Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We interupt your regularly scheduled programming...

I'm mentally marinating my next post...a part two of the Ashes of Abuse.  But while I'm pondering, and before I present to you another sad and heavy topic (why did I just get a mental image of a cat placing a dead mouse at his master's feet?) is a guest post, something on the lighter side from one of my favorite bloggers, my 11 yr old daughter, Vienna.  This is "fan fiction" she did for a writing class.  Used with permission, of course.

Woman Found In Pumpkin

By Vienna

Peter P. PumpkinEater was arrested this morning for locking his wife, Ms. PumpkinEater in a pumpkin shell. Peter will be pleading his case in court this Wednesday.

The PumpkinEater’s neighbor, Mary was walking in their pumpkin patch searching for her lost lamb. When she heard the voice of Ms. PumpkinEater calling out “Peter, I’m hungry.” Mary rushed to the pumpkin and peered in to see Ms.PumpkinEater.

When we asked the PumpkinEater’s neighbor, the old woman who lives in a shoe, why she didn’t report Peter she told us “I thought they got divorced long ago.” Ms. PumpkinEater’s exact words were “Peter is a cold-hearted, ill-manered, selfish, JERK. He locked me in the pumpkin so he could have the pumpkins all to him self. All he fed me was canned peas. I never want to see that pumpkin eater again ever!”

Peter will be pleading his case in court this Wednesday, claiming he had no choice, he had to protect his pumpkins, keeping her away, for it was all he ate.

Well one thing is for sure Peter will be having a hard time in jail because they certainly don’t serve pumpkins in there.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Ashes of Abuse

As you know, I work with kids in foster care.  This means that most of the kids I work with have been victims of abuse in some way, and thus I deal with the ashes, or the aftermath of abuse on a regular basis.  What may surprise you is that you likely deal with it as well.  According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network one in six women and one in 33 men will be sexually abused.  That is a huge number and this statistic does not include physical and emotional abuse, or neglect.  Odds are high that someone you know has been abused.

Abuse is like a forest fire consuming life and leaving destruction in its wake.  Where there once were trees, vegetation and animals, a forest fire leaves blackness and ashes.  Survivors of abuse can carry many scars..the ashes of abuse.  These ashes can take many forms, but the one I am thinking about today is self injury: cutting.  Of all the ashes I have encountered, this was one of the hardest one for me to understand.  I just couldn't wrap my mind around it.  Perhaps you feel the same.  Recent events have given me some new insight in to this coping mechanism.  I would like to share what I've learned, maybe it will help you better understand someone you love.

First, a disclaimer, I am not a "professional".  These are my "lay man" thoughts. They are worth whatever value you choose to give them.

To understand self-injury first you need to think about how a child's mind works.  They do not process information the same way that adults do.  They tend to think in a very black and white manner and when things go wrong as in abuse or divorce they blame themselves.  Often they are too young and too immature to understand the abuse, but somehow they "know" it is their fault.  Sometimes when the abuse is severe or lasts over a long period of time the child's mind may block it out. Then later as an adult, the painful memories begin to surface.  [Side bar: The topic of recovered memories is a controversial one.  I believe that there are cases of "false memories", however, I also believe in recovered or repressed memories.  These are the memories I will be addressing here.]  Even processing the memories as an adult, the child's feelings of guilt, shame and black and white kind of thinking are strong. 

So imagine yourself as a child (or an adult dealing with repressed memories) the pain and shame feel like lava flowing through your veins.  You desperately want an outlet for the pain.  Then the idea comes to you to cut yourself.  I have heard of children as young as seven cutting themselves.  I have no idea where they get the idea from, but for older children and adults, I imagine they hear of others doing it. First they are bewildered by it as you are, but then one day when the pain is very intense; the idea seems very appealing.  It is like a craving.  It is hard to imagine how intensely you could desire to try it, even though you have never done it before but the feeling is there.  Whether it is the child's black and white frame of mind, or a white blindness caused by the emotional fire within, you do not think about where this could lead to.  The future does not exsist at that moment, only the present and the pain...releasing the pain.  You can visualize the knife, visualize the cut, the blood escaping.  Ah, relief.  Somehow, the bleeding is like a pressure valve, a release.  The physical pain?  It is punishment.  You feel shame and guilt for the abuse and someone must be punished.  You must be punished.  And so you cut and for a time, you feel better.

What you don't realize in that moment is that this release is so powerful that it is addictive.  From the very first cut, the addiction begins.  As in many addictions, after the indulgence you feel shame...ironically one of the very things you were trying to escape.  You are ashamed, embarassed and you vow to never do it again, but already the pressure is starting to build again. Soon all the old pain and now the new shame will again fight to be released.  Thus the cycle begins.

Like any addiction cutting can consume your life.  You find you have to wear long sleeves even in hot weather to cover the scars.  You begin to lie to people you love to hide what you are doing and one day you cut too deep and the bleeding won't stop.  You have to go to the emergency department.  You can't hide your addiction from the staff or your family and you feel their puzzlement and shame grows and with it the need to cut...again.

If you know someone who cuts themself, remember that this is a visible part of a much larger problem.  Simply addressing the cutting, or other self-injury will not solve problem.  The most helpful thing you can do is reassure them of your love, your unconditional love and acceptance.  Encourage them to seek counseling. 

If you cut, it does not make you a bad person.  You are not bad; you are hurting.  What happened to you was not your fault, not now, not then.  You may feel very alone, but there are people who care about you.  Often they want to help, they just don't understand what you need.  Seek counseling.  And remember what happened was not your fault.

After a forest fire there is blackness and ash, but somewhere beneath the ash, there are seeds.  Seeds created for "such a time as this."  Seeds that do not germinate until after they are exposed to the intense heat of a fire.  Now in the blackness they begin to grow.  In time, these seeds become plants and slowly, so slowly the mountain turns green once again.  With time, the area becomes beautiful and filled with both plant and animal life once again.  This is how a forest heals.

People can heal too. . .with time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Where nightmares begin...

My husband is blessed with the most amazing dreams.  Some of them are very creative story type dreams, some are funny, sometimes in his dreams he interviews famous people.  One night he had an in depth conversation with Hippocrates about my health.  He said he got some great insights too, only he couldn't remember them when he woke up. Darn.

I think the breath, depth and pure imagination of my husband's dreams say a lot about him.  The dreams show what I already know...that he is very intelligent, creative, imaginative and a little crazy.  That said, I have to wonder what my dreams say about me.  I rarely remember my dreams, but when I do they are usually nightmares...things about people chasing me mostly.  I used to have reoccuring dreams about calling 911, and not be able to get through, or having them tell me they were busy etc.  I don't have many memories of my early childhood (I think my life started when I was 10), but one of the few memories of that time is of a nightmare that I had.  I mentioned this before, remember I was in a large pit and my mother and siblings were at the top of the pit.  They walked away and left me.  I shudder to think what these dreams say about my pysche.  Fortunately, I have this blog to vouch for my relative sanity.  But then again...

The other day I had a bad dream that initiated my fight or flight response and I woke up panting...not fun. If you are like my husband, who I don't think has ever had a bad dream, let me explain.  When you have a bad dream, it lingers in your thoughts for part of the day.  I can usually clear the lingering bad feelings by telling someone about the dream, but I couldn't talk about this dream so it was lingering as I went to work that night.

At work, I got a phone call from one of the staff in another program that one of the teenage girls had been followed home by a man.  The girl said his vehicle was parked on the street and gave a good description of it.  Wouldn't you know that this one one of those times when we had no male staff on?  So I and two other female staff went to check things out.  We checked the street and sure enough there was the vehicle. 

Now, I have to pause for a moment...a sidebar, if you will...and say that this stalker is not the brightest bulb.  He was driving a van and pulling a boat.  If you were going to stalk someone wouldn't you want to be a little more inconspicuous than that?  Just saying... 

We found the vehicle as the girl had described and it was empty.  That was a little disturbing, but there are some bars close by perhaps he walked down to one of them.  So we went to check the grounds.  We were armed with a flashlight, a radio and a cell phone...ready for bear, ya know?  Honestly, I didn't expect to see anything, we just wanted to be able to reassure that young lady that we had checked and no one was around.  As we were walking, one of the staff said, "I heard something over there."  The other staff pointed the flashlight in that direction, and that was when I saw him.  It was like that moment in the movie Signs, when you first see an alien and quickly he disappears behind something.  You have to rewind to assure yourself that you saw what you thought you saw.  I saw a jacket with two white horizontal stripes, and the figure quickly moved behind a tree.  "I see him," I whispered and instinctively we all started slowly stepping backwards enlarging the distance between ourselves and the stalker. 

Side Bar #2: Stalker 101...white stipes are great for people who want to be visible so they don't get hit by cars at night, not so good when you are trying to be inconito.  And yes, I am sure it was the stalker, our property is clearly marked "private property" no one should have been out there.  Besides the van disappeared shortly after this.

Like a gunfighter from the Old West, I whipped out my cell phone and dialed 911.  I put the phone to my ear and whispered to my companions, "I'm calling 911."  But I didn't hear ringing.  Ack! This is just like one my nightmares, I thought.  Frantically, I looked at the phone.  Oh, yeah, I have to hit the button that says, "call". (Yeah, I'm an idiot sometimes.)  I did that and it started ringing.  When the dispatcher answered, I told her my name and the name of my company (the police know us, they have been out to help us many times....heck I think they know me by first name too).  As quickly as I could, I explained that one of our girls had been followed home and we had seen the man on our property.  We wanted him gone immediately.  Life is full of surreal moments and this next one was one of them for me.  The operator said, "Have you approached him and asked him to leave?" 

What?!  Are you kidding?

As politely as I could, through clenched teeth, I said, "No!  This is an older man who followed a teenage girl home.  Clearly his intentions are not honorable, and we are just three women.  So no we did not approach him that is what we need you for."  Clear enough?

After the phone call we waited for the police to come screaming into the parking lot lights flashing and sirens blaring to seize the guy, shove him to the ground and cuff him.  Ok, maybe something a bit less dramatic, but I did hope for a quick response and the security of having the police assist us.  Two hours later...the police arrived. 

Not quite the "book 'em Dano," I was hoping for.  To be fair (because the police have been very helpful to us in the past), the officer (the lone officer, no lights or siren...sigh) apologized for not being able to come sooner.  Being Saturday night, they were very busy he said

And now you see why I have nightmares...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Everyday Heroes

I think I will start collecting stories about heroes.  No special purpose in mind, I'm just inspired by people doing extraordinary things.  But before I tell you about today's inspiration, first a personal story to put things in perspective.

Many years ago when I only had two children (I have fivve now), I was a a thrift store.  Then it happened, one of the top five of every mother's worst fears, one of my children was missing.  I called him.  I looked for him, but I could not find him.  With adrenaline pumping, I thought of Walmart and how they have "Code Adam"...which as I understand, when a child goes missing, and staff is notified, there is an announcement made over the intercom and no one leaves the store until the child is found.  So hoping for the same kind of response at this store, I frantically looked around for an employee.  I saw one, and quickly approached her and explained the situation.  When I finished, she just stared at me blankly, and I realized that she was a hispanic woman, who apparently did not speak English, or least not well enough to understand the ramblings of a frantic mother.  Frustrated and panicked, I walked away from her to find someone else to help me.  It was then that I found my son.  Then it hit me...I speak Spanish...fluently.  I could have explained my situation to that employee in Spanish, but in my panic, I was not thinking clearly.

That is why I was so impressed with the story I am about to tell you about.  There was a bus traveling from Mexico to California.  At some point, it hit a truck, veered to the other side of the road, overcorrected and rolled.  There were only 22 passengers on board, six of them were killed and over a dozen were injured.  Amid all the chaos, from a stretcher, an 11 yr old boy, Oscar Rodriguez translated for the rescuers.  Considering my own experience, I marvel at this young man's presence of mind.  You can read the news story here.

I want to believe that most of us have the capability to step up and be a "hero" if the situation arose, but I hope if I am ever in that sort of a moment that speaking Spanish is not involved.

I have long been interested in heroes, I blogged about the topic once before here.