Nov 17, 2014

I'm weird, and it's actually OK!

Being too introspective and self-reflective can become a problem in itself. I have known a few people who've gotten stuck at this phase of recovery. It makes me uneasy, to be self-examining so much. But on the other hand turning inward to find out what's broken to fix, and what's not broken and doesn't need fixing is essential, I think, in rebuilding (or just building, for the first time) confidence in the aftermath of emotional wreckage. Emotional abuse demolishes you.

About fourteen years ago or so, I walked into the office of Dr. Bounous, of the BYU music department. I hadn't sung for two years. I'd had a pretty terrible experience with a voice teacher, and in my discouragement I abandoned singing for a while. It's an unfortunate coincidence that, during this same two year period, I was...

I don't even know how to say what it was that happened to me. There's no descriptive phrase for it. My husband wasn't my husband. My marriage wasn't a marriage. I was being emotionally and physically abused (it really kind of galls to put it in that way, passive. "being" abused. Ugh. I don't know why I have such a negative reaction to that. It just feels gross.)

Anyway. I decided to start singing again. I believe that was the beginning of my pulling away from the situation--taking something for me again. My relationship with my ex-husband had turned me into a nothing-person. My entire existence was lived to prevent him exploding, to prevent him from hurting himself or hurting me (and more often both). I spent all my energy trying to be "a better wife." That's how I perceived the situation. If I could just fold the towels exactly right. If I could just do all the dishes so there wasn't a single speck on a plate or cup. If I could just keep up with the laundry, if I could only stop biting my fingernails, if I could force myself to stop eating things with garlic and onions, if I could get rid of the upset and angry and helpless feelings I was having, if I could just be more interesting, so he wouldn't spend so much time in front of the playstation....

I walked into Dr. Bounous's office an empty husk of a person. I remember how drab I felt--I could see myself, how it wasn't right, even though I couldn't figure out how to be different at the time. I wore a white T shirt, washed-out overalls. my hair was blah and midlength. I generally wore no makeup, made no effort. I had no excitement about anything, no hope for joy in my life. I remember feeling extremely drained as I talked to him--perhaps the only person outside of my husband I had really communicated with in two years. (except for the phone conversations and occasional yelling-fights with my mother and other family members.) I remember as I went back and listened to the tapes, hearing how completely flat, drained, and passive I sounded, even as I sang, which in the past has been the way I express all the overpowering emotions I've struggled with all my life.

I was an empty person. I was used up, squeezed, out, burned out, drained. I was nothing.

Singing helped me on the way to recovery. Also, I latched onto whatever passions might be lying around--I worked with girls who had eating disorders, so I became passionate about feminism and body image. To the point of being grating on my friends and family members. Jeff was a vegetarian and a homeschooler, so while dating him and after marrying him, I became passionate about homeschooling and vegetarianism. Nature abhors a vacuum... I was vacuuming up everything in my immediate vicinity that I even sort of liked or was interested in, and adopted them as pieces of my identity.

Part of recovery for me has been to disassemble all this confusion--the causes and passions I've collected--and turn them over and examine them and decide which of them are real. This has made for some difficult times with Jeff--I've realized that, actually, I think homeschooling is wonderful but I also have some deep feelings about why homeschooling is not so good. And the same about vegetarianism. And a multitude of other things--feminism, liberalism, lots of isms and also lots of passions. Singing, for instance, is something I Love, but not something I need to be pursuing with professional intensity. I've realized that, and we no longer spend money on voice lessons. For me they were therapy. They were the vehicle that brought me back to myself. I told jeff, when I married him, that we probably either needed to afford voice lessons or therapy. ANd that turned out to be right. When, after eight years of lessons with Dr. Bounous, we moved away, and I tried voice lessons with someone for a bit, it wasn't quite the same. I didn't "need" them anymore. What I needed was...

yeah. Therapy. And spiritual counseling.

Knowing yourself is an important step in recovery from emotional abuse. One of the greatest miracles and gifts about the counseling I've received over the last couple of years is that I was talking to someone who is a whole lot like me. I don't think I can convey adequately what a rarity that is. Do you know how many people I've met in my life who I feel i share even minimal traits with? It's an extremely rare thing for me to find someone I identify strongly with. My cousin Greg was one, and when he no longer came to family reunions, I ached and felt empty, because I felt nobody else around me really understood me. My parents didn't, my cousins, while hilarious and nice, really didn't either. My best friends didn't. I had friendships that were long-standing, but not deep and vulnerable. I often felt rejected by people, and as I grew up, I stepped away myself, from offering feelings and thoughts that were vulnerable, from offering friendship.

My friends. Growing up was an interesting experience. I had a best friend in gradeschool who was so good at being "good." Being perfect. I remember constantly feeling unworthy of her. She got perfect grades; I struggled to make C's in math. She kept her thoughts focused on higher laws than I did... I got curious about the world's less righteous elements and would examine and turn them over in my mind and try to understand them. I didn't feel safe going to her, or to my parents, with these sorts of observations because a "good" girl shouldn't be thinking of these things, should she? I should be more like my friend, who thinks about... I don't know. Tithing and fasting and the Book of Mormon all the time.

As I got into high school, that spectrum turned full circle on me. My friends were not very religious--one was, but most of the people willing to hang out with me weren't, because I was Mormon and most were strong Baptists or Protestants or other ants who believed Mormons to be risky to associate too closely with. SO then I became the "too unworldly to get close to" element in my friendships. I felt, from them, exactly what I had felt toward my elementary-school best friend. They sheltered me; they protected me. They kept me away.

I had one LDS friend who I was close to sort of, in high school. But the relationship was often difficult. She made fun of me a lot. About me being gullible, using words that were too big, being "weird." She was kind of merciless, actually. It got pretty wearing, but there were also great times with her. Plus, I cared about her, and knew she was struggling.

But her treatment of me was kind of typical for my acquaintances. Growing up, I more often got made fun of than anything else. I learned to fight back. In Jr High it got pretty intense. I had jr high boys telling me how ugly I was, others making fun of me for things like not shaving my legs (I wasn't allowed until I was 14), and even sexually harassing me. I learned quickly some terms that I'm pretty sure my prim-and-proper best friend was never subjected to. I'm not sure why me, and not her... we were both prude mormons. Maybe I seemed weaker. Or maybe it was because I didn't cry. Or maybe it was because occasionally, when I got to the breaking point, I'd let off a rather cutting retort, and they enjoyed the reaction. I don't know.

The point is, going into my abusive marriage, I already had pretty poor self-esteem. I already felt completely alone, I felt like nobody understood me, heck, I didn't understand myself. I didn't know who I was.

I'm learning now. Some revelations are welcome, others not-so-welcome. But one thing i've realized is, I've got nothing to be afraid of. I think that for a long time (most of my life, maybe) I was frightened that I was actually a terrible person inside, and that, because I tried so hard to be good but somehow still messed up and somehow still seemed weird and unacceptable to people, and because I had so many struggles with my family, I was *actually* essentially, bone-deep, inescapably, bad. It's hard to look inside yourself if you're terrified of what you're going to find.

I've been using Typology lately to try to understand myself and some of the more difficult interactions I've had with others. I don't think things like the MMPI and the MBTI and even the DSM-IV are bringers of truth. I don't think they describe anything real. I think they're tools that can be both helpful and incredibly dangerous--they can give you a starting point and provide a map or a list of more-likely-to-be-useful suggestions, but they can also be a basis for judging others and pigeonholing yourself.

So I'm not going to state what I've found from these measures here. Sufficient to say, I've come out on the rare side of things. I've learned, from these tools of self-reflection, that part of my problem is, there really aren't that many people who are like me on this planet. I'm an unusual person.

When I was younger I internalized this as "weird," I was a weird person. Unnaceptably, uncomfortably weird. When I walked into a crowded room I would become intensely aware of my appearance, my posture, I'd be incredibly anxious about how people might be made uncomfortable by me.

It got so bad, I noticed I wasn't looking anyone in the face. I had to give myself a goal, my senior year in high school, to smile at people if I passed them in the hall and I actually knew them. People started smiling back. It was a revelation to me... that if I made an effort, I could still be acceptable to people.

I'm weird, but weird doesn't necessarily mean bad. I'm re-realizing that. But two elements of my weirdness provide me with some real struggles right now. One, perhaps the most damning for me, is that I need people to be authentic. Any hint at deception, or game-playing, or lack of honesty and authenticity, and I struggle to want to associate with someone even on a superficial level. That's a problem because how many people are really authentic like that? Does that make them bad people? No. But to me, emotionally, it's the world falling, to find out someone I trusted to be honest with me has deceived me... even white-lie deceptions, even "I don't want to let you know what I'm really feeling," deceptions.

This has been, of course, vastly compounded by the experience I had, where I married someone I thought I knew, and he turned out to be something completely different. I still go back over all my interactions with him, when I knew him before we dated and while we were dating, to see "what I missed." I can't find anything. He very successfully deceived me. And that's unusual--generally I can read people very well (though interacting with them is a different matter.)

The other struggle I have is, I blame myself for everything that goes wrong. Everything. And logically I know that's not the case; I know I can't possibly be responsible for everything that happens. It generally takes two. Lately I've successfully been able to get through forgiving myself when I know I've done something wrong, and asking forgiveness from others.

The thing I struggle with is how to forgive others when I've done nothing to deserve the hurt that comes. WHen I've contributed, I find it very easy to apologize, to accept their apology and move on. When I've done nothing, I struggle to move on. I hold on to it without wanting to. And it seems to continue... hurt upon hurt hurt upon hurt in every new interaction with them.

I think part of it is, I struggle to *believe* that I haven't done something to deserve it. That's something that just doesn't fit into my mind right now. And so what happens is, I go back over and over the situation, find that I couldn't have done anything different, and feel like, therefore, I must be an essentially bad person, because even though I did my best, I still did something bad that resulted in the "punishment" of someone hurting me.

Anyway. More vulnerable thoughts. Not necessarily needing a response. But if you have any suggestions... if you've been able to overcome some of these things, I'd love a place to start. A more-likely list of possibilities.

In any case. I'm learning right now, that I'm OK. I'm a good person. I really am. Isn't the definition of being a good person, someone who tries their hardest to do what is right and be kind? Sure, we all mess up every once in a while. But part of being a good person is messing up and asking forgiveness, or messing up and figuring out how to do better the next time. That's what it's like to be a human, during this probationary period. That's the *point* of it.


Camilla Cole said...

I got the "weird" comment a lot growing up too. People would say it while laughing at something I'd said and I would feel an overwhelming confusion. Did they think I was funny or weird? Could I be both? Could weird be a good thing? If I stopped being funny would I stop being weird too? Because I didn't want to be weird. Weird sounded like a word you'd use to describe an alien or a person who made you uncomfortable because they were strange. I started saying that to people when they'd call me weird, after a while. I'd patiently explain that while I was glad they enjoyed my company, calling me weird was hurtful, made me feel like a creep. I'd say "use the word crazy if you want, but not weird."

It seems so silly now. What they were really saying was "you're different from most people I know." And while I'm sure many could mean that in a bad way, I think others just had no reference for what category I fit in, and were a little confused about what to think about me. I'm okay with weird now, because I know what it really means is that, to most people, I am not instantly categorizeable (not a word?). I take some getting to know before people can accept that I am not very cookie cutter. Also, I've learned to adapt, tone down my weirdness until I really know someone. That might sound like I'm hiding my true self from the world, but what it really means is that I save the best, most interesting parts of myself for people who want to see them. Because I value the parts of me that are the strangest. I like my quirks and oddities. And luckily, my husband does too. To me, nothing else really matters. Or at least that's what I've decided for now :)

I didn't know you and Greg had such a deep connection. I wish I could remember back to all those years ago and see you two interact together. He's a pretty special guy, no matter how different we've grown now, and so that must mean you're pretty special too. Not everyone could form a connection with Greg. Makes me wish I knew you better.

Emma Tank said...

There are a lot of things you've experienced that I can't possibly hope to understand. However, I did have the nickname "Weirdo" for a while. I actually reveled in it though, because I was trying so hard to not just be "another Davenport." I wanted people to remember me because of who I was, not because of who my family was. I had some kids be pretty unkind to me occasionally, and I never felt like I had a deep connection with anyone. Since then, I've made some really good friends, but it is still difficult for me to connect with people on an emotional level. Some of what you write, I truly understand and relate to. Personally, we think you're pretty awesome, Sarah. Keep healing. I think you're making excellent progress.

Sarah Dunster said...

Camilla, One thing I admire about you is, you have always seemed so outgoing to me, though I know that's not necessarily the case. Yeah, Greg abd I had kind of a funny, deep connection. Almost otherworldly I think. I always attributed it as a kud to our birthdays being so close together. When he stopped coming I felt pretty dissappointed. And kinda betrayed.

I think our family's dynamics in particularly are interesting, complex and often, difficult. Aunt Carlene attributes the difficulty to residual trauma from our ancestors' handcart experience :)

Rebecca, you are such a good example to me. And your family, of how to raise my kids.

Sarah Dunster said...

Sorry for typos. phone keyboard.

David L said...

First things, you are weird. :-) As an old beloved branch president used to say, "everyone is at least a little weird."

Second, I really keyed in on your dislike of the passive (being abused). As a fellow survivor of abuse on, well, many instances, it is passive. It's helpless, but it's also external. And that's not wrong. I actually prefer the passive in a way because it removes it from me. I am not abuse, but I was abused. It's like Myron and his autism. He is NOT autistic, but he does have autism. Small thing, sure, but his autism shouldn't define his life and his future. It will always have an impact, but it does not limit him.

I refuse to let the fact that I was abused determine my future, my role, and my life. I was abused. Past tense. And then I found the strength to be free.

You are always in our prayers. That man-hunk of yours, too. Have I ever had two better friends? No, I think not. :-)

Sarah Dunster said...

love you, D&C! Good things to ponder, thank you. The passive really might be appropriate. I hate. admitting to being a victim, however. I might still be in a little bit of denial.