Coping or Copping Out?

Feb 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: All Posts, Guest Blog

by Patty Hite

I recently moved from Florida to Ohio. My husband and I thought it would be a great move. I was raised in Ohio, so I was ready and willing to move back. He is ill and wanted me to be around my family.

It was a hard move. The dream that it would be “greener on the other side of the fence” turned out to be untrue. We drove through snow and ice in a convoy of two U-Haul trucks. We arrived to find that the home we rented has a landlord from hell. Everyday has been a struggle to get things fixed. The weather is too drastic for my husband. We realized that we need to go back home—home to Florida.

The thought of going through another move caused many coping mechanisms to surface. I had to choose to succumb to them or to overcome them. Fear was rising within me—fear of having no control over the situation.

I’ve been healing from my abuse long enough to know what I need to do in order to feel empowered again, but the truth is, I didn’t want to deal with healing. I’ve already dealt with my past—the dysfunction of my family, the sexual abuse of my sister and me, the physical abuse from my ex-husband and the sexual abuse of my children by their father. I don’t have flashbacks, triggers or nightmares. Anxiety attacks are taken care of, behavior and boundaries are renewed and I love who I am. The past doesn’t hurt anymore. I can talk about it without pain and sometimes it feels like it happened to someone else.

But sometimes the patterns from the past, the old behaviors, try to invade my thoughts and try to rule and control my emotions. I am aware of them, I know what needs to be done and I know how to control them. But sometimes, I just don’t want to.

The first thing to surface was the desire to dissociate. I’ve dealt with this, especially over this past year. I know when I am being wooed to escape and I have learned to overcome it. This past week, it came in like a flood and all I needed to do was open the gates. Part of me knew that if I gave in, I could escape, but the other part of me knew that it would become my “sick” friend again. I knew that if I invited it in, it would fight to stay. Dissociation is like getting drunk. It feels good at the moment because it offers temporary relief, but I have to face the real world when I wake up.

Then I had thoughts of “Woe is me!” “This isn’t fair!” “No one understands what I have to go through in order to make this move!” “No one cares!“ I didn’t give any thought to what this is doing to my husband. He is the ill one, yet I wanted to be ill. I wanted all the attention and I wanted everyone to feel sorry for me. I hung onto that for a few days and made life impossible for everyone around me. There was nothing they could do to make me feel better and I rejected every great idea they had. “It’s not going to work.” “There is no way to make this happen.”

Isolation was another thing trying to woo me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I wanted to be left alone to wallow in my self pity. When anyone talked to me, I pretended like I didn’t hear them or my answers were so sharp they cut like a knife. I imagined putting on my coat and boots and walking until I got lost. Then everyone would wonder where I was or else they wouldn’t care and be glad I was gone. Would anyone even miss me? I was becoming a stranger to them. They didn’t know who this crazy woman was anymore. Dang. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

I hate being isolated. Not only do I stay away, my family stays away. I put up my walls that they won’t cross. Then they feel unwanted and unloved. I understand this pattern since it was a close friend of mine. I always wondered why I wasn’t invited places and why people didn’t want to be around me. I stayed away from them, then they stayed away from me. Then I’d get angry because they stayed away.

I was an escape addict. It started with the first time I dissociated during my abuse and it grew from there. As a child, I was only allowed to be a victim in my own world. I couldn’t physically escape, but I could escape in my mind. I escaped from my abuse and the misery of it.

I also noticed that everything stopped. Everything. I didn’t want to take care of myself. I barely made it to the shower and ran around in the same sweatpants for days and viciously brushed my hair. I never opened my makeup and instead of brushing my teeth twice a day, I put toothpaste on my fingertips and rubbed my gums a couple of times. Meals were a thing of the past. I told everyone it was leftovers and that they could help themselves. Forget about cleaning the house. I sat in front of the television and dared anyone to change the channels. I was a like a bull taking a stance—front legs locked. No prodding was going to move me. I wasn’t going anywhere and I wasn’t doing anything.

After a few days of feeling weak and wanting to crawl into bed and not get up, I faced ME. Every one of these were patterns from my past. I went back to that time and remembered how badly I wanted to run.

I was an escape addict. It started with the first time I dissociated during my abuse and it grew from there. As a child, I was only allowed to be a victim in my own world. I couldn’t physically escape, but I could escape in my mind. I escaped from my abuse and the misery of it.

But I didn’t stop dissociating when I grew up. There were times in my life when I wanted or needed someone else to take over. If I escaped, maybe things would be better in the morning or maybe someone else would take care of it. I wanted to be rescued like I never was during my childhood.

I have always been the one to take care of things. Every man I was with passed the buck. Any turmoil was left in my hands. So I handled it, but I found ways of escaping in my mind for a while. I wanted to be a victim so someone else would take over. I wanted a chance to be the carefree child I never was allowed to be.

As the youngest of nine kids, I didn’t get much attention as a child. But I’d get one-on-one time with my mom when I was sick. As I got older, it became a way of escape from stress. When I got older and in high school, I was so afraid to stand in front of the class and read. I could literally make myself ill so I didn’t have to go to school. It was almost like willing myself and it happened. My body always followed my emotions. If I got depressed or scared enough, my body would break down. I would be nauseous and run a fever and have body aches. It would last for days. If I gave it an inch, it always took a mile.

When we lived in Florida, being outside and walking to the lake where we live was a way for me to nurture myself. It brought calmness to me so I could think and relax and make plans. But here, I couldn’t do that. It has been miserable outside since day one. There are other things I do, but spending time outside is my solitude. I plan on doing a lot more of this when we get to Florida. I don’t want it to be a way of escape, but a way of life.

I wasn’t taken care of as a child and my coping methods were the best I could do then. But keeping them around kept me from taking care of myself now. I can’t undo the past, but I can give myself the care I never got as a child. Doing that helps me face my adult responsibilities.

So, here I am now. I took the time to face them all and I am glad I did. I feel strong again and I’m ready to make the plans to move again. I’m actually looking forward to it. I know I can do it.

My mind is clear and focused. I am actively involved with the thoughts and ideas of my family. My husband feels secure and safe again, knowing that we are a team. I am back. I’m laughing and hugging and kissing and holding. I am ME again. I found my “moving” notebook (I threw it behind the television in a fit of anger and self pity.) I crossed out “Ohio – Here We Come” and replaced it with “Florida – Homeward Bound.”

As a survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Patty Hite has been tenaciously pursuing her healing for over thirty years. She’s a passionate advocate for all survivors and dedicates her life to inspiring emotional wholeness in others. As a former victim of spousal abuse, she’s delighted to find true love with her husband of ­­­­five years. She’s blessed with four children and six grandchildren.

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