If anyone asked when I was 5 what I was worth, I could say for sure it was a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I am Anita and I am 51 years old. I have two brothers, two sisters and a dad who is 86 years old.
I grew up in Brooklands, Winnipeg in a small army house on the “right side of the tracks”. My childhood was good for the most part. Playing outside after school, riding my bike, eating rhubarb and sugar on the front step and playing hide and go seek with my friends. Life was good…as far as I knew. My life looked like every other child in the neighborhood…or so I thought.
The first time he came into my bedroom, I was 5 years old. He was old, he smelled funny and he touched me in places that I thought were private…I was wrong. I learned that night that my privates had no boundaries and he could come and go as he pleased. I was an education that would last for the next 9 years. He is my grandfather.
It was no coincidence that my mothers hate affair with me began at the same time. I wouldn’t understand why until much later in my life.
She was a “lovely woman” by everyone’s standards. She was very pretty, smart, kept a clean house, raised 5 kids and loved to party. Mom came from a prominent home in small town Saskatchewan. Her family ran the municipality office in their small town and was well respected in the community. When the war broke out, her brothers went off to serve our country which left her older sister to run the office and mom to look after the home with grandmother. I was told she was treated no better than a slave.
The war ended, the brothers came home and my mother announced to all, she was marrying the town drunk’s son…my dad.
I am 6 and at my first dance recital. I am so scared and no one would take me to the bathroom. I peed on stage during my performance. My mother doesn’t say a word to me while she dresses me to go home. I can feel the anger oozing from her skin. I am terrified. She dragged me home seven blocks that day by my arm. She never missed a beat when I fell over and over again screaming “how could you embarrass me like that you filthy ungrateful pig”. Scraped and bleeding I was sent to my room – always to my room. “So I don’t have to look at you anymore, get out of my sight”.
Mom’s hatred of me grew as I grew but I was getting stronger too. I could hide my pain from her and she hated me more for that. She found some pretty inventive ways to hurt me and with each one, I learned yet a new way to shut down to protect myself. By age 7, I have mastered the art of being invisible. I can do this so well now that she forgets me at church one time and didn’t notice I was missing till dinner was on the table. For three hours I sat on a curb outside the church. A nice girl came and sat with me and waited while I sobbed. I learned what abandonment felt like that day. So began my self preservation training for not needing anyone.
Dad played in a band most weekends with mom and grandpa went with them to party and pay the bar tab. Those nights were fun for me. Watching Mash, All in the Family, making pizza and ice cream floats with my brothers and sisters. We would all be asleep when the bar closed and mom, dad and grandpa came home. Mom would wake us at three in the morning and told to come upstairs for a “special treat”. The table was set and a big bucket of chicken was waiting for us. I wasn’t hungry but leaving wasn’t an option. When it was done, we had to thank grandpa very much for buying us chicken and then we were allowed to go back to bed. It wasn’t long before he made his way down to my bedroom. It was in those moments that I understood the price I had to pay….for a bucket of chicken.
I am 10 now and I’ve just had my first taste of hard alcohol. I can’t sleep because the night terrors are unbearable. I sneak upstairs in the middle of the night and take my first sip from the bottle hidden under the sink. I am in LOVE and I am SAVED. The warmth runs through me like hot clothes from the dryer. My heart wants to explode from the sheer joy of being alive. The voices in my head are blessedly quiet and when I lay down…oh there is a God, I can sleep!
Church was an adventure from hell. All decked out in our Sunday best, not a hair out of place and of course the lecture. “You little heathens better not speak a word to anyone or there WILL be hell to pay when we get home”. Confession was mandatory and the coaching before going into that dark little room was shameful and embarrassing. “You filthy little beggars better tell the truth in there. You tell monsignor hateful you are and how you lie all the time or you will go straight to hell”. The more hail Mary’s you had to say afterwards as punishment, the happier she was so you can better believe we pretended to pray as long as possible so she wouldn’t be mad.
He’s been coming in to my room most weekends for 5 years now. It’s not so bad. He is the only adult I know who doesn’t lay a hand on me in anger. So this…it’s not so bad. It feels nice to have something about me that someone likes. I see other kids getting hugs from their parents but it seems odd to me.
I am at school and when I open my books, the dirty stick figures he’s hidden in there fall out on my desk. He wants me to know he is thinking of me.
I am 14 years old and I can’t believe I am still alive. I’m scared all the time, I drink when I can to get away from it for awhile. Dad’s drunken rages, the beatings he gives mom, the beatings she gives us, it’s hard. I try to hang on to myself but there is so little left. I know I won’t live past 20.
That same year a very big thing happened. I got my period and mom wouldn’t let me stay at Grandpa’s for a week during summer holidays. She said “That man is a filthy pig and you are NOT going over there”. I nearly fainted while she walked away from me.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing…it was over. He never touched me from that day forward. Because she said no more, I was able to walk away from him for good.
At 15, I ran away from home. Dad had me by my hair at the back of my head and wouldn’t stop bashing my face into the kitchen floor. I climbed out my bedroom window and made it through a snowstorm without my shoes or coat to my sister’s place. My faced bruised and swollen, hair falling out in clumps, she opened her heart and took me in.
At 16 I got my own place and that was the same year my Grandpa died. I felt nothing as I looked into his coffin. A year later my mother died. I couldn’t make up my mind which one I felt more, grief or rage because I would never have a chance to show her I was somebody worth loving.
At 18 I hit the road. I decided to go traveling for a year. I left the fiancé, the house we bought and the future 2.5 children I never had. Something was wrong with me inside but I didn’t know what. So with my five boxes of possessions, my bicycle and my big bag of shame, guilt, invisible powers and hypersensitivity, I set out to find myself.
What I found first was that I was a good runner. When things got tough because I didn’t know how to handle it, I ran. I moved 52 times in the next 23 years. I’ve lived on each coast, British Columbia to Newfoundland and most of the Provinces in between. I would only stay as long as I could keep the mask up of who I was trying to be. As soon as I started feeling a little settled, I moved. If anyone got too attached, I moved. If I got hurt because I didn’t know how to set a boundary, I ran. When someone fell in love with me and I didn’t know how to work through conflict, I ran. Whenever I felt angry, hurt, frustrated, scared, sad – I ran, I ran, I ran.
I was not taught how to deal with everyday life issues as a child. I wasn’t shown how to protect myself and I sure as heck wasn’t allowed to feel anything but happy or glad.
Thankfully at the age of 20 I found a new drug, it was ballroom dancing. I auditioned for two weeks with over 300 people and learned everything they threw at me like my life depended on it. I was one of two they hired for apprenticeship and over the next year I worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. I went on to teach and perform for almost 15 years.
My Complex Trauma took a backseat when I danced…so I danced a LOT. Oh I still had drinking as my companion because when I stopped dancing, I still needed my best friend to stop the voices of my past.
I was told that I was really good at dancing but I was not interested in progressing to any great level. It was just a means to stuff my past deep down where I couldn’t see it anymore. John Travolta and his crew came to a Gala Ball I attended one year and saw me dance. I got there late because my boyfriend and I had a scuffle and he hit me in the neck with a cast iron frying pan.
I was pretty wasted by the time I got there but I needed to dance. All my anger, rage and fear I brought to the dance floor – I felt better. They approached me and told me how much they liked my dance style. They asked would I be interested in being in a dance movie if they decided to do another one in Vancouver. Of course I would! So they took my number, waved goodbye and said “we’ll be in touch”. So of course two days later I changed my number and moved. No one was ever going to own my ass again and exploit me for their gain…pffft I showed them!
I was engaged to married…9 times. I had become the master of wearing masks. I could imitate almost everyone I came in contact with. That movie Runaway Bride, that was my life. They all fell in love with me because I could mirror back to them who they were. They could not believe their luck to find someone who was just like them. Course I couldn’t marry any of them. I could keep the mask up for 2-3 years tops and definitely not for the rest of my life.
I had absolutely no idea who I was, what I wanted or what I needed. All I knew how to do was latch onto other people, mimic their lives then move on to the next. I was in my mid 30’s when I stopped dancing. It wasn’t fun anymore and it was getting in the way of my drinking.
I spent an entire year doing as much cocaine and alcohol as my body could take. I blew through 40 thousand dollars and had all kinds of new “friends” pop out of the woodwork. Who says money can’t by friends. Those Hell’s Angels were really nice folk once you got to know them. I can’t remember most of that year or I have chosen to forget what I did. I have to say though, that was the most elaborate mask I have ever worn to this day. I was drinking and drugging everyday AND living with my undercover cop boyfriend. Poor bastard never had a clue.
A few years later, I had a therapist ask me “You dated a man for 2 years who is doing a life sentence for murdering a woman, were you not scared?” I told her I didn’t understand the question. Scared of what?
So clearly I am stuck in another dimension, reliving the same nightmare year after year. This boyfriend of 3 years holds me by my ankle outside our 18th floor balcony when I tried to break it off with him. He says “If I can’t have you no one will”. Later the nice police officer who put a warm blanket over my shoulders says to me “That must have been very frightening for you” I stared at him with a blank look on my face unsure what exactly he was referring to.
These people were speaking a foreign language to me that I did not understand. I had been afraid from the time I could walk so what’s the difference between this fear and the fear I wake up to every morning?
I have been protecting myself from things to painful to see and feelings too overwhelming to feel since getting dragged home from dance recital and being molested by my grandfather. Stuffing my emotions kept me safe when I had no other resources for survival.
Of course the upside to that is no bad could get in but the downside was no good could get in either. I was a prisoner in my own body. I had lost touch with my feelings and my self. I was able to withstand a great deal of pain and abuse without the foggiest notion it was abnormal. I learned from a very young age how to participate in my own abuse but eventually, over time I started smothering to death from the inside out.
So I am 41 and my family has just flown me home from Newfoundland. My last suicide attempt didn’t go so well and the doctor on the psychiatric unit convinces me to go home “To your family who loves you”. I am defeated and alone and I think sure. I am done anyway what harm can they do now.
The first month I was back in Winnipeg was kind of nice. They treated me like I was a celebrity which wore off pretty quick. They had high expectations of what my role would be in their lives and of course I couldn’t do it…I could barely breath. They needed me to go back to being “the little fuck up Anita” to make their world right again. I couldn’t do it but oh I gave it a good try. I was a drunk, they were the rescuers and I couldn’t do anything right in their eyes. My niece called me one time and said in a disgusted voice “pffft .. You’ve never finished one thing you have started in your entire life”. My blood ran cold in that moment – it was my mother’s words coming out of my niece’s mouth. She was 8 when I left Winnipeg, so who taught her to say those things to me? Well my sister of course, it is after all how dysfunction gets passed on down to the next generation.
Dad was calling me on the nights he got drunk to tell me what a fuck up I was and “who the hell do you think you are” Well I had had enough.
I woke up one morning and started handing out pink slips to my whole entire family and walked away from them for good. The last nine years I have been drunk and just waiting to die. This is the only life I have ever known and I could not WAIT for it to be over.
Last January I packed up all my stuff in my apartment and labeled who would get what. I got enough booze and pills to finish this thing for good. Then this crazy thing happened. An old childhood acquaintance called me up when I was half way through my 40 pounder of Vodka. I had nothing to lose at this point so I told him why I was checking out. He just chuckled and said “Why there is nothing wrong with you Anita, you’re just a little bit broken”. Well I had never heard anyone say that to me before. So, for the next hour I listened to him talk about this Tim Fletcher guy and a group called Finding Freedom.
I can’t recall most of what he told me past “you’re just a little bit broken” because I was wasted. I did however, pour out the rest of the booze and go to bed. A couple of days later he brought me the 1st and 2nd DVD’s of this Finding Freedom. I must have listened to them both ten times each over the next couple of days. By March I had listened to every talk this Tim had posted on the Finding Freedom website and you tube.
The first time I saw Tim Fletcher in person was on a Friday night. When he came on stage I nearly fainted. I mean this guy spoke to me everyday for the last two months like he knew me and here he was in front of me live. Of course I made myself as invisible as possible because my brain was saying “If they notice you, they might kick you out, you probably don’t belong here”.
Joining Tim’s woman’s group was a very fortunate accident. I finally got up the courage to ask him one Friday which group I should attend and he told me to follow Emily. He said her group would be good for me. So I got totally lost and walked into Tim’s group by accident. When I saw him sitting within the circle of woman, I think I threw up in my mouth a little. I sat just sat down because I was too scared to leave. Over the next year I laughed, I cried and grew with a remarkable group of women who were just like me. The stories were all different but we were all the same inside.
I have been coming to Finding Freedom now a little over a year and a half. I celebrated my one year continuous sobriety July 4, 2015. It took about 6 months before I was willing to finally let go of the security blanket my alcohol provided me with all these years, but I trusted him. Everything Tim says is the truth that lives deep down inside of me. It can be the first time hearing it but I know it is the truth as soon as I hear it. My bullshit meter is the best that Complex Trauma manufactures so I know this guy is the real deal.
Now the hard work begins…
“Be Authentic, Take off the Masks”…you’ve got to be shitting me. I can’t take them off, I have no idea what’s under there! I’ve been wearing masks for as long as I can remember. So I started small by just pulling it down a little and over time I was able to take the mask off…and put them away.
“Just Sit in It” First time I heard this and I wasn’t sure what it meant so I took it in its literal sense. When a feeling was coming up and threatening to overwhelm me, I just sat down until the feeling washed through me and passed. Overtime I started getting to know the feelings and emotions that were threatening to spin me out of control. I got to know what being mad felt like, looked like and what it sounded like. What the dry mouth of fear tasted like and how my heart pounds very loudly in my ears when I’m scared. Sad makes my chest hurt and my breathing has little breaths in and big long breaths out.
These feelings are all very brand new to me and were scary as shit at first, but it is getting easier the more I let them in. Now when I “sit in it” I ask myself – what’s going on Anita? What triggered this feeling? What are you avoiding? What do you need to look at and deal with? It was in these moments this past year that change truly started taking place in my heart.
I am learning to set healthy boundaries and parameters around myself. I am learning to keep my energy within myself and deal with my issues in a healthy way. It is not perfected, far from it but I am getter better at it everyday.
Tim is giving me real tools that I can understand and use. He doesn’t talk over my head with jargon that I don’t get. He breaks it down so my broken inner child can hear it, because that’s where my learning needed to start from. At the beginning of 2014, I was terrified to leave my apartment and couldn’t wait to die.
My Life Today
God and I made our peace after me being mad at him all my life. He showed himself to me in one blinding moment the first time I set foot in a church in over 37 years. I cried for the whole service as I felt his warmth and love wash through me. He found me that day and has never left my side…and never will.
I got baptized when I turned 51 by the man I almost threw up on the first time I met him. My pastor, my mentor my friend, the first man I have ever trusted.
I became a member of this beautiful church I now call home. I am part of a big family who love me and I love in with all my heart.
I participate in two 6 kilometer races twice a year with tons of people around me and I am not afraid.
I learned how to be a friend.
I joined a gym for the first time in my life to take care of myself and I go without fear.
My bank pre-approved me for a mortgage so I can buy a house! Who knew?
I learned how to be a better person.
Happiness is not what I thought it would be. It looks nothing like the dream I lived in my head all those years…it is so much better. A successful life is not just what other people have anymore. It is creating a world – a life to live in, one in which I do not need to escape from anymore. My recovery has been the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.
In writing my story for the first time and telling it to you today, opened all my old wounds. I ran through a gamut of emotions from terror, shame, sadness and …then peace. No more bandaging those old hurts with drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t work because the pain just bleeds through anyway.
Today, I know true healing comes from the strength of opening my old wounds, sticking my hands in and pulling out the core of the pain that holds me to the past…and to make peace with them.
Thank you for letting me do that by reading my story.