Rooting Around in the Closet

Go get a drink and a snack; this might take a while…

Most of my long-time readers know that I grew up in circumstances that were… well… less than ideal.  Despite having myself emancipated at 17 and finally refusing to see my biological parents at all (after repeated failed attempts to establish a non-abusive relationship with them) ten years ago, I think that I’ve managed to adjust in ways that are surprisingly healthy.  I have a strong, stable, loving marriage.  I make and keep friends.  I can hold a job (one in which I work with children, even).  What I’m saying is that there is nothing in my life to indicate that my past is in any way damaging to who I am and how I behave.

For all that I had it figured out, though, I discovered, about two years ago, that there were chinks in my proverbial armor.  Stupid little things that my older daughter would do or say could send me into completely irrational (and, not for nothing, frightening) places.  I’m talking dumb shit, too; she’d leave her wet towel on the floor, she’d forget her homework on the dining room table, she’d roll her eyes when I asked her to do something she didn’t feel was her responsibility.  Everyone I’ve talked to tells me that nothing can bring someone to their knees faster than a teenage child, and all of these are things a teenage kid does, of course – nothing to see here – but the vehemence of my internal reactions shocked me.  My responses were not proportional.

About two months ago, after a particularly fun afternoon with my daughter, I made a phone call.  A few weeks prior to that, Mrs. S, the guidance counselor at CHS, had recommended a couple of names of therapists who might be able to help us smooth the way through Punkin’s adolescence, but I’d just kept them in reserve until I thought I needed them.  That day, though, I thought I needed them, so I made an appointment with the woman of whom Mrs. S had spoken most highly, and we were on our way.

The counselor, let’s call her Kelly, is wonderful.  She’s straightforward, no-nonsense, and exudes a kind of calm fairness that I can see Punkin’ responding incredibly well to.  Part of Kelly’s plan was that she would see the entire family in a bunch of different permutations; Punkin’ and me, Punkin’ alone, Punkin’ and Beanie, that kind of thing.  After two or three sessions with Punkin’ and me together, Kelly asked to see me alone (well, she asked to see me and Mr. Chili together, but he couldn’t get out of work for that appointment, so she got just me).

The morning of our appointment was a doozie.  For starters, Punkin’ decided that she wasn’t going to get up with her alarm (and I had decided that I wasn’t going to drag her through every… single…morning anymore).  When I walked into her room at about 6:30 to let her know that it was well and truly time to get up, she screamed at me that I was “mean.”  Okay.  Whatever.  I calmly left the room and went about the rest of my morning.

Punkin’ managed to make it downstairs and proceeded to bang and stomp and slam and…. well, you get the idea.  At one point, Mr. Chili asked her what she was so upset about, and she answered that I had woken her by telling her it was time to go, and she was furious at having thought that I’d do that to her.  When I explained to her that not only was that not what I said, but it couldn’t have been what I said because a) it would have been a lie, b) she can tell time and could plainly see that it wasn’t time to go, and c) the fact that the rest of the family were still in the kitchen would indicate that it wasn’t yet time to go, she rolled her eyes and said, “well, that’s what I HEARD, and it was MEAN!”

Okay.  Whatever.

At this point, I should note, I’m still good.  I was compassionately detached from her drama and was focused on getting my stuff together so I could go to work.

Punkin’ asked if she could have a peanut butter and Fluff sandwich for lunch and I relented.  Fluff, if anyone doesn’t know, is a New England thing; it’s essentially semi-melted, spreadable marshmallow, and is popular as a pairing to peanut butter (in fact, I sometimes use it to fill the little peanut butter cookies I make (the other fillings are jam and chocolate, in case you were wondering).  It’s yummy, but there’s not a thing about it that’s healthy.  I let her have the Fluff in the interests of not fighting; usually, school lunches are required to achieve at least some nutritional balance.

A few minutes later, I walked into the kitchen to get my own lunch and I passed by her sandwich on the counter.

No lie, you guys; the thing had to be three inches thick.

Now, here’s where we separate the intellectual from the emotional.

Intellectually, it was no big deal.  She’s a kid, and kids love sugar and have very little sense of proportion; I remember being a kid and eating stuff like that from a spoon.  I’m sure it would have worked out to be something like 5 cents worth of Fluff.  My daughter is not diabetic and would have no problem processing this sandwich for her lunch.  While she knows better than to make a sandwich like that (I’ll get to that in a minute), big picture, it wasn’t really a big deal.

Emotionally?  I completely lost it.  My insides got tight, my thinking got fuddled, and as I looked from the sandwich to the kid (and before I could say anything, the kid in question said “Yeah, I know, it’s too much.  Whatever.  It’s made, I can’t unmake it, I’ll eat it all), I found myself completely speechless.  I finished what I needed to do in the kitchen, turned to my husband and said “you’re taking the girls to school this morning,” kissed him goodbye, got my briefcase, got into my car, and cried all the way to work.

Awesome, no?

I could not tell you then – and can’t really even tell you now – what it was that triggered that response in me.  The whole way to work, I’m telling myself, “it’s just a sandwich, it’s just a sandwich,” but that didn’t do anything to relieve the crushing feeling.  I managed to pull myself together and get through my work day, then headed – eagerly, I might add – to see Kelly.

“Kelly,” I said as I walked in the door, “you’re going to love this.  I lost my shit over a peanut butter and Fluff sandwich this morning.  What are you gonna do with THAT?”  She grinned at me and, in the process of our talking together, decided that she wanted me to undergo something called EMDR.  EMDR – eye movement desensitization and reprocessing – is a technique that helps the brain rework trauma responses to render them harmless, and Kelly thought, based on what I’ve told her, that I’d be a perfect candidate for this treatment.  She gave me a contact name – we’ll call her Natalie –  told me to bypass the front desk and talk directly to Natalie’s voice mail, and to drop Kelly’s name.

I had my first appointment yesterday.  It was just a “getting to know you” visit – nothing major was done – but I decided that I can work with Natalie and I think that this might do me a lot of good.

I have no idea what I’ve got buried in my proverbial closet; there’s far more about my life before 17 that I don’t remember than I do.  Clearly, though, some of whatever is in there is poisoning the way I deal with stress in my present-day life, and I’m not okay with that.  I am highly invested in making sure that I don’t fuck up my job as a parent, and I’ve got to admit that my biggest motivation for doing this therapy is so that I don’t lose myself and do or say to my children was was done and said to me.  I worked very hard to be the one to break that chain, and I’ll be damned if it’s going to come back at me now.

I’ve decided (clearly) that I’m going to write about the experience of this work.  Not only do I want to document it for me (and for my daughters), but I also want to put this out there in case anyone recognizes what’s happening to me as something that happens to them.  I don’t want to hide this if having someone else see it can do some good in the Universe.  My next appointment with Natalie is scheduled for August, but I’m on her cancellation list, so I may get in sooner.  Watch this space…



Filed under compassion and connection, concerns, doing my duty, family matters, frustrations, health, Home and Family, learning, messages from the Universe, my oh-so-exciting life, Parenting, ruminating, strange but true, technical difficulties, this is NOT a drill, Worries and Anxieties, WTF?!

15 responses to “Rooting Around in the Closet

  1. Chili,

    I feel a sense of kinship on this one, except it is my husband, not yet my kids that elicit a far too strong emotional response. I had fabulous, non-abusive parents. Probably why I never said anything to them when I had a 6 year relationship with someone who emotionally and verbally abused me. I am obsessed with sociopath survivor websites (like because that is the closest thing I can find to what he was like.
    We can’t yet afford to send me to a therapist. I told my husband that I don’t want to go unless I know that we will be able to afford to continue going as long as I need to. I’ve watched him stop and start with different therapists for his own problems several times due to billing issues. We will be able to do some family therapy on his insurance though, now that he’s found one that his insurance definitely does foot a large portion of the bill on.

    I sometimes think my over-the-top internal reactions (can you feel your heart pumping up through your throat into your brain?) are due to PTSD. I guess I will have to wait until I see the experts before I can really know.
    I’ve heard good things about EMDR. Good to know that I’m not the only one going through these kinds of things, even though I wouldn’t wish this on anybody else.

  2. the sandwich you describe isn’t just a New England thing – we call them “fluffernutters.”

    I’m eagerly waiting to read what you have to say with your experience. There is a lot of stuff that I know I have to hash through & I’ve tried counseling more than a few times, but haven’t been satisfied. I know, however, that I react to a lot of stuff that my kids do by completely shutting down & that clearly isn’t healthy.

  3. Rowan

    Thanks. I applaud your courage and determination to get to the bottom of this. I, too, have heard good things about EMDR but haven’t found anyone near. Good energy is sent your way.

  4. Prep, this is part of why I’m posting this; even though our situations aren’t exactly aligned, what’s happening to me resonates with you. If I have something to offer you in my experience with this, that makes it that much more important.

    ms_t, I knew Fluff wasn’t forbidden outside the borders of New England, I just didn’t know how far out the stuff extended. We call them fluffernutters here, too.

    I deal with my overreactions to things by shutting down, too; I don’t want to let out whatever yucky it brings up, so it’s better for me to just remove myself. My hope with this therapy is to not have to do that, though; I love the idea of “rendering harmless” some of the things that dumb shit triggers, you know?

    Rowan, thanks. All good energy is, as always, gratefully and joyfully accepted. I’ll keep you all posted.

  5. wxchick

    So proud of you for taking this step and for deciding to blog about it. It’s an incredible journey you’re setting out on. One that will be painful, at times overwhelming, and yet renewing. Hang on to your hat and jump in feet first. Good luck. We’re here rooting for you.

  6. The last time I commented on your relationship with your kids, I am not sure my thoughts were particularly welcomed, but what prep said above made me realize something that I thought might be useful. I had the same over-the-top reactions to an ex of mine – I would scream at the top of my lungs at him, and even lash out physically, when I have never had a temper to speak of with anyone else, neither before nor since. Something about the way he provoked emotions in me was different, and I really can’t chalk it up to anything in my background. There was literally nothing I could do to calm myself down; even after counting to ten, I was still just as angry.

    I think it had something to do with the futility of my actions and reactions towards him, and that I knew nothing I did or said would change the infuriating, emotionally abusive, and dysfunctional ways that he behaved. When I was up against a wall with him, I shouted and kicked at the wall instead of turning and trying to find a more open path to walk.

    I don’t know if that will help you at all, especially since my solution with my ex was leaving him, a solution you do not have in your arsenal with Punkin’. I hope the EMDR (which I am apparently alone in never having heard of) helps you, and you find some peace during this difficult time.

    • I’m sorry you felt your comments weren’t welcomed before; I have to say that I can’t call to memory any time I was put off by anything you had to say.

      I think what I’m trying to get at is what is it about ME and how I’m programed that responds the way it does when I get triggered. I know it’s not HER – there is nothing that she’s doing that’s even remotely off from what she should be doing; in fact, she is, by some of the comparison examples I’ve observed, a remarkably good kid in every measurable way. If it’s not her, then it must be me, and like I said, I can’t think of a single incident (or, even, a collection of incidences) that would lead me to respond the way I do. My work is to dig out whatever it is that poisoning my well and neutralize it. That doesn’t mean she’s never going to piss me off – she’s a teenage girl and I’m her mother; that’s GOING to happen – but my hope is that I’ll be able to handle it like the grown-up I am and not react with the scared, overwhelmed little-girl episodes I’ve been having.

  7. Allison

    When I was a kid my parents had a pretty volatile relationship with each other and although they loved my sister and me to death that sort of thing trickles down. When things were particularly fraught or noisy I would imagine that I was climbing into the lap of the kindest woman in the world. She was always there in my head ready with a big hug and a gentle rock in her chair. Many, many years later as I was processing some of my not-so-happy ways I dealt with my own family, I thought back to that sometimes scared, sad little girl and I reached out to give her a big hug. Imagine my surprise to realize that my older self had been that kind loving woman in the rocking chair all along. It is never too late to nurture ourselves and the repercussions can be surprising. Good luck and I hope you find out your true inner strength.

  8. Just caring about not fucking it up means you’ve already done it. ;^)

    Good for you for getting help to undo some of the emotional damage.

  9. I’ll be reading with interest. I’ve had several EMDR sessions and found them to be extremely beneficial in processing painful, traumatic memories. Nowadays, I can have the memory, but it doesn’t carry the power it once had, and it doesn’t creep up and blindside me like your sandwich incident.

  10. Just so you don’t feel like the Lone Ranger here, i have, sadly, more than once COMPLETELY lost it with my kid. I remained calm through all kinds of crap from her, and then there was that one last little drop of shit and i was overwhelmed. Screaming, throwing things…. nice huh?

    That you were able to walk away is the absolute best thing you could have done.

  11. I am very curious about this process and look forward to joining in the journey with you. Love!

  12. I’m going to deliver my thoughts directly to you.

  13. Pingback: Rethinking the Journey « The Blue Door

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