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Archive for April, 2014

From Nothing Terrance Osborne

From Nothing
Terrance Osborne

The way that I experience my parts has been changing lately and I need to write about it, in hopes that I might develop more of an understanding of what is going on. I would be very interested in knowing how my experiences are similar and/or different from those of you who also deal with having parts, if any of you would be willing to share.

First off, I want to be clear that I see my internal parts as all being parts of me. Sometimes I may forget this basic fact because I can experience them as feeling quite separate from me and often my language will sound as though I think of the parts as being separate individuals because of the limitations of language, but I do believe that they are me. It’s a weird experience though, because it often feels like a “we” within “me.”

I know that I have some sort of an internal system, but just what form it takes is a mystery to me. It’s as though I see movement behind a curtain and sometimes someone pops out and interacts with me, so I see parts of the system, but I simply don’t have the big picture. While I have a handful of parts that are very consistent and I can easily identify, I generally am not clear if the part that I am dealing with is one that I have dealt with before and if so, who they are. I don’t know if that’s because I have a system that keeps on reshuffling itself and creating new parts to deal with whatever situation I am trying to process (and then letting go of that part when no longer needed), or if these actually are discrete, consistent parts and I just can’t tell them apart yet. So far, the ones that I can consistently identify all have to do with a particular age (ie, 3, 6, 12). There are others that consistently come up in the same sorts of situations (like the one who tries to keep me from speaking), but I don’t get a strong sense of self from these others.

What has been changing for me is that I am starting to be able to differentiate the different parts more easily, even if I can’t actually identify them. Mama Bear says that this is because I am no longer so phobic of them and the internal communication has increased, so I can “hear” them better. It’s as if my parts always had to scream in order to be able to be heard before, but I’m starting to be able to hear more of the conversation, not just the screaming. That’s starting to create some odd experiences for me.

Today was a prime example. I had a session today and I went in there with my system in an uproar. In fact, for the previous 3 1/2 days, I had constantly been somewhat in one dissociative child state or another. When started to drive to my session, I had to stop because I realized that a child part was driving. I reassured that part that she would have time during the session, but I still had to “pull” her back during the entire drive (which thankfully is only 5 minutes.) The entire session was a struggle for me to at least retain dual awareness of both me in 2014 as well as the dissociative part. I have had sessions like that before, where I feel as though I keep on being pulled back into a dissociative part, but up until now I either have only dealt with one part at a time that I could identify or it’s only felt like “unidentified dissociative child state.” Well, today I experienced the parts as being distinctive. I could feel how my facial expressions changed, my movements changed, my body sense changed, what motivated me clearly changed, as well as something that I can’t identify. I can count being in 5 distinct states during the session and my mind won’t go to the middle part of the session, so there might even be more.

At one point, I managed to say to Mama Bear, “How many different states am I going to go through in one session?” Her response, “I don’t know, but obviously a lot.” I didn’t have a chance to confirm this with her, but I think that she was seeing the shifting more clearly than she normally does, as well. I know that she saw exactly when 3 of the shifts happened, because she asked me, “What just happened?” each time. What I don’t know is if the switching between parts was more obviously happening than normal or if it simply was more clear to me that she was seeing it.

I seem to be having more of this mysterious “internal communication” between multiple parts and myself that I have heard about. For example, bed time has been an ongoing problem for me over the last couple of years. Sometimes I manage to get myself pretty well on track, but then I always get way out of whack again. I haven’t been able to figure out how to solve the problem, largely because I haven’t been able to figure out why I am so persistently bad about this when it obviously causes me problems. I have come up with possible reasons, but none of them seemed to lead me to a solution. Well, a few nights ago, I once again asked myself the question “why is this such a problem for me?” and I suddenly understood that it has been such an intractable problem because different parts of me have different needs/desires in regards to going to bed. As odd as it sounds, I think that some parts of me go to sleep before the rest of me does, some parts are terrified of going to sleep (to make things more complicated, they are scared for different reasons), at least one part just likes to be awake after everyone else has gone to bed, and another part thinks that I should be punished by not taking care of myself. I think that I am going to have to deal with all of those issues all together, if I am going to be able to solve the sleep problem. I can’t deal with it as a single issue problem or deal with it as if it is just “my” problem, because it is a problem that the greater me is struggling with. At least I now have some understanding of what is going on, so I have a hope of making progress.

Another example: In the past, I have been completely unwilling to “gather together” multiple parts and try to “talk” with them at the same time. There are techniques for doing this that Mama Bear has introduced, but none of my parts were willing to show up, so we abandoned the idea. I say that I was “unwilling”, but it’s more complicated than that. Cognitively, I could see that it was a good idea and might very well help things, so I wanted to try it, but in reality I was scared stiff of dealing more directly with my parts at that point. This was before I was anywhere near accepting that my dad had abused me and I knew that I did not want to know what my parts had to tell me. Well, a couple of days ago, a part of me was terrified to go to bed. I had been trying for an hour and a half to get myself to bed with no success and it was 2:30 AM. This child part was shaking and begging to sleep in the floor in the living room and even too afraid to go into the bedroom to just grab my pillow and a blanket. I knew that she was afraid of being assaulted by my father and having my husband in the same bed feels scary, however sleeping on the floor was not something that was going to go well. So I called my parts together and asked their help in getting this scared little one calmed down enough so I could get myself into bed. It worked. I shook all of the way into the bedroom and until I went to sleep (thankfully my medication makes me sleepy and helps that along), but, with the help of the rest of me, I got myself into my bed.

I’m not sure where this is going, but I think that these are all signs of increased strength within my system. In fact, I think that they are signs that the dissociative barriers are starting to weaken. It hadn’t ever occurred to me that the point when I might experience my dissociative parts the most clearly might be as (and because) the dissociation was starting to lessen. It’s nice to be able to look at this whole experience with curiosity and a wish to understand for a change, rather than fear and the need deny/push away the parts.

I really would like to hear what other people’s experiences have been like, both where they are similar to and different from mind, so please share, if you are willing to!

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City of Windows Jeanette Meyer

City of Windows
Jeanette Meyer

Today, I don’t want to be together. I don’t want to be reasoned or mature. I just want to sit here and cry. That child that I remember being abused, she now is me. It happened to me. That’s me in those memories. My God, that is me… How can it be me?

And the crazy thing is that I’m sitting here, hating this, but at the same time I know that I’m better off knowing and feeling that it’s me.

It will get easier, right? Really feeling these feelings? Really knowing at an emotional level that the child in the memories is a part of the whole of who I am?

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Walking Through Time X Sue Benner

Walking Through Time X
Sue Benner

I have spent the last few days in a haze of pain and fear. You see, during the previous session, while in a very young child state, I told Mama Bear about a type of abuse that my dad did to me when I was three. It was an important step for me to reveal that part of me to Mama Bear, never mind to name a type of abuse that I have never been able to say out loud. Unfortunately, it inevitably left me in a vulnerable state, even though Mama Bear did her best to try to enlist the help of my parts in keeping things contained until our next session.

Part of the problem was that I received word of my paternal grandmother’s death that evening, which completely unsettled me. There is no grief, only relief that she is dead, but it still was difficult news to receive, especially when I learned that my parents waited over 2 weeks to tell me. I’m sure that there is some message and power game in there from my dad, but I’m not playing along. Still, it just reinforced my understanding of how I constantly dealt with this sort of crap from my dad while I was growing up. I was so vulnerable to him in so many ways and so confused by how he treated me.

Unfortunately, I spent the next four days more or less in a blended state with this 3 year old part who was in a state of terror much of the time. There are some good things to be said about it, even though it was a thoroughly miserable experience. In the past, I simply would have been sucked into the child state and have been hardly aware of the here and now. This time, I was more than half way in the here and now, although I also was strongly experiencing the world as that frightened, small child. That dual awareness allowed me to retain some sense of safety most of the time. I also was able to “observe” what was going on with me in the child state and eventually realized that this part of me felt trapped and was desperate to cry out to someone, “Help me! Save me!”

In the past I would have simply have turned into a quivering mass of terrified child. I might have called Mama Bear in desperation (if I was capable of reaching out) or I may simply have gritted my teeth and rocked myself in my rocking chair until my next session. Instead, I managed to remain somewhat in the here and now, so I was able to function in my family life and I found a clue as to help this part of me. So progress. That’s good news!

So, my session this morning… I went in feeling that child part’s terror and little else, even though I was aware that it was a memory of terror, not actually my current emotion and as we exchanged our greetings and I settled, I realized that I was going to have to deal with the feeling.

Mama Bear knew from an email that this part of me was struggling to say something, but it kept on being lost in gibberish, so she started out with, “I would like to invite this part to tell us if there is something that we- both you and me working together- can do to help her feel safe enough to share what she wants to share. It isn’t a demand, this is an invitation, and only if she wants to.”

I sat there, thinking a bit about what she said, but mostly just trying to breathe and see if I could help to bring down the fear level a bit, so I could think more clearly. “There is so much fear there. It’s like there isn’t room for anything else at the moment and I won’t be able to get any work done until I can bring it down a bit.” I thought of all of the times that I had tried to push through such strong feelings of fear without much useful coming of it and realized that it was better to give myself a few more moments to take in the calm of the office and Mama Bear’s supportive presence and let those help to bring it to a tolerable level. And I slowly felt as though the fog lifted and I could think again.

We talked about comfort and how much this child part needed comfort. “What do you think might be comforting to her?” Mama Bear asked.

I sat there on the love seat, completely aware of the blanket that was draped over the arm. “She needs for someone to hold her.” And then in the child part, I grabbed the blanket and clutched it to me. After a second, the adult part of me took it and spread it over me, tucking it around me, allowing me in the child state to curl up against the pillows as if I was cuddling up against someone. It is an odd sensation soaking in the sense of being comforted, soothed, loved, and being held in compassion, when you know that you are the one that it providing those things to yourself. It sounds like it should be artificial, but wasn’t forced or planned in any way. Instead, it was a profoundly healing experience for me. I deeply went into the experience and at one point Mama Bear checked with me, “Are you dissociating? Or are you comforting?” I nodded when she said comforting, thinking to myself, “Of course I’m in a dissociative state! I’m experiencing the comfort as a young child!”

And then it was as though this figure that I imagined holding and comforting me gently touched me, “He hurt you here and here, didn’t he?” I first felt frightened, but because the touch came from an intense desire to heal, the young part relaxed and sighed in relief. Someone was finally talking about the fact that it physically hurt. Someone was saying the unsayable. It really is OK to talk about even the embarrassing and gross parts of what happened.

Soon after that, Mama Bear called me back to the room and asked me to talk about what happened as I was able to. I described what I experienced about being comforted, hesitated, and then told her about how I imagined the figure acknowledging that I was hurt physically.

She looked at me with so much compassion, “This is what you needed as a child, isn’t it?”

I nodded, “It’s exactly what I needed. I so very much needed for someone to hold and protect me! I needed to be able to say, ‘My Daddy is hurting me!’ But I couldn’t! I needed for someone to hear me!”

I paused, realized how I had felt Mama Bear there with me the whole time, and looked at her, “But you do hear me, don’t you?”

She smiled sadly, “Yes, and I’ve been hearing you for a long time.”

In the past, Mama Bear has provided comfort to me, which was healing and much needed. I am fortunate that Mama Bear is comfortable with touch and willing to use it with clients for whom it is appropriate. I am completely touch oriented and would have felt isolated without the option of holding her hand when I needed to. During my deepest crisis, there were sessions where that was the only thing linking me to the present. I know that I can ask her to come and sit near to me any time I need for her to, but I also know that I need to be able to provide some of that comfort to myself. Today, when she asked me what I needed, if the answer had been for one of us to move, so I was closer to her, that would have been fine and not unusual. She is there when I need her. Today I needed something more, though. I needed to hear myself well enough for me to find the compassion to deeply comfort myself. I needed to take down those barriers inside, at least for awhile.

And so I learn today- some things on a deeper level, others for the first time: I have a voice. I can be heard. I can be comforted. I can both comfort myself and ask for comfort. I don’t have to keep any secrets any more. At least with one person in the world, it’s safe to talk about everything that happened, whenever it seems right for me to talk about it. I can talk about the “icky stuff.” It helps so much to have someone who cares there with me- it helps to give me the courage, strength, and confidence to do what I haven’t been able to do before. I am no longer alone with what happened. Mama Bear believes me and she has believed me, even when I couldn’t believe myself. She hears what I say, even when I can’t bear to really hear it myself. Taking down the barriers inside opens me to emotions that are difficult to live with, but it also allows me to feel more whole. Slowly, bit by bit, I can learn to tolerate really hearing myself and knowing what my experience was.

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Catherine Kleeman

Catherine Kleeman

“If I there was any way that I could have made it work to not accept that my dad abused me, I would have. But it was tearing me apart inside. It felt like it was killing me until I accepted it.”

It was my session today and Mama Bear and I had been talking about my relationship with my mother. I could see that even though I love my mother and I know that she loves me, our love for each other really might not be enough to overcome the problems in our relationship. I don’t want to lie anymore about what happened, but I fear that she can’t take the truth.

I say that I don’t want to lie anymore, and I really don’t, but at the same time, a large part of me would do anything to crush everything to do with my father’s abuse down into a tiny ball that I could hide in a corner and “forget.” I would do that because I am all but convinced that is the only thing that will allow me to have a relationship with my mother.

Mama Bear’s response was, “No one should feel the need to apologize for knowing and saying what her reality is.”

What a painful choice to make, though… Do I value more the chance to have my full self, hope of eventually being whole, to be real, and to heal enough to make the sorts of connections that I want to make with other people, or to have hope of maintaining a relationship with the only person who loved me as a child? The wiser part of me understands that I need to be whole, but the child in me would do anything to keep my mother. After all, my mother is the one who gave me the love that I needed in order to have some corner of me that was healthy enough to make choices when I was a young adult. She didn’t protect me, but she did give me a place where I could feel loved and relatively safe. She was my everything.

Last week, I realized that I have always lived a dual existence, since the abuse started. Some pretty horrible things happened to me as a child and as a result I developed all of the parts of me that took the abuse. At the same time, my mom provided love and I believe that she always has loved me strongly. When I was physically with her, I knew that I was safe. All children are dependent upon their parents, but I was desperately dependent upon her, because it felt like she was the only thing keeping me from a dark abyss. On the other hand, from what I can piece together, I had the strong message from her that she couldn’t take knowing anything about the abuse. She still can’t. She changes the subject and acts like I have said nothing, when I even make a reference to being in therapy. I could not afford to let the abuse affect my relationship with my mother at all. Without her, I would be without anyone to give me even the illusion of protection. So there is a part of me that has to be completely separate from the abuse. In fact, I think that is why there is such a strong dissociative barrier between the me that grew up “normally” and all of those parts of me that took the abuse. It had to be that strong, in order to protect my relationship with my mom.

Unfortunately, that leaves me with a part that still feels completely cut off from any of the abuse. Everything about the abuse feels foreign to that part and it seems utterly incomprehensible that my dad could have done the things that other parts say that he did. This part whispers in my ear, “It couldn’t have happened. This is all a mistake.” I wish that it was a mistake. I hate that I believe that my dad violated my body starting around age 3. I hate that I seem to remember performing sexual acts on him. I really hate… Well, I can’t talk about that right now. Let’s just say that I hate everything about it. It would feel awful to believe that somehow I had put myself through all of this, but as I said at the beginning, I’ve tried to do just that, over and over again, because it seems better than the option of accepting that I really had to lie there and let those things happen, even help them happen. It would be better than thinking that my Daddy could have made me feel so frightened and dirty. It would be better than knowing that my dad was having sex with me right under my mother’s nose and she could’t let herself see it.

Or would it really be better? Those frightened, hurt child parts of me think so, but the greater me has seen that when I finally accepted what happened and started to treat myself with compassion, then I suddenly started to make huge strides in my healing. I can also see that I fall apart, experience chaos inside, and want to hurt myself when I start to believe again that it’s impossible for my dad to have abused me. Rationally, it makes no sense that I would heal when I believe and act on a lie and I fall back into a dark place when I see the truth.

So, I think that it is time for me to have the conversation with Mama Bear that I have been too afraid to have before now. “It there anything else that could look just like what I have experienced and not be significant abuse? Could I somehow have created the dissociation in myself? Is it possible that I could have created everything and none of the abuse happened at all? Or is it safe for me to believe myself? Can I trust myself? All of the hubbub about false memories have left me even more afraid to believe myself than I would have been otherwise.” I know that she believes that I was abused, so I think that this type of conversation would help to put some of my concerns to rest. I also know that if there are any answers that would be difficult to for me hear, she will be gentle and help me work through them, but then at least I would know what they are, rather than being afraid of the unknown. It makes sense to have this conversation, but the thought of having it makes me incredibly anxious!

Do you deal with the struggle to believe or not believe? How do you deal with it?

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Taking Flight Krista Withers

Taking Flight
Krista Withers

In my last post, I wrote about a new me that I am growing inside who is learning how to experience and function in relationships differently from anything that I have been capable of before. Developing this me has been an intense experience over the several weeks/couple of months.

At the center of all of it, I have been working with two parts who were hurt very, very badly by my dad. One who is quite young and who I believe represents the beginning of the abuse with him and the one who is 12 and who I believe experienced the most relationally confusing abuse. (I wrote about it a few posts back.) It seems to me that the healing work that I am doing with these parts and the relational work with Mama Bear involved in developing this new me are inextricably connected. For instance, I take a metaphorical step towards Mama Bear and tell her that I feel closer when I sit closer to her and she agrees with me that it is easier to connect emotionally when there are only a few feet between us, rather than half a room. Then the next session I move from my comfortable chair to a portable chair that I put close to hers and I share difficult feelings and bits of memories with her. To my amazement, I discover that I am better able to stay connected to her and it’s almost like I can physically feel her supporting me, not just in the session, but for the rest of the day. For the first time, this part feels really heard and I start to understand at a deep level that I am no longer alone with what happened to me. I no longer need to protect myself by hiding the abuse and holding it close to myself; in fact, in my current reality, the safest thing is for me to share it with a person I am certain can deal with what I am saying and showing to her. And so with this experience of closeness and support, I find myself wanting to share more with Mama Bear, and on and on it goes in an upward spiral, one healing experience building upon another.

I have to admit that I when I look at the work that I have done over the last few weeks, I am astonished. On February 14th, I wrote an e-mail to Mama Bear and said, “But what is it about this particular situation that creates a knee jerk reaction of, ‘none of the bad stuff will ever come out in session. It will only come out when I am alone.’ I think that a lot of it is so I can figure out how much it hurts and whether I can survive it while I’m safe and alone. Sigh. There it is- the belief that I am only truly safe when I am alone.” In our session earlier that day, Mama Bear had encouraged me for the 2,000th time to bring the memories to her in session and work on them with her, rather than struggling through them alone, at home, as I always did. I was too polite to baldly come out and say to her, “There is no way that you will ever see me experiencing the really bad memories. I don’t trust you enough and I won’t ever trust you enough. I will only ever be safe when I am alone.” However, I know that I thought it very loudly at her and she heard that message. But now, two months later, these same parts have had a complete reversal, and I find myself wanting to share with her their experiences. Before, I believed that sharing what happened to me would open me to more pain and somehow having someone there would make it feel as though shards of glass were being dragged across my flesh. Instead, the experience of telling has been very difficult, but having her right there helps to keep me from being overwhelmed by the emotions and sucked into re-experiencing what happened. It has been nothing short of a revelation that the part of the session that comes after telling feels so very healing, even calming and soothing. I see in her eyes that even though I have shared something terrible with her, she still sees me as me. She still treats me kindly and she helps me work with the young parts so they can understand that they are not dirty or terrible or disgusting or ruined. We work together to help all of me learn that it really wasn’t my fault, that my father was fully responsible for what happened. I am learning that those memories really are in the past, although there is a lot of me that still is very unclear about that point.

I feel like the therapeutic relationship has become more of a partnership than it was before. It never was the case that Mama Bear tried to control what happened in therapy- anything that hinted of her trying to take control put my hackles up and made me completely uncooperative anyways. It was more that I came in and did my best to follow the direction that my internal compass sent me in. She then went with me, supporting me, guiding me as best she could when she thought that I was really going astray, reining me in when I moved too quickly and overwhelmed myself, suggesting options that she thought might be helpful, etc.. Mama Bear definitely worked with me, but I’m not so sure how much I actually worked with her. I tried to be cooperative and trusting, but a substantial part of me looked at everything that she did and suggested with suspicion and mistrust.

Somehow, it was partly through taking the chance to trust Mama Bear a step more that I was able to accept that my father abused me and begin to really do the work that is needed in regards to that abuse. I also believe that it is through accepting that my father abused me and giving myself permission to see him as he was, rather than as he portrayed himself, that I was able to really take steps in trusting Mama Bear to be the person who I perceive her to be. When I couldn’t let myself trust what I know about who my dad was, how could I have confidence in the way that I saw anyone? But when I decided that I could trust my perceptions of my dad, then the world became a safer place for me to be in, because I had the ability to watch out for myself. Yes, I confirmed that my dad was unsafe, but if I knew when someone was clearly unsafe, then surely I could also trust my judgement based on years of observing someone’s safe behavior.

Having decided to more fully trust that Mama Bear is a safe person, even if human and so prone to making occasional mistakes, it’s like there is a whole new world in the therapy room. I find myself better able to see her, the person. Looking back, I realize that to some extent, over the last 2 1/2 years, I have put her into a box. I needed for her to be as predictable as possible, so I didn’t want her reactions to anything. I’ve even gone through a period of not wanting to hear much about her life outside of the office, although in the past I appreciated the humanizing aspect of knowing a bit about her. She was who she was and she didn’t really let me fully box her in, but she seems to have been sensitive to my needs and tried to respect them as much as possible. It’s been like I needed for her to stay as stationary as possible, while to try to figure out some of the chaos inside of me. She always was a warm human being, and over the last several months I have been slowly trying to connect more and more, but I while I wanted to connect, I also couldn’t really let myself to connect in more than glimpses. I wasn’t ready for the messy and unpredictable part of a relationship, yet.

Over the last couple of weeks, that has changed. I have come to realize that I now need to experience her as a real person that I am having these close interactions with. I need to experience myself being experienced by a caring other. After my last session, I wrote to her, explaining that even though I am afraid to ask how she experiences me and what she feels in response to what I share, I hoped that it would be OK for me to ask sometimes.

This was her response: “You can always ask me questions about my responses to you and what you are saying/feeling. If I do not answer right away, I will try to remember to explain why. I do not have problems with your wanting to know how I am experiencing you, nor do I have a problem with you telling me how you are experiencing me if you should want to do so.”

This is completely antithetical to my family life while growing up. Even though my current family is much healthier, it still is something that is barely done now- my daughter does the best job with it! I’m going into this challenging all of my ingrained, unwritten rules about how to interact with other people. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting. What will it be like to tell Mama Bear about some of the abuse, process it with her some, and then ask her about her response to what I told her? I can imagine her saying that it brings up her anger at my father or protective feelings toward the child that I was or any manner of other things. What will it be like for me to finally share with someone what happened and get someone’s emotional response that it was wrong? I think that what I am hoping for is to experience someone being angry along with me or empathizing with my grief or also wanting to comfort the hurting child inside of me. I am looking for a shared experience. It isn’t that I am looking for her to validate my feelings, it’s that a part of having a relationship is having shared emotional experiences. I just realized that I feel that I know Mama Bear well enough to be able to predict that her reactions should be appropriate and it will be safe for me to ask for them. However, there always is the risk that something will come out wrong and there will be a misunderstanding. So what this requires of me is to trust in Mama Bear to remain the same person I believe her to be, and to trust in my ability to not freak out and instead work things out with her, if she happens to make a mistake and say something that comes out wrong.

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Life and Fire Goddess Artist: Leah Day

Life and Fire Goddess
Artist: Leah Day

Do I have your attention? No, of course the title isn’t what it suggests. ­čśë

I have been experiencing something a bit odd lately. There are times when I feel pregnant. Not really, truly pregnant, with all of the physical realities (thank goodness for no morning sickness), but I feel as if I am protecting new life that is growing within me.

This isn’t the first time that I have had this experience. I can remember at least two other occasions. One was many years ago, when I realized that the process that I was going through was every bit as painful as giving birth. In fact, I was giving birth to a new me. My childhood abuse and neglect had affected me so profoundly, that in order to proceed towards the type of life that I wanted to have, I couldn’t just tinker around the edges of who I was. I had to get in and over a period of years slowly make the fundamental changes that eventually coalesced into a transformation. I was recognizable from the outside as me, but the way that I experienced myself and the world around me was totally different. At the same time, it wasn’t as though I developed something completely foreign to who I fundamentally had been before. My values and priorities were the same. I still was me, but as Mama Bear said, it was like I was more me. I had developed a me that was closer to who I might have been, if I had grown up in a healthy family.

The thing is that this isn’t a one time process. A person can only take so much personality change at one time. After I had this happen for the first time, I then needed to go off and live life for awhile. I needed to experience and live with the new self that I had developed. I had a natural breaking point around that time, when we left town so that my husband could attend seminary. I stopped therapy, other than during a brief period when I was going through a difficult pregnancy and I was a new mother. Who I was continued to grow and develop- being a parent challenged me to learn to stretch beyond myself in ways that were often painful, frequently joyful, and amazingly healing.

So, over a period of years, life pushed me to grow, and when I found my way back to working with Mama Bear again, I was ready for another transformation, even though I had no idea of what was about to happen at that time. Over the years I had developed enough strength and stability to begin to fully deal with my internal world, even though I had it almost completely walled off until I walked back into Mama Bear’s office. I remember walking (slowly) through the woods a few months into therapy, after my sessions with Mama Bear, feeling like a woman who was 8 months pregnant. I knew that there was a new me that needed to emerge, but I also knew that I was frightened of it and I fought it. While a small part of me welcomed this emergence, most of me didn’t want anything to do with it, because this was not a me that I felt comfortable with. This new me encompassed an increased awareness of my parts and a grudging acceptance that I needed to work with all of me. In many ways it really was like I gave birth to many of my parts that had been buried inside- I finally allowed them to start to emerge into the light of day.

And today, what is the experience like for me today? Emotionally, this is the closest to the hopeful but nervous anticipation that I actually experienced while I was pregnant with my daughter. I can feel myself being pulled apart, rearranged and put back together again, which is a disorienting, but not always painful process. Over the last couple of weeks, I have expected for myself to have certain reactions and was surprised when I had other, healthier reactions. There is real change going on inside in regards to how I relate to others. I find myself very protective of these fragile changes, the same way that I had the instinct to protect my daughter when she was growing inside of me. After all, this new me represents hope and my future. She is learning to be fully real with others, even when there are difficult feelings. She is learning how to turn to others to ask for comfort and then actually accept the comfort. She is learning that it isn’t only OK to need others, it is good to need others. She is learning how much she likes and wants to be in relationship with others. She is impacting my life already, but she isn’t yet fully formed or sturdy enough to take the knocks and bruises of daily life. This me needs some more time to develop, strengthen and grow, before I can “give birth” to her and have her settle into the greater me. I have to say that I like this new me; I like the way that I feel when I am connected to her and I love being able to finally, really connect with another, when I most need to connect.

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Sky Gazer Kelly Hendrickson

Sky Gazer
Kelly Hendrickson

Relationship, connection, and needing other people have been on going themes for me that have cropped up several times over the last few months. Actually, they are themes that have been a focus of a lot of my therapy work since I started to work with Mama Bear again. This time around, I have become very aware of the walls that I put up between myself and others, in particular the walls that I put up with Mama Bear in the therapy room.

I can understand how those walls were necessary for me as a child. I used them to help buffer myself from painful relationships and to try to control how much I “needed” other people. They were a part of my attempt to be the child that I thought would be most acceptable to my parents- pleasant, non demanding, and able to take care of myself. However, as is the case with so many coping mechanisms for an abused and neglected child, over the years they became rigidly relied upon until I wasn’t able to make a choice of whether I wanted to let someone in or not. Everyone was kept out.

I always knew that I wanted love and connection, though. Fortunately, that led me to choose a husband who was loving and respectful, even though when I made that choice I had no understanding that I was dealing with demons inside, much less what the demons were. Something in me said, “I need love. I deserve love. I will not accept anything less than real love and I experience it with this man.” My mom failed me in many, many ways, but she also loved me. She really loved me. I think that having that experience of being loved gave me something to hold onto at my core, despite all of the abuse from my father and grandfather and her failing to protect me. So much happened that made love feel dangerous and unreliable, but I still had that experience of what being loved was like and so I have always yearned for it, even while I have been to frightened to open myself to it.

What a confusing situation for a child… I remember that one of my mom’s favorite phrases was, “All that really matters is love.” Yes, love is so central to my well being, but is it all that really matters? No! Or at least the emotion of love just isn’t enough by itself. I needed for her to be able to find enough strength to move past her own fears and limitations and find a way to protect me, not just love me! Love involves action, not just feelings. Those warm and fuzzy feelings may have felt great for her and, to be fair, it’s likely that her aiming them at me may be what gave me the resilience to keep on going, but I needed for her to deal with the rot in our family, as well as giving me kisses and hugs.

So I have been experiencing this push/pull all my life: a profound mistrust of others and the expectation that they will fail me when I most need them and yet also a deep yearning for love and intimacy. Over the last 25 years, I have slowly, bit by bit made progress by at first allowing myself to even start to see how much I mistrusted other people and then slowly testing and building on experience after experience of people being trustworthy in normal, everyday situations. Then I learned to trust myself to have the strength to deal with those times when others would let me down, not out of malice, but because they were human. And now I am at a point where I feel enough safety with Mama Bear that I can begin to fully reveal the traumatized parts and allow them to connect with her.

It’s a process that is scary and at the same time such a relief. It certainly isn’t something that comes naturally at this point! Many times when I am talking about something difficult, I find myself starting to fuzz out and looking anywhere but at Mama Bear, and I realize that I’m doing it again- I’m sitting in the same room as her, talking to her, but I’ve removed myself from connecting with her. She could just as well be a video recording, because I’ve isolated myself, and I feel all alone, even though she didn’t go anywhere. Over these last few months, when I catch what I am doing and I am able to resist it, I then try to breathe to ground myself and make myself look into her eyes and take in how she is looking at me. I open myself to the fact that here is a person who cares about me and is sitting there with me, having her own responses to what I say and do. She is real. I am real. What I am saying and experiencing is real. I have an impact on her. It is safe for me to allow her to have an impact on me. She wants for me to heal and would do everything that she could to avoid knowingly harming the fragile, hurt parts of me.

What a concept. Actually, what a constellation of concepts. And what a sense of hope.

I wish that I could say that this fixes all of my difficulties with allowing others in, but it was one of my deeply ingrained ways of being and it will take my having many, many “aha” moments in order to finally begin to come from a place where I fully believe that it is safe to be in relationship. But those changes are starting and more and more of me sees that they can happen. Even the parts of me that were hurt the worst can learn how to dare to take the chance to love and be loved again. I can’t say that all that I need is love, but all of me very much needs love.

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