Archive for October, 2012

This lost story of an amazing woman and artist deserves to be heard. Thank you, Nell, for sharing it.

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I have been feeling so incredibly needy lately.  It is like I have a bone deep need to know that I am being heard and that people really see me.  And there is such a young feeling attached to this neediness.  Yes, I do have a strong need to connect with others in the now, but this extreme neediness is actually a memory of being desperate to have someone there to help me.  No, not just help me, but to perceive me clearly, so I know that I am not left feeling so much pain in a vacuum off somewhere where all alone.

I say “someone” but I know that the person I really yearn for is my mother.  She is the one who I hear hurt parts calling out for.  It is as if those parts of me are confused and believe that if they call for her hard enough and long enough, she will eventually come to me.  Constantly looking for someone and feeling bereft when she does not appear hurts, but I still persist in stubbornly holding on to the belief that eventually she will really hear me.  Some parts of me just don’t seem to be ready to let go of the hope that one day she will show up by my side and say, “I am here.  I see how much you have been hurt and I want to be able to make all of that hurt go away.  You matter to me more than anything else in the world and I want to help you heal from being hurt when I should have protected you.  I won’t leave you until you are ready for me to leave.”

So I am left with a child’s desire to have someone by my side, someone I can reach out to for comfort every time I start to feel distressed.  Because that is what I needed when I was a child; developmentally, that is what any child would need when faced with overwhelming pain.  Children don’t know how to modulate intense emotions like that.  I needed for my mother to hold me and help me feel less distressed, not just to relieve the distress at that moment, but also to teach me that I did not have to stay in a state of fear or pain, but that it was possible to soothe myself.

I needed for her to be fully present in my life.  I needed to know that it was safe to put my bruised and battered heart in her hands and that she would breathe love on to it, until it no longer hurt so much to have a heart.  I needed to know that she would not leave me with people who would hurt me; I should have been able to live secure in the knowledge that she would do everything in her power to keep me safe.  It should not have been my job as a child to constantly keep an eye out for danger- that is a mother’s job.  I needed for her to be there and help me learn that even though I feared for my survival during the abuse, I was alive, I was going to stay alive, and that she would protect me from anyone who terrified me that much.

Instead, I am left trying to plug these holes decades later.  All I can do is struggle to learn how to do these things for myself and how to take bits and pieces of what I need from those around me who love me.  And I grieve knowing that I should have been able to have what I needed so much as a child as a whole from my mother, but because I didn’t get it then, I can only get it piecemeal now.

Perhaps most of all, I grieve knowing that if my mother had been able to do these things for me, I am sure that she would have.  The woman loves me, or at least as much of me as she can allow herself to see.  There is no cruelty there.  No deliberate neglect.  I know that she so very much wanted to not make the mistakes with me that her mother had made with her.  But she had no model of healthy mothering and too much of her was walled off behind the effects of her own abuse, which she has never addressed.

It is just so damn unfair that it can take generations for the effects of abuse to be healed.  My mother did do a better job with me than her mother did with her.  And I am strongly motivated to do everything in my power to minimize the effects of my abuse on my daughter.  But I know that if nothing else, my being less available when I am struggling with the intense periods has had some effect on her.  However, I thank God that I have had the strength and support to be able to slowly heal, both for my sake and for my daughter’s.

Still, today, I am left with tears and the sensation of my insides reaching out for a mother who was capable of giving me what I needed.  But that mother never really existed.

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Mama Bear: “You know, no matter how hard you try, you can’t completely avoid triggers.  A trigger can be anything, even something as benign as the color blue.”

And tonight, I had one of my most striking examples of this idea.  Things have been hard for me lately, and I figured that a bit of comfort food would not be out of order, so I decided to make a couple of puddings.  One is an old favorite- tapioca.  Pure comfort!  The other is new to me, but highly recommended by a friend- chocolate cinnamon.  She says that her kids just scarf it up, and it is almost ridiculously easy to make, which sounded like a real plus to me.

I adore chocolate and love cinnamon, so I decided to start with that pudding.  It cooked up in about 3 minutes, I quickly whirred it in the blended, and then it just needed to be chilled.  After I had spooned it into a container to put in the refrigerator, I took a taste from the side of the blender and it was quite tasty.  Then, as I was bustling around the kitchen, I found myself starting to feel uncomfortable, so I took a larger taste of the pudding to distract me, because chocolate cures all ills, right?  I rapidly started to feel extremely vulnerable physically, just about scared out of my skin, and increasingly nauseated.  Eventually, I realized that if I ate any more of that pudding, I was likely to throw up.

Chocolate cinnamon pudding as a trigger?!?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  But tonight I discovered that it is for me.  So I have told my husband that the pudding is all for him and our daughter.

I have no memories that explain why it is a trigger, but I have some guesses as to the connection.  My grandfather came to the USA from Mexico and chocolate and cinnamon is a fairly common combination there.  He did a lot of the celebration cooking in the house, and I do remember a terrifying threat that he made related to the cooking.  I am guessing that the trigger was installed in his kitchen, even though I don’t know how.

Mama Bear’s point about not being able to predict all triggers was related to the need to develop the skills to deal with the triggers when they happen.  First off, I had to recognize what was triggering me, which wasn’t immediately clear because it was so unexpected and I actually liked the taste of the pudding.  Then I was able to take a step back and say, “OK, this is reminding me of something mighty unpleasant and bringing up some memories of powerful feeling states.  What can I do to help ground me in the fact that I am working in my kitchen, in 2012, and there aren’t any threats to my safety in this house?”

So I talked to my husband when he came into the room, because the act of interacting requires my being right here, and we both laughed a bit over the absurdity of being triggered by the pudding (humor is great for grounding.)  I noticed the temperature of the water, as I washed out the items that I used to make the pudding.  I looked around me at my kitchen, acknowledged that inside I expected to see another kitchen, but this really is the one that I am standing in.  And I managed to come most of the way back to now.  There are still some after effects, but I know full well that there was more there that I could have been pulled into, if I hadn’t started to pay more attention to what was around me, as opposed to what I had been triggered into remembering and experiencing inside of me.

No, you can’t predict all triggers, but sometimes you can catch them early and prevent them from fully taking you to horrible places.

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Sorry to pull a post, folks.  It seems that some of me felt way too exposed by this…

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Too often, when I experience a new memory or finally tell Mama Bear about what I believe happened, I wonder, “How can this be real?  I can’t even begin to imagine a motivation for wanting to do this to a child.”  I don’t know if it is a reaction that everyone has to whatever it was that happened to them, if it is my way of trying to distance myself from the abuse, or if my grandfather had a sick imagination that he acted out on me.  What I do know, is that I generally go straight to, “I must be crazy, because it is such a crazy thing to think of this happening” or “I had to have made this up, because there is no way that even my grandfather would do this to a child.”  I don’t want to know that he probably was capable of doing to me or forcing me to do whatever it is that happened in my flashback.  My reaction is a reflection of who I am and what I fear, not what he would or would not have wanted to do and been willing to do.

I have been told many times that an abuser’s motivation has to do with power and control in all cases which is then combined with whatever is unique to that person.  And because my mind works differently, I simply may not be able to understand why my abusers wanted to do what they wanted to do.  Sexual abuse of any type is an anathema to me, but when you add on things that seem to be specifically calculated to bring pain and shame to the child, it goes so far into the realm of incomprehensible that I want for it to be impossible.

However, as much as I hate to admit it, I do know that abusers do these sorts of things sometimes to children.  But how could I have been one of those children?  How could I have survived that much shame with no one to hold me?  How could I have endured needing to choose between being hurt worse and doing what he wanted for me to do?  It just seems impossible.  But this child who holds this memory is hurt so badly that all she can do is curl up in a protective ball and pretend that she doesn’t exist any more.  How can I deny the part of me who showed me what she remembers?  I am all that she has to tie her to a present that is safe now.  But at the same time, how do I hold knowing what happened to me without my heart shattering?

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“Don’t hurt me.” “Please let me die.” “I hate him.” “Please don’t make me.” “Mommy!!!” “He really hurt me.” “I don’t want to.” “Nooo!!!” “Please help me.” “I want to kill him.”

For awhile this spring/early summer, I regularly heard a little voice inside of me saying most of those every day. At its worst, I would find myself saying those things out loud, when I had no intention to speak. Now, I generally will hear most of those over the course of a week, but usually one or two will be most present for me. Now that things are calming down further, I am hearing that little voice less and less.

Today, I mostly hear a part of me crying and crying and otherwise silence. I can feel her leaning into me for comfort and the need to know that she won’t be alone. On the outside, I find myself alternating between grief and anger. I have asked for some space from my daughter, because I felt unable to control how pissed I feel and I have been terribly cranky at her. I hate it when I do this, because it isn’t fair to her. Yes, she is being a bit annoying, but it is like minor annoyances are magnified ten times.

I am so angry that I have been carrying around damaged parts for most of my life. That I was hurt so badly that I keep on hearing parts of me say those things. I hate that I hear parts of me calling for my mother and knowing that she will never save me from the abuse. I hate that I still hear those parts of me who are desperate to not be hurt pleading- they are slowly starting to consider that maybe the hurting has been stopped, but they aren’t there yet.

I want to be held by someone safe while I cry out all of the grief and pain. I want to have someone there who can love me, no matter how much I hurt. What I really, really want is for my mother to be someone who can do these things for me, who can really be there for me, who I can trust to not emotionally abandon me when I become “too much” for her. And I know that I’m not going to get what I want.

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Last night and this morning, I have been looking at some of the journals that I wrote during those first several months of therapy with Mama Bear 20 years ago.  I pulled the journals out for the first time a few months back and read bits and pieces of them and at the time I was astounded to realize that the somatic memories that I was experiencing this spring were the same ones that first came up 20 years ago.  And here I had been convinced this spring that at least one set of the memories was new to me.  In some ways it was alarming to realize that I am still dealing with the same abuse memories 20 years later, but in other ways it was reassuring to realize that what I have remembered has remained remarkable consistent over the years.  Some of the details are different, but the general acts are the same.  Surely if I had somehow generated this all of those years ago, there would have been far more drift in what I was experiencing during flashbacks.

This morning, as I was flipping through entries, I noticed that so many of the issues that I have been dealing with this time around are the same things that I talked about all of those years ago.  That was a very discouraging realization.  Am I doomed to repeat the same things over and over and over?   Will I repeatedly come back to hurting so much that it feels like I can’t breathe over the realization that I was abused by people who should have cared for me?  Will I keep on forgetting the difference between “there and then” and “here and now?”  How many times will I have to struggle over trying to understand how my parents failed to recognize what was happening and how desperately I needed to be protected?  How long will it take for me to fully understand that even though bad things happened to me, they didn’t contaminate me and make me bad, disgusting, repulsive, horrible, or dangerous?  Will I keep on forgetting that I have remembered something and have to go through the same process of remembering and dealing with the emotional repercussions of that particular facet of the abuse time and time again?  When will all of me accept that I really am safe here and now, that I can take care of myself, and that I most definitely am not alone now?

And most of all, there is the question of “what will it take for me to believe myself, once and for all?”  The interesting thing is that I seemed to be closer to believing myself in the first 3 or 4 months, as things were starting to emerge, than I was a few months and even years later when my mind had thrown many more details at me.  Reading what I wrote, it seems that there were periods at first when I was quite certain that I had been abused and that the general acts that I was experiencing in the memories had actually happened.  But then the denial just grew and grew, until so much of me was entrenched in not believing that it could have happened.  Was it because I experienced disbelief from my mother that she could have missed something that was that wrong?  Or maybe it was because during that period of time I became more and more overwhelmed, to the point of realizing that I could not live long term with that level of terror and pain?  I had to either find a way to get it under control or I was likely to end up desperate enough that I would end my life

This morning, the realization that “I have been here before” just left me feeling trapped and like I would never escape all of this.  But then I thought about how I wrote those entries all of those years ago and realized that there are some big differences between now and 20 years ago.  When I was dealing with these issues at that time, there was no part of me around that understood at all things like “the abuse happened to me, it didn’t make me into a horrible person,” “the abuse really is in the past,” and “yes, this hurts horribly, but I have made it through this much pain before, so I can do it again.”  Those first several years that I was in therapy, I had to grow the part of me who now holds, protects, and contains all of me.  I had to develop the me who was capable of being compassionate and soothing to myself.  I needed to essentially create the overarching me.


Yes, these are the same topics that I have dealt with before (some of them several times, in fact), but each time I really am dealing with the topic from a different place in me and maybe for a different purpose.  These are complicated issues, after all.  The question of, “how do I learn to distinguish between how the abuse made me feel and who I really am?” is not one that can be answered by a sound bite.  Yes, the ultimate conclusion of “I am a good and loveable person, even though the abuse felt horrible” ends up being the same, but I think that I travel along different roads in order to get there.  And it may very well be that it is the journey along that road that is just as important for my healing as getting to the destination.  It is very different when my hurt child parts consider that question, as opposed to the greater me.  And knowing what the thoughts were/are is a very different experience from feeling the emotional states that go along with those thoughts.

I wish that it didn’t take so long and that it was a simpler process, but it is what it is.  And really, I think that this is just another area where abuse survivors deal with the same sort of process as many people, it is just a more intense process than it is for many others.  After all, humans are very complicated creatures and if we don’t struggle with who we are and who we want to be, then we stagnate. Who would really want to have the same understanding of their place in the world or how relationships work at 50 as they had at 20?  Those are questions that everyone should look at many times over the course of their life.

So maybe I’m not so stuck after all.  Yes, I will likely have some of these same issues come up in new ways again in the future, but that isn’t me being doomed to repeat the same lessons over and over.  It’s me needing to look at the same complicated subject from a different angle and with the increased wisdom that I will have gained through living life in the mean time.

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