Oversharing – Opening The Door A Bit, But Not All The Way

You may have noticed that I’ve been absent for about seven weeks. I just closed for business without so much as a sign on the door or a note saying I’d be gone a while and disappeared.

I didn’t intend to stop writing and it was not due to lack of interest in blogging or a shortage of things to write about but rather an overwhelming indecision about how much I should share about an unnerving experience I had last November. It left me feeling as if everything I wanted to write about was either too much or too trivial so I got lost in the inertia of indecision.

I often worry about over sharing the details of my life especially the darker parts of it and I rarely hit publish without considering the long-term effect a revelation might have on my future or that of someone I love.

It’s tricky deciding how much is too much. I notice other folks asking the same question from time to time, most recently Caitlin Kelly and Cindy La Ferle and I often wonder what my readers think.

Sometimes I happen upon a blog that is so deeply personal I feel I’ve stepped into someone’s therapy session by accident and I don’t know whether to pull up a chair and join in or slip quietly out the back door. I don’t want people to feel that way when they stop by GOTJ, but I do want what I say here to have meaning. That said, there are times when I worry that what I want to say is too personal … so much so that instead of spilling it here I go quiet afraid that if I open the door I’ll unleash a beast I can’t call back.

My words and posts are about my life and my experiences. It’s not always been happy, but it hasn’t all been bad either providing a balance that usually makes it easy to avoid the darker topics for less weighty ones. I generally feel as if I’ve been gifted with the power of resiliency, enchantment, and joy  … almost as if storybook fairies paid a visit to my crib and waved their magic wands over me as an infant saying a few words to try offset the evil they knew would surround me as a small child.

Childlike enthusiasm and leading with my heart have been used more than a time or two to describe me and where some might see these as the attributes of someone weaker than others, I see them as defiant badges that affirm my ability to hold on through the hard times.

But as strong as I am I sometimes need support.

Last November I had a panic attack. I’ve never had one before and actually thought I might be having a heart attack. John was out for a walk with his daughter who was down for a visit and I was alone in the house. Just as I was about to dial 999 for an ambulance, I did an abbreviated version of what I’d heard a doctor friend of mine refer to as a systems check.

Once I realized I was having a panic attack, I sent my old therapist a short email and she responded within ten minutes which I found remarkable considering I had not seen her as a patient for 17 years. I’ve mentioned Nancy Loeb here in the past and I say again, if you have a history like mine and need someone who can help you change your life, she’d be the one.

During my unplanned blogging hiatus, I spent three weeks in the US only returning about a week ago. While I was in Atlanta, an old friend of mine from my university days sent me an email after noting my blogging absence to ask if I was okay. Here is a bit of what I said in response.

” My reasons for not blogging lately have to do with a few internal struggles. I can’t decide whether to blog about it or not, but I have so much of substance that I want to say that it makes it difficult to write about travel and trivial things. In many ways I am doing very well and in others I feel I’m walking the edge at times as I deal with some ghosts.

It may sound odd, but the Paterno/ Penn State media coverage followed one night by student protestors being beaten with police batons and unable to escape triggered what I can only imagine was a panic attack of big proportions. I don’t have panic attacks and almost called an ambulance it scared me so bad. I was having trouble breathing and thought it was my heart for a minute and in reality it was my heart, but in an emotional way.”

Later, when reread the email I’d sent to my friend, I thought, ” Oh no, I meant Sandusky/Penn State “as he was the abuser, but then I realized that for me, I got it right the first time. The world is full of people like Sandusky, but it’s the Paternos of the world who are the real disappointments.

I think people who have the power to save a child and do nothing are as bad as the abuser and part of what caused me to become undone that day was description of what Mike McQueary witnessed and the obvious collusion involved that allowed a pedophile to have continued access to children. McQueary’s trial transcripts coupled with a video of college students being beaten while protesting, acted as a trigger for the panic attack and forced me over the last few months to confront my thoughts as to how much sharing is too much.

Secrets like the ones I had growing up are usually kept due to fear or shame. Good therapy can change that, but even when I think I have said all I need to say whether in therapy or with the people I’m closest to, there are still times when the urge to say more here is overwhelming.

Pat Conroy, author of one of my favorite books, The Price of Tides, was quoted years ago in a Vanity Fair article saying, ” One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family ” and I’m sure he would give me added points for having a family with deep southern roots as well.

Bits of my life creep into my characters when I write fiction which satisfies me for now. Some things are still too horrible to write on their own and I think writing it into someone else’s imagined life gives me the distance I need not to get lost in my own story. That may be a better option for me than memoir, at least for now.

That said, I’ve decided that certain details will not be part of what I write here. It doesn’t mean the tough topics are off-limits, just the amount of detail I’ll share about any similar personal experiences.

Many thanks to those who sent an email to check on me during my time away … it makes me smile to think I was missed.

Someone In Evansville Indiana Has The Ability To Change My Life

Strange title, huh? I know you are probably thinking what in the world is Elizabeth up to with a title like that … so I’ll tell you, but be forewarned it is not pretty and it will not take you to a happy place.

I have a reader who shows up on my sitemeter with an IP address from or near Evansville, Indiana. I cannot tell who it is but every time I see they have been by to have a look at my blog posts I have a memory that links me to Evansville as clearly as if I were a small child again. I wish I could say it was a pleasant memory, but it’s not.

Some of you may have read posts of mine in the past like this one or perhaps this one where I alluded to some of the difficulties my sister Margaret and I went through as children and this post gets a bit more specific than in the past. I think it is necessary in order to share the story properly and it is something I have debated for months, but know this … what I am sharing today is one of the milder things I could tell you.

Living as we did in a violent household some days were better than others and trips to Evansville were always something of a toss-up in terms of whether we would be safe for a few days or not. One would think a family gathering with lots of children and adults around might be a good place to go unnoticed for a few days lost in the activities and chaos of a holiday at Grandma’s house except she wasn’t really our Grandma, something our step-father never let us forget.

We knew in no uncertain terms that we were there with his family because he allowed it and it was a privilege he could and did take away as easily as he withheld food when punishing us for made-up offenses. I remember his mother as a small, faded, apron wearing woman who seemed to circle the edges of her own home never coming into the center of a crowded room except to put something down or carry it away.

The two-story white farm-house stood in the center of a large piece of land where she lived with her second husband who I can’t remember ever saying a word although I am sure he must have spoken at some point. Acres and acres of farmland came almost up to all four sides of the dusty house that was edged with just enough green grass to make a place for a border of flowers and trees.

It always looked lonely to me sitting as it did at the end of a dirt lane that was fenced on both sides to keep the animals either in or out depending on what year it was. For a while it was cows and I remember pigs some years, but mostly when I think back I can see the empty fields around Thanksgiving and the homemade pies lining one side of the last seven or eight stair-steps going up to the bedrooms on the second floor.

At mealtimes we’d sit at a long table that would have sagged with the weight of the food piled upon it had it not been built by hand for the large family seated on either side. There were multiple kinds of meats, vegetables, and breads, all made by an old woman’s hands that already had too much to do on the other six days of the week leading into the holiday period and I can only imagine that she might have preferred to go out to eat rather than hover in the background refilling platters and bowls from the kitchen before she got a good mouthful in herself. She always seemed quiet but kind and I never could understand how she had raised the child that grew into the evil masochistic abuser that her son became.

Sadly, my mother found him and married him the summer before my seventh birthday and almost immediately our lives became a free-fall into a never-ending cycle of abuse too terrible to discuss even now. One might have thought oneself safe in the company of others, but in the 60s and 70s no one in my life said anything even when confronted with obvious signs of physical abuse … not my mother who witnessed much of it and doled out her own, or my teachers, or even the people who sat at the table and watched that day as my stepfather licked his fork slowly before stabbing it deliberately into my arm with a flourish meant to attract attention.

What grievous infraction did I commit? The table was a bit high and the chair too low for a child of ten and the edge of my arm touched the edge of the table for a half second too long. Clearly in pain after being stabbed hard enough to draw blood but too afraid to speak, I sat there ashamed as my eyes filled with tears and thought I must truly be all the bad things he said about me because the others at the table watched and did nothing.

From years seven to fourteen I fought to hang onto some sense of self that was not tainted by the evil things he said and did. Strong in spirit and smart enough to seek therapy when older, I think I managed to turn out pretty well in spite of it all, but I am still haunted by the memory of that meal and that day and how no one spoke up when they could have made a difference, when they could have said enough and taken the fork from his hand.

My reason for sharing this painful story with you is one of hope really. I have thought about this for some time and I hope by writing this the person who reads my blog from or near Evansville Indiana will leave a little message in my comment section or possibly send me an email off-line to say hello and maybe share a happy memory that I can think of when I see Evansville in my sitemeter instead of the images I remember now.

I’ve done my best to forget or replace it with a memory of my own, but I am hard put to come up with one and I’d be grateful to hear one of yours. Won’t you take a minute to say hello and tell me a little about yourself.

We all have more power to make a difference than we often know and although it is not always as obvious as helping a child in need, a kind word or a helping hand may be enough for someone who needs it today.