Remember last week when I posted about how proud I was of my birthday and thankful to be in a good place? Yeah, that.
What a difference a week makes.
One of the things that can happen when you grow up in a house with alcoholism and/or other types of abuse is that you spend your life trying to fly under the radar. You don’t want to call attention to yourself, you don’t want to stand out, you try VERY hard to play by the rules. You do your best to BE the best because you take the responsibility of the whole world (or at the very least the survival of your family) onto YOUR shoulders. Failure is not an option. Yet you KNOW you’re not perfect. In fact, you feel pretty badly about yourself, so fear and shame and embarrassment of being exposed are constantly hanging over your head. You can’t let anyone see how imperfect you (and your family) are. The other thing that happens when you have a history such as mine is that when it comes to authority figures you either develop a tough chip on your shoulder, or you shrink and become a timid, cowering shell (I am the latter).
I’ve worked for YEARS in therapy on this stuff. I’ve worked for years OUT of therapy on this stuff – which is my way of saying, that “in or out” of therapy, the work is ongoing – because LIFE is ongoing.
So, something happened last week, right after celebrating my birthday, which has brought my sense of pride and confidence to a screeching halt, and it has to do with authority.
I got pulled over by a police officer last week. I won’t go into details, because honestly I really am embarrassed about the whole incident, and I’m only telling you so I can discuss the larger authority issues and how I’m coping.
Here has been my response. I stayed pulled over long after the police officer drove away – crying. Sobbing. Unable to drive. I called my husband from the car and he was able to “talk me down” so that I would be able to drive home. When I got home I had a mini-breakdown. I cried and sobbed and cried some more, giving myself a monster headache, crying myself to sleep and waking up the next morning with my eyes practically swollen shut from crying. I’ve experienced massive anxiety (although not panic) every time I have gotten behind the wheel to drive since. While I’m driving my anxiety is high, checking and double checking almost every move I make (or don’t make). And I haven’t been sleeping well.
Last night I had to go to the same place I was travelling to last week and purposefully went out of my way to avoid the route I took then, because I couldn’t face driving past the spot where I was pulled over. By the time I got home, I was in tears, shaking. Another headache…
This reaction is more than the police officer, more than being pulled over. It’s about how I cope (or don’t cope) with authority figures – with those who have real or perceived power over me.
This is about stripping away the facade. This is about my failure to live up to the good girl image – of always trying to do the right thing, to follow the rules, to fly under the radar – of being caught and even called out for not being perfect, for falling short and being bad. The feelings of shame and embarrassment have, at times, been overwhelming. I’m walking around with a sense of dread, like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and I’m failing. I’m sure my husband would love to repeat the, “Snap out of it!” scene of Cher in “Moonstruck.”¹ Heck, I’d love to snap myself out of it too! Instead, what he IS saying is, “This happened. Move on. You’re going to make yourself sick.”
But moving on, removing the weight from my shoulders, is easier said than done. Once those old weights of shame, fear and embarrassment hit, they don’t let up very easily. It’s hard to move on when the ball and chain keep you from picking up your feet.
But there are a few things that give me hope that this won’t turn into a major episode.
- I am recognizing my reaction for what it is – an authority figure problem. I know this is more than my interaction with this one particular officer, and I’m not trying to ignore it, or hope it will just go away.
- I am able to stick up for myself with my husband. When, at one point, he started to feed the flames of my shame (without knowing it) I told him point blank, “You need to stop. You are NOT being helpful.” To his credit he asked what he could do/say that would be helpful. I told him, and he listened and responded (he’s a good guy!).
- I am practicing good self talk. Deep down I know that I’m not a horrible person. This is the biggest change. It used to be that deep down I knew I was a horrible person and had to convince myself otherwise. Saying to myself, “You know you’re a good person Lisa, you’ll get through this,” is VERY different than, “This is just proof of how awful you are.” I am actively combating the negative thoughts, with positive messages of my self worth, and accepting the love of my family.
- I am using my anger positively to fuel my “moving on.” I’m angry at the officer for being so cold and robotic. I’m angry at my father for, well, EVERYTHING. I was in a good place till this happened, and I will not let this drive me back to a dark place. I’m channeling my anger OUT, and not IN.
Sometimes these things happen – events that remind us of pain and suffering, being brought back to places of shame and weakness. Many times they hit us when we least expect it, and that too, is part of our reaction – “Damn it. I thought I had gotten over this. I didn’t see THAT coming.” So the reaction isn’t just about the actual literal event, it’s about connecting it back to our past, and our SHOCK that we still make that connection.
It’s been a week. Both my husband and I are keeping an eye on this. If I don’t start to “lighten up” in what we both consider a reasonable amount of time, then I guess I’ll have to call the doctor.² This is a difference from the past too, when I would keep all this stuff bottled inside and shut him out – a sign that, overall, I’m in a much healthier place. Still, prayers and good thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks.
¹My husband has never EVER hit me. I am the one who is thinking of this scene as an example of his feelings of frustration and concern, NOT him. Actually it represents my own frustration with myself! I just wanted to make that perfectly clear.
²My reluctance to call the doctor comes not from a disrespect of the medical/psychiatric profession. If you’ve spent any time reading this blog you know I have the HIGHEST respect for both therapy and medication. I’ve gotten to where I am now BECAUSE of the work I’ve done in therapy. But finances are tight, so if I possibly can, I’d rather handle this without having to pay a bill in the process.