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Archive for March, 2013

“Help.”

Yesterday was not one of those days when I felt like I was managing well. Generally I manage to keep almost all of me below the surface most of the time. Not yesterday. It felt like most of me was at or above the surface, jostling me for attention. I would start to think one thing and before I would finish the thought, I would be looking at it from another view point and thinking something completely different. It is on days like yesterday that I wonder whether I am going crazy.

“I hurt. I hurt so much. I feel like I want to cry tears of blood. And I feel so alone.”

Yesterday, I could remember that there was a part of me that knows how to ground, soothe myself, pull my other parts together, and help me feel safe. But I could not find her. It was like she was just gone. And I kept on casting around for how to help myself as I bounced from one memory fragment to another.

Sitting, with my knees to my chest, in the corner behind the door, feeling ashamed. Hiding under the desk, wanting to disappear.

It was like I could see parts of myself pop out and into the room. Not see, as in a hallucination, but “see” from the inside. A young teen. A toddler. A preschooler. At one point, I was resting in my rocking chair, and it felt like I had a toddler climbing on to and off of my lap and I just wanted to be able to protect that child.

Feeling the same intrusive sensations over and over and over. “I hate it so much. I hate that I couldn’t stop it then. I hate that I can’t make it stop now.”

There is one set of sensations from the abuse that I feel most frequently. I feel them so often that they don’t distress me nearly as much as they used to, and most of the time they are experienced as very fast “blips.” But over the past couple of weeks, I have become increasingly aware that while I have come to be able to tolerate them, I really, really hate everything that those memories represent. There are details that just make me feel like a thing and I hate how skilled my grandfather was at making me feel like a thing. I hate what he did to me and how he did it more than I can say. I have struggled over whether to tell Mama Bear the details that I hadn’t shared in the past, but yesterday I felt like I had reached a point where I could no longer bear being alone with it. And as I wrote to her, I realized that even though I have come to tolerate it better than in the past, I am not tolerating it nearly as well as I had thought.

A part of me inside is screaming, “Help! Please help me make it go away! Please help me.”

However, when Mama Bear responded to my e-mail saying, among other things, “For now, I have gathered these blips and thoughts from you and hear your anguish. Please let that part of you know that I hear and that we are working as we are able,” I felt a relief that made me want to cry. I don’t have to hold all on my own the knowledge of not just what happened then, but also what I am experiencing now. I won’t be abandoned to it. And someone really does hear me and can name what I am feeling as anguish. There is something about having someone really see my suffering and hear the anguish in my voice that lets me finally feel like I really am here. I am not invisible in my pain. I am not silent in my screams.

Since I read what she wrote this morning, I have been better able to find that part of me that can contain and keep safe the rest of me. There has been less turmoil. I’m not feeling like I am experiencing things as a toddler who doesn’t even fully know how to walk one minute and then a terrified slightly older child the next. When I stop and am quiet, I still feel the presence of the young parts, but I feel them one at a time, so I am able to hold each part and connect her to feelings of safety and security. The uncontrolled swirling between parts has stopped today.

And to my astonishment, I have not felt those sensations today. I feel them every day and often dozens of times a day. I don’t expect for this to last, but even one day of relief gives me hope that eventually I will be able to stop them for good.

It is hard to believe how much it helped to simply find the courage to speak what had felt unspeakable, ask for help in dealing with it, and have someone I trust really hear me. Thank God there is someone here who is strong enough to hear every horrible thing that I have to say and help me find the strength to live with the reality of what it is that I am saying.

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I really miss the ocean right now… Not for the normal reasons that you miss the ocean- playing in the water, watching for dolphins, making sand castles, chasing waves- but because it was so very healing to me.

We lived in San Diego for three years before we moved back to New York State. Now, I’m really not a Southern California kind of person, so I was happy to say goodbye to most of what makes Southern California, Southern California. But the ocean was very different. The second to the last time I went to the ocean before I left, I went alone, so I could say my farewells without needing to take care of a 5 year old. To my astonishment, I cried; I felt that much grief at needing to say goodbye to something which had helped me keep my soul from being tattered.

While we were in San Diego, I had the extreme good fortune to have a job where I could walk down to a mostly deserted beach, linger for 20 minutes, and walk back up to the office, all during my lunch hour. I wish that I could say that I did the walk every day, but I probably did it twice a week or more, much of the time. Sometimes I would go alone, other times I would go with friends, but each and every time I came back feeling at least a bit replenished.

And then there were the challenging times. I managed to keep things pretty well locked up during that period and did no therapy what so ever. But every once in awhile, things would start to leak out. When I started either feel the trauma pressing at me or just overwhelmed by some of the curve balls that life was throwing at me, I would go down to the beach alone. I would find a sheltered spot, with my back to the cliffs, sit cross legged on the sand, close my eyes, and just breathe. It would feel like all of the stress, difficult emotions, confusion, whatever happened to be threatening to overwhelm me at the time was draining out of my body as I sat there. I could imagine it flowing down the beach and into the ocean and the power and energy of the waves taking what I had just released and pounding it into nothingness. I wasn’t powerful enough to hold what was troubling me, but I could imagine giving it over to the ocean and the power of whatever was hurting me was nothing in comparison to the power of the whole Pacific Ocean.

Today, while I was out walking in the woods, thinking about my session, I realized just what a powerful healing force the ocean had been for me. The time that I spent with it when I was troubled, doing that meditative/imagery work was probably a large part of the reason I was able to do as well as I did while we were there. It’s funny how sometimes, if you let something emerge from inside of you, you find that you actually know what it is that you need to do in order to help yourself.

I also realized today that I haven’t been able to find anything to replace the role that the ocean played for me, and that is somewhat of a problem. I need a place that I can allow all of the pain, shame, fear, etc. to drain out of me into. But what else is there that holds the same energy and power as the ocean?

I do grounding/meditative exercises using the earth and trees and they work wonderfully for those purposes because they are so solid and go so deep, but I need something with more of a sense of energy for this other job, I think. Of course, I am so stuck on, “It needs to be the ocean” that I am having trouble getting creative here!

Any suggestions?

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I know that I frequently go pretty far into dissociative states in session, but I don’t think that I appreciated just how far until my last session. And frankly, I had thought that I sort of understood what was happening when I dissociated, but now I realize that I don’t understand it at all, and I am confused about what is going on…

Mama Bear proposed in this past session that we do a process similar to “mapping” my parts. I was so astonished to hear her proposal that I lost a lot of the details about exactly what she was proposing. Up until now, if anything, she has worked to de-emphasize my parts and pushed me to focus on grounding into the me of here and now. But it seems that she learned something at the workshop on treating Complex PTSD that she went to last week that has her re-evaluating her approach. (Plus, I am finally doing a better job of grounding myself in the now.) I pointed out that what she was talking about was a large shift and was surprising to me, so we needed to talk about a few related issues. At some point, I was talking from the point of view of a dissociated part, when Mama Bear asked, “What does your adult think about that?” She saw me start to struggle, “Is your adult around?” “Yes.” And the adult part of me was right there and I knew exactly what I would say, but I could not get the words to come out of my mouth. It was like the adult me was completely aware and engaged, but had no control over my ability to speak. And because I was so aware of how engaged that me was, I had no idea that that part couldn’t talk. So by the time I had “pulled” myself to a place where my adult could actually speak, it was like there was a thick gauze between me and what we had been talking about and I just couldn’t remember it. “Don’t push it… If you can’t remember it, it is OK..” Mama Bear reassured me, but it was frustrating, because I had known what I wanted to say but left it behind a dissociative barrier when “I” came out to speak.

About 2/3s of the way through the session, I found myself struggling to talk with Mama Bear about the effects of recognizing that “being taken behind the dumpsters” by some of the neighborhood boys was a big deal. “Can I ask you a favor? Can you please come and sit over here?” I asked, pointing to a spot near to the love seat that I was on. “Of course I will. You can ask me to sit anywhere you like: here, in that chair, over by the window, in the corner facing away. Whatever will be most helpful to you.”

She moved a chair to the spot that I indicated which is close enough for me to reach out and hold her hand, but not so close as to feel intrusive. Every time I ask her to move closer and she does, I feel the tension drain out of my body, because it feels so much safer having someone I trust right there. It’s like the parts of me that are too young to take in all of the words can take in the fact that someone who loves me is right at hand. I don’t ask her to move closer as frequently as some of me would like, because it guarantees that I will go into a child state. Then again, the times that I need to ask her to come closer are the times when the child states are very present anyways…

But this time, I didn’t think that I was much at risk of going into a completely traumatized child state, and I could tell how much that part of me needed someone right there, right beside me, right then. At some point, I took Mama Bear’s hand, and it was like for that child part, Mama Bear was a life line to here and now and safety. I don’t remember much of what we talked about until I asked, “It wasn’t my fault that it happened, was it?” She paused and asked me, “What answer does your adult have to that question?” I struggled to find the part of me who could answer and finally came up with, “No, it wasn’t my fault that I was vulnerable to being hurt.”

At that point, it was time to start transitioning back to being ready to go out into the world. Mama Bear could see how dissociated I was, so she held my hands on her open hands and told me to look at them. She reminded me that she is an adult and my hands are the same size as hers, so I can see that I am an adult too. And I sat there, breathing, and working at making those hands feel like they belonged to me for a several minutes. And as I started to ground, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t my “adult” who had answered whether it was my fault, because I was only then starting to feel like the adult me could connect through to the world.

“That wasn’t my adult who answered you.”

“OK, well, you have a helper part.”

I looked at my hands again, “I am starting to feel like my hands belong to me. That is a good sign, because they certainly didn’t before.”

She looked at me and commented, “Yes, you are very good at dissociating.”

So, now I am left confused about just what is going on? I had been thinking that the me that I am aware from is the “adult” me, but after realizing that the adult me had been nowhere around at all for part of the session, I’m not so sure. But there is always this common thread of awareness weaving everything together that I call “me.” I am always aware while things are happening, although I sometimes am fuzzy on exactly what happened afterwards. I may lose the details, but I never lose time. I’m not panicked about not understanding what is going on, but it certainly is disconcerting to realize just how much I don’t understand how my mind works.

I suppose that as we explore who the different parts are, I will start to develop a better understanding of exactly what it is that is going on inside of me.

How did those of you with parts develop an understanding of them? Are you as frustrated as I am by the limitations of words to describe an experience that pretty much defies words? I find myself using words and phrases that other people use to describe dissociation, because they are the only words that I can find, but I can’t help but wonder whether we are using the same words to describe substantially different experiences. I talk with Mama Bear about what is going on and she seems to understand, but how much can someone understand who doesn’t do a significant amount of dissociating? Just like I can’t pretend that I understand what it would be like to have fully developed alters, the way that people with DID do. How have you all found ways to bridge those gaps in understanding?

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Last week, I wrote about a memory of something that I have “always known” but at the same time my mind was keeping me from “knowing what it really meant” in Confused and in Shock. Basically, when I was 7, a group of neighborhood boys molested me. The details might be there if I tried to dig, but they are currently fuzzy, and Mama Bear and I have agreed that it is best to respect the fact that my mind seems to be saying the the details would be too much for now. Yes, I am finally learning to respect what my mind is showing me that it can and can not handle! 😉

Anyways, while the details on what happened are fuzzy, it is clear that it was an experience that was frightening, confusing, and at least emotionally painful. After today’s session, I also know for sure that a dissociated part of me is strongly connected to what happened. There is work that obviously needs to be done there. At the same time, it wasn’t an experience that was over the top terrifying to me in the way that most everything seems to be with my grandfather. Today, we worked on it a bit, and it was a relief to be able to work with a part and yet not feel like my mind was in danger of being blasted from the intensity of the emotions involved. Yes, I did have to work on pulling myself out of being deeply drawn in to a dissociative state, so I could try to work with that state, rather than just be in it. But at least I “just” needed to try to find myself and reconnect, rather than also fighting against pure terror. Rather than a monumental task, it was a difficult task.

I can’t help but wonder if I can’t make something good out of having had this experience. I would rather have not had it, but it’s in the past, so what has happened, has happened, but I maybe I can make some use out of it that will help me overall. While what happened with those boys was traumatic for a 7 year old girl to deal with, it’s also obvious that it didn’t involve the same level of conditioned raw terror and pain that I associate with the memories with my grandfather. Based on the work that we did today, it will be hard to deal with, but much more manageable than what I have been trying to do.

One of the challenges that I have been struggling with over the last few weeks is how to be compassionate with myself in the face of wanting to reject the intensity of the pain that I have been stuck in. By panicking in the face of the pain and struggling to push it away as hard and as fast as I can, I have been experiencing myself as not just rejecting the pain, but also rejecting and hating the parts of me that hold that pain. But unfortunately, it doesn’t actually work to push the pain away like that, so I just ended up in a cycle of pain, rejection, and self hatred. Eventually, I could pretty much see what I was doing, but even then, it was difficult to figure out how to step out of that cycle and find a place of compassion for myself again. I knew that what I most needed was gentleness, but the only way that I was going to be able to let it in was going to be through starting to be gentle with myself again.

As much as I want to be able to be gentle with myself in the face of dealing with my grandfather’s abuse, for right now, it tends to overwhelm me and my capacity to treat myself compassionately in the face of that much pain. However, I think that I can do it in relation to these other memories. So, weird as it feels to say, admitting to myself that this lesser, but still significant, pain is there and allowing myself to start to deal with it gives me hope. I can’t even put words to what I hope it will allow me to learn to do so I can finally help my most traumatized parts, but I can start to feel the shape of it, so that is a start. Maybe this will allow me to build a foundation of sorts that I can then use to work off of while dealing with the greater Traumas?

Does anyone else out there have the experience of finding themselves almost feeling grateful for something that on the surface you would think no one could ever be grateful for? Life just seems to be so very odd some times…

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As I have said over and over, I struggle with the whole issue of memory. After reading all of the responses to my post on emotional flashbacks and thinking about what Mama Bear and I had talked about in our last session, there was a lot moving around in my mind about the whole topic. I spent a couple of hours last night thinking and writing to Mama Bear and in the end, I realized something that once again is probably completely obvious from the outside, but from where I was standing inside, I just hadn’t seen it.

When I start to drive myself crazy over whether something in particular happened or not, Mama Bear has taken to stopping me, asking me, “Do you believe that you were sexually abused? Do you believe that you were terrorized?” “Yes.” “Those are the essential truths here.” She has seen that if she doesn’t stop me, I will go around and around in a circle about whether something happened, never coming to any resolution and making myself more and more agitated. I only end up perseverating on that question and it does me no good.

So last night, I took a step back and said, “OK, there are certain events that I am confused about whether I really have memories of or not. But I am certain that I was sexually abused and terrorized. So what else am I certain of?”

As I thought about it, I could see that there are pieces that I really am positive happened, if I can let myself be OK with knowing a piece in isolation and not trying to force it into place in the bigger picture. I know that I experienced certain sensations. That I felt certain types of contact. That I heard certain sounds. That I couldn’t breathe. That I was physically hurt in certain places. That I was terrified beyond words. That I was convinced at some point that I was going to die. That I was humiliated and shamed. And there is more. These are all little memory fragments, which looked at in isolation don’t seem to say much. However, when looked at together, I realized that there is a lot that I am certain that I remember, even if it is scattered and fragmented. I am missing most of the context and I don’t know which bits go together, but I still have an all too clear idea of some of the things that happened.

It’s when I try to force my mind to puzzle out what goes around the fragments that I get in trouble. And that is where I need to learn patience and to accept that either my mind will decide that it is safe enough for me to remember more of the detail of a particular incident, or it won’t. But I can still accept and support myself around the truth that each fragment holds.

One of the things that Mama Bear has said to me over and over is, “You have already proven that the abuse happened; you don’t have to keep on proving it.” Last night this made more sense to me than it has in the past: The “proof” is all there. It’s all right in front of me in these fragments and in the effects that the abuse has had on me. And forcing my mind to keep on going near to the traumatic memories just keeps me in a state where I have trouble tolerating knowing that the abuse really happened. I will be best off if I can accept the “proof” that I already have as being valid, stop putting all of this extra pressure on myself, and just move on.

My hope is that if I keep in mind that there are a lot of scattered, but important, pieces that I am sure about, then I will be more comfortable just sitting with what comes, rather than pushing all of the time. There is an overall picture there. I know what sorts of things create those sensations, what those types of contact mean, and what sort of things would hurt me in those places. I may not have a story where I know that this happened and then this and then this, but I if allow myself to accept the bits and pieces as being sufficient, I realize that I do know why that child is crying so hard.

Deep, calming breaths… I really do know a lot of what happened, even if I don’t remember it happening. And frankly, I don’t want to remember it happening. I caught just the fastest glimpse of the edge of a particular memory while writing this post, and I can tell that I need to respect what my mind is telling me. Remembering more is too much, at least for now.

This is a very different way for me to look at accepting what I do remember. I can accept the bits and pieces and allow myself to understand what they indicate happened. I don’t have to force a story from those fragments. A story isn’t any more valid than the fragments and the fragments actually tell a lot more about what the experience was like for me than I was allowing myself to see. I can use those fragments to heal; I don’t have to look for the stories. Pushing away the fragments as being not legitimate was getting in the way of healing, because I was not accepting what I was being told my experience was. And I think that might be where the instinct comes in that I “need to be able to say what happened.” Eventually, I will need to be able to own those little bits and pieces of experience that I remember. Maybe more of the experience will come up as I am able to own it, maybe it won’t.

But most of all, I simply need to accept what my mind tells me is too much. If it hurts your hand to touch a hot stove, you don’t touch it, right? Well, starting to go too near to really remembering what happened gives me a sensation of my mind either being burnt or touching a live wire and being shocked. I guess that I need to wise up and work on turning the heat down or reducing the flow of electricity before I go near fully remembering, don’t I?

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I am tired. I am really tired of being triggered. Today I have no idea what triggered me. I was out to church with my daughter and that was fine. We were planning on going to our favorite restaurant in town, but discovered to our dismay that it had closed. So after brainstorming via phone, we came up with another plan and met my husband for lunch at another restaurant. We walked in to the restaurant and I was OK, sat down to look at the menu and I rapidly started to dissociate. I knew that I really needed food, so I suggested just doing a starter order which we could add to later, if need be and I ordered a Thai Iced Tea to get some calories into me immediately.

Throughout lunch I would seem to go back and forth between being clear headed and dissociating again. I must have done the breathing exercise 5 times over a period of 45 minutes! Finally, I had eaten what I could and I asked my husband to stay with my daughter so she could have dessert, and I fled to the car. As soon as I was on the road, the screaming started. I didn’t scream the whole way home, but for short periods of time multiple times. Thankfully, we live less than 10 minutes away from the restaurant. I hobbled into the house, went to my bed, which is normally a safe place, started to lay down on it and was just blasted.

I screamed until my throat was sore- no words, just pure agony and terror. Eventually I was able to get into the bathroom to get an Ativan, which I rarely take, and with effort was able to find a position on my bed that did not remind me of whatever I was being reminded of. I was incredibly grateful that my daughter was still out with her father. I could not imagine holding that inside all day, but there is no way that I would have let it out with her home.

Soon after, they came home, but I needed to be left completely alone in a cocooning nest of comforters and eventually I fell asleep for a couple of hours. When I woke up, my first thought was that my body really hurt, but when I woke up more and thought about it, I realized that it didn’t really.

I’m less dissociated than I was before, but still relatively strongly so. The PTSD symptoms also are stronger than normal. Basically, my entire system has been overly activated.

I am guessing that some level of me was dealing with an actual memory during this episode, but I have no idea what was going on in it, except that at some point I had to lay back. I get the emotional content loud and clear and it is pretty horrible. Maybe I should be glad that I don’t have the pictures and details of what would cause that level of anguish and terror. It’s hard enough just dealing with the feelings.

But I feel weird having flashbacks that are devoid of everything but the emotion and my body reacting physically, sometimes to the abuse, sometimes like today as if I am trying to escape. I know that there is a subset of people who get flashbacks that are composed primarily of body memories and emotions. Do any of you experience flashbacks like this where it seems as though the memory must be running inside somewhere, but all you are getting is the physical and emotional reactions to the flashback?

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OK, I am really confused at the moment… Something has been coming up repeatedly over the last month and 1/2 or so, so I finally started to write it out and e-mail it to Mama Bear. She won’t get it until next Wednesday evening, but at least I know that I’ve told her and it won’t be pushed to the back by more pressing things again.

This is different from most things that I write to her about. This is about something that I know happened…


This comes under the “I think that I’ve always remembered it, but I might not always have been able to access it” category for me. When I was 7, after the summer I stayed with my grandparents and before we moved to Hawaii, my dad trained in the Bay Area. We lived in an apartment there and everything was really temporary, but we had to have been there for about 4 or 5 months.

This is just about the only thing that I remember about living there. There was a group of older boys there. I’m not sure how old, not late teens, but definitely enough older to feel bigger. I have always known that it happened, “Behind the dumpsters”, but it somehow seems partially enclosed. I don’t understand that. I felt trapped. And things happened that really shouldn’t have happened. And I’m pretty sure that I was taken there more than once- I remember not feeling safe to ride my bike. But other than knowing that it involved contact, that it was disgusting to me, that the boys could get in trouble for what they were doing, and that it was frightening and I didn’t want to be there, the details were lost. I seem to have gotten some details recently, but who knows how accurate they are? And who knows what I would have been afraid would happen?

I get a sense of, “This was a very bad thing to have happened, but it wasn’t absolutely horrible.” The worst part about it is that there were boys- more than one.

Oh, my… I think that I just realized the most important thing about this… I know that this happened. I know that it was upsetting to me. And either I said something to my mother and she did nothing or she had not a clue. Whatever those boys did, it can’t have been nearly as bad as what my grandfather did, but it was at least frightening and disgusting. Bad things could happen and she did not know. OK, I did not realize that this was going to hit me.

I spoke with some friends about it, got some much needed support, thought that I was OK, and they went off to bed. Suddenly I am not so OK with this. But I don’t understand why. Other than the bit about my mom, which is very important, there is nothing new to me here. But I am reacting to the whole thing.

I don’t think that I have ever talked with anyone about this. At first I was very, very ashamed about it. But then it didn’t seem to be worth talking about. What kind of crazy perspective is that?

I don’t think that it computed as being sexual abuse before because these were boys that weren’t all that much older than me. But I was forced to participate. I know that I did not want to be there.

Why does this feel like such a big deal to me? I have always known that it happened, even though it was tucked away in a corner of my mind. In comparison to the things that happened with my grandfather, it had to have been next to nothing.

But I’m left wondering, “How did I ever feel safe enough to step outside my front door, when I was caught near my home, doing something as innocent as riding my bike?”

And I can’t help but want to cry for that little girl. I can catch glimpses of how having it happen outside the family as well was just about enough to tear my mind apart.

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