Blank

Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

~*~

“Aunt Sally, what’s your earliest childhood memory?” asked Manda while  thumbing through the pages of an already treasured new horse book. Christmas had been good to her.

“Why do you ask, sweetie?” Sally hesitated. Her memory of those early years were foggy at best. And not all the memories good.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just wondered.” Manda stopped admiring her book and sat back in her chair, arms folded waiting for an answer. She loved her Aunt Sal and was curious to know all about her. Besides, there’d been an assignment at school to discover hidden depths in a favourite family member. For Manda, Aunt Sal was that person.

Sally thought for a moment. Her earliest childhood memory that wouldn’t throw them both for a loop. Hmmm … it had to be qualified. “Give me a moment, please dear.” She stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to the counter to fetch a piece of homemade shortbread from the tin. Her mind was a blank. Searching for memories had always been troublesome for her. She’d spent so much of her life somewhere else. Dissociated. She could recall the cumulative trauma, but that was hardly a memory she could share with a 12-year-old girl.

“Aunt Sally … can you even remember your childhood?” Manda was beginning to feel concerned.

How perceptive she was, thought Sally brushing a tear from her cheek while still bent over the counter eating her cookie. Finally, she turned to face her niece.

“Auntie!!!” Manda squealed, upset at the sight of her aunt’s watery eyes. She jumped from her seat and ran over to give her a big hug. “What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Sally choked back a sob and cleared her throat. She wrapped her arms around Manda and gave her a big squeeze. “Sweetie, you didn’t make me cry. My lack of memories makes me cry. I wish I could share with you my earliest childhood memory, but I can’t. It’s just too painful and I don’t want to hurt you.” She knew it was better to be honest. A lie simply bred more lies.

“Oh, auntie, I’m so sorry,” Manda pulled a piece of paper towel off the roll and gave it to her aunt whose only tissue was now in tatters. “If I’d known I’d never have asked.”

“But you weren’t to know, Manda, so please don’t worry. I have many good memories, just not too many good early ones. There was too much trauma in my life too soon, which is to say life became overwhelming before I was mature enough to handle it. Traumatized little ones develop all kinds of coping strategies to help them get through life. Often these carry on into adulthood and can be quite destructive if not addressed. My strategy was to check out when my life got too stressful. That’s why I don’t remember a lot of it. Sadly, a lot of grown ups never seek, or find, the help they need.”

“Like uncle Ted?” Manda wondered about her aunt’s ex-husband.

“Yes, like your uncle Ted.”

“What about you?”

Sally sighed. “Oh, I was finally able to get the help I needed a few years ago. That’s made my life more liveable now, but it still doesn’t reclaim all the lost memories.”

“Do you have any nice childhood memory you can share?” Manda asked, her eyes wide with hope.

Sally beckoned Manda to the kitchen table where they sat down across from one another. She thought for a moment, and then smiled. “When I was six years old,” she began, “I lived for a year with my grandmother … your great granny, Esther. Mother was off on a world tour and my father was absent, so I lived with gran. Of course, I went to school ~ grade 2 ~ and it was about that time that my musical talents began to surface. So, for the school play, Bambi, I was given a song to sing.”

“You were! Which one?” Manda was excited to know.

Drip, drip, drop little April shower …” Sally sang what she remembered.

“Oh, I know that song!” Manda squealed with joy, remembering the animated movie soundtrack.

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Sally grinned.

“Were you happy?”

“Yes, I was happy. Gran had outfitted me in my favourite red velvet dress with gold buttons down the front and put tight ringlets in my hair. For just a little while I was the centre of her universe, so I felt pretty special.”

“What happened next?” Manda was all ears.

Gran took me for a hamburger and milkshake at the old hotel on Main Street. Bit of a dive, but it didn’t matter. I remember her boasting about me to her friends. I have good memories around that.”

Manda was entranced. “Oh, auntie, thank you for telling me your story. You have such a beautiful voice.” And then Manda paused, a look of curiosity swept into her eyes. “Why didn’t you grow up to be a singer?”

“That, my dear,” sighed her aunt, “is a story for another day.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

 

 

 

Broken

Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited

Sure, you turned out pretty good, but is there anything you wish had been different about your childhood? If you have kids, is there anything you wish were different for them?

~*~

“You ask such loaded questions,” Valerie reacted with a hint of chilliness in her voice. “I’m not sure I want to go there.”

“I don’t mean anything by it,” Adam tried to explain innocently. “I just want to get to know you a little better, that’s all.”

Valerie shuffled in her tippy seat at the small cafe table situated on uneven paving stones and stared off into the distance. How could she tell this new lovely man in her life, with whom she’d already been so defensive, that her childhood had not been perfect. That emotional isolation and abuse had formed her and that every day she lived with the self-imposed shame that someone would find out. She took another deep breath and turned her attention back to the eager young suitor sitting opposite.

“Please forgive me, there are just some aspects of my life I’m not willing to share with you. Not yet anyway.” She curled her lips into a pout and took a sip of coffee. “We don’t know each other well enough for me to feel comfortable showing you …” she hesitated. Was the very thing she didn’t want to demonstrate about to reveal itself if she completed this spoken thought.

“Yes?” Adam looked into Valerie’s big, brown, softening eyes that both pleaded for and rejected empathy.

Valerie pinched her lips together and finally decided to take the direct route.

“Look, my childhood was troubled. I practically raised myself emotionally which is why I can be so volatile sometimes. So, if you wonder if I wish my formative years had been different I would say yes. I wish I’d had at least one emotionally stable adult in my life on a consistent basis. One I could trust. That would have made a huge difference. As it is, I’m in my 30s and still find myself floundering my way through stuff that should be really straight forward.” Trembling, she took another sip of coffee and looked him straight in the eye. “I have found that once I open myself up in this way men usually leave.”

Adam sighed. Clearly Valerie was a beautiful, yet complicated, woman. They were only on their third casual date but there was something intriguing about her, and even this obviously difficult revelation on her part could not dissuade him from pursuing her.

“You must think me shallow,” he observed sadly, his gaze never wavering. “But I assure you that as long as you’ll give me a chance, I’m not going anywhere.”

Valerie’s shoulders dropped, all tension seemingly released. She smiled weakly and struggled with her words.

“You must promise me one thing, Adam. … One thing … ”

“Yes, Valerie. Anything.”

Valerie considered for a moment. Was this a man worth giving a chance? There was only one way to find out.

“Okay, Adam, you must promise me you will always be a man of your word. That you will resist the temptation to make promises you cannot possibly keep, and never give me cause to doubt you.”

Adam watched the emotional machinations at work in Valerie’s face even though she was trying so hard to hold back. The twitching corners of her lips; the tears welling up in her eyes and spilling into pools in her mascara-laden eyelashes. Here was a tender soul searching for something he knew he could give ~ emotional strength and stability born out of love. Yes, he already knew it was love, but he had no intention of scaring her with that notion. It would wait.

“Valerie, I know we’re just starting out in our relationship,” he paused as she discreetly blew her nose and dabbed gently at the corners of her eyes, “but I want you to know that there is nothing I want more than to be a source of happiness for you. I understand you more than you know and I’m also aware, from my own experiences, of what it takes to allow yourself to be vulnerable to another. I will not abuse the trust you put in me. I promise.” Adam reached across the table for her hand and Valerie allowed him to take it.

“Thank you, Adam,” she smiled. “And I will do my best to … to be open with you. I promise.”

After a contemplative moment of silence Adam had a suggestion.

“Want to blow this popsicle stand and check out the fair in Schomberg? I hear there’s cotton candy.” He smiled widely, his eyes inviting her to step back in time and free the broken child.

Valerie’s own eyes brightened.

“Oh yes, let’s go!”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Freeze and Thaw

Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

~*~

As someone who’s spent her life surviving the slings and arrows of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the point of almost burning out my adrenal glands, I suppose I could speak volumes on this subject.

To the overwhelmed nervous system almost anything can trigger the heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness of the adrenal rush … and not in a good way.

My adrenalin responses have rarely been justified, but when you grow up  feeling constantly under threat of something you lose sight of what constitutes an appropriate adrenal response. Not that you’re even in control of it. It just is, stimulated by whatever trigger pokes its way into a painful point of subconscious memory.

A life time of living in chronic survival mode is hard on the adrenal glands. (As is a life spent chugging down energy drinks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) They do burn out, and chronic anxiety is one of the results. Until I became aware of what was happening beneath the surface of my anxiety there was no way I could change it.

This awareness was finally raised during a trip to Sarajevo in March 2009, when the war-wounded city reflected the incredibly deep wounds of my own emotional trauma. Anxiety attacks in benign circumstances triggered three flight and freeze reactions during our one-week stay, reactions over which I had no control. Since we were travelling with a group of virtual strangers there was the added stress of shame attached to it.

Yes, you need to know that freezing is also a response to trauma.

In simple, primitive terms, this is when prey under pursuit will drop to the ground and play dead so the predator will lose interest and leave them alone.

My freeze ~ the clamp of anxiety. The desperate need to getaway without knowing where is safe to go. Stuck. Immovable. Traumatized. Invisible. On a continuous playback loop.

Since Sarajevo it’s taken years of therapy to get my frozen emotional core to finally thaw. The experience is a bit like the sensation of regaining feeling in your hands and feet after a bout of frost bite. Years of frozen feelings melt into a stinging liquid form. The pain all too present … but it must be felt to be acknowledged and, ultimately, released.

I’m reminded of the time I attended an NFL game in Buffalo with my ex-husband and his family, maybe 20 years ago. It was December, 15 below and snowing, and I was not dressed properly for the occasion. By the fourth quarter I was in the first aid room with thermal blankets wrapped around frozen feet (and a husband angered by the fact he’d had to miss that last quarter).

The agony of the thaw was indescribable. There were a few moments there where I felt like I’d rather die than endure the grief of feeling my limbs come back to life. However, once the worst of it had passed, and I could feel my feet and hands again, the pain of the experience became nothing more than a passing memory. I can recall the incident now as the source for a funny story or, for that matter, a teaching moment.

Feelings that come up while thawing are painful, but they must be felt in order for us to be completely free of them.

The first step, however, is awareness.

I learned ~ through psychotherapy, naturopathy, hormone therapy, equine therapy and other important sources ~ that the freeze response, which had become my go-to place when overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control (rooted in early childhood trauma), had created a debilitating life pattern affecting mind, body and spirit.

I learned that what we harbour in the way of resentment, fear, jealousy and the like becomes our master and we its slave, and that this plays out in our lives in unhappy and insidious ways. Panic/anxiety attacks, addiction, lashing out or anything else that numbs the mind, body and spirit are all manifestations of the freeze response triggered by overwhelming events.

As horrible as those anxiety-ridden moments in Sarajevo were for me, they taught me it was time to be honest with myself and seek help. The kind of help that would allow the thaw, the healing, to begin and bring to life again the parts of me that had been playing dead.

Freezing was how I’d made myself invisible. If I was invisible, no one could see me; no one would abandon, reject, abuse or hurt me ever again. In the process I had become stuck in the pattern of abandoning, rejecting, abusing and hurting myself. It had to stop.

It’s been almost six years since my rigorous, sometimes hellish and incredibly cleansing journey began. A veritable trip through the refiner’s fire. Still, if I had to choose between who I am now and who I was before the thaw began, there’s no doubt what I’d do. Even knowing how tough it’s been I’d go through it all again to unearth my truth and free myself of the pain that had frozen me in chaos.

My heart and mind are open; my adrenal glands are functioning more optimally and thus my nervous system is becoming more robust. I’m finally able to live my life more on my terms. I’ve learned to live in the moment; to leave the past behind and to allow the future to be what it will be.

Finally, I feel free to be me.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

Useful resources:
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping ~ Robert M. Sapolsky
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma ~ Peter A. Levine
Riding Between The Worlds: Expanding our Potential Through the Way of the Horse ~ Linda Kohanov
In An Unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness ~ Peter A. Levine
Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation ~ Dr. Dan Siegel
Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome ~ James L. Wilson

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

Violetta Unleashed

Daily Prompt: The Transporter

Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.

~*~

One of my clearest and happiest memories of childhood takes place just before my family disintegrated.

As I’ve mentioned before, exposure to classical music was an integral part of my upbringing. When I was five years old the family lived in Toronto while my mother was going to opera school. Because she also worked in a hospital lab by night we rarely saw her. Dad was there for my brother and I, but I have no memories of him being that devoted.

Naturally, because of mom’s career trajectory we listened to a lot of opera. And, I fell in love with it.

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) was among my favourites. (Yes, imagine that as a five-year-old’s memory). I can even remember the record cover and studying the intricate details of the graphic design.

However, my strongest memory is powered by the profoundly beautiful dramatic opera, La Traviata (Verdi).

Mom had a record of highlights which I remember we listened to quite often. My favourite soprano aria was, and still is, Sempre Libera ~ Violetta’s big vocal moment. When I hear this incredible aria, I’m transported back to a Sunday afternoon (might have been Saturday) in our apartment living room when my parents were having friends from the opera school over for a visit.

Though I don’t recall exactly how the moment unfolded or even if I sang the whole thing (that would be asking too much), I do remember Sempre Libera playing on the stereo and me at centre stage in the middle of the room, commanding attention and singing my heart out. I believe I even did a little dance toward the end. My own Violetta unleashed.

Of course, everyone clapped and for that moment ~ a rare moment ~ I felt special in the eyes of both my parents at the same time.

Lois McDonall, my mother, as Violetta in Guiseppe Verdi's "La Traviata." English National Opera production.
Lois McDonall, my mother, as Violetta in Guiseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” English National Opera production.

As the years went by and my mother’s career blossomed, she performed the role of Violetta in London and beyond. This, naturally, only increased my love for, and connection with, this opera .

The last time I saw/heard La Traviata “live” was in Prague in 2008. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go and a wonderful production that only added to my special memories.

I live for these kinds of memories.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

My Life Teacher

Daily Prompt: Teacher’s Pet

~*~

Dance Like No One’s Watching

I was never teacher’s pet. Or, if I was I never knew it. School was a nightmare for me.

At the time I wasn’t aware of it, but I was a child with abandonment issues lugging around a good deal of emotional trauma. My trust had been broken at an early age by the adults I was supposed to be able to rely on the most, so trusting that anyone else, including a teacher, would have my best interests at heart was next to impossible.

And when you can’t trust anyone, who can teach you?

It’s not that I wasn’t loved. I know my mother loved me, but she was so wrapped up in her music career while putting food on the table that I inadvertently became a shadow dweller ~ lost; lonely and invisible.

I didn’t begin to understand my early history and how it created the misshapen patterns of my life until I checked myself into therapy in spring 2009. Feeling stuck in survival mode I needed someone to help sort me out.

Coincidentally, or not, it was about this time the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, complicated by early-onset menopause (or the other way around, it doesn’t matter, it was brutal) began to manifest. Anxiety and panic attacks, extreme fatigue, unexplained weight gain, et al, drove me to near distraction. I wanted explanations. I needed to know what was going on. I needed to address underlying issues and give myself life again.

Like most people I was hesitant about jumping into the mental health abyss. Psychotherapy still has such a stigma attached to it ~ as if it is a weakness to step up to the plate and ask a specially-trained objective third-party, “Why am I this way and what can be done about it?” Still, it became clear after a tumultuous trip to Sarajevo in February that year, during which I had three separate and inexplicable panic attacks, that something needed to change. And anti-depressants, or any their kin, were not the answer.

So, with my husband’s support, I found a good, trustworthy therapist. I prefer to call her my life teacher ~ a person who can safely reflect back to me who I was/am ~ for good or ill ~ and show me how to embrace what works and re-configure what doesn’t it.

And, what a journey it has been …

I have learned more about myself and my world (and my place in it) in the last few years than I’d known in a lifetime up to the point of sitting down in that therapist’s office. My therapist is the life teacher I’d never had, shining a light on a window to my world that I would never have been able to look through, let alone begin to enjoy the view.

She has shown me my strength; helped me to see my successes more clearly; opened the way for me to have the courage to recognize my pain without dwelling on it. Naturally it has not been easy, but facing my truth has given me the strength to see myself so longer as a victim but as a woman who can share the wisdom of her life experiences in profound and empathic ways.

I can say, in all honesty, that I am not the person I was when I walked into my life teacher’s office nearly six years ago. I’m thriving more than surviving.

Of course, the journey continues. There is much more to sort through; much more to learn but, truth be told, I have always looked forward to that hour and a half per week where I can sit down and sift through my emotions and issues with someone who does not judge me for the absurdities (self-judgement) that trips from my lips. Every visit my life teacher shows me how to see myself through a softer, less judgemental lens; to take life as it comes and let the past be where it lives ~ in memory only as a teaching tool. And to take what I learn of, and from, my past and recognize the strength of character that brought me through those experiences to this point.

My life teacher has taught me that my past is not my present, or my future. That I can reprogram my dysfunctional ways to create a new more holistic way of being. A way of being that integrates past experiences with present realities to support deeply-held and beautiful personal truths that have no attachment to my early childhood trauma and the illusion I’d lived under for so long.

So, you ask who my most important teacher was … and still is?

The person who has taught me to see, be, and love, my Self ~ my therapist; my life teacher.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

The Burning Question

Daily Prompt: Burning Down the House

~*~

Todays’ prompt asks what five things we would save if our house was burning down, assuming that people and animals are safe.

So, what five things would I save if my house was burning down?

I pray this is something I never experience.  Still, for the purposes of this exercise I’ve prepared the following list of irreplaceable (or hard to replace) items I would likely reach for first in the event of a house fire.

1. Personal documents … ie. passport, birth certificate, etc. … they’re an important part of my identity and, frankly, I wouldn’t want to deal with government bureaucracy to replace all of this after experiencing such a trauma. Fortunately I know where I store these items so they’re easy to retrieve.

2. My computer hard drive … I don’t trust “cloud” technology so I don’t save anything to it. All my writing and photography is saved in my computer. Oh … we do back it all up on the Apple Time Machine. Do I just save that instead? Hmmm … I don’t know. Maybe I need to give this some further thought.

3. Genealogical records/family photos … all safely stored in two boxes. Why I would want to save them particularly I’m not sure. I have no children to pass them along to when I leave this mortal coil. Still, I do have extended family out west and since I’ve traced parts of the family tree back to 15th century Europe I believe it’s worth hanging on to for handing over at a future time. The old photos are a fascinating record of my predecessors and the times they lived in, as well.

The Arab Tent by Edwin Landseer

4. All original artwork … and, the print of “The Arab Tent” by Edwin Landseer that my mother gave me when I was a little girl. This beautiful print in its gold-painted antique frame has had a place on a wall somewhere in my house ever since (even after several moves!), and means the world to me. (See my blog post A Childhood Gift)

5.  My hardcover collection of Taylor Caldwell books … though a controversial figure in her time she was a prolific and accomplished writer and supreme storyteller. (Captain and the Kings among her most famous works.) Her evocative books captured my imagination and helped to formulate my own writing style. Since Ms. Caldwell’s books are no longer in print and I have a fairly comprehensive collection of her works, I would be most upset to lose them.

So, there you have it. For the purposes of today’s prompt this is what I think I would save if my house was on fire. Still, I hope I am never in the terrible position of having to answer this burning question for real.

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

A Simple Message

This post is written in response to a challenge offered by Lana of Living with Post Concussion Syndrome. Please take a moment to visit her inspiring blog.

The challenge: What Dreams Are Made Of … For this writing event, share a dream or two that’s had a great effect ~ even after waking.

~*~

Full moon

I always pay attention to my night time dreams. I write them down. Review the more dynamic ones with my therapist to find the meaning and application to my life. The subconscious has a lot to say and I want to know what it is.

There have been a few times in my life ~ when I was at my most distressed, as it happens ~ when my dreams have actually proven to be of some comfort.

The first one I recall occurred when I was 12 years old.

I was staying at my grandmother’s at the time and one night had gone to bed quite distressed. A much anticipated trip to a farm to see horses and make a new friend had been cancelled at the last minute by my second cousin who had arranged the excursion. Her husband wasn’t able to go so they’d decided to postpone and arrange to go another time.

I was grief-stricken, sobbing myself to sleep on the couch that served as my bed for the two months of that summer at granny’s trailer home. Inconsolable, actually. Burdened heavily by my life in survival mode (though I didn’t know it at the time) I looked at the chance to be with horses, and maybe even ride, as an escape from the unhappy circumstances in which I found myself.

During the night, a dream. Nothing elaborate. A simple message. An angel, it seems to me, appeared as an ethereal, comforting presence and a gentle voice spoke the words “everything will be alright.”

The next morning I awoke feeling much better; my heart lighter. I recall getting off the couch and going over to my grandmother, who was making breakfast in the galley kitchen, and telling her about my dream and how I felt that everything would, indeed, be okay.

Within moments the telephone rang. Granny answered. It was for me.

It was my cousin. She had changed her mind. We were going to the farm after all. Her husband could go another time.

To this young distraught girl it was a total miracle. Just as the voice in my dream had spoken, everything was going to be alright.

We did go to the farm. I did spend time with, and ride, the horses. And I met a girl the same age whose friendship I would enjoy until several years later when life got in the way.

It has occurred to me since that my grandmother, realizing how distraught I was by the change of plans, may have called my cousin after I went to bed and asked her to reconsider. And that it might have been her standing over me in the night, the angel that she was, with a reassuring voice telling me everything was going to be okay.

It doesn’t matter how it transpired. I have never forgotten those gentle and oh, so important words ~ words that have comforted, guided and consoled ever since, during times of sorrow, grief, uncertainty and pain. At times that simple message was the only thing I had to hold on to, giving me the strength and the understanding to know that whatever happened I would be fine.

In recent years I have come to admire the supremely talented Canadian singer/songwriter Jacob Moon who, a few years ago, penned a song called, believe it or not, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” When I first heard it I was reduced to tears by its simple melody and moving words. Jacob had put to music the song in my heart. Now whenever I hear it I am moved to remember that moment, long ago, when a simple message comforted the heart of a distraught young girl. Words I continue to lean on as my life unfolds and realize that in my trials I am not alone.

Here’s a link to Jacob Moon performing “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” via YouTube. Please take a moment to listen and hear the beautiful words.

Thanks for visiting. And thank you, Lana, for the opportunity to share this special moment from my life …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014