Monthly Archives: May 2022

Shadowlands: Recognizing Abandonment Trauma

I am once again in a river valley shadowland. Sunlight filters in barely; Internet, not at all. Rather than being able to walk two blocks to check in with family, I would have to drive six or seven miles.

So, I didn’t even unhitch. Not out of laziness, mind you. As I said (here), hitching and unhitching have become an enjoyable part of the process. They are like the pen and paper prep of writing a letter; not productive but necessary and oddly enjoyable.

No, I didn’t unhitch because my last time in such a place frightened me with how despondent I became in such utter isolation. I had people around me, but the sense of not having family and friends in the glass rectangle in my hands was suffocating. I was disturbed enough by this second round of connectivity blackout, that I thought, “If it gets really bad again, I will just leave. I’ll forfeit the night’s fee and get on the road, in the dark if I have to, and find a Walmart somewhere that allows me to park and reconnect with loved ones.

This isn’t addiction (no doubt, that is an issue for me) but it is dependence. The fear of losing contact with my friends and family has been a recurring nightmare since my thirties — since I began to be isolated from them quite literally.

It’s a common theme in people’s nightmares but for me it became pathological; I would dream of trying to call my mother and not being able to get through despite dozens of attempts and methods. From not being able to get “bars” on my phone to not being able to make the rotary dial turn properly to having an operator tell me no such number existed, my mother was unreachable in these stressful dreams. I would awaken near tears and sometimes raging.

At the time, I blamed my physical distance from her which I considered the fault of my parents and sibling. After her death, of course, I blamed the loss of her and my grief for these nightmares.

Now, I also blame the man I was married to, whose expectations of my behavior and his feelings about family (“family is overrated” was a favorite quip of his) kept me from pushing for travel to see my loved ones.

So this, like so many, frankly pathological, responses I have to what might just be annoyances to others, stems from a sort of slow, death-by-a-thousand-cuts trauma.

I lost decades with loved ones, with potential friends, and with places and things I loved (the Texas Hill Country, swimming). I gave those things up to be the good wife who did everything to keep him happy (translation: to minimize stress level in the home). That loss now means any separation, any risk of “never again,” frightens me.

I am sure this has played into a relationship I had as well—the Wrong man’s breadcrumbs calmed me immeasurably even though they were just that. Just knowing he was “out there” and had not completely abandoned me, gave me peace.

I am sure, in a twisted way, this fear also kept me in the marriage at least ten years longer than was reasonable. My husband was my family and only truly present friend after my daughter left. Who else would have me and how would I survive? I dare not lose my one connection. In other words, by the time I knew things were not right, I was emotionally bonded in a way that transcended the love relationship and became a pathological need for connection.

So, I had nightmares.

In addition to the phone call nightmares, I had nightmares that my husband was leaving me, literally abandoning me in parking lots as he drove off laughing. This was how much damage had been done to my psyche.

In real life, he assured me regularly that he wouldn’t leave. However, I had already been abandoned emotionally as far as my subconscious was concerned. If I didn’t behave as he wished, then he most certainly would abandon me physically. If I tried to be independent, if I insisted on seeing family by myself, if I pursued a career again that put me in contact with other men, if I made friends outside his circle, or if I “peacocked,” as he called it, by wearing or doing anything he deemed attention getting — all these were reasons, he implied, that gave him the right to abandon me.

But by year twenty-eight, I was exhausted. I was tired of wanting to die. I was tired of being apart from my family. I was tired of locking myself in bedrooms when strangers came over. I was tired of wearing virtual sacks and constant gray and brown. I was tired of carrying the weight of his expectations.

I have not dreamed the telephone nightmare or the abandonment nightmare since I left. I dream, instead, that I am with him again and he is “putting his foot down” again and I am so tired—again.

Still, nightmares or not, the anxiety of alone does not spare me in these beautiful but isolated places.

These two days have been easier, if only because it is two days, not five. I have not been careful about my choices for setting down for the night in one park or another. Once I get out of this valley and can look more closely at the coming weeks, I will be more cautious. A week without connection, is five days too long.

Perhaps, it will be slightly easier to have finally come to understand the cause of my fear. If the fear is based in “complex trauma,” that is a rational response, even though the fear itself is irrational. That recognition may allow me further and faster healing.

Just a pretty image on a positive note. Prunus sp.

The Unsubscribe Button is a Delusion: Survival & Concession as a Single Woman of a Certain Age

I’ve been contained in a valley of Wi-Fi, 5G, and visible spectrum shadows for five days. I can walk a few blocks to get a signal and walking is good for me, but I decided walking for that purpose was less beneficial. I’ve checked in with my brother and my daughter a few times, checked email, made additional arrangements for post-PA campgrounds, but largely avoided social media.

Sitting quietly this morning awaiting my Moka Pot coffee, I looked through downloaded email.

I thought I unsubscribed from this company.

Yes. Yes I did. And I have been patiently unsubscribing from email ads for weeks. Sometimes repeatedly. I have determined it is a lost cause. That effort is a scam; a method by which to inform the company that I am still here and still seeing their annoying emails despite my desire otherwise.

What’s the definition of insanity, again? Doing something over and over despite getting the same result?

I have spent every evening since I got here attempting to write both poetry and blog entries.

Insanity.

I’ve written some truly awful poems.

I’ve written some fairly tight blog posts; posts that were well-framed, clear, concise, and led to a meaningful and valid conclusion.

Unfortunately, each post was a deep dive into the loneliness and anxiety that this valley has exacerbated. I had hoped this time away from social media would be healing. I had hoped freeing my mind of the outside world’s concerns would allow me to address my own. The latter is true. The former is not.

Stuck in my own thoughts, without the words, images, and outright agony and stupidity of the outside world, all I could see was everything I have ever done wrong and the end of my road coming sooner rather than later.

Each post morbidly reflected this. I was, in a word, done.

For the first time since my marriage, I was thinking of a way out. Not just passively wondering if I wouldn’t awaken but actively writing goodbyes.

People in my life do not, cannot, grasp the tenuous hold I have on sanity and self-esteem as a result of being told, both in word and deed, for thirty years that my only real value was in being half of another person.*

They do not, cannot grasp how this impacts everything I do or don’t do. That to say, “I won’t feel insecure about my talent or intellect,” is as pointless as repeatedly hitting that unsubscribe button. My history is as tenacious as those repeated emails, bashing me daily with reminders of what I should want and do with my life and what I gave up.

I do not have an answer. Hiding in a connectivity desert is, apparently, life threatening. That much I have determined. Trying to unsubscribe from my thoughts and history is a waste of effort.

The pat answer is “get out there and grab what you want.” When your hands have been tied with worthlessness for twenty-three of thirty years and with training against and emotional beating for being independent the entire thirty years, how do you just magically slip those bindings and grab?

So, here I am, yet again, struggling with purpose, pointlessness, and isolation. Hitting “unsubscribe from this insecurity?” like a lab rat hitting a reward button.

Insanity.

* To be fair, to ask people to understand this when I do not reveal details of my relationship is probably a bit much. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. Lots of people believe “two become one.” How is that so bad? I will not detail that here, however. This blog isn’t about him.

Setting Boundaries. Fighting demons.

Sunday night. I am alone in the RV loop. Everyone else has gone home or moved on to their next berth.

The world here is peaceful. The world here doesn’t reveal the turmoil beyond the park’s border.

It’s a cold night reminiscent of a Texas winter: temps falling into the 40s, rain, still. I have to remind myself it is May.

I have been thinking a great deal about boundaries. A minority faction of the US wishes to destroy boundaries we all hold dear but because they have attacked an issue some deem one of morality, those same are not clear on what they too are losing.

I have been raging and tearful for days but, if I’m honest, I have been raging and tearful for ten years.

For many years I would lose my temper over the mildest events. Almost always, they were mistakes I’d made: Where is my wallet? What have I done with my keys? How could I forget that appointment?

The man I was married to at the time once asked, “Why are you so angry all the time?” In the moment, I had no answer.

As the years passed I began to incrementally discover the source of my rage: I had allowed one person to determine my boundaries and overstep them on a regular basis. I raged at my little failings because I was so angry with myself for the big failing: allowing that constant and agonizing transgression.

I left that marriage in 2020, bent on not allowing such transgressions again. Some slipped through the cracks as I tried to fight off loneliness and grief. Since taking to the road, however, I have gained significant strength against people trying to impose their will on me. My rage and tears have been aimed at the men in my life rather than my own errors.

This last few days had been difficult for so many. It will continue to be difficult for some time. The episode of rage and sadness it is triggering in me is small compared to that felt by marginalized groups. In the grand scheme of things, it directly affects me very little. For now.

As I sit in the growing gloom and silence of this park in the Blue Ridge mountains, I feel significant guilt for that last fact. I shouldn’t have such outwardly peaceful environs when the country is on fire for others. I shouldn’t be fighting such tiny demons while others fight dragons.

I simply don’t know how to contend with this — this sudden silence and isolation after several days of busy and boisterous neighbors and personal anxiety. It leaves me cold and emotionally void as this Blue Ridge mountain air.