“Help for the Fractured Soul” by Candyce Roberts

I just finished this book today, and it’s been a journey. As I mentioned in my recent letter to mom, I’ve been reading about how a child’s mind deals with pain that is too large to handle. Often, it breaks.

This book is primarily written for people working with traumatized individuals, but I can’t afford therapy, so I read it in search of understanding and tips for working with my own mess. The main take away that I found is “Take this seriously; some of your symptoms are more intense than you’ve acknowledged before and if you don’t change, you won’t be able to progress past them.” Roberts didn’t say that. I just recognized ways that I dissociate, and repress painful memories, and check out of daily life.

Healthy people don’t have all of these crazy, interconnected responses firing up when things hurt. I don’t want to go from calm to unresponsive in a few seconds forever. I want to feel pain, accept that it hurts, and move past it. Right now, I just lock up and then try to do anything but understand why I’m in pain.

It’s like running on a broken leg; if I don’t learn about how I got injured or give myself opportunities to recover and grow strong, I will just make it worse.

I need to be willing to revisit those dark days that shaped my image of myself and to reject the lies they planted. I didn’t deserve it. I can’t control the actions of others, so it was never about being good enough. I am not worthless or irreparably broken.

I am hurt. And angry. And betrayed. And bitter. There is a reason for my feelings, but these emotions are also keeping me trapped in those dark moments when I was vulnerable and helpless and deeply hurt by people I had trusted.

To put it simply, I suppose you could say that this book showed me that healing is more complicated than I thought. During an earlier stage of my healing journey, I only dealt with pain until I could get it contained enough to seal it in a box and not need to dwell on it any more. Instead, it seems like I’ll need to reevaluate some old things, and allow myself to disconnect from them.

It’s hard to put into words. By accepting the emotions connected with trauma, I can know myself more fully and have a stronger handle on the truth. Yet, once I reach that point, I can also release the weight and intensity of the emotions, so that I don’t have to carry or fear them any more.

Oh well. In any case, Candyce Roberts’ book was helpful for me, and I’m still trying to responsibly evaluate her approach and its implications for my current state. I’m glad I pulled it off my shelf to read in its entirety.

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The Pain of Rejection

Dear First Ex,

Part of me shudders typing “dear” and thinking about you, but I can’t think of another opening for letters. Bear with me, even though we both know that there’s nothing there.

Anyway, I was thinking about you yesterday. A few days ago, I fell into an old addiction again, and I realized that beneath the symptoms, there was an old lie. As long as I believed that my core was made of putrid darkness, and that no one could want to be near me, the addiction would keep coming back, because it’s comforting.

You are one of the people whose actions made it look like the lie was true.

Does that sound like I’m blaming you? It might, but the truth is that I’m too tired to feel any pain over what happened, and in the moment, I was only able to see my side anyway. I was in a low downswing of my depression, coming off of a suicidal period (or going into one?). There are too many emotions and too much brain fog for me to remember. It could have been too much. It could have been strangling the life out of you. Who knows? Regardless, there’s nothing to gain from another angry tirade at you, and I’m not here to write one.

All that I’m trying to say is that the choices you made, especially towards the end, were hard for me to deal with. I still think they show some cowardice on your part, because you recruited other people to break up with me for you instead of saying the words yourself. When I wanted to talk afterwards, just to see if there was a way that we could be civil enough that our mutual friends didn’t have to choose, you had someone insult me so that you could stay silent.

So I let you have our friends and our social spot. Looking back, it sounds a little like a divorce, doesn’t it? Weird.

Reading over my old journal entries yesterday was bizarre. I went from singing your praises to heaping abuse on your name in an instant. I was completely blindsided by the whole thing. I had been pouring everything I had into the relationship. You probably won’t trust me when I say that I know that depressed people don’t have much love to offer. Even before I met you, I knew that love drew energy from my very limited emotional reserves. I spent energy on trying to make you happy when I should have used it for taking care of myself or resting. I tried to take care of your needs. I didn’t criticize your lifestyle and I accommodated your needs. I poured out everything I had for you and you basically said,

“You didn’t get better fast enough.”

Yeah. It was a real high point for both of us. I’m still not “better,” by the way. It turns out that brains don’t fix themselves any more than dysfunctional organs or misshapen limbs do. Weird, isn’t it?

I’m sorry. I’m getting bitter, and I said I wasn’t here to accuse you. Staying angry with you or believing that your assessment of me was accurate is just hurting me. For a decade, part of my energy has been draining off to fuel the lie I mentioned earlier and the defense mechanisms around it. I’m done. I have to be.

Forgiveness is a strange thing. People have told me that it’s a choice: just choose to forgive someone. There are a handful of people that I have chosen to forgive, but I’m still angry and hurt when I think of them, because I still wanted more from our relationships than they gave me. I wanted love, care, an honest connection, to feel safe while I’m near them, but no. And it still hurts. Someone else has told me that it doesn’t sound like I’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness, therefore, must be more than a choice.

Today, right now, it feels like maybe forgiveness is actually part of a sequence, and that it only functions properly when done in the right order. Here’s my working model:

  1. Be vulnerable and get hurt.
  2. Mourn and feel the pain.
  3. Process the experience and its effects on you.
  4. Let yourself heal from it. Let go of the dark, angry words, even if their familiarity is comforting.
  5. Forgive the person.
  6. Move on a more complex person than you were before.

Yesterday afternoon, I just laid on the floor and sobbed. I remembered how my college friends found out about my depression and stopped talking to me. I remembered how a few months later, you left me too. I remembered how our friends just stayed with you, even though I tried hard to avoid asking them to choose sides and I wanted to find separate places to hang out.

All of these people that I was honest with, all of these people that I trusted, they got close to be and saw my broken parts, and then they left. And it sucks.

But here’s the thing- the small group of you are not representatives of humanity. You don’t control the choices that other people make, and just because you chose to leave me alone when I needed you most, it doesn’t mean that no one will ever choose to stay. My husband met me during a breakdown and he just kept walking closer to me. The messier I got, the more broken parts he saw, the more time he spent with me, and his kindness and gentle spirit still blow me away.

It’s unfortunate that my pain has prevented me from accepting him on the deepest level possible. That I’ve invalidated some of his choices and actions because I believed that he would be like you. That I’ve done the same thing with God’s love, because I believed that He would be like you. And I’m done.

What you did, what all of you chose to do, will never be ok. It will never be justified, but I’m not the harbinger of justice. I don’t need to carry the burden of the pain you caused me and the treatment that I needed from you. I don’t need to keep a list of areas where I gave more or tried harder. I don’t need to try to remember any pieces of the storm that was our last two meetings. God will remember for me, and He can measure out all of the pieces.

So this is it. I’m letting go of everything attached to this ball of pain. I don’t need any of the mess any more. I don’t believe the lie any more.

There are good traits in me. There are reasons that people might want to be my friend or enjoy being near me. I am not a toxic waste of space. I am a beautiful mess, just like everyone else.

So goodbye. I know we haven’t seen each other for years, so I don’t expect that I’ll even think of you again for a long time. It will be ok if I forget you entirely. It will be ok if I don’t. Either way, I’ll still be me.

todd-diemer-160708.jpg

Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

I’m going to leave you here. I have a lot of walking to do, a lot of me to discover, a lot of talents to develop, a lot of life to live, and a lot of love to give. I’m going to grow into someone better, someone more vibrant than I am now, if only because I’m too stubborn to quit.

I know that the beautiful, glowing me is inside somewhere. I look forward to meeting her and then introducing her to the world. She’s going to love it.

~J

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.

Day 293 With Dora

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like I’m making any progress at all. I want to just drop everything, get back on meds, and throw my hands up in surrender. I can’t learn life skills- are you kidding me?! I’m too weak and dumb and useless to change anything!

But sometimes, I manage to do something with ease, and I think that’s where the growth is. 

Today, my husband asked me to make a phone call, and I did. No panic attack. No anxiety from just considering it. I just called them, asked for what I needed, listened, scheduled an appointment, and then asked about (and scheduled) the appointment I’ve been too afraid to schedule for the last few weeks.

And I’m still ok. And my husband said thank you when he saw the event show up on our calendar. And that’s it!

And I think that these small events are where the progress happens, but I don’t notice them every time, because they are manageable now. I’ll try to catch more of them as they happen; I need that hope so I can keep going.

Days 110 & 111 With Dora 

Things are starting to go well. Yesterday, I was able to run two errands without The Flutenist along, for the first time in years. I had Dora with me and she filled the confidence boosting role. Now, keep in mind that these are things I am physically able to do, have done by myself before, and completely understand. I was just scared. Scared of going alone, of being outside, of being visible to others, of doing something stupid, etc. What did we do?

We took recycling to the collection dumpsters and ill-fitting clothes to a thrift store. That’s it.


I can’t really tell you why having her with me made it better/possible, but I cried yesterday because it was so sad that I hadn’t been able to do these things alone for such a long time. Often, when I make breakthroughs, the revelation of a new and healthier path is followed by me grieving over all the years I spent on my old, self-harming one. 😔

I also suggested a course of action AND took action on it within the same day.

And I made a phone call without needing 15-45 minutes to psych myself up for it this morning.

It’s… it’s really good. I’m actually starting to hope for things to be better.I haven’t had hope in along time. 😏 I don’t think there’s an emoji for sad smiles… one that means “Yes I know how bad that sounded and it really is that bad but all I can do is smile about how bad my life is because if I don’t I will break and I need to keep going.” 

Maybe one day.

(Note: Dora is still in training, but in my state, she is allowed to wear a vest and start practicing with public access at this time. The law is written this way so that dogs can be socialized to new experiences, people, environments, sights, smells, sounds, etc. before their handler takes custody of them. This allows trainers to work through any fear, disruptiveness, or other issues with a service dog trainee and for disabled people to receive dogs that are used to behaving well in restaurants, concerts, stores, parks, gas stations, public events, etc.)

Looking Back at Month 1

It seemed worthwhile to look at everything that’s happened since we got Dora a little over a month ago. It slips away too quickly otherwise.

  • I have started talking to several new people routinely. Mostly about Dora, when I’m with Dora, but still- we recognize each other now. That’s pretty good for a hermit.
  • I have started taking the car much more often. My husband and I share a car, and I feared becoming house-locked because without my own car I wouldn’t feel free to join things. It happened, but slowly. Now, I take the car at least 3 days a week- dropping off my husband and picking him up- mostly because of Dora.
  • I’m using public spaces for my own purposes. It’s cold. Really cold with windchill, and I can’t walk my dog outside for long periods of time. But Dora needs exercise and leash training. So I go to the stores. Pet stores, home improvement stores, any place that allows leashed pets. I still feel a bit guilty about it, but I do it anyway.
  • I talk to strangers as one off encounters too. Again, it’s usually about Dora and with her, but still, having a handful of positive conversations with dog lovers about how well behaved Dora is, how cute her ears are, how nice she looks, how old she is and so on, does brighten my day (which I could use).
  • A friend of mine has been coming over to play video games and hang out for about an hour, three days a week. She works at a school nearby and has an awkward break between her morning duties and school starting. It’s been good to see another person routinely.
  • I have asked people to accommodate me. If something is scheduled and I feel exhausted, then I contact them and ask to reschedule, or to change things somehow to allow me to complete it anyway. (As opposed to worrying about being a burden to the extent that I never allow anyone to be kind to me.)
  • I talk, sing, and laugh more during the days (because I’m not alone). Having Dora around to interact with does help ease the social isolation. I know she’s not an eloquent conversationalist, but she’s a responsive listener. That’s something.

There are probably a few more changes, but I think my husband was right about the benefits of getting a dog quickly and then training it ourselves (via co-training). Dora has been good for me.