Shaky but real

Shaky but real
Monday August 06, 2007

Dr. Miller, you asked the following-

AM: You write about wanting “to recreate and recover the sense of security, wonder and power I once had”. I don’t understand how you had it if you grew up with a detached mother and an alcoholic father who (as you felt) wanted to kill you. Can you explain to us this contradiction?

The short answer is that when I was very small I had some some sense of safety, security and regularity, although I was never held, or talked to very much. My most basic physical needs were attended to, but I was almost never communicated to, except in discipline. When I was in my terrible-twos I probably was very physically active and noisy, but this wasn’t tolerated by my father. I remember now now that early in my childhood I felt somewhat secure, and growing.

In my childhood my mother had the habit of reporting my mischief as soon as my father got in the door from work. One time he lifted and shook me so much while screaming at me that I literally felt the life drain out of me (like an animal in the clutch of a predator) I literally died inside. My mother told him it was “enough” and he stopped. (Now I ask-what amount of abuse is enough? She could not be trusted either, although at the time I thought that she was protecting me). I believe this near-death experience was the turning point, where I went from being disciplined but okay, to being under the real threat of mortal danger. I now remember that primary security that was destroyed.

(To elaborate on my family history- according to my older sister, my father was “wonderful” when she was young, until he started to drink. My sister says he changed radically. My guess is my mother was totally dependent on him, like an innocent child, and unable to stop his behavior. My feeling about his violent capabilities was regularly reinforced. I remember he once brought home a beautiful white bunny with pink eyes (we had no pets) . . to make for dinner, and my standing there in shock as he repeatedly beat it to death right in front of me with a hammer in the kitchen sink. He also liked eating fish eyes, and cooked calves brains directly from the skull at the kitchen table. I was horrified. When I learned in school that according to my genes I was one half him, I felt terrible for having this half-him in myself.)

(Father’s history- He was the only child of a seaman in Croatia who was rarely home. He was raised by his mother and an aunt. Probably at around age twelve, he had to leave home to be apprenticed for several years to a carpenter who never told him how to do things, but expected him to do them right by observing. My father was was a pugilistic, aggressive, cocky, intolerent, prejudiced, and proud of himself.)

(Mother’s history- She and her younger siblings had been abandoned by her mother in her early teens, and as eldest daughter she became the homemaker. She probably also snitched on the behavior of her younger brother to her father, who disciplined him. Her father like mine was a seaman from Croatia who only spoke broken English, therefore little communication. Later I belive she found herself in a bad marraige with two small children in a time when you didn’t tell family problems to anybody, you hid them. My mother was a “saint”)

In my recovery efforts, in an attempt to rediscover my innocence and inner strength, I actually have been able to remember the physical struggle, and the sense of accomplishment of rolling over for the first time, and of standing up the first time. These early times I can remember feeling okay and confident in my life. But after the shaking event I felt I was in mortal danger from my father. He was no longer my distant protector and supporter. I knew he could kill me. I lived suspended in fear, waiting for the next outburst. It was like prison camp, but without the comfort of fellow prisoners.

I was a catholic in my denial of abuse for most of my life, until I had an abreaction in therapy. I was describing to my therapist a daily event from my childhood: waiting for my father to come home from work, and listening so carefully so I could tell from the sound of the way he put the key in the door, whether he would be angry and violent, or relatively quiet that night. (I had to know this as soon as possible to prepare myself for all the possible consequences.)

I was standing drawing a picture of the scene on the blackboard for my therapist when the feeling of fear came back to me, and dropped me to the floor like I was shot. I lay there in a fetal position with her stroking my head. Next I was telling her I was alright. I knew I was in her office, even though I knew the fear at the same time. That was the beginning of the unraveling.

When I was twenty I dropped out of college and startered therapy with a psychiatrist (Karen Horney type), and have tried many psychologists since. Nobody could help me unravel the history that was so long ingrained and compensated for, until the last therapist, and the abreaction event. After that I finally accepted the notion that I had been abused, and began the exploration of myself, knowing that perhaps my messed up life, and who I was, was not altogether my fault.

I have lived emotionally behind a protective thick wall of glass almost all of my life, but now I am more often stepping out into the world with my two year old’s sense of confidence- shakey but real.

Thanks to you for the gift of yourself. -A.

AM: Thank you for your answer. It makes much sense. However in your sentence: “After that I finally accepted the notion that I had been abused, and began the exploration of myself, knowing that perhaps my messed up life, and who I was, was not altogether my fault,” I would suggest that you take out the word ‘altogether.’ You were terribly abused and it was NOT AT ALL your fault.