What was inside the letter

After five years I wrote my mother a letter. It was “refused” and returned unread

In the last five years I have taken up photography. I have spent much of my day photographing birds. In doing that I have learned about their behavior, habits, and how they raise their young. It has been an incredible experience. I have met experts and spoken to them at length about different birds species. I now have friends that specialize in wildlife ecology, wildlife rehab, herpetology, and more. Most of all I have been mindful, watchful, and for hours every single day I immerse myself into nature.

Three years ago a mother owl brought her babies here. Two years ago one of the babies returned with her own babies. One of those babies had an injured leg. After consulting a rehab center for owls they told me to send them video daily. They did not have to intervene. The mother and the sibling and the father all stayed with the injured owl until she was healed and could fly which ended up being six months in our back yard. It was not the norm, but the family stayed together until they were all healthy and flew away. The entire owl family took part in ensuring that the injured owl thrived. Last year the baby with the previously injured leg came back with her two babies and one of HER babies had an eye injury. Again, I contacted the agency and they had me watch the owlet. He had some sort of brain injury as well. He would catch a bird or bug but not know what to do with it. So, he’d just hold it in his hand. They did not leave my yard for 3 months. The slept, hunted, and waited. Finally, they ventured out into the neighborhood and for 2 more months came back to sleep here at night. They are still near us. His sister is twice his size and his parents are massive compared to him. But he survived. His sister often fed him and stayed with him. Even after the parents tried to give him time alone to hunt, the sister stayed by his side watching over him and feeding him if he cried. He cried a lot! They were incredible to watch. I saw him a few weeks ago. He is still small but he is healthy and his eye and brain injury healed completely.

After the owls left we put up a nesting box and a pair of great crested flycatchers moved in. A male and female who laid eggs and made their nest in the box. Then another female came. She made a nest on top of their nesting box. We don’t know why. They are not studied very much so the university and many others were very interested in my documentation of their behavior. When the female’s nest fell off the top of the nesting box, the original birds’ babies hatched. The original male and female allowed the other female to feed their babies. I watched and videotaped them for almost 3 weeks as two females and one male all took turns feeding the babies and watching over the nest. It was a beautiful thing to be able to witness. They all flew away together and have just now come back to our yard, just two of them so far, and we hope they will nest in the nesting box again. It was highly unusual for a mated pair to allow another female to feed their babies. Imagine the strong impulse and instinct they each must have had to want their babies to be safe and cared for.

Last night we went to check on a killdeer that is a small bird who lays her eggs on rocks in the wide open. Two of her babies had hatched and were running around while the mother and father were taking turns sitting on the last egg and trying to take care of the two who hatched and came out running. We sat for 45 minutes keeping people away from the nest while the mother tried to come back to her hatching baby. I watched while the baby was hatching all alone in the rocks as the mother tried her hardest to get back to the egg but there were too many people encroaching on her space, us included. The killdeer does a broken wing fake that is supposed to lure people away from her nest. She was doing this and it was heart breaking because so any people were there she could not get back to her baby. I finally stepped in, with my mask on, in my wheelchair, and told people to get back and stood vigilantly until the ranger could get there. I watched as the baby was hatching all alone. The mother and father then realized other birds were coming near their first two hatched babies that were running so they were running around dive bombing other birds near their two babies while the mom was coming back and forth trying to get to her hatching egg. They could not do it all. One of the babies was killed by another bird and the father was left to protect the last living baby as the mother flew back and finally landed on her hatchling. The ranger was there and everyone agreed the mother and babies would be watched until safe from other humans, as humans seemed to be an equal threat as the other birds. It was heart wrenching to watch both parents trying to save their babies, protect them. Heart wrenching.

As for the owl that had previously been in my yard, it was decided that the owl had most likely been accidently poisoned by being fed an animal that had ingested something poisonous. Something human beings had put out maybe to deter rats or mice or kill them that ended up being fed to the baby, or insecticides put down got on a frog or lizard that was fed to the baby. The eye ended up not being injured but just a symptom of the neurological issues the baby owl was having. I find it disheartening the destruction humans can do in their own need for perfection, vanity, and egos.

Last week the state parks were closed. In fact I ended up being locked in one because I was dropped off there while he went running and I went to photograph great horned owls and THEIR babies who I’d been photographing for 3 weeks prior. I had also been photographing bald eagle babies. One of the great horned owls, unknown to me had been poked in the eye by a parent and they eye looked all bloody. I had missed that few days (but was informed of it) and I was there at the park photographing and the babies looked perfect. Then they closed the parks and I was locked in there for hours in the rain and ended up just keeping on photographing until the gate could be reopened. The wild life association messaged me and asked if I had been out and taken photographs and I said yes I had and sent photos to them so they were able to determine the babies were both fine and since the park was closed they no longer had to be monitored. So, it ended up a blessing I happened to be there. I did get to watch them that day all by myself for about 3 hours. The babies were there alone while the father watched over the nest in a tree next to them. The mother was out hunting and eventually brought back food. The babies were so fumbling and falling all over each other it was easy to see how an injury to one of the could happen to each other or by a parent because they were flopping all around. Thankfully they all ended up well. Both the father and the mother sat with the babies, watched over and protected the babies, and hunted and fed the babies. Each parent loved and groomed each baby constantly as well.

Prior to all of the bird experiences, I was volunteering at sweetwater wetlands park when I started photographing the wild horse herd that had come over from Payne’s prairie. I always have my camera with me, but when the horses came over, I would advise the people to keep their distance and not startle the horses. They would often try to touch them or get photos with them which would send the horses into a stampede endangering me and them and the horses. I did not mind being able to help protect them while also being able to photograph them. The horse herd was the most incredible. There were two mares and a colt and a filly and a stallion. Each mare would nurse each baby so I never knew which baby was with which mother because they shared all responsibility. The father would stand by. You’d think he would just be eating and not paying attention but then he would go and nuzzle the mothers and the babies. The babies would often play rough with him, and not do this with the mothers. They would bite him and they would run together. The father would play with them and allow it but finally stop them from getting too rough. They all worked together. The two babies and the two mothers and the father. Then another horse appeared. She was allowed to join the herd. The rangers said they thought she was released by a person who did not want her anymore on Payne’s prairie and just made her way to the herd because she was very tame. As soon as she joined the herd, she became the official guardian. She would roll around on the ground like a dog sometimes and then appear to be napping but I swear she’d always have one eye open. If a person came anywhere near the herd she jumped up and snorted and stomped her foot. That was HER herd and no one was going to come near them. The herd got used to me and although I kept my distance, I think they knew I was there to keep people away. I loved photographing them and watching them. I figured since I was in a wheelchair, somehow their instinct knew I was never a threat. I think all animals know this. They trust me. The new herd member had this huge mat in her mane. All of the other horses looked like thoroughbreds. Shiny and flowing manes like they were groomed daily, but they were wild and free. They each had their role and they never left each other’s sides. They were bonded, loving, playful, protective, and a close-knit family. One day I was out of my wheelchair sitting on the ground watching them way out in the water when the one-year old colt walked out of the water. He walked up close to me. There were others around. My husband was sitting behind me. The colt walked up to me and stood next to me. He then bent his nose down and I looked up at him. He put my entire face into his nose and breathed in and out. I breathed in and out with him. It was like he was breathing life back into me. Like he knew I was injured somehow and wanted to help me. My husband took a photo with his phone that I have framed of me on the ground with the colt over me his nose on my face. A wild horse had just touched his face to mine. The colt then raised up his head and stepped over me very so gingerly and went back into the water. The mare and stallion then came up and looked at me and stomped and then walked closer and both just looked at me, seem to give me the ok, then walked back to the herd in the water. That very colt injured his leg a few months later and the state came to intervene and try to save him. He could not put weight on it at all. I sat with him for hours with another volunteer, keeping people from coming up to him. The female that had joined the herd also had a very bad leg injury. She could barely walk and the swelling and pus around her leg was horrid. The state did not want to intervene because these horses were deemed wild and not to be interfered with but these horses were both in bad shape. I talked to the rangers at length. They were unsure if these two would have to be put down or not. The state rangers came and rounded up the colt and other mare and took them to get medical help. After an entire year both have healed but both are so tame, they cannot be re-released back to their family. It was heartbreaking to know they could never be free again with their family but they were saved from suffering and death and so it was for the best. The herd was then moved back to Payne’s prairie by the state rangers for their own safety. Both mares were pregnant at the time and I have heard from others that they both have had their healthy babies. The mothers (mares) nurse their babies for years so the mothers are nursing their newborns and their 2 year old children as well. I miss seeing them but I am glad that the herd I grew to love so much is safe out on the prairie and living free of humans and harm.

There has been a theme among all of the families of animals I have observed and photographed and been blessed to witness in these last few years. They are loyal and fiercely protective. They stay with each other no matter the injury or the loss. There are no set rules other than loyalty, love and protection. Yes, most are known to stay with their parents for a certain amount of time until fledged and off on their own and YET time and time again I have seen families stay together for months after they typically do if one is injured or not fully ready to be on their own. These families of animals are 100 percent devoted to each other. They do not leave. They even allow someone to help if need be to make sure that the babies are taken care of. The parents will fight for their young. They work together to protect their young and each other. I’ve watched and learned what wildlife is capable of and have been astounded, amazed, touched, enlightened to the instinct these animals have and the sheer amount of love they have for each other. I have been watching them for five years now since MY actual family, all of you, have been gone. I have photographed moments of male cardinals feeding female cardinals just because they love them. I have watched eastern blue bird siblings help the parents feed the newborns. I have watched and learned about what family is supposed to be. It has been a heartbreaking comparison to the family that I was born into. A family that could so easily walk away. A family that did not fight, did not protect and did not continue to love and stay by my side. It truly is a heartbreaking comparison to feel.

I have struggled with illness and as my own health has declined, my muscles have atrophied, my bones have broken, and seizures have injured my brain. I have advocated and loved and pushed myself beyond my limitations to be there for my daughter. That is what love is. Love does not leave or abandon or put limitations on love and conditions. Watching the animals and supporting my own daughter and loving my own husband while he loves me back has really opened my eyes to everything that has happened. Everything that each of you chose all along the way. Not just now but in the past. Many truths have been revealed to me. It has taken awhile to process them; the things others have shared as well as what I have accepted on my own. The harm that was done to me by molesters as a child will never compare to the devastation and loss of a family that should have stayed by my side and loved me. I understand now that it is not a reflection on me at all. It is a reflection of each of you and your inability do what animals do instinctually in nature. Each of you have broken a piece of my heart in ways that only each of you know. I am blessed to have a husband who has no limits on the love, support, kindness and protection he gives to our daughter and me. I am blessed to have a strong will and spirit to push past my pain and illness to take care of my family and my daughter. I am most thankful that I can still go out each day and find the beauty and the light and the good and the joy in this world. And share it! I photograph something each day no matter what and post it on istock or instagram or facebook and show everyone who knows me that I do not give up regardless of my circumstances. I can be throwing up with a kidney stone and still be out taking photos because each day is a gift and I am living with no regrets. I am bringing joy to others. That is what we are supposed to do. Give love, compassion, protection, unconditionally. I do it every day. And although my life is full of obstacles, and struggles, and painful excruciatingly painful truths, I have perseverance and lived in only the truth with the intention of doing good, finding good, and sharing the good. I leave you all with your own secrets as they are not mine to bear any longer. I want nothing to do with them. Those who have them know what they are and know that I know. It has disgusted me beyond words what those secrets and the protection of those secrets left me vulnerable to. As this letter is being written to many I will not specify as you know who you are and what you’ve done. Secrets or not, each of you decided to not have me in your life. Some I have reached out to, try to call or message with no reply. Others I know my life is better without the toxicity and inability of you to love me as I deserve.

I will leave you with this…last night I was photographing indigo buntings, and prairie warbler, both bright and vibrant and stunning. Then to the side I noticed a tiny swamp sparrow who was standing on one leg. I thought for a moment he had one leg raised like most birds do. Nope. He only had one leg. He was out there milling about, eating, joining other swamp sparrows. He hopped and flew and landed on that one leg. I took a photo of him standing after landing on that one leg. I cannot imagine what he went through to get there, the pain and suffering. But he was right there on that one leg amidst all of these other brilliantly colored birds. And I noticed him. I saw him. I appreciated him. I marveled at him. I smiled as I looked at the photo later knowing that with all of the cruelty in life, there is always something good. I have not changed. I’ve always noticed the little birds on one leg, I’ve always noticed the glass water on the lake and the way the birds soared over it. I’ve always been me. It is a shame that each of you did not notice, did not see…me. You’ve chosen. That little girl, the teen girl, the adult woman, the mother and wife, the sister, the daughter. It is not shocking now to realize you never saw me and therefore cannot see me now. Just know I am living each day to the fullest. I am loved and accepted by many, just the way that I am. They know my heart. I know my heart. I know that I am special in that I notice things most would just walk right by. I value each moment. It is shameful that you all, each one of you, were capable of discarding me. But that is not my shame to carry.

I will go out and find something beautiful today and photograph it and share it. Just like I used to take care of the elderly in the nursing home, just as I used to take care of wildlife when I did rehab, just like I did as a little child loving the animals and my family…I will love and help others and animals like I had hoped I would have received from my own family but did not. I have always and will always remain a good person. I don’t know any of you. I don’t know why you’ve done what you’ve done, what your intention is or was, and I no longer care. I will find beauty to offset the ugliness that I have endured. I will continue to live without regret, full of passion and compassion and love and truth. One day, perhaps, you will be capable of the same.

Bethany

This is the letter that I sent to my brothers and my father and my aunt. But mother, I’d like to leave this specifically for you. I’d like to write directly to you. Since in the past I wrote to my father and you assumed it was about you I want to be perfectly clear that this is for you. No miscommunication. No heresay or gossip. I wrote to my father five years ago and you made a choice. That choice to judge, make it about you, and leave me, destroyed me. The mother I knew my whole life would have come to this house and told me lets talk this out. You should have embraced me. I had just revealed the secrets of my torturous past that you all wanted to know. But you never came. I waited. And I became so angry. I sent back every photo of all of our family. I burned up every memory I could of you. You broke me. And I was angry beyond measure. I stayed angry for years until I realized that I was allowing everyone else’s narrative about me define me and it simply was not true. Like I said…I’ve always been me. You should have stood by my side but you didn’t. Instead you spoke of me to others lovingly and adoringly as if I were not, in reality, just dead to you. That’s what I am. I am dead to you. I went from angry to being so devastatingly sad. I no longer have a mother. A mother who is living and breathing. It is utterly devastating. I’ve seen these animals and the first person I want to all to tell about the owls is you. I’ve called you many times over the years but you never answer. My heart has been so broken to know I have a mother who…I have no idea who you are or what you think. I’ve cried night after night for years. Until I guess I can’t mourn you anymore. And then I hate you because I still love you and want my mother more than anything. Then I hate myself for wanting someone who has made me feel worthless.

There will never be closure because you closed a book that was only half over. The ending had so manny possibilities. So much room for growth and healing.

I suppose I will mourn you forever. It may be a part of you that doesn’t even exist anymore. That part that sewed my dolls clothes. That part that took me to dinner when I couldn’t drive and took care of my daughter and me so we wouldn’t feel alone. That mother that kissed me goodnight as a child. Those good parts. I don’t know if you have those parts anymore or if you only have them for other People. Please stop talking about me with nostalgia and sentiment to other people and making them think that somehow if I were to just “fix” this then it would be resolved. You and I both know that I’ve never stopped a resolution. It’s odd to know you are dead to your mother. I’d odd to know what to do with that. I’ve tried to overcome the years of abuse and ptsd oh and the diseases I have. But really mom, if anything kills me in the end, it will have been you. Because you were everything to me. And in the last five years it has been made painfully obvious I am nothing to you. I won’t even comment on your poor granddaughter. It’s utterly disgraceful that you as a human being could just cut off that precious child that adored you with all her heart.

Since there will never be closure I just wanted to tell you that I hate you for what you’re done and I will never stop loving you because you are my mom. But God only knows the pain you’ve caused. I wish you’d have chosen differently. You didn’t. And you won’t. So there will be this black hole forever I suppose.

I would die for my daughter. How I have a mother that would not do the same I will never ever understand.

Aside from all of the years of lying and stories and false narratives and illusions I just need to formally say…goodbye. If I am dead to me, I suppose you will have to be dead to me too. Goodbye mother. It was good while it lasted.

Bethany

Wishes are not reality

I created a narrative. The narrative was true but not in the correct order or context. So does that make it a lie in its entirety? Or did I just create the one sentence to make all of the other memories easier to bear? I think the latter.
In my mind Nana always said, “I’m sorry that Billy Banks did what he did to you.” That made Nana the one and only person who reached out to me, that I remember, who told me how badly she felt for everything I’d been through. My memory deceived me. That does not at all mean that all of my memories are lies or are confused. I’ve said from the beginning that with repeated ongoing trauma, the time line gets all jumbled up.
Last night I dreamed I had just had surgery for endometriosis. I was on the couch and Nana brought over the fake flower arrangement she made for me. She used to make these arrangements. It was black and white. I am absolutely sure of that because I remember thinking it was odd to give someone who had just had surgery an arrangement of black and white flowers. Where was the color. Where was the encouragement. It just seemed dead. She handed it to me and told me she was sorry that I had been through this. It was true. My dream.
I had awful periods and my mother was sure I had endometriosis like she did which caused a hysterectomy and her sister which caused her infertility. I had surgery of what I thought would be laparoscopic to remove endometriosis. I have always remembered distinctly the feeling I had when I woke up. I heard the doctor, interestingly the same doctor who delivered my brother and me, telling my mother that he had found endometriosis on my uterosacral ligament and that was all. He said he did a D and C to clear out my uterus of any endometrial tissue as well. After I heard this I reached down and under my hospital gown I was lying on a thick pad that I was bleeding onto. I had no idea he was going to be going into my vagina to do anything. Then telling my mother…I felt like I had been raped but I had no idea why I felt this way.
When I was 8 years old I became ill with what doctors now think was a precursor to the disease that had adult onset, which infact started when I was 8. I remember not being able to move without pain. I remember the pain being the same as the pain I have now. I also remember crawling to the bathroom. But that’s not true either. I didn’t crawl to the bathroom until I had the endometriosis surgery. After I came home from that surgery, the gas that they put in my abdominal cavity to move things around and search for the endometriosis, rose up into my shoulders. They told me it would take days to dissipate. If I sat completely up it was excruciating. So I crawled around. Until it finally did go away. Maybe I did crawl to the bathroom when I was 8 years old too. Maybe doing it as a teenager reminded me of that and that is what I remember most. But in my dream, which was a real recollection, I crawled down the hallway after that endometriosis surgery.
It took a long time to heal from it. I was weak.
I had come home from a waterskiing job, lived with one guy for a year, then came back home and I have no idea where I was living but I recovered from this surgery at home until my boyfriend at the time insisted he could take care of me at his house. As soon as I got back to his house, which he carried me into because I still could not walk, I had this sickening feeling I’d left a safe place for an unsafe one. But my house was never really safe. My memory of going back with my boyfriend to his house was that at some point in the relationship his wife came home. I head her high heels down the hallway and opening the bedroom door. I was mortified. I had no idea he was married. He was separated apparently. But that’s not the point of any of this. The narrative is. I had gone back to his house because he said he would take care of me after the surgery. My family made fun of him. He was 30 years old and I was only 19 or so. I always referred to him as “the humper” in my mind. You know how you can watch a dog hump on someone’s leg. That’s what he was always doing to me. Humping up against me. It was disgusting. But I was too weak to protest him taking me back to his house so I went.
At some point I broke up with him after finding out he was only separated from his wife.
My memories. All jumbled up. Very clear in my dream.
Before I was sick at 8 years old I was having urinary issues. So I had a surgery. They put me under anesthesia. Exploratory surgery of my bladder. I’m not sure what else happened in that surgery. I remember waking up and the nurse drawing with a pen on my sheets as to what was done. I remember being on a pad, naked, under a sheet. I remember the first time I peed it was very painful and that was at my Nana’s house but I never told anyone how badly it hurt to pee.
I continued having bladder issues, UTIs and my mother even sent me to her doctor to have urethra stretching done. This doctor put these smooth glass pieces in the urethra to stretch it. Getting bigger and bigger in hopes it made me get less UTIs. It was extremely painful. Is that when I peed at Nana’s house and it hurt too? I think so. It was all very clear in my dream.
I also had gotten a sexually transmitted disease that caused my cervix to have an abnormal Pap smear. That doctor did a cone biopsy to get clear margins. She told me she did not know if I’d ever get pregnant due to the cervical dysplasia and the endometriosis background.
I also had polyps on my cervix that a doctor twisted off. I told her to stop but she didn’t. She kept saying ONE MORE SECOND.
My dream reminded me of how many times doctors had made me feel violated. If you combine what the doctors were doing with the abuse that was going on…well it was pure hell. All of it. Even at 18 I had to see yet another specialist due to vaginal pain…I wonder why….he decided to cut the tissue out of my vagina and study it. I had multiple stitches. I was under anesthesia then too. He also put a cancer treatment on my vagina that swelled it closed so that I could not urinate at all. I had to go to the ER. All in the hopes to cure me. My poor vagina is all I can think. Violated by men, traumatized, ripped off and cut out by doctors.
But in all of this I have always thought that in the MIDST of this STORM of my life, Nana had comforted me. She had been the only one to come forward in the Billy Banks abuse to tell me how sorry she was it had happened.
But I created that. I guess I needed someone on my side in my own mind. I needed to know that someone was there to really know and give me empathy. In all reality there was no one. I was accused of being a slut by the gynecologist for the sexually transmitted disease. I couldn’t tell her it was from abuse. I was told by the surgeon who cut tissue out of my vagina that maybe the pain was from past abuse and trauma to the area. He didn’t know. But that did not stop him from using me as a guinea pig. I was too young to object, know better, or stand up for myself. I was desperate for an answer and a treatment. I never got one.
I woke up from my dream/nightmare thinking about my mother. She always acted like we are on the same team. She had endometriosis so I must have it too. She had a big butt so I had one too. She wanted us to be the same and talked about us as if we were. I didn’t need that surgery for endometriosis. I didn’t need any surgery I ever had.
I had a muscle disease that the doctors were too stupid to figure out. It affected my bladder and other muscles. They just “explored” on me and my bladder and my uterus and eventually I even let the doctors take a piece of muscle from my leg. I needed an answer. I had a muscle disease was the answer but the biopsy atrophied my leg.
Such a cost to me. Such a loss to me. I’ve been tossed in the devil’s den too many times to count anymore.
After waking up, everything makes more sense though.
Between the doctors and the abusers, my body was not my own. It still doesn’t feel like my own.
I thought Nana was there for me in a way that she was not. She was in other ways growing up. She was my safe place. She was a protector.
At least that’s how I remember it.
My memories have no real time line. I know they all happened and I know that I did what I had to do to survive.
I just don’t know if I am a survivor. I don’t feel like I’ve survived anything.
I recently wrote my mother a letter. Her husband’s daughter had told me that my mother spoke of me fondly. I’ve heard this before. Apparently all of my family speaks about me to others fondly. But it’s all a lie. They will tell you that they want a relationship but that I have not reached out. They will tell you that they love me and I won’t let a relationship happen. I believed for just one moment that maybe my mother did. I felt like, since 5 years ago when they all disowned me for speaking the truth about the abuse I’d experienced, that maybe they had NOT really disowned me. They don’t make it seem like that to others. I had some things that had been left unsaid. Some things that I had learned in the five years they had disowned me. I still felt that maybe one of them would come to my door one day.
Then I received my letter back from my mother “refused” circled on it and return to sender. And it hit me. In the five years I’ve been struggling, mourning, they really did just let me go. I had created this narrative in my mind based on what they told other people (lies) that maybe there was a chance my family did care.
I wasted five years.
My family did not just stop caring five years ago.
I’m not completely sure my family ever DID really care. I believe now, with these memories coming together, that I created a narrative where they did care about me. That made surviving the abuse tolerable.
That’s just not true.
I will never know what I was to them.
When you are dead to your parents what does that make you?
When your life has been a series of devastating events where does that leave you?
I am 48 years old with severe complex ptsd and seizures and a muscle disease and a bone disease and a vaginal disorder and trigemenal neuralgia and wide spread pain and atrophy. What will become of me now. What will the narrative of the rest of my life be? I’m the only one who knows the truth of it. I tell it here but the truth has not set me free.
It has made me alone. Would I rather be alone in the truth or surrounded by liars. Seems like it would be an easy question to answer. It isn’t.
I’ve begun to lose hope that there will ever be any normalcy in my life. Now that I am living in the truth and am aware of the truth in my past, I can a tiny bit understand why some choose to live in an illusion.
I can understand why I made Nana say she was sorry about what Billy Banks did to me because it was coping. But it wasn’t true. No one really cared about what Billy Banks did to me. And he was only one very very tiny part in the destruction of my childhood. Why would I ever have thought anyone would ever have cared about anything else.
I can only wonder what my dreams will remind me of next.
I know there is more I have suppressed.
I can hope it will stay buried in the recesses of my mind. But nothing does. The truth always comes whether we want it or not. I wish my truth were better. I wish it did not have so much tragedy. I wish my Nana really would have said what I thought she did. Wishes are not reality….

Connecting the dots TW

If I told you of all the men, you would not believe me.
“Til it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels…you won’t know, it won’t be real…won’t know how it feels.” Lady Gaga

I think if I purge it all then I will be free of it. I talk of it as if it will release each memory and go into this space of the internet where all will be cleansed and free of the pain. I just don’t know if that’s true. But keeping it inside of me will destroy me. So I speak it. It makes me feel worse at first. I feel vulnerable. I think others will judge me or think I’m making it up or I’m crazy or give them reasons to shift blame to me. Then when I stop thinking of them and I have stopped thinking about the event I wrote about, a little tiny place inside of me feels…vindicated. I’ve kept their secrets and after I reveal them then I feel some sense of justice even if real justice will never happen for me. And it won’t. All of these men can’t be found, prosecuted, held accountable for what they did. And they are not thinking of me. They are not suffering. They are sociopaths, psychopaths, pedophiles who did not think of me for a second after I was gone. There will never be justice for me. I can just let out what I can into this internet space of men who will read this and get pleasure from my pain. That’s a chance I’m taking. It wasn’t everything that was done to me as much as how it all made me feel. That ONE moment. There was always a moment of realization. Where I knew I had been used up and tossed aside. Right before that moment, I could have been feeling joy or maybe even loved. Then came the moment of loss. The realization that if I allow myself to feel joy or love that it will be taken in the cruelest of fashions. I was so groomed and brainwashed that every form of affection was interpreted as love until it caused pain and only then did I see it for what it was. I was so manipulated and tricked and forced that I knew nothing of purity and goodness from men.

I met someone who lived in Indiana a few days ago. I told this person I had a waterskiing job there. I went on with my day and later that night I grabbed a handful of chocolate chips. Then the flash came. I remember being picked up from the airport for that job in Indiana and taken to the home of the director of the job. He was so handsome and I was so flattered that he thought I was beautiful and he gave me so much attention. It was days of sex and just being in his bed and showering and more sex. I’d never been treated so affectionately or adoringly. He never offered me any food or meals so I would go into his refrigerator and get bread and in the pantry was peanut butter and chocolate chips. So I made myself a sandwich. Peanutbutter and chocolate chips. I created this fairytale that I’d go to my first day on the job queen of the world. This man must have loved me! It was this automatic love! We drove to work through the corn fields and they were beautiful. We were in his jeep and I was waving my arm up and down like the blowing corn. Surrounded by corn. I saw myself smiling in the mirror. I felt joy. I had just escaped my home life where I was abused by the ski team for my entire childhood and finally I got this job in Indiana and I was free!
We got to work and he dropped me and my suitcase off and acted like he had just picked me up from the airport. He told me I’d be staying in the skihouse with all the other skiers. He did not touch me again. I was 16 years old. He was 25 years old. That would be considered rape in the laws now. In this county and city at least. But…Too many had already had sex with me. I knew no different.
I looked at the chocolate chips in my hand just two days ago and remembered that part of the story that I’d forgotten. I remembered him and what he did. He humiliated me multiple times later in my career just because he could. He neded up at the job I took at Seaworld years later. Everytime I thought I was free I wasn’t. I have put together over the years that the entire waterskiing community was connected. I was abused every place I went that was waterskiing. And that was everywhere. That’s what I did. I skied. That was my job. My career. My passion. And it took me to different places from Indiana to Costa Rica to Canada all to be abused by different men.
Everyone was connected. I made a chart one day to see the connection.
Each line connected one, two, five, 10. Each one was an added secret. Each one was a new loss. But all connected.

I ran into an old friend from the lake who introduced me to his friend when I was late teens. I knew I would be safe with this guy because he said he was saving himself for marriage. But he liked to videotape making out with girls. I’d never been videotaped before. Half way into the videotape he told me that he didn’t believe that anal sex counted as sex and he would still consider himself a virgin. His plan was to trick girls into making out with them under the premise that he would stay a virgin so they’d be safe only to find out with the videotape rolling that what he considered virgin was not what they considered. That was one of the only times in every scenario where I stopped everything. I don’t know why he was different but I told him to stop and I told him to give me all of his videotapes of all of the girls. Maybe it was me realizing that he’d tricked all of these girls into having his kind of sex with them. I could never stand up for myself but the idea that he’d done this to others made me stand up for them in the best way I could. He’s out there. Married. All of them are I’ve kept tabs on them. I like to know where the abusers and manipulators and rapists are. They are all married with kids and grandkids.

When you watch movies and documentaries of sex trafficking you see women and girls tied to beds drugged with men having sex with them 24/7. This does happen. I know many women through abuse programs that this has happened to. Violent rapes with beatings. Not all sexual trafficking is that.
In my case, one man, when I was 11, told another man. Then I went to ski school at age 13 and that man told another man in Indiana and then that man told the guys at Seaworld, That waterskiing world was connected to my church and the theater group I was in. Everything was connected and every person told another person so that there was no place on earth I was safe.

Our town had a group of men who had sex with each other behind their wives backs. They had affairs and who knows what else. Love? I don’t know. It’s been said some were in love with their lovers. I don’t know how they felt, I just know it happened. Secrets in the church. Secrets on the ski team. Secrets on the lake. Secrets in the theater. Secret affairs. Secret molestations.
Nothing could bring attention to the men and what they were doing. Having sex with each other. Some men who were molesting the little girls were FRIENDS with the other men having sex with other men. THESE MEN! THOSE MEN! How could one man stand up for me when he was cheating on his wife with another man and his secret could come out? Some of these men came out as gay many years later. Some of those men did not hurt me but didn’t they? They were all part of the inner circle secret. Each had a secret of their own. None of it was good. None of this scenario was good.

The inner circle secret. One man connected to another by either sharing me or by using me to keep their secret. They knew about the secret of me but their secret was more important than saving me. You may think oh they were just gay men who could not come out. Let me tell you that any man or woman who allows a little girl to be abused just so their own innocent sexual identity won’t be shared, is not innocent. These were men. Married men. Allowing a little girl to be abused and caring more about themselves. Am I to feel sorry for them? Poor man who cannot just be with his male lover? While cheating on his wife? While knowing what happened to me but pushed it under the rug? I don’t accept that.

I am not talking about homosexual orientation and whether it is right or wrong. I am talking about a specific set of men who surrounded my life and allowed me to be tossed around like garbage because they were more important. And this is not just about the men either. You don’t think some of the women knew? Oh they did! And I held them MORE accountable than the men! That was then. I’d say it’s a level playing field now of the men and women involved that kept secrets.

I wrote out a chart of every man who had ever hurt me. How all of the men were connected. I kept going back to that moment my father shook the hand of the man who destroyed my entire childhood after my father KNEW this man had abused me. The big man on campus, on the lake, head of the ski team. They shook hands. My father shook hands with the man who abused me and ruined my childhood. They were the inner circle. Those two men. I could draw lines to and from everyone from each of them.

Chocolate chip memories and secret men groups. How will writing about all of this help me? I am not sure yet. But I know keeping it inside will destroy me and I really do want to live beyond this.

My family washed their hands of me long ago. As did every man who ever touched me. God how I wish I could wash the stench of all of them off of me!
Somehow their inner circle of secrets has gotten so large that it enveloped me.
Connecting the dots has brought the evils of the world into the light. It stayed in the recesses of my mind in the dark until it could stay there no longer.
Remember as a child you’d connect the dots and draw the lines and in the end you’d see a picture of a pony or cat. I connected the dots of an inner circle of darkness and found that what I’d hoped for all along never could have happened. I could have never been saved. There was no one to save me.

Eating disorders.

I like this me now. Healthier brain and body.

This me is hard to look at from years in the past.

I was less than 100 lbs when I met my husband. Drinking slimfast for breakfast and lunch and who knows what for dinner. Biking, working out, running stadiums…and not eating.

It took me far into my marriage to understand that I had an eating disorder. It took even more years to grasp why I had it.

It did not start out as a conscious choice. I had to be under 110lbs to be on the top of the pyramid at my job at Seaworld. The more acts you were in the more you got paid. Top of the pyramid paid more money.

That morphed into control. My entire life, control had been taken from me and now I could control how I looked. What I saw in the mirror is not who I see in this photo. I thought I looked healthy. I look emaciated. I’ve found other photos where I look worse.

After the muscle disease diagnosis, and the inability to work out anymore, that need for control got even stronger. But, you cannot starve an already dying muscle. So I started to eat.

I see anorexic women. All the time. And men. I saw one at the park today. I saw one in my neighborhood a few days ago. And I KNOW. And it PAINS me. I want to scream YOU ARE KILLING YOURSELF STOP STARVING YOURSELF. But it would not matter. I want to yell I KNOW HOW MUCH PAIN YOU ARE IN AND WHY YOU ARE DOING THIS. But they would not believe me. Sometimes you just have to come to it on your own. When people would comment how thin I was I thought GOOD I will keep getting thinner then! They want me to gain weight, I will lose it because I can and they cannot control me! The thinking is very distorted.

Someone said to me once that they could not believe anorexic people choose not to eat when others around the world are starving. I promise you it is not that simple. It is deeply complex. My anorexia was rooted in the sole focus of my body. Men wanted my body. They wanted to use it and abuse it. Everything was about my body and how I had no control over it. So, I thought I gained control with food. That is how I would get my body back.

That is not how I got my body back. I had to separate what was done to me from who I was as a person. I had to take back what was stolen from my body by loving it and nourishing it. It was very very difficult.

I’ve had people say..oh that’s why you got the muscle disease. Sorry hon…faulty genes gave me the muscle disease. Never blame a person for something they cannot control. It just snowballs and makes everything worse.

Therapy diagnosed me but I decided to tackle the eating disorder on my own. I’ve known many women who did the opposite of what I did, and gained weight purposely for the same control reasons. You just don’t know us until you’ve walked in our shoes. Why we are too thin or considered overweight. You just don’t know why and should not assume. It is a battle! For me overcoming abuse has been the battle of my life! You’d think it would be this muscle disease. Overcoming THAT! No. It’s the abuse that has haunted me.

I’d say I overcame the eating disorder but that would not be fully true. I will be in bed at night knowing that I’ve eating many meals and thinking I’m hungry. I will then try to talk myself out of going and getting food. “You don’t need it! You’ve had enough! Just sleep.” But now I listen to my body that says, “but I’m hungry” and I get up and go get something to eat. There is an ongoing dialogue that I wish were not there but may always be. I look in the mirror and think I’m fat. Then I look at a photo and think UGH I’m so fat and I can’t work out and there is nothing I can do because of the muscle disease. Then I have to tell myself…you are doing the best you can at being your authentic self so lets not put a weight number on that. And then I step away from the mirror and don’t think about it anymore. At some point I got a scale and realized I weighed 135 lbs and I ALMOST slipped. Then I got rid of the scale. I was honest with my family and said take it away! I cannot focus on my body in THAT way. I can focus on it doing yoga, breathing, making sure I get enough protein for my muscles. I cannot look at a scale.

Acceptance has been a huge turning point in all of my biggest moments in life. Accepting the extent of the abuse. Accepting that I have PTSD. Accepting some of the choices I made because of the abuse. Accepting that some of those choices were not as much in my control as I thought. They were abuse choices.

My first meal after I decided to eat was after my decision to be mindful. Mindful of textures and aware of the sunlight on the leaves. I did not eat mindlessly. I ate mindfully and enjoyed and savored every single bite of food. I had never really enjoyed food. Now I LOVE food! And I love that I’m able to love food. Mindfulness has been an opening to healing for me in many ways. It brought me to photography which has truly saved my life!

Just like a smell will trigger PTSD, a comment about how I look will make me immediately make me want to control how I look. People think they are paying me a compliment when really they are bringing back my focus on my physical me. Innocent on their part but what a conflict in my head. “What makes me more abusable? Being thin? Gaining weight? What makes me safer?” Dialogue. Unhealthy dialogue. At least I am aware of it now.

Abuse has LONG lasting affects. I don’t use them as an excuse when I write this but more as an educational tool for someone going through it or someone who knows someone going through it. After abuse the wires get crossed in what survival mode really means. Our mind thinks to survive we must do…Fill in the blank, ,because at one time that served us and maybe saved us. Like freezing saved me during abuse but it does not save me when a smell triggers me and yet my brain doesn’t quite get that. In this country women are so sexualized from such an early age and bombarded with commercials and social pressure that it is a miracle not every female struggles with eating disorders even if they were not abused like I was. I’m thinking more women struggle with it than anyone knows because most of what I speak about has such a stigma attached that it is kept a secret.

That’s why I wrote about it in my original blog Not My Secret because only in speaking the truth can we free ourselves from the chains others and society and abuse have put on us. Stigmas and judgment about eating disorders, ptsd, anxiety, mental illnesses, sexual assault. I will keep talking about it because it needs to be talked about. My old blog was focused on releasing secrets. My new blog is more focused on how I am healing while keeping an honest transparent voice all along the way. In silence, we are trapped. Use your voice and you will find the chains will slip off easier than you think and you will nolonger be tied to the trauma as firmly as you were TAUGHT. You were taught to be silent. SPEAK and start the journey to freedom.

The dark place Tw

There is a dark place. A dark space. It is where I go when something triggers a memory of the abuse I had to live through. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to ever feel those feelings again. The dark place lies in a frozen state between now and long ago. It used to be a place of survival. I froze to survive. It first happened when I was a child being molested by an old man, and then his friend, and then his friend. It was a space of deep fear and survival instincts. A place of pain and loss. After a childhood of this place, I never thought I would experience it again until a number of years ago when I was sexually assaulted as an adult.
As a child I was so conditioned and programmed, and it happened so regularly that my brain and body knew how to shut down. I was on autopilot. I minimized the gravity of what had been done to me because it was all through a child’s eyes. When the same thing happened to me as an adult, every event I had blocked out as a child came flooding back. I thought I knew most of it but it was a mere fraction of the truth of my past. There were many that played a part in the destruction of my childhood and teenage years. It is a story of secrets and lies and abuse by too may to count, all at the cost of me.
As an adult the assault took me back to the place I had created as a child. I believe that is what saved my life. It benefited me at that moment but it is not benefiting me now.

I did not fight. I did not scream. I was frozen. I could not feel my arms or my legs. The sound of his voice was droning in my ears but fading in and out as I focused on things like the door knob and the telephone and the way he was pacing like an animal in a cage. It is a place in the mind that later feels like a weakness and a shameful behavior. It is hard to redefine those times of abuse as “survivor” or “warrior” when it really just was horror that still gives me nightmares every night of my life.
What I learned as a child was to never speak. Stay quiet. Be a good girl. Be still. And that is what I did as an adult which made him furious at first but also, most likely saved me. My head was spinning and I could not hear the words coming out of my mouth but when I did, I was begging. “Please just let me go.”
I do not choose to feel these feelings again but PTSD is a diagnosis that explains why trauma resurfaces sometimes daily.
PTSD is the dark place.
I want to stand up for myself. I want to say what I’m feeling in the moment. I want to be able to walk away (or drive away in my wheelchair) but I go to the dark place.
The smell of certain colognes and aftershaves take me there. Certain songs. Having a man come in my house to fix something that is broken that I don’t know. Not being able to get a smell off me. Dark place.

The baby owl story:
Last week I was out for a walk in my wheelchair and I was told of two baby barred owls in a nest. Being an animal lover and photographer I headed in that direction. I saw one baby in the nest and heard the distinctive cry of the owl. I also heard another cry on the ground. There were other people passing by and stopping and going and asking me questions but they did not really exist at that moment to me. I had to find the baby. There was a hawk that was flying near. The baby was crying. So I got out of my wheelchair and I crawled and crawled until I got the baby and wrapped her in a towel. When I got back in my chair I could not think. I knew I had hurt my hip and I was starting to shake. The mother owl landed at my feet. She looked at me. The baby looked at me. (Barred owl mothers cannot put their babies back into the nest)
I had opened an umbrella to try to keep the hawk away. People were asking me questions and I was ignoring them. My brain kept saying “ you have to save the baby, you have to save the baby” over and over again. ( I later apologized to those people and said I was really in another world at the moment). The mother was calling and I kept thinking what she must feeling not being able to save her baby and wanting to. I also kept thinking why did my mother or father or brother ever save me! They pretended like nothing ever happened to me. Anyway…I called the wild life rehab and everyone I knew. It took a few hours to get to someone and have them come meet me. I started to cry. I rocked the baby bird. I sang to the baby bird Amazing Grace and she fell asleep. Then I cried more. No one ever saved me. No one ever held me. No one ever sang to me and told me it would be ok as a child when I had clearly fallen out of the nest and into a den of vicious men. I went to the dark place.
When the rehabber got there she took the baby and I knew the baby would be in perfect hands. She was. The baby was fed and gained weight and was returned to the nest a few days later after a bad storm had passed.
I don’t remember getting all the way home. I just remember that I poured lemon juice all over my body, then alcohol, and I scrubbed my skin raw like I did as a child to try and remove the pain. I did not sleep for 3 nights. Thinking about the mother wondering where her baby was felt like it was destroying me. The mother owl, that night, flew with me as I went home. She landed in trees next to me.
When the owl was put back in the nest I went down to see her. I took photographs and planned to monitor the baby who I had named Melody until she was stronger, incase the rehabber had to come and get her again. Melody and her sibling who I named Lyric immediately snuggled and preened. I went down daily and for a few days Melody looked very weak. I lay in bed thinking would she have to be taken away from her mother forever? Would that be for the best? I mean should she starve or be saved and never see her family again? Would she be able to ever learn to hunt if she had to go back to rehab? She had to be safe and that was all that mattered and I declared I would make sure that she was. I prayed round the clock. I’ve always been this way about animals. Connected on a deep level. But this was different.
Due to the place that Melody fell from the tree, many neighbors gathered to look at the owls every day. They are beautiful. I went down every day and wrote extensive notes on Melody’s movements and if she was flapping her wings, all to note for the rehabber if she was getting stronger.
I realized soon after all of this that I had refractured the same hip that I fractured twice last year. Due to the bone disease and muscle disease I always know it is a possibility. This makes me feel weak. Feeling weak takes me to the dark place.
I had felt these feelings before this disease but I could always go for a run, punch a punching bag, or lift weights to ward them off. In place of that, since these diseases, I have taken up photography instead. It brings me joy.
My therapist and psychiatrist ( there is no shame in admitting I get help for PTSD even if someone later uses it against me by calling me crazy, and they have, I get treatment for the trauma) told me to try and rewire my brain and fill it so full of good that it will overpower the bad. So I take a thousand photos a day to create and experience 1000 good moments. Most of the time it works and will outdo the PTSD moments. But not this week. A few little angels were placed before me not even knowing how important they were in grounding me in the now.
This week a few women have taken it upon themselves to treat me poorly. That is putting it lightly. They have gossiped about me. They use the premise of just being “concerned” about my safety when telling me to GO HOME when I am photographing the owl baby. There will be 20 people but I am the only one told to lower my voice, turn my wheelchair light off as it is disruptive (as if all the car lights and streetlights are not worse), and it goes on and on. Wheelchairs should not be in the road…even though we have no sidewalks and people bike and push strollers daily! And I have used this chair for 14 years! All of a sudden I’m put under a microscope on where I park, how I close the gate, etc and etc. I’m yelled at from doorways to “make sure you are being careful” in the MOST NOT actually care about me tone you could imagine. More bullying tactics that catch me off guard and startle me.
It’s not the women that upset me though. It’s ME that upsets me. They are pathetic, cowardly, passive aggressive, narcissistic bitches. I know that. But when they speak down to me or berate or embarrass me, I shut down. I cannot speak. I cannot say what I want to say. I am even nice. It’s sickening.
When I was locked in the garage with the man who was sexually assaulting me with his gun leaning against the door, I was nice.
These women are not that man.
These women are not the men who raped me as a young girl.
But they make me go back to the dark place.
They trigger PTSD.

Here I am with a bone disease, a muscle disease, a fractured hip, just trying to watch out for the baby I saved and somehow I am a target.

I get that. I have been a target before. The wheelchair puts me as a target. Being a little girl left alone with men, with parents who did not watch over me, made me a target. Being abused as a child and groomed to be silent makes me a target.

But I am kind. I am generous. I am loving. I don’t deserve to be a target but I cannot control other people. I also cannot control the PTSD. My nature is to love and that is why I helped with wildlife rehab for 10 years and was a hospice chaplain.

Out of all of the beauty I have experienced this week, the birds that I tell you God put there in front of me because He knew I was in need. Birds I have been looking for for years just appeared in front of me. It has been an incredible week of neighbors reaching out and being kind and understanding, being helpful and accommodating. Yet all it takes is one person to freeze my body and take me back to when I was 11 years old feeling the weight of a 60 year old man on my back and listening to the clock ticking not being able to breathe.

This week has been one of the darkest in a long time. Everyone thought saving that baby bird must have been wonderful. It was excruciating. Holding her as she was crying was excruciating. It reminded me of how alone PTSD makes me. It reminded me of how many times I was never saved. It reminded me that my worth to so many people who have abused me, to include my own parents, is nothing. I did not just have one trauma. I had thousands. And no one did anything. No one’s lives changed. But mine. So holding that baby owl was like holding me. I was holding myself. Giving that baby away was like giving away my own safety. I felt alone again in the dark place of PTSD.

I decided about five years ago to speak my truth and only my truth. I cannot always do it in the moment but I can do it after the fact. That is what I am doing now. I am being transparent and honest. Many nights this week I went to bed hoping that I would never woke up again. My therapist is on speed dial. Then I wake up and start fresh. I look for beauty in nature, in people, in wildlife and I hope that the good will outweigh the bad.

I am
In a dark place
Hoping for light
Knowing when I go to sleep the nightmares will come
Like they always do.
I am fighting battles that only someone who has gone through it could possibly understand. Rape victims and trauma survivors are often very lonely…because of the dark place.

I am not ashamed to speak of what was done to me.

There is a stigma against mental illness, PTSD, anxiety, violence against women, and I will stand up to it all by speaking my truth..when I can. I hope to educate others about what we go through so that maybe you can bring a little bit of light to the dark place.

The rehabber took this photo of Melody and me before she took Melody to be cared for.
Melody and Lyric back in the nest
Melody
Two days ago, mama watching as Melody was learning to leave the nest