been significantly different than my previous ones. This time has been riddled with secrets, pain, transition and rejection. I have generally been scared, isolated and overwhelmed.  Unsure of what to do next. And it has left me uncharacteristically quiet during a time when I would otherwise be brilliantly happy, sharing every milestone and ultrasound picture with anybody willing to follow me on Facebook.

The unexpected positive home pregnancy test took me by surprise and I nearly collapsed with shock. It came at a time when I was still sort of reeling from the loss of a previous (very early) pregnancy last year. I was scared to tell anyone. I hesitated telling my husband… for about two minutes. Not only because I was afraid this one wouldn’t be around long enough for anybody to know about too… but because the FIRST thing I thought of was “HOLY CRAP we need a new car” and then… “this changes EVERYTHING.”

And then came the thoughts of having to tell my mother in law.

That was what killed me the most. That alone stifled my joy right then and there in the bathroom, with the test strip in my hand. I cried more because I didn’t want to tell her more than I wanted to shout for joy.

She had devastated me months prior with a scene that is forever etched in my mind. It was so horrifying that I told few people. Certainly in time I shared the pain of that moment with other moms and a few select friends… but with the people that know her directly, I kept it a secret. Mostly because I knew I wouldn’t be believed and for some reason keeping the secret felt like the right thing to do.

It was her belief that I should only have two children. A third would be against God’s will. And we were already struggling so deeply with our two children and my husbands back… It just didn’t make sense that I wanted a third child someday. So her joyful declaration, that brilliant smile and arms raised high in rejoicing, declaring “Oh! aren’t you relieved!?!”  and several bubbly minutes of how I should pray to see if it was a boy or a girl and I could name the baby… All smiles and laughter. Not a hint of sorrow. No pain. No room for my pain. This really should have come at no surprise. And in those moments in the bathroom staring that the second positive pregnancy test, I crumbled. I wanted to hide and I was angry that I wanted to hide.

The part of me that still fights the battles of the fundamentalist belief system wonders… what if she’s right… What if this child is doomed from the beginning? Is this pregnancy going to end abruptly too? Will he die before he’s a year old?  What did she mean by me being only meant to have two… Will he meet some gruesome end that all could have been avoided if only I’d made sure I didn’t have more children… What if she’s right and this is a mistake? I hid the pregnancy from almost everyone for weeks.

Then my husbands surgery happened, and during that week, they were told. There was a flash of joy and then a quick retreat to remind me it wasn’t what they perceived as right. This child is a burden and it was a subtle yet indescribably obvious reminder of their disapproval.

I have found in my personal experience, conversations with mothers of more than three children, as well as my online reading that it is an almost universal experience for a mother, pregnant with her third child to be questioned in her wisdom for expanding her family.

I have been met with a wide variety of responses but ultimately few people shared the JOY of my announcement as much as one friend in particular. She shrieked and jumped for joy and we hugged and cried and laughed and giggled. And it was the only time throughout this pregnancy that total acceptance and love was showered over me as if it were my first pregnancy. With 4 of her own young children including some with special needs — she’s no naive first timer — and she shared my joy without hesitation.

Someone later that day asked if we’d planned it and another mom stepped in and said with a bit of a laugh, “does anyone plan their third?” Oh how true that is.

Sure, I know there are those type A’s who consciously decide okay lets DO THIS again. They plot the ages of 1 & 2 and decide when to start trying again… But for a large number of families I hear this: “yes, we talked about a third but hadn’t quite decided yet but then I forgot to keep up with my pills or miscalculated a cycle or the pill failed… And well we weren’t quite expecting it but here we are” or I also hear “we were ready and went for it- but what was i thinking? This is nuts!”

Don’t get me wrong, its not that no one else was excited. My mother was the second-most excited person — truly. But as any mother who has watched her adult child struggle with the life she has, she’s aware that my life is about to triple in complication, and life is already abnormally hard in our household. She has helped to boost me up and prepare me with love and total acceptance and support. NO ONE has shown more compassion and grace and wisdom through this whole transition more than my mom. I cannot thank her enough.

A few select friends have shown love too, but i can feel the trepidation and concern regarding our choice for a third — as if it were a foolish decision and a mistake. Many have taken at least one opportunity to “just say this once…” and remind me how tough life has been and now it’s going to get worse (as if it had never occurred to me) and then they show support.

Was this a planned pregnancy? No. Were we taking measures against it? Yes. Did God bless me with another child anyway? Yes! And is it overwhelming? Absolutely. Are we going to survive? Yes. Will we thrive? I believe we will. Will it be easy? Nope. Will we do it anyway with joy in our hearts? ABSOLUTELY. Will I rejoice and love this little boy from the moment i hear his first cry? I already do. I smile and sigh and even cry a little with every kick, like its the first time I’ve ever felt the tumble of a tiny body squirming within me.

But I have felt guilty for having this baby.

I have been scared to share this experience openly.

But that ends now. This little child is as welcome as the first two have been and as a mother’s love is magically expanded to include the second child I feel it expanding already as we prepare to greet our third child.

So please, be as excited for us as we are, and yes of course, keep us in prayer as we continue this journey as a growing family. I’m really tired of the pity look instead of the joy that should be there.

And through this past 9 months i have dealt with my husband’s unemployment, his third surgery, the recovery process, his new job and the utter rejection by my husbands parents.

And a special needs diagnosis in my son.

I have spent many hours angry with our isolation as a part of me believed I deserved it. There have been times when the struggle was too much and I finally cried out for help to my friends on Facebook. And, in those moments you have heard me and I have been blessed beyond words.

Thank you all for your prayers, the meals some of you brought and the love you have shared.

I have not been openly excited about my little boy or shared much of this journey with all of you, but that changes as of today.

Theodore Benedict Reed isn’t here yet but our little Teddy will arrive before Thanksgiving, and I simply cannot wait.

Yesterday marked 36 weeks and I am eager to hold him in my arms and share him with all of you.

Moving day

I woke up this morning hurting like a whipped dog. My back was on fire. Couldn’t rouse myself out of bed until it was literally time to get to work, and even then I wasn’t feeling motivated.

Ah, depression. You sneaky bastard, you got me again.

I tried to brush it off. I tried to just start working, which usually has its own reward.

Instead, I’d write a few lines and then my mind would start to wander. I started thinking about my father. About just how lost he is. About how, in his mind, it’s the rest of us who are lost. The dam burst. Suppressed emotions came pouring out in a torrent of tears. Deep sadness overwhelmed my soul.

How can I let my own parents go?

This happened a few times before I realized it was time to take action. I’d been meaning to set up an appointment with a psychologist for a while but just hadn’t gotten around to it. I finally decided I HAD to make a real effort to get help, because I’ve been stuck in the same place for far too long now.

It took me three tries to get ahold of the right people.

And believe me, I almost didn’t try after the first, and I really almost didn’t try again after the second call was fruitless. Finally, I overcame the stupid automated phone service and got through to the right department, and thankfully the person on the other line was a kind-hearted soul who felt my pain.

I got a same-day appointment and followed through.

My therapist’s name is Jan and she is so sweet. I trusted her immediately, and many tears were shed in my first session with her.

My first assignment is kind of overwhelming, and it makes me cry when I think about it: I’m supposed to use my children as models of how a child is supposed to act, and then I’m supposed to do some silly child-like stuff to give myself an opportunity to claim the childhood that was robbed of me.

So I danced with my 2-yr old daughter tonight for a minute or two. And it felt good. I actually smiled. I let the moment wash over me. It was different.

Being stuck in a rut is no longer an option.

I’ve been stuck in one for about two decades now, and I’m finally done wallowing in the putrescent bog that has held me captive. It’s moving day here at the Reed household, and like every big move there are just certain things I cannot keep in my possession.

It really sucks that in order to leave this shit-laden cesspool I must also leave my beloved parents behind, but right now the only thing that matters is getting myself in a position where I can be a solid leader for my family. And right now, the way to move forward is to let go.

But it hurts. It hurts so damn much.

Heartbroken

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It’s been a long time since I wrote about any of this.

Wrapped up with a job that requires endless hours of work and with taking care of my two kiddos any chance I can to give my 9-month pregnant wife a break, I haven’t made time for this.

What is “this?”

The “this” is this: My parents, particularly my father, are still very much living life using the broken framework of Christian Fundamentalism. My dad helped lead a ritualistic, abusive cult until I was 15.

They still have but a tiny group of people who are “centered in Christ” enough for them to commune with on a regular basis. They still view the world through the prism that most people “just don’t get it.” That the rest of us are not on point with our relationship with God. That so much suffering might be avoided if only we all had more faith.

For those who aren’t up to speed on my full story, I suggest you read through the archives of this small blog for the nitty-gritty details.

But the bottom line is this: I went in for surgery on April 1 (my third) for herniated discs in my back, along with the removal of many disc fragments in my sciatic nerve. It was understood that I’d be staying with my parents (safe environment, firm bed low to the ground) for at least a week to recover.

Seven days later, even though I made it known going back home was a death sentence on my still-tenuous back, I was booted out of my parent’s home and was told my fears were unfounded.

“You’re living in fear, son,” were the words my father spoke to me, along with “If you get hurt, I take no responsibility.”

I was not allowed to stay in the safe environment because, essentially, I didn’t have enough faith that I’d be safe at my own home, with its stairs, bad bed situation, kids and dog. Of course, I told him he was full of shit and that my back was NOT ready for the move.

My stitches broke the first night, and I was right back at the hospital the next day. Since that time, my back has been as much of a painful burden as it ever was, and I deal with sciatica on a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute basis.

My parents haven’t called to check on me, my wife, my two kids or the one on the way.

Not once since that day.

I missed my sister’s wedding, partly because I couldn’t make the trip, and partly because my wife is dealing with serious PTSD stuff, stemming from the actions of my parents.

After the wedding, I called my father and told him I wanted to talk.

He called back after I left a message, and yes, I yelled a bit. And I told him how much he hurt me and my family. When I was finished, I asked to hear his side of the story.

The answer given in return was outrageous.

“I’m not going to talk to you about this until you’re no longer angry.”

I told him he was being manipulative and controlling, telling me I had to be a certain way to be worthy of hearing him out.

He reiterated his stance that he would not offer me anything in the way of a response until I was “no longer fueled by rage.”

I’ve kept this dispute private since mid-April, but it’s time for everyone to know what me and my family are going through right now. We desperately need support. At this time, only my wife’s mother can be counted on to help us, and we are barely treading water.

We’ve been abandoned — nay, shunned — by my parents, who won’t even deal with me until I essentially conform to what my father believes is an acceptable state of mind.

We don’t have or make many friends because of my back situation and partly because we just suck at being normal, due to being raised up in an abusive, ritualistic cult that did nothing but break us down.

Most of the people in my family don’t seem to really understand what is at work here. We get a lot of “are you SURE that’s what they meant?”

Um, yeah, pretty damn sure.

Pretty sure my mom rejoiced when my wife lost a baby last year because having another child would have been a burden.

Pretty sure my dad said in the spring that “99.9 percent of Christians aren’t centered in Christ.”

Pretty sure my dad kicked me out of the house post-surgery because I was “living in fear.”

Pretty sure my dad won’t talk to me unless I’m not angry.

And by “pretty sure” I’m saying yes, we know they said these things and that they meant what they said because we’re not just making shit up here. These things literally happened and the quotes are real.

News flash, pops, I’m effing pissed, and it’s probably going to be this way for a long, long time. The horrifying reality is this: My father is cool with cutting off his first-born son and family because we’re not where he thinks we need to be…and it’s for our own good.

The only person in my family who seems to “get it” is my brother, and he grew up in the cult with me.

Let it be known: My father helped us financially for months when we needed help. They actually do have a heart that is sometimes in the right place, and we were SO GRATEFUL for the financial support.

But that doesn’t gloss over what else has happened.

If any of you reading this have a desire to reach out to us for any kind of support, whether that’s a phone call, a visit or physical help as we prepare for a new baby, then by all means reach out to us. We really are desperate for love and support.

And, if anyone reading this has the inspiration to tell off my parents, that’s welcome, too.

I was brutally abused as a child and into my teenage years. Physically, emotionally, spiritually and sexually abused.

Nobody EVER stood up for me, my brother or any of our friends.

To this day, nobody has done that for me, and to be honest, that hurts more sometimes than the pain I feel as it relates to my estranged family.

Nobody Gets It

Unless you’ve personally experienced relentless abuse or have extensively studied those who have, you have no freeking clue what it does to a person.

Even most psychologists brush it off as overkill and lack the knowledge to make a meaningful positive impact on those who’ve been so brutally rewired.

I was wired wrong from my early days, being raised in a spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically abusive “Christian” cult.

Literally, my brain developed wrong (for those who may wonder how/why such a thing occurs, I implore you to look at Wikipedia’s PTSD and C-PTSD pages).

When things go sideways, I disassociate. Emotionally paralyzed, I crawl into the closest hole I can find, whether it be made of drugs, food, gaming or vices of a darker nature.

I experienced agonizing pain most days growing up, and so I’ve spent most of my adulthood trying to escape it.

Can healing happen?

Yes.

But it’s among the most grueling roads humans can trudge.

There are some among us walking wounded who have an enviable ability to simply soldier on as if nothing happened. Some victims endure years of abuse and somehow find the courage to make a name for themselves fighting against those who abuse.

Unfortunately for me, to this point in my life I’ve fallen into the overwhelmingly large group of individuals who are still very much stuck in the past—and not by way of choice.

And the worst part is nobody gets it.

Even my own parents, who were directly responsible for the abuse I suffered, either directly or indirectly, fail to understand the significance of their own actions. To them, much psychological sickness in the world is explained away as a spiritual ailment. Faith is supposed to cure this stuff, and if you’re not cured, then you must not have enough faith (they’d never admit this, but it’s engrained in their thinking).

When you’re wounded, most people don’t want to be around you, let alone understand you. It’s too uncomfortable for them.

And it perpetuates many of the sick cycles that those who’ve been abused endlessly endure.

A Nightmare

Last night was mostly sleepless. I’ve been sleeping on my boy’s bed since the second night back home, and it’s breaking down. After taking my pain pills, muscle relaxer and nerve agent early in the morning, I drifted back to sleep.

Then I had a nightmare.

The details of most of the dream are somewhat of a haze, but the end is still crystal clear.

Somehow, a conversation between me and my mom ended with me telling her and a few of her friends that gay people were certainly capable of being courageous and full of compassion.

They all gasped in horrible ways, as if what I’d just said was sure to send me to hell instantly, and they moved away from me to ensure they didn’t get sucked down along with me.

The dream ended like this: I had run out of the house and found a good friend on the phone by a car. She was trying to have a conversation on her phone. She offered a hug, and as soon as I received human contact…I lost it.

I began sobbing uncontrollably, ending up in a heap on the street.

That’s the last thing I remember, and I woke up to that scene playing out in my head.

Living with PTSD

Many soldiers come home from wars absolutely ruined after what they’ve witnessed and done.

Many adults who experience assaults on their person or on people whom they love often become shells of themselves for years, whether it be of a sexual, violent, spiritual or emotional nature.

Not to diminish the agonizing pain and suffering they have to deal with, but imagine what it is like for people who grew up in an abusive home and experienced trauma daily for decades at a time

I fit into that last category.

I was sexually, violently, spiritually and emotionally abused throughout my childhood and into my teens.

I was routinely humiliated in front of large groups of people—for my own good, of course.

My most vivid memory of such an event happened when I was maybe 12 or 13. I was brought in front of the ENTIRE adult congregation at the cult church, where leaders accused me of masturbating to National Geographic magazines and fantasizing about the girl I liked (my first real crush). I was forced to admit guilt in front of all, including the girl I liked, who was just as terrified and confused as I was. After finally relenting, I was brought up to the altar, where five leaders took turns spanking me ruthlessly in front of the congregation.

And the worst part?

I didn’t even know what masturbation was yet at that point in my life.

But certain leaders had dreams and visions of my sins, so I had to be punished.

This event is just one of many that I, and others in my age group, experienced on a regular basis. This kind of public shaming was part of our school curriculum, as the cult leader had an hour with all my classmates and I every day. He taught “the word” to us and we all confronted one another about our sins.

Every day, most of us were at one point brought into his office (he was not only the pastor but also the school principle) for physical abuse. For the longest time he used a massive oak paddle on our behinds, until one of the girls finally had enough and took herself into the doctor’s office after being beaten. Afterward, for the sake of leaving no visible marks, the pastor, and most of our parents, started using PVC pipes on our hands instead.

We were also forced to stand for hours at a time with our noses pressed right up against the wall, staring into oblivion where our minds wandered into the hell I call disassociation.

Every day was pure hell.

Every day was a combination of terror, humiliation, public shaming and spiritual abuse.

For myself (and I believe everyone who grew up with me)—even now, after all this time—the horror of those years is quite capable of sneaking up on us in the worst possible way, at the worst possible time.

Personally, I bite my fingers compulsively whenever I experience pain or emotional upheaval. It’s not pretty. Sometimes I’ll rip open a bloody wound near my cuticles, and it’s really hard to stop working on the rest of the finger once the wound has been opened.

I also have spent most of my adult life in a state of complete disassociation. I have used drugs to facilitate this state of mind. The further away from reality, the safer I feel, which is horribly twisted.

No pain, and no joy either.

But pure, endless suffering.

The sexual abuse I endured has also had a lasting impact on my life. To this day, I struggle to show my wife the love I feel for her. I am not comfortable showing physical affection, and so most of the hugs and kisses she deserves have been stopped before they ever had a chance to happen.

It’s hard for me to make friends. I don’t trust many people, not after all my friends disbanded at once when the cult was broken up in the mid-90s. My best friend abandoned me after a time. He found a new group of friends, and I think just being around me was too much for him to handle—stirred up too many old wounds.

I’m still emotionally handicapped, which goes along perfectly with my physical disability (have had three back surgeries since 2008). Therefore, I have one really good friend in this world who is not my wife, and I have lamented this fact for years.

And I’m not alone.

I believe that PTSD is alive and well in every single one of the kids I grew up with who were in my age group. Some have pressed it all down into a deep pit to try and forget about it, while others have actively attempted to overcome it through therapy, blogging and other means of healing.

But we are all still reeling in our own way, more than 20 years since the cult disbanded.

It’s hard to find an identity when the one created for you is so deeply engrained into your psyche. We were programmed to be just like our judgmental, fundamentalist parents, who were programmed by the cult pastor (and his wife) who lorded over all with an unrelenting iron fist.

Every day is a struggle for identity.

Every day brings the opportunity for the past to emerge like a viper in the grass and bite you in the ass.

Every day…

It’s been a really long time since I was able to experience true, uninhibited joy.

My almost-two-year-old daughter is a true gift to me in this regard, as her smile and hugs can melt away some of the most brutal attacks…but the escape isn’t long lived.

There’s a lot I still don’t know about PTSD, but I know it’s a huge part of what I live with every day.

Now that I’m more aware of it and am actively studying it, my understanding and knowledge will certainly grow. But I’m under no illusions about how long a journey I still have before I’m fully healed (if that will ever happen 100%).

But every day I will try to overcome.

And I hope to someday conquer this demon.

For now, however, it’s still alive and well within me, torturing me, telling me I’m a worthless piece of shit who doesn’t deserve happiness or joy.