Dear Diary: 20th February 2017

Don’t stroke the Mouse!

Mouse was rushed into hospital last Tuesday with a suspected stroke.

Nearly a week later all we can say for definite is that Thursday night his brain showed no sign of damage.

20 stroke like episodes later Mouse can barely move his left side or speak.

His NHS experience is far from positive but with every reason to be down my brave Mouse is still upbeat and planning new projects for when he finally comes home.

Mrs Mouse

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Thinking Out Loud: Monsters

Thinking Out Loud: Monsters

The world of films is a misleading one, TV is not much better, even in true stories, we the audience are presented so much with a simple view. It is all neatly black and white, even when it is being presented as blur, we are in on the secret and the monster of the story never really steps out of that mould.

Life is cruel by comparison. When you are finally out of an abusive situation, free of the monster, you will soon come to ask why you did not see it, why you did not leave, and gradually over time you can come to see what imprisoned you, the poor patterns of thought and decision that got you where you were. You can trace conditioned responses, needs and perhaps look through a pattern that made the abuse appear normal and how life was done that extends into childhood. However, what can defy explanation and what can very well haunt you will not be the abuse, the cruelty, the consequences. What haunts me is the kindness, the love, the good times. These are the ones that did not end badly, where the gift was thoughtful, and you got to keep it without consequence or retribution, where they arranged something for you, and it was ace, you enjoyed it, and there was no price to pay for happiness. It can be the small intimate moment that was just that. It is all those memories that were precious, are precious, that you cannot explain, that do not fit neatly into the context and picture of control and abuse. They look like genuine love, and affection like you were important and mattered.

I know that you can see them as the carrot that goes with the stick, they are how they lure you in, but even when the glow and honeymoon are over, there will be something, something that you cannot explain away. Deep in the years of hurt, there looks to be a genuine moment of humanity. You see the monster treating others differently, and they tell you it’ because you earn it, you deserve it, it is you that is broken and faulty and needs to learn, be disciplined, needs the consequence to be a better person. You see the duplicity, you see them nice and loving to others, the very person that attracted you, but they never switch on them. You alone are the object of their ridicule, their anger, you are who they hurt, and that is something you get used to.

I am still baffled, even accepting that the kindness and love could have been manipulation and control, there are still happy times, happy memories, things I don’t know how to store because I don’t want to lose sight of happiness in those years. It feels like so much was lost, so much was broken, so many memories rewritten by time and the cold light of the reality or infidelity, that I am clinging to what happy memories I have and I am not even sure why. I laughed, and I smiled I have great times at the time; she robbed those years, somehow I don’t want to lose anymore. I want to believe that just once or at some time I actually mattered, that they felt something decent towards me; but I am not sure I can be that deluded either.

Monday Night Reflection: Best Laid Plans

It is over halfway through February and I am still in the first week of January and I don’t just mean in terms of mental preparation. Anonymouse blogging isn’t always easy, I have given a massive hint in my reflections to who I am, however, anonymity is really about plausible denial rather than complete obscurity, and I believe that sometimes you have to share yourself to be honest and relevant to a situation. While there is that line to walk, what it does, is that it highlights how compartmentalised life can become in our minds when in reality is somewhat more of a jumbled mess.

I got myself a blog planner, and I got myself a Filofax and I was ready to be much more organised and intentional. On the one hand, my decision to be intentional at the end of last year has been a success, on the other, my planning has been somewhat lacklustre in some areas of my life. On the blogging front, I have been haphazard, on the business front I have had a train wreck with regard to planning, and in other areas, I have been on point as they say. A very mixed bag indeed. I am therefore looking for what has led to such a disjointed picture across the different hats that I wear.

I am wary and reluctant to say “I was ill”, but I was ill and that has had a massive impact on my output capabilities. I am not physically or mentally able to sustain levels of productivity and output that I was capable of before getting ill. At the same time I am transitioning from what I was doing and had trained to do while accumulating years of practical experience to something where I am learning from the very start. I know that things are always bigger than they look in terms of learning new skills and new business ventures; but holy moley it’s a steep hill, and it looked steep before I got on it. So I am facing a challenge which while super exciting is more than I thought while approaching it with a reduced capacity, and that is something I had not adequately considered at the start of the year.

However, within the context of the super exciting and difficult challenge the switch to pen and paper has completely remodelled the landscape of my planning. Electronically my todo list would be part what I had to do immediately, the get milk and post the parcel of life, the put up shelves combined with the seal the garage roof ready for next winter type projects. A hodge-podge of here and now and projects. What going to pen and paper has done is clear my diary and to-do list of everything but firm commitments. If it hasn’t got a date or a deadline, doesn’t have set parameters and a what done looks like, then chances are I am going to not write it down or give it space in my head. Now, I don’t mean a task has to have all of those but at least one. Within that tasks are moved out into their projects rather than standing alone, so unless it’s time for that project I don’t see them. The upshot is things look really empty where once they looked crammed and I am even more relaxed about what needs to be done.

Working with pen and paper has made me consider more, filter more, assess and prioritise more effectively, slowed me down and forced be to be intentional about my planning. I also spend a lot less time unproductively working on the planning task because I haven’t got software to be playing with. There are some downsides in the practicality of adjusting on the fly because I have to rewrite things, but again that repetition does embed things in my memory better.

Assuming I got as far as planning. Creatively, I have failed to plan, maybe at all and definitely in a way that I can call effective. The point of my reflection, both this one I share and my private ones, is change. Either identify a change and recognise the positive development or identify something to change and how to change it. In this case what do I need to be changing. Very practically my time management needs to take account of my reduced work capacity. I do not like doing this, not one bit, however, revising my estimate of what I can achieve per set unit of time absolutely has to happen. Secondly, part of revising my capacity expectations is recognising the time to recover from what is going on. I have had physiotherapy, it has left me sore and exhausted for 3 days, the pain has disrupted my sleep too. My output ability has been lowered, and yesterday on Sunday the afternoon became a nap time, where I dozed on and off through a whole afternoon and early evening. I had to account for, accept that I was exhausted and that my physical exhaustion was also combined with a mental exhaustion from the situation and the activity from Thursday morning onwards.

Rather than being disappointed at the things I haven’t done, I am taking pride in what I have done, what I have managed to put in place ready and how I have managed to do little parts of projects and things. I had planned to do more, I had to write more, do some painting practice and I had planned to have more blog posts, sit down and let some ideas flow for future poems or short stories. However, that didn’t happen, I did spend great family time, connect with friends and keep putting the work for my biggest life goals for 17; my priorities. The hustle and flow of life, paying bills, eating shopping, they are not hindering me, they are essential to everything I do, creatively, professionally and socially. Which why when I went out on Friday Night I wore different shoes, and it is why I am really encouraged with how intentional life is working for me.

I am accepting for myself what I tell others, perfection is not possible. I also promised myself that my last reflection was too long and that I need to shorten them down for my own good as well as for the good of anyone reading.

It is mid-February and not everything is done yet, not everything is started yet, but progress is being made and I am not using those goals and intentions as sticks to beat myself up with. They are starting points and intentions that get to be reviewed and reformulated, they are not commandments set in stone. Perhaps, this is where I have made the most progress, and I cannot take full credit for that. I live in an environment where those around me no longer look to beat me down and remind me that I am a failure, a looser and a burden. Being out of a toxic relationship is not just about the removal of the abuse, it is about how you can get space and time to be kind and loving towards yourself because you can discover what kind and loving really means.  In an abusive relationship, being unkind, putting you down and delivering consequence is what constitutes love, and you do end up being like that with yourself. You end up complicit in your own abuse and actually self-harm because that is what you think life is and how it works.

So while my best-laid plans may not be coming together quite how I would have intended. The overall goal is to be intentional, to have goals and chase them, and to flexible and adaptable to what happens on the journey. And to even revise goals if that is what needs to happen, rather than falling for the false meme stubbornness that never quits even when it’s obvious continuing has become a very bad idea (thanks to Seth Godin – the Dip for that advice). In pursuit of that bigger life goal of intentional living, I am pleased with my progress, in terms of my bigger goals, I am similarly pleased with my progress. For once I am deliberately, or intentionally, should I say, stopping to appreciate the successes and progress made and not look at what hasn’t happened yet and look for sticks to beat myself down, but to build myself up. Plans change, life happens, even with a good map the road is still unknown till you travel it and has bumps and turns you can’t see.

Thinking Out Loud : Swimming Gala

It is not that often I like to go back to my childhood and specific incidents within it. I feel that they are done with and that now I have largely accepted what was faulty with it and done my best to move on and be practical in dealing with the here and now. I am unlikely to end up in the same situation now I am an adult and so often there is limited information that I can directly apply.

However, the Butlins’ swimming gala is an event that maintains relevance in my adult life. As a kid I loved swimming, and looking back I was actually not that bad either, it is entirely possible I could have been quite good. I never found out because my mother never wanted what would have gone with my success. I swam at the Harrow and Wealdstone Club, but I never made it to the group which did competitions. Eventually unable to move up I quit. My parents let me, and I later found out, my mother had asked that I not be put up so I would not become eligible for full coaching with the early starts and travel to comps all over the country that could involve. They obliged. I was allowed to enter the club gala by way of the qualification process. You swam in your chosen stroke and distance and if you set a time you were in. Of course, it was all racing group kids. I had a go and I was in. On the night I arrived, got changed and sat and waited till my race. As an adult, I realise that all the competitors were warming up in a pool. They appeared and it was my heat; to go to the next round all I knew was that it was first 2 and then the fastest 2 losers after that. No idea what was going on, I got ready for the backstroke, I had practised a little on racing turns and dives, but I hadn’t had any coaching. In fact, it was a surprise that I was there.

I was third in my heat and I went home. I got changed alone, no one said a word, no one else in the place. I went home, no special tea. Nothing changed and I went to school the next day. The only recognition was the older kid who swam for the club saying didn’t expect to see you last night. Later I would find out I was the third fastest loser as well as 3rd in my heat, missing both by the usual fractions. This was years later and I had given up swimming by then. I was a loser, I didn’t get past the first round, I had been stupid to think any different. Of course as an adult I realise that I was 17th out of 56, and the only one who hadn’t been coached to race, and that it was quite possible that I had been faster than some of those had they been in slower heats as I had no idea of the standard of who I was against.

So I guess I was an okay swimmer really. My parents went to this holiday camp, I can remember it wasn’t much of a holiday, I was forced to do kids club stuff, which as the fat kid I hated, it was nothing I was good at. The highlight was getting a BMX for a morning (all my pocket money to hire it) and having a go on the ramps they had. Part of the week was swimming; I was looking forward to it because at least I could swim. The day came and as per usual we were split into teams, and then horror of horrors, I was given butterfly because I had made the mistake of saying I could do all the strokes. I was a backstroker, that was my only chance of not being embarrassed, I was in my trunks by the pool, the parents were there, I wanted to run, but I felt entirely trapped. It was only Wednesday, so I couldn’t run because there was the rest of the week to survive, and of course, I couldn’t embarrass my parents either, that wasn’t worth it.

The time came, we all trotted out for the one length butterfly race, completely exposed as the fat kid I looked around at the athletic bodies of every kid around me. I am sure they weren’t all athletic but they definitely were not fat like me. I guessed we would be gone in the water and I could sneak out while the winners got all the attention. I tried not to notice them limber up and did everything I could to try not to draw attention to myself. I just looked down my lane at the goal, the end, over, sneak off as there was a break after for lunch. I dived and I swam for my life, in the water all I could do was concentrate on my worst stroke, just absorbed in the movement until the wall, it was over. I immediately went to get out the pool fast, when I looked back. The lane either side of me was just over half way. In fact, no one was even close. I had beaten the entire field by the best part of 12.5meters or half a length of 25  metres in that pool. I got out, got a certificate, some stickers and my mum took a photo.

That was it, I went for lunch, the well done lasted from the pool to lunchtime and I put my certificate away and the stickers with it. The holiday continued. Nothing changed, it wasn’t mentioned, I got my well done, there was a photo, that was it. For many years I have looked at that photo of the beaming proud “fat kid” who had finally won something. I saw his top abdominal muscles, his shoulders developed from the thousands of lengths, his legs chunky from the miles cycling to and from the local pool to swim for hours in peace alone. I didn’t see a fat kid; I realise no one saw a fat kid, I realise the looks on those parents was not at the fat kid who was woefully out of his depth but at the swimmer who was about to win by a mile and disappoint their child. To me those stares were telling me I shouldn’t be there, and I was right, I had no right being in a holiday camp swimming gala, I looked like a competitive swimmer, I thought it was because I was the fat one.

My swimming life was instructive as a child because it taught me that I was a loser and that winning didn’t change anything. Success didn’t change life, I had a job, I had 2 jobs, I paid keep, I did well at school, so I should, I won something, it was a nothing event at nowhere, I failed at the Club competition, what did I expect? The looks of the parents confirmed that I was fat too. I hated school, swimming was not the way out, success in the world was not the route to happiness either. I grew up wanting to hear the words “well done”, wanting a bit of fuss and wanting my success to change something, even it that was just picking what I had for tea.

As an adult, I ended up in a relationship just like that of my childhood and so I never strove with everything I had to be a success because there would always be people better than me, and any temporary win would not change the fact that I was a loser and not a successful person. The belief that I was the person I had been told I was and was treated like informed how I made my way through life. At work, I would work hard and try to do well, and find myself sacked the first mistake I made. It did not take long for me to try and be in the middle unnoticed. At school I worked just hard enough to stay out of big trouble, I wanted to be somewhere else, the teachers made it clear I wasn’t good at school stuff and the odd time I poured all I had into something it came back with the same grades as when I didn’t. Leave fatty alone was my life. I had a great overhand right that helped with the latter.

As an adult I was, for so many years, that little boy trying to get by, trying to be happy without someone noticing it. Being happy only lasted till someone noticed and then it would be taken away. Success was something you kept to yourself, it was only yours, no one cared, no one even wanted to know. It wasn’t healthy. I know now how terribly debilitating it all was, it was no wonder I was plagued by crippling depression and that in an abusive relationship anxiety came to paralyse me. Now I preach that other people’s picture of you is only real if you make it that way, that you celebrate success and learn that you can succeed and to not accept external definitions or measures of what success is. You can set a world record and come third, see the achievement for what it is, not the definition someone else gives it.

So I look at those swimming Galas and learn; I did what was never expected of me, I was able to be the real deal when I had no encouragement, no coaching, no help and definite obstruction so why can I not be the real deal now. I may not be the best in the world, but someone will be and if I never aim to be I never stand a chance of being that someone. Most of all I look at that little boy and I realise that he was petrified, he was terrified, he felt like running away every second till that whistle blew to start those races, and that while he felt like he did not belong, that he was an alien in the land of others, that little boy stood there anyway. And more than that, that frightened little boy stepped up and did good, he did really good.

Monday Night Reflection: Blog On

Monday Night Reflection: Blog On

Every-so-often, I do look back at this Blog, read my squeeks and contemplate how things have changed. As the New Year approached I started to think about the future because material has been gradually accumulating, I even downloaded and printed out a blog planner, and started a blog ideas notebook just to help me on my way.

Any look at my archive shows that I started slowly; the issue was that I had started an abuse survivors blog, a valuable enterprise. I am not entirely sure I had any idea what that would entail or even if that concept had any real meaning. In all honesty, I really didn’t have a clue. As I came to review what I had been doing and think about what I want to be doing. It is fairly clear this is not a blog about how to survive abuse and has gotten further away from being obviously abuse related. I do, fairly often, feel a little guilty that my pages do not have links to helpline and resources, perhaps they should? I am not convinced that what I am doing here, and I because I did not really use any particular resources to get away or even really start the journey of dealing with my abusive past, I cannot personally recommend any particular resource. At the same time, I feel woefully unqualified to write any sort of how-to guide, I didn’t diary the journey, and I don’t think I have much to give on the practical side over and above the great stuff that is already out there.

However, while this blog is not an abuse survival blog in that it contains any practical guidance whatsoever, any resources or even useful links, it is a blog written by an abuse survivor. I had to explain this to myself, because this differential was far to apparently self-evident Which meant, when I thought about it, like many apparently self evident concepts, I did not see any immediate content of substance in that category. While a blog about abuse survival is going to explain itself quickly with its practical focus, a blog by an abuse survivor could be anything. I have seen those that are accounts, almost diaries of what living in an abusive situation was/is like for the victim. Without that central theme, the experience of abuse in real terms, not the rather glossy euphemisms that make it more comfortable, what exactly makes a blog, or anything, different because it was written by an abuse survivor?

In a sense I could be searching for my unique selling point; but there is something actually very different driving me to the distinction. By having the category, blog by a survivor of abuse, I am creating an explanatory framework which a reader can use to quickly locate any problematic material. Or in other words, when reading my material, and in that I have particular piece and poems in mind, knowing that their inspiration and root is in an abusive past explains what is going on so the reader can make sense of the world in which they suddenly find themselves. Hopefully, knowing the origin of the blog as part of my journey via the creation of a persona, Mr Mouse, who is in charge of trauma processing, and is a major part of the creative production team, gives context. It explains the lack of my favourite recipes, personal pictures and tells my reader exactly, I hope, what to expect.

Early on, I realised quickly that this blog had to be something growing rather more organically with me and so to be genuine would need to follow my journey. For me to be happy with this I had to have material I would be at least happy to show people. Looking at early postings I see mistakes and errors that make me cringe, I do not change them because the development of my skills is a core element of my creative journey. I am consciously developing my craft through reading and practice at a level that keeps the process enjoyable and spontaneous. Every entry is written on the move; I have no store house or prewritten material scheduled up to post. The closest I get is scheduling something written late for the next morning or separating up posts in the day when the have been produced at the same time. Monday Night Reflections often start the week before and come together over the Monday, where I schedule the publication time as a deadline to meet, other times I barely keep it posting on a Monday.

I guess I have been squeeking organically; I enjoy working on this blog. Ironically, if all I did was create for the blog I would run out of material to create for the blog because its not all stored up. To have a blog I have to live, to travel, to do life and do my life. My life – still a difficult concept to pin down too. Looking to the future, that is the problem. In blog life as well as life, I am happy where I am, the changes are really making what is good already better, making me more happy rather than dealing with problems. In my life I feel problems are either in process, or they are not able to be processed and I class as not in my control. If I cannot change or control them then I work hard to keep them out of my view and out of my thoughts or planning. I am contented with what I have, it is truly amazing on every level, and something the little council estate boy would never have been able to dream about. Which is another unique aspect, and another thing that gives me twinges of guilt.

When I read survivor stories too often the situation of the writer has broken away from the abuse at a huge cost, losing everything material and having to start a new life from the bottom. Something I identify with, although without children I cannot know the struggle that situation brings. More significantly than that tho, I had a means to support myself, at least in the short term. I managed to rent a beautiful furnished starter home only three quarters of a mile from where I worked. Although I had to sell my vehicle, I was able to finance deal one before it sold, so again my situation was significantly different. Finally, while it would be soon to say how even if we had a statute of limitation, I was able, in a fashion to generate enough of an income for me to keep going. Lucky for me the days of a meal every other or 3 days did not return and I could have the heating on. I firmly believe that my lack of material deprivation contributed massively to my ability to get through the situations I faced constructively; that and a well timed text message in my darkest days.

As I was declaring bankrupt I was already being welcomed into my new life, one where I no longer had to earn anything at all to be materially looked after, I was being gifted a circumstance that I had deeply desired, worked hard to create, but ultimately did not actually possess.

I cannot write a survivors story, there is nothing dramatic, in my mind, to tell. Detailing what happened with a blow by blow account would be a fruitless act of storytelling. Instead, I am focussed on building up.

Clearly, I am not using a reflective model here. This is what I have been considering, I have a blog, I enjoy creating and sharing, so I could just have a blog that is me sharing my creative output. That would be wrong, because I sincerely hope that I am adding something different to the picture. At the outset of blogging, I really wanted somone, even if it was one person, to know that there is a through, an other side to get to. Because I definitely felt that there was no end beyond continued darkness and suffering, that there was no through it for my situation. That darkness and feeling of despair was my path to suicide, I need to know there was a way out, any way out, when they were absent, my mind found the only left. Not healthy, not constructive, and not something I would want anyone to have to face. Statistically, I know that men in particular will make the same choice as me but unlike me will be successful. Suicide is the largest single cause of death for men between twenty-five and fifty.

From this I developed a mental manifesto, or a wish perhaps, but definitely a core message that drives me to keep blogging and around which my future plans are centred. I want to say that having an abusive past is ok, there is no shame, you are not alone. But also that trauma while it may haunt you, is not only faced by locking it away and never opening it again. Trauma does not go away if you ignore it, and that there are a multitude of ways of constructively making trauma something you live with without undue pain, suffering or distress. And that trauma definitely does not need to control your life and how you make decisions. However, at the same time that trauma needs to be constructively handled, it can also be a source of drive. Let your pain drive you to greatness is a cliché, but there is a hard-core truth right at its heart. For me, I write poetry exploring my feelings, I allow myself to relive emotional moments deliberately. I find, for me, this form of expression gives me back the controlling power. I also find the act of reflecting and facing elements I from my past helps me better marshal and rally my thoughts coherently. When I thing coherently trauma and reactive behaviours lose their control because they stop being amorphous scary unknowns. The spotlight I see them for what they are, the reality they no longer possess and the consequences they can no longer deliver. I believe that paralysis by analysis is a constructive tool and well as a destructive force.

Which leaves me with what was I thinking, and what are my plans. I do have things I want to creatively, I have already said that, and I want to share that, or at least some of that, and I have ideas of things I can do to enhance or add depth to this blog as an endeavour, while bearing in mind that blogging is not what pays the bills, and that while it is constructive self development there is more to me and life than what I can publish. Which at times, actually gets more difficult that it should, I tend to see creative finished product as the measure of my productivity and therefore my worth.

That is a practical answer, and is ducking the real question. When I think back at what I was intending to do when this all started, its clear I had no idea. I wanted to do something; no idea what, where or how. I wrote a few things and found myself in a black hole cornered with only one real direction available. I was going to be writing an abuse blog and spending hours immersed in creating a valuable resource, or I was going to be writing graphic reconstructions. Neither appealed, and I while I am confident I have the academic ability to produce a useful resource, the graphic story telling, not confident at all, and not something I would want to be learning and getting deeply into. What I did was open up, change things and then run with it to see what happened and did what felt right along the way. Very much how I had done things as a young man lacking purpose and direction, waiting for opportunities while working at something and moving along a road to see how the landscape would change. I feel it worked well, because, it was not as ambiguous as it probably sounds, it involved learning and working, and because I was open to suggestion, change and opportunity rather than making myself fit a certain model based on external expectations.

At the same time, I have grown into wanting this blog to have purpose a little more than being a repository. I sincerely hope that anyone who is going through a tough time, or is dealing with trauma, abuse or not, can draw constructively from what I have done to deal with what has been traumatic for me. I have felt that I can offer up the, if he can do it, so can I angle. Because I am not a superstar, I am not at a level far removed, and my attainment being accessible, I am able to be of a little inspiration. I would like people to enjoy what I do, spread a little happiness and find practical utility and insight through my contribution.

Monday Night Reflection: Prison of My Mind Revisited

Monday Night Reflection: Prison of My Mind Revisited

I remembered this last week thanks to a Facebook posting by hypnotist Elliot Wald, and reading my initial thoughts I felt that the subject needed another thought.

Initially, I felt that the prison of my mind had developed almost exclusively as a defensive response to real situations. Over time I have seen that there is actually a more complex interplay between the real and experienced, the feared and anticipated. I cannot separate the two, and perhaps they have a shared root and are why coercive abusive control is so effective. You experience consequences of behaviour, consequences are threatened and become implied, so you start to fear and anticipate based on the real experience using the evidence of a limited number of sufficiently traumatic incidents. It’s not worth the beating you got last time you did it, or even its not worth the beating you got last time you got caught thinking about it. This is clearly a less than unique situation statistically, but is a distinctly different class of anxiety and imprisonment.walls-of-your-mind

When that relationship ended, it was the equivalent of the doors being unlocked and the place being shut – with all the power and supplies left on. Necessity forced me to leave the confines of what had been my life; for some things this was a welcome and much-wanted release, for others, it was a terrifying venture into darkness. The most common feature of this transitional period was fear. Fear because of the behaviours that had previously led to consequences and because I was conditioned to expect them, but also fear because when she found out what I was doing she retaliated and brought consequences. She did not want to relinquish control. I have said before her intention was to drive me to self-destruction and I firmly believe she thought she could drive me to suicide.

The reality was it took me a fair while to realise that I was in a prison, the early days were about coming to terms not just with what happened, while dealing, in a very practical sense, with what was happening, and then processing the implications this had about my past. Recognising that the marriage was abusive was difficult not only because it was 13 years of my life, it was because my marriage was no different to my childhood. I simply refused to believe.

However, once I began to accept that my behaviours had been conditioned over a lifetime of “consequence” avoidance when in reality the consequences were not entirely or sometimes even remotely predictable, I then was able to understand how I had imprisoned myself as a protective measure. Which is how abuse works, you do what you are told to avoid the consequences and to stay safe, however, over time what is safe changes and becomes more and more restrictive and the conditions that qualify you for safety increasingly unattainable. It becomes predictably random, you know when a consequence is overdue. Sometimes you even provoke a little to get a smaller consequence because you feel a big one is looming and you are in no fit state to take the onslaught.

Reading that back, it seems so simple, but in reality, it is crushingly complex. When you realise that you have a life full of conditioned behaviours and that you have predicated your choices on survival that realisation leads to a void of certainty and a sea of questions. Mostly these are things like, what do I really like to watch, what do I really like to do, where do really like to go, but they also include questions like who am I, what am I about. For me, when my marriage ended I lost what were core elements of my identity, husband and father. With those went the associated responsibilities of those roles. They were stripped away while my past was rewritten. So not only did I lose those identities, my legacy was erased as well. All I had done to that point in my marriage (and life) was recast and retold to fit the story that was being peddled and the identity I was being given.

Saying this was difficult is to seriously under report the extent of the effect this had. I was one text message from suicide. I felt I had nothing, my parents had passed away, I had no relations and friends were keeping a safe distance while my abusive ex lashed out at anyone associated with me with the fullest destructive force she could muster. Some were arrested, others nearly lost jobs, and real life damage was done in way that goes beyond he said, she said. This involved Police, Social Services, and agencies that were legally obliged to act on what she was saying on the possibility that it was true. Knowing all along that mud sticks and that damage could be permanent. I was physically lonely, and it was the internet that allowed some people to be supportive and miss a lot of backlash.

The upshot of the turmoil and change was that my prison had protective utility long after I could have left. I felt tremendously vulnerable, to the point I locked myself in. I felt unsafe, even in my own house, being arrested at 5am, having my door window smashed by her, and the threats made me feel vulnerable and seeing children playing reduced me to tears. My sanctuary was no fortress and I knew it. Still, I hid, literally and figuratively.

The prison of my mind was still intact. Life happened I moved away, but still she was there trying to destroy that chance. Of course, those efforts ultimately served to achieve nothing, and to those that engaged with them they simply reinforced my version of events. Reassuring as this came to be, I was stuck with a whole bunch of behaviours that were conditioned responses. The task is still working out what those conditioned responses are and then breaking them and engaging in what I call intentional behaviour.

2017 is my year of recognising, possibly more explicitly than ever before, that I need to make conscious choices about habits, and things that people probably don’t spend any time thinking about. Things like wearing different shoes, or what shoes I pick for which occasion. It is listening to music and reading books not worrying about any judgement of my choice, it is about watching a show I used to watch with her because I do like it and separating out the context from the thing as much as possible. I spend time wondering about places, like Sherwood Forest, on the one hand, I love it, but it is the place my children with her all went for their first holidays, and I went there with her. I have no desire to relive the past, and I want to build new memories. For now, I have decided that places are decided upon case by case. In this case, Sherwood is, very sadly, off limits, rather like the organiser she gave me for starting my first job. Whatever merits there are and utility there may be, it is not something to carry around every day. My future lies somewhere else, time to find a different forest and build from that place of peace, not an old one. The Baltic represents the opposite, we did not share that place, even though I went there with her, it was not our place at all. The Baltic was me and my son’s place, we shared the hours there and so it was okay to bring it into my new life because those memories are unsullied. My smiles real, no context other than loving time with my boy smiling enjoying himself. And, of course, the hindsight that I was giving him a unique life experience that will weave itself through his life. Just as he has woven himself into mine.

I have written about pictures and light switches, and how these are indicators of a peace, and of how my conditioned behaviours are changing over time. It is these changes that are driving my deliberate move to be intentional. I have managed, not out of any conscious move, to realise where I was and contrast that with where I am. This consciousness has brought with it the awareness that I am still carrying around habits and responses that were learned as protection from consequences.

This is most evident when I am placed under stress or duress, where of course, highly conditioned quick automatic protective responses are exactly what I needed. The ability to quickly move into a position or minimum harm and maximum defence with the least exposure to permanent damage is an essential that I no longer need. Rather like taking your hand off something burning hot, it is very difficult to unlearn what has been a very useful behaviour up until now.

So what of the Prison of My Mind? It is certainly not what it used to be, and becomes more derelict by the day. The truth is I still visit, and I stay a while, sometimes I stay too long, other times I wander into forgotten corners, however, for the most part, my visits are brief. Habits are changing, importantly I am settling into who I am, recognising what is the cowering protective me, and what is the living life me, and being the living life person deliberately until that becomes my habit.

In other ways I have to recognise, anxiety and the default to protective ritual, my fear of the unknown and my management strategies, are things that while intertwined with the protective learned behaviours have also established themselves independently. I have to assess whether or not I need to change these behaviours. Whether change is productive, useful or health and having decided what needs changing I have to work out what the replacement is going to be if a replacement is needed.

One day the prison will be a memory, I have a feeling it will always be a memory tinged with fondness and framed with a wry smile.

Poetry Corner: Me

Poetry Corner: Me

I’m lost in darkness
I’m walking tall
I’m talking fast
I’m saying nothing at all

My smile is real
My smile is fake
My concern is real
My indifference is fake

My pain too much
My relief too fleeting
My goal is distant
My dream too precious

I’m making sense
I’m blank
I’m riding the wave
I’m crashing down

I’ve lost my voice
I’ve shouted loud
I’ve achieved a bit
I’ve lots to do