Moving Forward with Mom

Well, I actually texted my mom and asked her to make time to talk to me and she did. We met in a restaurant and talked for a while. I was really nervous about whether or not she had made any progress on being defensive, and she has. It was good, even though I didn’t expect it to be.

I brought along the book I’m reading. I told her that I’m nervous about integrating the pockets of emotion that I’ve separated from myself. (There are traumatic events that I can discuss in a flat, rational tone, because I don’t feel anything. From what I can tell, it’s not uncommon for people to become numb when they experience things that are too intense for them to handle. I need to begin the process of feeling those things, accepting the pain. accepting that the events didn’t shape my value, and moving forward.)

I asked her how she reconciled her love for her father with the pain that he caused her during the period of his life when he used alcohol to numb the scars he brought back from war. I listened to her talk through it, and it seemed like she understood that I would need to walk that path with her as well. I think she knows that it will take time, that there may be days that I’m angry, and that this process is more about me than about her. I don’t think she’s threatened by my journey.

Honestly, not much has changed since before we talked, but it was worth doing. If I had let fear make my choices for me, I never would have taken the risk of talking to her, and I would still feel alone and empty.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Healing is dirty and painful and long. Sometimes, things need to break again in order to heal properly. Sometimes, you have to pull out all of the pieces of pain you thought you had dealt with already, look at them again, make new connections or interpret them with new information, and then pack them away  when you’re done. Sometimes, you can move on once you’ve had enough new experiences that contradict your old expectations. Sometimes, you go a bit further down before you can climb again.

I’m not expecting a miracle or a quick fix.

I expect to cry and journal, to laugh and paint, to fight and scream, and to break through every wall of pain and fear that’s kept me trapped here. It will be hard. I will need breaks to heal and restore my energy. I will have to take care of my needs along the way or I risk getting sick or falling into a downward spiral.

There’s a balance between taking care of myself because I’m precious and pushing myself to keep going through the pain because it’s the only way out. I will find it and I will keep it, to the best of my ability.

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Guilt & Obligation

I don’t know what to saw, but I’m freezing up, so I need to do something.

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Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

There’s going to be a baby shower in my family soon. It’s being held in a private residence, and the people who live there don’t mind if Dora comes, but the people that they’re renting the house from won’t allow it. It’s private space, so the ADA is a bit grey here, and if in doubt, I try to respect private space and the people involved. Access to public space is the intent of the law, after all, and I want to respect people’s choices about their own homes. It’s the decent thing to do.

So there’s some drama there because my cousin, who’s scheduling it, is like bending over backwards trying to find a way to make this work, and I appreciate that. She’s being really kind.

I also feel like I have to go, because I’ve never really been given a choice about these events. From childhood, I have been forced to attend every bridal and baby shower to which I’ve been invited, because, you know, I’m a girl. If I’m honest, really honest with myself, going to these parties has caused me more damage than I care to admit.

For years, I’ve been broken-hearted about my lack of a meaningful love life, and both weddings and bridal showers just served to reinforce my worthlessness. But I had to go, so I went.

And baby showers?

Do any of you remember my old entry called “Diagnosis”? Well, the lady in the painting is me. I received the diagnosis in… 2004, I think. It still hurts. Honestly, that’s mostly because I was basically like ‘nope. into the pain box you go. not dealing with you. nope. nope. nope. you’re just too big and complex and i don’t want to be honest with myself about this topic and no. bye!’

I say that, but at the same time, I got an onslaught of really horrible thoughts dumped into my head about how I was so fundamentally flawed, I couldn’t even be a woman right. Like, somehow the fact that I have glands and organs that just decided to stop working is a sign of how truly flawed I am as a person, since 99% of the females on the planet do not fail in even this basic way.

Add in the fact that my grandmother who is a dangerous, passive-aggressive lady may well be there, and perhaps you can see why my husband suggested that attending the event without Dora might be a bad idea.

So I told my cousin not to worry about it, that I was sorry that I was changing the answer that I gave her just last night, that I would figure something out. But now, she feels bad about the whole thing, and so does her grandmother (a kind lady who smiles easily). And I don’t want her to feel bad, so I should go without Dora.

But I don’t want to hurt myself any more because I already have mountains of pain and lies to dig through and process, so maybe I shouldn’t go at all. If I choose not to go, for my wellbeing, then everything with the location and the invitations she’s already ordered just sorts itself out nicely.

But I’m making people upset by not going, and I don’t know how to communicate ‘it’s ok; i didn’t want to go anyway because i hate baby showers,‘ without sounding rude or… whatever characteristic is associated with disliking things that I am supposed to like.

Yes! I know that I am supposed to be able to experience other people’s happiness with them instead of ‘making everything about myself.’ I have been told already. Thanks. I don’t know how to do that when the events in question are both bound up in unhealed traumas that I never get to make progress on because every time they surface, people essentially tell me that I shouldn’t have them in the first place, so I have to bury them again.

I just… ARGH!

Why? Just why?

I can already tell that I shouldn’t go to this. The healthiest choice I can possibly make is to avoid being hurt any further, whether that makes sense to anyone else or not. The only alternative I have is to go, sit silently, pretend that I’m having a decent time, and just marinate in my pain… like I always have, because it makes people happy to think that I am happy about the same things that they are.


I am so jealous of my husband and brothers for not being invited, not being put in this situation, and not being expected to enjoy this type of thing. It’s just difficult sometimes.

A Letter for my Mother

Dear Mom,

Do you remember the day that I asked you if you would just write a list of all the rules down for me? Did I ask you to post it inside the coat closet in the dining room, or wasn’t I brave enough to open the door and ask? I honestly can’t remember what really happened on that day. It makes me a bit sad, truth be told, but what can I do? It’s not like I’m guaranteed perfect memories of each day of my life. Oh well. Let’s move on.

Whether I did or not, I wanted to ask you to just finally write down everything that I could get in trouble for doing and post that list somewhere where I could find it. Somewhere that I could check. Somewhere that I could go and study it so that I could learn how to be good. So that you wouldn’t hit me any more. So that you wouldn’t yell at me any more.

I knew that you weren’t ok. Honestly, I don’t even know if you knew it yet, or if you thought that I was too young to understand or remember, but I knew. I could see how fragile you were, and I knew that you could be crushed by anything that came along, anything unexpected, anything difficult. I knew that the world was a very dangerous place for you, that you couldn’t handle living in it, and that you needed someone to protect you from the bad things in the world.

I tried. I promise that I did.

I was like… three? Five? There wasn’t much that I could do, but I really did my best to protect you. I wish that you hadn’t hit me so often. I wish that you hadn’t screamed at me.

You laughed one day, when you saw me sobbing, making my way back the hall to my room as punishment, before you had even found what I had done wrong. To your credit, you didn’t punish me for whatever it was, which was good, since my self punishment was already enough. But you know, you didn’t come and comfort me either. Didn’t you realize that something was wrong? That there was a reason I was so terrified of your wrath that I just braced for it and tried to minimize the damage?

I guess not. Maybe you weren’t healthy enough for that yet.

Did you understand the terror that I lived in, not knowing what things I could do without getting in trouble? Did you know how it felt, not knowing what choices were safe to make? Do you know now? Do you understand that this is why I still can’t make decisions for myself more than 20 years later? Do you know that this is why I’m so scared of the unknown, why I measure my performance in everything I do, why I can’t relax? Do you see?


I don’t know. I’m not going to ask you. You still get defensive about it, even with your anxiety medication and your years of counseling. You still attack me instinctively, rather than admitting that you did anything wrong. It is possible to be injured enough that you can’t avoid hurting people AND to acknowledge that your actions and words had consequences.

I’m not your enemy. I know that you didn’t even know that you had mental illness yet. I know that you were willing to put in the effort to grow and heal; I’ve seen you do it in the decades since then. I am even starting to understand why you developed those defenses.

It’s ok. You’re safe now.

So please, some day, listen to me talk about the pain you caused me. Please apologize for it. I already know that you never intended to hurt me, that you were already overwhelmed, and money was tight, and your young family was struggling, and you had baggage from bad relationships before you married dad, and there were issues left over from when grandpa was an alcoholic and you weren’t safe at home either, and more and more and more. It’s ok. I don’t hate you, but I do need to hear you say that you’re sorry. I do need to hear you tell me that you love me. I need to know that there is a way forward, and that you’re willing to help me heal and grow as well.

I’ve been processing my pain for a while. I’ve revised my treatment plan many times, and you know that Dora is just the latest addition to the mix. You know that she’s helping me, and I hope you can see the progress that I’ve made over the last year. But now, I’ve reached a point where things are getting a bit hard.

I’m reading a book, mom. It’s in the other room, and I don’t want to lose my momentum by getting up and bringing it here, so you’ll have to forgive me for not telling you the title. It’s about childhood trauma, fractured minds, and the healing process for people who experience more pain than they are equipped to handle. I don’t think I have multiple personalities, but I do know that there are memories that I’m afraid to think about, even today. I know that I have a defense mechanism that provides me with a safe world to live in, where I can be beautiful and smart, powerful and necessary. I know that I go there whenever I can’t stand living as myself. I know that it’s not normal, and that it could be unhealthy, and that it’s quite sad on some level that there have been years when I have spent more time living as a fantasy version of myself than as me.

I want to be whole. I want to be able to look at the darkest times and the brightest times in my life and feel the emotions that go with them. And to look away afterwards! But I’m not there yet.

I’m scared, mom. What am I going to find? How hard will it be? My body is crying, but my face is neutral. I can feel the disconnect even now. What am I mourning? Do you know?


Well, I just wanted to talk to you for a bit. I hope your day is going well, and that you make progress in becoming less defensive. I believed you when you admitted that it was a flaw of yours and that you’re working on it. That was…. 3 weeks ago, I think. I still believe you, and I hope that it works.

Maybe one day, I’ll have you read this for real. And I’ll try to keep breathing, and Dora will probably have to perform at least one of her tasks, because I can’t imagine showing this to you without having a panic attack.

Today is January 14th, 2018.

~J

Day 129 With Dora

My family, extended family especially, is not on board with my service dog. “You’re invited over, but Dora isn’t.” “I can’t believe you’re making me choose between seeing you and having a dog in my house.”

I just…

I expected this to come. I really didn’t think these people who have been selfish and distant for years, who have caused me pain and never tried to reach out to get to know me, they were never going to take it well. 

I just didn’t think it would hurt so much.

Day 47 With Dora

I took her out for a walk to exercise and potty. It was fine, but I started thinking about my grandmother, whom I saw this weekend. I don’t like visiting her for a few reasons:

  1. She’s a hoarder, and she keeps buying me items that I often do not want and forcing me to take them. I have watched the living space in her house dwindle through my lifetime, and I really, really don’t want to live like that.
  2. Many of these items are 1950s housewife essentials, and I’m not a vintage fan nor a traditional gender roles supporter, so I don’t want them. (Last item is some weird oversized chalice type bowl for holding tiny fruits.)
  3. She keeps asking me questions like “Do I know my neighbors yet?” when most people around here are pretty private. There aren’t welcome wagons. We might wave (usually dog people who like Dora), but almost no one talks to each other. And I’m an introvert, so I prefer to have a few deep relationships instead of many shallow ones. And I have social anxiety flare ups. So no. Still not imposing on my neighbors.
  4. She showed up at my house uninvited in August to ‘see if she could find it,’ and then told me that ‘she would come back sometime and spend more time here.’ Meanwhile, I was frozen on my porch like a deer in the headlights, angry with myself for having chosen that specific moment to take the trash can to the curb.


On the walk, Dora found an abandoned Air Kong toy, which she rescued. We finished our business at hand, I slipped down a wet hill and fell (which ending up being funny, rather than stressful or painful), and we headed home. As we approached the driveway, I saw it: a car slowly turning around in the cul de sac and heading our way.

I panicked. Gave Dora the command to come inside. Climbed the porch stair. Fumbled with my key. *engine noises as it grows closer to my driveway*

If it’s her, I won’t be able to pretend that I’m not here. She will know that I’m inside and that I’m not answering the door. Or my phone. Come oncomeon…

Unlocked the door. Call Dora inside. She’s looking at the world or sniffing the air or talking to a unicorn for all I know. But she’s not listening. “Dora! Dora! Inside! Dora! Inside!”

I pull. She comes. Inside. Take keys. Shut door. Deadbolt. Breathe.

That car passed my house while I was outside fumbling around and trying to get Dora to come in. I knew it then, but it didn’t register.

Now I’m inside and the door is locked, and that’s not my grandmother, but I still want to close all the blinds and curtains again, like I did back in August. (Every day for at least a week. Maybe two. I just didn’t feel safe here.)

But we should eat soon, and I need to breathe. 
I don’t like panic attacks.

Day 10 With Dora

I called a family meeting last night for my parents and siblings. We’re all adults now, but we’re still fairly close, and I wanted to know that they had my back. Or if they had it, I suppose. I wanted to make them believe that my depression and anxiety are severe enough to count as a disability; that I need this dog for part of my treatment; and that… that it’s all real, I guess.

So we all get there and I start into everything, actually leading with my fear and telling them that I’m scared that they might not believe that I have a disability, and they’re like “yeah, we know.” It was profoundly odd.

First, because I was so scared I was nauseous for a lot of yesterday. Second, because I thought I had succeeded in hiding a lot of it. Third, because I perceive myself as being in a fairly high-functioning state right now (read: I get up every morning, get dressed every day, eat normal meals, tend to my hygiene, AND complete tasks that I set out to do).

They knew. They believed me from square one, which is actually why I led with the fear: if they didn’t believe me, I would need to follow up with evidence, and if they did, I would need to improvise. In my head, I could only imagine the bad outcome, so I didn’t prepare. 

I don’t want to run through all of it, but suffice it to say that I was able to be very honest about current responses that I want to eventually train Dora to monitor and respond to, about current struggles, and about the way that some of their interactions with me can really hurt, even if it’s unintentional. It was a very good conversation for me. I did really well.

We came home to the mess that I mentioned in my last post, and I took that well. Today, we bought parts to repair the damaged bits and it’s nearly resolved. Just like that. It’s really good.

Game Therapy: Dragon Age II, Part 3

In “Game Therapy” posts, I’m going to unpack some of my thoughts and interactions with the games. Despite the fact that some games I discuss have been out for a while already, I will include spoiler warnings for those who need them.

This entry contains spoilers for Dragon Age II, from the prologue through the end of Act 2 and Dragon Age: Origins’ human noble opening.


When I played Dragon Age 2 for the first time, I was really saddened by my family’s fate. My father died before the game began. My sibling died in the beginning. My other sibling died in the Deep Roads because I brought the wrong party. My mother was decapitated by some sick necromancer so her head could be cobbled into his flesh golem/undead wife. I was alone.

With my backstory, both of my parents died by my hands: I killed my father’s empty husk after his soul was torn from his body and I killed my mother’s mind after her head and spirit were forged into an empty husk. I know that the cut scene for mother’s death shows her slowly fading in Hawke’s arms, but I was so horrified by the zombie bride when I first saw it that I knew my character would have killed that thing as quickly as possible.

I felt so, so alone.

I remember Aveline being very comforting at the time. I loved that she gave me permission to grieve for as long as I needed to and in whatever manner I needed to. She was so kind.

But this time…

On this playthrough, I have hated my mother. My lazy, selfish mother who won’t lift a finger to defend one of us. Who makes demands of me (“Leave your sister here, please! I can’t stand the thought of losing both of you!”) and then blames me for her inaction and inability (“If you had been here, they never would have taken Bethany away!”).

Bethany would have been safe with me, you know. I would have done what I could to keep her safe. But mother? No. Mother didn’t do anything to help protect Bethany. Or me. Or any of us.

You could argue that ‘she’s just an old lady, blah blah blah,’ but I don’t buy it. When my Warden was a Cousland, a member of a noble house, and our home was attacked, my mother and I met up in the hallway in full armor, with our weapons drawn. She took action to protect us all, and I was so proud to be part of that family. My sister-in-law came from the ‘helpless beauty’ school of femininity, so she died in the attack. 

Women are not inherently weak. It is a choice. But this woman, Hawke’s mother, she let others protect her as a noblewoman. And she let her husband protect her once they went on the run. And she let her children protect her in her old age.

I tried to protect my family. I sacrificed my childhood, my happiness, my needs, my friendships, my chance for love… Everything for my family. But it wasn’t enough. Never enough. And to top it all off, this willingly helpless woman kept blaming me for all of our hardships. 

No. Not this time. For some reason, this playthrough, I just won’t accept it any more. So as I fleshed out Abigail’s life, I knew that she didn’t spend much time at home. That she resented her mother’s plans to pick a spouse for her. That she just wanted to stop running for once, to have friends, to belong, and maybe to fall in love.

I mentioned above that Hawke sacrificed friendships and relationships for her family. I always believe that once we hit Act 2 of the game, Hawke has now lived in Kirkwall for longer than she’s lived anywhere else. Four years without running. So a part of that lifestyle, of moving at a moment’s notice to protect the family’s mages, is leaving all of your friends behind without being able to say goodbye. Which means not being able to fall in love, because you know that you’ll have to leave again, and you can’t expect anyone to join your family of well-armed vagrants.

At the end of the day, this family only works if Abigail, Bethany, & Carver are all willing to be miserable indefinitely. None of us really got to be children.

I guess that the main things I see here are these:

  1. New expectations for parents
  2. Belief that my suffering enables other people’s happiness

As always, I’ll talk about these in future posts. Thanks for reading. The image of Hawke’s mother is from the Dragon Age wiki.