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Archive for July, 2013

no

Today’s session took a sudden turn from being a “steady but difficult work” kind of session to an “incredibly intense” kind of session and at first it was hard to figure out just why.

Mama Bear had asked me a question and my brain was going in 4 or 5 different directions at the same time. Given that we had just talked about how useful writing things out can be for me, Mama Bear asked me, “Would you like for me to get a piece of paper, so you could right it down in a diagram? That might be easiest.”

I had a strong internal “no” to that and said, “No, that doesn’t feel right, right now.” But when I tried to think about the original question, I couldn’t focus. “Something odd is going on.”

Mama Bear could see my difficulty, “Can you describe what is going on right now?”

“I feel a lot of pressure and it is really loud in my head.” I started to shake.

“Is your mind having trouble letting you answer that question?”

“No, that isn’t it. I’m still reacting to the whole writing things out question. I really don’t want to have to write in front of you.”

“It sounds as though a lot of you really wants to make sure that I am clear that you don’t want to ever write in front of me.” I nodded. “C. it is OK for you to tell me “no.” In fact, I want for you to tell me “no”.”

I sat there and thought for a bit. “That is what I am reacting to so much. Saying “no.” I thought that it was all about why it is that I am afraid to write in front of you, but it isn’t really.”

“What is it like for you talk about saying “no”?”

“I have been experiencing sensations of being dragged to be forced to do something. But as I have been talking with and looking at you, those sensations are fading.” I was clearly aware of the presence of young parts who were very frightened, but who were looking at Mama Bear intently and taking in that she showed no signs of getting upset at me.

She looked at me sadly. “Do you remember when your daughter hit the stage when she learned the power of ‘no’? Do you remember how she said it all the time, sometimes just for the pleasure of being able to say it? ‘Do you want candy?’ ‘No!’ ‘No! No! No!’ It such an important part of a little one’s development. They took so much away from you when they took away ‘No’. We have been talking about loss of self. You need to be able to say ‘no’ in order to fully have a self.”

“C., I know that you said it before, but can you say no again?”

I took a breath and said, “No!” but it came out with a bit of a squeak.

“OK, that’s actually better than it was before, but I think that you can do better.”

I took a deeper breath and used my adult to firmly say, “NO!”

Mama Bear smiled at me. In retrospect, though, I wish that I had continued to work to help the child parts learn to say a firmer “no”, rather than taking over from them.

Unfortunately, all of this had started relatively close to the end of the session. So soon after this point, Mama Bear said, “C. we need to start to transition. Is there something that we need to do so that you can tuck back in your insiders?”

I closed my eyes to try to “feel” for what I needed to do, because I knew that I was wide open, and I proceeded to start to “pull into” me some of my vulnerable parts.

I hadn’t given any indication as to what I was doing, so Mama Bear asked, “Are you still thinking?”

With my eyes still closed, I said, “I’m working on pulling my parts back inside of me.”

Gently, she asked, “Don’t you think that it would be a good idea for you to open your eyes first, since I’m the one that they said “no” to and they didn’t really finish with me?”

Startled, I realized that she was correct, so I opened my eyes and looked at her. And the connection took my breath away. I could clearly see that she cared. More importantly, lots of me could take in seeing that she cared; she was really there, sitting in the room with me. And nothing terrible was going to happen because I had said no.

I teared up. “I had forgotten that I wasn’t in this alone. I had forgotten that I didn’t need to try to do it on my own.”

“I know. It’s going to take awhile for you to remember that you don’t have to try to do everything on your own.”

My insides are just reeling at the possibility that it might be safe to say “no” to someone that they rely on. It’s like I’m pulling apart a foundational rule of my universe: “I must figure out what is most convenient/needed for me to be for an important person and then live into that role when I am with that person. What I want is less than unimportant. If I cannot do what I should, I can try to avoid doing it, but I can never directly say no.” It’s disorienting to start to take apart the rules that your life has been based on, even if they were lies.

The funny thing is that I thought that I learned to say “no” years ago. And I did go from being unable to say “no” to anyone to being able to say “no” when it was something that I really didn’t want to do and I hadn’t been asked by someone important in my life. I completely missed the fact that I couldn’t say “no” to my husband, my mother, my therapist and that I even had a hard time with my daughter, even though I have very good developmental reasons to need to be able to say “no” to her. I missed the fact that if my husband asked me to do something that I wasn’t willing to do, I just avoided doing it. I avoided putting myself in a situation where my mother could ask something of me and did learn that I could say “no” if I felt that it was a safety concern. And somehow I avoided saying “no” to Mama Bear.

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chicken and stars soup

I’m getting sick. And frankly, I feel like a cranky 8 year old. I know cranky 8 year olds, because I my daughter is eight. 😉

I used to not be able to tell that I was getting sick until I was full blown sick. Just couldn’t recognize the subtle (or not so subtle) signs at all, but I had to wait to be “knocked flat on my back sick” before I knew that there was a problem. About 17 years ago, Mama Bear realized just how out of touch I was with my body and helped me to figure out my physical and emotional signals that illness was on the way, so I could slow down and try to take care of myself. What a revelation that was! Pay attention to what my body was telling me?!? And use that information to help care for myself and maybe even keep myself from getting really sick?!? Wow. Looking back, I can still remember that sense of wonder at discovering that the “knowing me” could connect with the “physical me” and work together. It’s almost as if they didn’t know that the other existed before that point. I almost feel as though I should be grateful for whatever series of illnesses that winter enabled Mama Bear to finally help me make that connection. 😉 One of the things that Mama Bear helped me to understand is that most people feel vulnerable when they feel under the weather and many people feel young.

Anyways, I’m getting sick today. I’m not super sick, just kind of sick and mostly cranky sick. I was chatting via Google with my husband a bit, telling him how I felt, and I admitted to him, “I feel like a whiny child right now, sad to say. I just want to curl up in bed and have Mommy bring me some Campbell’s chicken soup. With saltine crackers. How sad is that?” And I had this vivid memory of how my mother would bring me chicken soup with stars (not noodles) and crackers to me on a tray in bed. It was one of the nurturing acts that I could count on from her- she would take care of me when I was sick. I felt loved and taken care of. I had her attention. Being sick was something that she could understand and sympathize with. It’s no wonder that right now I have such a craving for Campbell’s chicken soup.

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I want to throw out something new that I tried yesterday that turned out to be a surprisingly effective way to deal with a flashback. In general, I can’t do much of anything to reduce the impact of a flashback- even if I do my best to ground myself and am madly telling myself over and over, “I am here in my living room in 2013 and no one else is in the house; I am safe,” the part of me that is experiencing the flashback still is fully in that experience. My most successful approach to date has been prevention. I try to reduce my over all level of hyperstimulation, which reduces the likelihood of triggering a flashback in the first place.

When yesterday’s flashback started, I was about a 2 minute drive away from home and I was able to forestall things by saying, “This has to wait until I get into the house, it is just too dangerous otherwise.” In those couple of minutes, I still had shadows of sensations, but not the full impact, so I was able to think a bit about how to take care of myself when I got into the house. I have recently started “dumping” emotions/thoughts/experiences that belong to parts/self states in a journal and it occurred to me to try the same approach with the flashback.

As soon as I walked in the door, I grabbed my journal and sat down, wrapping myself up in a blanket for security, and started to write down the sensations that I was experiencing. I immediately experienced a drop in the intensity of the sensations. I believe that what happened is that I transitioned from experiencing the memories to reporting them. I wrote a few things down, paused, and then I started to write something else down and very briefly, but very intensely experienced it and then it was gone. I had a couple of follow up thoughts that I also recorded and then realized that I was done. I closed the journal and put it away on a shelf. I wish that I had thought to pay attention to the time, but the whole thing couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes, most likely it was no more than 5 minutes. While I was driving home and the whole process first started, my thought was, “Uh, oh, this isn’t material that I am familiar with, it could be a bad one,” so being able to spend the rest of my afternoon doing other things, rather than recovering from a flashback was both unexpected and a huge relief for me.

I can’t readily remember what happened during the most intense part, which is OK with me, because I know that it is written down and I can readily access that information. I know from experience that as soon as I read what I wrote, the details will come flooding back. The information isn’t lost, but it has been contained in a place where it isn’t interfering with my ability to have a life with my family. Most likely, I will remember it in therapy when it’s appropriate, but otherwise, it’s there in writing for me when I need it. Mama Bear and I have tried various imagery for containing memories between sessions to do just this, but I suspect that the added power of physically writing it down, closing the journal, closing the clasp on the journal, and finally placing the journal high up on a shelf that is out of the way is what has made this technique so much more successful.

I cannot remember ever hearing/reading about writing down the details of a flashback while the flashback is occurring. However I do know that during flashbacks, the amygdala goes into overdrive and suppresses the higher brain functions because it perceives your being in a life or death situation at that very moment, rather than that you are reliving a memory of a traumatic situation. I have heard it said that one of the goals of therapy is to engage the frontal cortex, which then allows for a fuller processing of the event and draws you out of simply reliving the trauma over and over. My state of mind changed so significantly when I started to write in the journal that I suspect that I must have done something along those lines. I believe that there were several important components here: 1) I transitioned from being enveloped in the experience to thinking in a more linear fashion, 2) I pulled myself out of a helpless state and actively started to do something that might help myself, 3) I switched from only thinking in terms of sensations and emotions to using language to describe the what I was experiencing, and 4) the act of writing is a fairly complicated one that requires a certain level of concentration. All of these factors require higher brain functions.

I have no idea if writing down what is happening in a flashback would help anyone else, but I wanted to mention the idea, just in case it might spark something that would be useful to someone. I have to say that the next time I feel myself being drawn into a flashback state, I’m going to give it another try. Even if it only works 25% of the time, significantly curtailing reliving a trauma 25% of the time is a big step forward for me!

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Birth of a Super Nova Artist: Ludmila Aristova http://ludmilaaristova.squarespace.com/abstractions/

Birth of a Super Nova
Artist: Ludmila Aristova
http://ludmilaaristova.squarespace.com/abstractions/

I’ve learned something this week. Actually, I’ve learned more than one thing, but I’m going to talk about the fact that I finally got it through my thick skull that when I keep on experiencing the same thing over and over inside, that is what I most need to be talking about in therapy, even if it is something that I desperately want to avoid talking about.

The longer I avoid it, the more persistently I will keep on experiencing it. I can try to deal with it on my own and that used to work somewhat, but it just doesn’t anymore. At the moment, I am desperately in need of an outside witness and that is one thing that I absolutely can’t provide for myself. So, the sad fact is that I have to find my courage, grit my teeth, and figure out how to address issues with Mama Bear that are terrifying/shameful/disgusting/mortifying/horrifying/and whatever other negative adjectives that you can think of.

The healing here precisely is about no longer being alone with whatever it is that brings up these intensely difficult feelings. It involves seeing that another person can hear about internal realities that I want to deny because I am terribly ashamed and for her to react with compassion and understanding, rather than judgement and rejection. It means experiencing someone hearing me say over and over and over just how badly I was hurt as a child and responding with acceptance, support, belief, patience, and love, not abandonment.

I simply can’t do this alone. I have to trust myself to talk about what I am experiencing, especially when I am afraid to talk about it. If I keep on feeling the same body memories over and over, maybe this isn’t the time to do memory work, but maybe I do need to simply say, “I feel X sensations and I have X emotions about it” and I need to know that someone hears me. If I keep on hearing voices say, “He raped me,” then I probably need to talk about how I believe that I was raped with things and I’m just not ready to know anything more right now. If I experience vague memories of lying there, watching something happening, knowing that I have to stay still, maybe I need to talk about how young I feel, the helpless feeling of not being able to move, and how even though I’m remembering feeling small and helpless, in the here and now, I’m not young and helpless.

For whatever reasons, it has been very difficult for me to bring into sessions what my parts are telling me. I have felt as though I couldn’t trust them, because I couldn’t know for sure what is “real” and what isn’t. But the fact of the matter is that I don’t have enough other information to work with for me to do the work that I need to do. What my insides can tell me about my experience is the best that I’m going to do. I can’t trust my parents to give me a clear, unbiased, and full picture. And anyways what my parts believe is real for them. If I ignore the fact that they feel like they were raped, because I have no proof, how will I ever heal? I will still have these festering wounds inside me of parts who believe that they were raped.

I just wish that it wasn’t so difficult to face what I have spent most of a lifetime avoiding. I’m glad that I seem to have an internal compass, telling me where to go next, if I’m just brave enough to use it, but sometimes I wish that someone else could take over being brave for me. At least for a little while.

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I do have something that I can talk about… Mama Bear said the nicest thing to me today that I can remember her ever saying…

We were at the end of the session, when we just talk, but don’t do any real work, so I can have a chance to “tuck back in” any loose parts and ground before I leave her office. I couldn’t help but shake my head and say, “Oy, my family…”

“Are you talking about how much they harm and are harmed by each other?”

I snorted, “Yes.”

She looked intently at me and said, “You do realize just how thoroughly you broke the cycle, don’t you? The buck stopped with you and it will not continue with your daughter. Somehow, you did that and no one else did.”

I nodded my head, “I’ve been thinking about that recently. I know that I can’t protect her completely from being hurt at all though, because I am still hurt and that affects her.”

“No, you can’t prevent all harm.” She smiled gently, “But you have completely messed up your opportunity for her to be harmed anywhere nearly as much as you were. Can you see that?”

I started to tear up, “Yes, that’s something else that I have been thinking about. So many terrible things happened to me before I was 8. She has a secure base now that I never had a chance to develop and I’m not going to let anything destroy that base for her.” Just like nothing can rewrite history for me and give me the childhood that I desperately needed, history also can’t be rewritten for my daughter and nothing can take away the early childhood that gave her what she did need. She isn’t going to come out of this unscathed, but if I have anything to say about it, she is going to come out of it better than OK. “I am so glad that I waited to have her, so I had a hope of being a good mom.”

“I remember when you and your husband brought her in for a session as a baby. I was just so thrilled for so many reasons. You were such a cute little family and I loved seeing you together. You are a good mom, C. And I’m sure that G. has something to say about that. You have come a very long way and you did it yourself.”

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