Revisiting bad memories

I feel very conflicted about this – but haven’t quite learned to trust my own instincts. Do I not want to do this because I know it will hurt or because it’s not helpful, not time yet?  This is my “homework” from the psychiatrist I was referred to by the Chronic Pain clinic, and whilst it has been on my mind I have struggled to write anything at all.  My blog looks pretty blank.  My writing usually feels therapeutic, and I have had encouragement over the past month or two with where I am, which helps me to know I am in the right place.

From the time I was in AA, and reading the AA literature, I know it is not an uncommon experience to have entirely wrecked one’s instincts for what is right and wrong, to not be certain what will help you get well, to want advice and then feel frustrated and overwhelmed by that advice.  I know that when I was drinking, I ignored the Holy Spirit in my heart, screaming out “No! Don’t do it again” and went against it, ignoring my own instinct for right and wrong until I couldn’t tell which way was up anymore.  I became so desperate for human contact, for something that felt a little bit like love or support, because despite having damaged and misused my close family relationships and friendships, letting them down again and again until they needed to distance themselves for their own well-being.  I would latch onto anything that felt like love, especially if it felt like it might be unconditional, not caring eventually where that might come from, using people to make myself feel less awful about myself.

Ultimately I was so destroyed inside I realised that my only hope was to really, fully, trust Jesus Christ for my salvation.  This had to stop being just a belief that I kind of hoped might work out but wasn’t able to access on a day-to-day basis and be the hope that is certainty and is eternal.  That for all that I’ve done, and he can see into those dark places that I won’t share with anyone, there is eternal forgiveness, but also, daily encouragement, strength, and love.  There is inward change – by the power of the Holy Spirit, I am not who I was when I was drinking, and I am far from finished yet, but my instincts are still a work in progress.  So I’m doing it – maybe because I’m still a “good girl”, people-pleasing and doing as I’m told, not quite ready to let myself take charge and know that my decisions are good.

Even that is a justification.  I did it even though it doesn’t seem right for me.  The task is to blog about the following:  Remember, voluntarily, a bad memory with respect to my daughter, and imagine myself now, talking to my younger self, 4 years younger than now.  What would I say?  What mistakes did I make, and why did they happen?  Reassure your younger self as to how things turn out.    From here I’ll let what I’ve written stand as it is, except to say I’ve taken her name out, and it doesn’t read quite so well:

Some of the worst times weren’t the sober times, they were the hungover and recovering times.  I would get angry, irrationally so.  I have never been someone who verbalises their anger at anyone, but I would shout at my precious daughter.  I would be incredibly angry, over something that she could hardly help, being just a little girl, and take it out on her.  The anger would course through my veins and I would feel utterly powerless to react any other way.  I remember standing at the top of the stairs in the house where my alcohol problem solidified into dependent daily drinking, with daytime drinking at weekends – I was yelling, and throwing my phone so hard it shattered.  I would always apologise to my sobbing little daughter afterwards, saying Mummy loved her and didn’t really mean it, and we would cuddle together.  I feel so angry with myself, for continuing the cycle that I wanted to break, and for seeking absolution that I didn’t deserve, from a 3 year old.

I feel distraught at the memory, at what my lovely girl must have endured at my hands at times.  I would have had a drink, later, maybe not very much later, to “calm me down”, and drunk I was never angry, I would be sleepy, and cut corners, saying ‘you can have a bath in the morning’ and ‘no stories tonight, Mummy’s tired’.  The vision of the stairs, and of her crying, haunts me.  I go into it with no control over leaving it – usually what happens is eventually I get exhausted with sobbing, often with my fiancé there, and wrap myself up in a duvet, waking later with a congested head.  The grief feels uncomplicated at these, its worst times, and it is a raw pain of separation, gaping jaws of loss combined with this badness that is guilt and punishment and uncertainty.

If I could face myself as I was then – only 4 years or so ago – I would see this young woman desperately in need of a hug, a hand, and a way out of the denial.  I refused to see a problem then, just “don’t you know how tough this is, looking after a child in isolation and loneliness?” and this “me and my girl against the world” attitude that grew every time I tried to ask for help and was failed.  What I needed was love.  What I needed was God, was Him working through human forms, through people that would care, and show me that unconditional love without which I would never have got well.  There’s two things about that, though, the first being that the 28-year-old Sarah would have told the now Sarah to get lost, at the very least.  “I’m fine on my own” would have come out and denial, formed into defensiveness, would stand as the barrier through which any alcoholic tries to deal with the world, like spines of a hedgehog to push anyone away.  And the second is this understanding of forgiveness.  Because, if Christ died for me, for my salvation, then I have no business refusing to forgive myself.  Because, that’s not how it works.  My guilt, which leads to condemnation and death is paid for.  The slate is wiped clean.  To keep trying to write my sins on the slate is to say that Christ isn’t enough.  I live in the tension that is between ‘right with God’, which is utterly true because I have trusted in Jesus Christ for my salvation, and living in this world with all the consequences.  The separation doesn’t go away, and the other consequences of what I have done, the guilt, the recriminations, the fear that the pain will swallow me whole, still exist.  Of course underneath it all I have to admit – that I long for forgiveness from my daughter, and that is what I may never get, never know about, and I may have to live with the anguish that genetic predisposition and her early life circumstances lead her to experience addiction herself in some form with me powerless to help.

What else would I say to myself – to say that it all turns out well would be a lie, or at least, would be a language I didn’t speak then.  The only version of well that I was interested in was the one with ‘my daughter returning home and she and I living happily ever after, together’ description of turning out well.  I have no reassurance for myself on that score – just the promise of 12 months of agonising Social Services involvement until I gave in and said, yes, get on with it then, get her placed permanently and safely and I will stop slowing down the proceedings.  I could tell myself about the lies social workers tell and that I shouldn’t believe that I was responsible for slowing down her being placed, that one day I’ll learn that’s not true.  The version of things turning out well is like a jigsaw and I had half the pieces missing.  I’d learn sobriety.  I’d learn to line up over 400 24-hours in a row without a drink.  And that during that sobriety, slowly, I’ll get the pieces back, one or a few at a time, as I understand how to live in the Kingdom of God in the world.  I would tell myself that work isn’t everything, but it’s a big something.  I’d learn that actually, I had the whole jigsaw the wrong way round, not realising that what was wrong with my life was me, and that when I looked at the world, I looked at it with my broken vision, and broken understanding.  And that letting God back into my life was going to turn everything round the right way again.

My younger self wouldn’t have been reassured by these things.  But when I imagine being sat looking at her, I don’t have anger that matched her destructive anger, just compassion for her pain.  I have a meaningful way of understanding life, and such sorrow for her that things will have to get so much worse, that she will lose almost everything, to find it.  But that’s what I must hold on to: compassion for her pain, and let the agony for my little girl I feel and see when I have been remembering, and haunted by, go.

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12 Responses to Revisiting bad memories

  1. Wendy says:

    Sarah. My heart physically ached reading this? Was this happening when you were over here? I know you were struggling and tried to help/support but the younger Sarah was quite closed. I can’t help feeling I could have/should have done more, noticed more.
    Have you considered writing a letter for 👧 when she is older to explain what was happening for you – single parenthood, repeated let downs from her father, terminally ill mother, stressful profession, isolated living far away from friends to name a few.
    It could go in her files should she ever need answers.
    I can’t relate to the religious part of your writing but I respect your self inspection and the work you are doing to help yourself heal.
    Sending love
    Xxxxxxxx

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Wendy. This wasn’t happening whilst I was in the IoM – things were brewing but not that bad yet. It got worse and I was actually more isolated in Manchester. This is as bad as I’m ready to write about on the interweb. I’ve been working with her social worker to get her files all in order, the story told right, over the last month or so, and that’s been quite cathartic, even though it’s not meant to help me. I also get to explain things in an age appropriate way as the years go by, in letters, but I have a folder of letters and these sorts of reflections, so she will be able to know I never stopped thinking about her. Thank you for such a lovely, heartfelt reply. xx

      • Wendy says:

        May I write a little something too? A memory? How I came to know you both? To go in the file so that she may learn a bit of her past from us?
        I won’t be offended and will completely accept and understand if you don’t want me to. X

  2. Eirlys says:

    Sara-make sure she will read this when she is mature enough to understand,-and pray that she has Parents who will lead her to understanding.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Eirlys, her parents don’t have a faith – but I guess Wendy has shown that much can be understood without it. I can make it all available to her, and just hope that she will want to read it, to understand more fully where her story came from.. Thank you for commenting and understanding.

  3. Sarah says:

    Sweetheart Sarah. The girl I became friends with nearly two years ago is the same intelligent one I enjoy chats with today. She seeks approval and love. I don’t know why some people seem to cope without it. I know I can’t. And I don’t know how much approval and how many people loving you constitutes self acceptance. I guess that depends on the person too.
    You are forgiven. It is done. The pain needs to be forgotten. I don’t know how that happens. I know it happened very quickly for me in my darkest times but then I was a little younger than you. A friend (close at the time) just told me God had forgiven me and it was “done”. It doesn’t mean it is forgotten but since then the pain of guilt has gone and the self loathing is gone. Completely. And in the meanwhile, whilst you learn to trust yourself again and your feelings, you need those around you to show you how much you are accepted as you are, respected and loved.
    Hugs from the Martin clan. Happy to talk in more detail whenever you want. xxx

    • Sarah says:

      “…the pain of guilt has gone and the self loathing is gone”
      That’s a really interesting way to put it. I guess what you’re describing there is what I mean as unforgiveness, the feelings of it rather than thinking it, that is cross-work done and let go.

      It’s interesting that you think I haven’t changed. Do you think self acceptance is due to people loving and approving you? I think that as we find that acceptance and esteem of ourselves, we are able to realise that the opinions of other people don’t really matter, not anything like as much as we thought they did.

      Be lovely to see you and chat before my surgery if you have time. xx

  4. Judith Land says:

    Seek to find the words you already know in thought, and when you are in your lowest emotional states of mind, and there is no one there to help you overcome distress and discouragement and breach the rift, you will find it therapeutic to humbly direct your accepted wisdom to God.

    • Sarah says:

      I’m afraid I’ve removed the quotes advertising your website and your book. But I’m very grateful to you for taking the time here to read, and comment, and share your experience.

  5. Kondwani says:

    This is one of the most genuine blogs I have ever read.You deal with the raw, horrible, ugly truths of the situation without platitudes, but also without self-pity. You seem to me to deal with the pain in a head-on manner, that is not comfortable reading, but which is a huge gap in what has currently been spoken on these areas. Too many Christians do write from the ‘and we all lived happily ever after’ perspective. It’s easy to do, but actually, this side of heaven, we won’t know fully, we can’t know fully. But in the darkest of times, the light of Christ shines most brightly. Remember the woman in the Bible who fell at Jesus’ feet and washed them in her tears; she who has been forgiven much loves much. That is you, that is your testimony, that is your hope. I wish I had something ‘simple’ to say that would make this time easier; I cannot. I can read, I can pray, I can thank God for His work in your life. I will pray for your dear daughter, that she will not be scarred by the memories, but will remember the happy times. And that she will in time come to know the love, grace and forgiveness that comes from Christ alone.

  6. Heartbreaking. :-( I don’t have religious faith either, but I am full of admiration for your honesty and courage in facing this with such clarity. I hope your daughter one day gets to know the brave woman that you clearly are.

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