I’m relieved to be home again. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow of our five days in southern California. But I do want to write about what it was like to believe the girl in the midst of a lot of family drama. It was the first time I had been around my father (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) while also believing the girl. My old coping mechanisms–self-doubt and denial–weren’t invited to help this time. I wanted to keep my commitment to the inner girl who was abused all those years ago.
And I did it. Not that it was easy. Some of the time I was very anxious and had thoughts careening madly in my head, thoughts of the “I’m so bad, I’m so disgusting” variety. I very much felt the urge to burn myself, but I didn’t. Instead, here are the things I tried:
- Reviewing the cards I made ahead of time. This helped the most when I read them ahead of time, before seeing my dad. They bolstered my determination not to desert the little girl.
- Deep, slow breathing. It helps a bit with the anxiety, though not that much.
- Avoiding my father. I did this the most the first day, when there were more people around. But it was only a temporary solution, and I knew that.
- Going to the bathroom. During one conversation with my father, I felt so crazy that I just interrupted to say I had to go to the bathroom. I went and sat on the floor for a while and then washed my face. It was a helpful break. Since I’m well-known for my frequent bathroom breaks, adding in a couple more didn’t surprise anyone.
- Telling myself that it was acceptable to feel whatever I was feeling, including feeling upset and confused. This keeps me from beating myself up for having feelings, and it is actually helpful.
- Being there and not being there at the same time.
- Reminding myself that I could go home soon.
Before we went over to my sister’s house on Sunday (my dad lives with her), I felt afraid, in a very childish way. It occurred to me that what I was feeling was probably the emotion of the little girl. I usually picture her in her bedroom, with her stuffed animals around her. But that wasn’t feeling like a safe place to her. What would make her feel safe? I wondered. I ended up taking her to our guest room and putting three locks on the door, locks that only she or I could open. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but it made me feel better. I didn’t have to deny or disbelieve the girl. I only had to put her in a safe place and then go back and check on her sometimes.
I made it through the five days, believing the girl. I didn’t harm myself. I enjoyed an afternoon at the beach with my niece and nephew. And I got to come home last night. So I am doing okay, exhausted but okay.