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Archive for April, 2013

“You can call me or text me if you need to. You can try to e-mail me, but that will take longer for me to see. You know how to reach me.”

Mama Bear is going out of town for a long weekend and normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the last few weeks have been increasingly rough for me. The problem here isn’t her being out of town- she makes this trip regularly and she will be back before our next appointment. It’s that it’s already terribly difficult to for me contact her and ask her for support, even when she isn’t off doing something special with her family. Under normal conditions, I almost always e-mail her, because that seems less intrusive to me. I know that if she is busy with something, she isn’t going to be reading e-mails, so my e-mail is unlikely to interrupt something important. But sending a text or calling her is asking for a response in real time. I know that she won’t respond or answer if she is busy, but I still will have interfered with her other business. And acting as though my distress is a worthy enough reason to interrupt her day is frightening for me.

Will you contact me if you need to speak to me?” I struggle to answer that question. The logical part of me wants to say that I don’t intend to need to, but if things get to be that bad, yes I will. But all of the kid parts are clamoring, “No! I can’t!! I can’t! I want to but I can’t!” Finally I manage to force out, “I will try to.”

“You will try to?” Mama Bear sounds a bit disappointed.

“Yes, I will try to.”

“C., it really is OK for you to contact me. I know how to take care of myself. I appreciate that you want to respect my time with my son, but if you need to, call me.”

“But I don’t know how to tell how much distress is enough to warrant calling, unless I am at the point where I am about to go off the cliff.”

“Please don’t wait until that point. Call before that, it will be easier on both me and you if you do. It would be a problem if you were going to call me all day, every day, but you aren’t going to do that. We are talking about 5 or 10 minutes now and then and that is something that it is OK with me to give. It really is OK for you to ask for my help. I mean it.”

While she is talking, I listen intently and try to get all of me to listen. She finishes and for several seconds I just stare into her eyes, trying to show the parts of me inside that are afraid to believe what she is saying, that her eyes show that she is completely sincere.

“I’m not getting through at all, am I?”

“No, actually you are and I am trying to help more of me absorb what you are saying.”

This has been a long term problem for me. I am so afraid to ask for too much and end up rejected as being “too needy.” The thing is that I know that this is a mother issue and it isn’t really a Mama Bear issue; we have worked on it in the past and I am sure that we will continue to work on it for some time to come. It is a core issue for me, “Is it safe to need others? Can I trust them to be there for me when I need them? Will they decide that I am too demanding and desert me?”

Over time, I have made significant progress on present day relationships. Yes, these fears can be triggered in my relationships with my husband and friends, but I no longer automatically react from these fears every time. And as I slowly learn that while the people I care about are human and will let me down sometimes, I am able to make smart choices on who I trust and I’m not going to have any grand betrayals. I can trust myself to find good people to trust to be there for me.

But what gets stirred up in the therapeutic relationship is different. Much of the time, I’m not primarily reacting from the here and now me- that would be so simple- I’m reacting from so many young me’s who were formed at a time when I did experience just the sort of abandonment in the face of intense need that I am fearing. And as challenging as it is for me to struggle with it over and over, it’s something that I need to do, because those hurt, betrayed child parts need to learn that even though my mother let me down so profoundly, that does not mean that I can never reach out for help when I am in pain. There are people here, now, who I can trust to not abandon me to that pain, even if the intensity of the pain is frightening to me.

But asking for what I need is so hard, even when it should be a simple request. There have been so many times when Mama Bear has responded to my e-mail and I know that what I really need is to hear her say those same words, because the child parts don’t take in what is written in the e-mails. Sometimes I can imagine her saying what she wrote and hear her voice in my head, which helps. Over all, though, reading helps my adult, but isn’t so helpful for the child parts. And yet, it is these child parts who are most opposed to my picking up my phone, calling, and saying, “Hey, could you please take a couple of minutes to just say to me what you wrote, because my kids really need to take this in.”

For right now, I will hold in mind that Mama Bear really did mean what she said today. She knows that I am in a bit of a fragile place and that there is a real chance that something could set me off. It’s better for me to reach out for a steadying hand before I go spinning out of control, rather than grit my teeth and end up a royal mess that she gets to help scrape off the walls when she gets home. I won’t call, but I will text and ask to talk to her, if I find myself heading towards spinning out of control.

And I think that I may show her the paragraph about how helpful it would be to have her say things sometimes, rather than just write them. It would be good practice for me to ask for something that isn’t absolutely necessary but would probably be helpful. Because I need to help all of me understand that what I experienced as a child doesn’t actually define the limits of the entire world. Little by little I can test this out and take it in…

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Some weeks I just have to say to myself over and over, “I am strong enough to do this. I am strong enough to do this.” This has been one of those weeks. Or couple of weeks.

It hasn’t been all bad. I actually seem to have taken a big step forward on figuring out self soothing and support. But part of taking that step forward was to realize in a different way that I simply can’t abandon myself to the pain or fear. I have to sit with myself feeling the pain, while also doing whatever is soothing. I can’t keep on rejecting and pushing away from me the feeling parts. As a result, I believe that all of me probably is doing better, but I feel so much pain. However, I know that if I am making it through this period without thinking that it is too much for me survive or that I wish that I was dead, then I have to be moving forward.

A part of what has changed for me is that I decided to stop fighting with the rest of me. It hurts me too much to keep on saying, “I don’t believe what I am being shown/told because it is too threatening for me to believe.” When I do that, it’s like I’m telling those parts of me that they are liars or they are stupid and can’t accurately relate anything. To some extent I am saying, “Go away and shut up,” when those hurt/frightened/shattered parts of me desperately need love, comfort, stability, and to be soothed. I just can’t reject this aspect of me any more. I’m not willing to do that.

I don’t fully know what this decision means for me. But at least to start, it has involved deeply accepting that there was something about my relationship with my dad that was damaging to me. I keep on hearing over and over, “He hurt me” and I have been reassuring those young parts, “Yes, he did, but you are safe now. Feel this blanket or shawl that is wrapped around you; feel the safety, warmth, and comfort that it surrounds all of me with. I am safe now.”

Sometimes it is like I am being told that certain things happened. Right now I am taking an approach of, “Maybe that literally happened, maybe it didn’t. But for whatever reason, this part of me believes that it did. I’m not going to do anything right now other than say, ‘I understand that for some reason this feels real. Right now the most important thing is that I deeply know that I am safe now.'”

Much of the time, this keeps me from getting too caught up in the memories, but not all of the time. They still manage to suck me in some of the time. And sometimes, when they seem to make sense of body sensations that I have gotten for a very long time, it is hard to not jump to conclusions.

But my heart is breaking just from dealing with the acceptance that something about my relationship with my dad harmed me and accepting the possibility that there may have been sexual abuse. I don’t want to have been the child who was hurt that badly. I don’t want to have been the child whose mother failed her so miserably. I don’t want to have been the child who was only able to hold on to scraps of a sense of safety and who felt them slip through her fingers too often. I don’t want to have been the child that people believed that it was OK to use. I don’t want to have been the child whose body was used against her.

It’s great that I was also brave and resourceful and strong and determined to survive. But dammit, I don’t want to have been forced to be those things so young in order to survive!!! It isn’t a fair trade off. I could have learned how to be those things in ways that didn’t threaten to tear my soul apart. There is nothing that will ever make up for what happened to me.

I can go forward from here. I will have a life that I am grateful for. I will fill it with love and many of the things that were almost ground out of my soul. I am determined that I will have these things, because I have every right to create a life filled with love, beauty, creativity, nurturing, empathy, connectiveness, nature, the desire to stretch and grow and all of the other things that make life worth living for me. I will not let the sick and damaged members of my family define my life.

Yes, that is where I am going and I need to keep my eyes on the focus of that promise, but right now, I hurt. I hurt inside, in my vulnerable parts. I hurt in the greater me, because I see just how much I endured as a child. I don’t think that I can express how awful it is to accept, “Yes, things were that bad. It wasn’t just a bad dream that I will wake up from. I don’t just have an over active imagination. No, I’m not overly sensitive in a way that made me turn nothing into something huge. My family really did hurt me in a way that hurt my heart so badly that right now it feels like pieces of it are breaking off, falling to the floor, and shattering. My daddy hurt me.”

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Today I had an epiphany. It isn’t very often that I have one of those moments when everything shifts and becomes much easier, so I need to celebrate this one. 🙂

Over the last few days, I have talked about the turmoil that was stirred up when my mother asked me to call my father for his birthday. It brought to the forefront the need to figure out how to begin to talk with my mother about the fact that the abuse still affects me. I’m not even sure that she believes me when I say that I was abused, because she changes the topic every time I make any reference to being in therapy. She is highly avoidant and because this has been a life long coping skill, she isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Unfortunately, I learned my lessons in being avoidant of conflict all too well from her, making it even more difficult to have any sort of a conversation with her. So, over the last several months, Mama Bear and I keep on circling back around again and again to the questions of “What do I need to say to my mother? How am I going to say it? And how can I prepare myself so that I am able to deal with whatever her reaction is?” The subject comes up, we talk about it, and I become overwhelmed so the actual talk with my mother gets tabled. Each time we circle around, I do get a bit further, but I have been proceeding at a glacial pace.

My mother’s request, on top of her request to send my daughter out to my parents for 2 weeks, has accelerated the need for me to get to the heart of the matter and find my voice. This weekend, it became crystal clear to me that my mom is going to continue to pretend that nothing is terribly wrong and proceed along her way, with her eyes tightly shut to what is going on, if I don’t force the issue. And because she pretends that nothing is wrong, she keeps on doing or saying things that knock me off balance, just as I am starting to develop momentum in a good direction. I deserve better and my family deserves better.

Well, I started off this morning in a shaky place and I wrote to Mama Bear about the fact that my mom hasn’t responded to my e-mail at all and how I realized that a part of me had been holding on to an unrealistic hope. Maybe, somehow I had created a situation where my mom didn’t really understand how much pain I have been in and now that I have made it clear, she will reach out to me with statements of love and support. But by that point, it was pretty hard to hold on to that bit of hope any more, because so much time had gone by since my sending my message to her. Unfortunately, I had already swung to the other extreme of fear that I had so threatened my mother that she wouldn’t ever want to have anything to do with me again! Yep, talk about a neurotic mess- that was me this morning.

Mama Bear responded with her normal good sense and reminded me that it is unlikely that my mother has cut me off completely, it’s just that she automatically reverts to avoidance when faced with a difficult situation. Then she said two things that got my brain turning: “She has very little capacity for figuring out what you need emotionally. And, you need to continue speaking up for yourself in some manner.”

Somehow, seeing those two statements side by side made something click and the obvious finally became clear to me: “Even though she is the mother and I am the daughter, I’m in my 40s now and she isn’t necessarily any more of an adult than I am. In some ways she may be even less. I keep on expecting for her to be the adult in this situation and allow me to be the hurt child. That just isn’t going to happen and I need to protect that hurt child part of me anyways.”

She simply can’t do the mother/adult job that I want for her to do and hear my need for love and support in what I say, without my coming out and having to say, “Dammit, I need your love and support here! This is incredibly hard but it would be less hard if I knew that you believed me and that you were on my side. I have been suffering a lot and part of it is because I’m going through this without your support.”

I know that I am dealing with memories of desperately needing for her to figure out that something is terribly wrong from when I was a child. I really did need for her to rescue me then and I still feel those needs as if they apply to now. But they don’t. I want a relationship with my mother, but if she fell out of my life, I could go on after a time of mourning. My safety is no longer dependent upon whether she can bear to see that I am hurting and that something is wrong.

This takes so much of the pressure off of me. I don’t have to get our interaction “just right” so that my mom’s immediate reaction is both to understand how bad things have been and to not flee. She may very well retreat in order to adjust to what I need to say, but I am her only child and my daughter is her only grandchild- she is highly motivated to retain a connection to us, so she is likely to re-engage.

It also helps to lift me out of a vulnerable place, where I am looking for my mother to provide something that she almost certainly is unable to provide. But I can provide my own nurturing, safety, and protection now. I can either give myself what I need or I can find people who are willing and able to give me what I need.

Even though I often connect strongly with feelings of being a vulnerable child, the reality is that I am not. It sounds crazy to me, but I am in my 40s. I have a daughter who will be entering 3rd grade in the fall. I am an adult, it’s just a matter of getting me to remain connected to that knowledge and to feel confident enough to act from the strength of my adulthood. Today’s epiphany was a big step in that direction.

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“I feel ridiculous! A normal person wouldn’t have such an extreme reaction to the request to call her father for his birthday!”

“You do not have a normal father. You do not have a normal family. Why would you expect to have a normal reaction?”

Mama Bear made a good point there.

This was a part of the phone conversation that I wrote about in Working Through Fears, but I know that I do this all of the time. Too often, I make critical judgments of myself because I am not able to do things in a ‘normal’ manner (whatever that really means.) However, I am dealing with experiences that are out of the ‘normal’ range and that is why I am having ‘abnormal’ responses. It isn’t because I am weak or there is something inherently wrong with me; it is because my brain learned how to respond in certain ways when I was young so I could get through experiences that I should never have been exposed to. I survived, so my brain thinks that I should keep on using the same responses. Fortunately, I am now living in a very different situation, which means that the responses aren’t needed any longer; unfortunately my brain doesn’t fully understand that yet.

We continued on to talk about whether I would respond to my mother’s request…

“I know that you are very frightened and I know that your amygdala is convinced that you are under threat, but are you really in danger right now, if you send what we talked about?”

Pause… “No, not really. But it certainly feels like it.”

“Yes, it does. But you aren’t in danger. In some ways, I am asking you to ignore everything that your instincts are telling you and just go with what your reason is telling you. Right now, your instincts just aren’t going to be right about this, because your amygdala is so caught up in responding to the threat that you were under as a child, but you aren’t under that threat now. You need to decide to do whatever is most right for you, but I want for you to also know that whatever you do, it won’t put you in danger.”

I sat there and thought about this hard and it made a lot of sense. It gave me a way to think about what was going on that was compassionate and understanding, rather than judging. My brain was stuck in having an ‘abnormal’ response and it really did feel like every instinct was screaming, “Danger! Danger!” at me, but I could also see that while my mother’s reaction might be difficult and unpleasant for me to deal with, there was no life and death danger there. Every bit of me was convinced that there was, but there really wasn’t.

Judging myself for having such an extreme reaction to the idea of having an honest dialogue with my mom wasn’t useful or fair. I was dealing with an abnormal situation, and as Mama Bear so often points out, self compassion and understanding generally are more useful than self criticism. Self criticism helps to reinforce my feeling under threat, while compassion and understand can help to dissolve that sense of threat. And so I eased myself into taking a step back, accepting that my intuition told me that communication with my mother was dangerous, but also holding in my mind that the sense of danger was false. Slowly the fear eased and I became able to think about what I wanted to do, rather than just reacting out of fear.

The first step to this process was to accept that I can’t expect to have a normal reaction to a situation that has little to nothing that is normal about it. I don’t think that I am the only one here who tends to become angry with herself because her reactions tend toward the extreme, even when she can see that that extreme isn’t really warranted. So I thought that I would share with you that bit of Mama Bear wisdom… Is what you are dealing with ‘normal’? If not, why would you expect to have a ‘normal’ reaction? Rather than judging your reaction, can you look at it with self compassion?

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“I’m scared.”

Mama Bear is talking to me on the phone because I have spent the day so frightened that I have been close to non-functional most of the time.

“Your voice sounds young, are you feeling young?”

“Yes.”

“I need for you to find your adult voice and bring your adult here.”

Pause…

“Can you locate your adult?”

“Kind of, sort of…”

“OK, bring your adult as close as you can and have her be a part of this as I talk to the child part that is here… You are in a safe place and a safe time. Whatever you are afraid of isn’t happening here and now. You are a grown woman who is capable and strong and you can protect yourself. We can work together to help you.”

As I listen to her voice and try to pull on the stronger, more solid part of me, I feel that part finally starting to engage, to my relief. At last I am able to say, “OK” and both of us hear the change in my voice.

“Good… C. what has you so freaked out?”

“I am scared that something really bad is going to happen to me.”

“You are starting to sound like a child again. I need for you to stay an adult and work with me. That is an old child fear, it isn’t a present fear. What are you afraid about now?”

I feel another overwhelming surge of fear that there is no escaping serious punishment and that I am in real danger: “But I am really, really scared that I’m going to get in trouble for upsetting my mother and I’m going to get hurt really, really, really bad.”

“C., you are sounding about 8. Is there actually anyone there who is going to hurt you?”

It feels like thinking through molasses, but I realize that even though the threat that I am going to be hurt feels so immediate and present, she is right, there isn’t anyone here who is going to hurt me. “No.”

“Your mother might get upset. I really can’t predict how she will react, but you are not in any real danger now that you are an adult. You can take care of yourself and protect yourself. You have your own family now.”

I think to myself, “But she isn’t the one that I am afraid of,” but I don’t say that out loud, instead I concentrate on trying to take in what Mama Bear has been saying.

“What did you end up doing in response to your mom’s request?”

“Nothing.”

“You didn’t respond at all?”

“No, I couldn’t figure out what to say.”

“I thought that you had a good start with what you said that you wanted to send to her last night. You need to do what feels most right for you, but if you say something, you might help to take yourself out of a helpless feeling position.”

She suggests a possible wording that basically says, “I got your e-mail. I am not comfortable talking with Dad right now. I hope to talk with you more about what is going on for me at a later time.”

“Does something like this sound at all possible?” A long pause… “Or not?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

I whisper: “It’s too scary.”

“That’s your 8 year old fear talking again. What are you afraid about in the now?”

I struggle because I do not want to say what comes to mind, but I know that it is what I am most afraid of: “I’m afraid that my mom will think that I am accusing my dad of something.”

Mama Bear says gently, but firmly, “But you are. Not necessarily sexual abuse, but something disturbs you about your relationship. And when you didn’t make that call, you accused him of something being wrong.”

My heart plummets. And I know that she is right. My hope that somehow I could manage to dance around this and avoiding dealing with this with my parents was a completely unrealistic fantasy. There is something that is very wrong about my relationship with my dad. I do not understand it and it drives me crazy that I don’t have a clear idea of what is so wrong. I know what I fear that it is, given what his father did to me and the fact that my dad’s older brother abused at least one of his daughters. But in some ways I am entirely convinced that there was no sexual abuse with him. Of course, when I think about it from the point of view of certain parts, I am just as convinced that he did abuse me.

Other than that, there is a history of petty cruelties, one-ups-man-ship, sending me off to stay with someone he knew was abusive (physically and verbally at the very least), competition for my mother’s attention, belittling the things that I cared about, and just plain being hurtful. But it was all done in the form of “jokes” or teasing and would not have looked “mean” from the outside. In fact, I would guess that he didn’t consider what he was doing to be mean, because it wasn’t done as harshly as his father would have. So, at the very least, I know that there is a history of behaviors that hurt my soul, if nothing else… But I also know that my parents will never be able to see those actions as being so damaging to me, so I can’t imagine trying to talk about them.

So, I sit there for a few minutes, struggling with my fears, both old fears and current fears around saying something to my mom. Repeatedly, I start to be drawn into a state where I feel in physical danger and I pull myself back each time. Finally, I say, “Well, I guess that you are right… No matter what I say to my mom, no one here is going to physically hurt me.”

I think for another couple of minutes, and then: “OK, I am feeling less scared now.”

Mama bear replies warmly, “I am glad to hear it.”

We talked for another couple of minutes, and then I got off the phone, feeling much more secure and grounded than I had since the previous morning. Over the next hour or two, I thought about our conversation. She wasn’t the only one who thought that my not saying anything kept me feeling like a powerless child. I am tired of feeling helpless, because I’m not! So, it’s time for me to start to use some of that strength in my relationship with my parents.

This is what I wrote to my mother:

Dear Mom,

I am in a very difficult place right now and I am just not up to doing the phone call. My hope is that we can talk a bit about what I am dealing with in the not too distant future, but I need to figure some things out first.

Please give Dad my birthday wishes.

Love,

C

Later on that evening, I realized just how different my conversation with Mama Bear was from the way that communication happens (or doesn’t) with my mother. While Mama Bear was kind, she was also very willing to say things or do things that are not pleasant in the moment, if they will benefit me. She kept on pushing at me when I fell back into a frightened child state and she didn’t try to soothe me, but rather she urged me to engage the adult me who could see that I was in a situation where I didn’t need to be scared. In that moment, I needed to be the one to take care of me and I needed to experience that I could do it. She showed me that she believed in my ability to work past my fears and find the strength and stability to deal with the anxiety and chaos inside. She was willing to point out to me that I had already taken the step that I was so afraid of, so I may as well keep on walking and deal with the situation, rather than trying to hide from it. I did not want to hear that, but I am better off for taking it in.

You know, I find it deeply reassuring that Mama Bear treated me like an adult.

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It is astonishing how easily my mother can trigger me, without her even trying or having any idea of what she has done.

Wednesday night I wrote a long e-mail to Mama Bear, trying to think through some of the issues related to communicating with my mom. It is clear that she will continue to maintain her self deception that either everything is over and done with related to the abuse or it never actually happened (I’m not clear which applies) until I force the issue. It is also clear that I can’t tolerate contact with her when we act as if nothing is wrong, so I have been avoiding contact as much as possible.

A few weeks back, she invited my family out to visit at the end of the summer. After avoiding responding for far too long, I responded a couple of weeks ago, saying that it wouldn’t be possible. So the next morning she sent an e-mail to me asking if we would send my daughter out to stay with her and my dad for a couple of weeks during the summer. There is not a chance in hell of that happening, however the very request precipitated a crisis that caused me to write the post Anguish. After this request, it was pretty obvious to me that she just doesn’t get what is going on and how serious it is. I chose to talk about something else that seemed more pressing at the last session, however I did write out a good deal of what I have been thinking about and what conditions I thought might be necessary to successfully talk with my mom about the effects of the abuse. At the very end, I stated the one thing that I was most clear on, “Whatever I do with my mom, I just can’t deal with my dad right now. I don’t understand why, but inside I go into a panic whenever I think of trying to deal with my dad. So, obviously, at least for now, it is too much to ask of myself.”

So, what appears in my in box this morning? This e-mail from my mom: “It would be terrific if you and G gave your Dad a call today…he turns 70! The best birthday gift would be to talk to you today.

Love,
Mom”

The amount of guilt and pressure that this email exerted on me was impressive, especially given that there is a good chance that my mom wasn’t even consciously aware of what she was doing. (If you are getting the impression that my mom is not self aware, you would be correct.) I have been trying all day to not take on the guilt because I only toyed with the idea of giving in and calling for about 5 minutes. I just can’t do that to myself. I refuse to allow myself to be pressured into something that feels wrong to me right now. I have worked too hard to establish a base of security for my insides that I will not force myself to do something that feels terrifying and I’m not going to break that trust. I have struggled way too long with the belief and expectation that I will betray myself when it comes to my mother and what she wants; I will not throw away the progress that I have made.

I talked with my friends about the situation and they suggested making a video of singing Happy Birthday and sending that as a compromise. At first I was OK with the idea, but after my daughter came home and it became possible to make such a video, I grew more and more agitated. Eventually I realized that I was feeling pressured and manipulated into doing something that I just don’t want to do. I don’t wish my father ill, but right now I simply don’t want to have anything to do with him. By the time my daughter went to bed, I was a bit of a basket case and simply unable to think clearly about the situation. I felt about 5, guilty, frightened that I was going to get into trouble, and unsure about what to do.

I just wanted to hide, so eventually I did exactly that and hid in my closet, behind my dresses. In some ways it felt sheltering and I felt safer and in others it just made me feel more trapped. After crying for a bit, I sent this e-mail to Mama Bear, “Ok, so maybe I am just weak and selfish, but all I want to do is hide in my closet and cry. I don’t want to have to do anything for my father.” Eventually I climbed out of the closet and into my bed and just shook, cried, and was frightened. At least I feel like I finally did something right today and I didn’t fight the feelings, but I managed to keep myself grounded in the fact that I was safe in my bed, holding my bear, clutching my flannel sheets, and with my comforters tucked snugly around me.

I still don’t know what the right thing to do is. I guess that I am having trouble dealing with a situation where there is no good solution. I won’t go against what I need right now, so I am caught up in the expectation that I am going to get in trouble with my parents. I am going to be the bad one. And I can’t seem to get away from feelings of worthlessness, shame, self anger, and guilt. I catch myself even thinking thoughts that I don’t deserve to exist if I cause problems for my parents. And I still feel so trapped, like it is impossible for me to help myself and it is impossible for me to do anything to make the situation better. And it’s all my fault that everything is messed up, anyways.

Part of me does understand that it isn’t all my fault. As Mama Bear said, “This is not a matter of being weak, this is a matter of distress in your family which is not addressed.” I’m not the only one who isn’t talking about it. In fact, I am the only one who has even tried to talk about it and had the topic of conversation changed on me, repeatedly. On the other hand, yes, I haven’t been persistent enough. Yes, I have avoided talking about it for the last year other than telling my mother that “things are so difficult that I can hardly keep my head above water.” And unfortunately, unless a miracle happens, I am going to have to find a way to stop avoiding the confrontation and just do it and deal with the fall out.

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This has been an interesting week for me. My daughter and I went to visit friends who live a 6 hour drive away; actually we were able to visit with two entirely unrelated sets of friends, so it was quite a nice trip. One set of friends even came up with a plan to get me to the ocean and let me go off on my own while they watched the kids play. 🙂 It’s amazing for me to take in people paying attention to what I need and helping me get it. I still find it a bit frightening to let people in close enough to know me that well, but it is something that I am learning to appreciate and even enjoy.

This whole trip was a lesson in learning to allow myself to really be with other people. Or rather, it was my first chance to experience myself in a more challenging setting, now that I am better able to settle into myself and not flee into slight dissociation when I feel thrown off balance emotionally. I used to spend so many of my social interactions feeling superficial or fake, because I would show a calm, friendly exterior, while inside I had been triggered into an awkward, frightened child state. The two states wouldn’t fully be in contact, because I had dissociated, in avoidance of the uncomfortable feelings that didn’t go with the adult interaction that I was in.

I had noticed that I have felt more “fully myself” while interacting with people in my town, but those have been much less challenging interactions. This trip was full of good, but still challenging, interactions. It felt like the outer me has over the last several months “thickened” or grown “deep” enough, so that when something stressful happened that might cause me to dissociate, I was able to feel for the ground under me, so to say, and stay fully present.

For instance, my very good friend that I was staying with had asked me how I was doing and I had told her a bit, but I knew that if I really started talking about it, I would open up far too much emotionally. If we had had a few hours alone, just the two of us, that would have been one thing, but we had 20 minutes, while we went to pick up pizza for everyone. But while trying to sleep that night, I realized that she sounded like she really did want to know how I am doing and she wasn’t looking for pat answers. I also recognized that I needed for her to know. She is one of the people I trust most in the world and I needed for someone else who loves me and whom I trust to really know just what things are like for me. What most people see of me would never give them an inkling as to what my inner experience can be like, but I needed for my friend to “see” more of me, not just the easy to see part.

So the next day, I took her aside and asked her if she “really wanted to know just what things are like for me” and I listened carefully to the tone as well as the words of her answer. Then I pulled up a recent blog post on my phone and handed it to her; it was one that I wrote on a difficult day. I almost changed my mind at the last second because it was frightening to reveal so much of myself to someone who means so much to me. But looking back, I was uncomfortable, I was frightened, I felt unsure and vulnerable, but I stayed there with her and with the feelings. It was hard to see her reactions, because I could see it reflected in someone else’s face just how horrible things are some times. At one point, I found myself focusing on my daughter telling a funny story to other family members in the other room and imagined myself connected to her and what she represents in my current life. To my astonishment, I realized that I actually smiled briefly, and I was reminded that even though I deal with difficult feelings, there is joy in my life now. And then when my friend finished and looked at me with tears in her eyes and told me how brave I am and hugged me, I just cried, because I felt less alone.

And through all of this, I was present, I didn’t flee. Despite feeling frightened and vulnerable, I still felt safe enough to fully stay there, with my friend. I’m still astonished… Yes, I know that I have more to learn and to practice in this area, but if I could manage to stay present in this interaction, it gives me hope that I can learn to stay present, period.

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