Archive for August, 2013

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Today has been a day of contrasts…

This morning was actually a very nice morning. I felt as “normal” and contented as I have felt in a long time and we went out to a local festival and had a charming, lovely time. For awhile all felt well with the world and I looked around at the other families and remembered that this is what life can feel like.

But by the time we got home, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t stay awake and fell into a deep sleep for a couple of hours. When I woke up, things were different for me.

I felt so bleeping sick and tired of dealing with everything related to the trauma. It felt like enough to make me just want to scream. Unfortunately, that also translated to being just as sick and tired of dealing with myself. I didn’t quite hate myself, but I was full of self contempt and couldn’t find a scrap of compassion. Everything that I thought about felt self indulgent, attention seeking, and pathetic.

Then I was reminded that Mama Bear has asked me to start reading “The Mindful Way through Depression” from the beginning again. So I read chapter one again. For the third time. Or maybe the fourth. And it made me think about the way that my negative self thoughts and emotions were reinforcing each other. I couldn’t make it all go away, but somehow just taking a bit of a step back and observing what I was doing helped me to disengage enough that I didn’t feel quite so horrible.

And then I was able to pull together dinner for my family and propose a fire outside and making s’mores. I actually found my way back to feeling a bit normal and able to enjoy being with the two people I love the most.

But by the time my daughter went to bed, I was a mixed up welter of emotions- anger, grief, confusion, resentment, shame, and who knows what else… I don’t seem to be able to think in a straight enough line to be able to really figure out exactly what any of those emotions are related to. It’s all just swirling around and around. And I’m back to being so very, very impatient with myself for not being able to handle all of this any better.

Maybe tomorrow will be a bit more clear.

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Artist: Rob Harrell

Artist: Rob Harrell

OK, so I know that I dissociate. And I know that dissociation basically is a disconnection of experiences. And I have been aware of how it is difficult for me to identify internal sensations. Over time I have been working on experiencing myself as having some solidity, which is slowly getting better as I practice mindfulness and grounding techniques. But this morning, it struck me that it goes beyond not feeling fully solid; I don’t experience my body as my own. I don’t mean it in a psychological sense of feeling as though it belongs to my abusers (although I do struggle with that issue as well), but rather as a physical day to day experience.

For instance, this morning, I was looking at my arm and when I touched it with my other hand I realized that the experience was as if there was one arm and then, separately, there was another arm. Both of the arms seem to travel up and connect to some sort of vague something. I “know” that they are connected to me, but I don’t experience them as being pieces of me. When I thought about it, I realized that the same sort of thing was true for my legs, but broken down a bit more. My thighs are separate, but they attach to my calves and feet, and then they also attach to a vague something, instead of my torso. Those body parts are there, but I’m lacking a sense of continuity with them; it’s as if it’s too overwhelming to experience them as belonging to the same body. Each body part seems entirely separate from each other, rather than being parts of a single whole.

Thinking about this and trying to figure out whether the body parts feel as though they are mine at all, I experience a conflicted internal reality. I think that some internal parts may have memories associated with certain body parts and so won’t accept ownership of those body parts. I also believe that some aspects of me have a harder time accepting that I have a body at all, while a few actually enjoy having a body some of the time.

And then there is my torso… For the most part, my torso seems to be “no man’s land” and thinking too much about any any portion of it as being mine is threatening enough as to start to bring on a headache and make me want to start to cry.

Actually, there is a difference here. I have realized that intellectually, I know that these body parts are mine. I can look in the mirror and see my whole body and I know that it belongs to me. But I just cannot experience my body parts as being parts of me.

Within me there is a part that is furious that I have a body and that I can feel physical sensations. It wants to destroy my body. No, not just destroy it, but obliterate it, so that there is no chance of feeling anything again. When I first recognized this part a month or so ago, the intensity of the rage and the desire to utterly destroy my body frightened me. Not because I thought that there was chance that I would harm myself that way, but simply because I had never experienced such a powerfully dark side within myself. Now, I can feel the terror that this part carries underneath the rage, and I can experience her as a frightened child who just wants to make the bad stuff go away, rather than a major destructive force. This part doesn’t even understand that destroying my body would mean killing the whole me. She doesn’t want for all of me to die, she just wants to know that she is safe from ever being hurt that badly again.

And not being able to experience my body parts as mine is a different facet of the same fear. The fear that if I own my body and someone does something horrible to me, then I won’t be able to survive experiencing it. But by living the way that I am right now, I am cut off from a large part of what I could experience of life. The irony of this is that tactile sensation may actually be my most vivid sense. Or maybe that is exactly why it causes so many problems; when I allow myself to really connect to the tactile information that is coming in, especially when I am out in nature, it’s almost like putting the world into technicolor as opposed to sepia.

Realistically, whether I have managed to integrate ownership of my body and the sensations I feel or if I remain just as dissociated from my body, if by some chance I should be assaulted, trapped, and physically violated, my mind will revert to dissociation as a defense mechanism. Experiencing myself physically in the now isn’t going to take that last resort protective ability away from me. And there is nothing in my day to day life that is horrible for me to experience, so it really is safe for me to have a body now. It wasn’t when I was little and there was nothing that I could do to physically get myself away from what was happening. Not experiencing myself as owning my body was the better alternative then, but that was then and today I live in a very different now.

I feel so much grief over the fact that I have these parts that are either terrified to have a body or loathe my body simply because it feels. Part of me knows that there is joy to be had in having a body. But first, I need to help these parts of me that desperately want nothing to do with my body.

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OK, this is going to just be some blathering “out loud” to try to see if I can start to figure out what I think/feel would be right. I’m also hoping for some feedback (please be kind to me!)

I think that one of the quandaries faced by trauma survivors is “How much do I tell my child(ren)?” and “When do I tell them?” We all want to protect our children, but we all know that if we are in an active phase of the healing process, there are daily signs that something is very wrong.

Even though I did not specialize in counseling children, I do know that if something is wrong in the family and the child has no idea what is wrong, he/she most likely will wrongly conclude that he/she is the source of the problem somehow. So when I went back into therapy and things started to become difficult for me, I knew that I had to say something to my daughter. This was right around her 7th birthday, so I kept it very simple: my grandfather had hurt me when I was a child and while physical hurts from that long ago, sometimes “heart hurts” are much harder to heal. I was working with Mama Bear to try to heal so my heart wouldn’t hurt so much. This was back when I was commuting 2 hours each way to therapy and on one family trip to the city my therapist was in, my daughter and I went to have juice and cookies with Mama Bear in her office, so she could meet Mama Bear and things would be a bit less mysterious to her. (Well, OK, Mama Bear also was dying to see her, since she had last seen her as a baby.)

That all worked for then, but she is older and more sophisticated now, and this has been going on for almost two years. She is smart and has noticed the lack of contact with my parents. But she doesn’t ask me questions, because she knows that while I will answer questions about most anything, there is a lot here that isn’t age appropriate and so I won’t tell her. But I can see the questions in her eyes some times.

I am at a loss right now as to whether to say anything more now. If not now, then when? I can’t just wait for her to ask, because I had to stop the questions back when she was an overly inquisitive 7 year old who had no clue that there were some things that she really didn’t want to know about. I think that she is starting to understand that there are terrible things in the world, but she still doesn’t really get it. And I just can’t see that it would in any way be good for her to learn that by being told that her mom was terrorized, never mind brutalized by mom’s grandfather.

Of course, there is a whole range of detail between “heart hurt” and “rape.” So do I include the fact that my grandfather touched me sexually during one of the times we are talking about safe touch and how important it is for her to not only feel able to say no, but that I want for her to feel safe to tell me if anything should happen? Or not? Would that just be a burden for her to carry? I don’t want to burden her and leave her feeling that she needs to take care of me. I already battle the care taking tendency in her.

So, I think that I have concluded that I leave it be for now. But one thing that I don’t want to have happen is to have her get to well past the age when she could have handled knowing and then find out somehow. (I’m thinking late teenage years or older.) First of all, I don’t want for it to become a shameful secret. Secondly, I don’t want for her to feel hurt that I didn’t trust her or think that she was mature enough to tell her.

Now, she’s 8, turning 9, so it isn’t like she is going to reach that point any time soon. On the other hand, she’s matured an awful lot in the last 2 years, with a lot of that coming in the last 8 months or so. I suspect that in the next year she is going to become far, far more sophisticated than I am ready for her to be. Who knows, maybe her curiosity will overcome her inhibitions about this topic and she will start to ask questions again? I fear that long before I am ready to say something to her, she will be ready to know more.

But, really, what do you tell your child about something like this? What emotions do you allow to show? How do you help them feel safe, even while learning that Very Bad Things happen to people they love?

I just have so many confused, tangled up thoughts about all of this. But maybe if I start trying to sort them out a bit here and there, I will have made more sense out of things by the time my gut says that she is old enough to know more. I hope.

So, thoughts? I would especially welcome experiences from parents. What did you do that worked? What would you have done differently? I know that every child and situation is different, but I would value your hard won experience.

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Artist: Sabin Balasa

Artist: Sabin Balasa

It hit me tonight. Any of the things that I fear happened to me really might have happened. I think that up until now, most of my mind didn’t really think that they could have happened; instead those parts were just trying to be supportive of the traumatized parts that do believe. However, between understanding better and coming to accept that the way that the dissociation worked for me makes sense and having an outside observer validate that there was something disturbingly off in my family when I was in middle school, I’m suddenly left feeling that there is no where to hide. My mind really could have so effectively locked away any or all of the things that I have experienced that seem to be memories. It’s not my imagination- there really was something off with my dad.

But I’m finding that this new understanding is too threatening and I can’t allow it to remain too close without my getting overwhelmed and starting to dissociate, so instead it is like I have to place it in the middle of the table in a room in my mind. I can walk around that table and examine it from all sides and slowly learn to tolerate being near it. I can spend as much time in or out of the room as I need to. Eventually I will be able to pick it up and make use of that understanding.

I can’t help but want to swear a whole string of cuss words though. This is real. #$@%^&&$$#@^$^# This is real!!! How can this be real?!?

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One of the questions that I have been troubled by for decades is “Is it really possible that I could have so effectively dissociated the abuse that when I entered adulthood I had no memory at all of being abused?” It just seemed impossible that I could have blocked it out so well that nothing started to leak through until after I was married.

This question was one of the things that I was bold enough to ask Mama Bear about in the letter I mentioned in Struggles with Transference- Part 1. I had been avoiding asking it for ages, I think because I was afraid of what either answer would mean. But I’m at a point where I want to put to rest whatever I can, both so I am not distracted from the really difficult work and because I deserve to have whatever relief I can.

We spent a bit of time looking at this question in today’s session and Mama Bear said, yes, even in cases where there aren’t completely separate alters, it is possible to dissociate so completely that large chunks of memory which contain the abuse are blocked out. She talked about how the fear related to severe physical or psychological harm could cause that much dissociation. She then mentioned that there may also be a strong pressure to have no awareness of the abuse, because that is the only way to maintain important relationships.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach when she said this. Here was the missing piece that I had not been considering. I could understand dissociating the abuse while it was happening or immediately after it, but what could have possibly maintained such an impenetrable shell around the memories for a couple of decades? Here was my answer: it was the need to preserve my relationship with my mother. I still am frozen by the fear that I cannot have my mother and also be honest about the abuse, even though I am no longer dependent upon her and haven’t even seen her for a year and a half. When I had been dependent upon her, it would have been beyond unthinkable for me to do anything to risk that relationship. I could not have allowed myself to know something that would have torn the family apart, because I have always feared that she would choose my father over me.

And suddenly things make sense to me. The idea that the fear alone had maintained that level of dissociation just didn’t ring true for me. My guess is that the danger of being physically harmed had vanished long before I left for college. But I would have done anything to maintain my relationship with my mother. I recognized that in Struggles with Tranference- Part 2. So, yes, I would have bent myself into whatever dissociative pretzel was necessary in order to preserve my relationship with my mother.

And when you take into account that it was after I got married that things started to leak through, then the relationship component makes even more sense. In fact, it was on our honeymoon that the emotional flashbacks really started to come through while we were making love, so as soon as I was certain that I had someone else in my life that I could rely on, the barriers started to come down.

I think that I can finally let this go and realize that completely dissociating the abuse for that long is not a far fetched idea. In fact, it is what makes the most sense in my situation.

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