Archive for October, 2013

Artist- Noriko Endo

Artist- Noriko Endo

As I have said before, I am currently learning about mindfulness and practicing meditation and it seems to be helpful. It has been helpful with the progress of my therapy, but I think that it also is just plain useful in terms of life quality. One of the things that has become increasingly obvious to me is just how much of my life I have drifted through. Even though I come from a very long lived family, I most likely have lived past the half way point of the active part of my life. I feel as though I have missed so much and I want for that to stop.

Over the last few weeks, I have started to notice more of the details of my life, to my delight. Yesterday I played a game with my family that has some lovely artwork and previously I had thought, “What nice art work” but I had never really looked at it. I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t really looked at it until I started to be surprised by some of the details that I observed!

On the last few walks in the woods, I have found the variety of textures and colors in the forest to be astounding. In fact, the experience was almost overwhelming, when I added in the smells and sounds and feel of the damp, cool air.

With all of this in mind, I was struck by the following quote when I read it tonight and I wanted to share it:

In this way, little by little, moment by moment, life can slip by without us being fully here for it. Always preoccupied with getting somewhere else, we are hardly ever where we actually are and attentive to what is actually unfolding in this moment. We imagine we’ll be happy only when we get somewhere else, wherever and whenever that may be. Then we’ll have “time to relax.” So we postpone our happiness, rather than opening to the quality of the experience we’re having right now. As a consequence, we may miss the quality of the unfolding moments in our day, just as we missed doing the dishes and drinking the coffee. If we are not careful, we may actually miss most of our life in this way.

– The Mindful Way Through Depression

The first time or two I read this, I thought to myself, “That’s easy to say when you’re avoiding normal, everyday unpleasantness, but this trauma stuff is just so overwhelming and it isn’t that simple!” But the more I think about it and the more I learn to be in the moment, I can see that it really can be that simple when dealing with trauma. If a person can step out of being drawn through trigger cycle after trigger cycle and create a bit of space in her life, then she can start to have more normal, every day experiences. And the more that she is aware of the solidity of her current experiences, the easier it is to resist being triggered. So, in fact, developing this ability is especially important when dealing with trauma.

This mindfulness stuff is useful! I’m still tottering along trying to figure it out and barely able to make use of it, but the bits and pieces that do make sense are making a difference. If even the bits and pieces are giving me tools that I have never had so I feel less at the mercy of whatever my brain might throw at me, I wonder what will happen as I more deeply understand it and incorporate it into my life?

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Diane Wright

Diane Wright

“Over all, things are going OK for me. I’m getting things done in the house that have needed to be done since we moved in; I’m taking my daughter out to do things; I’m engaging my husband more. But there is a part of me that is so caught up in thoughts that I am bad and should be punished and don’t deserve to be alive. There is a sense of being screaming angry at myself and wanting to tear myself to shreds. However, I do know that it isn’t the now me who feels/thinks these things. Why is this coming up so frequently now?”

This is the bulk of an e-mail that I sent to Mama Bear last week. I was bewildered to observe myself swinging back and forth between behaving more like the functional me and the me that feels terribly self destructive. How could I be so contented most of the time but then suddenly find myself telling myself that I shouldn’t be alive? It felt just crazy!

I could tell that when I was in the more functional/better able to connect with my family mode, I was largely acting from the fuller me, and when I was inundated with self destructive thoughts and urges, those were the experiences of younger parts. Even though the negative emotions were so strong that they were all I could feel at that time, I could differentiate and tell that it was just a subset of me that was immersed in the self hatred, while a larger portion of me was trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. But I still was bewildered by what was going on.

In the past, I have only had thoughts of ending my life when I have gone through periods of deep despair and long stretches where I felt overwhelmed and in terrible pain. It really hasn’t come up very often, so the fact that it has been coming up every two to three weeks over the last couple of months is noteworthy and alarming to me. What in the world am I doing wrong to create this response in myself?!?

Mama Bear has suggested that I’m not doing anything wrong at all. I have been going through a phase over the last several weeks where I have become more activated, both internally and externally. I am taking action on my behalf and contemplating taking long avoided action with my parents. When I was young, I could not afford to do that and my system may have learned to take drastic measures to freeze any impulses to rebel against my parents. Because that’s exactly what these self destructive thoughts tend to do. All of the energy that was going into anything else is diverted to deal these thoughts of self harm and that I don’t deserve to live and the attached emotional distress.

Mama Bear says that during this period I am going to have to be extra alert for when young parts of me become distressed as I start to claim and use for the power that I can have. I need to be prepared that they may show that distress in ways that are very uncomfortable for me and remember that the resulting actions and/or feelings are not really a sign that I have lost all of the ground that I have painfully gained. The more prepared I am to be supportive of these frightened and upset parts, the better I will be able to keep things from getting out of hand.

Great. I can probably look forward to this happening again. But maybe next time I can take a bit of a step back and look at it with a bit more understanding and compassion. “OK, I’ve been doing X and it seems that X has freaked out parts of me. I know that X is safe enough to do, but these parts don’t understand that yet. I need to help hold them with the knowledge that I don’t need to panic, I really am OK, and I am not in danger right now.”

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Caryl Bryer Fallert Migration #2

Caryl Bryer Fallert
Migration #2

These last several days have been challenging for me, but not in a way that I am used to. I’m doing much better than I have been for many months. I am at least mostly present more of the time, able to enjoy more activities with my family, starting to think about things that I might want to do for myself, and just plain not in pain a good portion of the time. Dare I say it? I’ve even felt happy some of the time!

So what’s challenging about that? Unfortunately, I’m not only doing reasonably well, I am also experiencing periods that are just as painful/frightening/flashbacky as they have been in the past, and sometimes it seems that there is no transition time from doing well to experiencing terror. I have spent the last week and a half or so feeling as though I am being buffeted back and forth between different states, out of control. It has played havoc with my memory, because I am bouncing between different states and not able to sustain a sense of continuity between them. Suddenly I will feel like a frightened child and then I will get distracted and 10 minutes later I will feel like a calm adult and not have a clue as to both why I got frightened and what happened to calm me down again.

In the same e-mail to Mama Bear, I will rationally tell her that I don’t understand what is going on inside but there is so much energy that it feels like something is going to explode and it is making me feel off balance, and then I will plaintively tell her “I am just so scared,” not asking her to, but wishing that she could just make it all better. I simply couldn’t make any sense of what was going on or why it was making me feel like things were so terribly wrong, when as far as I could tell there wasn’t anything that was so wrong.

And then last night I finally realized that it was the contrast between doing well and having real difficulties that was distressing me so much. I was used to being in terrible pain, dissociating all of the time, and being only partially functional. I hate the way that it feels, but at least it’s something that I’ve gotten used to. I know what feeling OK feels like and I could deal with that just fine. However, going back and forth between them several times a day was a different story all together. It was driving me crazy- literally making me feel crazy. For the last couple of days, it felt as though it had gotten to the point where I was so disoriented that it was like the mental equivalent of being in the mirror room at a carnival.

But something shifted during my session today. I’m not quite sure what or where, because it was one of those quiet sessions where when I look back, I see that a surprising amount of ground ended up being covered.

I brought up how sometimes when I am having a difficult time and I badly need help feeling safe, it seems that I reach for the part of me that generally can help me feel safe and I just can’t find that part. Mama Bear reminded me that sometimes all I can do is know that I know that I am safe, even if I can’t feel it at all. She has said this before, but it hasn’t ever made sense to me. When I stared at her doubtfully, she said, “You don’t understand what I am saying, do you? I am sure that you can know that you know that you are safe, because you talked about reaching for the part who can help you feel safe.” I sat there for a bit, struggling with the concept, feeling as though it was bending my mind into odd shapes, but then it started to make sense. I’m still not clear on what good it does to know it without feeling it, but I will trust Mama Bear that keeping a hold on that knowledge is better than just trying to white knuckle it through being scared.

We talked about my difficulties with going back and forth between doing OK and not and I could see that Mama Bear really got what I was saying. It was a relief to hear someone say, “Oh, it makes perfect sense that this is what has been going on for you!”

I told her about the things that I have picked up from the mindfulness reading that are making a difference for me: 1) being aware of when I am tensing up, because it actually creates a feedback loop between the body and the brain, increasing the sense of being under threat and 2) starting to become aware of when I am beginning to go down a well worn path that won’t do me any good and realizing that sometimes I can make a choice to not go down that path, but rather to feel my body sink into the now.

At some point while we were talking, I started to feel sad and like crying. Mama Bear encouraged me to cry, if that was what felt right and I started to, but then I felt overwhelmed by fear and the sadness was drowned out. I remember sitting there with the fear, not allowing myself to retreat into it and thinking to myself how difficult it was to tolerate it. And then somehow, I was through it. We talked about how I can hold myself in the knowledge that I am in a safe time and place and allow myself to feel whatever the emotion is that is there for me to feel. I do not need to be afraid of the emotions. She emphasized that this is why the mindfulness is so important, because as I practice it more, I will be better able to do it. “I can already see that you are starting to integrate some of the mindfulness practices, because of how you were just able to handle the fear and that you were able to bring yourself back so quickly.” My thought was, “Great! Now if only I understood what I just did!” But I guess that I must understand it in some part of my brain, even if it isn’t the part that I’m most aware of and I guess that will have to be good enough.

About an hour after I got home from my session, I became aware of a lot of emotional pain. Without really thinking it out, I made my way over to my glider rocker, curled up in it, and drew a blanket around myself. As I started to cry, I was aware of a split, there was the me who was experiencing tremendous amounts of pain and then there was the me who was cradling the rest of me in the knowledge that I am safe right now. Eventually I wasn’t just crying, but I was making these sounds that I don’t really know how to name- wailing or howling maybe. But they expressed pure, unrestrained pain from the very center of me. They are the sort of sounds that I am afraid to make in Mama Bear’s office because I know that other people in the building would hear them and find them distressing. But today I was able to help myself find a sense of safety even in the midst of that pain. My hope is that I have both gained a bit more confidence in my ability to remain supportively present for myself in the face of difficult emotions and that I have helped the part of me who holds that pain experience how despite the pain of then, there is safety in the now.

I couldn’t help but notice the unjustness of the fact that I spent so much time struggling with a lot of fear earlier in the day, so I could then go home and be able to tolerate experiencing unbelievably intense pain. All because of something that I had no control over that happened decades ago. It does no good to dwell on it, so I won’t, but every once in a while, it really strikes me how completely unjust this whole thing is.

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Elizabeth Barton

Elizabeth Barton

This morning I tried to do a body scan meditation and about 5 minutes into it I became more and more aware of my legs, despite the fact that my attention was supposed to be on my head/neck area. I kept on bringing my attention back to the proper body area and it was immediately drawn back to my legs and each time I was aware of increased intensity in my legs. They didn’t hurt, but a huge amount of energy kept on building in them, and I started to find it impossible to keep them still. I repeatedly did what I was “supposed” to do and refocused my attention on the upper portion of my body, until I realized that I may have decided to do the body scan and the instructions might be telling me to focus on my head, but starting to pay attention to my body had made me aware that my body had another need.

It would not be acting in the spirit of mindfulness to ignore what my body was crying out to me: I intensely felt the need to strike out- to kick and hit and flail. I was on my bed and at home alone, and there really isn’t a safer place for me to do it, so I stopped inhibiting those actions and just let my body have at it.

I didn’t think about anything or anyone in particular while I was striking out, I just let my body do it and let myself feel my body’s actions. The physicality of tearing away the blankets and freeing myself of them and then kicking and beating at them was a relief for me. I tend to keep so much tightly controlled and inside and for once it was safe to just let go. I wasn’t worried that I would become too scared and retreat into a traumatized child state, which is what keeps me from doing this more often. I didn’t have to worry about alarming anyone or anyone judging me. I could simply be– kicking and hitting for as long and hard as it felt right for me. And when I started to wail out my anger, grief, and pain as I was beating on the bed, that was OK, too. Before long, I stopped hitting and kicking and transitioned to just crying and moaning. Through this entire process, I didn’t think any clear thoughts other than to figure out what I needed to do to stay out of the way of what I was experiencing and processing. But at the very end, as the crying eased, I felt small and as I rolled over onto my back, I felt a part of my reaching up to be picked up, like a very small child.

I thought about what had happened and realized that I never could have so completely let down my guard and just let myself do what I needed to do with anyone present, not even Mama Bear. The expectation that I would be punished or ridiculed goes so deep that despite being reassured over and over and being shown that it is safe to show my anger to Mama Bear, these parts who still feel the need to fight back aren’t willing to really allow themselves to experience doing so in front of her.

And then I had a strange thought. I thought something along the lines of, “I don’t want for Mama Bear to know, because she could use this to harm me.” I was startled to ‘hear’ myself think that and my immediate response was, “When has she ever used anything that she knows about me to harm me in any way? Never. I had to have thought that for a reason that has nothing to do with Mama Bear.” And then I was struck by the thought that my father would use what he knew/understood about me to hurt me. That concept took my breath away and I started to cry. I wanted to deny it and realized that I couldn’t. I don’t let him close to me now, and he doesn’t have a lot of current information to use that way, so my examples go back to high school when I last lived with him. He knew what I was passionate about, so he would make fun of it and then say that I didn’t have a sense of humor when I got upset. He knew which boy I really cared about from among the ones I was close friends with, so when that boy was invited over for dinner, my dad so intimidated the boy that he never even tried to kiss me, even though he cared enough that he was upset when I married someone else 6 years later. He set a situation up that artificially strained my mother’s trust in me and infuriated me because it was petty and I had proven repeatedly that I was just about the most trustworthy teen around. I am sure that there were many, many more things that simply were a part of the fabric of my life and didn’t stand out enough for me to remember. No single thing was huge, but over and over he used what he understood about me to chip away at my self esteem, self confidence, self worth, and meaningful relationships.

It’s no wonder that I have trouble letting people get close to me. I was trained to expect that they would use what they learned about me to hurt me.

When I first realized this morning what my father had done, I quickly had the thought, “Well, all teens think that their parents have it out for them.” Once I made myself think about it a bit, I realized that the argument held no water: most teens moan and groan about their parents having it out for them, but if the relationship is healthy enough, at heart they know that their parents really want what’s best for them and eventually they come around to admitting it. In my case, I stubbornly insisted to everyone that my relationship with my parents was perfect until I was in my mid 20’s and the abuse memories started to leak out. It’s only now, when I’m in my 40’s that I can admit that he used what he knew about me to hurt me.

I’ve been saying all along that he did these things that harmed me in various ways, but he didn’t really understand what he was doing. I have needed to think that he couldn’t have known that he was doing things that hurt me and yet kept on doing them. And most especially, I have needed to believe that he wasn’t deliberately hurting me. But this is one too many things and I am no longer so certain. I really don’t know what to think. Is it really possible to keep on saying just the right thing to wound your daughter without being aware that you are doing so? Could someone really be that oblivious? But if he understood some of what he was doing, how could my mother have let him?

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Artist- Thea Penna

Artist- Thea Penna

I think that a part of me is angry at Mama Bear. I’m pretty sure that she knows it too, because she keeps on asking me if I am having any reactions to her that she should know about. A few things have come up, but anger definitely isn’t one of them. Last session she went a bit further and reminded me that it’s when I don’t talk with her about my reactions to her that I have problems. I kind of wondered a time of two during the session if I wasn’t glaring at her, because my face felt like it was, but I didn’t actually feel angry. When I vaguely wondered if a part was angry, I quickly put that thought aside. Given that she was asking me to deal with my feelings about my dad and that’s just about the last thing that I want to do, I guess that it makes an odd sort of sense that at some level I would feel angry at her.

But at the same time, this sort of irrational thinking just drives me crazy. The woman is doing her job. She is doing her best to help me. She isn’t hurting me. She never has hurt me intentionally. Yes, she is pushing me in ways that are very painful, but she has no wish to cause me pain. In fact she wants to help me move forward to a place where I won’t be caught in so much pain. But in order to do that, right now she is asking me to feel feelings about my dad that I have been avoiding all of my life. So much of me is confused: “If she really cares about me, how can she ask me to do something that feels like it could tear my world apart?” The problem is that those young parts don’t yet understand that while feeling the feelings when I was a child would have torn my world apart then, feeling the feelings now will hurt like hell, my world is too solid in the present and it won’t crumble.

This all means that I get to let these young parts march into Mama Bear’s office on Wednesday and say to her, “I’ve realized that I’m angry at you because you keep on asking me to do things that hurt and frighten me. And I hate being hurt and frightened.” Then I will try to resist the urge to continue and explain that I understand the reasons that she’s doing it, that I know that she doesn’t actually want to hurt me, and that I understand that it’s a reaction that doesn’t really make sense. Instead I will wait to see how she responds. I wasn’t allowed to get angry while I was growing up, so maybe I need to express my feelings of anger now even when they don’t make sense. I need to see how reasonable people respond when they are shown a manageable amount of anger, because I simply don’t know what it should look like.

Of course, I don’t even know if I will be able to access any of that anger once I get into Mama Bear’s office! We will see what Wednesday brings…

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