Because I love myself enough

23 comments on Because I love myself enough
7 minutes

Someone who was supposed to love me abused me instead. Putdowns. Belittling. Gaslighting. Crazymaking. Intimidation. Isolation. Limiting who I could have as friends. Destroying my possessions. Occasionally even punching me in the face.

It’s been over for a long, long time. Thank God.


I’ve worked hard to sort out what happened and make a healthy, happy life. You see it all through this blog. But then one evening almost a year ago, an unexpected encounter with my abuser left me curled into a fetal ball on my family room floor, rocking back and forth, afraid for my life.

Near dawn my emotions finally settled enough for rational thought to return, for me to see that I was in no danger at all, for me to remember that there was nothing my abuser could do to harm me anymore. Things I had figured out through the work I’d done, but things that didn’t help me through that night.

Back into therapy I went. My recovery road is littered with all sorts of psychological diagnoses and associated treatments: major depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder. The first three were right; the last two flat wrong. Psychological diagnosis is such a judgment call. But after my full-on freak out, I thought it had to be post-traumatic stress disorder. So I found a therapist who specialized in it.

I’m not writing this to gather sympathy, or open a conversation about abuse, or shame my abuser (who I won’t name). I never planned to tell this part of my story here. But since I wrapped therapy in August, every post has been more a strain to write. This happens every time I need to tell a story from my life. And I have to tell it here or the block won’t lift. That’s why I told my divorce story last year (here, here, here, and here).

I’m fully blocked now; words won’t come. I usually have three weeks of posts scheduled in advance, but if I don’t tell this today, the blog will go silent. No posts are queued.

And it’s not the abuse that I need to tell about. It’s just that if you don’t know about the abuse, the story I need to tell won’t make sense.

So here goes.

The therapist used a technique called EMDR to help me process what she called the “flashbulb” moments — key abuse incidents that seared deeply, leaving deep feelings of shame and powerlessness, risking me being helplessly, inappropriately triggered into fight-or-flight mode in moments that recall what happened. EMDR was astonishingly effective. When we finished processing a flashbulb moment, I was fully freed from it. It had become an event I felt sorry I had to endure, but that no longer controlled me. After we had processed several of those moments, I began weave together a story of what happened, and assign meaning to it. I could feel the abuse’s power draining away.

When I was a kid, we used to tie knots in used-up socks as toys for our Labrador retriever. One game was to wave a sock in front of her face and laugh as she shook her head back and forth trying to clomp down. But old Missy was unusually smart. She figured out that the arm just behind my wrist was still. So she moved past the sock and closed her soft, bird-retrieving mouth on my wrist, all the while looking me right in the eye. The sock stopped instantly, and she took it right into her mouth and pulled. She wanted to play tug!

Go right to the source. But you have to recognize what the source is. Missy did. And thankfully, this therapist did, too.

One week, with several more flashbulb moments left to process, she said, “Next time I’d like to do something a little different with you, if you are willing and comfortable.” I was up for anything. “Then next week, tell me the story of the day you were born. Tell me as complete a story as you can put together.”

I knew where and about when I was born. I remembered that Mom Grey was thrilled to have a boy great-grandchild; she openly favored boys. I remembered that my mom’s parents flew in from Seattle to meet me, and that my uncle who was a photographer for the Chicago Tribune visited with his press camera and got a great photo of me with my grandfather, which I still have. I wove it all into a narrative and told it in my next session. It was oddly fulfilling.

“Do you see how anticipated you were? How much everyone in your family wanted you and enjoyed you when you were born?” I hadn’t seen it, actually. And I felt something shift slightly inside me, but I couldn’t describe it, couldn’t feel its value yet.

Then she asked me to close my eyes and imagine it was the day I was born. “Pretend you’ve traveled through time and arrived standing in front of the hospital. Now imagine with me. Feel the warm summer sunshine on your shoulders. Walk in. It’s cool in the hospital and it smells antiseptic clean. A nurse is leading you through the corridors to the maternity ward. And there you are, standing in front of the window, a room full of new babies before you. The nurse points out which baby is you. Do you see yourself there?”

“Now walk in. Walk up to yourself. Reach down and pick yourself up. Bring yourself up to your chest. Feel your warmth, maybe even your heartbeat. Lower your nose to take in the scent of newborn you.”

My mind flooded with memories of the first times I held my sons that way after they were born: their warmth, their scents. I remembered my feelings of love toward them, of excitement over their very lives. I recalled how I’d tried to love them and nurture them, to protect them, and to share life with them and prepare them for their futures.

I knew instantly that I had not given myself the same. Felt it deeply. A long thread had run through my whole life of accepting treatment from others that I would not accept for my sons, treatment that would cause me to fiercely intervene to protect them. I had not loved myself enough, not given myself full care and protection. But I felt that level of love for myself now, the same as I felt for my sons. And with that, I knew that I would be okay. My abuse story instantly lost all its power.

It was not an overly emotional moment. My eyes did fill with tears, but none fell onto my cheeks. It was a pain reaction, as if I had been walking around with a dislocated joint for 20 years and someone finally popped it back into place. It hurt for a minute, but then I felt great relief, and finally I was able to use that joint as it was intended.

I get to be me as I was intended.

I didn’t need to work through the rest of my flashbulb moments. Not only did I know I was safe and loved, but I could feel it; the emotional connection had been made. I felt compassion for the fellow I was, who suffered through abuse, who felt trapped in it. And now those days are properly sorted and I’ve finally fully moved on. But even better, I feel no fear for my future. I know I can take care of myself, protect myself, through whatever comes. Because I love myself enough.


23 responses to “Because I love myself enough”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Wow, that was some strong stuff that must have been incredibly difficult to write. As hard as it all must have been to go through and tell about, what a blessing that you have reached the place within yourself where you are now. There are so many who seem to struggle endlessly with the same nasty things in their lives, so how wonderful is it that you have been able to move past this one. A truly moving piece of writing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The words just came. They were all pent up. I wrote this in under two hours, when something this long normally takes all day.

      Pressing Publish was hard.

      1. hmunro Avatar

        THANK YOU for having the courage to press Publish, Jim. My heart goes out to you for having endured so much pain for so long. But I’m so relieved to read you’ve found a way to put those “flashbulb” moments behind you. And the process you describe in your last few paragraphs will help me let go of a few of my own. Thank you, thank you for sharing this.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Heather, thank you for saying so, and I’m glad that this may have given you a path to greater peace too.

  2. Gerald Avatar

    It’s hard to know how to reply to your post without it sounding trite. It certainly must have been very difficult for you to write this. I’ll just say how pleased I am that things are looking so much brighter for you. I’d also like to say thanks, because without going in to details, there’s a couple of things that you mentioned here that are really helpful to me.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Gerald. I don’t know how I feel yet about this being out there, because there are a few things I’d prefer to keep to myself. But like I said, blocked, blocked, blocked. I’m glad you found something useful to you in here.

  3. Mandy Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story from your life. You are telling your story and giving courage to many to seek help for find and love themselves again…..including me

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Mandy. It’s quite a journey, isn’t it?

  4. JoDawn Avatar

    I started reading your story while waiting for my breakfast at a restaurant in Crawfordsville. By the time I got to the nursery part I had tears in my eyes and had to push my phone aside and pick up my napkin. After a few minutes I was able to go back and finish reading without the visible emotion. Even if you don’t realize it, your writing is a form of therapy for the people who read it. They say that eyes are the window to the soul, but I feel that words are the window to yours. I appreciate you letting us in. You truly have a wonderful gift.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m glad this reached you today, JoDawn. I’m glad it helped you, too.

  5. dmswriter Avatar

    Thank you for writing this, Jim. I believe that pressing “publish” was hard, and I’m believing that your post will go a long way toward helping others navigate their own difficult situations.

    I used to work with a gaslighter. Once I was out of that toxic situation – after only six months! – I couldn’t believe how one person could twist things to make me doubt my talents and skills and make me feel uncertain and unsure. I routinely lost sleep because of her. No longer, though.

    Be well and be happy.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I do hope that this post can help others. I stand in some awe even now of how that moment in therapy shifted so much inside of me and healed me in an instant.

  6. Sam Avatar

    Jim, wow, thanks for this deeply personal posting. As someone who also has his share of “issues” it gave me comfort in knowing I am not alone. I’m one of those guys that smile and complement people all the time, but deep inside I’m usually down on myself. Depression, anxiety, got it. Anyway, you bared your soul on this one. It helped me and I’m sure it will help many others. I applaud you for this.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Sam. We all have a burden to bear, don’t we? I hope you’ll find your own peace, because two things are true: we all have shortcomings and limitations, and we are all infinitely valuable.

      1. Sam Avatar

        That helps, thanks Jim!

  7. Denny Gibson Avatar

    Congratulations, Jim. Congratulations on getting free of those flashbulb moments and congratulations on having the courage to press Publish. Congratulations, too, on crafting a fine piece of writing that told your story precisely and compellingly. Well done. Extremely well done.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Denny. On all counts.

  8. Scott Avatar

    I needed that, Jim. Thank you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m glad you found value in this.

      1. Scott Avatar

        My parents gave me the baby book they made during my childhood. Ironically there isn’t much about ME in it, a lock of my hair, a few details of my birth. Most of its pages are filled with greeting cards, some that accompanied baby shower gifts and many that were sent to my parents congratulating them on my birth. (Do people even DO that any more?) I got to know all the senders of those cards as I grew up. A few of them are still with us 52 years later. I got the book out today in response to your column and all those cards reminded me how anticipated I was, and how welcomed. I haven’t been taking as good care of myself as I should lately. Your column inspired me to do what you did, and again, I appreciate you for sharing your story.
        I followed you over from Curbside Classic. I don’t comment too often, but I do read most of your posts. I enjoy reading about cars, photography, history (particularly history of highways) and things inspirational, so most of your posts are of interest to me.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I am both delighted and moved that my story caused you to seek your own moment of connection with your value in the world!

  9. Whitney Avatar

    You never cease to stop helping me, Jim. I only found this post through you 2015 highlight post, but I am glad I did. I struggle with the same three you do, sometimes crippling me into a big ball of worry, stemming partially from childhood issues. This really made me feel less alone and a little more connected. I sure as heck hope I never lose track of you. Happy New Year from down south.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sorry you have some past stuff that still affects you today. I really hope you can find peace. It sucks carrying all of that crap around.

      You might have missed this when it was new because I didn’t share it on social media. I needed to write it, but I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to put it out there. I didn’t think I wanted high-school acquaintances to read this. So I wrote it for my subscribers.

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