Steel Town Girl Prologue

Steubenville,_Ohio,_Fort_Steuben_Bridge
Photo by Doug Kerr

The rickety old bridge was the stuff nightmares were made of. The two-lane bridge with a pedestrian sidewalk to one side was a huge silver steel contraption marred with rust streaks and black skid marks down its insides. It was the Steubenville Bridge and you had to cross it to get from Ohio to the northern panhandle of West Virginia. It was an industrial town whose main source of industry was steel and was where I mainly grew up as a kid.

If you got caught at the red light at the end of the bridge, there was a sign that said, “Welcome to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.” I can’t tell you how many times in my life I looked at that sign as we sat and waited for the light to turn green and wondered, “What the hell makes this place so wonderful?”

The see-through metal slats that formed the bottom of the bridge pulled your tires back and forth making a humming noise as you drove. You had to steer with both hands, and the slight back-and-forth motion from the pulling of the tires made it look like the overly dramatic steering you see in movies.

My mom told me that once when she was a young girl, my grandma Edith, who was four foot nine, misjudged her car and scraped the side of her big gray Oldsmobile down the entire length of the bridge, metal screeching and sparks flying the whole way on the passenger side where my mom sat.

If you look out the window and over the side, you see the murky brown water below. If you are unlucky enough to get stopped by the light that sends you out onto Route 2, you sit feeling the bridge swaying back and forth. I swear the timing of the light was just long enough to let you conjure up the notion that at any moment you’d go over the edge, hit the cold, brown water like a rock, never to be heard from again.

I’d cross this bridge so many times with my parents and later alone as I learned to drive myself, and each time I still had the same reaction to it. Trepidation. Wonderment.

When I was little and asked about the movement of the bridge my dad would say not to worry, that bridges needed to sway to stay strong. He pointed out, that if it were rigid, the bridge would collapse under the pressure of the water and cars.

If you turned left off the bridge, coming from Ohio, you headed toward Weirton. If you turned right off the bridge and followed Route 2, you snaked along the Ohio River that divides Ohio from West Virginia.

First up, the city of Follansbee. You’ll know you’re there when you see the coke plants off to your right. The tall smokestacks billow large white clouds into the air that make the area smell like rotten eggs and covers everything in a thin dusting of gray powder. They have a Dairy Owl, a baseball field, gas station, a middle school, and three traffic lights.

When the street becomes a four-lane highway again, you’re on your way to the city of Wellsburg. And although I moved a lot, it’s the city in which I grew up the most until my mid-teens. At the time, there was Kroger’s grocery store, a drugstore called Super X that sat in the same plaza, the tail end of Rabbit Hill, a gas station, the West Virginia State Highway Patrol, and the dirt patch where the carnival was held each summer and the start of Washington Pike to your left. When I was twelve, we finally got a Pizza Hut and the town about shit itself with excitement. But, if you go past Washington Pike, there on the right, you’ll see DiCarlo’s Pizza, home of the hot pizza with cold toppings you can buy by the slice for just a few cents. It’s still the same pizza joint it was in the ’70s and they still use the same old payphone attached to the wall to take incoming orders for pizza. It’s the best damn pizza you will ever eat.

 

If you take this book with you the next time you visit, you’ll see that with the exception of a few dollar stores, and a Dairy Queen now, my description of the city and the surrounding areas haven’t changed much and is why the place is referred to as, “the town that time forgot.”

I learned to drive up and down Washington Pike and Rabbit Hill like all kids did. We didn’t have Driver’s Ed in school; our parents had to teach us. And because my dad was my dad, he was giving me the keys to the Nova at age fourteen to drive out to pay his bill at the water department located in the little white building that still exists at the end of Manner Ridge Road today.

If you learned to navigate the roads without going over a hill, you easily passed your driver’s test given by the West Virginia State Highway Patrol in downtown Wellsburg. At age sixteen, a state trooper, or a “Mountie,” as my Dad called them, sat in the passenger seat of your car in their intimidating gray uniform, and large black-brimmed hat, while you parallel parked next to where they held the carnival every August. How any of us passed with that kind of intimidation is beyond me now, but we did.

I practiced for weeks leading up to my test. Practice made perfect, my dad said. I got so good at parallel parking that I could do it in less than thirty seconds from start to finish. I know because my dad timed me. And because I was already so used to using the car, I remember at least once during my test, the Mountie reaching for the dash, telling me that I could take my time and reminding me that there were no deductions for going slowly.

I can remember when they handed me my new license. It was still warm from the laminating machine. There it was, a shiny plastic card that meant I had graduated from maneuvering a fifteen-pound ten-speed to handling a three-thousand-pound car around West Virginia’s mountainous terrain. I opened my blue Velcro wallet that had a rainbow cloud design on the front so many times to admire it, that I nearly wore the Velcro right off.

I was sixteen in the summer of 1983, and I drove my dad’s ’79 silver Nova. The burgundy red plastic interior got scorching hot in the summer and would burn the faux weaved pattern of the seats into the back of your legs if you wore shorts. Sometimes, we’d pad the seats with our wet towels from the swimming pool and wear just our bathing suits while driving around town. Our hair would blow wildly around our faces in the fresh mountain air that was occasionally laced with the strong scent of fresh lilacs, honeysuckle and wild onions that grew off roadsides.

We were all dolled up, smoking, laughing and singing to the radio, not a care in the world on our way to the Fort Steuben Mall that day.

It was my friend Annie who spotted the police car behind us. She tapped me on my shoulder to look in the rearview mirror. I turned down the radio and pulled to the side of the road in front of Follansbee Middle School and we both mashed out our cigarettes in the ashtray. My heart was in my throat as I reached for my purse, doing everything my dad taught me to do in case I was ever pulled over.

 

The gray uniform and big hat appeared at my window.

“Where ya goin in such a hurry?” he said as he bent over to talk to me in the window.

“Um, nowhere special, just to the mall,” I said as I handed over my license and registration.

“I clocked you going 52 miles an hour in a 35, young lady,” he said.

He scanned the documents and looked back at me.
“Um, I’m really sorry, officer… I didn’t realize —”
“You sit tight and I’ll be back in a minute,” he interrupted.
I could see him in my rearview mirror talk on his police radio.

We didn’t move a muscle or say a word.
After a few minutes, he reappeared at my window.
“You Harland Jessup’s daughter?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, I am. Why?” I asked.
“Uh… no reason… uh… you go on and git outta here, but beeeee careful. You’re a new driver and you both know what happens to a lot to new drivers around here if they’re not careful, don’t ya?”

We knew.

We’d hear the adults talking about how some new driver got seriously injured or even killed in a car accident on those dangerous roads that these damn kids just weren’t experienced with enough yet.

 

“Yes, sir, thank you, sir,” I said excitedly.

I waited for him to pull out from behind me and drive away. Then I did the same. I was careful to use my turn signal and keep a close eye on the speedometer. Annie and I didn’t say a word to each other for what seemed like forever.

And then she spoke.

“Oh my God, I felt so bad for you back there, but you handled yourself like a champ!” she said as she slapped at my shoulder.

“Thanks,” I said as I laughed, “but I was sooooo scared!”

“You sure didn’t show it! I would have cried, I just know I would have!” she said. “And,” she added, “he didn’t even give you a ticket!” “Yeah, I know! I guess it pays to grow up the daughter of one of the most hated, feared men in town,” I said. “If I can handle living with my dad, I can handle a god-damned West Virginia State Trooper.”

We quickly fished our mangled cigarettes from the ashtray, straightened and re-lit them. I turned up the radio and we sang to the top of our lungs “Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel as we approached the Steubenville Bridge. And with a racing heart and sweaty palms, I drove us across the bridge that nightmares were made of, and made our way to the mall.

Like nothing ever happened.

 

*If you are interested to read more, and would like to support an Indie author, you can buy a paperback copy of my memoir Steel Town Girl here.

Or the Kindle e-book here.

Thanks for stopping by my blog,

~ Robin Donnelly

 

Before you Label Someone Toxic… Check in With Your Heart.

purple liquid poison on brown wooden surface
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I read an article by Dr. Perry of MakeItUltra Psychology about How to Have Boundaries with a Toxic Person, and although I agree with his tips when it comes to healing from the trauma pathological narcissists leave in their wake, I don’t necessarily agree they should be incorporated immediately with anyone that we deem “negative,” which is basically anyone speaking out about the bad behaviors of others lately. Reading the comments under that post proved interesting.

One reader said, “I refuse to interact with negative people! As an empath, they literally make me sick!” — Ugh! People like this make me sick. And good luck living in your bubble.

Then, there was the person that said they “ignored them and went mute.” — Yeah. That’s called “gray rock” and is a survival tactic used by those healing from abuse when they have to interact with their abusers and ‘no contact’ is not an option for their healing. Used outside of this context, these people appear to be self-absorbed and rude, aka: as an asshole. Great look by the way.

And, my favorite comment — was the manager — who chimed in saying that the employees she managed were toxic because they complained to her, therefore, drawing her into the negativity and draining her. — Uh, that’s called your job, so people are going to naturally come to you with problems, you know… because you’re the manager… yikes, really?

I just finished listening to Dr. Christiane Northrup’s new book on Audible, called Dodging Energy Vampires, and although I know energy drainers are copious; I’ve dealt with my fair share of them, and we do indeed have to check them at the door after a while — I see an emerging trend happening where people are becoming far too superior to anyone in need of talking things through. And the trend I see is it’s typically the abusers who’ve done the wrong and then want to prohibit the victim from talking about it thereby calling them “toxic” when the conversation points to them taking accountability for their actions. They are flipping the script and calling this “having boundaries.” No, you’re a bully that abuses and then gaslights your victim. Let’s not get it twisted. —

Boundaries are for victims to protect themselves from more harm. Not for abusers to be able to abuse more. 

There are two people in a relationship: When one person in that relationship is no longer allowed to have a reaction to shitty behavior, and nothing you do, say, think or feel, after being abused is allowed in the name of the other person “having boundaries” — you are in fact dealing with a narcissistic bully. When that person tells you whatever the hell it is they want to tell you, no matter how hurtful, and then pulls the, “you’re negative,” “it’s not about you,” or “it’s not personal” card, when you want to talk about it, what they are really saying is that they want free reign to abuse you, yet fog their intentions by calling them boundaries.

The subtitle of Dodging Energy Vampires is, “Evading Relationships that Drain You and Restoring Your Health and Power.” Evading relationships? O.k? But at what point? Apparently, the second one deems someone is negative is the answer. If my son calls and asks me how I’m doing, and I say I have a headache, according to him, that is negative and I’m always sick. So, that has become a reason for not coming home for eight Christmases. Li.ter.al. The message is: I have to be fun, and easy to be with at every second, never mention anything about myself, and when he asks me anything, lie. No thanks. Don’t come home then.

And, really… what relationship doesn’t drain us after a while? Solution: I’ll just evade you. Nice. Restoring our health and power is not about being armored up sitting high upon a throne in our untouchable superiority. Evading and shutting people down is a rigid, angry behavior and is abuse in an of itself when done to someone you’ve just abused. This behavior of cutting people off at the knees and evading others in pain is a what Jeff Brown calls trauma-bypassing and is a learned patriarchal behavior.

This is only some of what Jeff Brown author of Grounded Spirituality writes about trauma bypassing:

“Be Here Now”! We can’t. We have too much trauma in the way. “The Power of Now”! Sounds good, but first, we have to deal with the “Power of Then.” Worst things, first. It’s easy enough to talk about being in the “now.” But what we are we even talking about? Now through the mind? Through the heart? Through the body? What does it even mean to be fully present? Most of the people teaching nowness are head-tripping, meditation addicted spiritual bypassers. What do they really know about presence? The truth is that we are all trauma survivors, and that includes every spiritual teacher I have ever known. Almost every one of them has confused self-avoidance with enlightenment, blaming the mind for all that ails them while conveniently sidestepping their wounded hearts. Bottom line- we can’t be in the present, because our emotional and physical body are tied up in trauma knots. Some, many, perhaps all threads of our consciousness are still back there, locked into the originating wounds. If we want to truly BE HERE NOW, we have to be there, then. We have to untie the knots and heal the core wounds. Then, and only “then”, will we know the true power of NOW.” — Jeff Brown

 

I’m all for boundaries against toxic people, but before labeling someone toxic, don’t forget people are human and looking for connection. Part of being a friend is listening and holding space for people. We’ve forgotten this. Giving people the benefit of the doubt first, with some compassion and empathy may work wonders on someone feeling heard. If someone is toxic, maybe we haven’t heard them out? If that’s your take on someone immediately, maybe you’re projecting? We live in a very literal society anymore. It would be nice if people had some sort of tolerance level before cutting people off at the knees, lest they become the toxic person themselves.

I’m not saying that we must become a welcome mat for people to wipe their feet on, or that we should tolerate people chewing our ears while we should be working, or that we need to be tolerating bad behavior year after year and calling that a relationship… let’s not be so literal and disclaimer-y to the nth degree, k? But, let’s use some common sense. We pretty much know in our heart of hearts the difference between someone venting, and someone toxic, am I right? When someone wants to mend a relationship by talking about the past so it doesn’t repeat itself, and that of someone toxic. I certainly understand the difference. Venting is a once in a while thing, and toxic is all the time. Discussion about pain is altogether different and should be a back and forth, honest dialogue between two people who reciprocate listening, asking questions, while having respect for one another. 

Life is hard. Be kind. Come back later and let someone know you care before you decide someone should be written off as “toxic.” Think of that word, “toxic.” It means waste, very bad, unpleasant, harmful. Not something I’m willing to do on a whim. And, I’m not saying that we have to keep taking it and taking it to prove our love to people either. This is a balance thing. You can be soft and kind and still have boundaries like a mofo.

Thankfully, when I was dying on the vine, I was able to put myself into counseling when I didn’t have a shoulder to lean on or an ear to talk to about my pain. It made all the difference in the world to help me stay another day. Think! Some people may not have that resource. And why are they trusting YOU with their story!?

We want world peace, but we don’t want to talk. We want to break generational curses and patterns but we want to evade doing the work. That’s not how any of this even works.

Be an ear. A shoulder. Have a heart. Have boundaries, but don’t forget your own humanness for toxicity. Don’t be so quick to write people off. Take breaks, but go visit your heart and check in with what you really know. It knows the truth. Anything else is toxic.

Hemingway, Trauma-Bonding and Letting Go to Love Yourself.

Hey there! It’s been a while since my last post… five months to be exact, and four months since posting to my recipe blog. I posted a lentil chili recipe yesterday and awoke to 95 more followers to that blog this morning. Cool beans! (If any of you out there know how to merge two blogs into one, let me know!)

Anyway, I’d love to be able to report here on my book/writing/healing blog that I have been back to writing my second memoir, but I have not. I spent this time moving and settling into our new home, making and sending art for the art groups I’m in and have enjoyed some down time in Key West with my youngest son, husband, and mother-in-law. After a tour at The Hemingway House, I’m just now feeling the writing juices percolating again.

Hemingway House
Hemingway’s writing room
Do you see the sleeping cat?

Polydactyl kitty cat waiting for treats

My first memoir Steel Town Girl was published last September and is doing surprisingly well. My editor loved it and she’s written 31 books, so I’m not sure why I’m so surprised, but of course I am. Also, I got a shout-out from Darcie Chan on FB and Twitter the other day. She’s the uber-talented writer of the Mill River series. If you haven’t read her, I highly recommend them. Start here.

I was published for about five minutes and was still recovering from that when I was pelted yet again. I’m doing better now, but in all honesty, much of my time away from this blog came after this post and this one back in November, when afterward I received a scathing email from my son. Apparently, my outing him on my blog; my place for healing and reflection, (and something encouraged by my therapist), pushed him to the edge and he lashed out in a lengthy email about just what a ridiculous, embarrassing mess of a person he thinks I’ve become.

He poked fun at me for taking a new medicine (an antidepressant) saying I “was always sick”, shamed me for deleting him and all his flying monkey friends, and I was blamed for things as far back as 2004, while his father got a free pass for absolutely everything.

He scolded me saying that he doesn’t like the negativity I put out into the Universe (which means he doesn’t like having other people know…) and told me that this may be “unrecoverable” and “unrepairable.”

He accuses me of creating this blog because I love being a victim. He ended by saying that he doesn’t like the mom I am now, he likes the fun-loving, high-energy mom he grew up with, and that if I think I’ll be invited to his wedding I have another thing coming.

In other words, I should be fun, and easy to with regardless of how he treats me. How dare I have a normal reaction to abnormal behavior.

It took me these few months to get my bearings again after that email. I was already reeling when I got it, so it was like getting kicked in the stomach while you’re already on the ground. But, breaking this pattern of trauma bonding is not for the faint at heart. It’s something we’ve been conditioned in childhood to do. To go right back, again and again, looking for comfort in the very person who kicked us while we’re down.

Letting go of the arousal jag of continually trying to fix shit I didn’t break was difficult and exhausting because it was ingrained in who I was. The Fixer. Of everything. To everyone. Well, no more!

Now, I’m walking taller and straighter than I have in a long time. I’m doing it without meds (my choice) and life feels better than it has in a long time.

The pain that used to linger throughout my chest is no longer there. The manic, “What did I do wrong? and it’s ugly sister, “What Can I Do To Make You Love Me”, has given way to, “Not My Fucking Problem.”

It’s taken this time away to realize that the balm that soothes trauma bonding most is called, “No Contact.” (With them, and anyone associated with them.) You apply it liberally, as many times per day as needed until it becomes second nature and becomes easier to breathe. But you can’t use “No Contact” until you use the pre-treatments: “Not Your Fault,” and “You Can’t Change Them.” When you put the cart before that horse, it just won’t work. You’ll feel guilty. But, when you feel those two things deep within your bones, then, feel free to use the third step: “No Contact.”

Detoxing feels awful at first, but when the toxic sludge of this conditioning stops coursing through your veins, it actually feels like you’ve been given a gift! And you realize — this was a gift you had to give to yourself!

Please don’t continue this pattern in any relationship and call it love. Once you’ve identified it, stop it!

When we go back to our partner or spouse after abuse, people either say we’re hopelessly in love or call us nuts. It’s nuts. (More on that later.) When we go back to our children after abuse by sweeping it under the rug, people tell us what good parents we are. That’s not being a good parent! It’s being a doormat, and it’s not normal!

So, I did a lot of thinking, reflecting and soul-searching in my time away from this blog. I still continue to learn the difference between narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and I came to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter the diagnosis. It’s his issue, it’s not mine to fix, worry about, or deal with anymore, so I choose to live for me for once. My son is a thirty-three-year-old man who will have to figure out why he acts like he does, what his issues are, who created those issues, and how he can change them on his own like everybody else. But, regardless of why, what, who, or how… his behavior is his choice. And it’s my choice not to deal with it anymore.

If and when he wants to talk to me; to us with dignity and respect, apologize for his behavior and not talk over me, we can have an adult discussion. I’ll own my role, he can own his, and we can move on in life. But, I won’t hold my breath. Until then, No Contact it is.

I am letting him go. Because I am choosing me.

Happy New You! Reflecting to Heal Narcissistic Abuse and Resolving C/PTSD

Org Chaos
Sounded about right with all that’s on the agenda…

I went out to lunch with a friend today and I saw two couples sitting with their 2019 wall calendars and spiral bound planners mapping out their New Year together. I love a new planner too and the hope I feel when I can see 365 days all strung out in front of me to do with what I want. 365 opportunities. 365 gifts. What are we going to do with them all?

Planning has been one of the ways I’ve kept my anxiety at bay in the past, and the type of planning and tracking I do in my planner, has changed as I’ve changed. This year, I achieved what felt like an impossible feat; finishing my first novel. It took five years to write and each year for five years straight I put it in the slot of my #1 goal, and continued to move it to the next year, and the next… and the next before it was done.

But, 2019 will be the first year that I’m adding reminders to my planner that will continue to help me protect myself as well as keep me on the road to healing the destruction left in the wake of enduring and learning of narcissistic abuse.

My 2019 resolutions related to ending abuse, disrespectful familial patterns and recovering from trauma are:

  1. I’m going to stay angry about it. That doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s actually necessary when you are too empathetic and at risk for of being abused.
  2. I am hanging up my Wonder Woman outfit. People will have to fight their own battles like I have. I will no longer feel it my duty to rescue others. I’m busy rescuing myself.
  3. I will continue to take my anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds and not allow people to shame me about it.
  4. I will no longer word paint for the blind. I understand now that narcissists purposely frustrate our efforts to communicate and our desire to feel validated and are not concerned with the truth.
  5. I will no longer be dismissed, demeaned, and devalued in my own family.
  6. I will remain No Contact with abusers, their triangulated flying monkeys and not feel bad about protecting myself from any of them. This is not a discard. These are boundaries for my health.
  7. People that can’t or won’t defend me against abuse are what my therapist call perpetrators of abuse. If someone is fine with me getting pummeled as long as they don’t have to get involved. Those are not my people.
  8. I will require an apology and changed behavior from here on out. (Hint: If you’re the type of person that hates apologizing, stop doing hurtful shit to other people you have to apologize for. Simple.)
  9. I’ll no longer be the heavy lifter in relationships and won’t accept lop-sided, sloppy seconds from people I call friends and family.
  10.  If things in my life are trying to fall apart, I will let them. I have no more strength to fight.
  11.  I will trust patterns and not words. 
  12.  I will listen to my intuition when it sends me warning signals and I will proceed no further — no matter what anyone says.
  13.  I will no longer allow negative, mean bullies to take their anger out on me with unfounded accusations, criticisms, and insults. If they don’t show up with facts and examples in a respectful manner, they can keep their generalizations and projections of themselves — to themselves. 
  14.  Others opinions of me are none of my business. I’ve studied myself for 51 years… I know who I am, and how I am, and I love myself. 
  15.  I’m worthy of the same love, consideration and respect that I’ve given to others. Asking for those things isn’t expecting too much.
  16.  I will rest when I need to without feeling guilty for what I’m not doing.
  17.  I will no longer apologize when I’m sick or when I need something. I’m human. And my needs matter.
  18.  I will focus more on the love I’m getting than the love I’m not.
  19.  I will have self-compassion and not beat myself up for having feelings, not accuse myself of being overly-sensitive for crying or having a difficult day. Those are mental loops that play out in my head from abuse and I’m undoing them, defiantly.
  20.  I will say no without further explanation.
  21.  I won’t harm myself with hope. Hoping for reconciliation of any past relationship or wishing it was different will only leave me open for more harm.
  22.  I now know that no response — is a response. I don’t need to attend to every argument I’m invited to. I have to conserve my energy for more pressing matters like healing and living my life.
  23.  I will nourish myself with copious amounts of self-love; massages, facials, plan mini-getaways, take girl’s weekends, I will eat dinner in bed and lounge extravagantly. And I will know that I deserve everything good.
  24.  I’m only going where I feel happy, loved and accepted for who I am. I’ll surround myself with with people who are happy to celebrate me and my  own successes, who are encouraging to me, love me for who and how I am, and not those who merely tolerate me. (Tolerate traffic. Love people.)
  25.  There will be more talking about the elephant in the room and less sweeping things under the rug in my family. They will grow, or go. Their choice.
  26.  This is my blog, and my outlet for healing, and I will discuss on it what I wish. I will be transparent about my life. The good, the bad, the ugly. I will be brave with my life and not be bullied or threatened regarding what I write about. I’m a memoirist. That’s what we do. 

If you’re being mentally and emotionally abused, I hope my boundaries serve as reminders to you that we don’t have to take this shit anymore and we are worthy of all things lovely.

If you are in physical danger, please make a plan to leave quietly, or call 911.

If you’re here reading and we have parted on good, bad, or indifferent terms, I still wish you the very best in 2019 and always. I hope you find what you are looking for.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winners of my Book Give-Away Are…

PRuVfWuvQtqEKmS7n%WOow

LucyLoon96a

@Disney_Bride

&

Stacey Shute

Please contact me via my author’s page on FB: here to send me your addresses. Please allow extra time to arrive in your mailbox during the busy holiday mailing season. And please don’t forget to pass the book along to other memoir lovers and leave your honest review on Amazon.

Thank you so much for participating!

~ Robin Donnelly

*Winners have until December 31st to claim their book!