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Walls, I have BIG Ones.

I didn’t realize that I had built such high, seemingly impenetrable walls around myself until I began therapy sessions with Stephanie Strouth, my therapist at Anchoring Hope Counseling in Wise VA. As we began to talk and I began to learn some of my walls came down, but only for her. I was able to learn to release pent up frustrations, fears and worries and she helped me learn why they exist within me in the first place.

Stephanie shared with me a book called “The Boy Who Built a Wall Around Himself.” That book touched my heart deeply and opened my eyes. She reads it to both children and adults during counseling sessions. This book is incredibly helpful and gives greater insight into children who are facing or have faced abuse or trauma. I highly recommend adding it to your home library and most especially if you’re a guidance counselor or foster parent. It’s also a wonderful book to teach other children how to understand a friend or relative who has suffered some sort of abuse. It isn’t scary for children, it has great visuals to help children see what they’re also hearing. You can join Stephanie’s virtual story time event here on Facebook, as well as learning more about the book itself by clicking on the image of the books cover. 

I personally have terrible trust and abandonment fears, “The Boy Who Built a Wall Around Himself,” addresses the reasons why we as children of abuse do this. For example; I worry excessively about Shawn or London if they’re out of my sight for very long. If Shawn arrives home later than he said he would be, by thirty minutes past time for him to be home I’m almost frantic inside. When he finally arrives I can do little more than collapse into his arms and thank God he is back home safely. No one sees this, I just bottle it up and hold it in, putting on a happy face and pretending I’m not scared. Then when Shawn arrives home I can finally release the tension.

This fear comes from a lack of stability in my childhood. I never knew where home was, when social services would show up, where I was the most safe. I was taken from my Granny, my mothers Mom and my great aunt Em who lived with Granny most of her life. They are who I wanted to be with, but social services said no, that my home with Granny wasn’t fit, because she was poor, illiterate and backward. No amount of crying and reaching for Granny would suffice. THEY knew better than a little child… of course. Certainly there would have been problems, but I knew I was loved, I was held, someone washed my face and held my hand when I went outside. THAT is what I needed and those are the things I cling to.

On the flip side of my home with Papaw and Mamaw, Papaw was my caregiver. My crib bed was in his bedroom it sat there in the corner for years after I had outgrown it. He sat with me to help with homework and rubbed my legs when they hurt. But he became very ill and I became his caregiver. He was no longer able to hardly sit up with me of the evenings and watch Wheel of Fortune or Hee Haw, the programs he and Mamaw enjoyed. I was mostly left to my own accord. This is good in some ways, but dangerous in others. I recall long spells of time on some days where no one spoke a word to me. There were moments where I would sit in the yard and pick grass until there was a spot all the way around my body that was void of green and only an outline of where I had sat remained. There were moments I would sit in the old barn for hours (I still love the smell of a barn), I’d climb trees as high as I could go and some days when I just sat in Papaw’s old rust colored recliner and stared out the picture window. The positive side of being left alone is that I built a BIG imagination. The downside is that it would have been nice to have shared some of my playtime with parents.

With Granny and Aunt Em I was never alone. If I went outside, they went outside. If I fell down, they picked me up, if I was scared I could run into Granny’s arms and she would hold me tight. But again, as I said, social services didn’t see these moments, they only saw our tiny house with no running water or indoor toilet and deemed my home unfit. I had Barbie dolls there, my favorite. I had crayons and coloring books too. Home is made up of much more than walls and nails. A home isn’t a home without love and protection. Yes I survived my childhood at that house on the hill with Papaw and Mamaw, but no one could see the lack of caregiving I actually had, because social services never paid visits to the house on the hill. It was big and full and looked perfect from the outside looking in. If DSS had done their work, they would have seen where I was happiest, but I was just one more spoke in a wheel of children that had to be taken care of and someone, somewhere was convinced that their work with me was done.

Papaw, had he remained alive as many, many, MANY people have told me would have made sure I was taken care of. You see, some people knew the troubles, Aunt Jenny (Mamaw’s sister in law who lived under the hill from our house,) Murrell (Mamaw’s niece who lived within walking distance from us down the road,) and Barb (Mamaw’s niece by marriage who also lived very close by.) But as much as they tried, pleaded and showed they’re anger for the way Mamaw treated me, they couldn’t save me. They weren’t inside the home and to know Mamaw was to know that she wouldn’t listen to God Himself if he stood in front of her. Her nickname was Duke, she was stubborn as a mule and she’d shut a person out rather than listen to their advice about how to raise a child. But thank God for the times they did get through to her, those moments were part of what saved me. The days I spent at Aunt Jenny’s, Murrell’s and Barb’s houses helped me so much, they gave me a sense of what it was to be a kid and be free.

Papaw loved me, he never hurt me intentionally. I would learn that he may have overlooked a great many things, but he didn’t do it, because he wanted to hurt me. He made me feel special, but I lost him all too soon. He was the only Daddy I ever knew and my heart longs for him still. He was a good man, to the best of his ability. He sadly was entangled by the controlling trappings of my Mamaw and that made his love for me forcibly hidden. He would buy me a candy bar and say “don’t let your Mamaw know.” He had to tuck away and shield his love for me and that in and of itself is heartbreaking and taught me the lesson that keeping the peace with a temperamental person is more important than true love.

See Yourself

There have been a few times that I’ve opened up to people I consider friends about my struggles. I want them to know why I feel the way I do, why I “act” the way I do. I’m always apologizing and saying thank you too much. It’s hard for me to accept gifts or kindness, your average, every day person who had a somewhat decent life doesn’t understand why I can’t accept kindness.

All the time I hear, “if you could just see yourself from my point of view.” I wish I could, oh how I wish I could, but I have a broken mirror in which to view from. I’m not starting with a pristine, clean, unfractured mirror in which to see myself. No, mine is busted. Sure I’m trying to repair it through therapy, but the cracks will always remain. I’ll always be reminded that I didn’t start out whole and that the pieces I’ve glued together are fragile, but I’m working to get to a point where the cracks don’t bother me any longer, instead to see the cracks as character, things that made me “Who I Was Born to Be,” that made me better equipped to be an empathetic, understanding, non-judgmental individual.

However, my life began fractured and because I didn’t grow up being taught the proper coping skills to handle the pains of life, I don’t know how to see the good parts of me. I don’t know how better to repair my “mirror of reflection” than to handle it with care and hold it close to my bosom, because if you saw what I see I fear you would hate me as much as I hate myself.

That sounds awful doesn’t it? I know that it does and that’s why I’m working on me. That’s why I see a therapist. I’m ashamed to feel such self loathing, but I honestly can not help it. I faced one hurt and abuse after another at the hands of more than one person. My ability to trust others is fragile. Sure someone tells me something positive, but I don’t know HOW to believe it, how to TRUST that if what you’re telling me is the truth or a way in which to use me just so that you can abuse me later on.

This is a heartbreaking way to view life. To see every person and their kindness as a means to manipulate. I appreciate, love and am so grateful for people’s goodness toward me, firstly I do not feel I deserve it and secondly I worry that someone’s generosity toward me is a means to control me. So I fear gifts, I fear words of encouragement, I fear even the slightest smile from a stranger is another person who will hurt me. I’ve felt so much hurt in life that trusting others when I was made to be totally emotionally self reliant for the most part is difficult. I have to really know a person, have been through a lot with them and seen the waters of life tested before I trust someone fully. I can count on one hand and a half the number of people that I feel would never betray me for anything in the world, not for a Facebook friend count, not for a seat on a board, not for all the money in the world, not a single one of them is my close blood relative.

I took many college classes on Early Childhood Development, Psychology and Sociology. The one thing that I learned over and over and over again is that children require consistency to thrive, to learn, to grow. My consistency? There was none except inconsistency. I never knew where home was up until the age of 7, then I still had to endure visitations and the back and forth of foster care most of my early life.

I didn’t know who my family was, sure I was told “this is your (insert family title here),” but what I heard and what I experienced were two different things. When I was at one home I was told one thing, I saw another and felt something else. My poor little mind was so mangled with such messed up input I couldn’t grasp onto what was good and hold onto it long enough to learn what was right.

My life wasn’t all troubles and pain and heartache, there were good parts and I’ll talk about those too, but before I can get to the rainbows, we gotta walk through the rain. You see not only was my Mommy a damaged person, which you can begin reading about in the blog “Unwanted,” but the other mother figures in my life had there problems too.

Oh did they ever!

At the end of last year, 2020, I learned just how deeply damaged my “Mamaw” was, the woman in the black dress in the picture at the opening of this page. She tortured me in her own ways. I never knew why, I only knew that I always felt as though she hated me. No matter how hard I tried to be everything she wanted me to be, I was never good enough. I’ll be writing a lot about Mamaw and revealing what I learned about her as this blog grows. But for now, we just have to begin at the beginning and remove the bandages to reveal the wounds underneath and the stories of the scars surrounding the wounds. There’s a lot to unpack, much to tell, we will get there, just stick with me.

I want to love myself, I want to be all I can be to everyone I meet and I want to be good to me. If someone spoke to a person I loved the way my inner voice speaks to me I would be hurt and angry. I would stand up and tell that person hearing those things never to listen to anyone who talks to them like that, they don’t deserve that, they are good. It’s almost like a war within myself, a two part person, the logical me who knows that the self loathing is destructive and the emotional me who takes over in anxiety and panic and can’t claw their way out of the pain. The inner voice, that I have learned is my Mamaw tells me just how horrible I am, that I deserve the pain! She screams at me in times of anxiety, telling me I’m a fool, a complete idiot, the worst of the worst people walking on the face of this planet.

It’s torture, I am learning to stop the voice, but it is so hard. My Mamaw helped shape my thoughts of myself. The others who hurt me, neglected me and tortured me did the same. Over and over my self worth was beat down so low that I thought I would die. As a pre-teen I almost did, after Papaw passed away and was gone from the house Mamaw grew more cruel to me. She tried to keep me trapped in that glass house of hers, full of what nots and trinkets, but I would eventually learn to break free. Not before I hurt myself more than once, though she didn’t know it, no one did. How I escaped my own pain and survived is only by the grace of God.

Knowing my mother didn’t want me, that my Mamaw hated me and that I couldn’t get back to the two people who did love me the most tortured me most of my childhood. It broke me. No one would listen to me as a child. I eventually gave up trying to beg for help and that was so early on. I was little, laying under trash bags of old clothes for comfort when the hurt and anxiety came. I would lay under those 10 gallon bags full of old rags that no one wanted, that were stuffed in the back of a big walk in closet and just let the heaviness hold me.

Ninety Nine percent of the time there was no one there to pick me up when I hurt and wrap their arms around me and say “it’s gonna be okay.” There were only black bags of dusty, unwanted trash to give a little child the feelings of comfort they needed when they cried. There were no kiss it betters or a favorite chair to be rocked in. Just me, my hurt and fear balled up in a hiding spot that was surrounded by a cold, plaster wall covered in cracks and cobwebs.

So where does that put the mind of a child? What value do they have? What lessons did the neglect teach me? It told me that my pain and my fears were useless. That what I felt didn’t matter, to just go away and shut up and leave the adults alone. It taught me to work out my hurt by myself or as Mamaw used to say “like it or lump it,” or rather if I didn’t like what she said, it didn’t matter, I had to take it anyway. She didn’t hold me, hug me, kiss me or love on me, but she expected me to do that for her! I was to hug and kiss her goodnight, to scratch her back, cut her toe nails, give her a bath, fasten and unfasten her bra and whatever else this duty filled little Cinderella was told to. What Mamaw needed and wanted mattered most and came first, some little kid she was good enough to give a home to, well, that didn’t matter as much.

When you dear reader ask me to love me and I say I can’t, I’m sorry. I do appreciate your love and care and I need it. I simply do not yet know how to throw away my broken mirror and get a new one.

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Unwanted

Nothing is more heartbreaking than to KNOW that even before you were born you were unwanted. The truth is I should have never known this. No one should have revealed to me the truth of where my teenage mothers mind was when she found out she was pregnant with me. The fact is, there are some things children should never know.

My aunt “Sissy” Glorianna and I

My mothers sister Glorianna who the family called “Glor” and I called “Sissy” and I will refer to as that through this story told me just how far my mother went, more than once, to attempt to be shed of me. As a child I adored Sissy, she was always closer to me than my Mommy was. She would sit and color with me, buy me things when she could and come to visit me. Side Note: I was raised in the Appalachian mountains, we call our mothers Mommy, our grandmothers Granny and use all sorts of terminology that’s different from mainstream society. I’ll use those terms throughout my writing.

Sissy used to tell me many things about my life before I could remember my life. I asked her questions, we talked often and she spoke to me openly and honestly. As an adult there are things she revealed to me that I wish she hadn’t, that certain secrets would have been kept buried. I have dwelt upon and carried the burden of many of those secrets throughout my life. As of today 2/1/21 I’m forty years old and I still carry the aching hurt of knowing how unwanted I was with me, just at the surface of every hurt I have is the knowing that I was “unwanted.”

You see my Mommy was 16 years old when she became pregnant with me. That’s mighty young no matter what century or decade you may be living in. At this time it was the eighties, my mother was one of eight children born into Appalachian poverty. Yes, there it is, the hard part of Appalachia that modern Appalachian’s don’t want to face. Life here is hard, it has been since our pioneers carved out lives on the ridges and in the hollers. I have to accept the fact that my home has a hard history and I’m a product of that history, as is my Mommy and all of her siblings and our family.

A sixteen year old impoverished, abused, scared kid doesn’t want a baby! She is a baby. I can only imagine how frightened my mom was knowing she had a little baby in her belly and no way to take care of it. My Mom ran off from home when she was just 12 years old and married a much older man. She came back and left again, then returned pregnant with me. The fact is she wasn’t sure who my Dad was, it would be decades later before I discovered who he was for certain.

So there I was inside a womb, struggling to live through the wild wonderings of a 16 year old girl who drank and smoked and ran around with different men. Sissy said that my Mom would punch herself in the stomach trying to abort me. She would bawl up her fists and beat herself as hard as she could to be rid of me. To her I wasn’t me yet, I was just one more THING inside of her she didn’t like. I carry that, you know, deep within my heart of hearts. To my mother, the one who was supposed to cherish and love and want and desire me, I was just a thing. A thing that scared her, troubled her and that she was going to stop at nothing to be rid of.

Beating herself in the stomach didn’t work. I was still there, growing despite her lack of prenatal care, proper diet and through her substance abuse. How I lived I don’t know, perhaps she didn’t have access to alcohol like she had in the early weeks of pregnancy. She came home to my Granny, her mother and there was no free beer there, there was barely free bread.

Haysi Virginia
My hometown in Appalachia

But then something new came along Sissy said. A way for her to be shed of me and rid of herself and all the troubles she had endured through her life and would certainly endure with an unwanted, screaming child on her hip. Pills! My mother attempted to overdose, to kill herself and me while she was pregnant. I don’t know the ins and outs of all that happened to get her to the point of overdosing, but she was taken to Buchanan General Hospital in Grundy Virginia and her stomach was pumped.

Hooray…..
Praise God?
She was saved, I, was saved?

I honestly do not know how deep into hurt and pain and fear and dread my mother must have been in after seeing that all her attempts to do away with me didn’t work. Can you imagine how badly she hated me? I can. I have. I still do.

You see I carry this story with me as a reminder of just how hated I was. Sure my mother was young and pitiful, but that doesn’t erase the fact that she didn’t love me. Perhaps she couldn’t, she didn’t know how as a child, she didn’t love herself either. I don’t believe she ever has and she gave that gift to me, self hate. I have yet to find a day in my 40 years of life that I have looked into the mirror and cared about the person looking back. I haven’t yet learned to love myself, but I’m working on it.

My therapist gives me assignments to help me work on me. I talk about them here, but for now suffice it to say it is difficult work for someone like me. Someone who struggles to believe they’re worthy of love and not unwanted by every person they know.

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Mamaw: The Introduction

1920’s Model T Ford
One similar to what Mamaw’s Daddy would have owned.

Mamaw…
Mother?
Friend?

Abuser…

To broach the person I called Mamaw, the woman whom I loved as a mother figure, the person who I would do anything for is difficult. It’s hard because I cared for this woman, she was in my life from infancy, but nothing I could ever say or do would garner the same affection from her as I gave, desired, needed and I longed for desperately.

Mamaw was born Delphia Mae Davis, the oldest daughter of a man she called Poppy who was “well to do” by 1900’s mountain standards. Yes dear reader, they “had the first car ever in the country” Mamaw would say. She “drove it and picked children up to haul to school.” To hear Mamaw talk they were the Rockefellers of Dickenson County. If Mamaw could brag about something she was going to. She saw herself as upper crust and everyone else that couldn’t see her as that OR offer her some sort of strange queen like status, well they were paupers and beneath her.

Me?

I was always beneath her.

Delphia taught me to call her Mamaw, because her beloved adopted son Jack had married my 17 year old mother when I was a few months old. I would call him “Daddy Jack” until for some odd reason Mamaw and Papaw stopped referring to him as that. You see Jack died when I was only nine months old. Another tragedy for my Mommy. Jack was up in his fifties when he died! Think of this for a moment would you? My mother had just turned 17, she was married to a man who already had three children in their late teens and early twenties and they lived in the basement of his parents home for a time. Some man huh?

Jack drank himself to death. That’s the bottom line. Every person around knew he was an alcoholic. He died from cirrhosis of the liver or as I heard Mamaw say “his liver ruptured.” For nothing on the face of this planet would she admit to what caused the disease he had and ultimately his death. Person after person would tell the tales of his escapades, his drinking and partying and racing cars up and down the road near Flanagan Dam. Wrecking brand new automobiles in drunken stuppers only to be given a new one was common practice for this golden child. He would go to work drunk, be fired and Papaw being an upstanding man in the county would find someone to go out on a limb for him and Jack would be back in another job.

Jack was loved though. Everyone who knew Jack thought of him as a good time. Even though he was a severe alcoholic, even though he dumped one wife and three kids then eventually married a poor teenager with a baby, people loved the man for some reason. Me? I don’t even remember him. I only know him from photos and stories. People say he loved me, that he had plans to adopt me. Maybe that was at least one feather in his crown, that he was willing to love a baby who my mother did claim was his. I wasn’t.

But Mamaw, children, she loved her boy. She cherished him. He was the prized child from all I knew. She must have seen him drunk, smelled the alcohol, she was in denial I suppose. Papaw was sick as a boy, he had mumps and became infertile. At some point they decided to adopt and found Jack in Kentucky as an infant. Papaw and Mamaw would take me in eventually as they did another, but that was before my time and a story I only learned about last year. But Jack, he was cherished and loved. Mamaw kept his little newborn gown and grown man clothing inside a cedar chest alongside photos and other keepsakes. No doubt when Jack died she longed for her baby. I’m sorry she lost him, but I do question why he became an alcoholic.

With the disfunction that was my Mamaw at the helm of raising him I can only speculate that she could have driven him toward his habit. She drove me into believing I was a worthless piece of garbage, ignorant trash, nasty and as she would say time and again an “old horse.”

I was not precious or sweet, good or kind, I was bad. I was not a treasured child, I was a work horse, her very own Cinderella. One of the first toys I can ever recall having was a little broom and mop with pink handles. I recall being just a tiny thing with those “toys” in my hands sweeping and mopping the kitchen. I have despised mopping my entire life, because I was forced to mop as a little girl, hands hardly big enough to ring out that little mop, but I did and it was disgusting. I recall the cold, black water with bits of grime inside the mop as I wring it out. The water would grow nastier and colder and more full of filth as I worked, usually underneath the kitchen table where it was too hard for Mamaw to reach. The smell was putrid, sour and bitter at the same time. Not a place for tiny hands to be, itty bitty hands, I barely had to duck to get under the kitchen table.

When other children were playing outside during the summers I was working. I could hear their echoes of laughter and whoops as they played, their music echoed toward our house as they splashed in their swimming pools. I was in the garden, planting, pulling weeds, watering and then processing the food as it grew in. While other girls in the neighborhood had brown skin kissed by the sun, my skin was stained odd colors from planting red seed corn or peeling apples in the fall. I had cuts on my fingers stained brown for weeks. I was evermore doing Mamaw’s bidding. If I couldn’t work outside carrying two five gallon buckets at a time of water for the flowers she grew or coal for the wood stove in the winter, I was dusting, washing clothes, making beds, running the vacuum, washing dishes and cooking. I did it all, I kept the house, Mamaw kept the rules.

I did have time to play when other children would ask Mamaw for me to come visit them or another adult in that childs life asked her for me to come play, but I was punished if I left the house. When I came home I had to work or endure some vile punishment, even if there was no work exactly Mamaw would find something for me to do. Work like scrubbing every pair of socks I owned on a wash board or during the winter busting the frozen water out of the oil barrels that sat at the end of each corner of the house, just to carry the water in to set on the stove to wash clothes in it, we had a washer and dryer. I even had to bathe in that filthy oil drum water. I didn’t know better, I was submissive for most of my life with Mamaw. I never kicked back. I just took that water that I had boiled on top of that coal stove that was soot filled and poured it into the bathtub to wash in. Not because we had to do this, Mamaw was just that way. She skimped and saved and punished me however she could. Until I learned how to have clean bath water I had to wash in her leftover, scummy bath water for years. I eventually learned to have clean water, I would put a wash cloth over the faucet so she couldn’t hear fresh water running and I’d slowly let the nasty, greyish yellow water out.

As I told my therapist about Mamaw she helped me learn that something was wrong with her. She was not normal, though who is normal, but Mamaw was different, she was abnormal in a bad way. I was always told “Delphia loves you in her own way.” That’s no good. Others tried to comfort me the best they could when they saw me hurting, when I opened up to a few here and there. I needed Mamaw to love me like a mother who would die for her child, who would bathe their child in clean water then they would take the dirty water. I needed to be worthy of clean, fresh water, not oil barrel, soot filled water.

I would never be, because Mamaw had a severe, undiagnosed mental issue. It made my life a living nightmare. I will talk about that in future writings, because it’s a lot to unpack and it deserves it’s own time. Suffice it to say many of my self worth issues stem from the day in and day out life I lived with Mamaw. All those formative years where a child is taught all they’ll carry with them were filled with me always being anxious of doing something wrong, never being good enough and never finding a loving mothers arms to hold me and keep me safe. Rather I was just an “old horse,” working for a woman who could never love me.


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