Monday, May 6, 2019

Finding Me (47)

Finding Me (47)

I still sometimes struggle with the reality of my abuse. I used to think that if I don't remember every little detail, then it didn't happen. Or, if I am not still angry about it, then I am overblowing its effect on me. If I am not triggered and blowing up in a fit of rage at every little thing I see on TV that reminds me of what happened, then it truly didn't happen. It’s just no longer the case. It did happen. I was abused. Life has continued.

After the flashback in Tampa on our way to Homestead Florida, life continued. It had to, we needed to resume our journey to our new lives in the tropics. I was apprehensive about our new place. After all, even though we had flown out a few weeks before to look at houses, we had never seen the house that we were signing the lease on before, and we were trusting our realtors that they had found a good home for us to move into.

I forced an excited rendition of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and entered Interstate 75 south toward our new life at the end of the road.  

Later that day, we arrived in Homestead, a small town  just south of Miami, Florida, I was excited to begin the process of unpacking and getting the children enrolled in a nearby school. They still had a few more weeks in the school year, and I wanted them to miss as little time as possible. With the lease signed and the keys to our new life in hand, I began the complicated tasks of enrolling, and unpacking, and learning to navigate a new city, and a new culture, and a new language and, and, and, and, and it all was very overwhelming. We quickly discovered that South Florida was in no ways like Colorado. I had to keep reminding myself and the family that, just because it’s different, does not mean it is better or worse. It is just different. I sometimes became frustrated with the amount of paperwork needed to enroll my kids in the school nearby. I kept reminding myself, “One thing at a time, then, there are no more things left.”

Finally, with the house was unpacked, the children enrolled in school, I was able to stop and look at my surroundings. I was thoroughly enjoying life in Florida. I loved waking up each morning to the sound of Blue Jays outside my window. I loved the strange alien forms of each type of palm tree, the way the seed pods grew, or the way the palm fronds grow straight up the middle of the trunk like a fresh stalk of grass. Living the majority of my life in colder climates, I really had never seen vegetation like this before. I took each day that I could see a palm tree a visual reminder that I was not in Colorado anymore. It was a reminder that I could be whoever, and whatever I wanted to be. I took the palm tree as a visual cue that I was no longer the small, timid boy in Colorado that was abused, or the silent substitute husband that was constantly reminded to be more like my father. I truly could become iamnotbubba, or more accurately, ME.   

I won't lie, the cultural differences between Colorado and South Florida were extreme. It seemed as if everything took more effort than it should, and that it was virtually impossible to accomplish even the simplest of tasks correctly the first time. I tried genuinely to take everything in stride and repeat to myself over and over, “Just because it is different, doesn’t mean it is better or worse. It is just different.”

For the first few months, I was generally happy.  I felt as if I had successfully put the issues of my mother away, and I was beginning to find out what a “normal,” or post trauma life might look like. I even wrote in my journal, “Is this what it is like to go from being a survivor to a thriver?” Each day I would drive my children to school, I would come home and drink coffee, read the news and then go someplace exotic like Key Largo, Islamorada Key, Biscayne National Park or Everglades National Park. I would sit on the shore, write in my journal and deeply breathe the salty ocean air. I enjoyed searching my smartphone to find out the names of birds I had never seen before, like the snow white Ibis with the curved orange beak or the jet black anhinga bird.  Some days, I drove into the keys and I would discover a new bar and have a beer along with a Grouper fish sandwich. I loved traveling to different places looking at the ocean and wildlife. I was in awe of how vast and far-reaching the the ocean is. It gave me a calm sense of peace that allowed me to reflect and heal. I would go on “hunting expeditions” looking for alligators, crocodile, or the gentle sea cow manatee.

At least once a week, during summer vacation, I would take the children to a public park just south of Key Largo. They would swim, and I would write. “Today I feel. . . .”

As the summer wore on into late August, my mood began to change. I began to experience a new level of anxiety and anger that I hadn't felt in a very long time.  At first, I focused all of my anxiety on the hurricanes that had lined up in the Caribbean and the Atlantic. I saw the devastation in Houston, Texas after Harvey hit. I became frightened that Miami would be next, and I began binge watching the local news hoping that the rest of the storms would travel into the colder waters of the North Atlantic and miss Florida entirely.

Sadly, on August 30th, 2017, a storm formed that would eventually cause my family and I to run to a safe evacuation location. As it grew into one of the fastest growing and most intense storms in recent history,  I, like the rest of Florida, began making preparations to evacuate. We had to secure our homes, pack the necessary supplies and cover the windows with metal shutters for the storm’s strong winds, rain and storm surge. It seemed as if everyone knew that it was was going to hit, and that it was going to be bad.

By September 5th, my wife was traveling for her work, and I was alone with the children. A normal day in our family, yet a hurricane was coming,  I needed to be strong, confident and fearless for them, but at the same time, I felt out of control, abandoned and alone. A storm with the ominous name of IRMA was coming and we all were going to die.

Along with all of my neighbors, I placed the provided steel shutters over all of the windows and loaded my car with food, blankets, and other emergency supplies. I watched the forecast models every hour hoping against all hope that IRMA was going to change course. It was headed straight for Miami. We were in the “mandatory” evacuation zone. We were close enough to danger that it was wise to evacuate and go north out of the path of the storm.  

My wife’s company had a few empty dormitories available east of Tampa that were used to house migrant farm workers. We, and several of her staff, fled there.  Amy and I helped the site staff make ready for the impending doom. Then, during the night the storms trajectory changed again it appeared like the Tampa area was going to suffer the worst of IRMA, and Homestead was going to be spared.

We had to evacuate again thanks to the change in the storm’s path.  We decided to drive back to our house and ride out the fury there. IRMA made landfall as we entered the city limits of Miami. We were the only ones on the highway as we continued south at close to 100 miles per hour. As we arrived, the winds were already howling and the rain was beginning to fall. It was eery to drive along an abandoned highway that is normally bumper to bumper most times of the day.

The storm raged for several hours.  The children and pets stayed in our closet in our room.  We were blessed to have electricity throughout the storm--one of very few that did.  It sounded like wild beasts scratching and gnawing at the windows and walls. The high pitched scream of the wind was like listening to a witch cackle and scream.  We snuggled and sang songs, watched movies, and ate our “hurricane snacks” that we normally would not eat. There was little sleep that night.

IRMA passed, and all that was left was oppressive humidity, heat and downed trees everywhere. I began the work to clean up, help where I could, and try to bring normalcy back to our home. Weeks passed and normalcy did return.  The kids went back to school, and I went back to . . . No, honestly I sat down. I didn't feel like leaving the house and exploring Florida anymore. I didn't want to go outside, I couldn't see the beauty around me to take pictures and put them up on Facebook. I was exhausted and depressed.   

By October, a week had gone by and the only time I left the house was to pick the children up from school. Florida had lost its appeal. I had slipped back into my old habits of hibernating in a darkened room, staring at a computer screen and waiting for the pain to go away. Like always the pain only continued, the depression only intensified, the uncontrolled and racing thoughts became louder and louder. By November, I was nearly suicidal.

I had heard of an agency called Mujer.  It was a place that helped all survivors of rape and abuse, as well as other community services.  It was different from the Wings Foundation in Denver in that Mujer was a more inclusive agency that helped those from the initial crisis to court dates and prosecuting perpetrators to counseling the survivors as well as survivor led support groups.  It was time to get help. I didn't like feeling this way anymore. It was a stark contrast to a few years ago when I didn't like feeling happy. Now, I didn't like feeling depressed.

I made the call and told the woman on the other end of the line that I wanted to make this Christmas season without being suicidal. She agreed that this was a good idea and that I needed to come in to the office and complete an intake.  I was assigned a counselor and scheduled my first appointment.

It really was very confusing to me. I was in paradise. I was a few short miles from Key Largo, a place so beautiful that the “Beach Boys” sang a song about it. Nobody ever sang a song about East Denver, or the high plains of Colorado. Why was I feeling this way?

After my first counseling session, my wife asked me about it.

“She is young,” I replied. “I am not sure if she has the experience to deal with an old guy like me.”

“Perhaps she will have a fresh perspective that you hadn't thought of before. I think you should stick it out.”

The next week I came back to see her. Then the week after that, and the week after that. I kept thinking that she was too young to understand what I was going through. Then, at the survivor led support group I was also attending, I had a breakthrough.

There was a woman there that described her various experiences as “rape.” She was a survivor like none I had ever seen before. She was ok with using the “R” - word, whereas I always tried to describe what I went through as “things escalated,” or “it got bad from there,” or “My pastor was a monster.” I have used a countless words to describe the act of forced sodomy. Most of which you can find here in this blog. But the word “rape,” that was something that just couldn't leave my mouth as a word I was comfortable with.

The night of that group meeting I wrote this poem,

The R-Word

I just said the R-word and I feel like shit.
I just said the R-word and I feel dirty
Covered in the slime of his disgust.
The R-word The R-word The R-word
Why can't I say the R-word?
I can describe it in a myriad of ways like
He danced with me, we started wrestling,
Things got bad from there.
What the fuck does that mean?
Things got bad from there.  
Abuse, abuse, abuse. I can say that word all day.
“I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse”
But I can't say the R-word.
The R-word, The R-word, The R-word.

Fuck it, I will just say it,

He . . . . . R. . . . . .

He . . . . .RA. . . . .RA. . . . . .

He  . . . . . .RAP. . . . . .RAP . . . . . .

He . . . . . .RAPE. . . . .RAPED ME!

The Goddamn motherfucker RAPED ME!
He did it over and over and over again. He had no remorse.
There, I said it. FUCK YOU! No word is gonna control me.
Does that mean I am healing?


Ya, I still feel like shit.  
“Things got bad from there.” Now that’s more comfortable.
It was just a bad experience.
It wasn't that R-word

Just a bad experience.”
I think, just saying the word was enough to let some healing into my soul that wasn't able to occur before. It was after that, I was able to accept the advice given to me by my therapist. We soon became teammates that had a common goal of healing. I spoke more candidly after that and I began to feel hopeful again.  

For the real first time, I did the work.  I was healing. I was finally feeling free.  

I was optimistic about my recovery.  I had made great strides in learning how to cope and thrive in spite of what had happened to me.  In fact, we even discussed taking a break from counseling for a while. Therapy Graduation! I was living my life in a way that made me happy. I knew how to avoid or navigate around the worst of the PTSD triggers. When they came, I was able to quickly identify and recover from them, by writing, or visiting the ocean, or by playing with my children in the backyard chasing lizards or frogs.

There was a level of not simply surviving, but thriving.

But, during my greatest time of healing, my family was suffering in Florida.

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