The question, "Who am I", is one of humanity’s most asked questions, but it is a profound question that we have done so little to address. Identity touches and colors every facet of living. The gravity of its impact makes it worthy of careful study.
In this book, Fikayo invites the reader to embark on a journey to discover identity anew--see yourself through God's eyes.
While this book seems destined for its place among great Christian classics, its witty and reactive style make it an enjoyable and almost addictive companion.
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By Catherine P. Perry
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 Dr. Catherine P. Perry, M.Ed, DD
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFIRST, A LITTLE BACKGROUND
At the same time America was at war with Vietnam, I was in a secret war-inside my house. The people who loved, fed, and protected me would morph into the people who hit, slapped, and whipped my body. Those early years were confusing. In one moment, I could get a kiss and a lullaby. Then, out of nowhere, a hurricane of anger could level me. My bedroom, a place of security and comfort, could transform into a dungeon where I was forgotten. I found myself frequently wondering, "Where is Mommy?" The physical and verbal aggression was no match for being ignored. Being left alone.
I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1961. I was the second of four children. I had an older brother, Tony, and two younger sisters, Maria and Angela. We were born within a span of four years. Dad was a medical doctor and military officer. Mom was home with us.
I was a natural visionary and an explorer. I wasn't aware of those qualities until many years later. I was also the finder of great things-including but not limited to most of the pets in my family.
I was precocious. I was unusually coordinated, able to figure things out. I knew things before I was "supposed to" know. At 18-months-old, I would stand in grim defiance with my fists clenched by my sides-notcrying-and glare at Dad, after he'd hit me. I didn't have the vocabulary to state it, but I sensed something was not right.
By the time I was three, Dad moved us to a Military base in Queens, New York. My siblings and I emulated our parents' model of problem solving: physical and verbal aggression. We pulled hair, pushed, punched, shouted, and blamed everyone other than ourselves for our misfortunes. We competed for scraps of attention and love. Sibling rivalry was exacerbated by my need to compensate for what I wasn't getting from my parents.
I figured out that it was in my best interest to be the favorite child. That role, I came to believe, could come in handy-maybe, help me avoid punishment. Maria and I were the greatest of rivals. We were practically twins; she was born before I was a year old. I stopped being the baby of the family, before I could walk. She was literally the next egg in my mother's ovary in line to be impregnated. How Maria and I fought for our rightful position in the family.
I had a hidden source of help-something invisible to my family and me. I used it as readily as I breathed. I didn't know what it was. It was just there. A guidance of sorts, an invisible knower, communicated to me as surreptitiously as cells divide. When I followed that guidance, I could break a rule and not get in trouble. Like the time I got my first pet. I was five. I wasn't supposed to leave the front yard, but something prodded me to do it.
I knew my parent's wrath could sting, but I kept going. I left the yard and walked to a sidewalk across the street. I looked over my shoulder. No grownups in sight, I kept following the guidance. I looked down, and to my astonishment, one of my wishes had come true. I'd wanted a little furry pet, and there it was. It was grayish with a pink tail. The fluffy creature was still. I knew I could catch it. No other kids were around. It was mine. It didn't bother me that the mouse was missing its head. It was soft, barely dead.
I was filled with joy as I hid my new treasure in my pinafore pocket. If I could keep it hidden, I could get past the parents and bring it to my room. No such luck. Dad cast a shadow over me. Where did he come from? How did he know where I was? I burst into tears. I bawled as he inquired about the contents of my pocket. I was more upset about losing my pet than about the spanking I was sure to receive. He didn't hit me at all. He threw away the headless mouse and brought me to a pet store. I got a new hamster.
That guidance was tricky. What an ingenious plan. Over that weekend, the hamster had babies-seven of them. That guidance led me to eight pets. We didn't know the hamster was pregnant when we'd bought it.
Just as we were delighting in the magnificence of creation, I watched the mother hamster pick up one of the newborns and bite its head off. She ate the whole baby. Then, she bit off the heads of four more. She swallowed them, too. I was horrified. I wanted to throw up. How could a mother mutilate and eat her babies? She must have been full, because she let the last two live. Poof! What magic: one dead headless mouse morphed into one live hamster, then eight hamsters and finally three hamsters. And no spanking.
By kindergarten, I figured out that love can embrace you like a warm summer breeze, and then it can turn around and bite your head off. As a child, I didn't know what abuse was. My vocabulary didn't include dysfunctional family, child neglect, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I didn't understand what made my parents so angry. I didn't understand what made Mom disappear-sometimes for hours, sometimes longer.
Despite the chaos, I was the ultimate optimist. I wasn't aware of that characteristic until much later. I expected good things to happen. I trusted that my parents' rages would end. I believed that Mother would return, even in my loneliest moments. My persistent question, "Where is Mommy," was followed by a determined, "She'll come back." And she always came back. No matter how tumultuous and chaotic my home environment was, there would follow the calm, the peace, the hug, the laughter, rubbing noses with Mommy, or Daddy singing away my tummy ache while playing his ukulele.
I remained confused about the random rages; how to protect myself was unclear. I felt safe following the invisible helper, though. The guidance that had lured me to my first pet sent me on many walks. One afternoon, I followed the invisible nudge to a gate on the side of my house. There, a giant of a dog waited. I opened the gate and let the German Shepherd inside. The dog followed me to my front door. "Mommy, look what followed me home," I said.
She let me keep the dog. Again, I avoided the yell or the slap. My mother was enamored with the beautiful animal. We adopted the pet and named her Pepper. After a few days, Mom changed her mind about keeping the dog. Apparently, Pepper thought my siblings and I were her puppies. When my mother would approach us in anger, the dog shielded us with her body. She growled, as Mom tried to get us. I sensed the dog was trying to teach my mother something, although I didn't know how to verbalize it.
THE RECURRING DREAM
Throughout childhood, I had this recurring dream: I am alone. I am suspended in outer space. Instead of weightlessness, I feel the pull of gravity below me. I hold onto a solid sphere the size of a small planet. I cling to the sphere with my limbs. My belly is tight, frozen against the sphere. I feel its heaviness. Anxiety is the air I breathe. I am smothering in the realization that the dense sphere is being pulled downward. I notice a piece of thread attached to the top of the sphere and extending up into infinity. The thread stretches. It becomes thinner and thinner. The loneliness is brutal. I cling. I am desperate. I want the sphere to hold me up-to support me. I am chronically aware that it cannot. I am exhausted, terrified, and angry. I feel guilty for not being strong enough, as I slip and cling. I am vigilant, always knowing, at any moment, I will lose it all-my world, my life. I slip more, and I cling tighter. Letting go is tantamount to suicide. I am tenacious. I am determined. I will do what ever it takes to make my world stable-or at least have the appearance of being stable. I tell myself, "This cannot be real! This cannot be happening!"
My earliest recollection of that nightmare was at age three. I would wake up terrified. I would feel relief in realizing I was in my bed, holding my blankie and my stuffed lamb. I would feel even more comforted when Mommy or Daddy would rush into my room, attending to my cries.
I wouldn't understand until adulthood what that dream was about.
Before I'd learned to read, I developed a highly complex strategic plan for survival. Unconsciously, I created the roles that would most please, placate, or at least get the attention of my mother and father. I was the entertainer, the strong kid, the magician, the pretty girl, the animal finder and the clown. When those tactics didn't work, I was the athlete, the warrior, the negotiator, the shy kid, or the hider.
In 1968, a few months after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Dad moved us to Louisiana. My parents didn't talk much about what happened to Dr. King. They didn't talk about the hitting and yelling either. My teachers thought I was shy. My parents were surprised at the teachers' assessment, considering how gregarious and fun loving I was at home. The teachers and my neighbors were in the dark. No one knew what was happening inside the walls of my house.
It didn't occur to anyone that I'd just moved to a new town. I felt like an outsider. I wasn't merely shy. I was cautious, vigilant. I was scoping my environment for signs of danger. I had to assess how to be-what role was safe. I was also ashamed and distressed about the perpetual turbulence I lived in. I feared people finding out about the family secret. Without understanding what I was doing, I created a mental denial file into which I began stuffing my experiences and feelings. The emotional gymnastics was exhausting.
By seventh grade, the quiet girl role was getting old. I wanted to belong and to have fun. I was tired of feeling isolated, so I ventured into the school social scene. I tried out for and made the cheerleading squad. I joined the chorus and landed some parts in a couple of musicals. I appeared to thrive socially. Inside, however, I never felt I belonged-anywhere.
I continued to use my survival strategies-using my talents to gain favor with friends and boyfriends-throughout high school. I was a cheerleader, again. I dated a popular football player, and I joined several clubs. I was a chameleon. I could morph myself into whatever I needed to be to please, placate, or impress people.
Although I had no awareness of my subconscious motivations, I was seeking approval and acceptance anywhere I could find it. I was frustrated that my relationships were unfulfilling. I didn't realize that my cautiousness, vigilance, and people pleasing played a part in choosing relationships with boys, and later men, that were unhealthy. Somewhere along my teenage journey, I stopped paying attention to the guidance that had helped me in my earlier years. It was gone, buried-the guidance as well as my memory of it.
Even in college, I was creating a world that would pseudo-satisfy my need for belonging and approval. I was still having the recurring nightmare from early childhood. I was still the entertainer, the strong and talented girl. I was the girlfriend who couldn't do enough to please her boyfriend. I was the varsity cheerleader, in the limelight, who couldn't get enough attention to fill the emptiness inside. I was unaware of my problem and its source.
SHEDDING SOME LIGHT
I put myself into therapy at age thirty, following a strange occurrence at work. I was a corporate executive at an international company. One afternoon, my manager approached me. He appeared angry. His face slightly pink and grimacing, he extended a file folder in my direction. I cowered, shielding my head with my arms. I was frozen in fear. My manager asked, "What are you doing?"
I was mortified. "I thought you were going to hit me."
His grimace melted into concern. "How could you think that?"
I was in the hot seat. No escape from my secret. My shame.
I explained, "I believe you just saw me have a flashback."
"What?" He was baffled.
"My father and mother used to hit me. Your disturbed face triggered my reaction," I expounded. "I was conditioned to expect a hit, when approached by an angry authority figure."
My manager invited me into his office. He stopped being the boss and gave me his support and his promise to keep our conversation private.
I found a counselor who recognized my symptoms and confirmed my suspicion. I had read about post-traumatic stress disorder. I understood that military personnel returning from battle often develop the disorder. Nightmares, flashbacks, and hyper-vigilance are the primary symptoms. Like a war veteran, I was diving under the kitchen table and interpreting a door slamming as an enemy attack.
I remained in therapy on and off for four years. In the process, I had conversations with my parents. They were apologetic about their past aggression and over-criticism.
In one phone conversation, I asked my father if he remembered how old I was when the hitting started.
Dad's reply was, "18-months."
I felt his sorrow, regret, and compassion. I sensed he didn't understand what made him behave the way he had.
Dad continued, "I was afraid of you. I loved you more than I loved myself." He went on, "There was something about you-I don't know what it was. Something about your demeanor made me feel like I wasn't in control; I would hit you, and you wouldn't cry; instead, you stood with both hands in fists by your sides. And you just looked at me."
In a conversation with Mom, she stated, "We criticized and punished you more than the other kids. I don't know why we did that. You seemed stronger than the others-like you could take it. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
Around the same time I was in therapy, I met the man I would marry. I was leery of Rod. He was too nice. A single father of two girls. He reportedly never hit them-a plus. He was too good to be true. We became friends over several months. Trusting he wouldn't hurt me was difficult, at first. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life alone, so I was willing to take a risk. In the first few years of our relationship, I realized my past didn't have to sabotage my happiness. I could let down my guard and be myself. I was willing to trust that I could be safe and be in a relationship at the same time.
In 1994, I married Rod and became stepmother to Lauren, 11, and Stephanie, 9. I remained in therapy to help with the ups and downs of the blended family situation. Feelings of rejection and of not belonging cropped up here and there. Thank goodness for the therapist who helped me understand how those feelings were coming from my early life experiences. I had more healing and grieving to do. My reactions to my husband, stepdaughters, and in-laws were signals that I was still carrying unhealed wounds.
Fast forward to 1997. I gave birth to my son Sean. I left the corporate world to be a stay-at-home mom for one year. I bonded with Sean, spent more quality time with my stepdaughters, and did a lot of soul searching. I had an epiphany in early 1998: Go to graduate school and become a professional counselor. I wanted to help people in the way my therapists had helped me. So off to school I went. I got a part-time job. And Sean went to daycare.
In early 2000, Mom died. I was working in a counseling agency in New Orleans. I was aware that my past was still brewing. My reactions to some of the trauma stories I heard were evidence that I still suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. I didn't want my supervisor to know about my personal problem. I feared she'd think I was incompetent. Despite my knowledge that problems are a normal part of the human condition, I assumed I ought to be finished with my healing process.
By 2003, I was still a master at being the hider. I had the right to my privacy, but was it necessary to keep so much of myself concealed? After all that therapy, what was I afraid of?
I often pondered whether or not I should be more open about my secret beliefs and past experiences. I'd shared some of those with my husband, a few counselors, my children, and a few close friends. Other than those few, I was concerned about what most people would think.
Excerpted from Courageous Wake by Catherine P. Perry Copyright © 2009 by Dr. Catherine P. Perry, M.Ed, DD . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 FIRST, A LITTLE BACKGROUND....................15
CHAPTER 2 AN EXPENSIVE CUP OF TEA....................33
CHAPTER 3 GO HER WAY....................40
CHAPTER 4 FOLLOW MY OWN ADVICE....................48
CHAPTER 5 BORN WITH THE GIFT....................53
CHAPTER 6 WHY I HOLD MYSELF BACK....................66
CHAPTER 7 AND THE LIGHT BEINGS CAME....................73
CHAPTER 8 SHE DREADED LOOKING AT HER WOUND....................78
CHAPTER 9 SYNCHRONICITY....................83
CHAPTER 10 CARPE DIEM....................94
CHAPTER 11 A SURGE OF CONFIDENCE....................102
CHAPTER 12 IN DIVINE TIME....................111
CHAPTER 13 DIVINE NETWORKING....................119
CHAPTER 14 I AM WOMAN DREAM....................124
CHAPTER 15 EXCAVATING THE MOM MYSTERY....................131
CHAPTER 16 THE OTHER MOTHERS....................142
CHAPTER 17 THE BED AND THE BOARD ... AND MORE....................146
CHAPTER 18 NO BOOK OR SERMON....................150
CHAPTER 19 GO SEE WAYNE DYER....................155
CHAPTER 20 INVOKING THE PRESENCE....................164
CHAPTER 21 A LEAP OF FAITH....................168
CHAPTER 22 REMEMBERING THE CONNECTION....................173
CHAPTER 23 TRUSTING MYSELF....................178
CHAPTER 24 SITZ IM LEBEN....................182
CHAPTER 25 MUSHROOM DREAM....................187
CHAPTER 26 HEALER REVEALED....................191
CHAPTER 27 WHEN BEING PSYCHIC HURTS....................195
CHAPTER 28 MORE MAGIC IN MY SLEEP....................202
CHAPTER 29 FORGET ME NOT....................208
CHAPTER 30 "AN IDEAWHOSE TIME HAS COME"....................214
CHAPTER 31 SELF-WORTH AND SELF-ESTEEM....................220
CHAPTER 32 COURAGEOUS WAKE....................230
CHAPTER 33 A SPIRITUAL SET-UP....................234
ABOUT THE AUTHOR....................239