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Archive for November, 2012

I have recognized that I have this pattern.  I will be going along for awhile, dealing with therapy and life at a fairly steady level, hit something and totally fall apart and go into crisis.  I then put myself back together with Mama Bear’s help.  But the interesting thing is that I don’t go back to the same level of functioning that I had been at previously; I generally function better.  And at least the last two or three times that this has happened, there is a continued sense of movement and shifting in the few weeks after getting myself out of crisis.

It’s actually kind of cool and I’m hoping that recognizing that this is going on will help me feel less panicked the next time that it happens, because it is a sign of better things coming.  While I would love to think that I’m not going to have another crisis, I’m going to be realistic and recognize that it’s likely that I am not done with them.  I rather wish that I would shift things around inside in a less tumultuous manner (and I’m sure that Mama Bear would really love to not need to deal with crises between sessions), but I don’t know that I have any choice in the matter.  I suspect that the best that I can do is to just keep myself as calm as possible and keep on reminding myself that there is a pattern here and things will be better again soon.

So, I have just gone through another one of these reorganizations, and I’m kind of wondering where has it left me?  In the three sessions since I started putting myself back together again 2 weeks ago, I have found it easier to stay present focused and noticed that I seem to be doing much better after and between sessions by keeping the sessions more present focused.

When I started up again with Mama Bear a bit over a year ago, I came in intending to talk about present day issues, but all sorts of abuse related material just came bursting out.  And I had to deal with it.  Over the course of this year, we have tried two or three times to refocus back on the present day issues, because they are actually very important ones that have an impact on my fundamental sense of safety and security in the here and now.  But each time, I have been drawn back into dealing with the past.  There are all sorts of possible reasons for this, ranging from once the abuse had been reactivated, there simply was a certain mass of it that I had to deal with in order to get myself feeling secure enough to start to move on to maybe it was less frightening for me to deal with the abuse, as horrific as that was, because at least I know how that turned out- I survived it and I am here.  I don’t know how these present day issues will turn out because they are still playing out.  My guess is that there is no single answer, but rather that there were a lot of different factors interacting with each other.

But now I am sitting here thinking to myself, “Things have shifted inside of me over the last couple of weeks.  And I’m not entirely sure how to proceed.”   Yes, it is clear to me that I need to spend the bulk of my energy right now on dealing with present day issues, some of which are every bit as painful as the abuse memories, maybe even more so.   Working through how I feel about my relationship with my mother and trying to figure out what my next steps will be hurts so much it feels like I am ripping my heart out.

I am also clear that I am quite willing to try to avoid going into the memories for right now.  The thought of doing that hurts in a way that indicates to me that it is a bad idea.

But I am left with a sense that there is something that I need to be doing specifically for these hurt parts of me.  I have spent some time trying to figure out what that might be and each time I think of something, I get a reaction that says, “No, that takes me back to what was and that isn’t what I need to do for these parts of me.  I need something that points all of me forward, not backwards right now.”  Maybe that is part of what I need to figure out in my session tomorrow.

I wonder whether I am done for right now with memories coming up?  There is such a strong internal sense right now of “that is not where I need to go at this time” that I can’t help but wonder if my mind is going to try to keep the memories calmed down, as long as I help by not stirring things up.  But this really is unknown territory for me and I don’t know what is going to happen.  I know that I am continuing to get the same set of physical memories that I have been getting for months, but at least they aren’t as distressing to me.  It is more like they have moved to background noise.  So, my question is whether they will die down further, as the trauma response in my nervous system further calms or will they keep up?  I guess that I will only know with time.

I know that a month or two ago, I was convinced that I was going to need to explicitly talk about some of the abuse with my grandfather, because being so ashamed of naming it was keeping me trapped in it.  Does this mean that I don’t actually need to do that?  What does it mean?  Am I going to have to come back to these incidents again in the future?  Or is there another way to work with all of me that allows me to resolve what I need to resolve, without connecting so directly with the abuse memories?  I know that I have heard that it is possible, but is it actually going to work that way with me?  I think that I am feeling unsettled by the very suddenness of the shift away from fearing that I will have to deal directly with most, if not all, of the abuse memories to having a strong sense that I should not be allowing myself to go deeply into the memories right now.  It’s like the rules have been changed on me and I don’t understand yet what they have been changed to.

I am left with so many questions right now.  But I think that it’s OK for me to have these questions.  I don’t have to have the answers at this moment, and I guess that I should be happy to discover that I am now steady enough on my feet and in myself to be able to deal with the ambiguity and uncertainty involved with them.  I don’t have to know just what is going to happen next, even though I would like to.  Things are getting better.  I am feeling stronger, more connected, more hopeful, and even a bit happy.  For now that is enough.  (Even if not knowing is driving me a bit batty!)

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I hate days like today.  Every once in a while, I have a day where my daughter’s very presence is triggering for me.  And today is one of those days.

She is seven and she and my husband are by far the best things in my life.  I adore her, and so much of the time she is a huge comfort to me.  She is kind, cuddly, and sweet, as well as active, silly, stubborn, bright, challenging and all sorts of other things that make her the wonderful creature that she is.  We end every day with “cuddle time” in her bed, and we usually tell each other what the best and worst things in our day were.  All too often I can’t tell her what the worst thing about my day really was and on those days, generally my “favoritist” thing was cuddle time itself.

Because a hug and a kiss from her can be so comforting, I have come to realize that I have to be careful that I don’t rely on her too much for comfort.  I felt responsible for my mother’s emotional well being and I definitely do not want to place the same burden on my daughter.  Fortunately, I don’t need for her to comfort me in order for being with her to be comforting.  Seven year olds are so very much about the moment, so spending time interacting with one can actually be grounding, making it easier for me to step away from whatever “then” memories/emotions that are plaguing me.

So days like today are quite unpleasant for me.  I can’t tolerate having her very close to me- I start to feel claustrophobic and like I am going to jump out of my skin when she comes within about 3 feet of me.  This is a real problem, because normally I encourage her physical affection and I absolutely don’t want for her to feel like I am rejecting her.  Simply seeing her move starts to remind me of things, although so far I have managed to avoid following those memory traces and only have echoes of what is there.   Unfortunately, she is a noisy chewer, and I cannot tolerate hearing her eat right now, so I often get up to do some chore when she comes to the table with a snack.  Honestly, if there was some way to avoid seeing her for the next 6 hours, where she was happy, I would welcome it.  Her presence is a real stress for me and on top of that my worries about making her feel rejected just make things even more stressful.  To compound it all, to some extent I am having a freeze reaction to what is being evoked in me and I stop thinking clearly about how to help myself until it occurs to me to take myself out of the room.

Thank goodness these days only seem to come once every couple of months or so!  I wish that I had some understanding of what is causing this.  In general they have followed on the heels of a particularly difficult flashback, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case this time.  Something did come up yesterday, but it wasn’t anything new and it didn’t leave me feeling horrible afterwards.  If these days are caused by flashbacks, I don’t know that there is anything that I could do to prevent them, but if they are caused by something else or some combination of factors, maybe there would be a way to prevent them.

In the mean time, I am trying to counter my reactions to my daughter by remaining as grounded as possible in the here and now and resisting the urge to “follow” the bits of memories that are being evoked.  And I keep on reminding myself that while this is very unpleasant for me to experience and it makes for a not fun day for my daughter, it will pass before too long and it doesn’t happen very often.  It is better for me to remain as calm as possible about it, because getting upset will only keep me in an unsettled and unstable feeling place longer.  Yes, it is that whole, “don’t fear fear” thing.  I may not be able to stop my reactions, but at least there are some things that I can do to help keep from escalating what is happening.

And I am very grateful that she has a wonderful daddy who can and will also spend time with her.  Right now the two of them are downstairs together, letting me have some welcome time to myself.  Knowing that I can take breaks and remind myself of the ways that I can work on managing the day helps me feel calmer about the whole thing.

I have been reading a book on mindfulness and the author is currently talking about learning meditation and how the mind will wander during meditation, but rather than getting frustrated with the wandering a person can look at each wandering as a chance to better learn how to notice what is happening and bring his or her self back to their focus.  At the moment, that is how I am trying to look at today.  I can’t make myself not be triggered, but I can notice it as it is happening and try not to engage in the reactions that are being evoked, but instead refocus myself on what is actually going on in the room at that moment.  The more often I do this, the better I will become at catching it quickly and successfully keeping myself from being fully drawn into a triggered state.

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I have a part who is convinced that I was supposed to die when I was a child.  Not just that I was afraid that I was going to die, but this part is convinced that there is something wrong because I am not dead.  At one point this summer, there were a few horrible days when she seemed to be convinced that she actually was dead and no one had noticed.  And that even though I was walking around, in all of the ways that mattered, inside I really was dead, as well.

It’s really disconcerting to get this message, “But I’m supposed to be dead!  What happened?”  Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often these days, but the more agitated I feel inside, the more likely it is to come up.

I really don’t think that this part is suicidal, because she doesn’t seem to be saying, “I should kill myself now.”  She simply is convinced that I should have died while I was still a child.

Strangely enough, I don’t associate fear with her.  Mostly she is matter of fact about it, but there does seem to be some hatred there, but it isn’t directed towards any of me.  In fact, she seems to be protective of me.  The thought seems to be, “If I am dead, then he can’t hurt me anymore.”  She doesn’t view death with horror; it seems to be safer than being alive.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if the child me at that time had an imperfect understanding of death?  Maybe this isn’t quite so awful as it seems to me now?  Or maybe I did comprehend death, because from the same time period, I also have memories of being just terrified that I was going to die.  It is so strange to have so much of me afraid that my life was in danger and doing my best to keep me alive, and then this part who seems so calm and almost seems that she would have welcomed death.   There is so much that I don’t understand here and that I may never understand…

I also don’t associate a particular memory with her.  I had never thought about this absence of memory before, but it is highly unusual for me.  I can only think of a couple of other parts that seem to not be related to a specific memory.

I’ve talked about how some parts inside of me seem to be starting to become more fluid and less separate, but not this one.  I know that she is a part of me, but it almost seems like there is an important function for her still.  I’m at a loss as to how it would be useful for part of me to think that I was supposed to die, but there must be some sort of internal logic.

Do others also have experiences where there must be some sort of internal logic, but it defies being understood from the outside?  How about parts who are convinced that you aren’t supposed to be alive?

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Me: “When did I learn how to walk?”

Mom:  “I’m not really sure.”

Me:  “I don’t understand, how could you not know?”

Mom:  “Well, I first saw you walk at X months, but you probably actually walked before that.  That was when the two of us were both down in California and your dad was still up in Washington.  I wanted for your dad to see your first steps, so every time you tried to walk, I would pull you down.  You probably first walked some time when no one else was in the room.”

 

I first heard this story while I was still living with my parents and many years before I had a child of my own, and I remember thinking that it sounded odd to me.  But I don’t remember finding it something to get upset about at the time.

Years later, I told it to Mama Bear, and I remember at that point starting to see that this was a very, very odd thing to do to a child and that it could not have been good for me.  I seem to remember being disturbed by it, but I don’t remember having an intense reaction.

Today, this story came up again, and Mama Bear’s response was, “I remember being appalled by this the first time you told me.  How do you feel about it now that you are a parent?”  I paused, struggling to puzzle out just what I was feeling…  “I feel almost happy that I don’t have to believe that there was nothing wrong with this happening anymore, but that sounds odd.”  “Relieved perhaps?”  “Yes, that’s it!”  And then I started to feel an overwhelming amount of anger, “This story is just so symbolic of so much with my parents!”

As a mother, I am just astounded as to how utterly clueless my mother had to have been about parenting to have not realized that this was a really bad idea.  You don’t actively try to prevent your child from achieving developmental milestones!  I know that she had a terrible model in the form of her own mother and that she has told me that she generally just tried to do the opposite of what she thought her own mother would have done.  But really thinking about this story gives me insight into how while she loved me and she wanted to do well by me, she really was fumbling around in the dark, trying to figure out how to raise me.  And if she made this massive of a blunder that I know of, I am betting that there are other blunders that I will never hear about.

I remember when my daughter learned to walk, how much I cheered every attempted step and encouraged her to pull herself back up whenever she fell and give it another try.  I spent many hours bent over, with her little hands clutching my fingers, walking with her wherever she wanted to go, giving her the support she needed to build the balance, muscles, and confidence to walk on her own.  Each success was a celebration and each failure was a chance to try again, knowing that she would eventually succeed.

But this isn’t just about learning how to walk, it is also about a child learning to have confidence in herself and knowing that her parents will be behind her, supporting her.  It is about her learning her worth in a relationship and that her need to grow and develop is essentially important to her parents.  It is about allowing her to develop confidence that she can accomplish great things.

Then what does it teach a child when her mother pulls her down, so her father can be there weeks later to see her “first steps?”  I am making guesses here, but this is what my gut tells me:  It makes it hard to believe that her mother can be relied upon for support and help.  It is confusing because her instincts are driving her to learn to walk, but her mother is stopping her.  It means that her father matters more to her mother than she does.  It feels lonely.  It means that her mother doesn’t fully see her as a person whose need to be fully respected is just as important as any adult needs.  It teaches her that she doesn’t have the strength to stay on her feet.

Do I think that my approximately year old self explicitly learned all of these things at that time?  No, probably not.  But I would bet that the seeds were planted and that the same sorts of dynamics showed up over and over until I did learn to see myself and my relationship with my mother that way.  These are some of the thoughts and feelings that I struggle with to this day.

Towards the end of the session today, Mama Bear said something to me: “When you are frightened or overwhelmed, you have a tendency to let yourself be knocked on your butt.  You don’t need to do that.  You are strong enough to stay on your feet and it is good to stay on your feet.”  I heard her, but didn’t think much on it at that moment.

Later on, as I was walking, I found myself thinking, I refuse to be fragile right now.  Over the last several days, I have been feeling fragile and vulnerable, and yes, I have felt knocked on my butt over and over.  And I had to wonder, “Can it really be that simple?  Can I just choose to not be fragile?”  I think that the answer to that is both yes and no.  If I don’t believe in my right to not feel vulnerable, but to be able to live into my own strength, then I never will be able to find that strength.  But the environment also needs to be there in order for me to feel safe enough find the strength to keep my insides protected.  And that environment is both in what is around me and what I build inside myself.

While we were talking, Mama Bear said, “I can guarantee you that being pulled down made you angry as a little kid, but you needed your mother more than you needed to be angry then.”  So, in the hours after the session, as all of this started to come together in my head, I started to wonder, “Am I somehow scared that if I am as strong as I can really be, then I will be alone?  That it is somehow a choice between being able to keep myself standing and it still being OK to need for someone to be there when I need extra support?  Do I see it as not being able to ask for the love and cuddling that I need when I am hurting if I can act effectively on my behalf?”  If so, what a dilemma I have created for myself.  I can only have the comfort and support from others that I crave if I don’t allow myself to develop the strength that is buried somewhere inside of me.

And then boy did I mess it all up this past week when I so much needed the contact and the support, but I wouldn’t let myself really reach out for it, and at the same time I also utterly failed to keep myself from getting knocked on my butt emotionally.

But maybe I messed it up because I have it all wrong (as I have so many of these things wrong.)  Maybe I’m not supposed to have to do it on my own all the time.  Maybe staying on my feet sometimes mean staying on my feet all on my own, but perhaps sometimes it also requires holding on to someone’s hand to help keep myself from falling over?  It just might be at that moment some things push at me too hard for me to stay standing without some additional support, but with that support I can then keep from landing on my butt.  What if I’m not supposed to hold my breath so I can bear the hurt on my own, but instead I’m supposed to let it out and tell someone that I need for them to talk with me and be with me for a bit?

I don’t understand why, but for some reason, the thought of allowing myself to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time leaves me feeling terribly exposed.  Maybe because it requires my being fully authentic with people and not hiding behind masks or screens?  Maybe because it requires my believing that they really mean it when they say that they are there for me and taking the risk of being let down?  No, of knowing that at some point I will be let down, because people are human and we all let each other down from time to time.

But I can also start to feel a sense of freedom and hope in the idea of not having to tie myself up in knots, but instead give myself permission to both need the love and support of other people and to be strong in my own right.  Tonight it seems that I am starting to figure out where that path is that I had lost for a bit and I have found my hope again.

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Tonight it hit me just how alone I am.  I don’t mean that I am completely and utterly alone.  I have many people who would help me in a heart beat if I was under threat.  I have people who love me.  And I have people who enjoy being with me in one way or another.

But when it comes to these intense feelings, I am all alone.  I have to be the one who feels them and who learns how to manage them.  I have to learn how to tolerate coexisting with them.  No one else can do these things.

But even beyond that, I can’t keep on going back to the same friends day after day saying, “I hurt.  I feel like my heart is being torn apart.”  They care, but what can they do for me?  There is nothing that they can do to make things feel better.  If they lived nearby, then at least they could be there in person and I could get a hug.

There is the on line community which has been a wonderful source of support, but it just isn’t the same as having a living breathing person sitting on the couch next to you, handing you Kleenex’s as you cry.  Silence in the digital world is just silence, while in person it is a whole other way of expressing support.

There is my husband, who I do go to, but he has so much on his plate that I can’t be seeking him out to cry on his shoulder every day.

There is Mama Bear who certainly is fully there for the hour and 15 minutes of my appointment. And I know that she is there if things really fall apart.  Plus I can email on occasion during the week.  But with these emotions, I have to learn how to deal with them on my own.

What I want is to have someone right here to hold my hand and let me cry on them for as long as I need.  But I was supposed to get that from my mother when I was a child and as an adult there isn’t really anyone to do it but me.  I feel so much grief and so much anger over this.  Even if the abuse had happened when I was a child, if my mother could have recognized that something was terribly wrong and then helped me deal with the feelings then, I wouldn’t be dealing with emotions that have been buried for decades along with all of my now feelings.  Instead, she is a part of the pain and grief and anger that I am struggling to figure out how to deal with on a day to day basis.

I am sure that it won’t be this intense forever, but it sure seems like forever while I am in the middle of it.  And I know that I am slowly making progress on learning how to give the hurt parts of me what they need in order to heal.  But it is so slow and in the mean time I will simply have buckle down and to learn how to deal on my own with some parts of my experience.

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I have previously referred to the fact that trauma memories are a very different beast from normal memory.  This very difference often made it difficult to believe my memories because they were experienced so completely differently.  This weekend, I have been poking around in the literature a bit, trying to come to a better understanding of Complex-PTSD (it keeps my mind off of things I am better off not dwelling on, let’s me feel like I am doing something productive, and it turns out that the focus required to read a journal article is great for catching my mind just as it starts to wander off.)  I came across a 2005 article by Van der Hart, Nijenhuis, and Steele titled Dissociation: An Insufficiently Recognized Major Feature of Complex PTSD.  While reading the paper, this paragraph about traumatic memories just jumped out at me:

Such memories are to be distinguished from autobiographical narrative memory in that they are primarily somatosensory, intensely emotional, hallucinatory, fragmentary, and involuntary experiences (e.g., Brewin, 2003; Van der Kolk & Van der Hart, 1991). Brewin has termed these situationally accessible memories (SAM), which cannot be accessed intentionally, but instead are triggered by reactivating stimuli. Traumatic memories or SAM are far different from mere mood states or affect laden memories, and they involve a different sense of self than does autobiographical narrative memory. As with all memory, SAM exist within an individual’s personality, but may be sequestered in a dissociative part of the personality prior to integration.

This is exactly what I experience when I experience trauma memories.  It isn’t just with me that they “feel” so different from normal memories and that doesn’t mean that I have created them.  It is normal for them to come out in bits and pieces, rather than a coherent whole that would help me understand what happened.   In a few cases, with normal memory, I can pull in memories of sensations, but it requires effort.  With trauma memories, sometimes sensations and emotions are all that I have, especially at first- I can feel what was done to me, but have no other information.  The emotions are over the top in intensity, there is no such thing as a placid mood while I experience a traumatic memory.  And I feel like the memories are being held apart from me by my hurt parts.  A few months ago, I would have said one memory to one part, but now that seems to be breaking down with some of the parts and their memories, which I am hoping is indicative of movement towards integration.

I wish that I had read this paper earlier.  It certainly helps me to feel like my experience is being validated right now and I think that it might have helped me to work through some of the denial issues a bit more quickly.

However, I can’t change the past, but right now I can share it with you all.  If you are a trauma survivor, yes, you aren’t imagining it, trauma memories are experienced very differently from your average memory.  If you are someone who is curious or wants to support a survivor, here is a bit more information that might help to make the picture a bit clearer.

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“I’m crazy and I’ve made it all up somehow.”

I don’t know how many times I have gone back to that over the years.  It’s like I haven’t been able to bear to allow all of me to believe that I was abused.

And tonight, I said it to myself again, “I’m crazy and I’ve made it all up somehow.  It has to be me.”  But I found that I can’t do it any more.  I can’t fall back upon that escape, because my next reaction was, “Just who do you think that you are kidding?  You know what happened.  So cut that out.”

I know that it is a good thing for me to believe myself.  It helps a great deal to no longer be fighting against myself and beating myself up in that way.  Things have been working better since I gave up the denial.

But tonight, for some reason, I am feeling a sense of loss.  There is no escaping it: I really do come from a family that abuses its children.  I have no idea of how many generations this goes back and for how long the children have been growing up with no clue as to how to be good parents.  So they either neglect, abuse, or fail to protect their own children.  How long has this been going on for?  How much pain is there?  How many children have cried themselves to sleep?  How many were hurt so badly that they grew up so damaged that they wanted to torment the people they should have loved?  How many of these souls could have been something great and instead they were crippled?  It just makes me want to cry from the sorrow and outrage of it all.  I only know the very beginnings of the stories from my parents generation and there is only one cousin who has been frank with me about her experiences, but what I know indicates families on both sides with a significant amount of abuse going back at least another generation beyond my parents.

In my last session, I said to Mama Bear, “I am very grateful that I was born in the time that I was, because it meant that once I was an adult and able to seek it out, there was help for me.  I am so sad that my mother never had that opportunity.  I don’t know whether or not she would have taken it, but I wish that she could have had the choice.”  “I wish that she had, too, both for your sake and hers.”  My mother has a lot that is good about her and it is such a damn waste that the rest of her potential was lost beneath the burden of her own abuse.  I cry for her, I cry for what I missed as a child, and I cry for what I am missing now.

“I can’t change what happened before, but I can make sure that the abuse and the damage stops here and does not go on to my next generation.”  I’ve probably said it at least a dozen times in session and it is often on my mind, because sometimes it is the best hope and motivator that I have.  I should never have had to pay the price that abuse extracts in a family, but I can’t avoid paying it.  However, I am absolutely determined that my daughter will be impacted as little as possible.  I can’t avoid everything, because having a parent who is in such distress for months at a time is going to affect a child, but I will make sure that I do not repeat the most serious mistakes that have been made in my family and I am making every effort to give her the supportive, secure foundation that I never had.

Hopefully she will escape, but there is no escape for me except straight through this mess.  And it hurts and sometimes I just want to protest that it is so incredibly unfair that I have to deal with the effects of the abuse and I wish that there was some way to make it all just go away.

But damn it, I am not crazy and I did not make it up.  And I refuse to wish that I was.  I will no longer swallow the pain in an attempt to make it go away.  I’m not sure what to do with the pain and the anger, but I will no longer harm myself inside in an attempt to escape from it.  I just wish that I knew what to do with these feelings when they stay with me for days.  When I feel them, it feels like there is just a bottomless reservoir of emotion inside of me.  I try to focus on other things and they are always there as an ache and a pressure in the background.  It gets to be hard to think clearly and in a straight line. For right now, though, I seem to have cried enough while writing this to not have the feelings pressing at me so hard, so at least I have that to be thankful for.

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