August is Worldwide Parenting with PTSD Awareness Month
One of my biggest struggles before all hell broke loose was self esteem. I doubted myself constantly despite being designated among the top 5 percent of intelligence in America. My father demanded perfection and I was unable to deliver.
This was my chance to break free of all the family entanglements but I couldn’t. My DNA said I was supposed to pursue these relationships. Every fiber of my being wanted to maintain family connections but it was impossible.
My lawyer strongly recommended I steer clear of all of them. We didn’t know who was loyal to whom so anything I said would likely get back to her and be used against me. It was a real life soap opera.
My mother was Erica Kane from All My Children. She demanded loyalty in a sick, dysfunctional way that was completely dependent on her, her mood and her approval. She was queen bee who held court. The problem was this homey didn’t play that.
I was outspoken. Everyone always knew where I stood. The rest of my relatives didn’t like my direct, honest approach. They said nothing when kids or spouses were beaten. They cowered to her demands and rules of engagement within what she deemed family norms. I hated it. I felt constrained. I wasn’t made for political correctness. My job wasn’t to protect someone else’s feelings. My father could speak his mind and as far as I was concerned, so could I but that’s not how it worked.
Survivor: Home edition
Key survival principles began to emerge. They were a combination of 12-step recovery, Biblical principles, basic psycho-educational strategies and just plain common sense. The hardest part was putting my foot down and practicing them rigorously.
My sanity was at stake. My children and grandchildren were a very real consideration. After all, I was training my kids how to be good enough, healthy, loving parents for my grandchildren and generations to come. The generational curse of abuse and severe dysfunction, in my mind, was about to end with me and my family line.
I had to impart upon them that rejection, abandonment, neglect, hypercritical/judgmental attitude, competition, blame, ostracize, manipulation, lying, deceit, belittling, pressuring or forcing them to be someone they are not and so much more were absolutely unacceptable and not Biblical. I taught them based on my experience. I was acutely aware they were watching me so it became job one to model healthy coping skills even though I had very few. Over time, I learned many more coping skills and became very good at applying them every day.
What I had to recognize was my family exhibited all sorts of dysfunction. I had no vocabulary to describe what ailed my family. My therapist and sponsor helped me recognize the signs, which I share below. Think of these as, “You might be a redneck if,” except, “You might be experiencing severe dysfunction if.”
You very likely need to break or change your associations if:
- Your own health, mental well-being is damaged: I had PTSD and major depression.
- You feel emotionally, physically, spiritually injured: All my life.
- Relationships with immediate family/spouse suffer: I lost all of those relationships.
- There is violence, physical, emotional abuse or all three: The first two growing up while the latter was present in abundance.
- There is substance abuse: Fortunately, this wasn’t an issue for me.
- Constant power struggles: My mother and I, two queen bees in the same hive, made for a very tense, combative environment. Somebody had to go.
- Unnecessary distrust and disrespect: I trusted no one on either side of the family and, evidently, they had no respect for me.
What could I do that would teach them critical, life-giving principles?
I was flying blind. I knew no one who had this experience. No one could relate. My only option was prayer and meditation. I’d had a strong belief in Jesus so I figured out I simply had to model these principles. However, I also had to listen intently. I had to attune my inner radio to His station.
What I heard about God was he was angry with me. He was ready to pounce so I needed to tread lightly. If I felt guilty, I could use it to my advantage or at least that’s what my Catholic upbringing taught me. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
I had a very loving, affectionate, compassionate, tender God. He never left my side. He always knew where to find me even though I clearly was lost. I wasn’t really paying attention to His voice because I saw Him as a vending machine. If I go to confession, I get penance, a formula for getting back into God’s good graces.
I always knew I didn’t have to confess my sins to a priest or anyone else for that matter, at least not yet. It became more important to learn more about this kind, loving, all-knowing and ever present God. It didn’t make sense He could forgive me for being a butthead. What I didn’t realize He had infinite capacity to forgive well beyond my comprehension.
If He could forgive Son of Sam or Jeffrey Dahmer, He certainly could forgive me. I simply had to increase my capacity to receive His forgiveness. It was a tall order simply to receive anything from God. I didn’t feel worthy of His time, much less His love.
More on ground rules next time …
Posts in 2017 series
Breaking the cycle of loneliness takes work
Go outside and play on PWPTSD Awareness Day
Women, Blacks, Latinos have higher rates of abuse
Managing compound-complex parenting
Drinkin’ and druggin’ make parenting even harder
Risky behavior, self neglect aren’t life sentences
When food becomes a weapon
Managing rage, ground rules around kids
Managing hostile relatives, false accusations, head games
Parenting: If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right
Third Annual Worldwide Parenting with PTSD Awareness Day is here!